"For the Spanish government, this has been an “unfriendly” gesture on the part of the Saudis." | - EFE


The risk to Spain’s tourism prestige from a relocation of the UN World Tourism Organization’s headquarters from Madrid to Riyadh would appear to have passed. Although Saudi Arabia had not formally presented a proposal for relocation, one had been on the cards for the upcoming general assembly.

For the Spanish government, this has been an “unfriendly” gesture on the part of the Saudis. Other UNWTO member countries may not have taken friendliness into account, but sources suggest that the Saudis don’t have the necessary to support. Good.

Having the HQ based in Spain has no real direct impact on the country’s tourism, but it does carry kudos and reinforces Spain’s image as a global tourism leader. When the HQ was opened in 1975, Spain was hardly a shining example of democratic freedom, but the timing was right. Spain was ripe for transformation, and tourism was already playing its part.

Tourism is looked upon (has been looked upon) as a source of good in facilitating transformation through cultural exchange. Would a UN HQ in Riyadh have this effect in Saudi Arabia? Will the country’s tourism ambitions bring about transformation? I doubt it.

The whole thing sucks. A region by the Red Sea to be separated and to allow foreigners to behave as foreigners do - drinking alcohol and all. The UN might like to believe it could be party to a transformative process, but a Riyadh HQ would have been a step too far for a country with its human rights record.