Trump administration officials are traveling this week to Madrid to meet with leadership from the U.N. World Tourism Organization to continue to negotiate the terms of the U.S. rejoining it.
The Trump administration’s seeming infatuation with the World Tourism Organization is baffling for a number of reasons. Here are six.
1. The organization offers very little to its member states.
At least that was the conclusion of the Clinton administration, which withdrew the U.S. from the organization after conducting a “comprehensive interagency assessment of U.S. membership in all of the international organizations to which it makes assessed contributions.”
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After looking at nearly 30 special-purpose organizations, the State Department decided in 1995 to withdraw from three, including the World Tourism Organization, in which U.S. membership was “least defensible.”
What could possibly motivate the Trump administration to consider rejoining an organization that even the Clinton administration determined to be of such poor value to the American taxpayer that it no longer deserved U.S. membership?
2. Other countries have recently concluded that the organization is poor value for the money or has exercised questionable judgment.
Australia, for instance, withdrew from the World Tourism Organization in 2015 after determining that the agency was unresponsive to its needs and increasingly expensive. Canada withdrew in 2012 after the agency appointed the now-deceased Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe as a global leader on tourism.
The United Kingdom withdrew in 2009 after concluding that there were higher priorities for funds spent on the World Tourism Organization and that international tourism objectives “could be best pursued through a range of other international and regional fora.”
Even many current member states see the organization as a low priority.
In the 2017 session of the World Tourism Organization’s General Assembly, 20 members (about one-eighth of the entire membership) had their membership suspended for persistent nonpayment of “obligatory contributions to the organization.”
3. The organization lacks oversight and accountability.
In 2009, the U.N. Joint Inspection Unit reported, “It should be noted that the Organization does not possess any internal audit, inspection, evaluation, investigation, or monitoring capabilities.”
Moreover, unlike other U.N. organizations, the Panel of External Auditors of the United Nations, the Specialized Agencies and the International Atomic Energy Agency does not list the World Tourism Organization among the organizations audited by the current panel members.
The U.S. should not give taxpayer funds to any U.N. organization lacking basic oversight and accountability.
4. There seems to be a serious disconnect between what the World Tourism Organization is and what the Trump administration wants it to be.
The stated reason for the U.S. to be considering rejoining the World Tourism Organization is the belief that it would benefit the U.S. tourism sector or generate U.S. jobs. Unfortunately, there’s very little evidence to support that conclusion.
The World Tourism Organization focuses on publishing tourism statistics, tourism studies, and promoting various policy priorities, such as sustainable development and tourism, climate change and tourism, and gender and tourism.
It’s not a travel agency, nor does it promote tourism to specific countries or destinations. Asking it to assume those tasks would involve a significant increase in budget and staff beyond its total revenues of $20 million and 87 employees in 2017.
5. There’s a curious dichotomy in the White House toward international organizations.
A White House official announced in June that the U.S. was exploring rejoining the World Tourism Organization. Yet, less than two months later, the White House sought to rescind hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. funding for the United Nations and a number of other international organizations.
To say that those positions are conflicting is an understatement.
Leaving aside the questionable value of World Tourism Organization funding, why take an action to increase funding commitments by joining a new international organization when the White House clearly wants to reduce such payments?
6. Just last week, President Donald Trump criticized “global bureaucrats” for attacking the decisions of sovereign nations.
In contrast to the condemnations of U.S. policy, World Tourism Organization Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili is eager to praise Iran. Last November during a visit to Tehran, he stated that his goal was to “help Iran become more powerful” and that “[t]ourism will show the world how attractive Iran is.”
Overall, the motivation within the Trump administration to rejoin the World Tourism Organization is a head-scratcher.
The White House understandably wants to bolster the U.S. tourism sector that has seen declines over the past two years, but rejoining the World Tourism Organizations is not the answer.
It will not help the U.S. tourism industry, it lacks adequate oversight and accountability, and its policies are at odds with those of the Trump administration.
Instead, the U.S. should end its flirtation with rejoining the World Tourism Organization and seek solutions that will directly address the problem it wishes to resolve.