AWEISSMANN100x135The day after the World Travel and Tourism Council Global Summit in Florianopolis, Brazil, concluded, Ufi Ibrahim, the group's COO, seemed genuinely elated.

I wasn't sure that would be the case. Perhaps because of the economy, perhaps because of the perceived remoteness of the locale, the conference had drawn fewer attendees, fewer core members and fewer industry celebrities like Bill Marriott or Marilyn Carlson Nelson than other summits.

The source of Ibrahim's happiness was the natural progression of the conference toward a crescendo: The leadership of the WTTC and the United Nations World Tourism Organization agreed to agree, live, on stage.

The need to find more effective ways to influence government had become a motif through the course of the 55-hour conference, and in the final hours, the two organizations, which had often competed for influence, pledged to work together.

Ibrahim, who had guided the conference as its on-stage host, was pleased with the result.

"Governments just don't listen to us," she told me. "The agricultural lobby can change the name of a disease from 'swine flu' to 'H1N1' in 24 hours, but travel and tourism can't get their attention. We can be an accelerator for jobs and trade, but we need to have the support of policy."

A short film was shown during the conference featuring an interview with British Foreign Minister Margaret Beckett, who said that when the travel industry comes to talk with government, they come separately -- aviation, then hospitality, then tours, travel agents, etc. -- and that it's difficult to work with an industry with such completely different, often competing, agendas.

Ibrahim said she had tried to work with the European community on travel policy on behalf of the WTTC. "The European commissioners told me the same thing: 'Speak with one voice.' And now, perhaps, we can."

The WTTC primarily represents the private sector, while the UNWTO represents tourism ministers. Which voice will it be, I asked -- that of WTTC President Jean-Claude Baumgarten, associated with business, or UNWTO Secretary-General Taleb Rifai, associated with government?

"It doesn't have to be one voice, but one message," she said, "and the same message needs to be voiced by WTTC, UNWTO, IATA, the tourist board of Florianopolis -- global, national, regional, local."

And as the U.S. Travel Association has learned, getting the various sectors to toe the line on industry issues can be, um, difficult. For example, the airlines tend to see themselves as transportation companies, not tourism companies. I suggested that perhaps the airlines presented a problem because they aren't always team players.

"Emirates is. They made WTTC's meeting in Dubai last year happen."

I said I thought Emirates was exceptional in many ways but that it was also viewed with a somewhat jaundiced eye by some in the aviation community because it's suspected of being subsidized by its government beyond what is disclosed.

"It depends upon how you look at it," Ibrahim countered. "Some people say the U.S. airline industry is subsidized by Chapter 11 laws."

Touche. But our banter nonetheless underscored the point that getting industry sectors to cooperate -- even internal cooperation within a sector -- can be an elusive goal.

The agreement in principle between the WTTC and the UNWTO is an important step forward. I hope I am wrong in my judgment about how difficult the task of cooperation can be.

Contact Arnie Weissmann at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter at


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