UNWTO Shuts Up Journalists at its General Assembly in Samarkand, Uzbekistan

Hosted journalist and editor of the German “Stimme Heilbronn” Juergen Paul was invited with 40 other journalists to Samarkand, Uzbekistan to cover the 25th UNWTO General Assembly, 16-20 October 2023.

Jürgen Paul worked for the Heilbronner Stimme since 1998 and is in charge of politics and economy, including domestic affairs in Germany.

Uzbekistan missed all PR Opportunities

Juergen Paul, Stimme Heilbronn

Having the UN specialist agency in Uzbekistan should have of course been a public relations opportunity for this country. Uzbekistan is seen by many in the world as a new and off-the-beaten-track destination for tourism.

Also, the World Tourism Organization must have had a reason to bring the General Assembly to Uzbekistan, and this reason became more and more obvious after the closing of the General Assembly.

If any journalist privileged enough to be invited to attend this important event thought this was an opportunity to learn more about Uzbekistan as a dynamic developing tourism destination, it was a big mistake.

If any journalist attended the event to learn more about UNWTO, global tourism, and outlook in the travel and tourism industry – it was a mistake.

If any journalist expected access to VIPs and expected to ask questions, the UNWTO public communication chief Marcelo Risi made sure this did not happen, specifically after eTurboNews reported that the Secretary lost an attempt to be automatically reappointed without election. eTurboNews articles surfaced on the internet and journalists tried to get more information, some calling the author of these articles for eTurboNews in Honolulu.

Back in the days when Dr. Taleb Rifai was secretary general Marcelo was known as the most open communication head of any UN agency. Back in the days when Anita Mendirata, special advisor to the secretary general wrote for eTurboNews and facilitated the introduction of CNN with Richard Quest, UNWTO was a transparent, vibrant organization.

All of this changed overnight on January 1, 2018, when critical media were banned, press conferences did not take place and journalists were censored so stories about favoritism, corruption, and manipulation in this organization could not surface easily.

As the only openly critical media towards UNWTO, and as result, eTurboNews was no longer allowed to attend UNWTO events, was banned from the World Travel Market ministerial meetings, and press events, and was not even allowed to contact UNWTO communications for routine questions.

The 25th-anniversary event of the UNWTO must have been held in Uzbekistan for a reason. The reason may have been that in case of an emergency, there was a way to keep the press uninformed and silent.

According to an article published by an attending journalist for the Stimme Heilbronn, Juergen Paul, the 25th General Assembly was an opportunity for UNWTO to polish its image and for Uzbekistan to be showcased as a dynamic tourism destination.

Juergen German language article says.

That this calculation works may be doubted. Neither the UNWTO nor the hosts were able to take advantage of this opportunity.

Professional press work during the conference in the magnificent congress center in Sarmakant did not happen.

There was no access for journalists.

Press room during the 25th UNWTO General Assembly in Uzbekistan (courtesy Stimme Heilbronn)

Journalists from all over the world were held in a press center in a hotel a few hundred meters next to the congress center on the outskirts of Samarkand.

The press room had a live video screen to take track of activities at the congress, but most of the time nothing was transmitted. There were no program items made available to the press.

On opening Monday journalists had to wait until the afternoon, until they finally saw Uzbekistan’s president Zhawkat Mirsiyoyev on the screen.

The workplaces in the press center were largely unused because the translation of the speech into English only worked for a short time at the end of the presentation– and nothing enlightening in terms of content was presented.

Trying to find a contact person within the UNWTO journalists tried to get information in vain. After an insignificant press release was released hopes were up among journalists – but only for a short time.

This hope that communication could improve however was bitterly disappointed.

Discussions at UNWTO GA remain a mystery

What the 1,700 delegates discussed in Samarkand still remains a mystery.

The official conference program is vague. Words such as sustainability, training, and investments were floating around.

With some rare opportunities for journalists to actually attend a program it quickly became clear that interest in sessions by most delegates was not really a priority.

In the huge conference room, the acoustics were so bad that delegates could hardly understand a word.

A better success in getting journalists and delegates to communicate was at the coffee bar during coffee breaks, but many tables remained constantly empty.

It was more crowded in the evening at the dinner, when journalists were invited as well. The opportunity to chat with some delegates in line at the buffet during the long fine food and wine bar was there.

International understanding and communication, the primary goal of the United Nations, had limited options among Europeans, Africans, and Asians

Americans, Canadians, Australians, and Scandinavians, however, did not travel to Samarkand.

They are not members of the UNWTO, which may have had to do with allegations of corruption and manipulation surrounding the UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili.

UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili celebrated as a POP STAR

The Georgian was celebrated by many participants like a pop star and willingly allowed himself to be photographed.

Despite this popularity, Zurab did not get enough votes to change statutes in UNWTO, so he could simply be appointed for a third term without an election after his turn will run out on December 31, 2025.

Germany was one of the countries that voted against this attempt after seeing this article on eTurboNews about suspicious activities.

After Chile intervened, Pololikashvili however succeeded in being allowed to run for a third term in 2026 ignoring the two-term limit. At this time no opposing candidate is visible yet.

According to the report in Stimme Heilbron, attending journalists did not know about these internal quarrels at the event.

The press was not given contacts to find out anything. Accredited journalists were looking for interview opportunities and for any information on the UNWTO General Assembly – without success.

Uzbekistan assigned twelve volunteer students to help journalists, but none of the students understood travel and tourism and had no contacts with UNWTO and Uzbekistan officials.

Clearly, nobody appears seriously interested in exchanging information with journalists.

Getting desperate for any type of information journalists were counting on the press conference at the end of the summit on Thursday.

40 journalists showed up for the 6 p.m. event, ready with cameras and loaded with questions. Tables were set up with microphones.

After 8 pm even the most patient journalists left the room – no press conference during the entire UNWTO general assembly for the 40+ journalists invited to cover the event.

Juergen Paul concluded his article by asking:

Nobody knows why – and you will never know!

SOURCE: UNWTO Shuts Up Journalists at its General Assembly in Samarkand, Uzbekistan