Tourism: Bahrain’s Sheikha Mai maybe the first female Secretary General of UNWTO as she guns for organisation top spot


Her Excellency Sheikha Mai Bint Mohammed Al Khalifa, Bahrain maybe the first female Secretary General of the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO), as the organisation is set to hold its general elections in 2021.

Sheikha Mai Bint joins current Secretary General Zurab Pololikashvili who will be seeking re-election in vying for the top spot of the organisation.

According to, the World Tourism Network invited Her Excellency Sheikha Mai Bint Mohammed Al Khalifa, Bahrain to its high-level launch panel. If she was elected to become the next Secretary-General for UNWTO, she would be the first woman candidate for this post. She would be joining Gloria Guevaras CEO of WTTC and positioned as the most powerful woman in tourism.

Her decades of achievements in Cultural Tourism in her home country Bahrain and the Arab world had been tremendous. HE Shaika Mai appears to be rather humbled and quiet, but when looking again has emerged as what many call her a person of less talk and tremendously effective actions.

Her closest advisor, who also attended the WTN Session is Prof. Dr Heba Aziz. She holds a PhD degree in tourism anthropology in (1999) and a Masters degree (1992), she worked as consultant, policy maker and an academic in the UK, Dubai and Bahrain. Her passion for tourism became obvious when she responded to questions.

Her Excellency is able to listen, she is open to suggestions, she wants deep cooperation with all stakeholders, and understands the enormous challenges the world of tourism is facing. More important she understands the post of Secretary-General must not be awarded because of political maneuvering.
Communication and coordination with other agencies, governments, and private sector leaders are important, and the world of tourism must speak with one voice.

Mai urged “Membership fees should not be the driving force for states to join or not to join UNWO. The UN-affiliated agency needs to allow private contributors.”,

Her concern was not on how to win the election, but how she can effectively help. Her concern was the millions of people employed in this huge global industry.

Mai implemented: “Countries need investments, Tourism dependent economies, like many island nations, specifically in Africa need support. We as an island nation understand this in Bahrain.”

Alain St. Ange, former tourism minister from Seychelles pushed the idea of UNWTO satellite offices in Africa. Cuthbert Ncube, chair of the African Tourism Board sees Her Excellency as a more practical and more transparent Secretary-General. He himself has been head of the affiliated membership in UNWTO for many years.

Ncube added his concern is that UNWTO under the current leadership is not functioning well as the custodian of the global tourism industry. He echoed his concern for a potentially flawed election process and referred to an open letter by two former UNWTO Secretary-General including Dr. Taleb Rifai (board member of WTN).

The concern in this letter was echoed by Professor Geoffrey Lipman an assistant secretary General and a board member for the World Tourism Network. After the session, Louis D’Amore, founder of the International Institute for Peace Through Tourism and also a board member of WTN added his letter.

Sheikha Mai did not comment on the election process but said she already developed a plan to prepare herself for this difficult job.

Investments, jobs, education, training, climate-friendly travel, training, equality in Tourism are all points Her Excellency seems to be concerned with.

She asked WTN members to be contacted, so she can be aware and learn about noteworthy initiatives and projects. She understood working with organizations like WTTC, WTN and others will bring the travel and tourism industry together.

Aviation, Climate Change was discussed and will be the subject of upcoming WTN launch panels World Tourism Network is an advocate for the interest of medium to small size travel and tourism stakeholders in the world.

World Tourism Network is a Hawaii, US based network of tourism stakeholders in more than 120 countries with a focus on supporting the small and medium size travel and tourism businesses

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