Worldwide state circus around Swiss villages

Baustelle in Andermatt im Kanton Uri
How environmentally friendly is tourism in the midst of nature in Andermatt? (Image: S. Lemmerzahl / unsplash)

For the second time, the United Nations is honoring some villages around the world as well as in Switzerland. A closer look shows how disingenuous the whole thing is.

“Andermatt and Murten awarded ‘Best Tourism Villages’,” the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (Seco) exulted in a media release Tuesday.

The World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), as part of its ‘Best Tourism Village’ initiative, had for the second time searched for the best tourism villages in the world and awarded Andermatt and Murten, it added.

Focus on developing countries

But what is this award? The World Tourism Organization, headquartered in the Spanish capital of Madrid, was born in 1925 from an international congress and was originally based in The Hague and Geneva.

One of the smallest of the UN’s specialized agencies, the body operates on a budget of about $23 million.

According to Wikipedia, the focus of the UN organization is ‘tourism in developing countries,’ taking into account the Millennium Development Goals and sustainable development concepts.

Bored with Corona

The best-known publications are their annual tourism statistics, but these are based on OECD and EU data anyway.

The UN officials then probably figured during the corona virus pandemic, when tourism was completely down, that they had to spend their budget on something and that an award ceremony for something was likely to attract attention.

Basque stand out

A few vague criteria and a jury made up of many civil servants was quickly strung together.

So the assessment could start and the UNWTO could evaluate data on how the marketing of cultural resources, the economic, ecological and social sustainability, the prioritization of tourism as well as the integration of tourism in the value chains look like in each case.

Culinary arts in the Spanish Basque Country somehow seems to be a special focus of the UN organization, because over those two years 2 of the 20 jury members actually come from the Basque Culinary Center – a marketing organization for Basque cuisine.

Unresolved conflict of goals

“Andermatt and Murten convinced with their strong focus on sustainable development, their proximity to agricultural activities and the local added value that tourism generates in their respective regions,” Seco wrote in its communiqué on the selection of those two localities.

In any case, the UNWTO advocates compliance with the Global Code of Ethics for Tourism, which aims to maximize the positive socio-economic impacts of tourism while minimizing potential negative impacts.

However, there is virtually no explanation of this conflict of goals or anything about their solutions.

Digital innovations?

For example, one criterion was the ‘number of places in the village where electronic payments can be made’.

Critical observers may well question how environmentally friendly and innovative all of this is. After the coronavirus pandemic, paying with bank cards has become standard practice across the board, at least in Western Europe.

And the state should keep out of such matters regarding retailers Migros and Coop or of restaurants, cable cars & Co. anyway.

Self-employment of civil servants

Well, what does selection mean? Within the framework of a nationwide call for proposals, the three villages of Ernen, Andermatt and Murten were selected in the summer of 2022 by a jury consisting of representatives of the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO), the Swiss Tourism Association (STV)  and Switzerland Tourism and were submitted to the UNWTO.

On a sober note, government officials of those villages submitted themselves to government officials of Switzerland. Swiss officials then selected, according to their taste, and submitted the three chosen to the UN government agencies for assessment of sustainable developments.

Half win

“Out of the more than 130 applications received, 32 were awarded the ‘Best Tourism Village’ label,” Seco added about the UN award selection this year. The title was awarded to about 25 percent of all 136 participants.

In addition to the winners, 20 other communities were included in an upgrade program to further accelerate developments. In the end about 40 percent of the participants won something, so they weren’t really anything special any more.

Wrong number

In the previous year, the Corona pandemic year of 2021, 174 villages took part in the submission and 44 villages received the title ‘World’s Best Village‘. 20 other participants were included in the development program alongside the ‘winners’ even then.

Together, these make up almost 40 percent of the awards, although the UN organization states that the total number of villages selected in both years was 115, although 64 plus 52 would be 116 according to mathematical principles.

But even Seco gets it wrong from time to time, as has already reported.

Media babble

One of the chosen villages this year is Dazhai in China. If someone wants to find out about that village, they quickly realize that there are more than a dozen villages with the very same name.

Only the media information of the Chinese state news agency “Xinhua” about the title award makes it clear that it is about a village in China’s southern province Guangxi Zhuang.

Why this particular municipality from the great Middle Kingdom is supposed to be particularly ‘sustainable’ for tourists compared with China’s polluting metropolises, for example, and why it still needs development, however, remains shrouded as a state secret.

Strange parallel

Together with Gruyères, Saas-Fee and Val Poschiavo, which received awards last year, Switzerland now has five ‘Best Tourism Villages’, Seco added.

Only one other country in the world, Spain, also has as many Best Tourism Villages, it said. As said earlier – where were the current and former headquarters of this UN organization located?

In the end, it turns out that it is not ‘developing countries’ that take the top places in these awards.

Environmentally polluting travel

Based on all the media releases for events organized by this special UN organization, viewers can also imagine just how environmentally friendly the UN tourism officials are by constantly jetting throughout the regions.

A Swiss winning village in 2021, namely Gruyères, was even visited by a delegation of the UN organization with the Georgian Secretary General Zurab Pololikashvili, as it was stated in a communiqué.

Mutual congratulations

Regarding the meaning of the award, Seco states that in addition to the sign of recognition, the winning villages benefited from worldwide media campaigns by the UNWTO. The award gives the villages additional visibility and allows them to position themselves accordingly.

The official award ceremony will now take place at the end of February 2023, where government agencies will once again be slapping each other on the back.

By then, the next round of awards is likely to start and western villages, such as Zell am See in Austria and Guadalupe in Spain, which also won this year, will be able to position themselves.

Stampede to the villages

But it would probably be really sustainable if Switzerland would no longer take part in this whole state circus. Andermatt & Co. should successfully attract visitors on their own as well as to convince travelers with their sustainable concepts.

And remote villages in developing countries seemingly have nothing at all to do with worldwide mass tourism anyway.


Worldwide state circus around Swiss villages

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