Travel

Tourism, Culture and a Woman Secretary-General

The new reality for the global travel and tourism industry will look different. It’s no secret that new leadership in UNWTO is urgently needed. HE Shaikha Mai bint Mohammed Al Khalifa knows this. She is the first woman candidate for the post of Secretary-General of the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), and a champion for cultural tourism.

In 2017 UNWTO appointed HE Shaika Mai Bint Mohammed Al-Khalifa, as a Special Ambassador of the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development 2017.

At the appointment UNWTO Secretary-General Taleb Rifai praised the role that Shaikha Al-Khalifa has played in advancing culture as a key component of tourism development in Bahrain and the Middle East, through the Arab Regional Centre for World Heritage.

A champion and leader in the field of cultural tourism HE Shaikha Mai, the president of the Bahrain Authority for Culture and Antiquities as well as the Chairperson of the Board of Directors of the Arab Regional Centre for World Heritage (ARC-WH), has worked tirelessly to develop a robust cultural infrastructure in support of cultural conservation.

She is widely recognized as a pioneering figure in the Arab cultural scene also serving as Founder and Chairperson of the Board of Trustees of the Shaikh Ebrahim bin Mohammed Al Khalifa Center for Culture and Research.

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“We must continue to support sustainable tourism to drive socio-cultural progress and achieve greater economic prosperity,” said HE Shaikha Mai pointing to Bahrain’s growth of its cultural sector and how this has enhanced tourism. Under her guidance, Bahrain has received international recognition as a cultural hub. She has led many projects that have contributed to stimulating urban development, providing job opportunities, and attracting investors and visitors.

Her work includes the establishment of the Shaikh Ebrahim bin Mohammed Al Khalifa Center for Culture and Research to enhance cultural dialogue and preserve the traditional architecture of Bahrain. She also launched the “Investing in Culture” initiative, which encourages partnerships between the public and private sectors to advance cultural projects.

HE Shaikha Mai is respected within UNESCO as a person of passion, integrity, and competence. Under her watchful and progressive eye, the registration of three national sites took in Bahrain place on the UNESCO World Heritage List: Qal’at al-Bahrain – Ancient Harbour and Capital of Dilmun (2005); Pearling, Testimony of an Island Economy (2012); and Dilmun Burial Mounds (2019). She contributed to the founding of the Arab Regional Centre for World Heritage, a UNESCO Category 2 Centre, and led the “Revitalization of Muharraq” initiative, a series of restoration and reuse projects, which was awarded the 2019 Aga Khan Award for Architecture. 

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Since 2008, HE Shaikha Mai has held several official positions, including Assistant Undersecretary for Culture and National Heritage, Minister of Culture and Minister of Information, where she was the first woman to hold the position.

She has launched a variety of annual cultural and tourism initiatives such as the Spring of Culture and Bahrain Summer Festival. Her achievements in advancing the cultural infrastructure in Bahrain have been recognized regionally and internationally. In 2010, HE Shaikha Mai was the first laureate of the Colbert Prize for Creativity and Heritage, and in 2017, UNWTO appointed her as the Special Ambassador of the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development. HE Shaikha Mai has also been recognized by the Arab Thought Foundation where she received the Social Creativity Award.

HE Shaikha Mai is the recipient of many distinguished awards, not least the Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur, the Watch Award of the World Monuments Fund, and the Colbert Prize for Creativity and Heritage. Mai Al Khalifa is also recognized as an outstanding leader of organizations within both the governmental and non-governmental sectors, having received the “Distinguished Arab Woman in the field of Administrative Leadership” prize from the Center of Woman Studies, Paris, in 2004 and the Arab League prize for Administrative Competence and Excellence.

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