The history of the UNWTO can be traced back to 1925, when it was established by the International Congress of Tourist Associations, which was set up in The Hague. Shortly after World War Two, the name was changed to the International Union of Official Travel Organizations and was moved to Geneva, Switzerland. It was a non governmental body that was comprised of 109 national tourist organizations and some 88 associate members that included public and private groups. In the 1960s, the organization's members called for its transformation into the intergovernmental body that was regulated to deal with tourist related issues and to work with other organizations most notably, UNESCO, The World Health Organization, and the International Civil Aviation Organization. Following the resolution passing by the United Nations General Assembly, in December 1969, the statutes of the World Trade Organization were ratified by the states whose tourist organization had been full of IUOTO members. In May, 1965, the first general assembly of the newly formed organizations was held in Madrid, Spain and one year later, the WTO became the executing agency of the United Nations Development Program. In 2003, the WTO was transformed into the special agency of the United Nations. The usual confusion between the two organizations, such as the World Trade Organization and the World Tourism Organization ended in December 1 of 2005 with the General Assembly's decision to add the abbreviation to the world's largest tourism organization.
Currently, the World Tourism Organization is regarded as the leading international body in the field of tourism serving as a global formation for tourism related issues. It is located in Madrid, Spain and plays a key role in the promotion and development of universally assessable tourism that adheres to the goal of contributing to the international understanding, prosperity, respect, and peace for fundamental freedoms and human rights. In pursuing this goal, the UNWTO focuses its attention on the interests of developing countries in the field of tourism. The members of the organization also believes that tourism can be used effectively to help the problems of poverty, and hunger which has resulted in the UNWTO contributing to the United Nations Millennium Development Goals to develop sustainable tourism as a strong force for the elimination of poverty.
The UNWTO major bodies include the General Assembly as the principal gatherer of the organization that meets every two years to approve the program of work and budget and to discuss vital issues of importance to the tourism sector; and the Executive Council which is the governing board of the UNWTO that is comprised of 29 members and appointed by the General Assembly. In addition, the World Tourism Organization has six regional commissions including the Americas, Africa, East Asia, the Pacific, South Asia, The Middle East, and Europe. The commissioners are comprised of all the full and associate members of the region and meet at least once a year. The system is also comprised of special committees namely the Committee on Budget and Finance, the Program Committee, and the Committee on Statistics, and the Microeconomic Analysis of Tourism, the Sustainable Development of Tourism Committee, the UNWTO Educational Council, The World Committee on Tourism Ethics, and the Quality Support and Trade Committee.