GSTC Business Plan

GSTC Business Plan: 2012 - 2014

“Promoting the widespread adoption of global sustainable tourism standards to ensure the tourism industry continues to drive conservation and poverty alleviation”

For more information or a copy of the Strategic Business Plan complete with all financial details, please contact the GSTC Board of Directions at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Executive Summary

The Global Sustainable Tourism Council is a global, multi-stakeholder membership organization dedicated to increasing the reach, awareness and recognition of sustainable tourism practices through large and small enterprise operations and to endorsing the principles of the Global Sustainable Tourism Criteria.

The Global Sustainable Tourism Council has made significant strides since its inception in 2010. The organization has an active membership and board and the main product of the organization, the GSTC Criteria, is the foundation of many national programs and global policies establishing sustainable tourism development. The Criteria are a set of universal principles that create a common language and framework for sustainable travel and tourism.

To protect and sustain the world’s natural and cultural resources while ensuring travel and tourism meets its potential as a tool for conservation and poverty alleviation, the GSTC Standards Recognition program is in full operation. This program is focused on helping to bring clarity and confidence to the marketplace, and laying the foundation for programs that will lead to market credibility and support for the tourism industry’s sustainable development goals.  

The GSTC is now transitioning, as per its original strategic plan, to become an independent, self-sustaining non-profit organization.  The GSTC Board is energized by the opportunity to scale the GSTC to meet the demand for sustainable tourism that is evident in the marketplace today, and is engaging in this transition period with vigor, integrity and deeper collaboration with members and collaborators.  This plan identifies the priorities to assist the GSTC in reaching its full potential as a leading organization dedicated to ensuring sustainable development and management in the tourism industry, maximizing its power to effect positive change worldwide.


Tourism, as the world’s largest global industry, offers great opportunities for contributing to sustainable development and poverty alleviation. Tourism represents 5% of the global GDP, one in every 12 jobs worldwide; it is the main export for a third of developing countries. A billion international tourists have crossed a border in 2012 and by 2030 this number is expected to reach 1.8 billion.   At the United Nations Sustainable Development conference (Rio+20)in June 2012, Travel and Tourism was recognized as an industry that can make a significant contribution to the three dimensions of sustainable development (economic, social, environmental), that creates sustainable employment, and that generates significant trade opportunities.  As the Rio+20 outcome documentstates, this can be achieved by “supporting sustainable tourism activities and relevant capacity building that promote environmental awareness, conserve and protect the environment, respect wildlife, flora, biodiversity and ecosystems and cultural diversity, and improve the welfare and livelihoods of local communities by supporting their local economies and the human and natural environment as a whole.”

Investment in sustainable development – and sustainable tourism - must include promoting these offerings, facilitating access to finance mechanisms, and engaging local communities in areas with high tourism potential. As recognized by all parties, and clearly stated in the same document “The Future We want”, it is essential to establish appropriate guidelines and standards that can support national priorities and legislation for promoting and supporting sustainable tourism.


The Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC) is a multi-stakeholder global tourism organization. Born as a strategic coalition of partners under the umbrella of the United Nations (UN), and the strong support of the UN Foundation, the UN Environmental Program and the UN World Tourism Organization, the GSTC brings together businesses, governments, non-governmental organizations, academia, individuals and communities engaged in, and striving to achieve best practices in sustainable tourism.  Established as a membership council, the GSTC serves as the international body for promoting education, understanding and adoption of global sustainable tourism practices. The GSTC compiles, reviews, adapts and develops tools and resources to foster sustainable tourism practices and increase demand for sustainable tourism products and services.  At the core of its work are the GSTC Criteria publicly launched in October 2008, after an extensive public consultation.  


The Global Sustainable Tourism Criteria (the Criteria) are a set of global guiding principles. They represent the minimum requirements necessary for any travel and tourism business to reach in order to protect and sustain the world’s natural and cultural resources while ensuring tourism meets its potential as a tool for conservation and poverty alleviation.  The Criteria can be adapted and expanded to the specific conditions of each region of the world and each industry sector, as the key issues for sustainability will have different emphasis under differing conditions. The GSTC Criteria form the foundation of the GSTC-Recognized, GSTC-Approved and GSTC-Accredited programs and are now being developed for Destinations.

Vision: Tourism fulfills its potential as a vehicle for the conservation of destinations and their natural and cultural heritage and the generation of socio-economic benefits for all stakeholders.

Mission: To be an agent of change in the world of sustainable travel and tourism by fostering the increased knowledge, understanding, adoption and demand for sustainable tourism practices.


The Global Sustainable Tourism Council is a membership-based not-for-profit, non-governmental organization, which represents diverse stakeholders in tourism, through its membership council




The Membership Council is made up of sustainable travel and tourism stakeholders including for-profits, non-profits and individuals. Organizational members designate one representative to act as the liaison between the organization and GSTC, and represent the organization at the Membership Council as well as during voting procedures.

A Board of Directors manages the GSTC and is responsible for governance oversight of the council’s mandate, program of work, and operations (including staffing, budget, and administrative affairs).

There are 19 available board seats:   

  • 12 elected seats – these seats are filled by those elected by the GSTC membership through an election process. Seats are open to any GSTC member in good standing.
  • 2 permanent seats – these seats are filled by UNWTO, a United Nations agency, and UNEP, a UN programme. Other United Nation agencies and affiliates that become members of the GSTC may be invited to serve on the Board in the same capacity.
  • 5 appointed seats – these seats are appointed by the board and are based on the individual’s experience and potential financial contribution to the organization.  These will be filled as the need arises.

    Observers: the board can designate observer status to individuals or category of individuals as required.  They will have a voice but not a vote.

A semi-autonomous Accreditation Panel, chaired by an expert who is not part of the GSTC Board, manages the Recognition, Approval and Accreditation program. The accreditation manual defines the Accreditation Panel’s work.

Working groups, with representation by a board member, manage the strategic planning and implementation of each of the program areas

The organization is managed by a Secretariat that leads and coordinates the implementation of the objectives and initiatives of the organization.

The operation and governance of the organization is detailed in two documents: the By-Laws of the organization and an operational manual.

Strategic Direction – Transition Period (2012-2013)

During the last two (2) years the GSTC has achieved significant growth and has developed the resources and frameworks that prepare the way for accelerating the execution of the developed programs. The GSTC has achieved major milestones since its inception, including:

  • Membership almost tripled to 230
  • Twelve (12) recognized standards, and one (1) approved standard (Biosphere)
  • First round of consultation on the destination criteria with 5 pilots
  • Widespread social media outreach
  • Successful annual meeting 190 participants – 89 members
  • Presence in over 50 forums annually

Now, GSTC needs to scale and grow, and is facing a crucial transition period (2013 – 2014) where the organization is re-defining its primary revenue sources for self-sustainment, focusing on the core value of the organization, and determining key opportunities for market outreach through strategic partnerships and membership development.


For the next year, the GSTC will concentrate on 1) progressing adoption of the GSTC Criteria, 2) advancing the recognition/approval process, 3) completing the criteria and tools for destinations and 4) consolidating and expanding the membership.

1.    Adoption of the GSTC Criteria

With the ultimate goal of creating ongoing demand for sustainable tourism products and meeting the needs of the public and private sector in the advancement of sustainable development through travel and tourism, the GSTC will work through the Market Access working group to deliver easy access to the GSTC-Recognized and GSTC-Approved businesses. This includes working with Global Distribution Systems (GSDs), leading industry and trade associations, and Online Travel Agencies (OTAs) to develop market mechanisms to present sustainable tourism products to consumers.

In addition to developing large-scale distribution, the GSTC will work with Destination Management Organizations (DMOs) and Tourism Boards to build recognition programs and promotional opportunities for small enterprises and community based tourism organizations.

Finally, the GSTC will engage with multilateral organizations and governments to establish procurement strategies favoring sustainable tourism products and provide the necessary tools to implement.

2.    Recognition/Approval of Tourism Certification Standards and Programs

GSTC, through the Accreditation Panel, will continue to work with global tourism certification programs and standards to validate equivalence with the GSTC Criteria and award GSTC-Recognized or GSTC-Approved status.  Benefits for the tourism certification programs include; promotion of the standards via the GSTC website, inclusion in the GSTC official list of certified businesses and use of GSTC logos and approved language.

  • GSTC-Recognized means that a sustainable tourism standard has been reviewed by GSTC technical experts and the GSTC Accreditation Panel and deemed equivalent to the GSTC Criteria for sustainable tourism and is administered by a standard owner that meets GSTC requirements. This is the first step towards GSTC approval of certification programs or the accreditation of certification bodies.
  • GSTC-Approved means that a Sustainable TourismCertification program is using a GSTC-Recognized standard and following acceptable processes and procedures. This guarantees the credibility of the certification programs.  Benefits for businesses certified by a GSTC-Approved certification program include using the Travel Forever GSTC Approved language and logos.

3.    Destination Criteria

Building on the existing set of criteria for hotel and tour operators, the GSTC will complete the work that has begun to develop widely accepted sustainable tourism certification standards for destinations. The criteria will be the foundation for comprehensive destination stewardship by the tourism industry.

In parallel with the public consultation of the Destinations Criteria, and following standard ISEAL guidelines, a second phase of early testing of the Criteria will complement the first phase to ensure that multiple types of destinations have been included in the “Early Adopter” and final process.  The results will provide recommendations for the refinement of the criteria and the delivery of a second version, which will undergo a second public consultation.  The validation of the Criteria through the field-testing and the two (2) public consultation periods, in which each comment is reviewed and addressed, will ensure that the GSTC Destinations Criteria and indicators reflect an inclusive multi-stakeholder process that will enable good destination stewardship by the travel and tourism industry.

4.    Building the Membership

The GSTC has a diverse and active membership. Joining the GSTC gives members access to unique networking opportunities with a diverse and global constituency; tools and educational resources to implement the GSTC principles; market access opportunities; examples of best practices; and updates on its members and their successes. 

The Board and the Membership Committee are revising the existing membership structure in order to maximize revenue from membership fees and ensure a self-sustaining source of revenue for GSTC. The plan will include establishing mechanisms for maximizing revenue from fundraising, events, functions, merchandising, professional development and membership upgrades as well as an overall review of current membership levels and fees.


Once the GSTC is able to extend its efforts beyond the core initiatives aforementioned, it will also look to strengthen the certification process, building the market for sustainable products through education and training, and further develop destination stewardship programs.

1.    Groundwork for Accreditation Program

Over the next two years, and in parallel to the activities described above, the GSTC will continue efforts to launch the GSTC Accreditation Program, targeting 2014 for the official rollout. The official launch of this program will be dictated in part by advances over the next three years in the following areas:

  • Market advances – industry interest and willingness to engaged in these efforts
  • Advances in recognition of standards and approval of certification programs
  • Public policy demands at a local, regional and national level

The GSTC will invite certification programs to become GSTC-AccreditedGSTC-Accredited means that a certification program is using a GSTC-Recognized standard and is following process and procedures that have been reviewed and authorized by an accreditation body approved by the GSTC.  

Any certification program using a GSTC-Recognized standard can, at any point in time between now and 2014, elect to move directly to accreditation. They must follow the procedures established in the GSTC Accreditation Manual with any GSTC endorsed accreditation body.

2.    Education and Training

To achieve the organization’s objectives, the GSTC must educate stakeholders on sustainable tourism and provide the necessary tools to support the training of staff and implementers.

For those seeking to achieve GSTC approval or accreditation, tools and training are critical.  The Education and Training Working Group will lead the effort to create training courses for businesses and governments, programs for NGO’s and curricula for academia and vocational training institutes.  Efforts will also be focused on building capacity for tourism industry to promote and sell sustainable tourism products and services as well as educate their customers about more sustainable travel options.

The GSTC in coordination with the Education and Training Working Group will continue to manage an online library functioning as a clearing house for industry best practices, white papers, training guides, cases studies, form templates and tool kits.

3.    Destination Stewardship

Once the Destination Criteria are launched, the GSTC can work with destinations, destination certification programs, government bodies, tourism boards or suppliers to promote sustainable tourism as a mechanism for sustainable development, conservation and poverty alleviation at the destination level. GSTC will also look to provide tools for multi-stakeholder engagement in these development and stewardship efforts with – at its core – the GSTC Destinations and Hotel/Tour Operator criteria.


Communications efforts will focus on outreach to the travel industry and associations, academia, NGOs and destinations. These strategic groups will encourage GSTC membership growth, disseminate educational materials and increase sustainable product development.

The GSTC will engage efficient media solutions including social media, advertising partnerships and earned media placements. The GSTC will also leverage the Board and membership to extend our messaging reach and provide access to strategic partnerships.

Strategic Priorities

  1. Build brand equity through GSTC communications channels: website, social media, press releases, newsletters, member emails and themed campaign.
  2. Position the GSTC as a subject matter expert on sustainable tourism.
  3. Communicate value proposition to support membership growth and paid services.
  4. Provide relevant and timeline information to GSTC membership to facilitate the implementation of sustainable practices.
  5. Help build demand for sustainable travel and tourism products.


The Global Sustainable Tourism Council has made significant strides since its inception in 2010. The organization has an active membership and board, the main product of the organization, the GSTC Criteria, is the foundation of many national programs and global policies establishing sustainable tourism development. The GSTC Standards Recognition program is in full operation helping to bring clarity and confidence to the marketplace. The travel and tourism industry, through membership in the GSTC, is actively working with NGOs and multilateral organizations to create a new paradigm in their industry.

The GSTC is proud of this work but there is much more to be done. Capacity must be built, educational tools need to be developed, reliable distribution systems must be established and confidence must be fostered to the marketplace and with consumers.

We are at a crossroads in the trajectory of sustainable travel and tourism. The systems are in place, the membership is engaged, and the staff is ready. We foresee incredible progress over the next two years and welcome all stakeholders to join us!

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