An organization named the Partnership for Global Sustainable Tourism Criteria was formed in 2007 as a coalition of 32 partners, initiated by the Rainforest Alliance, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the United Nations Foundation, and the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO).
The purpose was to foster increased understanding of sustainable tourism practices and the adoption of universal sustainable tourism principles. In 2008, the GSTC Partnership developed a set of baseline criteria organized around the four pillars of sustainable tourism: effective sustainability planning; maximizing social and economic benefits to the local community; reduction of negative impacts to cultural heritage; and reduction of negative. These were the initial GSTC Criteria -- sustainability standards for hotel and tour operators. The coalition formally launched the GSTC Partnership October 6, 2008, at the IUCN World Conservation Congress.
The Global Sustainable Tourism Council's Criteria are the minimum requirements that any tourism business or public destination management authorities should aspire 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 poverty alleviation. To develop the original hotel and tour operator criteria, the GSTC Partnership consulted with sustainability experts and the tourism industry and reviewed more than 60 existing certification and voluntary sets of criteria already being implemented around the globe. In all, more than 4,500 criteria were analyzed and the resulting draft criteria received comments from over 2,000 stakeholders. Since the launch of the criteria in October 2008, the GSTC Partnership focused on engaging all tourism stakeholders – from purchasers to suppliers to consumers – to adopt the criteria.
In 2009 the Sustainable Tourism Stewardship Council was created to give form to regional certification networks that had begun forming from 2003.
Soon, the leadership of the two organizations announced plans to merge -- the Partnership for Global Sustainable Tourism Criteria and the Sustainable Tourism Stewardship Council (STSC). The UN Foundation facilitated the merger which was completed August 2010, forming the existing Global Sustainable Tourism Council. (Now the "C" in "GSTC" refers to "Council", replacing the earlier version where "C" referred to "Criteria".) The UN Foundation also provided the Secretariat through the end of 2012. UNEP also provided significant funding to launch the GSTC. Since December 2012, GSTC has been self-funded.
November 2013 saw the release of the GSTC's Destination Criteria (GSTC-D), which now serve as the world's baseline standards for tourism destination management and as a framework for national or regional sustainability standards.
In December 2014 the Council merged with the Tour Operator Initiative (TOI), an organization led by large tour operators committed to sustainable value chain development. Those energies and resources are now applied jointly to sustainable destination work based on GSTC-D.