What is the GSTC?

The Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC) is managing the GSTC Criteria, global standards for sustainable travel and tourism; as well as providing international accreditation for sustainable tourism Certification Bodies.

The Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC) establishes and manages global sustainable standards, known as the GSTC Criteria. There are two sets: Destination Criteria for public policy-makers and destination managers, and Industry Criteria for hotels and tour operators. These are the guiding principles and minimum requirements that any tourism business or destination 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 conservation and poverty alleviation.

The GSTC Criteria form the foundation Accreditation for Certification Bodies that certify hotels/accommodations, tour operators/transport providers, and destinations as having sustainable policies and practices in place. GSTC does not directly certify any products or services; but provides an accreditation program through its partner ASI/Assurance Services International to accredit Certification Bodies.

The GSTC is an independent and neutral organization, legally registered in the USA as a 501(c)3 non-profit organization that represents a diverse and global membership, including national and provincial governments, leading travel companies, hotels, tour operators, NGO’s, individuals and communities – all striving to achieve best practices in sustainable tourism.  It is a virtual organization without a main office, with staff and volunteers working from all six populated continents. Financial support from donations, sponsorship, and membership fees allows us to provide services at low costs and to create, revise, and make available the GSTC Criteria.

Membership is open to all interested parties and does not by itself imply endorsement by the GSTC of the policies and practices of the member organization.

More details on GSTC’s legal status.

GSTC has a number of logos in use. For more details, please visit this page about the GSTC logos usage guidelines.

What does the GSTC do?

Developing International Standards – the GSTC Criteria

The GSTC Criteria serve as baseline standards for sustainability in global travel and tourism.  The GSTC Criteria can be used in many important ways:

  • Serve as basic guidelines for businesses and destinations of all sizes and all over the world to become more sustainable
  • Serve as guidance for travelers and travel providers in choosing suppliers and sustainable tourism programs
  • Serve as a common denominator for media to recognize sustainable tourism providers
  • Help certification and other voluntary programs ensure that their standards meet a broadly-accepted baseline
  • Offer governmental, non-governmental and private sector programs a starting point for developing sustainable tourism requirements
  • Serve as baseline guidelines for education and training bodies such as hotel schools and Universities

The GSTC Criteria provide a comprehensive definition of sustainable travel and tourism. They are based on the important four pillars, relating to not only impacts to our physical environment but also social and cultural, plus a 4th pillar relating to managing for sustainability.

Read more about the GSTC Criteria.

Serving as the Accreditation Body for Sustainability in Travel & Tourism

GSTC and its partner ASI (Assurance Services International) serve as an Accreditation Body for Certification Bodies that certify hotels/accommodations, tour operators, and destinations as sustainable.

What is the difference between certification and accreditation? Organizations get certified by a Certification Body, and Certification Bodies get accredited by an Accreditation Body. Both levels, certification and accreditation, exist to provide evidence of neutrality and competence in the process of certification. GSTC does NOT certify anything directly. But we add credibility to qualified Certification Bodies that choose to apply to become accredited by us.

GSTC also recognizes other standards that align with the GSTC Criteria. GSTC-Recognized means that a sustainable tourism standard has been deemed equivalent to the GSTC Criteria for sustainable tourism. This designation is made by GSTC’s expert, independent Assurance Panel. GSTC-Recognized refers to a standard or a system and does NOT mean that the Certification Body using the standard is accredited.

Read more about GSTC accreditation of certification bodies and GSTC recognition of standards.

Making Destinations Sustainable

Destination stewardship is a process by which local communities; governmental agencies, NGOs, and the tourism industry take a multi-stakeholder approach to maintaining the cultural, environmental, economic, and esthetic integrity of their country, region, or town. In other words, to ensure that the destination retains and enhances the distinctive attributes that make it attractive to beneficial tourism. The GSTC developed the GSTC Destination Criteria and subsequent programs to help destinations apply the Criteria to their destination management programs.

Learn more about GSTC for Destinations.

Promoting Market Access

The GSTC promotes the development of broad market adoption and application of the GSTC Criteria. With the ultimate goal of increasing demand for sustainable travel and tourism offerings and building trust amongst travelers, the GSTC works to identify opportunities and solutions for alignment greater market potential, working closely with prominent OTAs and large travel providers.

Learn more about GSTC Market Access Program.

Increasing Knowledge

The GSTC is committed to ensuring that sustainable tourism best practices are adopted and implemented by the industry and the traveling public. The GSTC Sustainable Tourism Training Program (STTP), with the support of the Education and Training Working Group, is tasked with developing and identifying the tools and resources to facilitate the transition to sustainable practices, and delivering training classes for a wide range of tourism industry professionals including: hotel and tour operators, destination managers, government officials, resource managers, educational consultants, and academic institutions.

Learn more about the GSTC Sustainable Tourism Training Program (STTP).

History of GSTC

2007 – Partnership for Global Sustainable Tourism Criteria was formed

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 (UN 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. Through the development of a set of universal, globally accepted criteria the partnership took the first step toward standardizing a common language for sustainable tourism.

Additional members of the GSTC Partnership were the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AH&LA), American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA), Caribbean Alliance for Sustainable Tourism (CAST), Choice Hotels, Conde Nast Traveler, Conservation International (CI), ECOTRANS, Expedia, Inc., Federation of Tour Operators (FTO), HM Design, Hyatt Hotels and Resorts, Instituto do Hospitalidade, International Hotel & Restaurant Association (IH&RA), the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), Kenyan Ecotourism Society, the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity (SCBD), Solimar International, Sustainable Travel International (STI), Tourism Concern, Travelocity/Sabre, and VISIT.

2008 – GSTC Criteria was developed

Over a period of 15 months, the 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 have been analyzed and more than 80,000 people, including conservationists, industry leaders, governmental authorities and UN bodies, have been invited to comment on the resulting criteria. The coalition formally launched the criteria on October 6, 2008, at the IUCN World Conservation Congress.

The set of baseline criteria were organized around the four pillars of sustainable tourism: (1) effective sustainability planning; (2) maximizing social and economic benefits to the local community; (3) reduction of negative impacts to cultural heritage; and (4) reduction of negative impacts to the environment. These were the initial GSTC Criteria — sustainability standards for hotel and tour operators.

Once the criteria were launched in October 2008, the GSTC Partnership focused on engaging all tourism stakeholders – from purchasers to suppliers to consumers – to adopt the criteria.

2009 – Sustainable Tourism Stewardship Council was created

In 2009 the Sustainable Tourism Stewardship Council (STSC) was created to give form to regional certification networks that had begun forming from 2003.

The STSC was designed to enhance the sustainability of tourism operations by ensuring better environmental and social performance, and improved economic benefits to local communities and to certified businesses worldwide. The STSC initiative proposed the development of a mechanism to accredit certifying bodies or certification programs based on their performance and help ensure that certification is being conducted in an objective and transparent manner. Through accreditation, certification programs would be able to demonstrate their capacity to undertake certification and, thus, build credibility with both consumers and businesses.

The STSC had envisioned the development of a “seal of approval” to programs meeting its accreditation requirements, monitor compliance with such requirements, guide the establishment and development of new certification programs, and promote the concept and practice of sustainable tourism to an ever-widening audience.

2010 – Global Sustainable Tourism Council was merged

Considering the broad overlap of goals, and the role of the Global Sustainable Tourism Criteria as the foundation for the proposed STSC accreditation standard, the STSC Temporary Executive Board together with the GSTC Partnership Steering Committee agreed that the two efforts should merge into one single body – the Global Sustainable Tourism Council.

Soon, the leadership of the two organizations – the Partnership for Global Sustainable Tourism Criteria and the Sustainable Tourism Stewardship Council (STSC) – announced plans to merge. The UN Foundation facilitated the merger which was completed in August 2010, forming the existing Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC). Now the “C” in “GSTC” refers to “Council”, replacing the earlier version where “C” referred to “Criteria”. 

Launched in 2010, the GSTC began serving as the international body for fostering the increased knowledge and understanding of sustainable tourism practices, the adoption of universal sustainable tourism principles, and the promotion of sustainable tou