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 UN agencies, NGO’s, national and provincial governments, leading travel companies, hotels, tour operators, 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.

What does the GSTC do?

The GSTC Criteria serve as baseline standards for sustainability in global travel and tourism.  The 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.

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 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.

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 makes 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 the GSTC Destinations Program.

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 group works to identify opportunities and solutions for alignment greater market potential. The Market Access Working Group plays an integral role in helping the GSTC achieve these goals.

Learn more about GSTC Market Access Program.

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 of the GSTC Sustainable Tourism Training Program.

History of GSTC

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.

December 2016 saw the release of the GSTC’s Industry Criteria (GSTC-I).

December 2019 saw the release of the GSTC’s Destination Criteria version 2 (GSTC-Dv2).