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 tourism accreditation, products and services.

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.

2013 – GSTC Destination Criteria was released

November 2013 saw the release of the GSTC’s Destination Criteria (GSTC-D), which serve as the world’s baseline standards for tourism destination management and as a framework for national or regional sustainability standards.

2014 – GSTC merged with the Tour Operator Initiative (TOI)

In December 2014 the Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC) 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.

2016 – GSTC Industry Criteria was released

December 2016 saw the release of the GSTC Industry Criteria (GSTC-I), which is the third version of the GSTC Criteria from 2008.

2019 – GSTC Destination Criteria second version was released

December 2019 saw the release of the GSTC Destination Criteria version 2 (GSTC-Dv2). The GSTC-D v2 includes performance indicators designed to provide guidance in measuring compliance with the Criteria. Application of the criteria will help a destination to contribute towards the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).  Against each of the Criteria, one or more of the 17 SDGs is identified, to which it most closely relates.