Achieve GSTC Recognition of Standard


GSTC-Recognized means that a sustainable tourism standard has been deemed equivalent to the GSTC Criteria for sustainable tourism and is administered by a standard owner that meets GSTC requirements. This designation is made by GSTC’s Assurance Panel. This means that the GSTC has verified that the standard aligns with the GSTC Criteria and that any additional clauses do not contradict GSTC Criteria requirements.

The GSTC considers it desirable for all sustainable tourism standards to be aligned with the GSTC Criteria to ensure that an overall global baseline is set for sustainable tourism. The GSTC Criteria are developed and maintained according to the principles laid out in the Standards Setting Code of the ISEAL Alliance, utilizing a highly inclusive development process that produces globally-relevant outcomes.

GSTC-Recognized does NOT mean that the owner of the standard is accredited. In other words, Recognition is given to a standard, not to an organization or a certification scheme.

Why Apply?

The GSTC Criteria are regarded as universal standards for sustainable tourism, developed by a rigorous and highly inclusive process, meaning that complying with them adds a layer of credibility to other standards.

Well-known standards have already been recognized:


  • International credibility that the standard is Recognized as a standard that aligns with universal criteria for sustainable management, social and economic benefits to the local community, cultural heritage preservation and the reduction of pollution.
  • GSTC’s Market Access Program includes promotion of individual certified hotels through sharing the information with prominent online travel agencies (OTA’s) and offline to various travel providers to use for purposes of preferential buying
    * This is relevant only to standards used for 3rd-party verification, not for internal standards. Participation in the Market Access program is not automatically granted, eligibly will be reviewed after gaining Recognition.
  • Qualification for GSTC Accreditation of the certification program with the Certification Body’s own branded set of criteria (any Certification Body is a candidate to gain accreditation to certify to the GSTC Criteria)
  • Announcement of achievement in GSTC newsletter, GSTC website, and GSTC social media outlets


This applies to the GSTC Industry Criteria, GSTC Destination Criteria, and GSTC MICE Criteria.

A standard is eligible for GSTC Recognition if it is:

(1) Owned by a legal entity and not by an individual person


(2) Applied to more than one organizational unit (examples: a group of hotels or DMC’s but not a single location)

AND if one or more of the following apply:

  1. Used for certification by a GSTC-Accredited Certification Body
  2. Applied to national programs of legitimate national public authorities (or in some cases provincial/state) or their designated agents that operate in only one country
  3. Used in compliance with GSTC’s “Certification Scheme” (for information on this, see the GSTC Accreditation Manual for Hotel/Accommodation & Tour Operator v.3.1, Annex A page 67-68)
  4. Applied by its owner business for internal usage of measurement, evaluation, and improvement and NOT marketed externally as “certification”, nor implied to exist as a form of external certification or verification

Not eligible (partial list of common scenarios):

  • One-off awards
  • Certification Bodies that are neither accredited by GSTC nor designated formally by GSTC as a “Certification Scheme”
  • Internal programs of entities that are eligible for certification (examples: a specific hotel property is not eligible, but a chain or brand or any cluster with a common management system may be eligible per #4 in the above eligibility list)

GSTC’s Definition of ‘Certification’: Certification is defined as a third-party assessment, through an audit process, of a tourism enterprise or destination for conformity to a standard

Interpretations of ‘Award’: Awards are marks given in honor of an achievement associated with a standard. Awards are given once, without reference to continued verification such as expiry date, renewals, etc.

Maintaining Recognition Status

GSTC Recognized status remains in perpetuity as long as the following apply:

(1) Until either the GSTC Recognized standard changes or the GSTC Criteria is formally revised. In the latter case, a two-year period for adjustment to the revised GSTC Criteria will be allowed from the date of being recognized. In either case, any changes must be resubmitted for evaluation to ensure continued recognized status. We recommend informing GSTC at the beginning or during revision processes to support planning from both sides.

(2) The Standard owner pays annual maintenance fees – GSTC Membership covers the annual Recognition maintenance fee.

(3) Those Standard owners that do not meet the above requirements for either initial eligibility shall lose their GSTC-Recognized status as of January 1st, 2025. This was announced publicly and shared directly with all Recognized Standard owners on February 1st, 2023, and frequently after, allowing for a transition period to the new eligibility requirements.

Notes for GSTC Recognized standard owners that qualified under the previous requirements but may not qualify under the the new requirements (February 1st, 2023)

By December 31, 2024, owners of existing GSTC Recognized Standards used for “certification” need to either (1) formally open an application to pursue accreditation by GSTC; or (2) enter into a formally documented arrangement with GSTC whereby they act as a “Certification Scheme”.

If the accreditation application is closed after December 31, 2024, or an existing accreditation status lapses after that date, the Recognition status shall be immediately terminated. The Recognition status shall be reinstated at no cost if the accreditation is re-established within 6 months of the lapsed accreditation status.

Why the change in eligibility?

GSTC Recognition is generally misunderstood to be a mark on a program, including its auditing process, when in fact it is a mark on words and not processes. GSTC wishes to remove the extensive confusion in the marketplace surrounding this lack of understanding which conflicts with the aims of the program.

GSTC is aware of approximately 200+ labels globally for accommodations (eco, green, sustainable, or similar), most of which are described as “certification,” but in fact, many do not comply with international norms on the definition of certification. Some might be described as “guided self-assessments”; many are actually consulting firms that put a mark on clients without managing impartiality in providing such marks; there are many more variations of levels of verification.

Why is there no restriction for national and regional programs?

National: We allow a single-country program that is designated or endorsed by a public authority to act as a national program to maintain GSTC-Recognition status regardless of whether or not the program is GSTC-Accredited.

Why? We defer to national public policy authorities as the proper decision-makers for how certification operates in their country, whether in the form of a single body endorsed or legally mandated by the national government.

Regional: International cooperation can occur where small and medium-sized countries in a geographical area agree to develop a scale for effective operations. These are similar to national programs, and the logic above applies.

Attributes of international organizations that are not exempt from the restriction include:
* Standard Owners that market and/or operate their services as global
* Standard Owners that operate in various and geographically disconnected regions of the world

This rationale is also accepted in other voluntary sustainability standards frameworks, such as PEFC.

Recognition Process

Note: Due to the backlog of applications, we may not be able to begin processing new applications promptly. It may take more than five months to complete the application process rather than the normal three to four months. (Updated 10th July 2023)

The standard owner submits an application to the GSTC technical team for review. There is an optional consultation with a GSTC Technical Director prior to the submission of an application.

The GSTC team evaluates the standard against the GSTC Criteria. If the standard meets GSTC requirements, a report is prepared and sent to the GSTC Assurance Panel for final review and approval. If the standard does not meet the requirements the standard owner will be informed and an attempt will be made to help them meet the requirements. If the non-conformities cannot be remedied, the Assurance Panel will decline the petition. Standard owners can resubmit once they have complied with the requirements.

Standard owners will be notified via email whether their standard has been recognized, recognized with conditions for future improvement, or rejected with an explanation of the areas that must be improved.

GSTC Recognition Manual

The GSTC Recognition Manual guides the processes and procedures whereby owners of other sustainable tourism standards voluntarily seek formal verification by GSTC that their standard includes and complies with the GSTC Criteria.

Download GSTC Recognition Manual v5.0

Download Interpretation Document 2021INT01 RMv5.0 for clarification of the scope of GSTC Recognition.


Download the current price sheet

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