Why Become a Certified Tour Operator?
Being certified by a GSTC-Accredited Certification Body (CB) means that your operations comply with the highest social and environmental standards on the market. As public concern grows about the harmful effects and the positive impacts of travel and tourism, certification provides a credible solution to complex environmental and social issues.
Travel providers proudly display information regarding their certificate and the certifying body that issued it. Doing so informs your stakeholders — from customers to ownership and to your supply chain — that your business is operated with sound management that looks to the future and not merely at today.
Increasingly, luxury travelers as well as regular travelers, and your fellow travel provider clients are seeking confirmation that sustainability practices are in place. Also increasingly, travel companies are looking for a product that is not only certified sustainable, but certified sustainable by a certification program that is GSTC Accredited. For example, Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. announced on July 1st, 2016 that by being certified by a certifying body that carries a GSTC Certified mark, operators of shore excursions will gain preferential buying treatment, when feasible. Other travel providers also give preferential buying treatment to suppliers that are certified sustainable.
Join the growing number of tour operators throughout the world that have become certified sustainable, here is how.
How To Become Certified: Key Stages
1. Compare and select a certification body
Choose from the list below, of certification bodies that are Accredited by the GSTC. Tour operators are encouraged to shop for a certification body that can provide certification at a competitive price and offer strong customer service to the tour operator during the certification process.
2. Register and/or contract with a certification body
The certification body may require tour operators to officially register, fill out an application and pay a one-time fee. Some certification bodies may require tour operators to enter into a contract with the certification body. Contracts should always be read carefully prior to an agreement.
3. Self-Assessment or Pre-Assessment (optional)
Prior to starting the certification process, some certification bodies offer the option to conduct a short self-evaluation to determine if certification is worth the time, money and effort. Costs may be associated with this step.
4. Submit application/documentary evidence to certification body
Once ready to formally start the certification process, the tour operator will submit an application. The certification body will request information and various business documents to see how the tour operator’s practices and procedures comply with the GSTC standard. The documents should be submitted within the deadline stipulated by the certification body.
5. Desktop assessment and consultation
The certification body will review all documentation submitted and compare to their GSTC Recognized standard. During this period the certification body will consult the tour operator to clarify any questions about its operations. The length of this process can vary depending on the extent of the tour operator’s documented policies.
6. Onsite audit
The certification body will visit the tour operator’s office to see how its policies are put into action. A part of the certification body’s process should also audit a sample of tours offered by the operator, to ensure that those tours are in line with its declared business practices.
7. Certification body reports
After the certification body’s assessment, the tour operator should have a chance to view a draft report and voice any factual objections. This period allows the operator to contest or provide any supporting information to support certification. The certification body’s report will then be finalized, shared with the tour operator, concluding whether GSTC Certification can be awarded.
8. Certification issued
Certification is issued once the certification body has confirmed that the tour operator meets the GSTC standard. A formal certificate will be issued by the certification body.
9. Logo use
As part of becoming certified, the certification body will notify GSTC, and the tour operator will be eligible to use the GSTC’s worldwide-recognized logo in its marketing materials upon signing a licensing agreement with the GSTC and paying a modest licensing fee.
If the certification application is not approved right away, the assessor would provide the tour operator with recommendations and corrective actions. Tour operators can then work with the certification body’s dedicated customer service representative to show the certification body that these corrective actions have been followed, so the tour operator can achieve certification.
11. Annual audits
The certification body will review the progress and improvements made for any corrective actions that were requested as the tour operator nears the date for renewal of certification. Audit duration and frequency can depend on the tour operator’s size and complexity of operations. Most certification bodies require an annual onsite audit every 1.5 to 3 years. The certification body can conduct audits at their discretion and unannounced if they feel there is a need. Tour operators should check with the certification body to understand how frequently audits may occur.
12. Certification renewal
Tour operators should check with the certification body to see when the certification renewal process should begin. It generally is between 4-6 weeks prior to expiration of certification.
GSTC-Accredited Certification Bodies for Tour Operations
The Certification Bodies listed here have been accredited by GSTC to certify tour operators. As such, these certifying bodies and their certificate-holders are authorized to display the designated GSTC Logo (upon completion of a licensing agreement with the GSTC).
Control Union Certifications offers a global one-stop-shop for a wide range of certification programmes. We understand the importance of impartiality and objectivity, and how to professionally manage conflicts of interest. From the beginning, sustainability has been the main focus of our certification services. Control Union Certifications presents a wide range of programmes in agriculture, food, feed, forest products, textiles and bio energy. In 2016, Control Union Certifications became the first Accredited CAB for the GSTC Criteria for Hotels and Tour Operators, which provides the highest level in terms of credibility within the GSTC Integrity program.
EarthCheck is a leading scientific benchmarking, certification and advisory group for travel and tourism. Since 1987, we have helped businesses, communities and governments to deliver clean, safe, prosperous and healthy destinations for travellers to visit, live, work and play. The EarthCheck program is built on Agenda 21 principles and is currently used in more than 70 countries across the globe in six languages. EarthCheck patented software and systems have set a benchmark for sustainability reporting for the travel and tourism industry.
Ecotourism Australia is a not for profit organisation that is focused on inspiring environmentally sustainable and culturally responsible tourism. Ecotourism Australia was formed in 1991 and is the peak industry body for ecotourism in Australia, managing four certification programs for tourism operators. Their primary product development tool, ECO certification, is a world recognised program with a UNESCO World Heritage Centre MOU and is Approved by the Global Sustainable Tourism Council. They work with and represent Ecotourism operators, Protected Area Managers, State and Regional Tourism Organisations, Government agencies and other stakeholders.
The Rainforest Alliance works with hotels, restaurants and other tourism businesses to help them improve their environmental, social and economic practices. Through training and technical assistance, we teach them how to operate sustainably and verify their progress toward this goal. Those enterprises that meet our requirements are eligible to receive promotional benefits, including the use of the Rainforest Alliance Verified™ mark.
- Certification by a Certification Body whose standard is “GSTC Recognized” does NOT carry the same meaning as certification by a Certification Body that is accredited by GSTC. “GSTC Recognized” relates to a published set of standards and NOT to the process of certification or accreditation. Click here to learn more about GSTC Recognized and to view lists of standards that are Recognized by the GSTC as adhering to the GSTC Criteria.
The above Certification Bodies have been Accredited for compliance with the requirements of the Manual for GSTC Accreditation. GSTC-Accredited mean that the certification procedures largely meet international standards for transparency, impartiality, and competence.
Sample Questions to Ask a Certification Body:
- How much will it cost to become certified? Do you offer group pricing in order to reduce costs? Are there other special pricing arrangements you can offer me?
- Do you offer the option to conduct a pre-assessment to see how my business measures up to the GSTC standard and whether we might run into any challenges prior to conducting the certification audit?
- How long do you anticipate certification assessment process will take with a company of our size?
- During the assessment process, what type of documents will you ask our company to provide? Is there a document noting what we will need that we can review beforehand?
- During the certification assessment, do you evaluate all of our tours, or only a selection?
- In addition to conducting the assessment, what other support services and/or tools are included for me to manage my compliance with the sustainability standard?
- If you offer training, what topics do you cover?
- Does your company offer tour operators undergoing certification a dedicated customer service personnel?
- What happens if we fail to attain certification?
- How many tour operators have you certified?
- Can you provide a reference from a customer, comparative to our business that has undergone an assessment with your certification body?
- Are there any marketing or other benefits our company would receive by becoming certified with you?