Sierra Gorda, Mexico

The Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC) conducted its Early Adopter program from 2012 through early 2014. During the program, a diverse group of fourteen forward-thinking destinations worldwide pilot tested the  Global Sustainable Tourism Criteria for Destinations.

Each Early Adopter underwent a baseline destination sustainability assessment applying the Criteria, and received recommendations to address any gaps. Early Adopters also provided their feedback on the Criteria. This input from the fourteen diverse destinations was critical to ensuring that the GSTC Criteria for Destinations are appropriate and applicable as the global performance standard for destination sustainability.

Several Early Adopter representatives joined us in Bonito, Brazil, in April during the GSTC’s 2014 Annual General  Meeting (AGM), and discussed their experiences. They shared their insights about tourism planning, economic development, community involvement, heritage protection, and environmental conservation. They discussed the considerable progress their destinations have made on sustainability issues and the challenges they currently face.

Richard Malesu, Environment & Safety Coordinator at Botswana Tourism Organization, described the difficulties his destination faces, including “finding balance between community and farming” in an effort to sustain natural and cultural integrity in the Okavango Delta.

Riviera Maya’s brand slogan is paradise is forever. Beatrice Barreal, who directs Sustainable Riviera Maya, explained: “For a paradise forever, » she « it has to be for everyone, as there are no private paradises. » Barreal outlined the challenges the organization she directs faces in ensuring a long-term tourism model to benefit all Riviera Maya stakeholders.

Similarly, Jorge Moller, who represented Lake Llanquihue, Chile, at the AGM, explained the intricate relationships between the Lake Llanquihue DMO and local farmers regarding “what to do with its beautiful landscapes” in the Northern Patagonia region.

It is now several months—and, in some destinations’ cases, two years—since the Early Adopters received their GSTC baseline sustainability assessments. As a result of the GSTC interaction during the AGM, we are now gearing up to check in with the Early Adopters again, in a blog series called, “GSTC Early Adopters, Revisited.” As part of this series, about every few weeks, we will showcase one of the Early Adopters—briefly profiling their destination stewardship activities post-GSTC assessment.

Have the GSTC’s recommendations served as a catalyst for sustainable development and management of the Early Adopter destinations? What have the fourteen participating destinations been up to in destination stewardship since the Early Adopter program? Stay tuned.


About the GSTC

The Global Sustainable Tourism Council is a global initiative dedicated to promoting sustainable tourism efforts around the world. Housed within the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), the GSTC works to expand understanding of and access to sustainable tourism practices; helps identify and generate markets for sustainable tourism; and educates about and advocates for a set of universal principles, as defined by the Global Sustainable Tourism Criteria. The Criteria, a set of voluntary principles that provide a framework for the sustainability of tourism businesses and destinations across the globe, is the cornerstone of our initiative. For more information, visit

About the GSTC Destination Criteria

A panel of business owners, academics, government officials, and other experts, who examined the UN World Tourism Organization’s Indicators of Sustainable Development and other such guidelines currently in existence, developed the GSTC’s Destination Criteria. Because the Criteria are intended to describe a globally applicable set of minimum steps needed to approach sustainability, the criteria are seen as a baseline that each destination should add to or adjust as needed.

The GSTC does not aim to certify destinations as sustainable; rather, the Council reviews existing certification standards and acknowledges those that meet its Criteria. However, any destination may use the new Criteria as a guide to improve environmental, cultural, and social practices.