This is GSTC’s response to the letter from Stay Grounded (December 6th), regarding the GSTC2019 Global Sustainable Tourism Conference in the Azores.

18 December 2019

Dear Mira Kapfinger and the Stay Grounded Nework,

Thank you for expressing your views on our choice of location for our 2019 annual conference.

We certainly respect your perspectives and your work towards reduction of carbon emissions from aviation. Our selection of our conference venue was in keeping with our general approach to all our activities –that we provide tools for all existing forms of tourism to operate more sustainably.

Our work involves the four pillars of sustainability that the U.N. instilled in us at our founding: environmental protection such as lowering greenhouse gas emission, but also including social fairness, cultural protections, and sustainable management.

Avoiding tourism to islands entirely would make them double-victims of climate change: suffering the negative physical impacts of climate change along with decreased economic benefits from reduced demand. Our conference hosts invited our network precisely because they wish to manage more sustainably. We think that our policy of engagement with them or anyone is more realistic than not engaging where improvement is needed.

Ours is not a business-as-usual organization and neither are our conferences.  Our conferences are not large, instead confined to specialized players that seek to or already apply standards in their work. We interact mostly with that community via conference calls and webinars, but we see great value in enhancing the effectiveness of all with occasional in-person gatherings.

We are a global organization that is virtual – we have no offices, meaning we don’t emit GHG from any offices nor from staff commuting. Our Operations Manager, for example, just met others in our network – including her daily co-workers – for the first time in person after working entirely from her home office for two years. Certification Bodies that we work with and strengthen are scattered throughout the world. We are convinced that while we conduct most of our work and interactions via web conferencing, webinars, etc., occasional in-person meetings tremendously facilitate more effective action from our network of impact-makers.

We preach slow travel at every turn…less frequent but longer stays…choosing low-carbon transport… urging land transport providers and hotels to take strong measures to move rapidly to clean energy because they have more opportunities to do so than aviation currently does.  Additionally, the battle against overtourism from a global population of 7.6 billion people includes low-season visits as we have done with our conference.

Many of our members extended their stay on Terceira Island before and after the conference to appreciate the island, to provide more personal benefit to the amount of carbon emitted during their flights, and to provide economic support to the residents. We operated a very green conference, with paper and string name badges, beef-free menus, limited food waste (a major contributor to GHG), no single-use plastic, transport by foot or bus, and more. Our hosts funded a carbon offset activity with the planting of 2000 trees that would not otherwise have been planted through led by an expert staff that prepared the site and are committed to five years of nurturing the plantings completed by 100 of our international guests during a post-conference tour of the island.

To repeat, our goal is not to hold the largest conferences, but to engage major players in sustainability to strengthen the power of partnership via occasional in-person meetings. Last year we were in Botswana and engaged in a heavily African network; the year before in Chile; the year before in Korea. Many impactful players we work with see us once in 4 or 5 years. We wish you could have seen the enormous amount of meaningful exchange of practitioners from both the public and private sectors in creating or improving collaborative approaches to making their travel services more sustainable.  You tried to speak for us by stating that our conference goal was to promote sustainable tourism; when our true and stated goals were for practitioners of tourism generally and of “sustainable tourism” to learn, share, and partner. We are confident that those goals were largely met and that they will have impacts that cascade out widely relative to the numbers of people and carbon emitted from the conference.

Whether you fully appreciate or agree with all we’ve presented here, we hope that you can appreciate the sincerity of our efforts to foster more impactful approaches to more sustainable forms of tourism, including GHG emissions reductions.

Kindly circulate this letter to those that received a copy of the letter you sent to us.


Kind regards,

Randy Durband                   Luigi Cabrini
CEO                                        Chair of Board of Directors