Mexican biosphere reserve Sierra Gorda adopts baseline criteria and indicators for sustainable tourism

March 11, 2013 – Sierra Gorda Biosphere Reserve in  Mexico is the first Central American destination to complete the Global  Sustainable Tourism Council’s (GSTC) GSTC Early Adopters Program to test its new Criteria and Indicators for Destinations, under the scope of the GSTC’s Destination Partner Program in collaboration with  Sustainable Travel International(STI).

sierragordaqueretaro.gifLocated in central Mexico, Sierra Gorda is one of the most eco-diverse protected areas recognized under UNESCO’s Man and the Biosphere Program, which promotes sustainable development based on local community efforts and sound science. The destination’s tourism assets encompass natural, scenic, and cultural richness, with sweeping landscapes, waterfalls, rivers, wildlife and archaeological sites.

“The Sierra Gorda region has solidified their commitment to helping their local communities preserve two major conservation areas in the Sierra Gorda region: one in Querétaro and one in the state of San Luis Potosi, through sustainable tourism development and their work in the GSTC Destination Partnership Program.  Through this collaboration and network, ecotourism is an impetus for conservation efforts and addressing poverty alleviation full scale.  We highly commend Sierra Gorda’s leadership in working towards sustainable development and addressing the current challenges within the region” expressed Dr. Kelly Bricker, GSTC Chair, Board of Directors.

Assisted by Grupo Ecológico Sierra Gorda – destination Liason – Sustainable Travel International conducted an on-site evaluation of Sierra Gorda as part of the GSTC Destination Criteria Early Adopter Program. “The community-driven approach in Sierra Gorda is extraordinary, and at the very heart of Grupo Ecológico Sierra Gorda’s mission. The destination’s excellent stewardship practices include carbon emission and waste management, the involvement of local community groups in conservation initiatives, and effective capacity building programs for local micro-enterprises. We are confident Sierra Gorda will build on these strengths while adopting recommendations for improvement in the coming period,” concluded Kathleen Pessolano, the “Assessor” and Senior Director of Destinations at Sustainable Travel International.

During a 10-day span, Ms. Pessolano met with key stakeholders in Sierra Gorda to discuss tourism planning and management, economic development, community involvement, heritage protection, and environmental conservation. As a result, the Evaluation Report revealed that the destination has made considerable progress on some significant destination sustainability issues, highlighting: public commitment to destination sustainability, rules and regulations to prevent visual and noise pollution, bringing artisans, local growers and businesses into the tourism value chain and practices to promote local culture.

Several key areas remain in need of attention: establishing coordinated planning and management of tourism as a whole, monitoring sustainable destination management issues, establishing and enforcing clear codes of conduct in the destination, and strengthening efforts in tourism awareness.

“We have worked for 26 years embedding sustainability into the communities of spectacular Sierra Gorda, creating a regional culture of sustainability. The destination’s protected legal status as a Biosphere Reserve occurred as a direct result of a community-led grassroots movement. The development of community capacity, valuation of ecosystem services, and tools and capabilities for community-owned micro-enterprises allow us to build a conservation economy and community land ownership. Our destination sustainability initiatives are based on our culture of complete respect for nature and the local communities, where we work closely with micro-enterprises to help strengthen their products and capacity. Participation in the GSTC’s destination sustainability program will help position us as a destination that values sustainability in tourism development, and help us reach new tourist markets,” recognized Martha Isabel Ruiz Corzo, Director of the Grupo Ecológico Sierra Gorda

“The State of Querétaro has vast natural resources, including a wide diversity of climates, ecosystems, fauna, flora, and, of course, incredible landscapes. For the Ministry of Tourism, this natural treasure represents a great opportunity to develop and bring tourism to all corners of the State. Therefore, the Government of the State of Querétaro has made an unprecedented investment over the years in promoting a culture of tourism and training that has strengthened the local tourism industry, and produced top-notch and sustainability-certified tourism offerings. We have worked with the private sector, NGOs, and industry associations, toward turning Sierra Gorda in the State of Querétaro into a high-quality natural destination that appeals to the most discerning traveler’s needs, while minimizing impacts on ecosystems. The State of Querétaro, along with Sierra Gorda, are proud to join a select group of sustainability-focused destinations worldwide, which are pioneers in adopting the GSTC Criteria for Destinations. The GSTC evaluation provides Sierra Gorda with solid technical and theoretical foundations for destination management, highlighting areas for improvement and opportunity. The GSTC program of course also raises the profile of Sierra Gorda on the international stage,” concluded Lic. Mauricio Salmón Franz, Secretary of Tourism for the State Government of Querétaro, Mexico.

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 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 will review existing certification standards and acknowledge those that meet their criteria. However, any destination will be able to use the new criteria as a guide to becoming environmentally, culturally, and socially sustainable.

About Sustainable Travel International

Sustainable Travel International is a non-profit organization with a purpose. Founded in 2002, we enable our partners to harness the power of tourism to leave the world a better place. We build partnerships, share knowledge, and design tools to make tourism more beneficial for everyone. We connect people in destinations and help communities, businesses, and travelers to develop the tools and relationships they need to build a better future through tourism.


Media Contacts: 

Global Sustainable Tourism Council

Jimena Moses and Anja Eckervogt

Strategy and Communications Working Group

Sustainable Travel International

Jeremy Sampson

Senior Director, Marketing and Communications