Tourism has been a crucial economic driver on St. Croix for many years and the island has been careful to avoid over- development that might detract from its varied natural and cultural assets. As part of the island’s strategic plan to increase visitation, St Croix has been exploring ways to differentiate from its competitors by offering a diverse tourism product aligned with today’s travel trends, focused on its authentic heritage.
Within this framework, St. Croix applied the recently developed GSTC Destination Criteria, assessing current sustainability levels and taking initiative through participation in the Global Sustainable Tourism Council’s Destination Early Adopter Program (GSTC-D EA). The Early Adopter Program is overseen by GSTC’s Destination Working Group and implemented by NGO partner Sustainable Travel International.
“The US Virgin Islands are an extraordinary destination; St. Croix has exhibited leadership in sustaining its diverse natural and cultural attractions for those visiting the islands. Taking this step to coordinate sustainable tourism as a destination is not only strategic for the heritage conservation of the island of St. Croix, it will likely inspire and be a catalyst for positive change across the entire region” expressed Dr Kelly Bricker, GSTC Chair, Board of Directors.
St. Croix is a destination teeming with natural beauty, rich culture, flavorful cuisine, and a complex but fascinating history. “Unique” and “authentic” are words that locals will happily throw around, and with good cause; St. Croix is the only island on its continental plate, providing a topographical contrast to its volcanic neighbors. In addition to its stunning beaches, rainforests, and bioluminescent bays, one can experience various historical and cultural sites, including the African and Danish-influenced Christiansted National Historic Site and Salt River Bay, the only known site where members of a Columbus expedition set foot on what is now a U.S. territory.
The site evaluation was conducted by NGO partner Sustainable Travel International and implemented through a joint effort of the US Virgin Islands’ Department of Tourism, Department of Planning and Natural Resources, and Economic Development Authority.
“Sensing an opportunity to stand out in both the Caribbean region and on the global stage, St. Croix elected to take a leadership stance through participation in the Early Adopters Program. As a result, the destination had a chance to benchmark its sustainability performance and identify methods to grow thoughtfully, while writing a new chapter of its unique story to share with industry and visitors alike.” revealed Jeremy Sampson, Senior Destination Specialist, Sustainable Travel International, who also conducted the evaluation.
The GSTC-D EA process was framed by the destination as a collaborative evaluation and discussion to generate a snapshot of sustainability performance. During a 10-day span, the assessor met with key representatives to discuss tourism planning, sustainable development management, heritage preservation, and environmental protection. The assessment determined the destination’s readiness to demonstrate GSTC-D adherence summarizing good practices and areas where the destination can improve.
“The GSTC Assessment report provides crucial feedback on our best practices and detailed guidance for the sustainable growth of tourism. The outcome of the GSTC Early Adopter Program will help us to refine our strategy towards sustainability and prioritize actions needed for the future of St Croix, and more broadly in the USVI. This, in turn, will provide assurance to all stakeholders that we are performing to the highest international standard for sustainability” disclosed Beverly Nicholson-Doty, Commissioner, U.S. Virgin Islands Department of Tourism.
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 www.gstcouncil.org.
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.
Global Sustainable Tourism Council
Jimena Moses and Anja Eckervogt
Strategy and Communications Committee
Sustainable Travel International
Senior Director, Marketing and Communications