By Talia Salem

Longtime partners of the GSTC, the Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA) recently published its Values Statement for the first time. These values will help guide the ATTA, its membership, and its mission going forward. The Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC) criteria were included in these values. We chatted with Shannon Stowell, president of the ATTA, about the decision to release these new values, what they mean for his organization, and the GSTC.

Tell me about your involvement with the GSTC?

I’ve been on the board of the GSTC for a few years now and I wanted to help promote the mission of the GSTC. We feel that GSTC is the best bet the industry has as a central place for standards and to get some key players together to really mainstream sustainability in the tourism industry.

As the ATTA, we have been encouraging our members to join the GSTC and highlighting the GSTC’s efforts since the beginning. We took this effort a step further when we decided to have all members agree to work towards a certain set of standards, including sustainable standards.

Can you tell us about the values statement and what this means for your organization?

We’ve been around for about nine years, and we were increasingly feeling like we needed to put out a values statement to be clear on what our community stands for. ATTA is not just about adventure travel, it is also for companies who are devoted to responsible tourism.

We made the decision that ATTA members must agree to these principles. It is a little scary to do it, because it sets up a barrier to joining to the ATTA—we have previously been a very open organization with no requirements for joining.

There are four main pieces of that of the standards: tourism ethics, the protection of children, responsibility, and community principles. We used the UNWTO’s Global Code of Ethics for Tourism for the ethics piece. For the treatment of children we used The Code. For responsibility we used the GSTC universal standards. We used these two because they are more narrowly focused on these issues. The fourth piece of the standards is about how the ATTA community treats each other.

While we acknowledge that not everyone is there yet, these values lay out the goals and the opportunities for companies to operate more responsibly.

As part of this statement, the ATTA has incorporated GSTC criteria. Why did you incorporate GSTC values?

They are the best and most complete set of sustainable tourism principles that are out there.

How do you expect the members to react to these values? With this be a criteria going forward?

It has been overwhelmingly positive. Just to give you a sense of the reaction – new members and members that are renewing are required to sign it. If you are already a member you can go and sign it now, but it is not required. We had close to 150 members voluntarily sign it in a big rush. We only had one company say that they didn’t like it.

Over time it can serve as an operating standard and as a set of guidelines to know how to become more responsible and sustainable going forward. It will be a gold standard for responsible tourism practices.

Is there anything else you would like to highlight about the ATTA’s values and its support of sustainable tourism?

It should not be a cause for alarm for anyone. It is just what we think as the best standards of the tourism sector.  For the sake of surviving and thriving in this industry, we must take these issues seriously! Customers are asking for responsibility more and more. We are providing a valuable service to our membership by helping to unmuddy the waters a little bit.

About the Author 

Talia Salem works on global communications and sustainable tourism in Washington, DC. She has a passion for the tourism industry, and its intersections with sustainability, storytelling, social media and technology. Talia has just finished her Masters in Sustainable Tourism Destination Management at the George Washington University, and prior to this she graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles. Before completing her masters, she worked as a journalist for seven years specializing in the group travel industry, as well as culinary and sustainable tourism. Talia is trilingual and has spent extensive time abroad in the France and Jordan–and plans to expand that list ASAP. Connect with her on Twitter @theurbanomad or at