A Tribute to Amos Bien from Former GSTC Executive Director Erika Harms

“Finding market solutions to environmental problems is the only way we will succeed”. This was the mantra by which Amos Bien practiced sustainable tourism.

In 2006 when we at the UN Foundation embarked in the process of developing a set of sustainable tourism criteria with the purpose of enabling companies to have a common language to address tourism development in a sustainable manner,  Amos Bien was the perfect person to design the criteria. Not only an expert in the field, he was a businessman who had pioneered the concept of sustainable tourism in his own hotel.

In a process that took 18 months, Amos worked with over 160 stakeholders, analyzed over 4000 criteria and effortlessly came up with an initial set of criteria and a process to ensure compliance with international regulations for creating the first ever global sustainable tourism standard. The process was not easy, but Amos knew exactly how to navigate the delicate balance of private interest with public need. We traveled the 5 continents, met with experts and businesses alike.

After the successful launch of the Global Sustainable Tourism Criteria in 2008. Amos was the right person to help us build what is known today as the Global Sustainable Tourism Council. He designed the framework for the recognition and accreditation process that had been in place until this year. This process also was impregnated by the balance between the need of strict adherence to international processes, with the reality of the small tourism businesses. Amos always advocated for a process that would enable the majority of the people to seek sustainable practices, rather than the perfect system for a few that could pay.

Building a global organization was no easy task, so when entrusted with it, I could not see any better person to walk down this path with me than Amos Bien. He had been working on this vision all his life. He had the expertise but most importantly he had gained the respect and trust of those we needed to join the process.

His work did not only encompass reviewing the criteria, analyzing the applications of the criteria, he was actively involved in disseminating and supporting the creation of standards following the GSTC criteria. I had the pleasure to travel with him and during these times he would impart his findings, never as a lesson, but mostly as a story. These stories have shaped the minds of many and certainly influenced the way we developed the GSTC.

In 2011, Amos spearheaded the development of the sustainable tourism criteria for destinations and oversaw the process of selection of the pilot destinations.

Amos remained the Technical Director of the GSTC until 2014, but his work to promote the GSTC continued even until his last days. Two weeks ago I had the pleasure to visit him and share with him some of the updates of our latest projects. We talked about the GSTC as we often did. This is an important part of his legacy that will continue to live on thanks to his invaluable dedication.

Amos Bien was a pioneer, but above all, he was a change maker. Every single member of the GSTC has been touched by the work of Amos Bien and those who had the pleasure and honor to work closely with him, knew he was a friend for life.

– Erika Harms, Former GSTC Executive Director (2007-2012)


National Workshop on Sustainable Tourism Criteria for India, 27-28 July 2010, New Delhi. From right to left: Mandip Singh Soin, Founder & Managing Director, Ibex Expeditions Pvt Ltd; Amos Bien, Founding Member and Former Technical Director (2007-2014), GSTC; Stefanos Fotiou, Former Senior Regional Coordinator, UNEP Asia-Pacific; Erika Harms, Former Executive Director (2007-2012), GSTC; CB (Ram) Ramkumar, Board Member & India Representative, GSTC; Rajan Gandhi, Founder & CEO, Society in Action Group.