Global Sustainable Tourism Council
The Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC) is an international non-governmental organization founded in 2007 under the name Partnership for Global Sustainable Tourism Criteria, working in the field of sustainability in tourism, and the sustainable tourism certification. GSTC’s mission is to, “to be an agent of change in the world of sustainable travel and tourism by fostering the increased knowledge, understanding, adoption and demand for sustainable tourism practices”. GSTC established the GSTC Criteria which act as the global standards of practice for sustainable tourism and travel. There are two sets of the Criteria: Industry Criteria for hotels/accommodations and tour operators; and Destination Criteria for destination managers and governments. The Criteria are the basis for all organizational activities carried out by the GSTC. The GSTC acts as the Accreditation Body for Certification Programs that certify the sustainability practices of tourism businesses and destinations. Due to a proliferation of sustainability certifications in the industry, the accreditation process was created to provide consistency between the standards used between certifying bodies and therefore increase consumer confidence in sustainability certification. The GSTC is legally registered in the USA as a 501(c)3 non-profit organization, and acts as an independent and neutral organization. It is a member of the ISEAL Alliance, "the global membership association for credible sustainability standards".
The primary aim is increasing sustainable tourism knowledge and practices among private and public stakeholders. This aim is achieved through a set of objectives: developing international standards, making and improving sustainability in destinations, promoting market access, increasing knowledge and best practices, and helping to verify sustainability standards. The GSTC defines sustainable tourism broadly, reflected in the four sections of the GSTC Criteria: environmental impacts, social responsibility, economic and cultural vitality of the communities impacted by tourism, and sustainability management.
In 2008 the Partnership for the Global Sustainable Tourism Criteria released the Criteria for Hotels & Tour Operators. In 2010 that organization and the Sustainable Tourism Stewardship Council merged to create the existing Global Sustainable Tourism Council. Founding members included the UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), the UN Environmental Program (UNEP), the Rainforest Alliance, and the UN Foundation.
The Criteria developed as a response from the tourism industry to the United Nations Millennium Development Goals and launched at the IUCN World Conservation Congress in 2008. "The GSTC Criteria serve as the global baseline standards for sustainability in travel and tourism". The baseline, or the Criteria, were established upon global research across developing and developed countries and follow the standards-setting code of the ISEAL Alliance along with the International Organization for Standardization codes of conduct. The Criteria have four pillars: sustainable management, socio-economic impacts, cultural impacts and environmental impacts (i.e. pollution reduction, biodiversity and landscape conservation, and consumption of resources). They act as the minimum requirements that should be followed by tourism service providers, government and destinations and are meant to be further adapted to local specificities.
GSTC Industry Criteria for Hotel & Tour Operators
The third version of the GSTC Criteria, released in 2016, were developed upon further collaboration of various stakeholders, individuals and tourism organizations. The Criteria is aimed at hotel and tour operators but broadly adaptable by the entire tourism industry. Four main themes of the Criteria are: "effective sustainability planning, maximizing social and economic benefits for the local community, enhancing cultural heritage, and reducing negative impacts to the environment."
GSTC Destination Criteria
The GSTC Criteria for Destinations focus on performance indicators which were developed based on previously established criteria, especially the GSTC Hotel & Tour Operator Criteria and other widely accepted principles and indicators. Through worldwide collaboration the Criteria reflect various geo-political and cultural contexts from tourism, but also other relevant sectors. Selection of Criteria was field-tested around the world by Early Adopters. Examples of the use of GSTC Criteria for Destinations include the provision of measures for destinations and governing bodies to reference when increasing their sustainability, to assist consumers in choosing sustainable options and to provide a set of guidelines for educational and training purposes. These criteria are the world's most widely accepted practices for sustainable tourism in destinations.
GSTC serves as the accreditation body for certification programs, it therefore does not provide certification directly but through GSTC accredited third-party certification bodies. GSTC does provide information to tourism businesses and destinations on how to become certified.
The GSTC acts as the Accreditation Body for Certification Programs that certify the sustainability practices of tourism businesses and destinations. The organization does not have its own certification program for tourism businesses or destinations, certification is provided by third-parties only.
Recognition of Standards
GSTC provides recognition of sustainable tourism guidelines and processes. To achieve the status of "GSTC-Recognized" a set of sustainability processes or practices must be shown to align with the GSTC Criteria. This recognition of standards is separate from the certification process facilitated by third-party GSTC accredited certifying bodies.
Promoting Market Access
To promote adherence to sustainability practices through the use of sustainability certifications, the organization identifies opportunities and solutions to align and increase market potential with large online travel agencies and travel providers.
As part of its efforts to promote sustainability best practices in tourism, the GSTC established the "Sustainable Tourism Training Program (STTP)" to deliver training classes to professionals in the industry. Participants include those from the private sector, NGO's, academic, etc. The curriculum includes a review of the GSTC Criteria, guidance on making decisions when incorporating sustainability practices and the development of sustainable tourism guidelines and processes for a business or destination. Individuals that complete the STTP are eligible to take the STTP Exam and receive a "GSTC Certificate in Sustainable Tourism".
GSTC members include tourism boards, tourism institutes, certification bodies, hotels, travel companies, tour operators, academic and educational organizations, consultancies, and non-profit organizations.
The GSTC framework is often highlighted and recommended in white-papers and reports such as the United Nations Economic and Social Council's 10 year progress report where GSTC was described as a relevant project working to achieve sustainable consumption and production patterns. A 2017 McKinsey & Company report featured GSTC as a "resource to help build and implement a sustainable tourism strategy". The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) has pointed to GSTC as having provided a baseline for global recognition and quality standards for sustainability certifications and The Economist described GSTC as "the closest thing today to a universally recognized global certification for sustainable tourism".
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