United Nations Foundation Founder and Chairman Ted Turner joined the Rainforest Alliance, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) to announce the first-ever globally relevant sustainable tourism criteria at the IUCN World Conservation Congress. The new criteria were developed to offer a common framework to guide the emerging practice of sustainable tourism and to help businesses, consumers, governments, non-governmental organizations and education institutions to ensure that tourism helps, rather than harms, local communities and the environment.
“Sustainability is just like the old business adage: ‘you don’t encroach on the principal, you live off the interest’,” said Turner. “Unfortunately, up to this point, the travel industry and tourists haven’t had a common framework to let them know if they’re really living up to that maxim. But the Global Sustainable Tourism Criteria (GSTC) will change that.”
The criteria were developed by the Partnership for Global Sustainable Tourism Criteria (GSTC Partnership), a new coalition of 27 organizations that includes tourism leaders from the private, public and not-for-profit sectors. Over the past 15 months, the partnership consulted with sustainability experts and the tourism industry and reviewed more than 60 existing certification and voluntary sets of criteria already being implemented around the globe. In all, more than 4,500 criteria have been analyzed and more than 80,000 people, including conservationists, industry leaders, governmental authorities and UN bodies, have been invited to comment on the resulting criteria.
“Tourism is one of the fastest growing industries and a strong
contributor to sustainable development and poverty alleviation,” said Francesco Frangialli,
secretary-general of the United Nations World Tourism Organization.
“Over 900 million international tourists travelled last year and UNWTO
forecasts 1.6 billion tourists by the year 2020. In order to minimize
the negative impacts of this growth, sustainability should translate
from words to facts, and be an imperative for all tourism stakeholders.
The GSTC initiative will undoubtedly constitute a major reference point
for the entire tourism sector and an important step in making
sustainability an inherent part of tourism development.”
The criteria focus on four areas experts recommend as the most critical aspects of sustainable tourism: maximizing tourism’s social and economic benefits to local communities; reducing negative impacts on cultural heritage; reducing harm to local environments; and planning for sustainability. The GSTC Partnership is developing educational materials and technical tools to guide hotels and tour operators in implementing the criteria.
“The American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA) feels it especially important to be a part of this global partnership that is leading the way in defining once and for all what it means to be a sustainable travel company,” said William Maloney, chief operating officer for ASTA. “As an organization with its own Green Member program, it's incumbent upon us to ensure that our steps toward a travel retailers' green initiative were in sync with responsible global developments. The criteria will provide our members with much-needed guidelines for assessing future business partners' commitment to sustainable tourism while offering consumers clear and reliable information about the travel choices they make.”
Additional members of the GSTC Partnership Steering Committee include the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AH&LA), ASTA, Caribbean Alliance for Sustainable Tourism (CAST), Choice Hotels, Conde Nast Traveler, Conservation International (CI), ECOTRANS, Expedia, Inc., Federation of Tour Operators (FTO), HM Design, Hyatt Hotels and Resorts, Instituto do Hospitalidade, International Hotel & Restaurant Association (IH&RA), the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), Kenyan Ecotourism Society, the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity (SCBD), Solimar International, Sustainable Travel International (STI), The International Ecotourism Society (TIES), Tourism Concern, Travelocity/Sabre, and VISIT.