FOCUS ON: The Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC)

by: Felicity Cousins | June 8, 2023

In our FOCUS ON series we look at common questions, acronyms and organisations when it comes to discussing sustainability and hotels. Today we are looking at the Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC).

How long has the GSTC been around? It was created in 2007 by the United Nations Environment Programme, the United Nations Foundation and the United Nations World Tourism Organisation, along with 32 partners in the tourism industry. 

What does the GSTC do? It brings together universal sustainable tourism principles and standardisation, known as the GSTC Criteria, in a common language, across the world. There are two sets of criteria – Destination and Industry. It’s the Industry criteria which directly affects hotels along with suggested “Indicators for Hotels,” which is the minimum that a hotel (or built accommodation) should aim to achieve when it comes to sustainability. It also offers training, discussion and webinars on sustainable tourism to its members.

What are the GSTC Hotel Criteria? The Hotel Criteria have four main pillars. 1. Effective sustainability planning 2. Maximising social and economic benefits for the local community 3. Enhancing cultural heritage 4. Reducing negative impacts to the environment. These pillars are the same as the GSTC Industry Criteria, but the Performance Indicators vary between hotels and tour operators.

Does the GSTC carry out sustainable certification? No. The GSTC does not certify anyone. The GSTC Criteria form the foundation for its role in providing assurance for impartiality and competence of the Certification Programmes that do certify hotels/accommodations (and tour operators and destinations). Think of the GSTC as the certifiers of certifiers.

What’s the difference between certification and accreditation? OK. This is a bit wordy, but so important to get right when talking about hotels, accreditation and certifications. You can check out the detail on the GSTC website, or read our summary below.

An Accredited Certification Body (e.g Bureau Veritas and others) has been verified through a “rigorous external review”. The accreditation body carrying out that review is GSTC partner, Assurance Services International (ASI).

ASI provides assurance that the Certification Body being reviewed is awarding certifications to businesses according to “processes that comply with international standards and good practices.” It’s essentially a third party back up.

Once a hotel (or other business) has been certified by an Accredited Certification Body it can use the GSTC logo along with the Certification Body. So it could use the GSTC logo and the Bureau Veritas mark on its site, for example.

So that’s the accreditation part done, what about certifications? Now here it gets tongue-twisty again. Stay focused. A certification by a Certification Body whose standard is “GSTC-Recognised” is not the same as a certification by a Certification Body like Bureau Veritas, which has been accredited by the GSTC (as explained above). In fact GSTC- recognised simply relates to the GSTC’s published standards, rather than the process of certification or accreditation.

The website says it best: “GSTC Recognition does not ensure that the certification process is reliable, only that the set of standards used to certify includes the minimum elements to ensure sustainability.”

There are too many GSTC-Recognised standards to list but names include Earth Check, Green Globe, and – you guessed it – the GSTC Criteria. The GSTC Criteria appear in the list of GSTC-Recognised standards to clarify the point that “Certification Bodies that gain accreditation have the option to certify by using their own GSTC-Recognised standard, or by using the GSTC Criteria.”  You can find the full list of GSTC-Recognised Standards for hotels here.

Who are the GSTC’s members? The GSTC has 403 members and counting, from a range of organisations across the travel and tourism sector. Think hotel groups like Accor and Hilton – Radisson joined at the end of last year, travel agents ( joined last October), destinations (such as Quebec City which recently joined) certification bodies (such as Green Tourism), consultancies, travel management companies (TMCs), academic and educational groups and National Tourist offices like Norway, which has been a member since 2012. You can see all of its members on the website with information about each one and when it joined.

Anything else? GSTC’s CEO is Randy Durband has vast experience and knowledge in leisure and business travel, sustainability and tourism. He speaks passionately at events about sustainability and tourism and the issues facing the sector.

See for more information.

Image: Pexels Free Photos