Supporting Global Development through Sustainable Tourism

GSTC Initiative

Global Sustainable Tourism Criteria (GSTC)

Promoting and implementing universal sustainable tourism principles around the world.

  • Client: Global Sustainable Tourism Council
  • Partners: United Nations Foundation, United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), Rainforest Alliance, Sabre Holdings, Travelocity, Expedia Inc., United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO)
  • Project Duration: March 2007 – Present (on-going)

The Challenge

Sustainable tourism is on the rise: consumer demand is growing, travel industry suppliers are developing new green programs, and governments are creating new policies to encourage sustainable practices in tourism. But what does sustainable tourism really mean? How can it be measured and credibly demonstrated to build consumer confidence, promote efficiency, and fight greenwashing? In order to mainstream sustainable tourism it must be easy to understand for tourists and tourism businesses alike. There must be educational tools and market access mechanisms to drive learning about sustainability as well as create tangible financial incentives.

The Solution

The Global Sustainable Tourism Criteria were developed as part of a broad initiative managed by The Partnership for Global Sustainable Tourism Criteria (GSTC Partnership), a coalition of over 40 organizations working together to foster increased understanding of sustainable tourism practices and the adoption of universal sustainable tourism principles. In an effort to come to a common understanding of sustainable tourism, the GSTC Partnership—initiated by the Rainforest Alliance, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the United Nations Foundation, and the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO)—developed a set of baseline criteria organized around the four pillars of sustainable tourism: effective sustainability planning; maximizing social and economic benefits to the local community; reduction of negative impacts to cultural heritage; and reduction of negative impacts to environmental heritage.

Major Activities

To develop the Criteria, Solimar supported the partnership through consultation 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. Major activities include:

  • Establishing partnerships: formed a coalition of relevant stakeholders to come together to develop, adopt, and promote universal sustainable tourism criteria.
  • Increasing awareness of sustainable tourism: creating and disseminating educational materials based on the criteria to help tourism businesses understand sustainable best practices.
  • Developing Indicators: creating a set of measurement resources for the criteria so that certification programs and businesses can begin a measurable form of criteria implementaion
  • Building capacity: creating a self-assessment tool for to guide businesses through the process of implementing sustainable best practices and providing guidelines for education and training bodies such as universities to follow and use.


Solimar continues its support and work with the Criteria by providing technical assistance to the Global Sustainable Tourism Council. The Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC) serves as the international body for fostering increased knowledge and understanding of sustainable tourism practices, promoting the adoption of universal sustainable tourism principles and building demand for sustainable travel. This is accomplished through the work executed by its diverse programs: international standard-setting, destination stewardship, education and training, market access, and accreditation. Solimar has supported the GSTC through:

  • The development of a dynamic and interactive website that serves as an educational hub for tourism businesses on how to become more sustainable and acquire the resources necessary to initiate, increase, or improve their sustainable operations.
  • The creation and implementation of a comprehensive social media strategy
  • An open source self-assessment tool for businesses to measure their current operations against the GSTC and identify areas of improvement.
  • Ongoing technical support for detailed global consultation of tourism stakeholders

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