Flyer for Sierra Gorda's Carbon Offset Program

The GSTC Early Adopter destination Sierra Gorda is a biosphere reserve covering one-third of the state of Querétaro, in north-central México. The Sierra Gorda Reserve is of the most biodiversity-rich protected areas in México, and is a member of UNESCO’s Man and Biosphere program. Sierra Gorda cuts across five municipalities in Querétaro: Jalpan de Serra, Pinal de Amoles, Landa de Matamoros, Peñamiller, and Arroyo Seco. The destination is spectacularly beautiful and contains a vast array of ecosystems and wildlife.

The GSTC’s Early Adopter assessment of Sierra Gorda took place in December 2013, as part of the pilot test of the GSTC Criteria for Destinations. Sustainable Travel International, on behalf of the GSTC, conducted a 10-day site visit and evaluation, and recommended improvements to destination management policies and practices based on the GSTC Criteria. Stakeholders in Sierra Gorda, in turn, provided feedback on the scope and applicability of the Criteria, to ensure their validity to destinations worldwide.

The NGO, Grupo Ecológico Sierra Gorda (“Grupo Ecológico”), served as Destination Liaison for Sierra Gorda during its participation in the Early Adopter program. Under the dynamic leadership of its Director and founder, Martha (“Pati”) Ruiz Corzo, Grupo Ecológico spearheads community engagement in the Sierra Gorda Reserve, and serves as the founding organization of an alliance between civil society groups and Mexico’s National Commission of Natural Protected Areas (SEMARNAT) in developing community-based pro-poor economic development and environmental education and conservation.

We at the GSTC recently followed up with Grupo Ecológico to find out some of Sierra Gorda’s latest destination stewardship initiatives following the Early Adopter assessment late last year. In this post, we highlight a few of Sierra Gorda’s recent initiatives consistent with the GSTC Criteria.

Economic Benefits for Local Communities

An entire section of the GSTC Criteria for Destinations is dedicated to maximizing the benefits from tourism to the host community—a key tenet of sustainable destination management. This involves optimizing local economic benefits as well as public participation and satisfaction with destination planning and decision-making.

Sierra Gorda is a model for social inclusion. Grupo Ecológico’s innovative programs to build capacity, awareness, and revenue-generating opportunities for micro-enterprises and rural communities in both tourism and conservation-focused entrepreneurship are world-class. The communities within Sierra Gorda, together with Grupo Ecológico, have built a network of micro-tourism operators. Grupo Ecológico has helped them organize into an association, and has provided technical assistance, including improving micro-enterprises’ infrastructure and adding interpretive signage informing visitors of the natural and cultural significance of sites. Grupo Ecológico has also built capacity among community entrepreneurs through training in areas including bookkeeping and other fundamental business skills, and environmental sustainability practices, such as energy efficiency and recycling.

To better incorporate micro-enterprises into the tourism value chain, Grupo Ecológico and the community have worked together to package and promote a network of tourism products, including eco-lodges, a “tasting route” of delicious roadside family-run restaurants, community museums, and artisanal craft workshops (see www.sierragordaecotours.com). Sierra Gorda’s tour packages are one-of-a kind experiential offerings that represent sustainable tourism at its best—community ownership and benefit, connection with and awareness about the gorgeous environment, and engagement with the people of Sierra Gorda and their tradition, culture, and—perhaps most notably—their delicious local cuisine.

Today there are 83 micro-enterprises integrated in the project, and Sierra Gorda reports that others are eager to join. The improvements and unified tourism branding of roadside businesses has inspired new micro-entrepreneurs to join the movement. According to Director Martha (“Pati”) Ruiz Corzo, a world-renowned conservation leader and social entrepreneur herself: “This has awakened interest in potential donors who support us in the strengthening the micro tourism businesses with improved infrastructure and training. This encourages not only entrepreneurship in communities facing extreme poverty, but also encourages them to strengthen the value of the spectacular Sierra Gorda.”

Environmental Conservation

Sierra Gorda has made exceptional efforts instilling participatory conservation practices and building a community culture valuing natural resources and services. Grupo Ecológico runs programs to raise awareness and train the many surrounding local communities in soil regeneration, local food production, and forest and biodiversity conservation. Sierra Gorda also has an innovative climate program, in which visitors to Sierra Gorda can purchase carbon offsets tied to carbon capture projects run by forest landowners. Grupo Ecológico trains these local landowners and manages carbon compensation payments for them to remove their cattle from the forest and participate in carbon capture activities instead (See www.carbonneutralplanet.org). This program tackles climate change the Sierra Gorda way—while benefiting local landowners and literally placing community value on conserving the natural environment.

Sierra Gorda credits the GSTC Criteria regarding attraction protection and visitor management, as well as its involvement in the Early Adopter program, for the destination’s recent ability to control quad bike tourism in the Reserve. “Today, with the support of local law enforcement, the quad bikes have been prohibited from driving through the riverbed,” reports Ruiz Corzo. Additionally, pursuant to the GSTC’s Criteria and destination management recommendations from the Early Adopter assessment, Sierra Gorda has formed a Biosphere Reserve Technical Advisory Council, with a sub-advisory board chaired by Grupo Ecológico, to institutionalize sustainable destination management.

****

Note: Kathleen Pessolano, GSTC Associate Technical Director, authored this post.

****

About the GSTC

The Global Sustainable Tourism Council is a global initiative dedicated to promoting sustainable tourism efforts around the world. Housed within the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), the GSTC works to expand understanding of and access to sustainable tourism practices; helps identify and generate markets for sustainable tourism; and educates about and advocates for a set of universal principles, as defined by the Global Sustainable Tourism Criteria. The Criteria, a set of voluntary principles that provide a framework for the sustainability of tourism businesses and destinations across the globe, is the cornerstone of our initiative. For more information, visit www.gstcouncil.org.

About the GSTC Destination Criteria

A panel of business owners, academics, government officials, and other experts, who examined the UN World Tourism Organization’s Indicators of Sustainable Development and other such guidelines currently in existence, developed the GSTC’s Destination Criteria. Because the Criteria are intended to describe a globally applicable set of minimum steps needed to approach sustainability, the criteria are seen as a baseline that each destination should add to or adjust as needed.

The GSTC does not aim to certify destinations as sustainable; rather, the Council reviews existing certification standards and acknowledges those that meet its Criteria. However, any destination may use the new Criteria as a guide to improve environmental, cultural, and social practices.

Photo Credit: Grupo Ecológico Sierra Gorda

The Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC) conducted its Early Adopter program from 2012 through early    2014. During the program, a diverse group of fourteen forward-thinking destinations worldwide pilot tested the  Global Sustainable Tourism Criteria for Destinations.

Each Early Adopter underwent a baseline destination sustainability assessment applying the Criteria, and  received recommendations to address any gaps. Early Adopters also provided their feedback on the Criteria. This  input from the fourteen diverse destinations was critical to ensuring that the GSTC Criteria for Destinations are  appropriate and applicable as the global performance standard for destination sustainability.

Several Early Adopter representatives joined us in Bonito, Brazil, in April during the GSTC’s 2014 Annual General  Meeting (AGM), and discussed their experiences. They shared their insights about tourism planning, economic  development, community involvement, heritage protection, and environmental conservation. They discussed the considerable progress their destinations have made on sustainability issues and the challenges they currently face.

Richard Malesu, Environment & Safety Coordinator at Botswana Tourism Organization, described the difficulties his destination faces, including “finding balance betweeen community and farming” in an effort to sustain natural and cultural integrity in the Okavango Delta.

Riviera Maya’s brand slogan is paradise is forever. Beatrice Barreal, who directs Sustainable Riviera Maya, explained: “For a paradise forever,” she “it has to be for everyone, as there are no private paradises.” Barreal outlined the challenges the organization she directs faces in ensuring a long-term tourism model to benefit all Riviera Maya stakeholders.

Similarly, Jorge Moller, who represented Lake Llanquihue, Chile, at the AGM, explained the intricate relationships between the Lake Llanquihue DMO and local farmers regarding “what to do with its beautiful landscapes” in the Northern Patagonia region.

It is now several months—and, in some destinations’ cases, two years—since the Early Adopters received their GSTC baseline sustainability assessments. As a result of the GSTC interaction during the AGM, we are now gearing up to check in with the Early Adopters again, in a blog series called, “GSTC Early Adopters, Revisited.” As part of this series, about every few weeks, we will showcase one of the Early Adopters—briefly profiling their destination stewardship activities post-GSTC assessment.

Have the GSTC’s recommendations served as a catalyst for sustainable development and management of the Early Adopter destinations? What have the fourteen participating destinations been up to in destination stewardship since the Early Adopter program? Stay tuned.

 

About the GSTC

The Global Sustainable Tourism Council is a global initiative dedicated to promoting sustainable tourism efforts around the world. Housed within the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), the GSTC works to expand understanding of and access to sustainable tourism practices; helps identify and generate markets for sustainable tourism; and educates about and advocates for a set of universal principles, as defined by the Global Sustainable Tourism Criteria. The Criteria, a set of voluntary principles that provide a framework for the sustainability of tourism businesses and destinations across the globe, is the cornerstone of our initiative. For more information, visit www.gstcouncil.org.

About the GSTC Destination Criteria

A panel of business owners, academics, government officials, and other experts, who examined the UN World Tourism Organization’s Indicators of Sustainable Development and other such guidelines currently in existence, developed the GSTC’s Destination Criteria. Because the Criteria are intended to describe a globally applicable set of minimum steps needed to approach sustainability, the criteria are seen as a baseline that each destination should add to or adjust as needed.

The GSTC does not aim to certify destinations as sustainable; rather, the Council reviews existing certification standards and acknowledges those that meet its Criteria. However, any destination may use the new Criteria as a guide to improve environmental, cultural, and social practices.

 


 Tourism has been a crucial economic driver on St. Croix for many years and the island has been careful to avoid over-  development that might detract from its varied natural and cultural assets. As part of the island’s strategic plan to increase  visitation, St Croix has been exploring ways to differentiate from its competitors by offering a diverse tourism product aligned  with today’s travel trends, focused on its authentic heritage.

Within this framework, St. Croix applied the recently developed GSTC Destination Criteria, assessing current sustainability  levels and taking initiative through participation in the Global Sustainable Tourism Council’s Destination Early Adopter  Program (GSTC-D EA). The Early Adopter Program is overseen by GSTC’s Destination Working Group and implemented by NGO partner Sustainable Travel International.

“The US Virgin Islands are an extraordinary destination; St. Croix has exhibited leadership in sustaining its diverse natural and cultural attractions for those visiting the islands.  Taking this step to coordinate sustainable tourism as a destination is not only strategic for the heritage conservation of the island of St. Croix, it will likely inspire and be a catalyst for positive change across the entire region” expressed Dr Kelly Bricker, GSTC Chair, Board of Directors.

St. Croix is a destination teeming with natural beauty, rich culture, flavorful cuisine, and a complex but fascinating history.  “Unique” and “authentic” are words that locals will happily throw around, and with good cause; St. Croix is the only island on its continental plate, providing a topographical contrast to its volcanic neighbors. In addition to its stunning beaches, rainforests, and bioluminescent bays, one can experience various historical and cultural sites, including the African and Danish-influenced Christiansted National Historic Site and Salt River Bay, the only known site where members of a Columbus expedition set foot on what is now a U.S. territory.

The site evaluation was conducted by NGO partner Sustainable Travel International and implemented through a joint effort of the US Virgin Islands’ Department of Tourism, Department of Planning and Natural Resources, and Economic Development Authority.

 

“Sensing an opportunity to stand out in both the Caribbean region and on the global stage, St. Croix elected to take a leadership stance through participation in the Early Adopters Program. As a result, the destination had a chance to benchmark its sustainability performance and identify methods to grow thoughtfully, while writing a new chapter of its unique story to share with industry and visitors alike.” revealed Jeremy Sampson, Senior Destination Specialist, Sustainable Travel International, who also conducted the evaluation.

The GSTC-D EA process was framed by the destination as a collaborative evaluation and discussion to generate a snapshot of sustainability performance. During a 10-day span, the assessor met with key representatives to discuss tourism planning, sustainable development management, heritage preservation, and environmental protection. The assessment determined the destination’s readiness to demonstrate GSTC-D adherence summarizing good practices and areas where the destination can improve.

“The GSTC Assessment report provides crucial feedback on our best practices and detailed guidance for the sustainable growth of tourism. The outcome of the GSTC Early Adopter Program will help us to refine our strategy towards sustainability and prioritize actions needed for the future of St Croix, and more broadly in the USVI. This, in turn, will provide assurance to all stakeholders that we are performing to the highest international standard for sustainability” disclosed Beverly Nicholson-Doty, Commissioner, U.S. Virgin Islands Department of Tourism.

About the GSTC

The Global Sustainable Tourism Council is a global initiative dedicated to promoting sustainable tourism efforts around the world. Housed within the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), the GSTC works to expand understanding of and access to sustainable tourism practices; helps identify and generate markets for sustainable tourism; and educates about and advocates for a set of universal principles, as defined by the Global Sustainable Tourism Criteria. The Criteria, a set of voluntary principles that provide a framework for the sustainability of tourism businesses across the globe, is the cornerstone of our initiative. For more information, visit www.gstcouncil.org.

About the GSTC Destination Criteria

A panel of business owners, academics, government officials, and other experts, who examined the UN World Tourism Organization’s Indicators of Sustainable Development and other such guidelines currently in existence, developed the GSTC’s Destination Criteria. Because the criteria are intended to describe a globally applicable set of minimum steps needed to approach sustainability, the criteria are seen as a baseline that each destination should add to or adjust as needed.

The GSTC does not aim to certify destinations as sustainable; rather, the Council will review existing certification standards and acknowledge those that meet their criteria. However, any destination will be able to use the new criteria as a guide to becoming environmentally, culturally, and socially sustainable.

About Sustainable Travel International

Sustainable Travel International is a non-profit organization with a purpose. Founded in 2002, we enable our partners to harness the power of tourism to leave the world a better place. We build partnerships, share knowledge, and design tools to make tourism more beneficial for everyone. We connect people in destinations and help communities, businesses, and travelers to develop the tools and relationships they need to build a better future through tourism.

###

Media Contacts: 

 

Global Sustainable Tourism Council

Jimena Moses and Anja Eckervogt

Strategy and Communications Committee

info@gstcouncil.org

 

Sustainable Travel International

Jeremy Sampson

Senior Director, Marketing and Communications

jeremys@sustainabletravel.org


Categories