(July 28, 2015) An interview with Khiri Travel’s Graham Read about their recent Travel Life certification and sustainability practices.

The Southeast Asia based destination management company and GSTC member Khiri Travel , recently achieved Travel Life Certification for their Tour Operations in Thailand, Myanmar and Vietnam. Khiri group’s new certification is a major advancement for creating recognition of Southeast Asia as a region for sustainable tour operators.

What do you do in your offices and the field that help support sustainability?

Offices: We aim to make our offices inspiring, healthy and safe work environments. In our offices, for example,

  • we measure our energy use and look for ways to reduce it (e.g. simple things like using LED lighting and having a sensor in restrooms)
  • we share best practices and raise awareness for social and environmental concerns and encourage staff to engage with these problems (e.g. via our charity arm Khiri Reach).
  • we are working towards reducing waste and managing it in a responsible way (e.g. we use fabric bags and food containers when ordering lunch and separate our waste)
  • we use local products where we can buy in bulk to reduce packaging
  • we value our employees and are committed to a clear policy that safeguards and advances their well being (e.g. company insurance)


Field: Our business is providing amazing, once-in-a-lifetime experiences for our guests. This happens throughout eight countries, from remote mountain areas, to large cities, national parks and at tourist attractions.

Khiri Travel:

  • prefers to use locally owned hotels, lodges, restaurants, handicraft outlets, and arts and culture centers.
  • is consistently looking for creative ways to integrate social enterprises into our programs (e.g. the Friends restaurants in Cambodian and Laos or the buying lacquer ware from the workshop in Myanmar directly, we advise our agents/travelers of these in overviews for responsible shopping and restaurant options in each country).
  • takes responsibility for its supply chain, by educating and supporting suppliers to greater sustainability (e.g. via the glass water bottles project).
  • is regularly assessing its supply chain to ensure that activities offered do not have adverse effects on the environment or society, especially sensitive activities that may bring travelers into contact with animals, children or remote communities.


In addition, Khiri employs and trains local guides and educates them on issues relating to Responsible Tourism. We aim not only to provide outstanding service but also to educate travelers, so they are able to make more informed decisions during their stay.

Can you tell us more about Khiri Reach?

Khiri Reach aims to help the disadvantaged in Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, The Maldives, Indonesia and Cambodia improve their living conditions in a sustainable way.

We have dedicated, on-going people and planet projects in each country – managed by our passionate Khiri Ambassadors. We leverage our business network throughout the region to link donors and volunteers with NGOs and community service projects.

How we do it:

  • we get involved in local communities
  • we coordinate with local NGOs and projects
  • we cover overhead
  • we identify bona fide projects that need funding
  • we advise donors and volunteers.


100% of the donations from travelers and other stakeholders go to beneficiary projects. Khiri covers all overhead.

Why did you choose to pursue the Travel Life certification?

Khiri has pursued a variety of sustainability initiatives in the past but it was felt that a more structured approach was needed. After exploring various options it was decided that the Travelife certification scheme was the most suitable choice. One of the strengths of the Travelife sustainability system is that it covers a tourism company’s supply chain: transportation, accommodation, excursions and guides. It is in these areas that a travel company’s activities will arguably have the most significant impacts. Other sustainability certification programs that do not conduct an on-site audit are considered less rigorous and therefore not as effective as Travelife. Khiri Travel will realize some cost savings for reducing water and energy use, but not nearly as much as say, hotels. However, for DMCs like Khiri Travel, pursuing sustainability certification is not really about cost savings. It is becoming clear that there is a growing pressure on international tour operators from western source markets to take into account the practices of their suppliers and how these affect the destination being visited. Companies that take sustainability seriously and pursue the rigorous Travelife certification process will score higher on customer satisfaction, staff motivation and business efficiency. As a B2B travel company with many agents in Western Europe and the U.S., certification will give Khiri Travel a competitive advantage over other DMCs in Asia.

How does certification help to build Khiri’s sustainability plan and vision?

Khiri Travel’s mission statement is below:

“It is our mission to grow Khiri Travel to be the leading brand in quality tourism in Asia – and champion of the triple-bottom line: people, planet, profit.”

The Travelife certification scheme provides a clear Triple-bottom line framework for measuring and reporting performance against economic, social and environmental indicators. This involves being clear about the company’s purpose. Therefore the structure of Travelife fits neatly with the company’s mission statement.

Do you have any upcoming sustainability projects?

Yes, we currently are certified in 3 of our 8 countries and are working towards certification for all our offices in the region. The countries that we aim to get ready in the overall field of sustainability in the coming months are Laos, Cambodia and Sri Lanka. Later in 2016, Sri Lanka and Indonesia will hopefully be added.

Sustainability is an ongoing and continuous process. Khiri Travel is working with suppliers to create a better industry, e.g. via our Glass Water bottles list to reduce the use of plastic waste. Via educating our agents and travelers on how to responsibly interact with animals while visiting Southeast Asia, and for example via our continuous support for Operation Smile.

How do you plan to apply your newly achieved certification in the future?

Obviously certification will be used as part of our marketing strategy but also Khiri needs to continually improve on its sustainability performance. A company must satisfy all the mandatory criteria to achieve the ‘Certified’ level. Companies are graded as either compliant or non-compliant. There is a bit of flexibility with this verdict as some companies may be doing well in some areas but need to improve in others. Khiri is performing very well but there is still room for improvement. Therefore, the Travelife framework will be used for future improvement and guidance for other Khiri countries that are just beginning the process.

Tropical_Surfer(July 9, 2015) A record 1.1 billion tourists traveled to international destinations in 2014, and the World Tourism Organization predicts that international travel will increase by 4% by the end of the year. The tourism industry continues to have an enormous impact on the environment and on communities in and near popular travel destinations – many of which are located in ecologically fragile areas like coral reefs. Luckily, the sustainable tourism movement is growing, as more travelers are making smart choices that help to protect and support the planet.

There are a lot of different ways to be a sustainable traveler, and many of them are easier than you’d think. We picked three green travel tips that are easy but effective enough to be a great starting point for the average traveler.

1. Ditch disposable water bottles

When you’re on the go, it’s tempting to buy a bottle of water at the airport or the convenience store and trash it when you’re done. Sadly, this leaves behind a harmful trail of plastic that takes hundreds of years to degrade in landfills and ends up being a considerable expense, with bottled water costing as much as $10 per gallon. Even more troubling is the fact that some bottled water companies obtain their product by exploiting natural water sources in rural, often impoverished communities, and leaving these people high and dry when the water runs out.

Travelers Against Plastic (TAP) estimates that if Americans stopped buying disposable water bottles while traveling, an estimated 3.5 billion plastic water bottles would be taken off the market. Being a part of the solution is simple: buy a reusable plastic or metal water bottle, and you’re set for life! One will cost you anywhere from $5-$25. When you consider the price of bottled water, you can see how quickly a reusable bottle pays for itself.


But what if you’re backpacking in the wilderness or traveling in the developing world, where potable tap water is not available? There are several popular and easy-to-use methods for treating water during your travels. Water purification tablets and water treatment drops are cheap options at $5-$15 per bottle, but require 20-30 minutes to work. Filtration systems work faster, but only remove bacteria and not water-borne viruses. The SteriPen is a convenient solution that uses UV light to remove both bacteria and viruses in less than two minutes, but will set you back $50-$120. Whichever method you choose, there are very few excuses left for not kicking your bottled water habit.

2. Track and offset your CO2 emissions

With the advent of several innovative mobile apps, it’s extremely easy to determine the CO2 emissions of your travel. Check out Green Travel Choice ($1.99), created by Pocketweb in partnership with The International Ecotourism Society (TIES), Cleaner Climate, and Commute Greener. Pick your mode of transportation and enter your starting point and destination. You can even log your trips to track your carbon footprint over time.

Carbon offsets can be a great tool to help mitigate the impact of travel. Buying offsets has never been easier, whether it’s for single flight or an entire trip. Many airlines offer the option to offset your flight at the point of purchase, or you can buy any amount of carbon offsets online from a variety of companies.


Critics of carbon off setting have claimed that these purchases allow people to assuage their guilt without truly mitigating the impact of their behavior. Environmental journalist Duncan Clark explains the carbon offset debate in this article and answers some of the most popular questions about its efficacy. Global Sustainable Tourism Council CEO, Randy Durband offsets 100% of his flights and believes If you’re going to offset your emissions, make sure to choose a legitimate company. Green America’s guide to choosing a carbon offset program is a great place to start.

3. Stay at hotels certified by a GSTC Approved eco-label

To reduce your impact as a global traveler, it’s important to choose accommodations that actively practice sustainability. The Global Sustainable Tourism Council created a set of internationally recognized standards to ensure that hotels certified as sustainable are taking the correct management steps to be socially and environmentally responsible. The GSTC works with eco-label owners, such as Ecotourism Australia and Biosphere Responsible Tourism, to ensure that their hotel certification standards meet the requirements.  This helps to eliminate issues of green washing or consumer confusion about what eco-labeling actually means. To plan your trip and ensure you are staying with a sustainable hotel, checkout the list of hotels that are certified by a eco-label we have worked with.

Fjord_Norway(June 18, 2015) Innovation Norway continues to champion sustainable tourism with their recent launch of the country’s Sustainable destination standard. Since May, four destinations in Norway have achieved the new label and one has received the prestigious World Travel & Tourism Council’s (WTTC) Tourism for Tomorrow Award for Destination Stewardship. Innovation Norway has successfully advanced their standard rapidly due to the nation’s foundation in love for  nature and their unique ability to unite a broad range of stakeholders toward the common goal of sustainable tourism.

Innovation Norway’s Sustainable Destination Standard

Innovation Norway’s Sustainable destination standard includes 45 criteria and 108 indicators to be measured, registered and monitored. The standard covers nature, culture, environment, social values, community involvement and economic viability. Measurable and continuous development are ensured through performance counts and renewing the brand every three years.
Once a destination is chosen, Innovation Norway applies the standard through a series of implementation and monitoring methods. Then, a committed resolution is formed by the municipal council to support sustainable development in tourism and similar commitments are made by the tourism operators. After that, the implementation of the standard can occur.  This includes tasks like establishing internal transport, energy saving initiatives, local food and cultural projects, signposts and building recreation trails. Jointly, a monitoring process occurs that includes documenting the overall use of local food, local culture, energy, waste production, and cultural assets in the destination. The entire process takes approximately two years. It’s the comprehensive nature of Innovation Norway’s standard and the application to broad stakeholders that make their standard successful and easier to implement.

Contributions to sustainable tourism

With the new label of ‘Sustainable destination’, Norway takes a lead in the international efforts to promote sustainability in tourism and destination development. In order for a destination itself to achieve certification as ‘sustainable’, a broader set of criteria must be met. A consistent effort to plan for sustainable tourism and support and strengthen environmental programs over time is required, as well as working to preserve the destination’s history, character and nature. In addition, certification places demands on the development of the destination’s businesses and society following principles of sustainability.

Inguun Sørnes, a special advisor to Innovation Norway remarked, “As a nationally implemented certification for destinations, ours was the only one we could find at the time we developed and launched in early 2013. At that time we had been working for 3 years on developing sustainability as a base for local destination development, and prior to that we ran a development program for single enterprises and sectors in tourism in finding a way to increase sustainability in the industry. The industry pointed at competence and certifications as core elements in increased sustainability focus, and we built both competence programs and increased awareness on the use of certifications.”

In 2012, Destination Røros, Norway received the prestigious WTTC Tourism for Tomorrow Award for Destination Stewardship. The awards are among the highest accolades in the global travel and tourism industry, giving international recognition to best practice examples of sustainable tourism in action.


Advancing sustainable tourism

The variety of different industries that form Innovation Norway allow for a cohesive network unlike any other National Travel Organization. Innovation Norway’s standard contains specific criteria and indicators asking the destination to increase the number of single enterprise certifications (hotels and tour operators), thus enabling the destination certifications to not compete, rather support the other certifications. Also a division of Innovation Norway is ‘Visit Norway’ which provides a listing of all tourism products and enterprises that are environmentally labelled with a tag named “Green Travel” and most closely resembles the GSTC Criteria. Today, this covers five independent certifications.  Innovation Norway collects the information and makes the identification of the label available for the users of the site. Innovation Norway’s ability to integrate their sustainability standards into other industries has allowed them to advance sustainable tourism beyond other National Travel Organizations. To date, four destinations in Norway have achieved the Sustainable destination label.

About Innovation Norway

Innovation Norway is the result of a merger between four organisations; The Norwegian Tourist Board, The Norwegian Trade Council, The Norwegian Industrial and Regional Development Fund, SND and the Government Consultative Office for Inventors, SVO. The Norwegian Tourist Board operates as the nation’s National Travel Organization (NTO) and provides support to the tourism industry including the national brand Visit Norway.








 is a website and project with the aim to encourage sustainability in travel and tourism by telling the stories of change makers – businesses and destinations around the world.

Grand Tour 2015

Their most recent project is the Grand Tour 2015, designed to inspire and encourage travel and tourism professionals to embrace sustainability and “get on with it”.  From June to December 2015, Florian and Natalia, editors of, will visit, review and tell the stories of leading sustainable hotels, tours and destinations worldwide.

Sustainability Leaders is still accepting expressions of interest from destinations, hotels and tour operators interested in forming part of the Grand Tour 2015, in collaboration with, eTN and TravelMole’s VISION on Sustainable Tourism.  This includes finalists of an international sustainable tourism award, or certification bodies that have achieved GSTC Recognition or Approval.   Preference will be given to destinations or businesses who can help arrange a destination-wide visit.

If you would like to support the initiative and benefit from exposure alongside world’s leading sustainable tourism businesses and destinations, please email

The Impact of Sustainability Leaders

Florian Kaefer and his partner Natalia Ferrer Roca started (Spanish version: in 2014 out of a desire to learn from those already successful in implementing sustainability, and to help others in travel and tourism to follow suit.

“There is no shortage of information on how to make your hotel more energy-efficient or how to reduce waste production and water consumption. What’s missing are examples and stories of businesses and persons already working towards sustainability: stories that reach our hearts and guts, and not just our brains”, stated Florian Kaefer.

“The thing is, travelers, tourism businesses, service providers and destinations – we are all in this together. Tourism products are intangible and based on promises of great, authentic experiences, which need intact environments and welcoming communities.”

The GSTC is excited to support the project, which has been endorsed by UNEP, Rainforest Alliance, Sustainable Travel International, TIES, among others.

For more, visit or follow on Twitter & Facebook

(June 4, 2015) For their contributions to the successful planning and execution of the Latin American Regional Meeting in Quito, Ecuador, the GSTC would like to thank our Country and Regional Representatives: Natalia Naranjo Colombia and Ecuador; D’Arcy Dornan for Brazil and Jorge Moller for Chile and Argentina. Without their outstanding efforts and regional knowledge, the GSTC would not have been able to gain such a valuable outcome.

The GSTC Latin America Regional Meeting took place on April 26th with great success. The gathering gave 75 travel and tourism professionals from over 12 countries a foundational list of tools, contacts, and references to improve overall sustainability of their operations. Structured in part like a workshop, presentations and round-table discussions centered on sustainable tourism standards, destination management, industry best practices, and the GSTC Destinations Program. The Latin America Regional Meeting was held in cooperation with The International Ecotourism Society’s- Ecotourism and Sustainable Tourism Conference (ESTC15), and took place the day prior to the start of the conference.

GSTC Country Representatives uphold a variety of responsibilities to ensure the continued growth and support for the GSTC. One of these responsibilities and a crucial component of ensured growth is actively participating and planning of at least one GSTC event per year – the Annual General Meeting (AGM) or an authorized Regional Meeting. The expertise and regional knowledge of the country representative enriches the event and ensures that planning and communication coincide with the location of the meeting.

Becoming a GSTC Country Representative adds to the continued growth of the GSTC mission. A Country Representative serves regionally or nationally and is a qualified and approved sustainable tourism expert. Representatives benefit professionally from the prestige and exposure of holding this title and position among the elite group of global thought leaders promoting sustainable tourism that is the GSTC community. As member of the GSTC, you can become a Country Representative. To learn more about opportunities to become a GSTC Country Representative click here.

GijonBiosphere Responsible Tourism Certification, run by Instituto de Turismo Responsible (ITR) recently achieved GSTC Approved Status for their Destination Standards. Previously, ITR had been Approved for their hotel and tour operator standards. This is a landmark accomplishment as ITR is the first to achieve GSTC Approval for both Hotel & Tour Operator and Destination certification standards. Based in Spain, ITR focuses on providing practical tools in order to carry out a Responsible Tourism Policy on a global scale. The tools that the program provides contribute to the maintenance and protection of cultural and natural heritage in various destinations. In addition to this, ITR’s Responsible Tourism System bases its success on the reality that tourists have expectations regarding the destination, and they can only be met if the destination is authentic. They push to raise the quality of life for the host population, by coverage of three sustainability variables: environment, culture, and socio-economic impact.

Stories of Success

Meliá Berlin is a shining example of ITR’s Responsible Tourism Certification program. As an effort to preserve the environment, the hotel practices strict waste sorting. Ecological concerns are consistently addressed through refurbishments, such as monitoring energy use. Installation of induction hobs and the switch to LED lights are some examples of the changes noted at Meliá Berlin. Meliá Hotels International’s fundamental values have always included commitment to the environment, sharing local culture, and contributing to philanthropies such as UNICEF. Meliá also helps provide tools and financial aid to workshops for the disabled as well as child aid. Meliá Berlin sees sustainability as a crucial ingredient for both present and future development.

Gijón is a destination certified under ITR’s Biosphere Responsible Tourism Certification. This Asturian city is surrounded by an enviable green ring and opens itself up to the sea. These resources allow for an ample supply of culture and cuisine unique to this location. The quality of life here is highly valued by its residents, all while practicing a tourism model with a commitment to quality and satisfaction for its tourists. Gijón’s “green lung” and gem within the city is its Atlantic Botanical Garden. This enclosure extends into 25 hectares of about 30,000 plants including 2,000 distinct species cataloged. A noteworthy project which began in 2014 is Gijón Responsible Tourism, Committed Companies (Gijón Turismo Responsible, Empresas Comprometidas). Various tourism businesses in Gijón are collectively working towards conducting more sustainable practices, and drafting a report of good practices for short and long term results for other businesses to follow. Some of the entities include the Office of Tourism Infogijón, cultural and art centers like Laboral Ciudad de la Cultura, and hotels such as Hotel Abba Playa Gijón and Hotel Tryp Gijón Rey Pelayo, which are part of Melía International. The combination of these endeavors is what makes Gijón a destination of high quality sustainability.

Meliá Berlin - Aussenansicht

Leveraging Standards with the GSTC

The certification programs currently aligning themselves with the GSTC Approved standards are already witnessing exceptional results. The GSTC Criteria is setting the bar for sustainable management, socioeconomic benefits for the local community, maintenance of cultural heritage, and reduction of environmental impacts. Meliá Berlin continues to adapt and develop its hotel into an energy saving machine. Gijón has already won awards for Best Quality as a Tourist Destination by the Ministry of Industry, Energy, and Tourism of Spain in 2012, and again in 2014 for its Committed Companies project. The clarity, consistency, and credibility provided for sustainable travel and tourism products prove beneficial towards certification programs and sustainable tourism as a whole.

About the GSTC Integrity Program

The world’s most widely accepted sustainable tourism standards have been created through the GSTC Criteria. Through the application of the GSTC Criteria, certification programs are increasingly using the GSTC Integrity Program to ensure that their standards meet or exceed sustainable tourism baseline standards. The newly named GSTC Integrity Program offers the same process of GSTC Recognition, Approval, Accreditation while better reflecting the core mission of the program. The Approval Process comes after GSTC Recognition is achieved, and the certification procedures must largely meet international standards for transparency, impartiality, and competence. This stepwise process provides benefits by building consumer confidence, promoting efficiency, and fighting false claims.

*Article Written by GSTC Volunteer, Jacquelyn Lopez