BiodiversityThe GSTC Criteria serve as basic guidelines for businesses, organizations and destinations that wish to address sustainability issues in the travel and tourism industry. It is composed of a set of standards and provides assurance that the main principles of responsible tourism are being covered. In reality, the GSTC criteria represents a commitment to the environment, communities and cultures, and a common language that facilitates communication surpassing international borders.

Section D of the GSTC Criteria suggests that all tourism entities should “maximize benefits to the environment and minimize negative impacts”.  From this statement, it follows that tourism must preserve natural ecosystems, protect wildlife species and contribute to biodiversity conservation. However, it is not an easy goal, revealed a recent study conducted by the European Network of for Sustainable Tourism Development (ECOTRANS). In fact they argue, “The issue of species diversity and conservation management lags far behind targets posing a threat to the ecosystems”.

ECOTRANS’ case study provided recommendations to the international sustainable tourism certification bodies to improve their standards concerning biodiversity.  The report stated that nature protection and biodiversity can be strengthened by taking specific actions, addressing the shortcomings of some standard programs and implementing CSR initiatives.

In their market analysis, ECOTRANS recognized the need to implement common terminology, encourage more attention to the introduction of invasive alien species, and to offer training for certifiers and certified organizations on biodiversity. The study states that standard organizations concentrate more on traditional measures for the protection of habitats and species instead of the newer concepts such as the mitigation hierarchy, which encourages businesses to measure and manage environmental impacts in all stages of a project: prevention, mitigation, restoration and compensation.

The study also recommends the introduction of new indicators such as “ecosystem services”-a concept that is also being discussed intensively in economic circles- aiming to protect direct and indirect ecosystem services which contribute to human wellbeing. To date, standards do not address ecosystem services, but rather tend to focus exclusively on the protection of ecosystems.

Additionally, the report highlights the importance of cooperation between the standard organizations; “One standard alone cannot master the challenge of halting the loss of biodiversity. But the standard organizations together can, and should, take advantage of synergies to make a significant contribution to the protection of biodiversity”.

New markets for ecosystem services have emerged in response to the failure of traditional biodiversity conservation mechanisms, therefore to effectively protect and conserve environmental resources and the socio-cultural livelihoods of host communities the integration of biodiversity in CSR processes should be implemented in ways that are coordinated and mutually supportive. Research shows that approaching components of biodiversity as distinct services, fails to protect the integrity of the functioning ecosystem. Nevertheless, ECOTRANS analysis presents standard enhancements that can positively augment future sustainable tourism destinations and ventures.



The Integration of Biodiversity in CSR Processes in the Tourism Industry

CSRBIOIV- Tourism -Recommendations – EN

Publisher: ECOTRANS, Futterstr. 17-19, 66111 Saarbrücken, Germany

Co-publisher: Global Nature Fund,

Authors: Marion Hammerl, Herbert Hamele, ECOTRANS

Daniel Weiss, Adelphi; Stefan Hörmann, Global Nature Fund

The tourism industry has the potential to be a good and powerful force on our planet. When responsibly managed, it enriches lives, and preserves natural resources and cultural heritage. More frequently these days, travelers take this into account and seek authentic holiday experiences, to choose a responsible tour operator, book a hotel with a sustainability certification, read up on local cultures before traveling, research conservation or social projects to possibly engage during their trip, and even go as far as calculating personal carbon footprints and offsetting emissions with a payment contribution.

To correspond with the rising demand of responsible travelers, organizations needed to re-shape their strategy. Over recent years, the travel and tourism industry has reflected an increasing shift in mindset towards a greener agenda. The term sustainability came to be used, introducing principles and practices designed to encourage active preservation of our environment and communities, while promising an attractive economic recovery. Many entities now drive profitability and innovation by implementing sustainability programs across their value chains.

TUI Travel PLC, a leading international leisure travel company and a GSTC member, surveys their own customers to measure sustainability consciousness.. Not surprisingly, the 2012 TUI Travel Sustainability Research Report – with 3000 people surveyed, who have taken at least one holiday of at least 5 days including a flight within the last 2 years – illustrates the importance for tour operators to demonstrate how their supply chain – which consists largely of third-party accommodations – is employing workers under fair conditions and is supporting the local community.

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 The Global Sustainable Tourism Council CEO, Randy Durband, has been named Special Advisor to the creation of the Top 100 Sustainable Destination annual list. The initiative was created by GSTC member Albert Salman (Green Destinations) and Valere Tjolle (TravelMole, VISION for Sustainable Tourism, Totem Tourism).  The Top 100 Sustainable Destinations list aims to encourage stakeholders worldwide to adopt sustainable tourism practices. Also, Green Destinations and Totem Tourism hope to acknowledge best practices, and recognize those authentic, greener, cleaner and more responsible destinations.

The 2014 list will be compiled by Albert Salman and Valere Tjolle, in consultation with the “Green Destinations Selection Panel”, consisting of 30 international experts on tourism and sustainability.

Nominations will be accepted until 31 October, 12:00 CET. Submit your Destination Nomination Form to

The procedure for the compilation of the list is as follows:

Cities, towns, small regions, national parks, or even lakes can be nominated, not accommodations or single buildings

A very important source for list are the contents and the scores that are calculated by the Global Sustainable Tourism Review (GSTR) database that includes data for 1200 destinations.,

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Photo Credit: St. Kitts Tourism AuthoritySt. Kitts and Nevis, located in the northern Leeward Islands in the West Indies, was one of the first destinations in the world to be selected as a GSTC Early Adopter, and the first in the Caribbean. St. Kitts still retains “hidden gem” status, not being a mass-market Caribbean destination. However, development on St. Kitts is advancing swiftly, with significant new infrastructure under development, including five-star resorts, luxury residential properties, a marina, and with plans being made for a second cruise port.

Recognizing that the small island nation is at a critical turning point to ensure that its growth balances development interests with safeguards for the local environment, culture, and community livelihoods, St. Kitts has begun pursuing innovative destination stewardship programs under the leadership of Minister of Tourism and International Transport Ricky Skerritt—himself a keen environmentalist and Rhodes scholar. “I pledge continued support from the Tourism Ministry as part of our national quest for achieving global sustainable standards in tourism product preparation and delivery,” Minister Skerritt has said of efforts such as St. Kitts and Nevis’ participation in the GSTC Early Adopter Program.

In this post, we look at just few of these efforts St. Kitts and Nevis has launched in the last two years since its July 2012 GSTC assessment.

Community Action Planning

In 2012, following the GSTC assessment benchmarking St. Kitts and Nevis’ policies and practices against the GSTC Criteria for Destinations, the Ministry of Tourism set in motion a process to start implementing the GSTC recommendations. The first step was an inaugural Sustainable Tourism Forum, held in November 2012 by the Ministry of Tourism and facilitated by Sustainable Travel International, which conducted the destination assessment on behalf of the GSTC. The forum brought together approximately 50 St. Kitts and Nevis stakeholders from across sectors such as tourism, agriculture, culture, investment, sustainable development, and environment, to collectively prioritize the GSTC’s recommendations and plan action projects to advance those priorities. In addition to identifying steps to begin implementation, the forum discussion aimed to raise awareness among the broad group of participating stakeholders about the importance of sustainable development of tourism, St. Kitts and Nevis’ top economic sector.

Sustainable Destination Management Council, and Stakeholder Training

One of the GSTC focus areas identified by St. Kitts and Nevis stakeholders as high priority was improvement of capacity building and coordination among key destination decision-makers—especially public sector—regarding sustainable tourism development. Stakeholders envisioned an interagency sustainable tourism governance body with wide representation across offices of government, and including private sector membership. The interagency council would receive training in sustainable destination management, and meet regularly to collaborate on advancing sustainable development priorities.

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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.

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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.

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