Interview with Ignacio de la Cuevas, Trainer at Global Sustainable Tourism Council

Sustainable tourism
Ignacio de la Cuevas explains the Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC) criteria, which serve as a global standard for sustainability in travel and tourism.

What are the GSTC criteria and what are their objectives? 

The GSTC criteria serve as a global standard for sustainability in travel and tourism. The criteria are used for training and raising awareness, policy development for business and government agencies and other types of organisations, measurement and evaluation, and as a basis for certification.

They are the result of a global effort to develop a common language on sustainability in tourism. They are organised into four pillars:

  1. Sustainable management
  2. Socio-economic impacts
  3. Cultural impacts
  4. Environmental impacts

The GSTC criteria have been built on decades of previous work and experience around the world, and take into account the many guidelines and standards for sustainable tourism from every continent. During the development process, they were widely consulted around the world, in both developed and developing countries, in several languages. They reflect the goal of achieving a global consensus on sustainable tourism. The process of developing the Criteria was designed to adhere to the standard-setting code of the ISEAL Alliance, the international body providing guidance for the development and management of sustainability standards for all sectors.

What has been their impact in other countries? 

Public sector tourism decision-makers and destination managers around the world look to the GSTC criteria for guidance on policy development, awareness-raising and training, and to use them as a framework for national or local sustainability standards (see more information on the GSTC page for governments and destinations).

Many national tourism organisations formally use the GSTC framework in different ways. If a country is going to use standards for sustainable tourism, it will most likely use the GSTC framework in some way.

For example, earlier this year the European Travel Commission (ETC), representing 32 national tourism organisations in Europe, recommended the use of the GSTC framework.

Other examples of countries using the GSTC framework are: Greece, Turkey, Egypt, Malta, Portugal, Switzerland, Norway, Mauritius, Japan, Indonesia, Bahamas, Costa Rica and many others.

What are some examples where a GSTC criterion has been implemented? 

Not only do governments and destinations use the GSTC framework, but also large and small companies use the GSTC criteria to improve their performance. Here are some concrete examples of the implementation of the criteria that refer to pollution reduction and energy conservation (criteria D1 through D10 of the Industry criteria):

  • The Hilton hotel chain has aligned its LightStay management system with the GSTC criteria and is encouraging its hotels to achieve certification under the GSTC criteria.
  • is guiding its partner hotels to become GSTC certified.
  • Gujarat, India, subsidises the certification of tour operators to GSTC criteria.
  • Small Luxury Hotels of the World uses the GSTC criteria to decide which hotels can join their prestigious 'Caring Collection'.

Thousands of hotels and tour operators are using the GSTC criteria to improve their operations and become more sustainable, whether or not they achieve certification.

What economic interest would an operator have in operating sustainably? 

The GSTC criteria provide the pathway and description of what 'sustainable' means. Operating more sustainably saves money in the long run. For example, an analysis by the world's largest travel company, TUI, has shown that hotels certified for sustainability outperform non-certified hotels in terms of environmental performance and offer superior quality and customer satisfaction.

All recent surveys show that travellers want and expect companies to operate sustainably ( 2021, 2020, Trivago, Agoda). Online travel agencies (OTAs) are highlighting certified sustainable hotels (Booking, Hotelbeds, Google, etc.). Hotel space buyers prefer certified sustainable hotels. For example:

  • AMEX GBT will highlight hotels and other accommodation partners as "sustainable" that meet the GSTC criteria.
  • TUI prioritises certifications that are aligned with the GSTC criteria.
  • easyJet Holidays hopes to have 100% of all hotels with which they have agreements certified to the GSTC criteria.

Cruise lines offer preferential contracts to certified sustainable tour operators (e.g. Royal Caribbean and MSC Cruises).

What were the concrete proposals of the participants of the training? 

Here is a small – non-exhaustive – summary of the participants' comments, collected during the seven training sessions:

  • The examples of good practice in pollution management / recycling / reuse of waste in other parts of the world can serve as inspiration to increase the commitment of the population to combat pollution in Béni Mellal-Khénifra.
  • The criteria may seem, at first sight, very complex and difficult to achieve, but no need to be afraid, it is a long journey and we have to go step by step towards sustainability. 
  • It is important to avoid the degradation of tourist sites which can suffer irreversible changes and then lose their charm.  
  • There are easy to implement activities to encourage the development of a more sustainable tourism in the Béni Mellal-Khénifra region. We need to think about it and then act.
  • It is important to take into account the percentage of disabled people in the region and the number of existing initiatives to integrate them. 
  • Few places of accommodation have adequate facilities to ensure accessibility for people with reduced mobility. There are also many people with special needs who should also be catered for.
  • There is a consensus to develop collective granaries, most of which are abandoned. It seems that the candidacy for the granaries to become a World Heritage Site by UNESCO could be a decisive factor to transform them and make them visitable (income generation). For this to happen, some twenty families - who are the current owners of these granaries - must agree to work in the same direction.    
  • Concern for the protection of the forests which are threatened by drought, overgrazing etc. and also for mass tourism in the Ouzoud waterfalls (carrying capacity).
2020 - 2024
Sustainable tourism
Switzerland-Morocco Sustainable Tourism Programme
This programme aims to support the provinces of Azilal and Beni Mellal in developing sustainable tourism with integrated sectors. Tourism development takes into account all positive and negative impacts and introduces international sustainability standards (GSTC).