There is a major difference between our approach and that of the GSTC, it is a difference of principle.
Our focus is on urging and supporting businesses and others in the sector to take responsibility and to act, to make tourism more sustainable and to transparently communicate to their clients, and other stakeholders, what they are doing, how they are doing it and what they have achieved. How much have they reduced energy and water consumption, increased local procurement and improved working conditions? This approach is based on transparent reporting rather than on opaque certification.
Sustainable Tourism issues vary from place to place, a function of geography and socio-cultural priorities; there have been many attempts to define what is meant by Sustainable Tourism, there will be many more. There are many lists and there will be more. Long lists do not encourage the prioritisation of locally important issues, prioritisation is essential to action. Just imagine if all the resources of time and money expended over the last two years in developing a list had been deployed on addressing issues on the ground.
It is disappointing that the GSTC has chosen to personalise this debate. The Communications Chair of the GSTC has called on us to engage in a candid and useful conversation that leads to creating positive change in our industry.
This reply is intended to contribute to that conversation. We understand that the purpose of the GSTC is now to create a GSTC-Recognised programme.
To be GSTC-Recognised means that the standard meets 100% of the GSTC Criteria. Standard owners can work with certification bodies that in turn can market the fact that they use a GSTC-Recognised standard.
We welcome the clarification that there is no plan to attach weightings to the criteria and that it would be irresponsible and inappropriate to set priorities for local issues at a global level.
Whilst no doubt many will think this less ambitious objective is worthwhile there will be many who have concerns about this approach.
- By creating a long list of minimum criteria the GSTC has established a set of criteria which for GSTC-recognition is mandatory but where each is of equal importance with all the others a lowest common denominator approach to building a consensus. Not all issues are equally important. If the priorities are to be decided locally off a long list what is the point of having the list?
- The certification process is opaque even if a particular certificate has been awarded by a GSTC-recognised accreditation body the consumer will know only that all 37 criteria have been considered. They will not know which have been given greater weight, nor what real progress has been made, for example, in reducing water consumption or greenhouse gas emissions. The GSTC Indicators are merely a base line, they provide a catalogue of suggestions on how to measure the impact of the Criteria and they say that it will be for 130 sustainable tourism certifications worldwide that clearly dictate (sic), for the region they operate in, what to do and how to measure it.
- The sustainability of GSTC remains a challenge it is unclear what benefit any national certification scheme would gain by being GSTC-Recognised, or indeed why a certification programme would pay to be GSTC Recognised.
The debate will continue, new criteria will emerge others will be dropped. The debate will move on as businesses in the tourism sector are challenged to transparently report, amongst other things, on their progress in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, water and waste and their contribution to battling child abuse and increasing their contribution to local economic
This is more than an academic debate, whether the GSTC-Recognised programme contributes to efforts to make tourism more sustainable in our finite world will depend whether the GSTC is able to convince donors, accreditation schemes and ultimately the travelling public that GSTC-Recognised means anything for them. Travelife and GTBS in the UK are achieving some consumer recognition whether GSTC-Recognition adds anything we doubt.
Harold Goodwin and Justin Francis
 See the GRI, Thomas Cook and TUI Annual Sustainability Reports and the brand
commitments which are now emerging
 Travel Mole 18th October 2011
 GSTC Open Letter 11 October 2011