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Sustainable travel and tourism is on the rise: consumer demand is growing, travel industry suppliers are developing sustainable programs, and governments are creating new policies to encourage sustainable practices in tourism. But what does “sustainable tourism” really mean? How can it be measured and credibly demonstrated, to build consumer confidence, promote efficiency, and fight false claims?

According to the World Tourism Organization sustainable tourism is “tourism that takes full account of its current and future economic, social and environmental impacts, addressing the needs of visitors, the industry, the environment and host communities”. Translating this concept into developing a sustainable business or destination is more complicated, even more difficult is to find sustainable products in the market place.

Other industries have developed one umbrella brand for specifications of credible sustainable practices. The best known examples are the Forestry Stewardship Council in the forest industry or the Marine Stewardship Council for fisheries. In travel and tourism more than a 130 certifications have been created to verify sustainable products. In 2008 the Global Sustainable Tourism Criteria were launched as a means to promote sustainable tourism through actionable principles that encompassed the three main aspects of sustainability:

  • maximizing social and economic benefits for the local community,
  • enhancing cultural heritage,
  • reducing negative impacts to the environment.

Although the criteria are initially intended for use by the accommodation and tour operation sectors, they have applicability to the entire tourism industry. Through their accreditation process the 130 certification can now be aligned with this global initiative.

The green travel index promotes sustainable tourism through a database that links sustainable providers with the marketplace. With the global sustainable tourism criteria as the base, sustainable providers can feature themselves on these pages. Sustainable suppliers have easy access to information to promote the sustainable businesses.