When should you consider certification?

Destinations are complex entities with many stakeholders that may have different interests. They are also faced with an increasing number of challenges linked to economic, social, and environmental sustainability. For destinations sustainability is a journey which requires constant work and improvement.

Destination certification schemes for sustainability can be a powerful tool when:

  • You need a structured approach to sustainability

A certification scheme provides a structured approach to sustainability, with clear guidelines and steps to follow. It can help destination managers set appropriate goals and objectives and provide them with the necessary tools to encourage collaboration between destination stakeholders.

  • You are looking to monitor progress in sustainable destination development

Results of certification will confirm that the destination management team is on the right track and can help monitor progress over the years through regular destination audits.  

  • You are looking to communicate sustainability efforts effectively

Certification results can effectively position a destination and promote a destination’s efforts towards more sustainable tourism. To avoid greenwashing or misleading communication, destination managers should select a certification body that has been accredited by the Global Sustainable Tourism Council, therefore ensuring that the certification procedure adheres to strict global standards. Find out more about this below.

How to choose a destination sustainability certification provider?

Multiple schemes exist for destination certification, all with their strengths and weaknesses. Selecting one of the certification bodies accredited by the Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC) will ensure that the certification meets global standards for transparency, impartiality, and competence.

The three certification bodies accredited by the GSTC are:

Earth Check Green Destinations and Vireo Logos

  • EarthCheck:  is a leading scientific benchmarking, certification and advisory group for travel and tourism. The core of EarthCheck’s program is the measurement of destinations’ social and environmental impacts and tracks changes against the destination’s own targets or performance of other communities. Destinations in the program have access to training and capacity building programs and annual benchmarking reports.

  • Green Destinations: a not-for-profit organisation that provides a one-stop-shop for sustainable destination management. They offer capacity building programs and a range of tools for baseline assessment, climate risk and adaptation, reporting, monitoring, and strategic development. Destinations that are part of the Green Destinations Awards and Certification program are promoted in the Good Travel Guide and offered exclusive benefits when participating in the Green Destinations Top 100 Stories competition.

  • Vireo: offers GSTC certification for destinations amongst other globally recognised environmental certifications (MSC and FSC). Based in Padova, Italy, they primarily target the Italian market.

If the certification body is not accredited by the GSTC, then here are several factors destination managers may want to consider:

  • Is the certification body’s standard (set of criteria) recognised by the Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC) - which sets the international guidelines for sustainable tourism development?

  • Does the certification body provide third-party audits? These are essential to ensure the integrity of the certification process.

  • Are the results of the certification transparent? Again, essential for the integrity and very important when communicating the results of certification to avoid greenwashing.

  • How often will audits take place? Will the audits be online or on-site? The certification process must include regular on-site audits to ensure integrity.

  • Will the certification body provide additional services such as extensive guidance or training on criteria, marketing/promotion, access to other programs, etc.?




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