UCSL Connecting with Global Leaders
in Sustainable Tourism at Stockholm
GSTC Conference 2024

The Global Sustainable Tourism Conference (GSTC 2024) took place from April 23 to 26 in Stockholm, with over 500 participants from 57 countries. Experts, governments, and businesses of all sizes converged to forge a path toward true sustainability. The main topic for this year's conference was "Purposeful Travel," highlighting the need for intentional and impactful tourism practices. The conference saw active participation both in-person and remotely, making it a truly global event.

The GSTC 2024 conference was an incredible opportunity to meet with colleagues and partners and forge new connections. UCSL's GSTC Program Manager, Anna Zavadskaya, participated in the event, contributing to stimulating discussions, engaging meetings, and exchanging of experiences and ideas with top sustainability leaders in the travel and tourism industry.
From left to right: Florencia Kogan Moyano, Head of Sustainability Department at Biolinea Internacional, Anna Zavadskaya, UCSL's GSTC Program Manager, David Andrés Ortegón Martínez, Sustainability Director at Playa Hotels & Resorts
The event showcased the dedication and collaborative spirit of changemakers in sustainable tourism worldwide. It featured numerous enriching sessions and engaging discussions, offering invaluable insights. With so much ground covered at GSTC 2024, it's impossible to encapsulate every detail; instead, we'll highlight some of the most impactful insights and discussions.

The conference opened with a series of insightful panel discussions and keynote addresses. These sessions provided a platform for experts to share their knowledge and experiences, fostering a collaborative environment for tackling the challenges facing the industry. Notable sessions included debates on new EU regulations, sustainability measurement, and the importance of proper communication in tourism.

The EU Green Claims Directive
and related Sustainability Regulations

This enlightening panel session focused on the recent transformative changes in EU regulations, that are revolutionary for the tourism industry. Baptiste Carriere-Pradal, Co-Founder and Director of 2BPolicy, and Benedicte Van Ormelingen, Legal & Policy Officer at EU Green Claims, provided an in-depth look at the matter.
Baptiste Carriere-Pradal, Co-Founder and Director of 2BPolicy
The EU's Greenwashing Directive, along with the new Green Claims Directive, represents a legislative advance in ensuring that sustainability claims made by businesses are transparent and substantiated by rigorous third-party verification. By setting clear guidelines and standards for environmental claims, the EU is fostering a marketplace where sustainability is a measurable and verifiable practice.

The newly introduced regulations aim to combat greenwashing and enforce transparency in sustainability claims. The Green Claims Directive (GCD) complements the already-approved EU ban on greenwashing. They establish comprehensive criteria for the endorsement of environmental labels, mandate third-party verification of these claims, and outline penalties for non-compliance.

According to new EU regulations, only independent third-party verifiers ensure impartial and competent substantiation of environmental claims. Verifiers must be independent from the product/trader making the claim to ensure there is no conflict of interests, they must have appropriate expertise and issue a certificate of conformity after verification.
Baptiste emphasized the crucial role of Accredited Certification Bodies, that perfectly align with these new directives. "The label itself will be verified by the public authority, but when it comes to giving the label to a given hotel or accommodation, then it will be done by verifiers which are accredited according to a system which is established by the law.<…>Of course, the verifier must be independent from both the trader and the certification scheme, which is not always the case", he stated.

Importantly, all these regulations apply globally: "Even if you are not based in the EU, or the EU market, the moment you address a European consumer, you fall under this legislation," Baptiste clarified. The Consumer Empowerment Directive will be enacted in 2026, with the Green Claims Directive following later. Despite a transition phase, the scale of the change will require years to fully implement.

Sustainability Measurement & Evaluation

During the Sustainability Measurement & Evaluation session, speakers tackled the complexities of these processes. As the industry evolves, the need for robust, universally accepted metrics and methodologies becomes increasingly apparent. We are not quite there yet, but it shouldn’t stop the industry from implementing sustainable practices which outcome is difficult to measure.

Kate Heiny, Vice President of Sustainability at Booking Holdings, emphasized the need for standardization in sustainability metrics to produce reliable and fact-based claims. The industry needs standardized language, trustworthy data, verifiable processes, and effective communication with travelers to create certifiable and fact-based claims.
Introduction of the GSTC MICE Criteria
The conference also addressed new frontiers in sustainability with the introduction of criteria for MICE (meetings, incentives, conferences, and exhibitions) tourism. Recently, GSTC introduced the new GSTC MICE Criteria, divided into three sub-sectors: Venues, Event Organizers, and Events & Exhibitions. These criteria focus on the unique sustainability challenges and opportunities within each sub-sector and, like the Industry and Destination Criteria, are organized around four main themes: effective sustainability planning, maximizing social and economic benefits for the local community, enhancing cultural heritage, and reducing negative impacts on the environment.

Workshops were conducted to discuss these new Criteria and revise the criteria for attractions, engaging tourism experts and practitioners in meaningful dialogue. These discussions are crucial as they help shape the future direction of sustainable tourism practices within the MICE sector and beyond.

The GSTC 2024 Conference underscored the importance of collaboration across the tourism industry and the power of collective effort in driving meaningful change. New contacts were made and the connections were fostered, that hold the promise of evolving into fruitful collaborations. We at UCSL are grateful for the opportunity to have been part of such a dynamic community and eagerly look forward to continuing our journey at the next conference.
May 31, 2024