Sustainability in Hospitality:
Why GSTC-Accredited Certification is the Premier Choice

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The hospitality industry is evolving, and sustainability is becoming a key component of its future. Increasingly, hotels are seeking sustainability certifications. They do it out of a genuine commitment to eco-friendly practices, to comply with stringent environmental regulations, meet the requirements of online travel agencies (OTAs), achieve operational efficiencies and marketing goals, or cater to the growing number of eco-conscious travelers. Notably,’s Sustainable Travel Report 2024 highlights that 83% of travelers are seeking more sustainable options.

But is it really worth it for a hotel to obtain a sustainability certification? This article explores the advantages of sustainability certification for hotels and delves into why GSTC-Accredited certification stands out as the premier choice.

What is Sustainability Certification for Hotels?

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Sustainability certification for hotels is an evaluation framework that assesses a hotel’s commitment to adopting and practicing environmentally responsible and socially conscious practices within a particular standard, either global, national, regional or local.

Certification is not necessarily the only indicator of quality and adherence to sustainability standards. However, it cannot be denied that today, certification is one of the most effective and tangible mechanisms for managing sustainability and encouraging commitment in the industry.

The proliferation of certification schemes can make it challenging for consumers and businesses to distinguish between genuine efforts and superficial claims. Is every certificate a mark of quality and sustainability? How to navigate through over 180+ ‘eco’ labels in the tourism industry? Recent surveys indicate a growing skepticism among hotel guests regarding sustainability claims. For example, while 74% of travelers from’s Sustainable Travel Report 2023 prefer sustainable options, 39% don’t trust that the sustainable travel options labeled are truly more sustainable. Authorities worldwide are also addressing this skepticism by issuing new regulations to combat the proliferation of eco-labels and prevent greenwashing. The crucial question is: how can a hotel transparently and credibly demonstrate its commitment to sustainability?

One of the most efficient ways is third-party certification, that involves an independent certification body conducting an audit to verify a tourism enterprise’s adherence to standards. Such a certification aligns perfectly with the latest OTA requirements for sustainable property listings.

The Benefits of Third-Party Certification

Let’s look at some of the benefits a hotel gains by pursuing third-party certification:

1. Making a Positive Social & Environmental Impact
A 2017 study by TUI and the UN Environment Programme found that sustainability-certified hotels achieved significant environmental benefits compared to non-certified properties. These benefits included 10% lower CO2 emissions, 24% less waste, 15% lower water usage per guest night, and higher guest satisfaction scores.

2. Building Credibility with Guests
According to, 65% of travelers feel more comfortable staying at a certified sustainable accommodation. Third-party certification signals that your hotel adheres to environmental and social best practices, enhancing its appeal.

3. Identifying Improvement Areas
The certification process helps identify and prioritize key areas for improvement. It ensures that your sustainability efforts are on the right track, highlighting gaps and opportunities for further development.

4. Enhancing Team Engagement
Achieving certification requires collective effort, fostering a shared sense of purpose among staff. This collaborative goal can boost team morale and engagement, enhancing overall performance. aptly summarizes the benefits: “Becoming third-party certified demonstrates your commitment to sustainability, boosts your credibility, and aligns with travelers’ growing preference for sustainable properties. Certifications will also ensure you follow sustainability practices that can help you conserve resources like energy, water, and waste, helping you save on costs over time.”

With numerous certification schemes available, selecting the right one can seem daunting. Even when you look at GSTC, there are Recognized Schemes and Accredited Certification Bodies, and it is not evident for a hotel how to make the right decision.

3d-party certification by an Accredited Certification Body stands out among all other types of certifications. With an accredited certification, guests and stakeholders are assured, that the business was certified in a credibly verified procedure in a transparent, competent and impartial manner. And, what becomes crucial nowadays, such a certificate ensures compliance with stringent regulations like the EU Green Claims and Greenwashing directives.
The Global Sustainable Tourism Council® (GSTC)

In the next section, we will discuss why GSTC certification today is considered the highest level of assurance among third-party certifications.

Why Choose a Third-Party Certification with a GSTC-Accredited Certification Body?

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We will start by paying more attention to what GSTC is doing. Many see GSTC as just another certification scheme or label, when in fact, the UN systems created the organization to provide a filtering through accreditation for certification standards/labels, helping them align with their own system. This makes GSTC a global gold standard for sustainability certification.

The Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC), established in 2007 by UNEP, UNWTO, and 32 tourism industry partners, is the leading global authority on sustainable travel and tourism standards. This independent and neutral non-profit organization establishes and manages global standards for sustainable travel and tourism, known as the GSTC Criteria, which are a result of a worldwide effort to develop a common language about sustainability in tourism. They are arranged in four pillars: (A) Sustainable management; (B) Socioeconomic impacts; (C) Cultural impacts; and (D) Environmental impacts. The GSTC Criteria provide a global framework for sustainable tourism, outlining the minimum standards every tourism business should strive to achieve.

GSTC is not just another label; they do NOT conduct certifications directly. That is the job of the Certification Bodies; GSTC’s job is to accredit those that certify. As Randy Durband, CEO at GSTC, said in a recent interview, “The very term certification is used very loosely in the entire hospitality sector, many people just don’t know the difference between accreditation and certification.”

We can surely add the term Recognition to this list. It is important to understand these terms to choose the best certification option. Let's attempt to explain the differences.

Certification, as defined by GSTC, is a voluntary, third-party assessment through an audit of a tourism enterprise or destination for conformity to a standard.

Accreditation is a mark of quality that GSTC places on Certification Bodies that choose their independent and neutral process to verify that they certify businesses, such as hotels or tour operators, or destinations, in a competent and neutral manner. GSTC scrutinizes the CB’s certification process to ensure certifications are issued based on merit and neutrality.

GSTC Recognition is NOT a mark like Accreditation; rather, it is a status GSTC provides to a set of standards that are equivalent to the GSTC Criteria. This does NOT relate to the process of certification, nor to accreditation. In other words, more than fifty GSTC-Recognized standards for hotels do not actually provide GSTC-Accredited certification services. The GSTC logo can only be proudly displayed by hotels certified by a GSTC-Accredited Certification Body, whose certification process is verified and meets the highest international standards of impartiality. However, this distinction is often not obvious today, especially when it is not clearly highlighted.

To combat potential greenwashing and stop the misuse of 'GSTC-Recognized' status, GSTC has introduced strict measures, urging other sustainable tourism standards owners to pursue accreditation. By announcing that, as of January 1st, 2025, the 'GSTC-Recognized' status will no longer be available for non-accredited schemes, GSTC is significantly raising the bar for what constitutes genuine sustainability in tourism. This decision clarifies a common misunderstanding: the 'GSTC-Recognized' status, previously perceived as an endorsement of both a program's standards and its auditing process, actually pertains solely to the standards themselves, not the certification process.

GSTC-Accredited certification stands out due to its comprehensive, third-party assessment by a GSTC-Accredited Certification Body. This involves a rigorous audit to ensure conformity with GSTC Criteria, providing the highest level of assurance and credibility. Hotels certified by GSTC-Accredited bodies meet all GSTC Criteria, offering unparalleled assurance and credibility.

GSTC-Accredited Certification Advantages

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Choosing GSTC-Accredited certification for your hotel over other certifications has several compelling advantages:

1. Global Recognition and Credibility
GSTC is recognized as the leading global authority in setting and managing standards for sustainable travel and tourism. Certification from a GSTC-Accredited body ensures that your hotel meets the highest and most rigorous international standards. The GSTC Criteria are widely accepted and respected around the world, providing a universally recognized benchmark for sustainability in tourism.

2. Comprehensive and Holistic Criteria
The GSTC Criteria cover a comprehensive range of sustainability aspects, including effective management, social and economic benefits to the community, cultural heritage preservation, and environmental conservation. This holistic approach ensures that your hotel's sustainability practices are well-rounded and thorough. Unlike some other certifications that may emphasize certain aspects over others, GSTC ensures a balanced focus on all critical areas of sustainability. There are no levels in GSTC-Accredited certification; it represents the highest standard that can only be fully met or not at all, with no silver or bronze half-measures.

3. Rigorous and Transparent Certification Process
GSTC-Accredited certifications involve a rigorous, independent audit process conducted by an accredited third-party certification body. This ensures that the certification is credible, impartial, and based on merit. The certification process is transparent, providing clear documentation and verification of your hotel's sustainability practices.

4. International Standards and Regulatory Compliance
GSTC-Accredited certification ensures compliance with international standards, such as those set by the United Nations and other global organizations, as well as EU Green Claims and Greenwashing directives. The new regulations all focus on combating greenwashing and place a significant emphasis on third-party certification.

5. Market Advantage, Consumer Trust, and OTA Preferences
As sustainability becomes a key factor in travelers' decision-making processes, having a GSTC-Accredited certification can significantly enhance your hotel's credibility and attractiveness to eco-conscious guests. Major OTAs, such as, are prioritizing properties with third-party certifications. A GSTC-Accredited certification improves your hotel's visibility and ranking on these platforms.

6. Support for Continuous Improvement
GSTC-Accredited certification encourages continuous improvement in sustainability practices, helping hotels stay up-to-date with the latest best practices and innovations in the industry. GSTC regularly updates its Criteria to reflect evolving standards and new sustainability challenges, ensuring that certified hotels remain at the forefront of sustainability.

7. Future-Proofing
With the increasing emphasis on sustainability in the hospitality industry, GSTC-Accredited certification helps future-proof your hotel by ensuring it meets current and emerging sustainability standards. GSTC-Accredited certification signals a long-term commitment to sustainability, positioning your hotel as a leader in responsible tourism.

In summary, choosing GSTC-Accredited certification provides a globally recognized, comprehensive, and credible framework for sustainability. It ensures your hotel meets the highest international standards, aligns with global and regulatory expectations, and gains a competitive market advantage, all while fostering continuous improvement and access to valuable resources and networks. For hotels already holding a certification, adding a GSTC-Accredited Certificate elevates their status, showcasing a dedication to sustainability at the highest level.


The landscape of sustainability certification is evolving rapidly, driven by initiatives from OTAs, EU regulatory bodies, and the GSTC. As with any significant change, this evolution brings uncertainty and controversy, challenging established norms and sparking debates about the best path forward for achieving true sustainability. Businesses that embrace a GSTC-Accredited certification find themselves on firmer ground, with assurance and stability in their sustainability efforts. Certification by a GSTC-Accredited auditing company offers a reliable foundation, helping them navigate the complexities of the evolving sustainability landscape with confidence.

Sustainability is a journey. Certification is a tool, a means to be sustainable. Make a discerning choice—align with a GSTC-Accredited Certification Body to ensure your certification reflects true global sustainability standards and distinguishes your hotel as a leader in responsible tourism.
© Photo by Yuliya Pankevich on Unsplash
June 27, 2024