Rainforest Alliance Welcomes the United Nations Commitment to the Establishment of the Sustainable Tourism Stewardship Council

June 9, 2008

The creation of a Sustainable Tourism Stewardship Council (STSC) moves a step closer to becoming a reality as a coalition of international organisations agree to establish a body that increases credibility around sustainable tourism certification programmes, and ultimately helps protect the environment, rights and livelihoods of local communities. The United Nations Environment Programme, the United Nations World Tourism Organisation and the United Nations Foundation are amongst the supporters of this initiative. As part of this joint scheme, they will work with the Rainforest Alliance, an international environment organisation, and other non-governmental organizations (NGO) and industry groups, to raise funds, recruit stakeholders and launch the STSC in early 2009.

"With tourism as the world's largest industry, and nature-related tourism the fastest growing market segment of the industry, certification programmes have become more relevant than ever to help conservation and community development through sustainable tourism operations," said Tensie Whelan, president of the Rainforest Alliance, who was listed last year by Ethisphere magazine as one of the 100 most influential people in business ethics. "We are delighted that various UN agencies, NGOs and industry leaders are committed to getting the STSC off the ground."

If not executed properly, tourism can be a damaging industry: rapid development and improper management can overwhelm a vulnerable natural area, contributing to pollution and erosion, disturbing wildlife and once-isolated cultures. However, certification can address the impacts of tourism through a process of assessing compliance with pre-established criteria. Credible and transparent certification programmes provide a tool to reward tourism operations exhibiting best practices and differentiate them from others that are less environmentally and socially sound. Through sound certification tourism businesses can channel the effort to alleviate poverty and generate respect for local communities in countries rich in natural and cultural resources. However a missing tool to make certification effective has been the lack of a council that will unite the dozen of programs that currently exist.

Chair Near Lake

The STSC will become the accreditation body that will endorse sustainable tourism certification programmes. It will create the first set of comprehensive global requirements that such programmes will have to meet.

Amongst its responsibilities, the STSC will issue a seal of approval to certification programmes that meet accreditation requirements; evaluate the social and environmental impacts of STSC-accredited certification programmes; and provide guidance for the establishment of new certification programmes in countries where there are none.

Introducing an STSC will bring about many benefits to the tourism industry. Governments will be able to call on the STSC to assist them in raising the profile of destinations with high environmental standards. It will also provide legitimacy and credibility to all those sustainable tourism certification programmes that meet STSC requirements, and through its seal-of-approval, differentiate from those programmes that have lower standards and weaker certification practices.

Speaking about the necessity of the STSC, Erika Harms, Executive Director for Sustainable Development of the UN Foundation said: "The STSC will give tourists the confidence that programs are audited, accredited and will continuously monitor those programmes that are serious about social and environmental accountability. This will also improve the quality of information that tourists can consider when planning their trips and will make it easier for them to make smart choices when they travel."

The Rainforest Alliance has provided technical and administrative support for the STSC initiative since 2001. Having achieved this and other commitments to sustainable tourism, the Rainforest Alliance and its Director of Sustainable Tourism Program, Ronald Sanabria, have also been recognised with the prestigious 2009 Friend of Nature award, in Costa Rica.