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The United Nations adopts a new international standard to measure the sustainability of tourism

The 193 member countries of the United Nations have adopted the newly developed statistical framework under the leadership of UN Tourism, a pioneering initiative.

The statistical framework for measuring sustainable tourism (MST) thus becomes the internationally agreed reference framework for measuring the economic, social and environmental aspects of tourism.

Its adoption at the 55th session of the United Nations Statistical Commission (February 27, March 1, 2024) marks a historic milestone in realizing the full potential of the sector and meeting the pressing need for a harmonized methodology to evaluate the sustainability of tourism effectively.

“Tourism is an important driver of positive change when managed responsibly and sustainably,” said Zurab Pololikashvili, Secretary-General of UN Tourism. The adoption of the statistical framework for measuring sustainable tourism marks a paradigm shift, as it allows us to consider criteria other than GDP and measure what matters most in terms of people and the planet.

Joint initiative

This achievement is the result of a seven-year process within the United Nations, led by Austria and Spain as co-chairs of the UN Tourism Statistics Committee, with Saudi Arabia and Seychelles as co-vice chairs. The framework has been developed under the auspices of the Committee and thanks to the extraordinary work of the multi-stakeholder Expert Group on the Measurement of Sustainable Tourism, composed of more than 40 countries and more than 30 international and regional organizations, including the Division of Statistics of the United Nations, the International Labor Organization (ILO), subnational entities and observatories, academic institutions and other stakeholders.


Its work has consisted of technical guidance provided by the editorial board, which was chaired first by the Philippines and then by Canada, as well as extensive collaboration and consultations and conclusions derived from numerous pilot projects in several countries.

The Statistical Commission received enthusiastic and overwhelming support from 34 countries, with the active participation of three regions of the world and numerous international organizations in the deliberations: Antigua and Barbuda, Saudi Arabia on behalf of the Gulf Cooperation Council, Austria, Benin on behalf of the African group, Cape Verde, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Croatia, Denmark, Egypt, United Arab Emirates, Slovenia, Spain, United States of America, Philippines, Finland on behalf of the European Statistical System, Greece, India , Indonesia, Jamaica, Kuwait, Malaysia, Malta, Morocco, Mexico, New Zealand, Netherlands, Portugal, Qatar, Dominican Republic, Tanzania, Tajikistan, the Committee for the Coordination of Statistical Activities and the ILO.

Looking ahead, the Commission also welcomed the upcoming development of an implementation programme, which will include a summary guide, and called on the international donor community to provide funding for the measurement of tourism sustainability.

The United Nations Statistical Commission, founded in 1947, is made up of chief statisticians of Member States and international organizations and is the highest decision-making body responsible for international statistical activities. The Commission last approved a statistical standard for tourism in 2008, when the International Recommendations for Tourism Statistics and the Tourism Satellite Account were presented.

Bridging the gap between policies and statistics

In parallel to the session of the United Nations Statistical Commission, Austria, Spain and UN Tourism co-organized the high-level event “Measuring the Sustainability of Tourism: Closing the gap between policy and statistics” : bridging the gap between policies and statistics), in collaboration with the Committee of Experts on Environmental and Economic Accounting (CECAE). Austria and Spain emphasized the importance of the statistical framework for measuring tourism sustainability in order to adopt evidence-based policies and decisions and recognized its relevance in statistical systems around the world and its link with key aspects such as governance and data management.

Mexico, the Philippines and Canada reflected on their pioneering experiences in applying the framework and showed the possibilities offered by integrating data from different areas and sources to obtain more holistic and meaningful information on tourism.

The event served to publicize the statistical framework for measuring sustainable tourism and as an informative preamble to the formal deliberations of the United Nations Statistical Commission.

By: Lic. Israel Urbina


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