Biosphere Tour Operators Standard





A.1. Responsible tourism policies

A.2. Course of action

A.3. Personnel training and motivation

A.4. Responsible Marketing

A.5. Legal and regulatory requirements

A.6. Corrective action


B.1. Local community support

B.2. Supply chain

            B.2.1. Service providers

            B.2.2.  Responsible commerce


C.1. Conservation of cultural resources

            C.1.1. Attitude during visits

            C.1.2. Cultural resource protection

            C.1.3. Promoting knowledge amongst visitors


D.1.  Biodiversity, ecosystem, and landscape conservation

            D.1.1. Service providers

            D.1.2 TO

                       D.1.2.1. Biodiversity conservation for visitors

                       D.1.2.2. Biodiversity conservation by TOs

D.2. Waste management

            D.2.1. Product acquisitions

            D.2.2. Waste control

D.3. Water management

D.4. Energy management

            D.4.1. Energy saving


E.1. Greenhouse gasses

E.2. Emissions control





I.1. Service quality

I.2. Visitors satisfaction

I.3. Responsible attitude of clients in establishments



Tour operators, from now on referred to as TOs, are a basic element of a Responsible Tourism Systems (RTS), not only as promotors of the destiny itself, but as an important binding element of local services and products that may be offered to the tourist.

A TO orients clients towards local services and destinations of interest in the community. In the same way through the offer of information and other elements to create consciousness, they have the potential to increase the client’s awareness towards conservation of natural, cultural, social, and economical values of the destination. In this manner, if a TO offers clients sustainable tourism packages, in addition to supporting local sustainable services, it is also supporting a conscious and responsible behavior, stepping closer towards the concept of sustainable tourism.

A BIOSPHERE TO must be integrated in the local environment, fomenting social and economic development of the local community. As a TO minimizes its negative environmental impact and actively collaborates towards local development, it also offers a differentiated product. Such product is based on the maximization of the tourist’s experience, which is reached through the integration of the visitor in the social, cultural, and environmental settings, allowing tourists to obtain a more profound knowledge of the values the destination has to offer.

The Responsible Tourism Institute may recognize and certify a TO as BIOSPHERE when the prerequisites established by the RTS are complied with. The BIOSPHERE distinction shall be granted after the accepted standards are verified and certified by audit.


It is necessary to have certain basic management tools that support a Responsible Tourism System, in order to comply with sustainability principles. The objective of this tools are to achieve the necessary compromise from the TO and offer the adequate tracks for diffusion and compliance.


The TO must have documented and translated to the most common languages amongst clients, a Policy of Responsible Tourism approved by the highest level of directives, that must be constantly communicated to the personnel and other parties, specially to service providers. Such policy establishes the compromise taken towards sustainable tourism, especially in:

  1. Assume responsibility over principles established in the International Charter of Sustainable Tourism.
  2. Compromise towards preventing negative impacts from installations and activities, and maximizing positive impact.
  3. Commitment to continuous improvement in all areas of sustainability: social, cultural, economic, and environmental.
  4. Compromise toward client satisfaction. 


TOs must have an elaborated, documented and operative Action Plan (AP) based on the Policy of Responsible Tourism that establishes the priorities and objectives that must be reached to comply with the compromises assumed. Such plan must be structured containing:

  1. A list of prioritized objectives that must be achieved, specifying the person responsible for such achievement.
  2. A general description of actions to achieve such objectives, a time limit, and the means necessary to carry out such actions. The time horizon shall not exceed three years, in which time laps the plan must be reviewed and updated, establishing new targets to improve.
  3. A follow up strategy to control the compliance of established objectives, allowing to act accordingly.


The company must approve a plan for awareness, information, training and motivation of the personnel, to guaranty their implication and specific functions in the Responsible Tourism System. It must include an action course for environmental, socio-cultural, health, and quality of service related activities.


All advertising messages from operators must include a precise, clear, and truthful message, concerning the environments quality and other specifications of sustainability established in the TOs offer. Likewise, the information offered through the different channels must be transparent and complete, not creating falls expectations or expressing in any ambiguous manner different aspects of engagement and offers from the company.


Constant knowledge and compliance of legal and regulatory requirements applicable locally and internationally (such as health, labor, security, and sustainability related requirements) must be guaranteed by the TO. Therefore, maintaining an actualized record including all requirements in a clear and understandable manner.

The facility must be able to demonstrate that their property was purchased legally, respecting local, community, and indigenous rights.


An effective and concise procedure must exist for taking corrective actions when there exist deviations in the compromises taken towards sustainability principles, established objectives, or standards.


A responsible TO must know their suppliers, be aware of their policies, and is concerned in establishing a joint work plan for sound business practices.


Operators must guarantee a respectful and collaborative attitude towards local communities, through their institutions, NGOs, neighbors, companies, etc., establishing the adequate communication channels.

More precisely:

  1. Operators must develop a code of conduct for activities developed in local and indigenous communities, and must count on their consent and collaboration.
  2. The company shall actively participate in social development initiatives in the community and in the creation of infrastructure in education, health and sanitary amongst others. For example:

b.1 It shall collaborate offering internships and visits to improve in the education process of schools and education centers.

b.2 It shall collaborate in social campaigns, such as donations of any type.

  1. It shall integrate itself in the community’s social life, collaborating in social events and offering its installations when possible.
  2. TOs must collaborate with local administration in sustainability projects, such as Local Agenda 21, Biosphere Destination certifications, etc.


B.2.1. Service providers

Guidelines must be established for selecting responsible suppliers, encompassing all goods and services (direct and indirect) that are involved in the delivery of a tourist product to purchasers. For example: accommodation, food, transportation, waste management, etc.

  1. TOs may incorporate sustainability guidelines in contracts with suppliers.
  2. Tour operators may take action to raise awareness among suppliers, when needed.
  3. Guidelines of suppliers/subcontractors contracts should be reviewed periodically to ensure their continued compliance.
  4. Priority shall be given to those suppliers/subcontractors that follow the most amount of good practices in sustainability, both in terms of products and processes.
  5. When selecting suppliers, priority shall be given to those of local origin and/or established in local property, including their goods and services amongst the programs or tour packages offered to tourists.
  6. TOs’ contractual conditions and criteria must be specified in a supplier selection guide, and must be communicated to such service providers in a clear way. It must:

f.1. Foment hiring of local guides and personnel.

f.2. Contemplate equal right when it comes to hiring women and minorities.

f.3. Guarantee dignifying salaries.

f.4. Prohibit under age labor in all contractual relationships.

f.5. Have a policy against commercial exploitation (included sexual exploitation) in particular when it comes to child and adolescents.

f.6. Have a continuous training and qualification policy for staff, in relation to the activities undertaken in their specific job positions.

f.7. Organize the prevention of job related risks, applying the corresponding legislation, if available. In case of no such legislation, staff security must be guaranteed by the facility, based on the international dispositions of the International Labor Organization (ILO).

f.8. Apply measures to reconcile work and family life of employees.

f.9. Encourage hiring disabled workers.

f.10. Prioritize suppliers that guarantee basic accessibility guidelines.

B.2.2. Responsible commerce

Operators must design and take on responsible commerce principles, that must include:

  1. Prioritize products of local origin and/or from locally established companies.
  2. Offer local small commerce the means to create and sell sustainable products based on historic, cultural, and natural values of the region (food and beverages, crafts, entertainment industry, agricultural products, etc.)
  3. Facilitate the means to incentive local entrepreneurs and the generation of new and better touristic businesses.
  4. Include stops in local businesses in travel itineraries.
  5. Promote fair trade products.
  6. Promote products that have been fabricated or obtained in a sustainable manner by the community.


Cultural diversity is for mankind as important as biological diversity is for nature. Cultural resources are the historical memory of a community as well as the expression of their artistic, ethical and religious feeling. Thus, the cultural factor of a destination is its own identity, which should be preserved for the benefit of present and future generations.

“Tour operators must actively work integrated with the local community, respecting their culture and traditions.”


C.1.1. Attitude during visit

  1. The tour operator will follow guidelines or code of behavior set for visits to cultural and historical sites to minimize the negative effects of tourism and maximize positive impact.
  2. Guides shall be trained to guarantee the needed respect and protection of the local community’s intellectual property.
  3. Guides shall be trained to adequately manage and control the tourist’s behavior in showing respect to the community.
  4. Ensure that visitors transit through designated areas and routes and that their number does not alter the normal development of the community or territory.
  5. Free access shall be granted to locals to the elements of local heritage, historic, or archaeological value.

C.1.2. Protection of cultural resources

  1. The historical or archaeological pieces shall not be sold, traded, or displayed, except as permitted by law.
  2. Tangible and intangible local cultural resources shall be protected and promoted. Collaborating with local authorities and/or associations, in social responsibility programs for their conservation and survival.
  3. Programs that include elements and manifestations of culture shall be promoted. Rejecting folklorization of touristic offers.

C.1.3. Promoting knowledge amongst visitors

  1. Training of guides to explain to visitors the local culture, costumes and traditions shall be offered by the company.
  2. Companies using elements of local art, architecture, and/or cultural heritage in their activities of design, decoration, food, and/or commerce shall do it respecting the intellectual property rights of local communities.


The arrival of tourists brings multiple benefits to the destination but also brings an important impact on services and resources, such as water, energy, public space, increase in waste, collateral damage to biodiversity, etc. A tour operator must address this phenomenon by adopting good practices in their own company, and, selecting those service providers that also adopt them.


D.1.1. Service providers

Tour operators must inculcate certain responsible behavior to service providers such as:

  1. Incentive local service providers to constantly and voluntarily support conservation projects.
  2. Avoid negative impact on landscapes, installations, and elements where they perform activities.
  3. Do not keep wildlife captive, except for properly regulated activities, and only authorized persons and in possession of the proper equipment will be able to collect specimens of protected wildlife species and deal with them.
  4. Use native species for landscaping and restoration purposes, and take measures to prevent the introduction of invasive alien species.

D.1.2. TO

D.1.2.1. Biodiversity conservation for visitors

Guides must be aware visitors providing basic knowledge of conduct and conservations such as:

  1. Wild species are only removed from their natural environment for consumption, exhibition, sale or international trade in the context of a regulated activity that ensures its sustainable use.
  2. Interaction with wild species must not negatively affect their existence in their natural environment.
  3. Alteration of natural ecosystems shall be minimized, rehabilitating them when necessary. Contribution shall be offered to conservation management or compensatory measures.

D.1.2.2. Biodiversity conservation by TOs

Tour operators must:

  1. Incorporate in their programs and offers, information regarding the destinations flora and fauna, highlighting dose vulnerable or endangered species.
  2. Contribute to biodiversity conservation through the support of natural environment protection and other important biodiversity areas.
  3. Acknowledge local effort of biodiversity conservation.


D.2.1. Product acquisitions

General practices for minimizing waste must be adopted by tour operators as well as service providers.

  1. Preference shall be granted to those products that respect the environment, when related to construction materials (certified wood), equipment, food, and consumer goods.
  2. Must purchase chemicals of high environmental compatibility, maximizing profitability and minimizing use (detergents, insecticides, pesticides, etc.). It is mandatory to be in possession of Material Safety Data Sheets.
  3. In no case shall products derived from vulnerable or endangered species be purchased.
  4. Buying bulk products will be prioritized avoiding those offered in individual format or in portions, and prioritizing reusable or refillable containers.
  5. Use of recycled paper and/or free of chlorine shall be maximized, and shall implement best practices such as using paper on both sides, using e-mail, etc.

D.2.2. Waste control

Waste management practices must be implemented by tour operators as well as service providers.

  1. An operating a system to ensure the segregation of waste on excursions, tours, and/or facilities as well as subsequent delivery to an authorized agent must be established and operating.
  2. Documented sound business practices will be established to educate the customer and employee.
  3. The selective separation of waste will be promoted.
  4. Composting of organic residues shall be promoted.


Tour operators should recommend and demand, as far as possible that service providers adopt the appropriate practices to reduce water consumption as well as assuming them themselves.

  1. Carry out periodic installation maintenance preventing leaks and breakdowns that may increase water consumption.
  2. Measure water consumption of different sources used in his services, in order to establish ways for minimizing it.
  3. Documented sound business practices will be established to educate the customer and employee.
  4. Reduce consumption through highly efficient mechanism and systems.
  5. The facility should reuse wastewater for irrigation, where possible, maintaining proper health conditions.
  6. Have the authorization to discharge sewage or from waste management plant when appropriate.
  7. The accidental discharge of pollutants via wastewater should be prevented by establishing preventive measures.
  8. Facilities shall not compromise local water resources with their activities. 


Tour operators must recommend or demand, when possible, that service providing companies adopt the appropriate practices to control energy consumption and energy sources used, as well as adopting them themselves.

D.4.1. Energy saving

  1. Carry out periodic installation and electric system maintenance.
  2. Betting on renewable energy.
  3. Choose the least contaminating energy source.
  4. Monitor energy consumption and implement guidelines for its reduction.
  5. Documented sound business practices will be established to educate the customer and employee.
  6. Bet for high energy efficient systems and equipment.
  7. Facilities shall not compromise the local energy capacity with its activity.
  8. Where possible bet on bioclimatic designs.


Tour operators, while not directly responsible for the release of significant amounts of greenhouse gases, can have a significant impact on the control and reduction of these, by incorporating sustainability policies among its suppliers.

E.1. Greenhouse gases

  1. Priority shall be given to those providers (transportations companies, guided journeys, hotels, food services, etc.) that calculate, estimate and/or measure their greenhouse emissions and establish reduction and compensatory mechanisms.
  2. Tour operators may compensate their greenhouse emissions by supporting reforestation, conservation initiatives, or by purchasing carbon credits.

E.2. Emissions control

  1. Equipment, vehicles and boilers must have a maintenance plan to ensure proper operation and control of emissions.
  2. Guidelines should be established to eliminate the use of substances that deplete the ozone layer and enhance greenhouse effects.
  3. When fossil fuels are used, cleaner ones should be prioritized such as: methane over propane, propane over diesel...


Both tour operators and their service providers may establish soil protection mechanisms:

  1. Protect soil quality, with proper ground cover or establishing protective measures in areas where contamination might occur (anti-spill trays, absorbents for emergencies...).
  2. Appropriate fuel storage condition must be ensured, checking for leaks, through appropriate tests. When applicable storages must be legalized.


Both tour operators and their suppliers may establish mechanisms to prevent noise pollution:

  1. Reduction of machine and equipment noise shall be guaranteed with the proper maintenance and buffering when possible.
  2. Adequate noise levels will be guaranteed in all environments, adopting the appropriate practices by personnel and visitors, establishing periods of silence, telephone limiters, etc.


Both tour operators and their service providers may establish mechanisms to avoid light pollution:

  1. Excess illumination should be avoided to minimize light pollution, both in terms of quantity and time.
  2. Maximum efficiency lamps that reduce pollution shall be used, avoiding those that emit light into the sky or on the horizon.
  3. Lamps with an optimal light spectrum should be selected for visual sensitivity, avoiding as much as possible those of "white light" or spectrum.


Tour companies offer a service and, as such, must have a set of features that enable them to meet the needs and expectations of its customers and even exceeding them, if possible, obtaining thus greater customer loyalty.

I.1. Service quality

Tour operators must possess tools that allow them to know the client’s needs and expectations. Such information will then be used to crate tourism packages that fit demand.

I.2. Visitors satisfaction

  1. There must exist a system for measuring customer satisfaction and mechanisms to take corrective measures.
  2. Tour operators must have suggestion and claim forms, to receive, document, and respond to claims and suggestions from clients. Evidence must exist that all are answered.
  3. Visitors shall be communicated that such suggestions and claims may be directed to the Responsible Tourism Institute, facilitating the information to do so.

I.3. Responsible attitude of clients in establishments

  1. Facilities should have an information service for customers that provides the basic necessary elements to foster a respectful attitude towards the destination.
  2. Tour operators can’t include in their touristic offers activities that may negatively impact the environment or unsustainable with local culture, including those manifestations and deals reviled by international agreements and organizations such as sexual tourism, both implicitly or explicitly.