UN Tourism International Network of Sustainable Tourism Observatories (INSTO) was created in 2004 with the main objective to support the continuous improvement of sustainability and resilience in the tourism sector through systematic, timely and regular monitoring of tourism performance and impact and to connect dedicated destinations in order to better understand destination-wide resource use and foster the responsible management of tourism.

Through the systematic application of monitoring, evaluation and information management techniques, the initiative provides policy makers, planners, tourism managers and other relevant stakeholders with key tools to strengthen institutional capacities to support the formulation and implementation of sustainable tourism policies, strategies, plans and management processes.

Tourism has experienced continued expansion and diversification over the past six decades, transforming into one of the largest, fastest growing economic sectors in the world. Tourism accounts for 7% of global exports, contributes 10% of global GDP and represents one in each 11 jobs worldwide. In 2016, the number of international tourist arrivals reached 1.2 billion. With an increase of 4.7% over the previous year, this was the sixth consecutive year of above average growth since the 2009 economic crisis. By 2030, UN Tourism forecasts the international tourist arrivals to reach 1.8 billion.

Tourism’s exponential growth presents challenges in terms of increased resource use, degradation of natural and cultural heritage, as well as negative social impacts, stressing the need for a shift in paradigm. Efforts at the international level to accelerate the shift towards more sustainable practices, both on the consumption and the production side, are reflected in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs),  the post 2015 development agenda, and the adoption by the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) in 2012 of the 10-Year Framework of Programmes (10YFP) to accelerate sustainable consumption and production (SCP) patterns. The Sustainable Tourism Programme of the 10YFP (10YFP STP), launched on the occasion of the World Travel Market in 2014,  serves as a collaborative platform to bring together and scale up initiatives and partnerships to accelerate the shift to sustainable consumption and production. The outcome document of Rio+20, The Future We Want, highlighted for the first time the importance of obtaining more reliable, relevant and timely data in areas related to the three dimensions of sustainable development and acknowledged the potential of tourism to make a significant contribution in this regard. Furthermore, the importance of tourism as a driver of sustainable development has also been emphasized by Resolution A/RES/69/233 of the United Nations General Assembly in 2014, which underlines the contribution of sustainable tourism to poverty eradication, community development and the protection of biodiversity.

Yet, despite the progress made so far, the lack of reliable data at the destination level continues to be one of the major challenges the sector needs to address. In order to support destination stakeholders to take focused and coherent action to accelerate the shift towards SCP patterns, thus turning the goals proposed by the international community into reality, the UN Tourism International Network of Sustainable Tourism Observatories (INSTO) was launched in 2004.


Integrated Approach

to provide a framework for the systematic, timely and regular monitoring of resource-use and a better understanding of the impact of tourism.


to establish a strong foundation of tangible and structured data for well-informed decision making.

Stakeholder Empowerment

to actively engage local stakeholders in the measurement of risks, costs, impacts, limits and opportunities through an inclusive and participatory approach.

Network and Learn

to exchange information for improved knowledge, collaboration, communication and greater public accountability.

Performance Measurement

to monitor and advise on the implementation of sustainable development plans, policies and management actions.


to foster long-term commitment for regular monitoring.

By becoming a member of the INSTO network, destinations join a group of dedicated partners who commit to continuous measurement efforts at the destination level, embracing the context-sensitive and dynamic nature of the concept ‘sustainability’ itself. While traditional data sources play a crucial role in the measurement activities, partners in the network are increasingly applying, and are encouraged to use, new and innovative data sources that allow for stronger evidence helping to create more resilient destinations.



  • Joint learning and support system
  • Establishment of long-term engagement
  • Raises awareness of tourism in the destination
  • Facilitated decision-making among stakeholders
  • Facilitation of conceptualization of project proposals
  • Facilitated scalability of promising activities
  • Early warning system
  • Up-to-date information
  • Cost-saving through smart decisions
  • Facilitates intra-sectorial collaboration
  • Increased competitiveness
  • Facilitated formulation of argumentation lines
  • Strengthening of local pride
  • Improved local development and livelihoods

Measuring sustainability in tourism

Since the early 1990s, UN Tourism has extensively studied measurement initiatives worldwide and published several guiding documents, especially on the subject of indicators. However, it is only in recent years and especially with newer global developments of importance such as the SDGs, the increasing challenges encountered from climate change, urbanization and other phenomena of our times, that the need for accelerating more sustainable consumption and production patterns, and thus also the measurement of the progress, has gained a new momentum. Due to the need for more tangible evidence…

which can support stakeholders at all levels to better manage tourism impacts, non-traditional measurement methods are increasingly gaining importance. Thanks to the vast opportunities deriving from the digitalization in the sector, better informed decision-making and thus more responsible management are being supported through the complementing of already existing, traditional data sources in tourism, helping to identify and implement value-driving answers to essential questions that destinations face.

Nevertheless, on the way towards more intelligent and sustainable destinations, challenges remain in terms of measuring especially the environmental and socio-cultural pillars of sustainability – aspects that have long stayed behind in monitoring efforts. UN Tourism INSTO network seeks to support destinations in advancing towards more holistic measurement approaches, offering members a lively platform where experiences can be shared, discussed, improved and learned from.

Issue areas and indicators

Over the past decade, many indicator systems have been developed in and outside of the tourism sector in an attempt to support destinations in measuring and managing their tourism development. While the ability to benchmark performances with other destinations is often a driving factor behind these initiatives, each destination is a complex eco-system with its own individual characteristics. With this in mind…

and knowing that sustainability is a continuous journey, INSTO was established, focusing particularly on the underlying processes and structures in order to ensure long-term viability and holistic, destination-specific approaches that are based on participatory processes.

Destinations are required to monitor at least to some extend the nine mandatory issue areas and are encouraged to go even beyond. For these common issue areas, respective indicator can then be specified according to the local needs. Therefore, as long as they are linked to these issue areas, indicators can be developed by each destination individually. Through the regular exchange of knowledge and experience with other destinations, they can be defined, adapted and compared as needed.


  • 2017

    2017 Global INSTO Meeting
    December, Madrid
  • 2017

    Manila Conference
    Measuring Sustainable Tourism
    June, Philippines
  • 2017

    2017 International year of sustainable tourism for development
  • 2016

    Expert Working Group
    Meeting on measuring sustainable tourism
    October, Madrid
  • 2016

    INSTO Consultation Meeting
    Advancing the Measurement of Sustainable Tourism Development
    June, Madrid
  • 2015

    Sustainable Development Goals
    September, New York
  • 2014

    10YFP STP
    10 Year Framework of Programme Sustainable Tourism Programme
  • 2014

    Measuring Employment in the Tourism Industries
  • 2013

    Publication (UNWTO/INRouTe)
    Measurement and Analysis – Towards a Set of UNWTO Guidelines
  • 2009

    Bali Conference
    Tourism: An Engine for Employment  Creation
    March, Bali
  • 2008

    Publication (UNSD/UNWTO/OECD/Eurostat)
    Update Tourism Satellite Account
  • 2008

    Publication (IRTS)
    International Recommendations  for Tourism Statistics
  • 2005

    Iguazú Conference
    Tourism Satellite Accounts (TSA)
    October, Iguazú
  • 2004

    Publication (UNWTO)
    Guidebook on Indicators for Sustainable Tourism Development
  • 2000

    Publication (WTO)
    Tourism Satellite Account Methodological Framework
  • 2000

    Nice Conference
    Measurement of the Economic Impact of Tourism
    June, Nice
  • 1996

    Publication (WTO)
    What Tourism Managers Need to Know
  • 1994

    Publication (WTO)
    Recommendations on Tourism Statistics