As outlined in the INSTO Framework, all member observatories are required to measure at least to some extent all eleven of the defined issue areas. However, having met the requirement of basic monitoring of all issue areas, observatories are absolutely able to focus their efforts on specific themes. Due to the fact that most often, monitoring cannot be done extensively right at the beginning and needs, priorities and available resources vary across destinations, most observatories focus automatically on specific issue areas. This makes them unique and builds important expertise that can be shared. For new observatories that do not measure all eleven issue areas right from the beginning, an adjustment period has been defined by INSTO, hence making it possible for destinations to join while in the process of achieving this objective.

Traditionally, observatories are established focusing only on one specific destination within a country. This may be at the municipal, district or state level. Both rural and urban destinations are members of the network. While it is certainly possible to establish a trans-national observatory and there are several opportunities connected to such an initiative, it has to be remembered that the wider scope of the project will involve a larger range of stakeholders, making the processes much more complex and lengthy (e.g., when establishing the Local Working Group, keeping a continuous engagement of all actors; coordinating data gathering, analysis and reporting; financial distribution; strategic interests; etc.) in comparison to establishing an observatory with smaller dimensions.

Sustainable tourism development must be driven by an evidence-based approach. Primarily, tourism observatories are expected to develop a clear implementation framework for all stakeholders to actively and regularly engage in measuring tourism impacts and hence provide them with a strong basis for effective, evidence-based decision making (if you can measure it, you can manage and improve it). In addition, the observatory will, through a participatory approach, establish a functional model to understand and manage various resources at the destination. The participatory approach ensures that all key-stakeholders, including local communities, are represented and their issues are considered thus paving the way for the sustainable development of the destinations.

The network of tourism observatories also creates and provides a platform for the exchange of relevant experiences and innovations at the local, regional and global levels, promoting synergy across destinations in sustainable tourism management.

Other benefits include accountability, including on the implementation of sustainable development plans, policies and management actions, contribute to local and visitor satisfaction, identification of investment and tourism development opportunities and ensuring continuous improvement, among others. For an overview of all benefits, please click here

As observatories shall as much as possible strengthen existing structures and procedures, there are defined elements but no prescriptive structure for an observatory to become a member of INSTO. The structure greatly depends on the size and scope of the observatory. Possible organizational structures for observatories include individual or integrated units within universities, ministries or Destination Management Organizations (DMOs), or an entirely new organization created through partnerships of different destination stakeholders. One of the most important elements of any observatory structure is that it would facilitate continuous engagement of local stakeholders in the development of the observatory and to take an active part in the attainment of its objectives of measuring the impact of sustainable tourism development at the local level.

The selection of indicators needs to be guided by a number of criteria, such as the validity, reliability, comparability and the availability of data, the scope of indicators considered, the databases assessed and most importantly, the specific needs and circumstances of the destination. As sustainability is context-sensitive, indicators have to be destination-specific and correspond to the local requirements and subjective elements of perception, particularly with regards to the socio-cultural dimension. There is a growing importance of subjective and qualitative data and its context-based interpretation that enables observatories to include more intangible and qualitative information in sustainability measurement. Comparability of data across destinations and geographic locations remains important but at the same time there is a great need for indicators that reflect context and characteristics of the particular destination being studied. Because of that, INSTO does not define nor endorse specific indicators and instead delineate more generic issue areas that need to be monitored. This allows the network to be compatible with other, already existing initiatives.

The major goal of INSTO is to support the continuous improvement of sustainability in its three dimensions socio-cultural, economic and environmental, as well as resilience in the tourism sector, at the destination level. This is to be achieved through systematic, timely and regular monitoring of tourism performance and impact, in order to better understand destination-wide resource use and foster the responsible management of tourism.

Regular and timely measurement of tourism performance and reporting is essential in providing relevant evidence for effective decision making in the tourism sector at the destination level. Data monitoring and analysis are key elements of policy implementation which allow for regular and timely policy adjustment to address gaps between actual performance and intended targets, evidence-based planning, prediction and comparison. Timely monitoring also enables tourism stakeholders to better understand the sustainable development impacts of tourism as well as its links with other sectors, effectively prioritize policy measures and resource allocation and supports a competitive position of the sector vis à vis other economic activities. Last but not least, timely monitoring allows for early detection and prediction of potential threats to sustainability, providing an invaluable advantage to the destination, for instance, on adapting to the now inevitable effects of climate change.

The integration of local stakeholders into tourism measurement processes is essential for a meaningful long-term commitment towards monitoring of tourism performance and impact. It also contributes to the transparency of the process and reduces the bias of the information generated. Experience has clearly shown that the active and continuous engagement of local stakeholders presents one of the key catalytic factors for the success of sustainability initiatives thanks to aspects such as the regular exchange of ideas, the creation of open dialogues, the creation of consensus and support, the building of pride etc. Because of that, participatory processes lie at the heart of the observatories, which is why the Local Working Group is highly important.

Financial investments required to build and maintain an observatory depend greatly on the scope of the observatory in terms of the geographical area covered, the issues monitored and its overall objectives. Financial resources required may increase as the geographical area covered becomes wider, the depth of the analysis increases, tools become more extensive, more employees are needed and so forth. In addition, observatories spanning across national/international borders are likely to require more investments considering the greater number of stakeholders involved. Generally, the overall approach of member observatories has been to start on a small scale but with high quality, taking it one step at a time. There is no application or membership fee involved for becoming a member of INSTO.

UN Tourism does not provide funding to establish and maintain an observatory. Observatories can be funded in different ways, ranging from public funding to private or a combination of both. While the underlying funding mechanism behind the current observatories vary, some observatories gather additional funding by providing research services, including market research, for internal and external stakeholders and by taking part in diverse projects.

The rise of location data and the often referred to ‘Geospatial Revolution’ is creating major transformations in all sectors around the world. In tourism sector, innovative methods of analysis that allow for better understanding at the local level such as social media reputation, geospatial data mapping, booking and credit card spending patterns or mobile device information flows, etc., are also becoming more popular among stakeholders. If properly applied, these methods can complement traditional data sources effectively, supporting stakeholders with more evidence for the management of the impacts of tourism in their destinations. Thanks to the increasing availability of geo-referenced information and the new business models around it, vast opportunities not only derive for descriptive analysis (maps & visualization) but also allow for much more dynamic performance analysis, optimizing services and activities more effectively and predicting impacts more clearly. Therefore, with both traditional and non-traditional data, decision-making processes for destination stakeholders can be better facilitated than before.


It is important to note that the structure and functions of each observatory depend on the unique characteristics and needs of the destination. As sustainability is a continuous process and destinations improve over time, some are, of course, more advanced than others. Depending on the development phase and strategic direction, inspiration can therefore be taken from all members of the network. In order to foster regular exchanges and learn from each other, INSTO observatories are – when becoming members – generally committed to sharing experiences with others on a regular basis to inspire each other and advance together.

All new tourism observatories are required to organize a Stakeholders’ Workshop within the first year of acceptance, which should include all relevant stakeholders of the destination, including the members of the Local Working Group. Participants of the workshop should: a) discuss the findings of the preliminary study/report; b) reflect and agree on the issue areas and indicators that the observatory shall monitor; c) identify the most important data needs, gaps and sources; d) clearly define the roles and responsibilities of stakeholders and the frequency of stakeholders meetings; and e) agree on the implementation plan for the observatory.

New members of the network that already existed as observatories before joining INSTO shall agree to also conduct a Stakeholders’ Workshop within the first year of acceptance in order to discuss the adaptations to be carried out in order to align with the INSTO framework (e.g. creation of a Local Working Group if not already existing, structural changes and information sharing processes, etc.).

From the second year of membership, all observatories are required to conduct an annual Stakeholders’ Workshop in the destination, with all relevant actors as outlined above, in order to discuss the latest insights and advancements, challenges and needs.

The support letter of the highest tourism authorities is necessary to ensure that the observatory is aligned with national priorities, especially sustainable tourism development strategies and policies.