The Hype of the Regenerative Tourism
Updated: Oct 8
Due to the great crisis we are experiencing, it might seem absurd to believe we have an improvement in any sector. Nevertheless, that is what could happen with regenerative tourism, which many in the tourism industry are betting on.
If sustainable tourism, which aims to counterbalance the social and environmental impacts associated with travel, was the ambitious external limit of ecotourism before the pandemic, the new frontier is the "regenerative journey", where regeneration consists in restoring and then regenerating the capacity to live in a new relationship on an ongoing basis.
Regenerative tourism addresses impacts holistically, from the perspective of the destination and the community, as well as from the environment. This holistic approach begins with a view of the guest as a whole human being living a complete experience; not a segment to be targeted, but a living being that plays a particular role in a specific place and time.
"For so long, tourism success has been defined by growth in numbers - number of visitors, the number of cruise passengers [...]. Even before the pandemic, there was a need for rebalancing", said Gregory Miller, executive director of the Center for Responsible Travel, a non-profit group that supports sustainable travel.
There is a great fear, which is the subject of discussion regarding sustainable and regenerative tourism, or the phenomenon of over-tourism. For example, consider Hawaii and the current recession which may have bought a few years before tourism data reverted to what it was in 2019 when 10 million travelers visited the islands - up from 6.5 million. a decade earlier.
"We have the curse of a strong brand [...]. We are so well known as a sun destination that people overlook the other aspects, the Hawaiian culture, the royal past, the interesting geological and natural attractions" said Frank Haas, former vice president of the Hawaiian Tourism Authority and an independent tourism consultant. Hence the link to regenerative tourism, defined as 'best tourism' or determining what makes a place better and whoever makes this decision requires local involvement.
VisitFlanders, the tourism organization representing the region of Northern Belgium, has created for the sake of the economy an "economy of meaning" in which, among other initiatives, the connection of visitors with locals who share their passions for things like history or food and making storytelling central to sites like WWI battlefields.
“Sustainability is not an individual property but a property of an entire network of relationships. It always involves an entire community. This is a profound lesson that we must learn from nature. "
As such, supporting ecosystem regeneration, building renewable energy infrastructure, and supporting local food production are all ways that destinations position themselves in the mind of the visitor and the resident. All with a distinctive pattern in terms of sustainability and real care for society and environment, that people want to support and experience more and more during their holidays.
There can be no sustainable activity within an unsustainable system. This is the situation practically every tourism company finds itself in today, and the only way we can make an alternative measure like prosperity operational is to do it on a community-by-community basis.
As acclaimed tech futurist, Gerd Leonhard said, “future sources of value depend on our ability to express emotion, intuition, imagination, creativity, empathy, ethics, mystery, compassion, to which I would add enchantment, wonder, and amazement…” Any future value that may be derived from the travel and hospitality industries will not be associated with efficiency but with the expression of our humanity in the form of those feelings and meanings.
Anna Pollock, a strategist and tourism consultant who has been advocating for new approaches to tourism for 25 years, said about Regenerative Tourism:“...It aims not just to do less harm, but to go on and restore the harm that our system has already done to the natural world, and by using nature’s principles, to create the conditions of life to flourish. It views whole and not parts, and is a very different way of looking at the world.”
Through regenerative tourism, communities have more control and a bigger stake in how tourism impacts them and their environment. It also provides an opportunity to rethink the role and meaning of tourism and imagine new business models, relationships, and resources.
And therefore, having reached this point, we ask ourselves what is the difference between sustainable tourism and regenerative tourism?
Many articles on sustainable tourism consider a dimension in focus, for example, poverty or carbon. But look at them all and say, "Hey, here's some economic advantage but it has a high carbon cost"; which is relatively new.
But regenerative tourism goes a little further and, by definition, is truly place-based (that doesn't mean forgetting about global impacts, such as carbon emissions). There is mostly talk of a "global" dimension, where, as we have already said, lives and communities are incorporated into their environment. Only if they all work together to ensure the health of the system, tourism can continue to thrive.
Unfortunately, there are examples, such as Barcelona and Venice, where essentially tourism is becoming exploitation, it has radically eroded the social capital and also the environmental one. Remedying this situation is certainly not easy.
So let's go further, believing that tourism has the potential to become a positive transformative agent that can contribute to a better quality of life for all.
DG: If you were in an elevator and they asked you what "regenerative tourism" is, what would you answer?
Dr. Becken: You give back more than you take.