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The Hype of the Regenerative Tourism: The Next Frontier in Sustainable Travel

Updated: Jun 9, 2023

In the face of the current global crisis that has been a severe blow to many sectors, the notion of finding a silver lining might seem far-fetched. However, one such glimmer of hope and resilience can be found in the emergence and potential of regenerative tourism. The tourism industry is increasingly recognising its potential as a viable and more sustainable alternative to traditional forms of tourism.

Regenerative tourism surpasses the conventional framework of sustainable tourism, which primarily aims to counterbalance the social and environmental impacts associated with travel. Prior to the pandemic, sustainable tourism was perceived as the ambitious external limit of ecotourism. But the industry's new frontier is now the "regenerative journey". The core essence of regeneration is not just restoration, but fostering the capacity to live in a renewed relationship on an ongoing basis.

Regenerative tourism adopts a holistic perspective. It addresses impacts not only on the environment, but also on the destination and the community. It begins by viewing the guest as a complete human being immersed in a comprehensive experience. This perspective doesn't see a tourist as a segment to be targeted, but a living being that plays a particular role in a specific place and time.

Gregory Miller, Executive Director of the Center for Responsible Travel, commented on the industry's evolving perception of success: "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."

A frequently debated concern regarding sustainable and regenerative tourism is the issue of overtourism. For instance, let's consider Hawaii. The current downturn might have delayed the rebound of tourism to its 2019 levels when 10 million travellers visited the islands, a significant leap from 6.5 million a decade earlier. Frank Haas, former Vice President of the Hawaiian Tourism Authority and an independent tourism consultant, touched on the curse of Hawaii's popularity as a sun destination. He highlighted how this singular image overshadowed the richness of Hawaiian culture, the royal past, and the fascinating geological and natural attractions. This points us towards the necessity of regenerative tourism, the essence of which is to identify what makes a place better. And determining this requires local involvement.

There are already practical implementations of regenerative principles, such as in Northern Belgium. VisitFlanders, the tourism organization representing the region, has instituted an "economy of meaning". Amongst various initiatives, they facilitate the connection of visitors with locals who share their passions for history or food. They have also placed storytelling at the heart of sites like WWI battlefields.

Margaret Wheatley, a renowned management consultant, stated, “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."

Hence, supporting ecosystem regeneration, developing renewable energy infrastructure, promoting local food production, and establishing a distinctive pattern in terms of sustainability and real care for society and environment are all ways that destinations position themselves in the mind of the visitor and the resident.

Anna Pollock, a strategist and tourism consultant, has been advocating for new approaches to tourism for 25 years. She says 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 conditions of life to flourish. It views the whole and not parts, and is a very different way of looking at the world."

While sustainable tourism often considers a singular dimension such as poverty or carbon emissions, regenerative tourism looks at the entire system. It acknowledges the intricate connections between the economy, society, and the environment, recognizing that the health of one cannot be maintained at the expense of the others.

Unfortunately, in cities like Barcelona and Venice, tourism has morphed into a form of exploitation, eroding both social and environmental capital. The challenge of remedying such situations is monumental but necessary.

In conclusion, the potential of tourism to serve as a positive transformative agent is immense. It can contribute to a better quality of life for all and shape the future of communities and environments around the world. However, this can only happen if we continue to embrace regenerative tourism, engaging local communities, and respecting the interconnectedness of our world.

In the words of Dr. Susanne Becken when asked about regenerative tourism: "You give back more than you take." This concept, simple yet profound, could be the guiding principle that drives the future of tourism.


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