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If you’re a travel-lover, you may have heard about eco-tourism, responsible tourism, and sustainable tourism, which all encourage people to respect nature, communities, and the planet when travelling. But today we’re going even deeper to talk about regenerative tourism. As the term suggests, regenerative travel requires some level of positive feedback into the system that we are taking from (i.e. travelling to).
This means, in addition to reducing your carbon footprint, waste, and environmental impact while travelling, you also choose actions that improve the quality of the destination you’re visiting. Heads up, there are likely to be crossovers between these different terminologies. The fundamental difference with regenerative travel is considering how you could leave a destination better than it was before you arrived.
The concept of regenerative travel was first mentioned by tourism consultant, Anna Pollock, in 2019 and then was popularised during the pandemic, when many destinations revealed qualities that didn’t exist prior to the pandemic — like clear waters in Venice and better air quality in Paris. Pollock suggests that regenerative travel is, “the natural maturation of sustainable travel”.
Following the impact COVID-19 on the world and tourist destinations, this is likely the most instinctive way forward. However, regenerative tourism is still in its infancy with a few tour operators taking up the mantle to sign on only regenerative properties to their platform. One such company, Regenerative Travel, crowns itself with the very term.
Founder and CEO, Amanda Ho, explained that the company started out with the intention to change the way people travel. “Travel used to be a cultural exchange, people to people,” she said. “Unfortunately, much of the travel industry has been disconnected from the people and the place. Regenerative Travel is building the framework for travel that brings back that core experience, that is non-extractive and inclusive, diverse and equitable.”
How regenerative travel will look in the future is still up for debate between consumers and suppliers. The following ideas are suggested when looking into practising regenerative tourism on a personal level.
Viewing Travel Beyond Our Pleasure
Most of us see holidays as an escape from our routines. We use beach holidays as an escape from city life and remote hikes as an escape from work emails. These are common practises, born out of the boom of travel for pleasure.
However, regenerative travel coaxes us out of this bubble by asking us to see travel as a vehicle for good for others, as much as it is for ourselves. Ho found a niche that she believes was not being addressed, as the conscious traveller wanted to visit places “where their vacation met their values.”
The Regenerative Travel company lists and collaborates with hotels that share that vision and are pushing the boundaries of art, design, food, adventure, and the outdoors that serve as hubs of creativity and innovation with a truly unparalleled experience.
For individuals, viewing travel beyond the lens of personal pleasure might look like spending less time in an overcrowded city centre, removing geotags from social media photos, or replacing sight-seeing activities with local-led experiential tours. Essentially, regenerative travel encourages us to think of the destination and its people, in addition to ourselves. This might be a challenging muscle to flex at the start, but with practice, it’s also a muscle that can be built on.
Alternative Metrics to Success
Pollock suggests that regenerative tourism cannot use the more traditional metrics of numbers, dollars, and bookings. It requires a new lens of looking at personal, adaptive, and collaborative metrics that provide meaning to both guests and hosts.
For example, when hosting a community experience, we should engage the local community leaders to decide what outcome they would want from these activities. Perhaps it could be monetary, or it could be in the form of resources or upskilling of their members. When we allow communities to have a say in the outcome, versus leading and deciding on their behalf, we open up alternative options for success.
Thailand is a pioneer of regenerative tourism as it has implemented close to 3,000 such projects, led by village elders central to their vision and interest. Although this process, led by DASTA in 2003, may be long and tedious (resulting in slow growth) it considers the welfare and long-term sustainability of the activity for both hosts and the guests.
When you’re visiting somewhere new, chances are you would meet your host at a hotel, and also come across a local at a bar. Ideally, both host and local share similar views on the impact of tourism in their country. In some destinations, like Barcelona and Venice, locals were forced out of their own homes because of skyrocketing property prices inflated by guests.
Hence, on any trip, there are three groups of people: guests, hosts, and locals. All need to develop a mutually agreeable and beneficial relationship to function in the long term.
For example, if the guests wreck an apartment and the neighbourhood by vandalising or mishandling public areas, it ruins the atmosphere for hosts and locals in that area. Similarly, if locals are noisy, lack basic manners, and are pickpockets — guests and hosts would despair at the lack of social respect or culture.
Ho highlights a way forward in regenerative travel, through a framework her company is building that brings back a core experience, that is non-extractive and inclusive, diverse and equitable. Regeneration takes a whole systems approach while eco-friendly is “not doing harm.” Sustainable is “reaching net-zero” and regeneration is actually making it better.