3 Regenerative Tourism Principles we love and how they may change global tourism
I admit that I’ve fallen hook, line and sinker for the idea of Regenerative Tourism. Why? Because it’s promise is so appealing:
Regenerative tourism actively and intentionally creates the conditions for communities and places to thrive and flourish. It is tourism that gives back more than it takes, that delivers net benefit to all stakeholders. It is tourism that takes steps to ensure that the natural and human resources that make up tourism can sustain and regenerate. It promises to revitalise local economies and cultures, preserve biodiversity and help hosts share memorable, authentic transformative experiences to the guests. The end result would be communities and destinations that flourish.
Seriously, what’s not to love about all of that? The promise of Regenerative Tourism speaks to our emotions. At a time when the world is very troubled and we as individuals feel very uncertain within it, regeneration presents a new narrative that stirs something instinctive within us.
I’m not blindly in love though (have a look at my earlier article that goes through my journey of understanding it and the opportunities and challenges that I feel it presents). It’s probably fair to say that no destination is fully operating a model of regenerative tourism right now. Yet, the principles are gaining favour and traction.
I’d like to select just 3 principles that underpin Regenerative Tourism (there are others) and that hold strong appeal in the current climate. I also dare to speculate how applying them might actually change the global tourism landscape.
Principle 1: Recognise that tourism takes place within a dynamic ecosystem
An holistic, living systems view of the world is the very foundation stone of regenerative tourism and regeneration in general. Regeneration is a movement that sees people as part of nature’s living systems, not dominant over them. It sees people’s role as being that of stewards or guardians of the natural world across generations, honouring what we have inherited and taking responsibility for our legacy. I love this principle because it recognizes that everything is connected and that tourism occurs within an ecosystem of natural, social and cultural elements and interactions.
This seems obvious. However, the model of tourism development since the 1950s is based on the view that tourism is a standalone industry sector. Tourism has, with full acquiescence of all relevant authorities, sought ongoing growth in visitation without needing to heed the implications of that tourism growth on nature, society and cultures.
A pre-pandemic 2019 report ‘Destinations at Risk: The Invisible Burden of Tourism” was influential in highlighting how continuous growth in tourism was impacting various aspects of the economy, culture and society.
How would this principle change global tourism?
Recognising that tourism takes place within a dynamic ecosystem would cause fundamental changes at the level of destination planning, management, marketing and tourism product development.
- Destinations would be managed through collaborative structures with equal participation from government, the private sector, civil society organisations and the place itself. Nature and heritage would be given a physical voice in the discussion, recognizing their ‘aliveness’ and the interconnection between them and the activity of people leveraging them.
- Destination marketing organisations and even destination management organisations would give way to collaborative Destination Stewardship structures.
- Plans for destination development would have conservation, communities, culture and collaboration embedded within them, rather than added on to them. In fact, they would be the cornerstone of the plans, rather than the addendum.
- The industry would face up to the inevitable consequences of its commitment to reduce its global carbon footprint – less dependence on carbon intensive air travel. This would lead to a greater emphasis on local experiences for local and near-to-home visitors.
- Exchequer benefit derived from tourism would be demonstrably linked to public investments that support the health of the overall local ecosystem.
Principle 2: Tourism has a responsibility to create the conditions for people and places to thrive
Regeneration takes its lead from nature. In nature, the systems deemed to be ‘successful’ are the ones that are able to maintain themselves and renew themselves. They create conditions where they thrive themselves and new life can flourish around them. In tourism, traditionally, the destinations deemed to be ‘successful’ were the ones with the highest visitor numbers, that grew irrespective on what impact that growth had on those around them.
I love this principle because it provides a framework for defining new measures of success. It requires us to re-think the very purpose of tourism. The success of tourism as evidenced in GDP growth has held little meaning for the people and places where tourism actually occurs. A framing of tourism in regenerative terms opens the way for widening the definition to success, which would still include economic measures but also include measures such as well-being, community sentiment, landscape integrity and cultural prosperity.
How would this principle change global tourism?
- Destinations would find a way to measure the value of tourism for the welfare of people and the wellbeing of the place, and for their collective prosperity.
- Visitor Experience Development would task itself to ensure that the experiences on offer are a natural fit to the environment and reflect and embody the cultural history of the place i.e. product development would be based on the place and not what visitor research uncovers.
- Building on that, Destination Stewardship organisations would invest in nourishing the distinctiveness of places by helping manifest the unique potential of each place. Tourism would be a catalyst for preserving and articulating that unique sense of place that is rooted uniquely in each area.
- Destination marketing strategies would then seek to attract those specific visitors who care for the region’s environment and cultural heritage.
- There would be a massive investment in improving the nature and quality of work in tourism. This would not be driven by a ‘scarcity of human resources for the business’ perspective but instead by a recognition of the direct correlation between availability stable, rewarding employment and the propensity of people to live in destinations over the long-term (i.e. the propensity to create community).
- Tourism would be less concerned with measuring National GDP and macro visitor numbers and more concerned with measuring small business development, distribution of income, enhancement of local supply chains, and relative wage and salary levels.
Principle 3: Recognise that the host community is the primary agent of tourism
“Regenerative culture takes a holistic approach to the wellbeing of the entire ecosystem in which humans live, creating ‘thriving’ and ‘flourishing’ communities, who as the stewards, decide what happens there.” Earthchangers.com.
I love this principle because it recognizes that the host community is at the very centre of the tourism experience and, as such, is rightfully the primary agent in tourism. The growth-driven model did little to include communities. The prevailing narrative was that more visitors meant more money and more local benefit. The reality has been quite different in many locations, with a huge amount of economic advantage ‘leaking’ from the host destination which continues to bear the burden on local services, access and infrastructure. (Have a read of Destination Think's recent article on this very topic: Reimagining travel means preventing tourism leakage | Destination Think)
This principle appeals because it would mean tourism would stop being something that happens to communities or for communities, and rather something that happens by them and with them. It would help communities answer the key question “What do we need to thrive and how can tourism help us achieve that?”
How would this principle change global tourism?
- Cross-industry and multi-stakeholder networks (collaborative structures) would be formed and financially resourced on a long-term basis.
- The process of destination planning would slow down and be more inclusive. In fact, it would be led by community representatives within collaborative decision-making structures. This would require a willingness to empower communities to make decisions. It would mean sharing know-how and sound data with community groups and leaders.
- Communities would be facilitated in asking if they want tourism, why they want it, how much tourism they want and what form they want it to take.
- Actions would be taken to maximise the retention of tourism revenue within the host community.
- Community would take the role of gatekeepers and protectors of their destination.
Yes, it is easy be in love with the principles of Regenerative Tourism. Are they all too far-fetched though and is it just romantic longing for a happy-ever-after for tourism?
I don’t believe it’s far-fetched. It’s over 50 years since Bhutan’s Government moved away from GDP to measure national performance, choosing instead to measure according to their National Happiness Index. There’s growing interest in their model. New Zealand has grabbed headlines for its Wellbeing Budget, that requires all government departments to show how their spending improves wellbeing and not just GDP. Similar moves are underway in other countries such as Iceland and Scotland. The process of creating Destination Experience Development Plans in Ireland is resulting in local collaborative networks that should self-organise and self-sustain over time. Even visitor research is showing that traveller sentiment is moving towards the principles of regeneration. Booking.com’s Sustainable Travel Report 2022 showed that:
- 71% of travellers expressed a desire to travel more sustainably over the coming 12 months (up 10% from 2021)
- 59% want to leave the places they visit better than when they arrived
- 66% want to have authentic experiences that are representative of the local culture
Regenerative Tourism recognises the immensely positive role that tourism can play in creating a thriving world. It moves beyond mitigating damage (through managing energy, waste and water) and sets the stage for deeper, more meaningful and more sustainable engagement with places and communities. It’s a viable route for the tourism industry to take, globally or locally. It's certainly the road less travelled for now. It will be interesting to see how this area continues to develop and the long-term consequences and benefits that will evolve for the global tourism industry.
Tina is a facilitator, mentor and coach with particular interest in sustainable tourism, regenerative tourism, food tourism, tourism networks and collaborations. Contact Tina on [email protected] or sign up for our newsletter for weekly insights straight to your inbox: The Tourism Space Team's Weekly Article
Inspiration and further reading:
Reimagining travel means preventing tourism leakage Article by Destination Think.
Regnerative Tourism - new buzzword in the world of tourism | Consciouscarma, An article by Poonam K Malhotra, Founder of Conscious Carma Magazine.
Regenerative tourism will be at the forefront of the recovery effort (ehl.edu). Article by Marina Laurent, Founder of Regen Hospitality
Regenerative Tourism – Opportunity for Tourism Recovery? - Pure Advantage. Article by Dr. Susanne Becken, Professor of Sustainable Tourism
REIMAGINING A REGENERATIVE RECOVERY – WHY AND HOW | LinkedIn . Article by Anna Pollock, Founder of Conscious Tourism.
What is Regenerative Tourism? . Article by Kristin Dunne, former CEO of Tourism Bay of Plenty
Regenerative Tourism 101 Article by Dr. Pauline Sheldon for Adventure Canada.
Sustainable Travel Trends 2022 - Regenerative Travel. Article by Earthchangers.com
Booking.com Sustainable Travel Report 2022 booking.comsustainabletravelreport2022final.pdf
Future of Tourism: 13 principles to place destination needs at the centre of tourism's new future.
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