Back when destination marketing organizations were facing threats of government withdrawal of funding, the saying was often cited: “don’t kill the goose that lays the golden egg.” That is, don’t shut off the travel industry resources responsible for generating positive economic and fiscal impacts, which, in turn, through effective public funded marketing, generated even more returns. However, over time many DMOs did lose government funds, yet by necessity they developed creative and even better funding models such as tourism improvement districts, which were self-sufficient, reliable, and regenerative marketing resources.
I think this saying also is applicable when considering sustainable tourism, in this context meaning to not destroy the beauty and environment of our destinations with too many visitors and related negative impacts, by implementing better management and education. How can we create better models to prevent tourism from destroying itself (tourism paradox) in destinations around the world?
A recent session at the California Travel Association (CalTravel) board meeting explored this through the lens of regenerative travel/tourism. While many are now familiar with and accept the importance of sustainable travel, regenerative tourism goes beyond sustainability. How and why is it critical to destinations, what does it look like and how will it contribute to destination vibrancy?
Sustainable tourism takes full account of its current and future economic, social, and environmental impacts, by addressing the needs of visitors, the industry, the environment, and host communities. There must be a suitable balance between the environmental, economic, and socio-cultural aspects of tourism and development, to guarantee long-term sustainability.” (UN Environment Program and UN World Tourism Organization Making Tourism More Sustainable – A Guide for Policy Makers). In a nutshell, protect and do no harm.
Rise of Regenerative Tourism
However, employing sustainable practices may not adequately protect against negative tourism impacts or achieve positive impacts, thus the rise of regenerative travel, going beyond doing no harm, to more actively and intentionally “regenerate; regrow, renew or restore, especially after being damaged or lost.” (Merriam-Webster). In an Urbanthriving article, regenerationis signified by:
· a radical change for the better
· the creation of a new spirit.
· returning energy to the source
Anna Pollock, a long-time champion in this field has called for the tourism industry to play a part in healing our planet in a holistic way, and presents key concepts in Regenerative Tourism: The Natural Maturation of Sustainability (2019):
Regenerative tourism aims to 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 wholes and not parts, and is a very different way of looking at the world. A regenerative approach to tourism starts at home within ourselves, then our workplaces and our communities, and depends on caring hosts willing to ensure their destination is healthy and full of life.
Loretta Bellato a scholar, expands this definition to say that regenerative tourism is not an emerging niche in the industry…but rather is a holistic way of thinking in which all stakeholders build reciprocal, beneficial relationships. She explains that this approach to travel seeks to actively improve social and environmental systems and align everything towards sustaining the planet so that all beings can flourish. (The Good Tourism Blog)
Therefore, regenerative tourism aims to leave a place better than it was. However, making regenerative tourism a reality requires a mindset shift from travelers themselves.1 It is not an easy task, especially in a cost-of-living squeeze.1 To make regenerative tourism a reality, travelers must be willing to shift and embrace the idea of sustainable and regenerative tourism.1 By further encouraging damaged environments to be renewed through travel, rather than being negatively impacted, we can help to rebuild the world’s most pristine and beautiful landscapes.2
Recent research shows that a fifth of travelers feels that travel has an overall negative impact on the environment, while a third of consumers prioritize their stays in hotels with green initiatives, and are willing to pay more for that. (The State of the American Traveler, Destination Stewardship, October 2023; Future Partners, for Miles Media, https://www.milespartnership.com/state-american-traveler)
While not yet predominant, visitors’ environmental sentiments and related behaviors are growing to where the voice of the visitor will become increasingly important for destinations to hear and address. At the same time, many more local residents are weighing in; while they recognize the economic and community benefits of tourism, many are now more vocal as to how they are affected by tourism and look to local elected officials to respond to their concerns. Relatedly, new and evolving ways to measure the outcomes of local sustainability and regeneration efforts among both visitors and residents are being used. TAG will follow up with this discussion in a future newsletter.
Sustainability, and more so regenerative tourism, matters. Sentiments of both visitors and residents are more aligned in recognizing that a quality experience for visitors and quality of life for residents are important, are interrelated, and must be considered in the destination’s tourism ecosystem for the destination to remain viable and competitive.