The New York Times had an article last month titled: “Move Over, Sustainable Travel. Regenerative Travel Has Arrived”. According to that piece’s definition, regenerative travel/tourism is “leaving a place better than you found it.”
With the Covid-19 crisis, people have been given time to reflect. Concerns about the future of the tourism industry as a result of strict mobility regulations and rules such as social distancing, have been raised and it isn’t easy to imagine or anticipate the future of tourism. For decades the tourism industry has embraced economic determinism, growth and profit, and consumption as measures of its own success; this has often led to exploitation of natural resources and cultural heritage while ignoring alternative means of economic exchange. As an entire industry was forced to pause overnight, we as sustainable tourism practitioners have been grappling with the question: what was being sustained in the first place? For whom and by whom?
Regenerative tourism addresses impact holistically, from destination and community perspectives as well as environmental. To regenerate is to revitalize: to give new life, energy, or success to something. With the current pandemic, the tourism sector in most countries is in a state of quiescence. Which is funny because the essence of being a tourist is to move or travel. However, if anything, Covid-19 has given us time. Time to reevaluate our assets and to decipher how to usher in a new age of travel that not only sustains, but also enhances culture, economy and the environment. Regenerative tourism engages governments, tourism organizations, businesses, visitors and most importantly, local communities, in developing a new form of placemaking (which is the planning, design and management of public spaces with regard to the communities that will inhabit them) with an end goal of community betterment. It focuses on actively improving the social or environmental conditions of your host country.
It enables tourists to see the world as alive, not a machine – and as being part of nature’s living systems – like indigenous communities never lost. Tourism is not just a sector, but a dynamic. I love that quote. Whoever minted the saying was unmistakably referring to regenerative tourism. Recognizing the fact that its communities and places are living systems, constantly interacting, evolving, self-organizing, learning, distinct and vital to create abundance, balance and conditions to support other life and contribute to a greater system of well-being.
It’s a holistic approach to tourism and as we take a long breather, it starts to make sense why it’s called recreation. Re-creation- visiting the private beaches of Mombasa or Watamu in Kenya, you are greeted by a lifestyle that focuses on restoration of the environment by planting trees or learning about turtles and why they should be conserved. Tourists work with the communities to improve their quality of life and protect the natural resources from overexploitation.
So, whilst regenerative tourism certainly has the ‘life-changing’ transformational aspect on visitors’ lives, it is the host ecosystem that is the focus. As much as many see Regenerative tourism as ‘yet another term’ it’s the paradigm shift in perspective that it signifies, which matters from industrial machine, to living inter-dependent eco-system.
Anna Pollock, the founder of Conscious Travel and one of the leading proponents of regenerative tourism, says: Regenerative tourism is not anti-growth; it simply asks that we grow the things that matter the most to us in ways that benefit the entire system and never at the expense of others. We need to make a fundamental leap in realizing the interdependence, interconnectivity, and the dynamic nature of everything.
We need travelers to have that experience of true partnership and true interconnectivity. Regeneration is a continual cycle of rebirth. That is how we sustain the planet. You cannot have a sustainable planet without regeneration.”
Ego to eco. Read that again.
With every small step, human beings interconnectivity with nature is being achieved through tourism. It’s not something trifle as a Bluetooth connection.