Regenerative tourism: The next step in sustainable tourism

People picking up litter from a beach

The focus of sustainable tourism is changing. It is moving from minimising the negative effects of a holiday to contributing to the development of local communities. This offers interesting opportunities for communities and businesses in developing countries.

Sustainable tourism is about finding a balance between economic benefits and negative social and environmental impacts. Increasing demand for sustainable holidays is an important market trend. Travellers have become more and more aware of sustainability. This has led to an increase in demand for eco-friendly, climate-neutral tourism services and products. Because of this, businesses are focusing on certification. But, the increase in demand has also led to commercialisation and greenwashing. Greenwashing is when a business pretends to be more sustainable than it actually is.

A new direction for tourism

Until now, the main focus of sustainable tourism has been on minimising the negative effects of tourism. But now, we see sustainable tourism move in a new direction. The next step is to improve the local community using tourism as a tool. The term for this is regenerative tourism.

Regenerative tourism focuses on the things in life that really matter. By satisfying the primary needs of the community, regenerative tourism contributes to the quality of life of local people. It helps communities and tourism sites continuously renew themselves.

The impact of COVID-19

The interest in regenerative tourism grew during the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic made us reconsider how we travel and sell our destinations and how we can create a better world. Organisations like the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) and the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) recognise the need for a new direction and to build back better. We expect regenerative tourism to be in the lead when the tourism industry starts to recover.

Challenging stakeholders

Regenerative tourism involves a shared responsibility between tourism stakeholders and travellers. Together these parties can develop a better understanding of how human life, nature and tourism are connected. And they can identify the most important needs of a community and how tourists can contribute to meeting these needs. When companies consider these aspects, they often use the phrases:

  • conscious destination, and
  • destination stewardship.

Regenerative tourism challenges stakeholders to:

  • work together to develop creative solutions for local needs,
  • use local innovation, and
  • empower local people to create meaning for their community and everyone involved.

All this while providing travellers with memorable, authentic and transformative experiences. Many sustainability-sensitive travellers want to reduce their impact on nature and society. They also want to enrich their life with a ‘do good, feel good’ holiday. This could involve planting trees, working on water supply issues, or helping build schools.

Regenerative tourism opportunities

There are many opportunities for regenerative tourism in places with indigenous communities. This is due to their values and symbiotic relationship with nature. Regenerative tourism initiatives have been successful in destinations that also have projects in place with a focus on land regeneration/regenerative agriculture. Examples include Mexico, Costa Rica and Ecuador. For more examples, read the CBI trends report.

Dr Albert Postma wrote this news article for CBI.

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