Regenerative Travel 2022 and Beyond

Even before the pandemic, for a number of years, government sponsored world organisations have been looking at ways to better protect the earth, its global environment and its natural resources. Trying to work out how to deal with global warming, carbon emissions, achieve net-zero and be able to create more sustainable buildings.

However, the concept of regeneration has been gaining even more traction than sustainability over the last decade or so, with the word being applied not only to the construction industry but also to the way we travel for business and leisure.

Eco-friendly practices can be defined as “not doing any harm, whereas sustainable practices aim to maintain systems, reaching “net-zero” without degrading them, and about making sure that resources available today will still be available for the future.

The concept of sustainable travel is well-known and, in fact, the Global Sustainable Tourism Council has even created a set of sustainable travel criteria, particularly since the global pandemic began, the tourism industry has seen the rise of regenerative travel.

The current definition is:  “The process of regrowth or renewal or restoration after being damaged to bring it back to its original state.”

One key difference with regeneration is that it takes a “whole systems” approach and actually aims to make the environment better, not maintain a status quo. Regeneration is designed to move beyond sustainability and recognise how natural systems are currently being impacted, and then implement existing natural systems, technologies and techniques to repair, restore, and protect systems to create productivity and replenishment.

It does require a new mindset. A ‘regenerative’ mindset is one that sees the world as built around reciprocal and co-evolutionary relationships, where humans, other living beings, and ecosystems rely on one another for health, and shape (and are shaped by) their connections with one another.

Without this mindset, it will be very hard to develop regenerative systems, designs, communities, and lifestyles

In short, the priority of regenerative development is to adopt holistic processes to create mutual relationships between physical, natural, economic and social capital. These have to be mutually supportive and be able to restore equitable, healthy and prosperous relationships between such factors.

Ecoliteracy is a pre-requisite of this mindset. Ecoliteracy is the ability to understand the natural systems that make life on earth possible, including understanding the principles of organization of ecological communities (i.e. ecosystems) and using these principles for creating sustainable human communities that are part of the bigger ecological community.

Regeneration aims to:

  • discover how a project can make a contribution to the whole and be a positive participant where it is situated.
  • be a catalyst for prosperity and health of human and natural environments through holistic principles and community participation;
  • create better relationships between excess human and natural resources so that these can be reutilised and replicated to build inter-linked dependence;
  • to be aware of local economic, cultural or ecological issues, so that any development is properly adapted to local ecosystems.

The term “regenerative travel” has been growing in usage and generally refers to travelling in a way which the ecological balance of the planet.

Travel for pleasure or business can be said to be tourism, which involves the businesses of attracting, accommodating and entertaining tourists, including sightseeing and enjoying the amenities of a destination (such as beaches or coral reefs or areas of natural beauty).

So, regenerative travel can to be a combination of travel and regeneration which leaves a positive impact on the places visited, enabling the visited area so it can regenerate and grow even stronger in the future. Regenerative travel is the next step in a sustainable travel journey, making sure that what we do now feeds back into the system from which we benefit, about being pro-active and well-planned in order to restore the harm that our system has already done to the natural world using nature’s principles, to permit new life to flourish.

By satisfying the primary needs of the local ecosystem which includes the community both of which are benefiting from but also being impacted by tourism, regenerative tourism helps such communities and tourism sites continuously renew and replenish themselves.

Eco- and green tourism is without doubt the fastest-growing market sector in the tourism industry but also the most greenwashed sector. Although regenerative tourism is the logical next step, with so much travel suspended during the pandemic, it will take some time and design changes for natural growth patterns to be identified and re-established.

However, 2022 is the ideal springboard for regenerative tourism to really take off and development in the sector is likely to be sustained for the foreseeable future. Travel patterns have changed dramatically and the awareness of the need to protect and replenish the natural environment is at an all-time high.

The linking of tourism with environmental and community interests takes place – a practice that has become an essential movement in light of global climate challenges and the Sustainable Development Goals (“SDG”) a charter by which all 191 United Nations member states, and at least 22 international organisations, committed to help achieve seventeen main goals, including to ensure environmental sustainability.

Other travel related initiatives include the grouping of six non-profit organisations, such as the Centre for Responsible Travel and Sustainable Travel International, as a Future of Tourism coalition, which aims to “build a better tomorrow.”

Twenty-two travel groups, including tour operators such as destination marketers such as the Slovenian Tourist Board, and organisations like the Adventure Travel Trade Association, have signed on to the coalition’s 13 guiding principles, including “demand fair income distribution” and “choose quality over quantity.”

“Destination Stewardship” is another key tenet of the goals for regenerative tourism and involves local communities, governmental agencies or tourism authorities taking a multi-stakeholder approach to maintaining the cultural, environmental, economic, and aesthetic integrity of their destination whether it be country, region, town or landmark or feature.

Whilst many more destinations are planning to welcome regenerative tourism, two noteworthy example are:

Tourism New Zealand, the country’s official tourism body, invites all visitors to take the Tiaki promise which states that tourists will care for New Zealand, its people, culture, the land, the sea, and nature, treading lightly and leaving no trace; showing care and consideration for all; travelling with an open heart and mind.

Boracay Island in The Philippines is offering visitors a chance to preserve the island with the “oath for a better Boracay”, by which they commit to helping maintain the island so it is a great place to live and visit. Pre-pandemic the island was closed for six months to focus on rehabilitating the island and restructuring it into a cleaner and more sustainable destination for residents and visitors.

Regenerative travel involves leaving places even better than how we found them; not only will this allow the industry to protect the travel experiences they offer and thus remain competitive, but, also, it is the right thing to do. To switch to regenerative travel, the tourism industry needs to unlearn everything they know. They must be transparent in which regenerative measures they are employing, which are only sustainability measures, and which are not.

Operators must measure the right things to support their regenerative initiatives –  where does the money go, what is their impact, are their supply chains local and ethical, do they protect the destination’s habitat sites and how, and how do they protect, empower, and promote the local culture. They must also promote all the other regenerative initiatives in their area, if any, so that a traveler can make informed decisions.

The traveler on the other hand must do their research into a destination’s environmental, social, and political issues and check eco-certifications for lodging options, activities, and tour operators. Find out if a property is calculating your environmental and carbon footprint for your stay and is offering offsets in the community that you can participate in.

To reach your destination, first consider public transportation, then driving, and lastly, flying. When flying, choose direct flights in economy class. Offset the carbon emissions from your flights to mitigate your carbon footprint.  Preferably at the places you visit. For travel mode offsets, calculate it and then double offset the carbon footprint.

During the trip, be environmentally conscious and respectful of your host community, follow the mantra ‘leave no trace’. Spend and support local guides and locally owned businesses.

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