Have you heard of regenerative tourism?

Tourism is a sector in turmoil. At least, that was the case before March 2020 and the global lockdown. But it will probably also be the case afterwards: after the vaccine, after the pandemic and after the global economy starts to recover. Should we expect tourism to be the same as it was before? Not necessarily. It could even be an opportunity for tourism professionals to anticipate and imagine a new vision. Among the levers at their disposal, a new trend in green tourism is becoming increasingly talked about: regenerative tourism.

Suffocating tourism, endangered sites

In our blog, we’ve already discussed several times the dangers of over-tourism and the new trends towards a more local, less polluting, smarter tourism. Up to now, this incipient approach had its work cut out in face of mass, globalised tourism, the appetite for which seemed limitless. It has to be said that, over the last nine years, the tourism sector has grown faster than global GDP. Although it represented 10% of global jobs, the sector is now on the point of losing 121 million jobs, according to the World Travel & Tourism Council.

However, every crisis gives us the opportunity to reinvent ourselves; to reconsider the practices of the past and to build the future in a better way. Green tourism has already been growing for several years. We’re talking about sustainable, local, gentle tourism and its multiple variants. Today, however, some professionals want to go even further and promote regenerative tourism.

Leaving a place in a better condition than you found it

This is the mantra of regenerative tourism. The goal is to take inspiration from regenerative agriculture, which aims to restore soil exhausted from intensive single crop farming. With regenerative tourism, the aim is to create sustainable tourism that limits the environmental impact and slows down damage to the ecosystem. The Future of Tourism coalition has set out several key principles:

  • An overall vision: taking into account the destination, not just the businesses in the tourism sector. Respecting the ecosystems, natural resources, culture, traditions and communities, as well as the aesthetics and infrastructure already in place.
  • Collaborating across disciplines: structuring tourism development by including equal participation in local governance, the private sector and civil society organisations representing diverse communities.
  • Equal distribution of income: putting in place policies to combat tourism inequalities and encourage a fair balance of tourist income in local communities.
  • Reducing the burden of tourism: taking into account the costs related to tourism, local taxation, environmental and social issues, as well as objectively verifiable disturbances.
  • Managing the use of land by tourism: limiting high-occupancy holiday resorts in concentrated areas. Discouraging the spread of tourist complexes on coasts, islands and mountainous areas, as well as protecting the geographical features, a diversified economy, local access and ecosystems.
  • Diversifying markets: encouraging local tourism, which is more resistant to crises and helps to increase the perceived value of natural and cultural regional heritage.

How to develop regenerative tourism

The first thing to do is to combat over-tourism at all costs. This is a threat in the most heavily visited European tourist destinations, such as Barcelona, Venice and Dubrovnik. It means more laws and regulations, and more support to help the tourism sector reinvent itself. For a long time, the success of tourism has been measured by the increase in the number of visitors. However, this endless race has disastrous consequences for the environment, and also on the tourist experience. How can you enjoy the Mona Lisa, when hundreds of other people are crowding together to look at the painting? How can you be inspired by the old buildings of Venice when the ever-present crowds prevent you from strolling peacefully?

To develop regenerative tourism, it’s essential to decide what makes a place better. Fewer people? Better crowd distribution? More eco-friendly transport? Raising tourist awareness? Mandatory carbon offsetting? A balance between major international chains and local independents? In all cases, local involvement is essential in creating a tourist economy that has meaning, that builds rather than destroys. This means more contact between visitors, local residents and stakeholders. This is what organisations such as Regenerative Travel and OneSeed Expeditions do. The aim is not to consume tourism, but to experience it and regenerate these areas through unique experiences that form part of the trip.

Sars-Cov-2 has been damaging, certainly. But at the same time, it has opened up new opportunities to rebalance the tourism sector. An opportunity to invent something new, which improves the tourist experience and respects the environment. To achieve this, more than ever we need young tourism management graduates who are capable of making a difference, confirming their convictions and helping to change the world. Could this be you?

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