Sustainability is no longer a niche word in our industry but rather the norm as more destinations incorporate the concept into their branding strategies. The theme of sustainability centers around three key areas; balancing the economic, environmental, and societal needs of a destination with the need to manage visitor growth.
The Global Sustainable Tourism Council defines sustainability as the environmental, economic, and socio-cultural aspects of tourism development, with a suitable balance that must be established between these three dimensions to guarantee its long-term sustainability. The concept aims to acknowledge all aspects of tourism by minimizing the negative impacts and finding ways to maximize the positive aspects. A sustainability strategy protects the existing resources within a destination allowing them to be preserved for future generations to enjoy. Within the umbrella of sustainability is the concept of regenerative tourism; often thought of as the next step in the sustainability journey. The new concept approaches the impacts holistically, from both the destination and community perspective.
The practice of regenerative tourism contributes positively to a nature cycle now so that stakeholders in the community can benefit, which results in the destination growing again. It is an approach in which stakeholders build reciprocal relationships helping to improve the social and environmental systems aligning values and allowing all beings within a destination to flourish. Principles of regenerative tourism include recognition that tourism takes place within a dynamic ecosystem, tourism has a responsibility to create conditions for people and places to thrive, and that the host community is the primary agent of tourism. Like healthy rich soil being of importance to regenerative agriculture, the concept of regenerative tourism is vital to a healthy and vibrant community.
As the world recovers from the last few years, destination organizations have a unique opportunity to embrace a new path by incorporating a regenerative tourism strategy into existing strategic plans. The organization Tourism New Zealand sets an example for how regenerative travel can work helping to uplift all stakeholders within a community. The organization invites all visitors to take the TIAKI Promise which is a pledge for visitors to take care of New Zealand; take care of the people, the culture, the land, the sea, and the nature. Further, the pledge is to the destination itself in that travelers will care for the land, the sea, and the people. The organization empowers travelers from the time they arrive to treat the land with the same level of love and care that they would treat their home countries. With this pledge the destination has made a conscious decision to empower its visitors to restore the natural cycle allowing the community to thrive.
“While travelling in New Zealand I will care for land, sea, and nature, treading lightly and leaving no trace; travel safely, showing care and consideration for all; respect culture, travelling with an open heart and mind.” (TIAKI Visitor Pledge)
Visitors that take the pledge make a promise to care for the land, sea, and nature, promise to tread lightly and leave no trace. Visitors will travel safely, showing care and consideration for all and having respect for the culture, traveling with an open mind and heart. Travelers are encouraged to understand the culture and respect customs, positively impacting the communities visited and in return feel the impact of the Aotearoa people. Travelers that follow the Tiaki Promise are not only making a commitment to New Zealand, but are becoming adequately prepared to visit the destination, help keep it clean, and actively working as a guardian helping to preserve and protect the place in which local citizens call home. Travelers can help protect nature by keeping an adequate distance from the wildlife, educate on interacting with marine life, refraining from feeding wild animals, cleaning hiking gear, leaving drones at home, and taking precautions to prevent wildfires. Embedded in the concept of the Taiki promise is to hear their call to protect the land in the spirit of respect, kindness, and hospitality.
Another example is Hawaii Tourism Authority, the leading tourism organization for Hawaii is fully committed to restoration and aims to balance the economics of tourism with the wellbeing of communities, natural resources, and culture. The organization aims to attract and educate positive-impact travelers, group attendees, and families on how to mindfully interact with residents, leaving a lasting meaningful impact on the environment, and respecting native Hawaiian culture. Embracing regenerative tourism from an integrated approach aims to work with stakeholders to improve natural and cultural assets that are valued by Hawaii residents. In Hawaiian culture, caring for the land (Aina) is not only the responsibility of the those who call the destination home, but for those that visitor the land even for temporary. Malama in Hawaiian has many meanings but it is primarily an invitation to care for the waters that sustain life, protect wildlife habitats, and tend to the land that gives life to all beings, and help travelers give back to communities on their visit.
The Malama Hawaii Program is an organization that helps visitors engage with the community in a meaningful way strengthening the relationship between people and place. Malama in Hawaiian means give back and encourages travelers to give back to the land, the sea, the ocean, the wildlife, the forest, the fishpond, and the community. Thus, they are taking part in a virtuous cycle that enriches everything and everyone including leaving a lasting impact on the visitor. In the program itself, there are several volunteer opportunities to choose from; reforestation, tree planting, directed beach clean ups, picking up debris from hiking trails, and helping to clean up Maui’s coastline. Group attendees visiting the islands for meetings can find a list of participating organizations participating in the initiative. Further, as an incentive the program provides travelers with discounts at participating hotels if they participate in a volunteer activity.
In summary, the concept of sustainability is no longer a sector of the industry, but rather a driving force that will help destinations succeed in the future. Under the umbrella of sustainability is the concept of regenerative tourism which goes beyond minimizing damage and aims to actively revitalize and restore a destination, resulting in a positive cycle that sets the foundation for legacy flourishing. Destinations including New Zealand and Hawaii have begun the holistic and participatory process that is rooted in shared values. Further, regenerative tourism helps create conditions that help unlock the potential of stakeholders; residents, visitors and businesses helping them to contribute to the health and well-being of the destination.