What’s Better Than Sustainable Tourism? Regenerative Travel

The concept aims to leave a destination better than it was. Is it the answer to post-pandemic travel?

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Enjoy the rugged, unspoiled beauty of Mexico in the luxury of Playa Viva. Photo Courtesy: Regenerative Travel

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Imagine this: you’re sitting on the deck of a rustic eco-lodge in Tuscany, but Italy looks a tad different. Instead of the usual quaint cafés and narrow cobbled streets selling freshly fried cannoli, you’re greeted with a stunning view of the Pistoiese Apennines mountains. Crisp air and glossy leaves of beech grace every nook of the Oasi Dynamo nature reserve, which was a former hunting ground. As you share land with wolves and golden eagles, you know a part of what you spend here goes into sustaining the area as outlined by the WWF, or the little shrike research programme managed by the property.

Italy’s Oasy Hotel is one of the 47 resorts across the world that are part of the booking agency Regenerative Travel, which selects properties based on their dedication to environmental and social impact. As a concept, regenerative travel is slowly gaining traction around the world, with stakeholders adopting practices that aim to leave the travel destination better than it was. 

“While eco-friendly is simply defined as ‘not doing any harm’ and sustainable means ‘reaching net zero,’ regeneration takes a ‘whole systems’ approach and actually makes the environment better,” says Amanda Ho, co-founder of Regenerative Travel. 

 

Generating Meaning

According to Ho, regenerative practices aim to improve entire ecosystems, and benefit the community of people who inhabit the land. This means, a good regenerative hotel would draw staff members from nearby villages or towns; offer workshops or tours to visitors to promote local crafts and livelihood; indulge in agricultural practices that restore soil; and be located in places that aren’t already burdened by tourism.

 

What’s Better Than Sustainable Tourism? Regenerative Travel

Encompassing six islands, three lagoons, and 13 beaches, the Bawah Reserve in Indonesia was created with the intention of preserving the delicate marine environment that surrounds it. Photo Courtesy: Regenerative Travel

 

One step ahead of sustainable travel, regenerative travel gives importance to the planet and the people, and aims to bring back the focus on experiential holidays. “Travel used to be a cultural exchange. We travelled to discover a new place by interacting with people. Unfortunately, much of the industry has now been disconnected from the people and the place. We need to build the framework that brings back that core experience, that is non-extractive and inclusive, diverse and equitable,” says Ho. 

Regenerative principles for hospitality are emerging as the future of tourism with the potential to create better conditions for people, feels Ho. Destinations like Hawaii and New Zealand are leading the way by adopting regenerative recovery strategies, she says. “The only solution to reverse climate change is to repair and replenish the damage we have done to our environment and communities so far.” 

 

Regenerative Travel, India, and the Pandemic

Closer home, tourism in many Indian destinations was buckling under various pressures—and has been in need of a reboot. “In the last decade or so, the tourism industry has impacted the environment overwhelmingly negatively,” says Indian environmentalist Ashish Kothari, over email. “Most well-frequented destinations, especially hill stations, are groaning under the pressure of rapid construction, road widening, traffic, plastic and other forms of pollution, exploitation, and more. Areas that were previously scarcely visited, such as Ladakh, are seeing mass tourism with little capacity to cope.”

Furthermore, as travel got muted by the pandemic, the tourism sector witnessed  job losses for millions the world over. What has emerged during this rather expensive pause is the realisation that the status quo wasn’t working well. Not just travellers, but tour operators and hoteliers too are reimagining what our itineraries need to look like—and what impact they need to create—when normalcy restores.

So what place does the concept of regenerative travel occupy in India? Kothari feels it is a rare exception in the Indian tourism industry, where even ‘net zero’ is nowhere to be seen yet. There is no environmental or social impact assessment of individual projects or the sector as a whole, he rues. “No carrying capacity studies for individual sites or places, no empowerment of local communities in governing and deciding about tourism, no standard set of ethical guidelines that the whole industry must follow (with consequences for violations), and almost no instances of an environmental tax on the industry that can be put back into regeneration or conservation.”

 

What’s Better Than Sustainable Tourism? Regenerative Travel

Cradled in Tuscany’s Pistoiese Apennines, Oasy Hotel offers panoramic views of the nature reserve, Oasi Dynamo (or Dynamo Oasis). Photo Courtesy: Regenerative Travel

 

Travel to Regenerate

What can an Indian traveller do to travel towards regeneration, in the absence of larger systems? While hotels and stays have a huge role to play, the success of the concept depends on travellers’ actions too. Here are a few tips to follow:

 

Understand Your Destination

“Learn about the local communities of the place you’re visiting, its culture, its environment; and once there, dive deeper into these details,” Kothari recommends. Ho agrees. “Regenerative travellers must understand that participation in the experience is a most important aspect. They should seek to learn from locals and engage to develop a relationship with the host destination.”

 

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One of Sri Lanka’s hidden gems, the Gal Oya Lodge offers visitors an immersive experience with nature. Photo Courtesy: Regenerative Travel

 

Spread the Word

“Try to make people around you aware of certain issues,” says Kothari. “Write about your experiences keeping this in mind and promote responsible visitation.”

 

Commute Carefully

Watch how you move around your travel destination, suggests Kothari. Check, for instance, the availability of cycling or walking paths instead of taking a car.

 

Support Responsible Operators

Find out the responsible operators or actors at your destination: community-led homestays and ecotourism ventures instead of big hotels and tour operators, says Kothari. “In India, there are Ladakh homestays run by Snow Leopard Conservancy India Trust, or the Sikkim homestays by the Khangchendzonga Conservation Committee.”

 

To read more stories on travel, cities, food, nature, and adventure, head to our web forum here or our new National Geographic Traveller India app here.

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  • Megha Sharma discovered her interest in weaving ideas into words when she was seven years old. She recently quit her full-time job to be an independent journalist-cum-digital nomad, and unearth stories about people and cultures around the world.

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