Poonam K Malhotra
With the Earth Overshoot Day coming early every year, it just shows how fast we are depleting our resources. Earth Overshoot Day is the date when humanity’s demand for ecological resources and services in a given year exceeds what the Earth can renew in that year. Last year it fell on Aug 22, 2020 while this year it was in July 29, 2021. Going by this, soon we would need 2 planets to satisfy our demands. However the reality is we just have ONE EARTH, and there is no other alternative to this. There are already evidences of irreversible climate damage, and the increasing temperatures, wildfires, melting glaciers, floods and droughts are all just pointing to one single aspect – the over consumerism is killing the climate and in turn killing us.
The Earth Overshoot Day is a wake up call for the humanity to consume less, preserve what we have and regenerate more. The pandemic is a proof that nature rebounded itself when there was minimal indulgence. This has led people to take the climate change issue more seriously. Everyone is now talking about leaving a better world for the future generations. Regenerative tourism means the same for the travel industry. “Regenerative” describes processes that restore, renew or revitalize their own sources of energy and materials, through the principles of living systems and nature.
How is Regenerative tourism different from Sustainable tourism ?
While sustainable tourism works on the concept of not harming the place, regenerative tourism is a step further, of improving the destination. Sustainable tourism is about preserving what we have and maintaining the ecological and social balance, while regenerative tourism is about restoring and then regenerating, making a place better for future generations. It’s the next step after sustainable tourism.
“At Center for Responsible Travel (CREST), we believe that regenerative travel refers to tourism that not only ‘does no harm,’ but protects and enhances the conditions and systems at the destination while benefiting both residents and travelers. That said, we do not believe this term is a replacement for sustainable tourism”, says Dr. Gregory Miller, Executive Director, CREST.
CREST uses the UN definition of sustainable tourism: “Tourism that leads to the management of all resources in a manner that economic, social and aesthetic needs are fulfilled while maintaining cultural integrity, essential ecological processes, biodiversity, and life support systems.”
“True sustainability is not about maintaining the status quo (especially if the status quo means maintaining degraded systems or failing systems) but rather is about protecting and stewarding functional and working natural, cultural, and economic systems that promote the triple bottom line: people, planet, and prosperity. We believe regenerative travel can help restore nature and culture in a destination, building on the foundation of sustainable tourism, putting us on a path to achieving true sustainability”, Miller added.
Countries at the helm of Regenerative Tourism
While tourism’s success has largely been measured in economic terms to date, the world is now moving into a new era of thinking. How to create more value for people, place, and collective prosperity. With regenerative tourism gaining ground, countries across the world are looking beyond GDP to measure its wellbeing.
Over tourism is no more a buzzword, wellbeing of its people is. Leading the way to a regenerative future are countries like Bhutan, New Zealand and Hawaii, where governments measure success in the tourism sector not just by number of tourists but also by the welfare and wellbeing of its people and place.
Bhutan being the first country to have done this. The Country developed its signature Gross National Happiness index based on four pillars: sustainable development, environmental protection, cultural preservation, and good governance. Bhutan limits the number of visitors entering the country with a daily fee of $250 per person to ensure the environment is not spoiled by mass tourism.
While New Zealand hasdeveloped the Living Standards Framework, representing the Treasury’s perspective on what matters for New Zealanders’ wellbeing, now and into the future. The country’s tourism organization, is talking about measuring its success not solely in economic terms, but against the well-being of the country, considering nature, human health and community identities.
Similarly, travel leaders in Hawaii are discussing repositioning the state as a cultural destination to re-engage islanders, many of whom are fed up with overtourism. On the other hand, the Hawaii Tourism Authority takes the responsibility for protecting the iconic brand of the Hawaiian Islands, including perpetuating its culture, preserving its natural environment and strengthening communities by managing tourism in a way that helps improve the quality of life for residents, families and communities on all islands. The authority formulates its tourism goals around resident sentiment, measured by the Resident Sentiment Survey it’s been conducting since 1999.
Likewise, in Costa Rica, the Social Progress Index, is used to measure the effects of the tourism industry on local communities. While Venice, Italy, will be charging daytrippers entry fees (up to $12) starting January 1, 2022 to combat the negative cultural and environmental impacts of over tourism as well as boost the economy. The city receives 30 million tourists in a year.
Travellers too are getting responsible
The travellers too have become conscious about their carbon footprint while visiting a destination. They are happily shifting from being eco-travellers to eco-builders. They are opting for value driven experiences, eco-luxury stays, community engagement activities, environmental initiatives and more.
Future of Tourism Coalition : Guiding Tourism industry into a more regenerative future
Last year, six nongovernmental organizations came together to form the Future of Tourism Coalition in 2020. The coalition, under the advisory of the Global Sustainable Tourism Council, published a list of 13 principles that seek to guide the global tourism industry into a more regenerative future, and to place destination needs at the center of tourism’s new future. So far, about 600 organizations—governmental, nongovernmental, businesses, academic institutions, media, and investors—have signed up.
“We developed the 13 guiding principles to unite businesses and destinations behind a single vision for what #buildbackbetter actually looks like for the future of tourism. Our priority is to find new ways to activate the community we are building and create a global hub for knowledge, resources and solutions. Our work with Tourism Declares a Climate Emergency, to develop climate action blueprints, will become much more prominent as we approach the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow in November. And we have ambitions to work much more deeply with a small number of destinations to demonstrate the Future of Tourism principles in action through new forms of destination stewardship, new measures of success, and new, low impact, tourism products”, says Jeremy Sampson, Chair of the Future of Tourism Coalition (and also CEO of the Travel Foundation) on the role of the Coalition to activate change.
13 principles to guide the global tourism industry into a more regenerative future
1. See the whole picture
Recognize that most tourism by its nature involves the destination as a whole, not only industry businesses, but also its ecosystems, natural resources, cultural assets and traditions, communities, aesthetics, and built infrastructure.
2. Use sustainability standards
Respect the publicly available, internationally approved minimum criteria for sustainable tourism practices maintained by the Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC) for both industry and destinations.
3. Collaborate in destination management
Seek to develop all tourism through a collaborative management structure with equal participation by government, the private sector, and civil society organizations that represent diversity in communities.
4. Choose quality over quantity
Manage tourism development based on quality of visitation, not quantity of visitors, so as to enhance the travel experience while sustaining the character of the destination and benefiting local communities.
5. Demand fair income distribution
Set policies that counter unequal tourism benefits within destination communities that maximize retention of tourism revenues within those communities.
6. Reduce tourism’s burden
Account for all tourism costs in terms of local tax burdens, environmental and social impacts, and objectively verifiable disruption. Ensure investments are linked to optimizing net-positive impacts for communities and the environment.
7. Redefine economic success
Rather than raw contribution to growth in GDP, favor metrics that specify destination benefits such as small business development, distribution of incomes, and enhancement of sustainable local supply chains.
8. Mitigate climate impacts
Strive to follow accepted scientific consensus on needed reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. Invest in green infrastructure and a fast reduction in transport emissions involved in tourism – air, sea, and ground.
9. Close the loop on resources
When post-pandemic safety allows, turn away from use of disposable plastics by tourism businesses, and transition to circular resource use.
10. Contain tourism’s land use
Limit high-occupancy resort tourism to concentrated areas. Discourage resort sprawl from taking over coasts, islands, and mountain areas, so as to retain geographical character, a diverse economy, local access, and critical ecosystems.
11. Diversify source markets
In addition to international visitation, encourage robust domestic tourism, which may be more resilient in the face of crises and raise citizens’ perceived value of their own natural and cultural heritage.
12. Protect sense of place
Encourage tourism policies and business practices that protect and benefit natural, scenic, and cultural assets. Retain and enhance destination identity and distinctiveness. Diversity of place is the reason for travel.
13. Operate business responsibly
Incentivize and reward tourism businesses and associated enterprises that support these principles through their actions and develop strong local supply chains that allow for higher quality products and experiences.
In a latest research done by a digital travel company Booking.com, it has been found that a majority of Indians have become more aware of the wider impact of their trips, with 70 per cent of travellers wanting to travel more sustainably in the future, the Future of Travel research findings reveal. The survey also reveals that 78 per cent of travellers expect the travel industry to offer more sustainable travel options to meet their goals of sustainable travel in the future.
Willingness to support local communities
The pandemic has amplified people’s awareness about their impact on the environment and local communities. As such, travellers are now considering more sustainable and regenerative travel. The research finds 75 per cent have indicated they want their travel choices to also support the destination’s recovery efforts, and 73 per cent want to see how their spending supports the local community.
Recycle and upcycle
The impact of pandemic has inspired 55 per cent of Indian travellers to consider reducing waste and recycle plastic when travelling, once travel restrictions are lifted. This shows that people are not just committed to protecting themselves, but also the places they visit. Regenerative travel ensures that the benefits contributed by visitors outweigh the resources they consume.
“The travel industry needs to move beyond ‘do no harm’ and think more holistically about the natural, cultural, and spiritual elements of a place – not just how to preserve and protect these elements but how to actively enhance them. The travel industry need to get smarter when it comes to understanding the difference between current conditions in a destination, which may be degraded or damaged, to what functioning natural and cultural systems should look like. Contributions towards natural and cultural regeneration are critical steps on the path to true destination sustainability.
Travellers too can contribute to a regenerative system by doing their research. They can consult guidebooks and other online resources to learn more about the destination’s environmental, social, and political issues. Travelers can also support locally-owned accommodations, tour operators, and restaurants, especially those actively working to enhance the community, environment, and spirit of the place.
Individuals can also consider visiting a destination with an Impact Tourism program. Impact tourism is tourism that makes strategic contributions of time, talent, and treasure to social and environmental projects in destinations. These community-driven projects are partnerships between communities and businesses, travelers, and organizations, meaning they meet the genuine needs of the community, as expressed by the community. With impact tourism programs, travelers can be sure their support truly has a positive impact on the communities they are visiting”, adds Miller.
Regenerative tourism aims at contributing towards the wellbeing and welfare of society, culture, communities, and the environment, ensuring that the balance is not just restored, but replenished and regenerated.