As travel ground to a halt this past year, many of us looked around and couldn’t believe our eyes: destinations that had been pushed to the brink with too many tourists for too many years were suddenly empty, the major contributor to the travel industry’s carbon footprint—airplanes—were grounded, and communities that had through tourism made enormous progress toward the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals were quickly falling into poverty. It forced stakeholders across the industry to take a step back and ask, “Is this version of travel at all sustainable?”
Those of us who had been working to reverse the many negative impacts of travel realized that the pandemic could represent an inflection point in the history of travel and tourism. Instead of considering this moment a yearlong “pause” on travel, it could represent a moment where hotels, tour operators, aviation, destinations, travelers, and the many other businesses that support the industry did away with old degenerative tourism models and created new ones that actively regenerate places, communities, and people themselves. In the words of Bill Reed, we need “a rebirth of thinking about our role on the planet.”
“The only way we will be able to heal the Earth is to improve our capability to be in relationship with ourselves and our communities.”
– Anna Pollock, Founder of Conscious Travel
This paradigm shift in thinking is what the regenerative travel movement is all about. And in 2020, we saw interest in regenerative travel grow. Although models and systems for sustainability and sustainable tourism have existed for decades, the idea of regeneration—making a place better—has resonated with travelers in an unprecedented way and we are excited that a growing number of people are eager to travel in a way that aligns with their values.
Many innovators in hospitality and tourism have long embraced this mindset, even if they were calling it something else. At Regenerative Travel, we work to find those organizations implementing creative regenerative approaches both within and outside of tourism so that we can all learn, share best practices, and act quickly to protect the vibrance and resilience of communities, to address both the climate and biodiversity extinction crises in earnest, and to ensure the nature and culture that make travel beautiful are protected and restored.
It is important to note that regeneration is not a marketing exercise or campaign. The industry must be held accountable, taking steps every day toward regenerative models. At Regenerative Travel, we are building an ecosystem so that hotels—no matter where they are on their regenerative journey—have both this accountability and support. Hotels in the collection benchmark their progress over time through a self assessment and data collection, and help each other improve through collaboration.
We hope that by being radically transparent, sharing both our proudest achievements as well as the areas we know we can do better, our individual actions can support systemic change. To make travel regenerative—truly benefitting destinations and communities worldwide—we need to open doors, invite honest conversation, and bring a great diversity of perspectives to the table.
Browse the entire lineup of Regenerative Resorts, including our own Zapata Ranch, at www.regenerativetravel.com.
By O’Shannon Burns, Ecosystem Steward at Regenerative Travel