What is regenerative tourism? And how should we deliver it?

What is regenerative tourism? And how should we deliver it?

Around five months ago, on the day ‘le confinement’ ended here in France, I moved into my new home. After 25 years in a first floor flat in London, I started living here in an former plant nursery in the foothills of the Montagne Noire.

Since then, I have not ventured far. But most days I have walked around my first ever garden, happily lost among the profusion of plants. Never have I felt luckier.

I am absolutely at the beginning of any understanding of how my garden works. I spent most of the first few months trying to find out the names of the trees. I wanted to define them and know something about them. I’d upload a photo to Plantnet and click through to the Wikipedia entry. My walks accumulated random facts about different species. The Toyon is the official native plant of Los Angeles. The White Poplar was sacred to Hercules.

But as the months have continued, that urge to define has receded. I now care less for what they are called, and more to watch how they live. Because after five months surrounded by living things, nothing is quite the same.

The plants have done what plants do. They have grown, flowered, sprung fruits and nuts. Gasped through the heat of August, and then miraculously reflowered with the rains of September. Right now the garden is noisy again, as the myrtle berries and fruits of the strawberry tree bring birdsong after the relative silence of summer. People told me that there was a second spring down here, and now I am immersed in it. All this is changing how I think, in ways I don’t really understand yet.

When I am not in my garden, I stare at it from my desk as I sit on the latest video call. Most of these are conversations about what comes next for tourism. And increasingly often the answer is that the next big thing has to be ‘Regenerative Tourism’.

What is regenerative tourism?

The New York Times had an article last month titled:  “Move Over, Sustainable Travel. Regenerative Travel Has Arrived”. According to that piece’s definition, regenerative travel/tourism is  “leaving a place better than you found it.”

According to the NYT, previous iterations of ‘doing tourism better’ were about doing less harm. According to the article, “sustainable tourism.. aims to counterbalance the social and environmental impacts associated with travel”.

Really? I find these definitions underwhelming. Any exponent of sustainability believes it is about making a better world. Green, Fair, Ethical… they are all about doing it better than the status quo. And the original definition of Responsible Tourism is ‘making better places…’

If regenerative tourism is just another new buzzword repackaging the same old thing, it will also be devalued and then replaced in time. Yes it is about making things better. But how?

I think we need to come at this differently. We need to stop asking: ‘What is Regenerative Tourism?’ and instead ask: ‘How can Tourism be Regenerative?’

This is an excerpt from an article by Jeremy Smith, originally published by wtm Global Hub.

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