Article

Regenerative Travel: Can Travel Mend the World?

The Regenerative Travel section of the Mindful Explorer brings our readers engaging learning about politics, economics, climate science, social development, Indigenous cultural revitalization, and other pressing topics of the day. This article by Adventure Canada co-founder Bill Swan provides an introduction to the concept of regenerative travel.
Woman looks with binoculars tadoussac whales

© Victoria Polsoni

Tourism and travel have powers of transformation that have changed the world and us as individuals over the past century. Once the realm of only a few, travel has become accessible to millions. In just 100 years we’ve gone from sails to nuclear-powered props; from air balloons and biplanes to supersonic jets. But it’s not just how we get there that’s changed; where we go, what we do, and why we travel are also shifting.

Think about this: why do you travel where you do? What entices you about a place? Perhaps you’re intrigued by its history and want to see the living remnants for yourself. Maybe you’re captivated by the culture and want to meet the local people who live there. Or, possibly, it’s the natural beauty of a place that draws you in.

Whether we travel somewhere on a once-in-a-lifetime trip, or return there regularly, many of us feel a sense of protectiveness about the places we love—a desire to preserve their wonder and keep them intact the way we hold them in our memory.

But what if we could do more than just sustain our favourite places? What if we could truly heal and restore the places we visit? And how do our ways of travelling change if we start out with these intentions?

Guests marvel at torngat mountains

© Dennis Minty

What entices you about the places you visit? Do you see yourself as a passive observer or an active participant invested in the wellbeing of a place and its host communities?

A Mindful Explorer is a traveller who is informed and empowered by these and other considerations. Travellers must consider taking on a more active role as they move from just being an observer or visitor to being an active and engaged participant—an agent of change in their next journey. This represents an exciting opportunity for travellers! The time and resources one puts into a trip affirms their values and the types of travel businesses they support and want operating in the world.

Current Challenges

For the past decade, global tourism has experienced massive growth. Traditional measures of success have primarily focused on volume. According to the World Travel & Tourism Council, at peak, global tourism and its associated supply chains were booming through to early 2020, generating economic activity in the area of $8.9 trillion USD annually, representing 10.3% of Global GDP. The sector employed 330 million people, or roughly one out of every ten jobs around the world.

The extraordinary growth in tourism has brought very real challenges and has put treasured places at risk socially, environmentally, and economically as host communities, ecosystems, and tourism infrastructure bear the weight of increased numbers of travellers. Terms like ‘over-tourism’ and ‘travel shaming’, have emerged. Some treasured places like the Galapagos Islands and Machu Picchu have introduced policies limiting access so as to prevent further damage caused by tourism.

As a result, travel and tourism were already undergoing significant shifts in design and experience before events in 2020 required all sectors of human activities to take stock and consider a re-design of our operating systems.

Guests staff community members hold climate march nain

© Dennis Minty

Guests, staff, and community members co-hosted a Climate March in Nain, Nunatsiavut, Labrador.

“Sustainable” is so last year. Regenerative Travel has arrived!

Environmental and social values have been at the core of Adventure Canada’s ethos and practice since the company began more than thirty years ago. Still, there is always much work to do in raising the bar. We are increasingly seeing sustainability as an average bar height and are striving for more.

In 2018, in recognition of the need to increase our efforts to reduce our impacts, Adventure Canada initiated a full review of its operations, developed a sustainable tourism plan that included a carbon audit, and aligned our operations and programs with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

Bill Swan with tarts and chowder at Red Bay Labrador resized

© Victoria Polsoni

Our Taste of Place program highlights and educates guests about regenerative local food systems in the regions we travel.

This enquiry lead to an increased understanding of the limits of a ‘sustainable’ approach compared to the more ambitious, and frankly, more fulfilling opportunities that a regenerative approach offers.

So, what is regenerative travel? Regenerative is a term more often associated with natural systems and agriculture. Essentially, regenerative travel seeks to leave places and communities better off than we encounter them. This restorative approach seeks to leave ecosystems, communities, and economies enriched and energized through a holistic process in which the host community's priorities are more valued than those of the traveller.

Three Key Elements

The traveller's view of a regenerative approach involves three important and deeply integrated elements: the traveller’s relationship with the Earth, with others (community hosts and other travellers), and with one’s self.

Adventure Canada has emphasized and been recognized for its focus on the first two of these three elements. We take our guests to some of the world’s most beautiful and fragile places and create authentic opportunities for meaningful cultural learning wherever we go.

Aaju peter hosts inuit welcome

© Lee Narraway

Onboard Inuit staff, including Aaju Peter and Heidi Langille shown here, share their culture with guests in tunngasugitsi (welcome) ceremonies at the beginning of our Arctic expeditions.

But what of that third key element—you, the traveller? What changes do you need to make inside yourself to assure your impact on the places you visit is regenerative? Do you need to align your values differently? These are tough questions, but necessary ones.

Both travel provider and traveller should strive to invest in these relationships with community hosts, contributing more than extracting. The hosts decide what the community needs, and what they choose to share authentically and meaningfully with travellers in exchange.

Adventure Canada’s long-standing Giving Back program and the relationships we hold with our partners demonstrate this approach, providing an outlet for and inviting travellers to become active participants in positive change on many fronts—social, cultural, economic, political, and environmental.

Guests with project north donations nain JD

© Jen Derbach

Guests and staff on our Greenland & Wild Labrador expedition packed hockey equipment for donation to the youth team in Nain, in partnership with Project North.

A Travel Paradigm Shift is Underway

Regenerative travel looks to nature for answers to its questions. Can tourism mimic the Earth’s natural systems’ ability to close loops, be a restorative force, and generally leave both traveller and host better off after the travel experience is over? Indeed, does the travel experience really end when we return home and our hosts wave us a fond farewell?

Dr. Pauline Sheldon, Professor Emeritus and Former Dean at University of Hawai'i, is at the forefront of research and development in the evolution of regenerative tourism today.

“Regenerative tourism requires a fundamental shift in how we view the world. It is a commitment to tourism as a tool to create thriving destination communities and to regenerate and heal damaged resources. This philosophical and practical shift favors collaboration over competition, community over self-interest, culture over commodity, abundance over scarcity, and wellbeing over profit.” — Dr. Pauline Sheldon

Adventure Canada is delighted to be working with Dr. Sheldon as we deepen our understanding and practice of this exciting new field in tourism. You can read more about her work in her article, Regenerative Tourism 101.

About the Author

Bill Swan

Bill Swan

Partnerships & Sustainability

As a co-founder of Adventure Canada, Bill remains awed and deeply appreciative of the amazing next generation of his family that makes the company what it is today.

This admiration includes the extended ‘family’ of passionate, intelligent, and inspiring expedition staff and the guests who travel with us on these outstanding expeditions. Forging new partnerships, developing and launching the Taste of Place food program, and Adventure Canada’s regenerative plan are his current assignments.