Article

Regenerative Tourism 101

Adventure Canada is delighted to be working with Dr. Pauline Sheldon as we deepen our understanding and practice of regenerative travel. In this article, Dr. Sheldon provides an academic deep dive into the research and theory behind this exciting new field.
Walking amongst bluebells scotland

© Dennis Minty

“We need to redesign our businesses, economies, and technologies—in fact our entire culture—to make them regenerative rather than destructive” — Fritjof Capra

What Is Regenerative Tourism?

Regenerative tourism requires a fundamental shift in how we view the world. The needed change in consciousness recognizes the unity, interconnectedness, and sacredness of all life. It is a commitment to tourism as a tool to create thriving destination communities and to regenerate and heal damaged resources. It recognizes the need to replace the old economic system which was based on greed, self-interest, over-consumption, and competition, with new economic thinking that emphasizes caring for the life and wellbeing of all creatures and the Earth.

Mother and son Greenland fjords

© Michelle Valberg

Regenerative tourism focuses on healing damaged resources, contributing to thriving destinations, and reflecting on our inner transformation.

As tourism looks back over its shoulder at the days of over-tourism, it is also looking forward to massive disruptions caused by global pandemics, climate change, human rights violations, and more. Destinations are being humbled and many are seeking to re-design their tourism based on different values. To build tourism industries back with resilience, new economic models are needed: models that favour collaboration over competition, community over self-interest, culture over commodity, abundance over scarcity, and wellbeing over profit.

The concepts of collaborative economy, gift economy, sacred economy, and circular economy are a few of the new frameworks which have relevance to tourism. However, the regenerative economy, perhaps the most comprehensive and also somewhat inclusive of the others, is gaining traction in tourism.

Degenerating towards regenerating systems diagram graphic gray

© John Fullerton

A regenerative economy prioritizes holistic thinking and patterns.

“Regenerative tourism is inherently a re-vitalizing activity that results in enhanced generative capacities.” — Anna Pollock

Essential Questions

Regenerative tourism is about deep questions and deep listening. Questions that make us think systemically—about the whole rather than the parts.

  • Why is tourism worth sustaining?
  • What is a successful destination?
  • What advice would our ancestors give us about tourism?
  • What do we have to give up in order to become regenerative?

Regenerative tourism creates a framework for these questions to be asked and answered by all destination stakeholders. As the community collectively debates these deep questions, wisdom for regenerative solutions can begin to emerge. It is not a quick fix but rather a long-term commitment to a constantly evolving and emerging process.

“Questions more than answers are the pathway to collective wisdom.” — Daniel Christian Wahl

An Integrated System

Another key to understanding regenerative tourism, is dropping the idea of tourism as a separate industry and instead viewing it as part of the whole destination system. Tourism is a multi-faceted phenomenon connecting many aspects and sectors of a destination. Food systems, technology, wellness, innovation and entrepreneurship, education, and energy are a few systems to which tourism is inextricably linked, but there are many more.

Adopting a systemic, holistic view of tourism stretches our thinking. We can look to the natural world for clues about how this process could work. Biomimicry, or observing universal principles and patterns, reveals that living systems are both sustainable and regenerative over long periods of time. They are not static but are constantly growing, evolving and adapting, and we can learn from them.

Genuine progress indicators diagram graphic gray

© Günseli Berik and Erica Gaddis

Holistic systems consider values and costs to genuine social, economic, and environmental progress.

For example, recent research revealed elaborate communication networks that care for the whole forest, sensing and keeping individual trees healthy and safe. As caterpillars transform into butterflies, imaginal cells are created with a new DNA that supports the evolution to birth a new creature.

What networks in tourism can keep our communities safe and healthy? What type of new DNA do we need to create regenerative destinations?

Giving directions in greenland

© Jen Derbach

Regenerative models emphasize how to keep host communities safe and healthy.

Treating Places as Individuals

Building a regenerative destination culture also means measuring success differently, and valuing resources differently. Instead of financial capital being the holy grail, social, natural, cultural, spiritual, trust, and experiential capitals are a few that should be considered equally important.

Regenerative tourism seeks to grow value with these capitals, but a rush to create new metrics is not advisable. Each destination’s regenerative path is unique and probably cannot be tracked by a standard set of indicators.

In regenerative tourism, place becomes central, and its sacredness is celebrated. The unique cultures and values associated with the place are rich resources to cherish.

Dawn bazely interprets botany at islay

© Dennis Minty

Since the values that each destination offers are unique, so too will be each destination's journey towards regeneration.

“Regenerative development returns place to its core position in human life, making it touchstone of shared meaning and caring that can enable people to make common cause with one another and with nature.” — Pamela Mang & Ben Haggard

Indigenous people and cultures, and the wisdom and values they hold dear, play a particularly important role in defining a regenerative path for tourism. Ancestral wisdom must be honored as modern solutions affecting future generations are sought.

Regenerative tourism is about sharing our understanding of place—host and visitor alike—and designing deep experiences in nature and with culture.

What Does Regenerative Tourism Mean for Host Communities?

“Can we live with a forest in a way that makes it possible for the forest to evolve? … [T]hat is very different from asking how to harvest the forest appropriately.” — Charles Krone

Regenerative tourism asks a similar question: can we design tourism in a way that makes it possible for the destination to evolve? The answer is: Yes, if the host community, its wellbeing, and the enlivenment of its values and cultures, is paramount.

Just as healthy, rich soil is primary to regenerative agriculture, so too is a healthy, vibrant community primary to regenerative tourism. The host community generates and houses the collective wisdom that is needed to move forward. That wisdom is often held in stories. Creating authentic shared stories about a destination can enrich the ‘soil’ of tourism.

Cultural performance costa rica panama

© David Newland

A healthy, vibrant host community is essential to authentic shared experiences.

Full community engagement in determining the scale and type of tourism is essential before tourists are invited. The process can be messy and complex but so essential. It requires time and space for the community to think together to find the best solutions through the emergence of collective wisdom rather than through hiring outside.

In regenerative cultures, education and innovation are held paramount, and knowledge flows openly. Social entrepreneurs often bring innovation to tourism and could be part of the new destination DNA as they blend their passion for making a difference with profit. They can be bridge builders between the old paradigm and the new. The education and personal development of all stakeholders is key to regenerative tourism, and this includes the host community.

What Does It Mean for the Traveller?

Without travellers, there is no regenerative tourism. Mindful and respectful travellers with a desire to learn and contribute are essential cogs in the regenerative cycle. Travel experiences that are meaningful, engaging, inspirational, and transformative create deeper connections with the local community and land.

After the COVID-19 pandemic, this focus on meaning, contribution, and learning is likely to be even stronger. Experiences of reciprocity, generosity, and mutuality between host and visitor can provide meaning and self-reflection for both, and can contribute to a regenerative tourism culture. The challenge is for destinations to design experiences that transform the tourist.

The regenerative tourism movement is harnessing tourism’s potential to join the planetary awakening that is ushering in an equitable and regenerative way of living together on this earth. This is the urgent need of the time and tourism must step up to the plate. It has so much to offer.

Martha with guests

© Martin Lipman

Regenerative tourism asks, what types of experiences are transformative and change-making?

References

Capra, F. (2014) The Systems View of Life, Cambridge University Press.
Dredge, D. (2020). Design Thinking can Empower Tourism, www.medium.com
Fullerton, J. (2015) Regenerative Capitalism How Universal Patterns and Principles will Shape our New Economy, Capital Institute.
Holliday, M. (2016) The Age of Thrivability: Vital Perspectives and Practices for a Better World.
Krone, C. (2016), Foreword to Wahl. D.C., Designing Regenerative Cultures, Triarchy Press, Axminster, England.
Mang, P. and B. Haggard, (2016) Regenerative Development and Design: A Framework for Evolving Sustainability John Wiley and Sons.
Pollock, A. (2019) Regenerative Tourism: The Natural Maturation of Sustainability, Medium.
Sheldon, P., (2020) Designing Tourism Experiences for Inner Transformation, Annals of Tourism Research.
Sheldon, P. and R. Daniele, (2017) Social Entrepreneurship and Tourism, Springer.
Wahl, D.C., (2016) Designing Regenerative Cultures, Triarchy Press, Axminster, England.

About the Author

Pauline Sheldon

Pauline Sheldon

Regenerative Tourism Scholar

Pauline J. Sheldon is Professor Emerita, University of Hawai’i, School of Travel Industry Management where she also served as Dean. She holds a PhD in Economics, an MBA, and a BS in Mathematics. Her research areas include sustainable and regenerative tourism, social entrepreneurship in tourism, and transformative and wellness tourism. She has published seven books and over seventy peer-reviewed research articles. Her most recent book is titled Social Entrepreneurship and Tourism co-authored with Roberto Daniele, and her most recent research is published under Designing Tourism Experiences for Inner Transformation. She is the first woman recipient of the UNWTO Ulysses Prize, and was the first woman President of the prestigious International Academy for the Study of Tourism. Pauline is a regular keynote speaker at tourism conferences around the world, and has consulted with World Bank, APEC, and UNWTO. She teaches with the Art of Living Foundation and is passionate about blending her study of tourism with her interest in the transformation of consciousness and the planet.