The term “regenerative travel” has been in the headlines a great deal lately and those not in the travel industry may suddenly be wondering what the two terms – “regenerative” and “travel” have to do with one another.
While the concept of sustainable travel is well known by now, and the Global Sustainable Tourism Council has even created a set of sustainable travel criteria, the tourism industry has more recently witnessed the rise of regenerative travel since the global pandemic began.
At Global Family Travels, we have long been inspired by the principles of regenerative tourism, and oftentimes organize impactful trips that support many of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals designed to help solve community challenges in the destinations we visit. Therefore, let’s further break down what regenerative travel actually looks like in practice, and explore a few concrete examples from our Seattle community Tours and Pacific Northwest Regenerative Adventures, which focus on encouraging Destination Stewardship.
Definitions of Regenerative Tourism
First, what does regenerative mean? The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines regenerative as “able to or tending to regenerate—to regrow or be renewed or restored, especially after being damaged or lost.” In an Urbanthriving article, the term regenerate is signified by one of three things: First, a radical change for the better. Second, the creation of a new spirit. And third, returning energy to the source.
And, just for kicks, let’s define tourism/travel too:
Tourism is travel for pleasure or business; also the theory and practice of touring, the business of attracting, accommodating, and entertaining tourists, and the business of operating tours.
Now, let’s marry these two terms in a way that makes sense for the current state of the world.
Anna Pollock, who for over 25 years has called for the tourism industry to play a part in healing our planet in a holistic way, outlines some important concepts in Regenerative Tourism: The Natural Maturation of Sustainability, an article she shared in 2019 shortly before the outbreak of COVID-19:
Regenerative tourism aims to restore the harm that our system has already done to the natural world, and by using nature’s principles, to create the conditions of life to flourish. It views wholes and not parts, and is a very different way of looking at the world. A regenerative approach to tourism starts at home within ourselves, then our workplaces and our communities, and depends on caring hosts willing to ensure their destination is healthy and full of life.
A recent article on The Good Tourism Blog, written by by PhD student Loretta Bellato expands this definition further. Regenerative tourism is not an emerging niche in the industry, in the way adventure or gastro-tourism are niches, but rather is a holistic way of thinking in which all stakeholders build reciprocal, beneficial relationships. As Bellato explains, this approach to travel seeks to actively improve social and environmental systems and align everything towards sustaining the planet so that all beings can flourish.
Photo Credit: Global Family Travels of Coal Mine History Hike
3 Regenerative Tourism Examples that Support Community and the Environment
Let’s further explore the concept of Regenerative Tourism through three examples that align with Global Family Travels’ core Learn, Serve & Immerse travel pillars. Through this framework, we organize travel experiences in partnership with community partners and global non-profit organizations, allowing us to authentically connect our travelers with the local people, cultures, and natural beauty of the destinations we visit.
Inspired by the Anna Pollock’s concepts of developing travel experiences that ensure a destination is thriving, Global Family Travels recently created regenerative tourism experiences that connect our guests to the web of relationships in the host destinations we operate in, allowing visitors to both engage with our hosts and to explore the community’s social and environmental challenges. Here are some specific examples.
In partnership with Seattle’s Black Farmers Collective, this half-day enriching experience offers participants a powerful and immersive way to learn about intersections between urban farming, environmental justice, and food access. This hands-on community-based tour in an increasingly gentrified and historic neighborhood of Seattle gives participants the chance to engage with urban black farmers, by working on the urban farm and to learn about the power of community gardens and creative solutions to systemic land and food injustices.
Photo credit: Kirsten Andersen
This is truly a regenerative experience and addresses what Anna Pollock calls “learning and practicing the alchemical art of communing– gathering together in diverse groups, acknowledging differences, and common ground while aligning around a shared purpose and set of values.” Through regenerative practices, as well as Transformational Travel Council (TTC) principles, the tour invites guest to shift perspectives and deepen their understanding and appreciation for community and human well-being, planetary health, and our interconnectedness.
On this enriching three-day adventure in Washington state’s North Olympic Peninsula, participants enjoy culturally immersive experiences with the Jamestown S’Klallam tribe and spend a day of service learning with the North Olympic Salmon Coalition and Elwha River Restoration, working to help restore salmon habitat along the Dungeness and Elwha River.
Salmon are in trouble in the Pacific Northwest.
There’s been a dramatic decline in the number of salmon in the region, much of it due to dams of local rivers. This is a grave concern for the PNW tribes. Guests on this experience hear first-hand stories and perspectives from both tribal citizens and representatives from the environmental organizations we partner with to help restore vitality to the rivers and region. Of course, there’s also time built into the adventure to connect with the beauty of the natural environment by hiking the stunning Olympic Peninsula landscape.
By authentically engaging with our host community, the tribal members from the Jamestown S’Kllalam, we learn to understand the importance of Indigenous wisdom regarding our essential interconnectedness to nature, and how it can help heal our world. We also learn about their holistic and innate approach toward being stewards of the land and the web of relations among sub-systems. All of this is related to another important principle of regenerative tourism:
By following Nature’s principles, each part (be it a plant, animal, ecosystem, person, business or a community) assumes its essential responsibility for ensuring the thrivability /health of the whole of which it is a part. When the prosperity of a community is synonymous with the health of all its parts and relationships, then the act of caring or stewarding — ensuring that the conditions for life to thrive do exist, is built into the system. - Anna Pollock
Marymere Falls Photo Credit: Olympic Hiking Co.
Global Family Travels is also proud to have brought our Learn, Serve & Immerse travel pillars to a collaborative effort to help bring Oregon tourism back from the devastating effects of both our global pandemic and the massive wildfires of 2020. On this adventure, travelers lace up their boots and hit the trails of the Willamette National Forest, in the Cascade Mountain Range of Oregon, where some of our country’s worst wildfires struck in 2020.
Participants on this adventure learn about wildfire recovery and prevention and partake in trail building projects in the McKenzie River corridor, orchestrated by Cascade Volunteers. The experience also includes outdoor adventure activities such as hiking, biking, and whitewater rafting, led by First Nature Tours.
This travel program, supported by Travel Oregon’s Destination Ready Development, actively engages both locals and visitors in the stewardship of these critical outdoor public lands and gives local businesses affected by the fires and the pandemic an economic boost.
Photo Credit: Jordan McCauley from Travel Oregon
These are just a few examples of how regenerative tourism can help set the stage for deeper, more meaningful, and responsible engagement and connections with destinations, communities, and hosts.
Regenerative Tourism: Setting the Stage for Pandemic Recovery and Planetary Health
As a recent article in National Geographic Traveller India noted, at its best regenerative travel benefits communities and people who inhabit the land and aims to improve entire ecosystems, putting the destination’s needs at the center of tourism’s future and in so doing, shifting the focus squarely back to truly experiential holidays and cultural exchanges.
As the world begins to recover from our global pandemic and the resulting economic losses, the tourism industry and destinations worldwide have an unprecedented opportunity to help recover in an impactful way and the use of regenerative tourism principles will surely help. In fact, the Transformational Travel Council (TTC) recently announced a program called the Transformative Destinations Program, which aims to help destinations co-create a strategic action plan to guide the implementation of a regenerative-based recovery from COVID-19. Using a regenerative tourism process and principles, this program is designed to improve the well-being of a destination's communities and environment and help them flourish.
Global Family Travels is committed to applying a regenerative tourism approach in the destinations we work in. By creating even more Learn, Serve & Immerse Adventures focused on both the outdoors and the urban areas and communities we visit, we hope that this approach and our unique travel experiences will serve as a way for both locals and visitors to recognize the interconnected parts of our complex world and inspire them to be stewards of cultures and the environment.