‘Regenerative tourism’ takes centre stage as pandemic forces travel industry to re-evaluate

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to decimate the global travel sector, the tourism industry has been forced to re-evaluate many aspects of its operations – with many looking for ways to re-frame the entire experience of tourism post-pandemic.

The concept of values-based “regenerative tourism” which seeks to go beyond the eco-tourism of years past, pushes for travellers to leave destinations better than they found them.

“It’s about people matching their values to their travel,” Bruce Poon Tip, founder of Toronto-based adventure travel company “G Adventures,” told CTV’s Your Morning Tuesday.

“It’s about travellers being involved in making life better for local people and communities, environment and culture because of their visit – and while they visit. It’s a more purposeful type of travel,” Poon Tip explained.

Twenty-two travel groups, including “G Adventures” have signed on to the “Future of Tourism” coalition’s 13 guiding principles, including those which “demand fair income distribution,” and “contain tourism’s land use.”

New Zealand’s national tourism organization has taken steps in the discussion around measuring the success of tourism not only in monetary value, but cultural and natural value as well.

In support of that goal, the Tourism New Zealand site informs travellers of the “Tiaki Promise” which is a set of guiding principles for visitors to follow to help them “safely and conscientiously” travel in the country.

In the U.S., travel company “Regenerative Travel” promises to help you book a “vacation that meets your values,” evaluating destinations, carriers and accommodations on things like respecting local ecosystems, avoiding single-use plastics and “honouring” local history and culture.

“I think it’s the natural evolution of travel,” Poon Tip said. “The travel industry has been going through an evolution for the last 20 years, from eco-tourism to responsible travel to sustainable travel. Now with this pandemic on the other side of it… where travel is needed for so many communities because it’s such a big part of the gross national product of many countries, people are looking for ways that they can help when they travel.”

Poon Tip said some countries sign on for the new movement in travel “without even knowing it,” as regenerative tourism operators create experiences that start to “change the landscape” of the industry.

But there may be difficulties in enacting regenerative tourism, which imposes more restrictions and higher thresholds on operators, while the travel sector is desperately trying to regain some of its projected $3.4 trillion dollar losses from the pandemic.

Poon Tip acknowledged the difficulties faced by the industry, but said the pandemic has provided an “opportunity” for the travel industry to “rebuild in a better way.”

“There are countries that have wanted to be sustainable for a long time, but they’re heavily invested in mainstream tourism like cruises or compound resort like holidays,” he said. “It is a long-term investment if they want to go into a more sustainable, and more meaningful type of travel.”

Canada has several offerings adhere to the regenerative model, Poon Tip highlighted Fogo Island in Newfoundland and Labrador as well as the Okanagan Valley in B.C. as two options for tourists to explore.

The more people that want regenerative tourism, the more it will become the norm, Poon Tip said. 

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