Sustainable tourism has been the development direction of the global tourism industry for many years. However, when we realize that sustainable development is not enough, it is high time we began to think of a more evolved form of sustainable tourism, which is regenerative tourism.

Sustainable tourism

Sustainable tourism is a form of tourism that increases the benefits and minimizes the negative impacts on destinations. The main focus of sustainable tourism is on the protection of the natural environment, wildlife and natural resources in the development and management of tourism activities. Examples of specific practices that reflect sustainable tourism include avoiding plastic materials, using products and services from the local community, and using renewable energy sources, etc.

According to UNWTO, sustainable tourism aims at the optimal use of environmental resources in addition to maintaining essential ecological processes and helping to preserve natural value and biodiversity. Second, sustainable tourism must respect the socio-cultural authenticity of the communities in the destination, preserve the traditional values ​​and cultural heritage built and lived by them, and contribute to understanding and tolerance between cultures. Finally, sustainable tourism must ensure that its activities bring about equitable socio-economic benefits to all stakeholders.

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Therefore, it can be seen that sustainable tourism is oriented to the intertwine between economic development and environmental protection, specifically, taking advantage of resources to both benefits the local community and minimize the negative impact on the natural and socio-cultural environment. In addition, sustainable tourism must balance between revenue and cost to preserve all resources and develop in terms of both "quality" and "quantity".

In recent years, global tourism organizations such as UNWTO or WTTC and PATA have been introducing recommendations or policies to promote sustainable tourism development. However, people are also gradually realizing that there are problems such as natural degradation, climate change and biodiversity that sustainable tourism has not really solved.

Until…

The pandemic began to break out and people gradually realized that although tourism halted, life went on no matter what. This crisis has caused many communities that see tourism as completely independent from other industries to realize that tourism is, in fact, closely linked to the entire global ecosystem and has impacts on the other parts of life. The tourism industry is using the products and resources of other industries, as well as taking advantage of the natural resources available on Earth.

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Overall, tourism is an extractive industry. With the direction of sustainable tourism development, we are only aiming to reduce the negative impacts or solve the negative impacts left by tourism activities but not solve the natural degradation over time such as climate change, biodiversity loss, water depletion, etc. In addition, the impacts and economic benefits that sustainable tourism is aiming at are still only one-way effects or only deal with impacts from tourism activities themselves.

So how can sustainable tourism evolve?

If tourism simply exploits the constitutive elements of nature or just lessens the negative impacts left by the industry as the direction of sustainable development, it is still not really suitable to ensure the balance for the remaining constituent elements and will continue with the natural degradation. Therefore, it is necessary to have a new form of tourism that not only minimizes negative impacts but also continuously creates positive impacts to compensate for this natural degradation. This new form is called “regenerative tourism”.

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Regenerative tourism is a form of tourism that creates fertile conditions and values ​​for life at a destination to continuously renew itself. Simply put, regenerative tourism is about leaving a destination better than you found it.

The phrase "regenerative tourism" first appeared in October 2019 in the analysis of Ms. Anna Pollock - a reputable researcher and strategist with many contributions to global tourism organizations; however, it was not until the beginning of 2020, when Covid started to appear and made people realize the long-term unresolved problems more clearly, that this new concept was mentioned more by tourism organizations. According to Anna Pollocks, regenerative tourism does not go against development and growth, but instead, requires people to develop what is most important, in a way that benefits the whole system and does not cause any harm to other parts of life.

Regenerative tourism is not simply about making incremental improvements and doing more goods for the environment and society, but placing these impacts in relation to their constituent elements, aiming to balance the relationship between these elements so that they continue to interact, self-organize and evolve. Life can only be maintained if the constituent elements can continue to develop and influence each other the way nature works. If we can only balance each element as an individual, or just create positive impacts regardless of its relationship in the ecosystem, life still fades away. It is conceivable that the exploitative nature of tourism is similar to the way fruit is harvested in an orchard: if we keep harvesting, the trees will eventually die. From there, sustainable tourism can be understood as using money from visitors to the garden to buy fertilizer to take care of the garden – which means maintaining the life of the existing while regenerative tourism takes it to a next level: seeding the nut from the harvested fruit back into the garden – which means creating new trees so the garden can continue to bear fruit for future generations.

Conclusion

The core nature of life requires that its constituent elements constantly repair, maintain and recreate. And with the realization that sustainable development is not enough to secure a long-term future, we all need to question the actual ways in which the current tourism industry can transform to regeneration, starting with the paradigm shift in perception.

Source: Destination Review 

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