Regenerative travel: will the pandemic end mass tourism?


BARCELONA – While some airlines, bizarre as it may sound, continue to offer “flights to nowhere” – on planes that take off and land at the same airport, just to assuage the need of some tourists to fly – d Others in the tourism industry are embracing a concept that goes in the completely opposite direction.

The trend is called “regenerative travel”, and its goal, explains Silvia Grünig, a specialist in urban planning at the University of Paris and lecturer in sustainable development at the Open University of Catalonia, is not just that visitors take take care not to degrade the premises in any way. that they visit, but that they really improve conditions there. They should make things better, in other words, and not just for the industry, but for people, the environment and travel in the future.

It may sound idealistic.

This may sound too idealistic – the New York Times used the term “unicorn” to describe the quest – but some tour operators really try to promote a travel approach that is respectful of the ecosystems and social fabric of destinations, while being economically viable.

“The key is to recover the concept of doing things right,” explains José Maria de Juan, vice-president of the European Alliance for Responsible Tourism and Hospitality and partner of Koan Consulting. “The name doesn’t matter. The important thing is that a destination can choose its visitors.

Low-cost tourism, he explains, runs counter to sustainability. “This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t aim for maximum profitability,” adds De Juan. “But if the model travels to Morocco because it’s cheap and stays there in an Airbnb, possibly owned by a Californian, and then buys a souvenir made in China before returning, that is clearly not sustainable and probably not even touristy. “

Although sustainability has been a buzzword in policy making since the 1990s, it has not hampered the relentless growth of tourism and its ever-increasing impact on the environment. In this sector, sustainability efforts have mainly focused on technology to maximize efficiency and reduce the negative effects of its activities. Regenerative tourism wants to take this sustainability beyond environmental concerns and ensure that locals do not see tourists as a threat, but as an advantage.

“It’s good if everyone could travel, but not if others have to pay for it. It’s neo-colonialism,” says De Juan. “Cheap travel guarantees the cheapest deals for customers, but you also have to ask yourself why are they so cheap? Part of the answer, he suggests, lies in the low wages and limited skills of those working at this end of the industry.

The Regenerative Journey is perhaps the latest in a long list of labels that the industry has chosen to beautify itself and help its survival, since the 1990s. Also keep in mind that the industry is on its way. lose nearly 200 million jobs by the end of the year. Other such labels include “inclusive”, responsible, fair or community tourism, and often they have ended up being just marketing gimmicks.

But as Silvia Grünig explains: “Sustainable tourism is not a particular form of tourism. All forms of tourism and all human activities must strive for sustainability in three areas, simultaneously: social, economic and environmental.

So far, it’s a mix of ideas

Regenerative tourism is for the moment a jumble of ideas. With the world on hiatus for the pandemic, some countries have started planning for a more sustainable restart. The Visit Flanders tourist office in northern Belgium, for example, is redirecting offers to boost national visitors. Its marketing manager, Elke Dens, says people can have fun without traveling halfway around the world, and they may soon replace one of their annual trips abroad with a local one.

“Everyone wants to see the world these days,” says Dens. “But for that to happen, we would all have to do it a little less frequently, and that, in turn, should make the experience deeper.”

The One Visit Flanders initiative is to put visitors in contact with inhabitants who are passionate about their past and their history. These can create a shared experience through visits to iconic locations, such as WWI battlefields.

On a beach in Andalucia, Spain – Photo: Album via ZUMA Press

Regeneration is not a new idea. Indeed, it is already used in the economy, agriculture and architecture to create self-sufficiency and stimulate prosperity around the principles of the circular economy. “It means new ways of thinking, based on observing how nature works rather than machines,” says Elke Dens.

Another country exploring regenerative tourism is New Zealand. Its slogan “Do Something New This Winter” aims to promote a slower travel experience (like walking) and spend more time in one place. Some analysts even propose the idea of ​​taxing short stays and rewarding those who extend their stay in a place.

Perhaps this is why more and more New Zealand businesses are striving to make emotional connections with places through memorable experiences that could then encourage return visits. Ziptrek Ecotours, based in Queenstown in South New Zealand, offers the opportunity to plant trees and is proud of the indigenous concept of tiaki, or take care of people and a place. Kohutapu Lodge provides jobs for locals and provides meals for local schools. Rotorua Canopy Tours is committed to eliminating forest pests as its business grows. And Dive Tutukaka is committed, with each rental of service, to saving marine habitats.

Hawaii’s rulers are also reconsidering the role of tourism in the islands. The Pulse was a 2018 poll indicating that most Hawaiians believe their lives have become a second priority for tourism. The state wants to get rid of the hotel and beach label and seek new forms of tourism there, already knowing that post-pandemic travel may change for good.

These are not isolated cases. Norway wants to make its fjords emission-free by 2026, which would force cruise passengers to change. And across Europe, 22 travel groups are signing 13 new directives that include a more equitable distribution of income and put quality over quantity.

But as the tourist press begins to write about regenerative travel, its success remains to be seen, as mass tourism is eager to get back on its feet. As Josep Ivars, professor of geography and tourism at the University of Alicante, warns: “Regenerative tourism runs the risk of becoming another label, like sustainable tourism or ecotourism in the 1990s, or basically more than greenwashing.

Tourism should not be demonized

He says tourism should not be demonized, but certain types of tourism will “massify the urban environment, displace the local population, saturate infrastructure and destroy” heritage. This is precisely what happened in places like Torrevieja and Calpe, on the Spanish Levantine Coast. “I always ask my students what seems like an absurd question,” says Ivars. “Why are we planning? To attract tourists or to benefit the local population?

The pandemic must end before we can know if this will be the new form of tourism. Grünig says the sector suffers from a “paralysis of the imagination,” as Austrian thinker Iván Illich calls it, referring to an inability to conceive of alternatives to capitalist logic.

“People just want to go back to what was there before because they can’t imagine any other way of doing things,” she says. “But now we have an opportunity, because the model we had before has reached its limit and is starting to sink. The question now is to think of ways to break out of the limits in which we have found ourselves thanks to our aspiration for growth. constant. “


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