We, as a society, are at a juncture today, where the debate on environment has rightly moved from protection to active management and restoration. In tourism too, one of the worst hit sectors owing to climate change and the pandemic, a similar movement has begun to emerge. How does tourism move from not destroying the environment to actively restoring and revitalising the destinations, and along with that contribute to local communities and tourism sites renew themselves?
June 5th is celebrated globally as World Environment Day. The theme, this year, is ‘Only One Earth’ with a focus on ‘Living Sustainably in Harmony with Nature’.
However, over the past few decades, our ‘Only One Earth’ has been going through transformations of severe proportions. Only recently, India witnessed its hottest ever March since 1901, while April was the third hottest month ever during the same period. Human-caused climate change has been making extreme weather events more severe, as well as more frequent. Such instances exacerbate the already stressed ecosystems and negatively impact human health, habitat, and livelihoods. While tourism is gradually making a comeback with revenge tourism, it has underscored the need for a new future based on the principles of sustainability, equity and environmentally conscious citizenry.
The current model of Sustainable tourism did its bit with shifting the discourse from doing less harm to doing no harm. Activities in a sustainable tourism project typically involved buying from local businesses, helping clean up the environment and/or working together with social projects that needed help. But, all these are laudable initiatives are not enough to leave behind thriving destinations for the next generations.
Who defines ‘better’ tourism and How?
A new concept known as ‘Regenerative Tourism’ has been emerging which combines the thinking on circular economy with focus on equity from the five pillars of the SDGs, viz. People, Planet, Prosperity, Peace and Partnership.
Regenerative tourism puts the destination’s well-being at the centre of tourism’s future. When that happens, tourism success cannot be measured solely in Economic terms, such as number of travellers, monies poured in, etc., but should include Empathy (towards community and environment), Education (to travellers and community) and Equity (between all its stake-holders) as its outcomes. Determining what makes a place better and who makes that decision flows from ‘Destination Stewardship’, which is a process whereby local communities, governmental agencies, NGOs, and the tourism industry take joint responsibility to maintain the cultural, environmental, economic, and aesthetic integrity of their destination.
Together these parties first develop a better and continuously evolving understanding of how human life, nature and tourism are connected in a destination. This is followed by identification of the most important needs of a destination and the resident community. This dialogue and mapping could allow the tourism stake-holders to realise, for example, that in a destination, benefits of tourism are being concentrated in one small area while costs of tourism as well as need for tourism-supported projects are located elsewhere.
Such a realisation, combined with collaborative Destination stewardship then not only aims for zero or mitigated impact, it also envisions the well-being of all stake-holders holistically – economic, social and ecological. The differentiating features of Regenerative Tourism, therefore, are –
- Living-systems approach to drive holistic understanding: Acknowledging that everything is interconnected and interdependent, and understanding the nature and quality of the interactions between every stakeholder throughout the entire tourism value chain, as well as knowing their influence on each other and the entire ecosystem.
- Collaborative Stewardship and Ethics with Universal Values: Fostering collaboration, partnerships and agency amongst a wide range of stakeholders and challenging the current competitive mindset to evolve new collaborative solutions.
- Inclusive, Fair and Equitable: Ensuring that the tourism pie is distributed fairly, inclusively and equitably amongst all stake-holders. The ability to respect and unleash full potential of all individual stakeholders as well as change agents.
- Traveller wellbeing: Promote travel that informs, influences and inspires through transformational experiences. Authentic, immersive and meaningful experiences for the guests that bring forward the uniqueness of each place comprising of cultural heritage, folklore, gastronomy, local landmarks and wildlife.
- Ecological wellbeing: Management of natural resources, wildlife and biodiversity to create thriving eco-systems especially in fragile landscapes.
- Community Wellbeing: Indigenous people share unique relationships with biodiversity and natural ecosystems thanks to their ancient wisdom and knowledge passed on from generation to generation. Regenerative tourism promotes re-vitalization of this inheritance through re-view, re-engagement and re-interpretation in the context of Collaborative Stewardship.
Regenerative tourism is tourism acting as a living system. Just as in life, the path is as important as the goal. It is the HOW of Regenerative Tourism that is more important than the WHAT – and that is a topic for the next discussion!
Source : By Mridula Tangirala in Voices, TOI, June 2, 2022