Comment: When vacation meets values

Amanda Ho looks at how tourism and hospitality businesses can commit to protecting the environment and native communities, and what this means for the next generation of travelers.

Amanda Ho is the co-founder and CEO of booking platform Regenerative Travel.

As the world opens up, we're experiencing a shift in consciousness that begs us to change how we're operating to protect the planet for future generations. This collective reset has asked us to consider why we travel and gives us an opportunity to change how we do it. 

From a simplistic standpoint, being green is about doing less damage, sustainability is about net neutrality, and regeneration is about making things better. To move from sustainability to regeneration, you need a whole-system approach that creates abundance for all stakeholders: the land, the people and community, and the wildlife. 

When I was a travel editor back in 2015, I realized that it was hard to find hotels that were truly committed to environmental and social impact. But now, thankfully, there are more and more people and travel brands doing truly great things. 

My journey began when I visited Playa Viva, a Mexican hotel that is the embodiment of regeneration at work. In the building process, the hotel took into account the history of the place and its role as a steward of the land – it sits on nearly 200 acres of land and beach, with a bird-filled estuary and ancient ruins – with the added consideration of turtle poaching and poor schools in the village. As a result of regenerative design, the small town of Juluchuca became the gateway to the property and the hotel developed an organic agricultural system that benefits both the property and the local residents. A 2% fee is added to any stay, which funds a trust that invests in community development. 

The travel industry, as it currently operates, isn't sustainable. A 2019 study by the International Council on Clean Transportation found that airline emissions had increased by 32% from 2013 to 2018 – 70% faster than the United Nations had anticipated. As a result, by 2050, aviation emissions could account for a quarter of the global carbon budget that we'll need to embrace to limit global warming to 1.5°C. To reverse climate change and regenerate our soils, oceans and land, we must move beyond sustainability – and fast. 

Some carbon sequestration solutions suggested by environmentalist Paul Hawken's Project Drawdown include reforestation and fostering gender equality; through these, tourism can act as a vehicle to reverse climate change. Take the Oasy Hotel in Tuscany, which was born to conserve the biodiversity of the WWF-affiliated nature reserve where it's located through agriculture, breeding and scientific research. It's also developing a forest fund for the active protection of Italian woodlands. Hotels and destinations everywhere could implement such practices. 

Unfortunately, much of the travel industry has been disconnected to people and place. Regenerative travel builds a framework that re-establishes that core experience, which is non-extractive and inclusive, diverse and equitable. Regenerative principles are emerging as the future of tourism, with the potential and capacity to create better conditions for people and life to flourish. In Hawaii and New Zealand, lots of destinations are already adopting regenerative recovery strategies. 

A solution to reverse climate change is to replenish and repair the damage we have done to our environment and communities. Travel has the capacity to inspire transformation, and each hotel or destination can help. As an industry, we have a responsibility to rebuild in a way that makes it easy for people to make sure there's a better relationship between vacation and values.

This article was first published in Courier issue 45, February/March 2022. To purchase the issue or become a subscriber, head to our webshop.

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