Moving from responsibility to regenerative tourism?

From sustainable development to responsible action

When the warm sea breeze caressed my face in the early years of my tourism profession in the 1990s, I looked at the horizon and contemplated the next professional move, which I was that time deciding by myself.  It was a new situation as during the previous five years my employer had made the decisions for me. I was working as a tour guide abroad, working summer seasons in mainland Spain and Mallorca and winter seasons on Canary Islands and Caribbean.  

During those years, the experiences we exchanged with colleagues, were mainly on how many flights a year we had taken, where the best bars were found and where the nicest guide apartments were. Customers didn´t get many advices where to buy responsible souvenirs and how to support locals.  We didn´t  clarify the background of the products or services.

The 1987 Declaration on Sustainable Development of the World Commission on Environment and Development, chaired by Gro Harlem Brundtland, had not yet been implemented in the training or orientation program of foreign guides, but awareness began to knock and interest began to arouse. Globally sustainable tourism was defined.

 

Benidorm on yksi Euroopan suurimmista rakennetuista matkailukohteista. Korkeita rakennuksia ja pitkä hiekkaranta. Kun alueella on paljon ihmisiä, infrastruktuurin pitää olla riittävä

I observed, wondered, and worried about the changes I noticed first in nature and then in the carrying capacity of the built environment (especially water outages, waste problems and run off waters).

Quite quickly, I questioned the way local people were left outside without appreciative involvement and a clear opportunity to benefit of tourism financially. I followed this unfair development first in the all-inclusive destinations in the Dominican Republic , then on my own trekking trip in Mexico, and finally in my working environment in Benidorm on the Spanish coast, where I  settled down at the end of my reflections.

I was not alone with my thoughts, although I received astonished comments from companies in both Spain and Finland when I spoke about the subject. Responsibility was thought to be a mere item of expenditure, a nonsense of “greenies” and contrary to profitable business.

The principles of responsible tourism were published in 2002 at the first International Conference on Responsible Tourism in Cape Town (Cape Town Declaration 2002):

Responsible Tourism is about making better places for people to live in and better places for people to visit. Responsible Tourism requires that operators; hoteliers, governments, local people and tourists  take action to make tourism more sustainable.

 I followed news from the conference and my mind was overwhelmed by the burning need to find out how responsibility differs from sustainable tourism. I found and offered answers in my bachelor’s thesis at the University of Lapland in 2010.

Subsequently, awareness increased further with the adoption of the Global Agenda for Sustainable Development Agenda2030 at the UN Summit in 2015. Agenda2030 combines previous UN Millennium Development Goals and the Sustainable Development Agenda based on the Rio Conference on Environment and Development. All UN member states are committed to the goals and derived from them the strategy and action plan – Finland with others.

Now we live in the 2020s  – what happens next?

Travel destinations are better places for locals to live and tourists to visit (at least should be). We have learned to make choices that cause the least possible harm to the environment and local communities. We understand where emissions come from and how the carbon footprint can be reduced. We avoid destinations where locals have risen to the barricades due to the side effects of overtourism. We support local small businesses. We do not buy unethically produced products and services and do not fly unnecessarily.

Just as in the early 2000s I wanted to understand responsibility, some years ago I wanted to learn more about new definitions of tourism.  

The answers did not come to me quite directly. I would have liked to find my way to Irene Ateljevic´s Academy of Hope, which was never founded, I was inspired by Rosa María Rodriguéz’s publications on transmodern tourism and made a business plan appropriately combining theories and experiences of the transformative and caring economy. I named my Master’s degree thesis ”The Yellow Book of Tourism” (2013) and in doing so I learned a lot. I founded Mood of Finland company based on what I had learnt in 2018.

Everything I write above was in the past tense. I wanted to see over the past and the present. I wanted to understand what was the next level we are now moving on. Anna Pollock led me to the edge of the new.

From Conscious to Regenerative Tourism

As we move from reducing harms to doing good in holistic way, we are on the verge of reform. Producing added value and giving the opportunity to do good.

I red Anna Pollock’s first definitions of regenerative tourism in early 2019, and the topic began to come up more often  with an emergency caused by the Covid19. Maybe the crisis was needed to a real stop to find a new direction.

Val Guiña Matias

This picture is a memory of Chile. I helped clean up a small artisan shop after the earthquake in 2010 in Valparaiso.

Regenerative tourism is believed to provide solutions for tourism recovery. The importance of co-operation is emphasized and cross-sectoral co-operation is encouraged. Anna Pollock offers e.g. these items in response to the question of what should be taken into consideration now:

  • Changing our mindsets – the way we see, be and do tourism, community by community, host by host
  • Exploring and expressing what it means to be fully human, fully alive and living in harmony with nature
  • Coming together in communities to break down the barriers that isolate tourism from other sectors.
  • Regenerative Tourism: moves us from “doing less harm” past “ doing more good” to becoming partners-servants of nature to help life thrive and evolve.

Please, read more about Anna Pollock´s excellent thoughts by following her in LinkedIn and visiting this page.: Conscious Travel

So, when facing tourism in regenerative way, we in addition to pay attention to the environment and people and minimizing harm, we are tempted to do more good and provide services that enable us to achieve a renewed outcome. Concrete actions for regenerative tourism may first be those in which we repair the damage already done or pay special attention to those who/what has received less attention.

Give back more than you take. 

The theory requires to be followed by concrete action. The first example comes from agriculture, where negative impact on biodiversity loss is identified. Regenerative agriculture refers for example to farming practices that aim to restore soil biodiversity, sequester more carbon and this way mitigates climate change and improve water circulation.

In tourism businesses, equality, non-discrimination and inclusion have received little attention. Regenerative tourism can mean diversifying work communities; according to Agenda2030 goal number eight, everyone should have  opportunity to work and experience being major in one´s own community.

Recruitment has traditionally sought the best possible input-return benefit, but now this equation can and should be viewed with new eyes, with new values. Recruitment is a message of values and an opportunity to influence the surrounding society.

As an example of a regenerative travel service, I raise my Mood of Finland company’s concept called Love Forest Finland, which is in the early stages of its life cycle.

The core of the concept is to offer guests the opportunity to plant a symbolic Tree of Love, show love to the person or object they want, buy a certificate printed on handmade paper and donate money to protect old forests. Guests are given the opportunity to do good on nature´s terms and by offering job for small business owners as well as craftsmen. Locals and guests are invited to plant trees together.

Leaving the place better than it was before our visit

As a definition of Regenerative tourism I have also seen this:
Leaving the place better than it was before you found it
 
 
The above objective could be applied as a human indicator when measuring the success of tourism by the happiness and well-being of the locals (for example in such places as Vanuatu). When also adding the value given to the environment  I find it beautiful way to understand tourism in holistic way. Local communities and nature have given us so much, now it´s our time to give back.

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It is time to end this reflection and say goodbye to you. Finally, let me give you a few more thoughts to consider:

How do we, as entrepreneurs, ensure that locals are happier and the environment has benefited from the visit?

As service providers we are used to do our best to make our customers happy. Let´s keep on doing so, and in addition ensure that locals and the environment receive the attention they deserve. 

As tourists, we strive for well-being and happiness for ourselves when travelling. How could we do good and leave the place better after our visit?

 

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Thank you for following by blog. 
I will appreciate any comments. 
With kind regards, 

Anu
Owner and Founder
Mood of Finland Oy
http://www.moodoffinland.com

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