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Regeneration and Sunlover Retreat


Donna Brooke

October 2022

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I’m talking about sustainability in a different way. For us here at Sunlover its going to be all about regeneration.

Regeneration gains importance after the Covid-19 pandemic

The idea of regeneration — renewing or restoring something — is not new, but it’s only been in the last few years that regeneration in sectors ranging from agriculture to architecture has entered the
mainstream conversation. The concept began to surface in mainstream conversation within the tourism industry in 2019.

Tourism worldwide and its vulnerability due to COVID-19:

  • Tourism usually contributes 10% to global GDP and employment. 
  • An estimation of 121 million jobs have been lost due to the COVID-19 shutdown
  • The overall estimation is that the sector has lost $3.4 trillion because of COVID-19

Source: World Travel & Tourism Council (2020)

What is regenerative tourism?

To incorporate the ideas behind regenerative tourism into your business, it is important to first find out what it actually is. So let’s start off with the definition of regenerative tourism. The term has
received quite some attention in the academic world and society, but what are we actually talking about?
Regenerative tourism represents a sustainable way of travelling and discovering new places. Its main goal is for visitors to have a positive impact on their holiday destination, meaning that they leave it in a better condition than how they found it. A concept that goes beyond "not damaging" the environment and that aims to actively revitalise and regenerate it, resulting in a positive cycle of impacts on local communities and economies: sustainable regeneration.  Concrete examples include farmers that together with tourism professionals restore degraded lands and river shores, local communities conserving pristine rainforest with ecolodges, or restoring biodiversity by stopping livestock grazing and reintroducing wild animals.

Regenerative tourism: the next step in sustainable tourism

You might be wondering how this is different from sustainable tourism. Well, if “sustainable tourism” was the jargon of yesterday, “regenerative tourism” is the industry buzzword of today. But the implications of regenerative tourism are more than just a temporary trend. “Regenerative tourism” is the idea that tourism should leave a place better than it was before. “Sustainability,” in comparison, is leaving something as it is so that it stays the same; in other words, not causing any
extra damage.

Regenerative tourism therefore has a different goal and requires a change in our economic model and the way we look at society. There is a need to move from seeking "sustainable"; growth in volume to a more qualitative development that improves human health and wellbeing through ecosystems’ health. Regenerative tourism offers an important set of solutions to rethink and rebuild the tourism industry. It also improves local economies, preserves local cultures and biodiversity while offering memorable, authentic life-changing experiences to the guests and allowing destinations to improve.

All stakeholders in the tourism value chain, including travellers, businesses, employees and communities have a shared responsibility in preserving the local assets and enabling the destination as a whole to develop. According to United Nations tourism can contribute to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).  In line with these SDGs, the United Nations have also elaborated on a set of regenerative tourism principles that draw upon nature's wisdom, which are the following:

  • Holistic understanding and living-systems approach: This is the understanding that everything is connected with everything and that the interactions between every stakeholder throughout the entire tourism value chain have an impact on each other and the entire ecosystem.
  • Collaborative: This is about stimulating collaboration and partnerships between a wide range of stakeholders from government, to the private sector, to the voluntary sector, and the communities.  This is different from the current competitive mindset that governs our dominant economic systems.
  • Diverse by nature: Diversity in various income streams helps decrease the reliance of ecosystems and communities on tourism income. Diversifying between the different segments of the market – leisure vs. business and domestic vs. international – also helps to reduce various economic and geopolitical risks and enhances resilience.
  • Inclusive and equitable: Which is about the involvement of the local communities to strengthen the overall ecosystem. This can, for example, be collaboration with local suppliers; asking around who needs rooms and space; considering supporting refugees or homeless people.
  • Transformational and inspirational: This principle is about creating experiences for the guests that are life changing and that bring forward the uniqueness of each place, and about offering activities that showcase the cultural heritage, folklore, gastronomy, local landmarks and wildlife responsibly.
  • Environmentally responsible: This is taking good care for the environment through the management of natural resources and biodiversity and the protection of fragile landscapes and wildlife.
  • Cultural stewardship: Protection of local cultural heritage and traditions and local people who happen to be the best persons to take care of biodiversity and natural ecosystems thanks to their ancient wisdom and knowledge passed on from generation to generation.


Requirements for businesses to be regenerative

Linking the concept of regenerative tourism to the business level is not easy. Let’s start with why businesses should be regenerative. Well, businesses today have to recognise that the environment they operate in is a living system within a larger living system. This means that their business is part of something bigger, which requires a different mindset of entrepreneurs in the tourism business.  Beam describes three requirements that organisations and businesses can use to their advantage if they want to have a successful business in the emerging new era: the Moral requirement, Market requirement, and Technology requirement. These requirements are all connected to each other and help businesses become regenerative.

Three requirements to be regenerative:

1. Moral requirement — Do the Right Thing

Keep what has worked well in your business in the past, but recognise what’s no longer working, and change and regenerate these things. Create a positive future that contributes to the greater social and living system and do it as part of enabling your business to develop.

2. Market requirement — It will pay-off!

You should trust in the fact that this regenerative change will pay off eventually by attracting customers, engaging employees, and better positioning your company for future growth. People today want to do business with companies who care about their impact environmentally and socially, and investors increasingly want to know the most accurate risk assessments for failing to address these issues.

3. Technology requirement — Create whole system advantages

For big changes you need big technological innovation. Those entrepreneurs who stop making simple quick fixes and doing minor product improvements, will open up new opportunities for themselves to use new technological innovations and solve global problems for their companies, communities, and industries.


Thirteen principles of a regenerative tourism business

Taking the shift in perspective that was described in the previous section as the starting point, the next step is to find out what regenerative tourism means for businesses operating in the sector.  ​Future of Tourism urge that for businesses to pursue regenerative tourism, there needs to be worldwide commitment to the following set of principles:

  1. See the whole picture: recognise that most tourism by its nature involves the destination as a whole, not only industry businesses, but also its ecosystems, natural resources, cultural assets and traditions, communities, aesthetics, and built infrastructure.
  2. Use sustainability standards: respect the publicly available, internationally approved minimum criteria for sustainable tourism practices maintained by the Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC) for both industry and destinations.
  3. Collaborate in destination management: seek to develop all tourism through a collaborative management structure with equal participation by government, the private sector, and civil society organisations that represent diversity in communities.
  4. Choose quality over quantity: manage tourism development based on quality of visitation, not quantity of visitors, so as to enhance the travel experience while sustaining the character of the destination and benefiting local communities.
  5. Demand fair income distribution: set policies that counter unequal tourism benefits within destination communities and that maximise retention of tourism revenues within those communities.
  6. Reduce tourism's burden: account for all tourism costs in terms of local tax burdens, environmental and social impacts, and objectively verifiable disruption. Ensure investments are linked to optimising net-positive impacts for communities and the environment.
  7. Redefine economic success: rather than raw contribution to growth in GDP, favour metrics that specify destination benefits such as small business development, distribution of incomes, and enhancement of sustainable local supply chains.
  8. Mitigate climate impacts: strive to follow accepted scientific consensus on needed reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. Invest in green infrastructure and a fast reduction in transport emissions involved in tourism - air, sea, and ground.
  9. Close the loop on resources: when post-pandemic safety allows, turn away from use of disposable plastics by tourism businesses, and transition to circular resource use.
  10. Contain tourism's land use: limit high-occupancy resort tourism to concentrated areas. Discourage resort sprawl from taking over coasts, islands, and mountain areas, so as to retain geographical character, a diverse economy, local access, and critical ecosystems.
  11. Diversify source markets: in addition to international visitation, encourage robust domestic tourism, which may be more resilient in the face of crises and raise citizens perceived value of their own natural and cultural heritage.
  12. Protect sense of place: encourage tourism policies and business practices that protect and benefit natural, scenic, and cultural assets. Retain and enhance destination identity and distinctiveness. Diversity of place is the reason for travel.
  13. Operate businesses responsibly: incentivise and reward tourism businesses and associated enterprises that support these principles through their actions and develop strong local supply chains that allow for higher quality products and experiences.

Underlying this set of principles is something that tourism expert Pauline Sheldon and colleagues refer to as Tourism Social Entrepreneurship (TSE). Tourism social entrepreneurs play the role of change agents in the social sector, through 5 dimensions around which social entrepreneurship is structured.

Social mission:  Adopting a mission to create and sustain social value (not just private value);

Social innovation: Recognising and relentlessly pursuing new opportunities to serve that mission;

Social change: Engaging in a process of continuous innovation, adaptation, and learning;

Entrepreneurial spirit: Acting boldly without being limited by resources currently in hand; and

Personality: Exhibiting heightened accountability to the constituencies served and for the outcomes created.



Wonder what you as a tourism social entrepreneur can do yourself? What can you improve in your mission, business model and daily operations? Check each of the 5 dimensions above for what you are currently doing to operate your business in a sustainable way and ask yourself what you can do to make it better for the world. For example: start with what the societal value of your tourism business is.

Become certified as a regenerative tourism provider: To answer the question whether it is already possible for tourism business to become certified, the simple answer is ‘no’. At this moment, there really are no regenerative certifications. For tourism providers there are certifications out there that are about sustainability. Where regeneration considers the whole system, sustainability only covers part of the system, but it can be a start for future certification. It can be helpful to be recognisable for tourists that are seeking businesses that embrace a new way of using tourism. Nevertheless, the danger of certification is that companies can easily run into commercialisation and greenwashing. It is therefore important that regenerative tourism is part of your company’s DNA and daily operations, whereas certification is the ‘cherry on top’ and recognition of what has been achieved.

So, where to start then? Below you can find what you and your company can already do. Before actually moving to certification, there are three steps you should take when setting up a new or changing an existing tourism company:

Determine your value to your community (“how does your company make the destination a better place?”)

Understand your supply chain (“do your suppliers help make the destination a better place, or should you change some of them”?)

Inspire changes through the guest experience (“let your quests experience these changes”)

Certification will help businesses to get more customers as travellers can see that they are trustworthy and acting responsibly. However, the process seems confusing to many people because there are more than 150 touristic quality labels available worldwide. To give an idea of what is out there, three certification labels will be introduced. These are not about regenerative tourism, because this does not exist yet. These three labels are examples of sustainable tourism, but they can help your business get recognition for the good work you are currently doing.


Donna Brooke

October 2022


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