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Is Regenerative Travel a New Era In Tourism?

Understand the industry’s newest buzz word with examples of how tourism can improve upon the places we love to visit

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For nearly a year, the travel and tourism industry has been grappling with the fallout from Covid-19. With the pandemic raging, borders shut, and air travel at an all-time low, it seems impossible to envision a post-pandemic world where travel will resume once more. But envision we must—using this crisis as an opportunity for reflection and transformation. For decades the tourism industry has embraced economic determinism, growth and profit, and consumption as measures of its own success; this has often led to exploitation of natural resources and cultural heritage while ignoring alternative means of economic exchange. The fields of sustainable tourism, eco-tourism, and community-based tourism have been viewed as distinct disciplines within the tourism industry, reflecting that sustainability and conservation is an objective separate to that of travel and tourism. As an entire industry was forced to pause overnight, we as sustainable tourism practitioners have been grappling with the question: what was being sustained in the first place? For whom and by whom?

Here are few travel tales from the Solimar team that exemplify regenerative travel, and our vision for how it can transform our new world order.

Chris Seek

Ever since my first introduction to sustainable tourism, I committed my life’s purpose to ensuring tourism minimizes negative impacts and maximizes positive impacts. I am fortunate to have a job that lets me travel around the world and work with destinations that are embracing the concept of regenerative travel so it’s hard for me to pick just one example to share. When I think of destinations that are implementing successful tourism development strategies to transform their communities, the one that stands out is the town of Rocky Mount, NC where my wife grew up and her extended family still lives today.  What is known to most as a highway stop on the way North or South on I-95, the community had very little to offer visitors beyond roadside chain hotels and fast-food restaurants.  But then something changed.  The local government decided that tourism development could stimulate their local economy and improve the lives of their residents.  As they looked around the destination, they realized that the 82-acre abandoned Cotton Mill located on the banks of the beautiful Tar River could help regenerate the community’s spirit and preserve the history of the town while also breathing new life into this abandoned historical asset. Watch this short video below to see how the Rocky Mount Mills is regenerating travel and the community of Rocky Mount.

Chloe King

Dipping our faces beneath the waves, the extent of the crisis emerged before us: hundreds of meters of vibrant coral reef suffocating beneath a thick ghost net, discarded some time ago by a vessel fishing illegally off Indonesia’s coastline. A dozen of us bobbed along at the surface as several descended below on scuba gear, knives and scissors clutched in our hands. Heeding the call from a local fisherman the day before, we had gathered our crew: dive shop managers, an eclectic group of resident expats, and a team of local dive guides who used to spend their days fishing atop the reefs before guiding guests along them. We knew then that the task before us would take until sunset, just as the sun’s first glow emerged over the horizon; in reality it would take us four days, two dozen scuba tanks, and a handful of passionate divers and freedivers to extract nearly one ton worth of discarded fishing net from the fragile reef. We moved like cautious caretakers along the coral, painstakingly extracting parts of the reef that had been newly restored by some among our team, freeing creatures large and small from the thick web, assured that our actions would give this one patch of life a chance to thrive long after our bubbles had cleared the surface.

Daniela Mastronardi

When I think of regenerative travel my mind immediately goes to my first experience at an argiturismo, also known as a farm-stay, in Italy. Agriturismo is one of the growing trends in Italian tourism – emerging as a response to decades of slow economic growth in small towns – and has brought tourists into rural Italy to support local communities. They’ve popped up all over Italy, and the one I stayed in with some friends in the summer of 2019 is in Umbria. This farmhouse from the late 1800s was restored and maintained to the original architecture and run by a couple who purchased the farm in the early 2000s. Think of it as a bed-and-breakfast, except tourists are invited to work on the farm alongside locals who were hired to handle the agriturismo operations. The experience allowed us to rediscover nature through old and local traditions, like collecting olives for olive oil production. It was a truly unique experience. Not only were our meals at the farmhouse prepared with ingredients grown on the property, but we able to explore a small town that we would have otherwise overlooked, all while connecting with locals in numerous shops, restaurants, and vineyards. Our destination revitalized and kept the rich history of their property alive while also providing unique sustainable practices that supports the local community.

Stephanie Romero

I witnessed regenerative tourism on a trip to Scotland in the summer of 2018. While in the packed city of Edinburgh, almost every public trash bin had companion bins for recycling according to glass, aluminum and cardboard. Outside the capital during our visits to small towns in the Scottish Highlands, instead of visiting crowded restaurants, my friends and I were invited to try smaller locales like seafood shacks and hole-in-the-wall pubs. While many tourists visited Stirling Castle, I wandered away from the crowd for lunch at a small pub with locals. Another opportunity that also presented itself was a visit to the Wallace Monument. The entrance is at the base of a small hill, and while the site offers trams for tourists to get to the top many visitors opt for walking the trails up to the monument. Despite the mass tourism taking place, Scotland is taking steps toward responsible travel they can have visitors engage in on their trip. 

Shelby Amato

One of the best, if most unassuming, features available to vacationers to Edisto Island is its weekly Bay Creek market. Gullah and Geechee crafts, particularly woven sweetgrass baskets, are the star of this event which includes a wide variety of crafts, food stalls, and local produce. Located just outside of the commercial strip of beachside restaurants and the marina, the market draws locals, tourists, and vendors together to relax and browse the shops. Free from third party vendors, artisans and farmers stand proudly among their products and share their features with customers. Each stand is truly local and represents a broad range of economic activity when taken all together. It is one of the many ways that the community on Edisto Island work to build their biodiversity and cultural heritage into the tourism industry, which remains the most important economic force on the largely undeveloped island. As a visitor to Edisto, there are many ways to contribute to the local economy and remain respectful of the delicate ecosystem. The island is also small enough to make biking a cheap and fun way to get around, while reducing your carbon footprint. Conscious tourism makes possible the preservation of Edisto’s beautiful beaches, ponds, marshes, and forests. In turn, visitors have consistent access to a huge variety of marine and land-based species.

Cailey Heffley

When I think of a sustainable destination that prioritizes the needs of locals and the environment, but welcomes tourists with gusto and heartfelt smiles, I think of Ireland, and specifically the west coast of Ireland. This wild, untamed, and breathtaking landscape is unlike anywhere else I’ve experienced and embraces the newly emerging concept of regenerative travel. While studying for my masters in tourism in Ireland I learned that, in an effort to combat overtourism, the National Tourism Development Authority developed a marketing strategy to re-package the west coast and drive visitors to lesser known areas. The resulting product was the Wild Atlantic Way, a 1,600 mile corridor along the Atlantic Coast that links destinations and attractions. The effective destination marketing scheme promotes existing infrastructure by spreading the economic benefits of tourism throughout the country and encouraging low-impact exploration by foot, bike, and kayak for an immersive cultural experience.

A must-see along the route, and for anyone visiting Ireland, is the Burren and Cliffs of Moher Geopark – an internationally recognized area of geological fascination. A highlight of the Geopark is the Burren EcoTourism Network, a collaboration of over 70 local businesses that has transformed the area into a leader for community-led sustainable tourism development. The enterprises in the network adhere to a Code of Practice for Sustainable Tourism which encourages people and organizations to work together to ensure a cared-for landscape, a better understood heritage, vibrant communities, strengthened livelihoods, and more sustainable environmental practices. Taking a holistic approach that ensures community, destination, and environmental well-being are not compromised in exchange for economic benefit is a staple of regenerative travel. Transport yourself to Ireland with this video to get a sense of the people and views along Wild Atlantic Way.

Regenerative Tourism in Ireland
Wild Atlantic Way Courtesy Discover Ireland

 

 

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Be sure to check out part 2 of our regenerative tourism travel tales.

Regenerative travel in Guatemala

This is part two of Solimar’s blog series highlighting well-known and lesser-known destinations around the world that are practicing regenerative tourism. Click here to read part 1. 

The concept of “regenerative” travel has emerged as way for the tourism industry to reimagine its role in the communities and ecosystems upon which it depends. The term itself borrows principles from regenerative agriculture that embraces natural systems as the solution, in which it not only “does no harm” but actively regenerates and revitalizes the soil through its practices, producing positive outcomes for communities and economies. As discussed in the Future of Tourism Coalition’s recent report, Covid-19 has been devastating for the travel industry, but the one thing is has given us is time. Tourism leaders from destinations across the globe have spent a year reevaluating their assets and offerings, deciphering how to usher in a new age of travel that not only sustains, but also enhances culture, economy and the environment.

Regenerative tourism engages governments, tourism organizations, businesses, visitors, and most importantly, local residents, in developing a new form of placemaking with an end goal of community betterment. Solimar has always prided itself on being a world-leading sustainable tourism consultancy that incorporates regeneration into all of its projects.

Below are some examples of destinations and organizations celebrating regenerative tourism methodologies, as told by the Solimar team.

Derek Schimmel

Our muscles ached and every layer of clothing seeped with dew from the cloud forest, but we had arrived at our destination for the night: Pachute, Guatemala. After a short-time relaxing in our individual canvas tents that had been put-up by the organization’s local staff, our group of five trekkers (representing three countries) gathered around the just-constructed table to enjoy dinner cooked by the residents of this small agricultural community of roughly 120 families. A hodgepodge of music blared through the open-roofed, three-walled cement structure adjacent to camp while in the distance Volcán de Fuego erupted, leaving flumes of lava and smoke sparkling through the night sky. It was at that moment, at the tail-end of Trek Guatemala’s second day of a four-day trek between Antigua and Lake Atitlán, that I came to understand that a tangible link between tourism and community regeneration does in fact exist. Trek Guatemala has developed a tourism attraction that puts the economic and cultural preservation of the often-forgotten communities of Guatemala front-and-center, without sacrificing its ability to offer a once-in-a-lifetime travel opportunity.

Regenerative travel in Guatemala: Courtesy Trek Guatemala
Regenerative travel in Guatemala: Courtesy Trek Guatemala

Nino Chkhaberidze

I never knew horses were such smart, sensitive animals, and that they could be such amazing partners to their rider. Once you start your journey you feel so calm and free, appreciate your surroundings, you can simply slow down and enjoy the whole experience.

One of the important parts of equestrian tourism is that it allows the travelers to be closer to nature and therefore feel themselves as a part of the environment. Each horse has its own character; they make friends with each other, get to know the rider and express emotions. The characteristics of each horse is of great importance when choosing them to use them for horse tourism. The horse should not strain the traveler and should allow them to feel comfortable. Equestrian, or horseback riding, tourism is a part of eco and rural tourism and is especially good for nature, and thus can be considered as a part of regenerative tourism as well. This activity does not pollute the environment, does not require intensive use of resources and is essential for the development of sustainable and responsible tourism. Strengthening this regeneration in the tourism sector has a positive effect on both the environment and people interested in horseback riding, and has also created an avenue of additional income for local communities.

Regenerative Tourism in the Republic of Georgia
Regenerative Tourism in the Republic of Georgia

Marco Ramazzotti 

A few years ago, I would have never thought that you can visit a place and leave it in a better state than before you arrived. But then I moved to Copenhagen and found that not only is regenerative travel possible, but it can be developed everywhere with the right mindset. Among the most eco-friendly capitals in the world, Copenhagen is constantly broadening the discussion of sustainability and rethinking tourism development by creating new opportunities for responsible tourism. This is the case of GreenKayak, which rents out kayaks FOR FREE in exchange for picking up trash along the way. All my friends that did it were ecstatic about the experience, as it was not only an amazing alternative to see the city, but it made us feel like a true ambassador of the destination that were actually contributing to the critical job of reducing water pollution. The idea has quickly gained a widespread success, so much so that it is now possible to do the same in a few other cities in Northern Europe. For more info check out their official webpage and find out where you can rent a free kayak and help clean the waters.

Abrafi Ahmed

The private beaches of Mombasa in Kenya are conserving and improving the environment by adopting and promoting lifestyles that focus on the restoration of the environment by planting more trees, working with communities to improve their quality of life, and protecting the natural resources from overexploitation. I learned about the future of tourism and responsible tourism by interacting with the management of the Kizingo private beach.

Natalie Sellier

Almost a full year into COVID lockdown, I often find myself daydreaming about nearby destinations where you can combine a getaway with an incredible dining experience. One such place towards the top of my bucket list is Blue Hill Farm, which immediately came to mind as a place that has grounded itself in regenerative travel and agriculture. Opened in 2004, Blue Hill at Stone Barns is unlike any other restaurant. It’s a farm, first and foremost, that sits on 80 acres of land that also houses the Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture, a nonprofit dedicated to shaping an ecological food culture that puts the planet-protecting efforts of farmers front and center.  A true escape situated about 30 miles north of Manhattan, their thinking is pushing the boundaries of sustainable farming and the farm-to-table movement they helped create. This restaurant aims to utilize almost every component of the produce and livestock raised on their farm alongside the idea that great cooking means finding the most inherently flavorful and functional versions of ingredients possible. This partnership between a nonprofit education center and a restaurant is also rare, and together they have collaborated with breeders to update and create extraordinary new varieties of produce that are elevating vegetables to the highlight of the meal. Many of the great restaurants of our time have revolutionized how customers think about eating, and Blue Hill appears to be no exception. Through teaching visitors about the land and feeding them an incredible meal while doing so, they are truly elevating the idea of what a regenerative experience can and should be.

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Alongside over 150 tourism-industry organizations based in dozens of countries, Solimar will work to find regenerative travel solutions to the climate change crisis.  

Solimar International has joined its colleagues in signing up to Tourism Declares, an initiative that supports tourism businesses, organizations, and individuals in declaring a climate emergency and working to reduce the carbon footprint of the travel and tourism industry. As a leading sustainable travel consulting and marketing firm, Solimar engages with destinations and community leaders around the world to develop tourism-based initiatives focused on cultural, economic and environmental conservation. Our work in emerging countries has given us a unique opportunity to design strategic plans that empower local workforces and build destinations that are resilient to future crises, from Covid-19 to climate change.

The relationship between travel, tourism, and climate change is both complex and interconnected: while air travel accounts for approximately 2.5 percent of human-induced Co2 emissions, tourism also accounts for 1 in 10 jobs globally. From remote wildlife safaris in Namibia to scuba dives along the most biodiverse reefs on earth in Timor-Leste, each traveler to these destinations helps to fund conservation, provide alternative livelihoods, and ultimately protect the natural ecosystems that will be critical in the fight against climate change. Tourism has the power to transform people into allies and advocates for nature – but as an industry, we must work together to ensure it achieves this goal. 

Tourism Supports Climate Change Winter Recreation is Dependent on Tourism Sun, Sand and Sea Destinations are at risk as a result of climate change

The travel industry must do more to reduce its carbon footprint, from reducing aviation emissions to encouraging more sustainable practices for tourists. Tourism organizations must also actively work to prepare communities and ecosystems to face the increasing number of challenges posed by climate change. The global destinations that Solimar is honored to work with every day, from Tobago to Tanzania, have contributed the least to global greenhouse gas emissions, but will be the first to face the impacts of climate change. We must do everything we can to help them prepare, which is why we are joining in Tourism Declares a climate emergency.

Tourism must be more than just sustainable; it must be responsible and regenerative, helping to build resilience in destinations most likely to be impacted by the changing climate. While actively working to reduce our own carbon footprint as a company, Solimar is also focused on greater collaboration, support, and advocacy for our partners around the world. 

As the industry hits the reset button and reimagines its route towards a sustainable future, it is vital that ALL stakeholders are engaged in the climate change conversation. Be it a divemaster on Timor Leste’s Ataúro Island, a safari guide in Ruaha National Park in Southern Tanzania, or a museum curator working alongside the National Park Service in the United States, the future of the industry upon which these jobs depend will be forever changed as the planet warms. Travelers have a responsibility to do all they can to mitigate this impact, and organizations like Solimar have a duty to provide the tools necessary to achieve more resilient destinations, empowered by regenerative travel that celebrates and supports local cultures and ecosystems. 

As a member of the Tourism Declares initiative, Solimar International is adopting the following key-steps:

  1. Developing a ‘Climate Emergency Plan’ within the next 12 months, which sets out our intentions to reduce carbon emissions–both as an individual organization and in the destinations we work– over the next decade.
  2. Sharing an initial public declaration of our ‘Climate Emergency Plan’, and update on progress each year.
  3. Accepting current IPCC advice stating the need to cut global carbon emissions to 55% below 2017 levels by 2030 in order to keep the planet within 1.5 degrees of warming. We’ll ensure our ‘Climate Emergency Plan’ represents actions designed to achieve this as a minimum, through delivering transparent, measurable and increasing reductions in the total carbon emissions per customer arising from our operations and the travel services sold by us.
  4. Encouraging our suppliers and partners to make the same declaration; sharing best practice amongst peers; and actively participate in the Tourism Declares community. 
  5. Advocating for change. We recognise the need for system change across the industry to accelerate a just transition towards carbon-free tourism.

Each member of the Solimar team remains humbled at our good fortune that allows us to work at the forefront of tourism development, and we have made a commitment to utilizing this role to help guide the industry’s ecosphere towards a future that both minimizes the environmental impact of travel and tourism and build destinations that are more resilient to climate change. Initiatives like Tourism Declares are vital in helping the industry achieve a more sustainable future, and empowering the destinations we work with and travel to face our future together. 

Please consider also declaring at www.tourismdeclares.com, and follow on @tourismdeclares on Twitter, Facebook or Linkedin

Chloe King is a key member of the Solimar team. Learn how her work in marine life conservation in Timor-Leste and Indonesia led her to joining Solimar.

During my second day as a Projects for Peace Fellow in Timor-Leste with friend and fellow researcher Jenny Lundt, we wandered into one of two restaurants on Ataúro Island, where we would be spending the next four months researching how tourism was impacting marine conservation. Overhearing a customer on the phone speaking Bahasa Indonesia, I approached and struck up a conversation. Bekerja di mana? I asked. Where do you work?

Antonio handed us his business card, “Solimar International” printed neatly beneath the USAID logo. Solimar was an international sustainable tourism consulting firm, he explained, working in over 500 destinations to utilize tourism as a sustainable development pathway. Conservation was at its core. Their effort was just kicking off in Timor-Leste under USAID’s Tourism for All project; Antonio was the local coordinator.

One thing led to another over the course of an incredible summer of field work, and I soon found myself working part time for Solimar as my Fulbright research in Indonesia began, utilizing my research from Ataúro to help develop content for the island website and begin to train local coordinators to conduct tours.

I soon learned the intricacies and complex challenges of developing, managing, and marketing over 500 destinations around the world while ensuring tourism maximizes benefits and minimizes impacts to the natural environment. Contracted by development and conservation organizations, governments, and private sector entities as the world leader in this niche field, Solimar faces diverse pressures to both develop destinations and conserve cultural and natural heritage. Demonstrating that tourism is a viable sustainable development pathway for destinations large and small, particularly in light of a pandemic that has shut down the industry globally, is one of the greatest challenges facing this organization as it attempts to uphold conservation goals globally.

Tourism supports 1 in 10 jobs globally and represents 10% of global GDP. It is one of the largest drivers of economic growth, yet it is often seen as a sacrificing natural and cultural integrity to achieve it. The Covid-19 pandemic has illuminated this dichotomy: with 100% of destinations globally introducing travel restrictions in March of 2020, headlines highlighted nature returning to once-crowded canals of Venice or to the shores of the Galapagos Islands. Yet these stories about reprieves from the crowds failed to acknowledge the complex relationship tourism plays with conservation: without visitors to the Galapagos, the marine park—and the thousands of livelihoods dependent upon it—became a paper park, with foreign fishing fleets poised to reap the benefits of years of hard-won conservation as the last tourist vessel docked to shore.

My own research in Indonesia demonstrated the dangers of relying too heavily on tourism to support local economies or conservation initiatives. In Bali, I witnessed the fallout from a global shutdown, where 80% of the economy was directly dependent upon tourism. In Wakatobi, where conservation schemes to protect the reefs were funded entirely by a private dive operator, national park officials were powerless to prevent overexploitation when dive operations ceased. My findings, and Solimar’s work across the globe, demonstrates that the tourism industry works best when it improves socio-ecological resilience, helping communities and ecosystems withstand potential future shocks like Covid-19.

This is not to say that the tourism industry has not wreaked havoc on ecologically fragile destinations, or gracelessly commodified traditional cultures globally. But this time, with the opportunity to reset, there is a possibility it might be different. Solimar is poised to be a global leader in reimagining tourism as it restarts across the globe. Demonstrating how tourism can promote conservation—by increasing environmental awareness, diversifying incomes, improving environmental research, financing conservation, and strengthening partnerships—is the task facing such organizations in this travel-averse world we are emerging into. The success of communities, livelihoods, and conservation depend on it.

As the tourism industry continues to adapt and make sense of this unprecedented year, the team at Solimar has taken time to sit back and reflect on our past travel experiences. We asked ourselves, “What was that one travel moment that set me on the career/academic path of sustainability in tourism?”

Here are our answers:

Chris Seek

My first introduction to the concept of ecotourism took place while studying abroad in Costa Rica during my university studies. It was in Costa Rica where I learned how tourism could be developed in such a way that minimized impact and maximized benefits to the environment. A few years later I was introduced to the concept of Sustainable Tourism at the end of my 6 month road trip through Central and South America when I was starting Solimar. Just before I finished the 6 month adventure I came across the Yachana Lodge in the Ecuadorian Amazon. This small lodge was not only using tourism to protect the environment but it was also improving the lives of the local indigenous people through improved public health, education, and economic development.  I realized then that this is the type of tourism I wanted to support and have dedicated my life to this ever since.

Natalie Sellier

I grew up in a small town where tourism is critically important, so I had a fondness for the industry and appreciation for those truly special destinations even before I understood authenticity as a marketing term. After realizing that I accepted my first job out of college because it required over 50% travel, I knew I wanted to pivot and dedicate my career to the industry. Grad school at George Washington University introduced me to tourism consulting through a practicum in Istanbul, however it was a road trip throughout East Africa afterwards where I realized how truly incredible some destinations on this planet are that need to be preserved for future generations. I was able to see firsthand how sustainable tourism was supporting both the conservation of these places and creating economic opportunities for residents—and could serve as a tool for not only cities and small towns, but rural communities and protected areas alike.

Derek Schimmel

I was fortune enough to grow up vacationing in traditional sun, sand & sea destinations, exploring the beaches and resorts that dot the coasts of the Caribbean and Mexico. I understood the traditional ‘big-box’ travel experience but wasn’t well-versed on the idea of sustainability in tourism until I embarked on a backpacking trip through Southeast Asia. It was during this 7-month adventure — galavanting through Thailand, Cambodia and Laos with nothing but a bag on my back — that I began to understand the value of community tourism and the benefits of cultural immersion. Each day, with the world as my oyster, I would dive deep into a foreign destination and experience the unknown. It wasn’t before long that I understood that there was one resource that made each place memorable: its people. As the trip progressed, it became apparent that these people and their ways of life would be at risk as the world became flatter and tourism grew exponentially. These community-based experiences taught lessons of acceptance, patience and self-awareness, and in arriving at this realization I opted to pivot my career in hopes of bringing these places to the forefront of the tourism ecosphere.

Chloe King

I grew up believing in mermaids, entranced by the magic of the ocean and the alien-like creatures below its surface. At eighteen, I set off alone for a year to work as a dive guide in Indonesia and Thailand. I witnessed firsthand the power of tourism to transform livelihoods and preserve fragile ecosystems. I assisted in re-training dynamite fishermen to become local dive guides, watching their eyes light up in wonder with their first underwater breath. Together, we found the magic I believed in as a child beneath the surface: whale songs haunting us from the depths; kaleidoscopes of color layered over eons in coral shallows; intelligent eyes of my first manta ray finding ours, suspended before us, while we cut a fishing line from her 20-foot wings. After this first encounter, I watched two ex-manta ray hunters swim with one for the first time, after a lifetime of killing thousands. Hiding his tears, one exhaled: “Beautiful.”We protect what we love and what we learn to value. That is the lesson I have learned over five years of returning to coastal communities of Indonesia, understanding the myriad ways in which all of humanity is inextricably linked to life beneath the sea. Tourism to me is a clear pathway for establishing new values for these precious ecosystems–values rooted in respect for natural and cultural heritage–while ensuring that these local communities can continue to benefit from the magical marine life that has sustained them for countless generations.

Brigid Finley

Over the last several years two tourism experiences have really struck me in terms of the impact on culture, ecosystem and economy. First, Feynan Ecolodge in Jordan’s Dana Biosphere Reserve which is located in a remote area which was once one of the top three mining hubs in the world. The lodge puts a majority of its profits back into local conservation efforts. These initiatives are numerous, and include research of the Reserve’s animal population and biodiversity, employment opportunities for the local Bedouin communities as an alternative to mining and education, locally, nationally and internationally on the importance of conservation.

Another very memorable experience was witnessing the incredible success and commitment Rwanda has made to protecting their number one tourism asset, the mountain gorillas in the Virunga Mountains. Rwanda has created an incredible ecosystem around the experience. Local communities benefit in a tourism revenue-sharing scheme, receiving a percentage of annual income generated by Virunga National Park to fund community projects, including roads and small enterprises, while lodges such as Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge, are co-owned by local community members who also receive portions of the lodge’s revenue. Tourism has also created opportunities for Rwandans to open safari companies and private transportation companies, as well as other tourism related jobs from animal trackers and guides to waiters and front desk staff. Communities now have an incentive to protect the mountain gorilla and its habitat, instead of poaching and hunting, or using the area as farmland.

Stephanie Auslander

My passion for sustainable tourism started in 2015 when I went to Jasper National Park in Alberta, Canada. Upon arrival to the national park I quickly absorbed my surroundings; the crisp clean air, the crystal-clean drinking water, and the abundance of wildlife. As we toured the park and learned about the natural destination offerings such as the natural hot springs, hiking trails, and mountain ranges there were efforts to educate us about protection of the environment and leaving it for future generations to enjoy. A few years later I was studying global economic development and sustainable tourism for my master’s program and that led to more knowledge about the power of sustainable tourism in that it can be utilized to minimize impacts on the natural environment, help the local economy, and promote the destinations cultural heritage. In one of my classes I completed an in-depth report on Costa Rica’s sustainable tourism efforts which continued my passion for this field. Throughout the report, I detailed Costa Rica’s commitment to the building of nature-based hotels, biodiversity conservation, and the One Tree Planted program, which aims to achieve carbon neutral status by 2021.

Elizabeth Evans

Throughout my time in college, I was very grateful to learn from many brilliant tourism scholars. In addition to my studies, I was lucky enough to become a part of ASU’s new leadership academy, the Next Generation Service Corps (NGSC). The goal of NGSC was to learn about the private, public, and nonprofit sectors as well as gain knowledge on cross-sector collaboration to become a more effective leader. This led me to think about how I could contribute to the greater good in my own industry, which fueled my passion to pursue a career in the field of sustainable tourism. I learned that tourism can be used as a force for good to aid in community empowerment and conservation efforts. I wanted to work in the tourism industry to raise awareness about the importance of sustainable practices to safeguard natural resources and heritage for future generations. 

Mason Meadows

My home state of West Virginia is the only state in the union that lies completely within a mountain region, hence the nickname the Mountain State. Growing up, West Virginians learn that this is the reason our state was “left behind” – because highways and railroads are difficult and expensive to build on mountainous terrain. This simple fact created a paradox in which West Virginia’s greatest assets (rolling hills, wide rivers and deep valleys) were also its worst enemies, effectively restricting major innovation in the state during most of the twentieth century.

I’m from West Virginia’s eastern panhandle – the area lyrically romanticized in John Denver’s Take Me Home, Country Roads. The only place in the entire state that touches both the Shenandoah River and the Blue Ridge Mountains. Home to Shepherdstown (voted the “coolest small town in West Virginia”) and Harpers Ferry (the location of John Brown’s abolitionist raid), the eastern panhandle lies at the convergence of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers about an hour outside of the Washington, D.C. metro area.

In the early 2000’s, the eastern panhandle began experiencing a growth in tourism from inner-city folk who were looking for an easy escape from the hustle and bustle. During the first half of the decade, increases in tourism completely reimagined and redefined the towns that I grew up seeing crumble. As tourism exponentially expanded, local governments began working with businesses and conservation groups to enact laws and regulations to ensure the tourism revenue would benefit the local standard of living. By allocating increased funds for improved infrastructure and social services like education and drug rehabilitation, my small community underwent drastic improvements – improvements that directly impacted my own education and access to resources.

I take a particular interest in sustainable tourism because I’ve seen, first-hand, what it has done to build and nourish my community. I find comfort knowing that, in congruence with the expansion of green energy, West Virginia will find its future through sustainable tourism.

Hannah Garland

While I was abroad in Ireland, I had the chance to visit Belfast where I saw the impact of the culture and ecosystem of a place. Belfast stood out to me because there was a cultural and political divide that ended with a ceasefire (not a peace agreement) in the 1990s, what is known by many as “The Troubles.” Even though there was a ceasefire, the cultural and political divide can still be felt and seen throughout the city. I went on various guided tours, with various tour guides, each of whom gave us their interpretation of “The Troubles”. While on the tours, I visited bombing sites, seeing firsthand where the fight began, and where the community has found peace, in “The Peace Wall.” It was an enlightening experience to hear and see the history of the city which still very much shapes the culture today; a place where men and women refuse to shake each other’s hands.

At the end of one of the tours, my tour group went to an education center where former prisoners who were once in paramilitary organizations created an after-school program for young boys and girls, a place where they can unlearn their hatred for one side or the other. I experienced their education programs firsthand, immersing myself in a culture that is so deeply divided.

Nevertheless, within the heart of Belfast, the divide seemed almost traceless to me as I observed the locals enthralled in their daily activities. Belfast is a city that can come together despite deep rooted differences. Experiencing the dichotomy of the city and its people was powerful, educational, and important for understanding the locals and their vibrant enclaves within the city.

Lolya McWest

Last December, I visited a city called Kpalimé in Togo. While hiking in the area, I was mesmerized by the beautiful scenery, the indigenous animals, and the gorgeous waterfalls. My family and I were guided through the region, and we visited a botanical garden maintained by the locals. The plants in the botanical garden were said to be medicinal and had various health benefits. At the end of the tour, we were led to a shop selling some of the roots and leaves from the botanical garden and then to a local gallery to see and possibly purchase art made with plant-based paint. Kpalimé’s economy was being stimulated, small businesses were flourishing, the environment was taken care of, and cultural practices were being shared. I did not realize it then but looking back I see how tourism benefited that rural community. My experience in Togo opened my eyes to sustainable tourism and development, and I know this is the field I want to pursue.

Dominic Gialdini

In February 2020, just before Italy began its country-wide COVID lockdown, I spent a month interacting with local stakeholders (mostly accommodation providers, tourism offices, and municipal representatives) of the Via Francigena in the Valle d’Aosta region. In the shadows of Mont Blanc, this thousand-year-old trade and pilgrimage route spanning Canterbury to Rome follows a dramatic altitude drop from the Great Saint Bernard Pass to a valley that has been inhabited since before the Roman Empire. My purpose was to investigate stakeholders’ perspectives on the route’s sustainability and resilience for my master’s thesis. While conflicting views were discovered, locals generally expressed the socio-cultural value that the path has by virtue of allowing for cross-cultural interactions with pilgrims and trekkers, the increased attention to trail maintenance due to the valorization of the route, and the potential for economic inducement in small communities as a result of visitor presence. My experience with this form of slow tourism caused me to develop a growing interest in Cultural Routes of the Council of Europe Program, and I look forward to exploring some of the other 33 routes in the future!

Lindsey Neuwirth

As a college student studying the environment and environmental practices, I’ve always been aware of the importance of sustainability and being eco-friendly. Traveling has always been a great passion for me, but it wasn’t until recently that I realized how the tourism industry plays such a vital role in the sustainability of our planet. After visiting Holbox Island in Mexico, I experienced how destinations play a major role in this movement. The hotel my family and I stayed at was one of the most incredible, eco friendly places I have ever visited. From metal straws, to no plastic, to clean energy and water, it was outwardly noticeable that sustainability was something this place valued. As I walked around the town I noticed almost no cars, dirt roads, and every other restaurant and hotel displaying the same environmental practices. It then hit me that sustainability was something that was engraved into the culture of this small island. Without these practices, the island would not last long. Coming from a place where habits like this are few and far between, I realized how easily visitors could ruin all the beauty and culture the island and its people embodied. It became important to me that people are aware of how fragile places like that are. This inspired me to bridge my studies of the environment with my passion for travel, so I could take part in the movement of marketing destinations to ensure that they are respected and treated with care by tourists.

Rebecca Morris

I became interested in sustainable tourism because it looks at the travel industry from a broader lens. At GW, the International Institute of Tourism Studies focuses on responsible tourism and job creation for indigenous tribes. GW has also conducted research on urban walkability and tourism, developing strategies to enhance tourism while improving quality of life for residents. That is why I enjoy this field –you can get involved in this work through public policy, cultural heritage, consulting, and a variety of other ways. I have been interested in travel for most of my life, and I like the idea of helping shape the industry responsibly for the next generation.

Rob Carter

2015 was a trip for my lifetime. Cape Town, South Africa to Kruger National Park NE, of Johannesburg.

Tourism can help Cape Town S.A by providing jobs at local eateries and wineries. Fishermen brining in fresh seafood to sell to the chefs right at the market. To be prepared to perfection for the traveler.By providing Safaris in the country at the dominate price it is per traveler, it allows tourism companies to get creative and to have all hands-on deck for an exceptional Travelers experience. The sculptures we bought from local artist were all made from wild teak.

 

“We rely confidently on Solimar's deep technical experience and professionalism as tourism consultants. You always are exceeding our expectations.”
Leila Calnan, Senior Manager, Tourism Services Cardno Emerging Markets

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