Beyond Sustainability: A Global Study of Nature-based Solutions in Regenerative Tourism

As the UN Decade of Ecological Restoration begins in 2021, there is a need to reimagine the tourism industry as a key catalyst for positive social and environmental change. What does it mean for tourism to go beyond “sustaining” a place—but instead actively regenerate ecosystems, improve community well-being, and create better economic opportunities? How are communities and ecosystems made more resilient to crises—from COVID-19 to climate change—when tourism operators embrace nature as the solution? Regenerative travel and tourism—and this global study of nature-based solutions in tourism from the team at Solimar International—may hold the answers.

This study assessed and evaluated 30 tourism operators from around the world against the IUCN Global Standards for Nature-based Solutions, adapted to a tourism context with regenerative tourism practices centered as nature-based solutions. Utilizing academically rigorous methodology, this study sought to investigate the core factors that enable tourism operators to be more ecologically, socially, and culturally regenerative. Ultimately, this study recommends that five factors are key to shifting from “sustainable” to “regenerative” tourism, including centering community needs, improving ecosystem integrity, embracing diverse and inclusive business models, governing in a transparent and just manner, and enhancing conservation partnerships.

Spurred towards transformation by the COVID-19 crisis, regenerative tourism is a way for the industry to become more actively engaged in solving the many crises we face in the 21st century, from rising inequality to climate change. Rooted in Indigenous practices and ways of knowing, regeneration recognizes that human well-being cannot be divided from nature. By recognizing tourism destinations as living systems and working actively to improve their ability to thrive, regenerative tourism enterprises can help communities and ecosystems be more prepared for crises beyond COVID-19. This framework attempts to foreground notions of politics, power, justice, and equity in tourism development, embracing the very definition of regenerative as bringing new meanings forth again through healing of past wrongs in the systems we have inherited and seek to change.

This framework is designed to complement sustainable tourism criteria and certification schemes with guidance for businesses, destinations, DMOs, and tourism champions on a perpetual journey to becoming—in the words of one participant—“110% sustainable.” Different aspects of the business may be perpetually on this journey; but the core of regenerative tourism is taking a holistic approach to development to better center community needs and drive net gains in biodiversity, regardless of the location, size, or resources of the business.

Many regenerative resources are forthcoming – including full research reports, popular media articles, practical implementation toolkits, webinars, and more – so we invite you to add your name and email below to keep up to date on this innovative and exciting research effort from the Solimar International Team.

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Leila Calnan, Senior Manager, Tourism Services Cardno Emerging Markets

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