Tag: climate change

Tourist in sunglasses sits on a boat in Thailand surrounded by trees and nature

How Can Tourism Be Regenerative?

Last year, Solimar International’s Director of Conservation & Community Development, Chloe King, conducted a first-of-its-kind study of 30 tourism operators around the world. These tourism businesses—ranging from Destination Management Organizations to community-based homestay networks to high-end eco-lodges—were assessed via in-depth interviews and surveys to understand how centering nature within their business models enabled them to shift from “sustainable” to “regenerative” tourism practices. Led alongside researchers at the University of Edinburgh in the United Kingdom, this study did not seek to define what regenerative tourism is, but rather how tourism can be more regenerative by embracing nature as the solution. While “regenerative tourism” seems to be the latest buzzword in the industry, this study sought to ground our aspirations as an industry with practical examples from around the world.

Realigning Our Values with People and Nature

In 2022, our society—and the tourism industry embedded within it—is at a crossroads. The COVID-19 pandemic, once expected to bring about a sweeping “green” transformation of our economy, has failed to catalyze this transition, while further deepening inequality across the globe. As vaccine access remains unevenly distributed across the world, travelers from the Global North feel secure in their ability to travel to the Global South for a vacation, assured in the fact that their visits bring economic opportunities to those who may otherwise lack them. Meanwhile, carbon dioxide emissions worldwide—following a temporary steep drop in 2020—have rebounded, alongside the tourism industry that contributes an estimated 8% of global emissions each year.

Tourism is both a place-based and global industry: it has hyper-local impacts (providing job opportunities to local people) with global ramifications (contributing to climate breakdown that limits the ability of the same communities to adapt and secure a just future). In a stark illustration of this juxtaposition, a recent study found that each Antarctic tourist effectively responsible for melting 83 tonnes of snow. For too long, we have justified these impacts through the economic benefits that the tourism industry brings, once responsible for employing 1 in 10 people globally.

Two elephants crossing a road in a safari park
Less than .5% of the total annual tourism turnover is needed to fund a global network of protected areas. However, emissions from tourism significantly contribute to climate change impacts in the same destinations.

Tourism must begin to fundamentally realign itself with the people and nature it claims to serve, to both rectify the impact it has on our global climate while driving more than just economic gains in the destinations in which it operates. Tourism is more than just money: it can be an opportunity to protect nature and demonstrate its intrinsic value; it can bring people together towards a common vision, such as through the establishment of a DMO;  it can build social bonds, bridge cultures, and raise awareness; and it can bring greater agency to local communities, to bring the life they aspire for into existence.

Regenerative tourism has the potential to transform how we value the act of tourism in itself, beginning a shift from a “visitor economy” to a “resident economy”, where the needs and values of local people are placed above that of temporary visitors. Regenerative tourism seeks to place greater value on nature and human well-being than growth and profit through a whole-of-the-system, place-based, community-led, and environment-centered approach. These regenerative practices can also help to reconcile tourism’s impact on climate with its positive impact on place, by both increasing industry responsibility for reducing emissions while helping communities adapt to climate change impacts that are already underway.

The research we conducted, through in-depth interviews with 30 tourism operators around the globe, shows how this shift is possible.

Embracing Nature in the Regenerative Shift

A regenerative shift across all sectors of our modern economy—from construction to agriculture to transport—will be essential to addressing both climate breakdown and the destruction of wildlife across the globe. This past decade saw the hottest temperatures on record as more species of plants and animals were threatened with extinction than any other time in human history. The research is clear that from ocean to alpine forest—our global ecosystems that collectively absorb 56% of all human emissions each year—we cannot address climate change without protecting and restoring nature.

Nature-based solutions—defined as actions that protect, sustainably manage, or restore ecosystems to provide both biodiversity and human well-being benefits—will contribute a significant portion of total emission mitigation needed over the coming years (estimated at 5 to 11.7 GtCO2e per year by 2030). This must happen alongside deep and far-reaching decarbonization of industries like tourism. But the nature-based solutions utilized by the tourism industry do so much more than just absorb emissions from the atmosphere: they can help communities adapt to climate change, like mangrove forests protecting against storm surges; they can diversify business revenue and enhance destination resilience against crises like COVID-19; and they can protect the intrinsic or cultural values of nature that go beyond attempts at economic valuation, such as the traditional significance of a forest or the beauty of whale song.

humpback whale jumping with a nature reserve in the background
When we value both nature and tourism only in economic terms, we bury things that money cannot measure, such as intrinsic or cultural values that destinations carry.

By embracing nature in the regenerative shift, tourism can begin to center local communities and ecosystems in its response to global challenges like climate change. This will require deep and far-ranging discussions with local stakeholders to engage in conversation around what to protect, restore, and let go of as they strive towards a common and just future. Whether using tourism revenue to restore 200,000 hectares of once pristine wilderness or using tourists themselves as citizen scientists to monitor a small path of coral reef near a resort, centering nature will be key to the regenerative shift in actively improving destinations, rather than just sustaining them.

As the economist and Harvard University professor David Korten wrote:

“The only valid purpose of an economy is to serve life. To align the human economy with this purpose, we must learn to live as nature lives, organize as nature organizes, and learn as nature learns guided by reality-based, life-centered, intellectually-sound economics.”

Regenerative Tourism: Seeking Net Positive Impact on Destinations

By quantifying tourism only through its economic impact, we obscure other aspects that money cannot measure, from vibrant intercultural exchanges and friendships to the nature of collaborative partnerships capable of protecting vast ecosystems. The Regenerative Tourism Framework born from this research process seeks to provide a guide for tourism destinations that wish to measure the impact we must begin to achieve, as the planet warms and wildlife is lost at an alarming rate. Each of the Five Principles, which will be expanded upon in an upcoming white paper publication, are inspired by nature-based solutions and seek to guide tourism practitioners in the regenerative shift. The principles echo other research in this space, underscoring that tourism can no longer be “done” to local communities; it must be done “with and for” them.

Regenerative tourism framework with five principles for tourism practitioners, surrounded by the UN Sustainable Development Goal symbols
The Regenerative Tourism Framework, born from an academic study conducted by Chloe King at Solimar International, aims to guide tourism practitioners in their regenerative journey.

In asking how tourism can be regenerative, we are not arguing that tourism practitioners forgo all attempts at sustainability; efforts that reduce negative impacts, such as transitioning to renewable energy, reducing food waste, or recycling products will be essential in achieving the transition we need. Instead, a regenerative mindset requires simply asking the question: When I travel, or when I receive travelers, what can I do to make sure I have a net positive impact on nature and people in the destination?

Simply sustaining our current system will not be enough to address the scale of all that could be lost if we fail to act quickly. Tourism is capable of doing so much more than just providing economic benefits to a destination, and in fact measuring the other ways it positively contributes to place will be essential in building a more resilient and diversified industry. Regenerative tourism asks us to take a step back and see the bigger picture, and the ways in which the health of communities, nature, business, and visitors intertwine.

The COVID-19 crisis has demonstrated that many facets of the modern economy—interconnected borders, international travel, the office workspace—are not permanent features. With crisis comes an opportunity to reimagine tourism as what it can—and must—become.

If you are interested in reading our upcoming publication with the results from this research, including guidelines and examples of the Five Principles within the Regenerative Tourism Framework for tourism practitioners and destinations, please add your email to an announcement list here. A second blog will also later be published summarizing this report.

How Tourism can make Communities More Climate Resilient icebergs are at risk of melting

Climate change is not a future projection anymore. It belongs to the present, and tourism can be part of the solution. Learn about how tourism can make communities more climate resilient.

How Tourism can make Communities More Climate Resilient icebergs are at risk of melting

Rising sea levels, floods, biodiversity loss, tropical storms, and droughts are extreme weather events the world is experiencing nearly every day. Earth’s climate is undeniably changing and putting communities around the world at high risk. The past decade set a tragic record of being the warmest measured, and the average temperature increased by 1.2 degrees compared to pre-industrial levels. The effects of this change are becoming more visible as glaciers are melting causing sea levels to increase and natural catastrophes to take place more frequently. Although more efforts and investments are being done to decarbonize, global greenhouse gas emissions have continued to increase over the past few years, requiring more drastic and urgent actions for nations to become climate resilient. However, tourism can make communities more climate resilient

The effects of the changing climate can be observed worldwide, including in many popular tourism destinations. Some examples are Caribbean islands are increasingly in danger because of higher sea levels and tropical storms, horrible droughts in Africa are intensifying, and the Great Barrier Reef in Australia is losing its precious coral reefs thus risking its status as a UNESCO World Heritage SIte. 

The tourism industry depends on the quality of clear beaches, cities and nature to attract visitors. The tourism industry is at high risk from climate change. Unfortunately, the countries that are most dependent on tourism as a means for economic development are facing the greatest threats and challenges, with Small Island Development States (SIDS) being one of the most endangered regions.  

Nevertheless, the relationship between tourism and climate change is complex. Research shows tourism is responsible for 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions, mostly due to transportation. With the massive growth in tourism arrivals, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, and increasing long-distance trips, this development has persisted and is expected to increase even further. Thus, tourism is at risk due to the changing climate, but also contributes to the negative impacts on the environment, natural habitats and biodiversity. 

The communities dependent on tourism incomes conversely need the money for their survival while living with the negative impacts caused by the tourism industry. Thus, with climate change worsening, the need to become more climate resilient must be the ultimate goal for destinations to secure their precious environment and communities’ livelihood for the future. 

How tourism can make communities more climate resilient

The tourism sector has immense potential to be a role model in carrying out climate resilient initiatives. Fortunately, tourism is more than a mere industry – it is a dense network of interrelated stakeholders always open to collaborating to solve complex issues, such as climate change. By joining together and working side-by-side, tourism actors can mitigate their environmental footprints and help local communities and their respective natural areas. Ultimately, performing sustainable practices and spreading responsible knowledge will not only safeguard biodiversity, regulate the climate, and ensure life on Earth, but will also help communities – shaping them to be more climate resilient.

At Solimar International, we have always acknowledged that, when done properly, tourism can be a force for good. Sustainable tourism contributes to economically sustainable growth, while also sharing knowledge to empower communities and preserve their natural resources. After all, by striving to improve the destination and bringing it closer to its pure and untouched state, our conception of tourism goes beyond “sustainability” i.e. merely keeping the status quo. At Solimar, we are moving towards the regenerative tourism movement, recognizing that tourism should adopt an active role in making destinations better than they were found. Undeniably, climate change must be tackled now if we wish to guarantee the continuance of the tourism sector, attain the Sustainable Development Goals in 2030, and replenish the Earth.

How can tourism stakeholders increase climate change resilience? 

Integrating climate resilient initiatives into development strategies is necessary to prepare destinations and communities to brace for future disasters and climate change. There are plenty of ways to regenerate destinations, from investments for innovation and research, to design and planning. The World Bank Resilient Tourism Framework is a great guiding method to do so, illustrating five steps to build effective industry resilience.

 

Source: World Bank. 2020. Resilient Tourism: Competitiveness in the Face of Disasters. Washington, DC: World Bank.
Source: World Bank. 2020. Resilient Tourism: Competitiveness in the Face of Disasters. Washington, DC: World Bank.

More specifically, there are numerous industry-led and destination management examples of measures that prove that many in our sector have already been doing great work. Here are examples of regenerative tourism actions, which any tourism stakeholder can take inspiration:

1. Coral reconstruction and mangrove restoration efforts to regenerative destinations

These actions, as well as beach and oceans clean-up actions, are perfect examples of how the lodging sector, tour operators, DMOs, and local businesses can increase the protection of natural resources through conservation initiatives. Coral reefs and mangroves form part of our biodiversity, attract tourists, and most importantly, protect us against waves and storm surges. Check out how the Hilton Hotel is working towards environmental sustainability in Seychelles here.

How can tourism make communities more climate resilient? Source: Coral Restoration Foundation. Coral Reconstruction initiatives.
Source- Coral Restoration Foundation. Coral Reconstruction initiatives.

2. Investing in more resistant materials or shifting to more inland construction

Recent hurricanes in the Caribbean have demonstrated how higher sea levels and storms are increasingly threatening these delicate island ecosystems. Instead of building and designing the usual seaside infrastructures, it is time to rethink the business models and take into consideration damaging hazards and sea-level rise.

Source: Johnny Milano, The New York Times. The ‘Sand Palace’ in Mexico Beach, FL.
Source: Johnny Milano, The New York Times. The ‘Sand Palace’ in Mexico Beach, FL.

3. Decarbonize to level zero

Tourism must decarbonize to level zero to meet pledges made in the Paris Agreement, and reducing carbon emissions needs to become a strategic priority in the whole sector. With increasing technological advances and social innovation, alternative energy-efficient systems have become a reality and integrated into ecotourism and reduce ecological footprint.  The Future of Tourism Coalition has recently held an interesting webinar about preparing a climate action plan and measuring your carbon footprints.

4. Local sourcing, local sourcing, local sourcing.

Thinking local is key to increasing climate resilience. Not only tourists will find more authenticity in their experiences, but communities will also be brought to the forefront through the supply chain of any business (food, workers, products, traditions, and heritage). Moreover, this inevitably reduces carbon footprint and gives more opportunities to embrace the sustainable circle economy, provide support, training, and education.

5. Eliminate seasonality dependence

As tourism jobs are usually low-paid, efforts to get rid of seasonality dependence is one example to sustain the economy and empower the communities by providing long-lasting jobs instead of the usual limited seasonal contracts.

Do not forget that tourism would not exist without the extremely rich biodiversity we live in and depend upon. Climate change is everyone’s problem – and tourism can also be part of the solution. 

Solimar International has led several similar projects that are designed to help tourism businesses and institutions lower their environmental footprints and meet sustainability standards. In the project of the Sustainable Island Platform our goal is supporting innovative development for island territories with a focus on the blue economy and circular economy. Making those threatened communities less vulnerable to climate change is the aim that we follow while increasing the visibility of innovative business strategies that can help communities secure their livelihoods. If you think your business or destination also needs such support, contact us to find out how our expert team can help you.

The Sustainable Island Platform project
The Sustainable Island Platform project

Written by Lena Eckert and Amélie Keller

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