Tag: nature based solutions

Picture related to tourism can aid destinations in addressing climate change

According to forecasts from the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), the global tourism sector is anticipated to witness a substantial increase, with projections indicating a surge to 1.8 billion tourists annually by 2030. This growth underscores the pivotal role of tourism destinations in driving economic progress. However, the sector’s expansion is poised to be significantly impacted by the effects of climate change, both directly and indirectly.

This is the sunset view from the badaban ecocottage
Sunset view from Badaban EcoCottage (Photo Credit: Greater Sundarbans Ecotourism Society)

Tourism can exert a substantial influence on the environment, contributing to pollution, waste generation, and harm to local ecosystems and biodiversity. Meanwhile, climate change introduces additional challenges such as flooding, land degradation, loss of natural habitats, saltwater intrusion, diminished food resources, and heightened storm intensity. Tourism businesses can be catalysts in either exacerbating climate change-induced challenges or champions in helping communities and destinations address these threats head-on.

The pressing issue of climate change in destinations, exacerbated by escalating greenhouse gas emissions and resultant global warming, will be a defining challenge for the tourism industry over the next several decades. Consequently, the tourism sector bears a significant responsibility to champion environmental preservation and adopt sustainable practices to effectively address the challenges posed by climate change in the realm of travel and tourism.

In this blog post, we will discuss the significance of tourism in helping destinations address climate change. Specifically, we will explore tourism for climate change adaptation and mitigation, its role in decreasing carbon emissions, its impact on local economies, and its potential for promoting environmental education and awareness.

Tourism Destinations for Climate Change Adaptation and Mitigation

Climate change presents escalating challenges to our planet. To effectively tackle this urgent issue, it is essential to implement two critical strategies: Climate Change Mitigation and Climate Change Adaptation.

Climate change mitigation endeavors to curtail greenhouse gas emissions, where the travel and tourism sectors play a pivotal role. The most important approach involves reducing energy consumption through enhanced energy efficiency measures and the adoption of renewable energy sources. Offsetting carbon emissions via carbon offset programs can also be an important strategy and one that has grown substantially in interest and scale over the past decade. However, it is important to note the significant criticism that carbon offset programs have received, and thus such programs must also come alongside significant and meaningful reductions in emissions from the source.

Numerous tourism enterprises are actively engaging in these initiatives. In regions like the Maldives, distant travel destinations, air travel significantly contributes to the tourism industry’s carbon footprint. Attaining Net Zero emissions poses a formidable challenge due to the complexity of eliminating carbon emissions. Nevertheless, some establishments in the Maldives, like Soneva Resorts, have implemented a successful mitigation strategy that targets both direct and indirect carbon emissions. Consequently, certain resorts strive for carbon neutrality by leveraging sustainable energy resources and participating in carbon offset programs.

Climate change adaptation, on the other hand, aims to fortify the resilience of societies, economies, and ecosystems against the existing impacts of climate change. Within the travel and tourism industries, efforts are directed towards safeguarding vulnerable ecosystems and enhancing adaptability. These efforts encompass activities such as coral reef restoration, ecosystem conservation, and sustainable tourism practices.

Many tourism establishments are embracing these adaptation strategies. As an illustration, they delve into pioneering coral restoration methods, such as the initiatives undertaken by Reefscapers. This organization collaborates with resorts to execute management and restoration strategies aimed at rejuvenating marine ecosystems and enhancing the appeal of tourist destinations. Additionally, these companies are actively involved in educating and supporting local communities to raise awareness and bolster resilience against climate change effects.

It is important to note that climate change adaptation and mitigation are two sides of the same climate coin: strategies must be advanced in both in order to secure a viable and just future for humanity. The travel and tourism sector actively contributes to addressing and alleviating climate change by employing diverse strategies. These include enhancing energy efficiency, implementing nature-based solutions initiatives to both absorb carbon and address societal challenges and promoting ecosystem conservation. Collaboration among tourism enterprises, local communities, and governmental bodies is deemed crucial in fostering effective climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts.

* (Check Climate Change and Tourism: How Destinations Are Responding to the Climate Crisis (Part 1 & Part 2) other Solimar pages as well)

Contributing to the Reduction of Carbon Footprints while Preserving Nature

Climate change exerts a diverse range of impacts on various destinations, spanning from heightened occurrences of extreme weather events to shifts in natural landscapes. Prominent tourist sites are contending with unprecedented challenges, with coastal tourism proving especially susceptible to the repercussions of climate change. The imminent menace of rising sea levels poses a direct threat to coastal regions. Essentially, escalating temperatures, adverse weather patterns, and increasing sea levels are gradually eroding the essence of historical landmarks and cultural assets. Nonetheless, tourist areas can undertake diverse initiatives to curb carbon emissions while conserving the environment.

What are the various efforts being made to save nature and reduce carbon footprints?

1. Nature-based Solutions

Nature-based Solutions which is based on climate change
Nature-based Solutions (Credit: IUCN)

One first is Nature-based Solutions. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), a global entity dedicated to nature conservation and sustainable natural resource management, has championed the concept of nature-based solutions. These solutions encompass actions that safeguard, sustainably manage, and restore nature while simultaneously addressing societal challenges. Nature-based solutions yield a plethora of benefits. They aid in climate change adaptation, mitigate disaster risks by offering protection against storm surges, combat coastal erosion, and even reduce insurance costs.  

Nature-based Solutions (NbS) play a key role in both mitigation and adaptation. When considering mitigation strategies, NbS offers significant potential for carbon capture and storage. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) notes that by 2030, NbS could contribute 30-37% of the cost-effective mitigation required to limit warming to below 2°C. NbS can effectively combat the effects of climate change by sequestering and storing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere through ecosystem preservation and restoration efforts.

When considering adaptation strategies, Natural-based Solutions (NbS) provide crucial support for enhancing resilience against climate-related risks. For instance, coastal ecosystems such as blue-green algae and coral reefs in the Maldives play a vital role in safeguarding communities against storm surges and coastal erosion, thereby mitigating the impacts of severe weather conditions. These ecosystems offer essential services that can aid in climate change adaptation.

Tourism enterprises can advance Nature-based Solutions by investing in them to reap economic benefits, enrich tourists’ experiences, address climate change risks, fulfill social obligations, and collaborate with local communities. This strategic approach not only promotes environmental preservation but also bolsters competitiveness.

Moreover, Nature-based Solutions contribute to improving air and water quality, reducing disease transmission associated with habitat loss, and nurturing educational and psychological well-being. Particularly in island locales, the adoption of natural moisture retention methods can amplify soil moisture absorption and decrease marine pathogens. By embracing them, the dual objectives of reducing carbon emissions, conserving nature, and supporting local communities are efficiently met.

In the Maldives under the USAID Climate Adaptation Project, Solimar International recently supported the Ministry of Tourism in creating the first Climate Action Plan for Tourism in the history of the country. This Action Plan outlines concrete steps for tourism businesses to both mitigate and adapt to climate change through strategies like incorporating community priorities, diversifying business revenue, and investing in NbS via innovative climate financing schemes. You can read the full Action Plan here. 

* (Read the 2022 White Paper by Solimar International on effective nature-based solutions in tourism.)

2.  Supporting and Diversifying Local Economies

Tourism plays a pivotal role in bolstering local economies, thereby contributing to greater economic resilience. However, tourism can also cause dependence on the industry and make destinations more vulnerable to shocks like climate change. Thus, the importance of diversifying local economies through tourism initiatives is key.  Encouraging the consumption of locally sourced goods and services can lead to tangible enhancements in local economies. This approach not only generates employment opportunities within communities but also elevates income levels, fostering sustainable development.

The Maldives is one such successful example of climate change adaptation through the integration of community needs and priorities.

This is the Islands of Horsburgh
The Islands of Horsburgh (Credit: The Horsburgh Atoll Tourism Alliance)

Based on the Maldives Tourism Climate Action Plan, the allure of the Maldives, characterized by its pristine beaches and vibrant coral reefs, faces threats from climate change. Presently, many resorts and guesthouses in the Maldives encounter challenges in sourcing local produce, often resorting to external markets for essentials like tuna or seafood. While this may seem financially prudent initially, these supply chains are susceptible to climate change-induced disruptions, leading to escalating costs over time.

However, by emphasizing community experiences and locally procured goods, the Maldives can effectively ensure local destination resilience while revitalizing its local economy. Interdependencies among food security, climate change, and biodiversity are evident in the Maldives. Local resorts in the Maldives have championed locally sourced products through initiatives like local contract farming in regions such as Addu Atoll. Collaborations like the one between Addu Atoll and the Addu Meedhoo Corporate Society have facilitated local food production. The Maldivian government has also pledged support by providing agricultural resources and requisite training to cultivate selected crops on 40 key agricultural islands.

This is the picture of the community and culture in the Maldives
Community and Culture in the Maldives (Credit: The Horsburgh Atoll Tourism Alliance)

Integrating permaculture projects can tangibly sequester carbon, leverage carbon markets, cater to hotel guests, or introduce value-added products for sale in hotel establishments or spas. These endeavors have curtailed food miles and hotel carbon emissions, conserved local culinary heritage, and agricultural customs, and created employment opportunities for marginalized groups.

Moreover, concerning fisheries in the Maldives, numerous companies have collaborated with local communities to supply proteins like fish from neighboring islands. By engaging local fishermen to establish new markets for previously exported marine products, these companies have mitigated carbon emissions, facilitated robust supply chains, and promoted sustainable fishing practices.

The tourism sector plays a pivotal role in rejuvenating local economies by nurturing enterprises and human resources while safeguarding the environment. Tourism enterprises can bolster local economies by offering employment to community members and preserving local culture and natural habitats. This concerted effort not only addresses climate change but also cultivates a sustainable tourism model, fostering the development of local communities.

* (Check the Maldives Tourism Climate Action Plan to find out what is being done under the USAID Climate Adaptation Project in the Maldives.) 

Promoting Environmental Education and Awareness in Tourism Destinations

Environmental education is crucial in enlightening travelers about the significance of environmental conservation and fostering a consciousness for sustainable travel practices. Tourism operators can cultivate awareness among travelers by integrating environmental education programs before or after their journeys and disseminating information on sustainable travel practices.

Fundamentally, tourism is a conduit for advancing environmental education and consciousness-raising efforts. By integrating components that educate travelers on local heritage, ecosystem preservation measures, and sustainable lifestyles, individuals can develop a deeper understanding and appreciation for the global environment.

Let’s look at specific regions like the Horsburgh Atoll and the Bangladesh Sundarbans, where we witness exemplary cases of environmental stewardship and sustainable practices.

1. Horsburgh Atoll (Maldives) (Horsburgh Atoll Tourism Alliance)

This picture is about Horsburgh Atoll
Horsburgh Atoll (Credit: The Horsburgh Atoll Tourism Alliance)

The Horsburgh Atoll, nestled in the Maldives, represents a treasure trove combining natural splendor and historical significance. With a unique ecosystem and historical heritage, the atoll is safeguarded and nurtured through environmental education initiatives. Emphasizing sustainable tourism, Horsburgh ensures the conservation of the atoll’s beauty while promoting eco-friendly tourism activities and fostering awareness of sustainable practices within marine protected areas. Furthermore, visitors can engage with local communities, delving into their distinct traditions and craftsmanship, such as intricate woven mats, wood carvings, and traditional Maldivian lacquerworks. These immersive experiences not only enhance cultural understanding but also underscore the interconnectedness and vitality of ecosystems.

Under the USAID Climate Adaptation Project, Solimar has supported the creation of the first Destination Management Organization (DMO) in the Maldives: The Horsburgh Atoll Tourism Alliance (HATA). HATA is a dedicated group of local tourism stakeholders committed to ensuring that tourism in the Horsburgh Atoll contributes positively to community benefits, environmental awareness, and climate adaptation. United by a shared vision, HATA brings together local businesses, conservationists, and community leaders to promote sustainable tourism practices that protect the atoll’s unique ecosystem while enhancing the livelihoods of its inhabitants. By enabling local communities to manage tourism on their terms and ensuring tourism is a force for the environmental education of future visitors, this model ensures that locally relevant solutions can be designed and funded to support climate adaptation efforts. 

* (Check Maldives’ first DMO, The Horsburgh Atoll Tourism Alliance to discover the enchanting Horsburgh Atoll in the Maldives)

2. Bangladesh Sundarbans (Greater Sundarbans EcoTourism Society)

This picture is discovering the Sundarban forests
Discovering the Sundarbans (Credit: Greater Sundarbans EcoTourism Society)

The Sundarbans region prioritizes alternative income sources to forest resource harvesting and ecosystem restoration endeavors. Exploring the forest, engaging with the local communities, and partaking in guided nature tours like forest hikes and boat trips are more popular among the activities available, all while lodging in environmentally-conscious accommodations. Through active participation in ecosystem revitalization projects, like planting native mangrove saplings, tourists directly contribute to enhancing the local ecosystem and partake in activities with positive impacts. Environmental education and awareness are fostered through immersive nature and cultural expeditions, providing interpretive knowledge on herbal plants, wildlife, and forest traditions during guided forest treks. Cultural walking tours enable visitors to explore local landmarks, temples, and cultural performances, including traditional dances and songs, thereby immersing them in the rich tapestry of Bangladesh’s coastal culture. 

The Munda people, an ethnic community inhabiting the Sundarbans mangrove forest region, maintain a profound bond with their natural surroundings and cultural legacy. Despite such virtues, this community faces obstacles such as restricted access to microfinance, benefits, and jobs, impeding their ability to adapt. In coastal Bangladesh, grappling with the effects of climate change, they encounter difficulties obtaining resources and livelihood opportunities. These challenges are often intensified during disasters such as cyclones, tidal surges, etc., that reduce agricultural and other production. Additionally, initiatives to aid them encounter financial limitations, impacting their capacity to maintain their livelihoods and access government support.

However, by engaging with this community, opportunities exist to introduce educational initiatives, and resource and capacity development projects that can facilitate community advancement. Moreover, endorsing sustainable business practices that capitalize on their distinctive local ecological knowledge, expertise, and traditions, along with partaking in Munda festivals and cultural gatherings, can bolster appreciation for their ethos and heritage. This approach nurtures mutual respect, opens avenues for their seamless integration within the broader local community, and reduces racial gaps. Consequently, visitors will be able to discover a cottage managed by the Munda community and learn about The Greater Sundarbans EcoTourism Society’s contribution to branding these cottages. This initiative aims to provide tourists with a genuine indigenous experience, promoting a better understanding of the interconnected relationship between local communities and their surroundings.

In tackling the challenges posed by climate change, the tourism sector can significantly contribute by empowering marginalized groups who often encounter social marginalization. By involving these communities, they can secure livelihoods and actively participate in climate resilience endeavors, thus improving their living standard. The pivotal role of the Greater Sundarbans region in supporting these endeavors cannot be understated.

* (Check out the Bangladesh Ecotourism and Conservation Alliance website  to discover more about the USAID Ecotourism Activity project in and around the Sundarbans Reserved Forest through the development, management, and marketing of sustainable tourism)

This picuture is the Sundarban Tiger in the forest.
The Sundarban Tiger (Photo Credit: Vignesh, Pexels)

Underscoring the significance of sustainable development through environmental education is imperative to strike a harmonious balance between local economic progress and environmental conservation. These initiatives play a pivotal role in fostering the sustainable growth of local communities and offering travelers a glimpse into the region’s distinctive culture and natural allure. By championing climate change awareness, preserving indigenous ecosystems and cultures, and providing immersive encounters, these endeavors significantly enrich the travel experience. 



This picture is the Badaban EcoCottages
Badaban EcoCottages (Photo Credit: Greater Sundarbans EcoTourism Society)

Another example of how locally relevant solutions can empower climate change mitigation and adaptation is the Sundarbans EcoVillages situated in the Sundarbans region of Bangladesh. The Sundarbans EcoVillages comprise multiple villages or communities rather than a singular location. This initiative revolves around community-based tourism, empowering residents to generate diverse sources of income from tourism activities instead of depending on unsustainable resource extraction from the Sundarbans for their livelihoods. By establishing eco-tourism initiatives rooted in community values, the region has transformed into a destination that encourages community involvement and enables visitors to engage deeply with the Sundarbans’ ecological and cultural marvels for extended durations.

Moreover, the communities serve as a hub for unique encounters, educational interactions, and cultural immersion, fostering a profound bond between the community and the natural environment. This community-based tourism concept actively promotes rural advancement and biodiversity conservation, offering guests various programs to rejuvenate the ecosystem. For instance, visitors can aid in ecosystem conservation by purchasing local artworks or engaging in a tree-planting initiative to cultivate mangroves around the EcoVillages.

These endeavors not only empower travelers to diminish their carbon footprint but also yield a positive impact in combating climate change, including mitigating global warming.

Conclusion: The Crucial Role of Tourism in Combating Climate Change

This picture is the Spotted deer in Sundarbans national park in Bangladesh
Spotted deer in the Sundarbans (Photo Credit: nicolasdecorte, istock)

In conclusion, the tourism sector holds significant potential in the fight against climate change. By emphasizing sustainable travel, reducing carbon footprints, backing local economies, and fostering environmental awareness, tourism enterprises actively contribute to environmental protection and climate change mitigation.

Also, tourism plays a pivotal role in climate change mitigation by bolstering local economies, preserving ecosystems, advocating environmental education, and endorsing sustainable tourism practices. The tourism industry can effectively combat climate change by championing positive environmental impacts while fostering community and environmental well-being.

Nonetheless, the sustainable future of tourism hinges on a collaborative effort between travelers and industry stakeholders. By opting for eco-friendly accommodations, embracing low-impact transportation, and making sustainable travel decisions, individuals can aid in building resilient destinations. Prioritizing community welfare and minimizing carbon emissions are crucial to achieving sustainable development goals.

The dynamic tourism landscape necessitates a transition towards responsible and environmentally conscious travel practices. Embracing sustainability, fortifying destination resilience, and enriching traveler education are key elements in safeguarding the future of the tourism sector. Today’s decisions will shape tomorrow’s travel experiences as we confront the challenges of climate change.

By comprehending the intricate interplay between climate change and tourism, we envision a future where exploration and conservation coexist, fostering widespread appreciation for the Earth’s natural wonders. 

We must all work together to protect the future of our planet.

polar ice caps climate change

In part one of this series, we discussed how tourism and climate change are inextricably linked. Nature-based tourism is becoming increasingly vulnerable to changing weather patterns, while the nature of tourism itself contributes 8% of global emissions. The landmark Glasgow Declaration on Climate Action in Tourism – launched at COP26 – urged destinations and the tourism industry to reduce carbon emissions by 50% before 2030, and reach Net Zero as soon as possible by 2050. Solimar Internationa’s recent white paper publication echoed this commitment, designing Five Principles for tourism businesses to invest in Nature-based Solutions to respond to the causes and consequences of climate change (see photo). In addition to a mitigation pathway of measuring and reducing emissions, it is imperative for governments and businesses to simultaneously invest in climate change adaptation – using tourism as a means to build, finance and sustain climate resilient destinations.

Five Principles for Effective Nature-based Solutions in Tourism from Solimar International’s report

Five Principles for Effective Nature-based Solutions in Tourism from Solimar International’s report Climate Action through Regeneration: Unlocking the Power of Communities and Nature through Tourism

The World Economic Forum (2020) estimated that over half of global GDP, US $44 trillion, is potentially threatened by loss of nature and biodiversity, while the transition to a nature-positive economy could create 395 million jobs by 2030, or around one fifth of the total projected increase in global labor force (World Economic Forum, 2020). Global investments in NbS already surpassed US $133 billion in 2020—only 14% of which came from private finance (UNEP, 2021a; UNEP and IUCN, 2021). The UN State of Finance for Nature report 2021 argues this investment must triple by 2030 if we are to meet global climate and biodiversity goals.

The second in this article series showcases how we can increase investment in nature in destinations around the world–including those that we support through our international development projects–to respond to the consequences of climate change by investing in actions that will protect and restore nature and communities.

The Sundarbans Reserve Forest – Bangladesh 

The Sundarbans Reserved Forest in Bangladesh is the largest mangrove forest on Earth, home to the Bengali tiger and hundreds of bird, fish, mammal, and reptile species. Spanning three wildlife sanctuaries across 317,950 hectares, including Ramsar and World Heritage Sites, the Sundarbans provides sustainable livelihoods for millions of people and act as a shelter belt to protect communities from storms, cyclones, tidal surges, and seawater intrusion.

Sunderbands reserve forest in Bangladesh

The Sundarbans Reserve Forest in Bangladesh. Photo by Chloe King

A total of 7.79 million people live in the Sundarbans Impact Zone, with about 28 percent of people from this zone directly dependent on the Sundarbans for their livelihoods, including as woodcutters, fishermen, and gatherers of honey, leaves, and grass. However, according to a recent study, Bangladesh lost 73 percent of mangrove forest cover since the 1960s, with only 11 percent of the country remaining forested (Bangladesh Forest Inventory). Nearly 2.5 million people depend upon the SRF for their livelihoods (Gopal and Chauhan, 2018), and the mangrove forest naturally shields millions from increasingly erratic weather events, such as Cyclone Amphan that hit the coast in 2020, the most powerful to strike Bangladesh in 20 years (AlJazeera, 2020). Unsustainable development, such as the Ramsar Coal Fired Power Plant, under construction only 4km away from the buffer zone of the SRF may provide jobs, but ultimately risk undermining the natural climate protection the SRF offers (Chowdhury, 2017). 

USAID/Bangladesh, in partnership with the Bangladesh Ecotourism and Conservation Alliance (BECA) implemented by Solimar International and the Government of Bangladesh, is currently focusing on interventions in and this iconic tourism destination and arguably most important protected area. By ensuring that tourism develops sustainably and is better distributed to local communities, this project hopes to reduce pressure on natural resource extraction, while also deterring environmentally destructive industries from developing around the periphery of the reserve. The communities living around the periphery of the last great mangrove forest cannot afford to lose the living lungs of the Earth. Without nature and wildlife, humanity can neither address the climate crisis as a whole, nor save those who are most vulnerable to its consequences. 

map of the sundarbands reserve forest

Climate Change Adaptation in the Maldives and Sri Lanka

Climate risks in the Maldives and Sri Lanka are growing in frequency and intensity. Sea level rise, coastal storm surges, and flooding pose a significant threat to the Maldives, where more than 80% of the land area is less than one meter above sea level. Flooding and drought in Sri Lanka are among many of the consequences of climate change that negatively impact the most important elements of Sri Lanka’s economy. For these reasons, both countries have policy frameworks in place that identify climate change risks and prioritize adaptation strategies.

The USAID Climate Adaptation Project (CAP) is a five-year project in the Maldives and Sri Lanka where its purpose is to enhance the adaptive capacities of the public and private sectors and local communities to respond to the impact of climate change. The first year of the activity (2022) is focused on the Maldives, and Solimar International is leading the private sector engagement for the project. CAP will help identify and scale up solutions to climate-related challenges, strengthen governance to address climate-related risks, and improve access to high-quality information for decision-making to reduce vulnerability to climate change. Solimar will support this work by identifying innovative solutions to adaptively manage climate-related risk through market-driven private sector and community engagement.

Tourism operators in the Maldives have the unique ability to take advantage of increased interest in and funding for Nature-based Solutions for climate mitigation, while simultaneously utilizing these same solutions to respond to societal challenges and help their respective destinations adapt to the realities of climate change. Tourism can play an important role in helping communities adapt to this new reality and build resilience to future risks. For example, many of the resorts and tourism businesses in the Maldives are already investing in coral reef restoration through organizations such as Reefscapers. However, interviews with businesses revealed that this restoration work is not being done in a consistent or effective manner, with lack of national policy guidelines for tourism operators.

coral reefs threatened by climate change

Coral reef ecosystems in the Maldives are threatened by climate change and coastal tourism development. A more sustainable industry can help to mitigate both of these threats. Photo by Chloe King

An example of nature based solutions include mangrove tourism projects. On the Maldives’ Huvadhoo Atoll, mangroves were covered with sand to reduce mosquito populations; however, flooding also increased as a result. Local communities pushed for restoration and the construction of eco-huts which linked tourism and mangrove restoration. Solimar is exploring opportunities for destination management at other mangrove sites in the Maldives, linking mangrove ecotourism to support conservation. These models of nature based solutions can be further explored to link tourism and climate change adaptation.

Another opportunity for tourism to be involved in climate adaptation includes creating structures that protect and nourish sand and shorelines in ways that are nature-based and nature-positive. For example, living sea walls can be created as a blend of hard engineering seawall solutions that foster growth in coral and other marine life. This could offer an opportunity to resorts in the Maldives that are looking to invest in sea walls to create more environmentally-friendly and adaptive solutions.

Are you a tourism business or destination with innovative ideas for climate adaptation? Are you financing nature restoration or protection in new or exciting ways? Take our survey here for a chance to be a featured business in an upcoming white paper publication: https://tinyurl.com/enterprise-nbs-survey

By Shivya Nath, Alexandria Kleinschmidt, Annie Combs, and Chloe King

a lodge that utilizes nature based solutions

Solimar International’s Director of Conservation & Community Development, Chloe King, has published her White Paper: Climate Action through Regeneration: Unlocking the Power of Communities and Nature through Tourism. Chloe worked alongside Senior Sustainability Consultant, O’Shannon Burns and organizations Regenerative Travel and The Long Run on a year-long research project that sought to determine how tourism can be made into a more regenerative practice by embracing nature-based solutions. 

The paper identifies Five Principles to Develop Effective Nature-Based Solutions that highlight the connectedness between travel businesses, nature, and local communities. This article summarizes the Five Principles and how they interact to make tourism a more environmentally friendly, culturally inclusive, and economically sustainable industry. If you would like to read the full white paper, please visit this link to download: https://bit.ly/3Q3T4Qx

The Five Principles of Regenerative Tourism

1 .Centering Community Needs First

The first Principle to Develop Nature-Based Solutions is centering community needs first. The most important piece of this principle is the ability to build a “collective path forward,” which establishes a relationship between a travel business and local communities that is founded on a mutual understanding of the intrinsic value of nature and a duty to protect it for the greater good of both parties’ interests. The authors note that establishing a sense of place through community engagement can often become a large part of this first principle, because it creates a shared understanding of why preserving the landscape and its inhabitants is important.

Tanzania’s Chole Mjini Treehouse Lodge has helped to address locals’  health and education challenges, embodying Principle 1.

2. Improving Ecosystem Integrity and Biodiversity

Principle number two is centered around improving ecosystem integrity and biodiversity. Tourism companies can use their financial resources to protect and regenerate ecosystems at risk, ensuring that the landscapes they profit from remain as beautiful as they are today when the next generation inherits their operations. In fact, the authors note that just “0.5% of the annual tourism turnover would be needed to fund a complete network of protected areas.” If every tourism company on Earth devoted this small percentage of profits to protecting their local wildlife, they could preserve the ecosystems that travelers like us love to see. Tourism companies that are truly regenerative should be aware of this fact and should actively attempt to support carbon neutrality and biodiversity conservation initiatives in the areas where they do business.

Hotel Tranquilo Bay uses nature based solutions to run their beautiful rainforest lodge

In Panama, Hotel Tranquilo Bay uses a portion of its profits to benefit the conservation of nearby ecosystems, encompassing Principle 2.

3. Embrace Diverse and Inclusive Business Models

Tourism businesses must understand that diversity is key to long-term success. Businesses that develop with social responsibility, equity, conservation, and profit equally prioritized become protected against potential threats. Much like a diverse ecosystem, these “pro-diversity business models” provide a safety net when unforeseen challenges, like theCOVID-19 pandemic, which took a major toll on the industry, arises. A business that can evolve will survive. In addition, employees who work in diverse business environments that support social equity and cultural preservation become more engaged and stay with a company longer. In an industry that relies heavily on staff excellence, every great employee counts! It is also important that businesses consider catering to a wide array of traveler types. The wider a company’s target market is, the more diverse and, in turn, resilient, they become.

Blue Apple Beach Club in Colombia uses their business as a means to address social inequity, exemplifying principle 3.

4. Develop Transparent Governance Structures Accountable to All Stakeholders

This principle makes sure that locals get the same attention as wealthy stakeholders when tourism companies make decisions. Businesses should make sure that they foster relationships with local communities to create a long-term support system. To successfully do this, they must seek to understand the entire space, not just the tourism industry, in their destination. They should also give communities access to the cultural and natural resources that they want to protect. Developing a sense of place and understanding through experience is the best way to keep every stakeholder motivated to continue developing a regenerative tourism model.

In Mexico, Playa Viva is dedicated to co-evolving with the nearby community.

5. Enhance Regenerative Partnerships

The final principle emphasizes the importance of collaboration to regenerative tourism. Tourism companies should serve as a bridge between communities and the government to enhance social and ecological regeneration. Partnerships with NGOs and governmental entities help manage and monitor projects’ success. Without government involvement, it may be difficult to fully understand the effects of a regenerative tourism operation on both human and natural communities. Transparency is key to creating these partnerships. You can’t have a relationship without trust, so being honest about where you are and what you do is important when developing and maintaining valuable partnerships.

South Africa’s Samara Private Game Reserve promotes nature based solutoins

South Africa’s Samara Private Game Reserve has established strategic partnerships with SANparks, NGOs, and local communities to establish wildlife corridors in the region.

Hope for a Brighter Future in the Tourism Industry

Regenerative tourism practices that encompass these Five Principles have the potential to motivate an industry-wide shift toward a “triple bottom line” that values people, planet, and profit equally. Nature-based solutions offer a way for tourism companies to avoid favoring resource extraction and activities that increase pressure on fragile natural spaces to make a profit. These solutions help build businesses that benefit both the environment and the people that call it home. With regenerative tourism, locals, tourism companies, and travelers can feel confident that the trips they provide or purchase are making a positive impact. 

Having worked at Solimar for three years now, Chloe is excited that her research will help contribute to our mission. She told us that her “research attempts to merge regenerative thinking – a field that has drawn upon the vast and diverse array of Indigenous wisdom as seeing humanity as belonging to nature – with practical solutions that the [nature-based solutions] framework provides for tourism businesses seeking to address and adapt to climate change.” With environmental issues like increased storm frequency, sea level rise, and soaring temperatures threatening tourism operations worldwide, regenerative tourism models provide hope that travel can be used as a tool to help ecosystems remain resilient in a warming world. Chloe hopes to “use the Five Principles described in this research as a model to guide how we engage with communities from day one, starting by centering community needs first when designing effective nature-based solutions through tourism”.

We are so proud of Chloe and all her work to make the tourism industry a better place. We look forward to seeing what she does as our Director of Conservation and Community Development. Chloe is currently leading projects in the Maldives and Bangladesh, where she hopes to establish successful community tourism operations that encompass the five principles to develop nature-based solutions. Download the full version of Chloe’s White Paper here: https://www.regenerativetravel.com/whitepaper-climate-action/

Curious how to make regenerative travel work for your destination? Get in touch with Solimar.

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.

“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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