If sustainable tourism, which aims to counterbalance the social and environmental impacts associated with travel, was the aspirational outer limit of ecotourism before the pandemic, the new frontier is “regenerative travel,” or leaving a place better than you found it.
“Sustainable tourism is sort of a low bar. At the end of the day, it’s just not making a mess of the place,” said Jonathon Day, an associate professor focused on sustainable tourism at Purdue University. “Regenerative tourism says, let’s make it better for future generations.”
Regenerative travel has its roots in regenerative development and design, which includes buildings that meet the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design or LEED standards. The concept has applications across many fields, including regenerative agriculture, which aims to restore soils and sequester carbon.
“Generally, sustainability, as practiced today, is about slowing down the degradation,” said Bill Reed, an architect and principal of Regenesis Group, a design firm based in Massachusetts and New Mexico that has been practicing regenerative design, including tourism projects, since 1995. He described efforts like fuel efficiency and reduced energy use as “a slower way to die.”
“Regeneration is about restoring and then regenerating the capability to live in a new relationship in an ongoing way,” he added.