In November, it was announced that one of the candidates for a COVID-19 vaccine was over 90% effective in preventing volunteers from contracting the virus. This news was a huge boost to those of us in the Travel & Tourism sector, with airline share prices soaring and tour operators seeing welcome lifts in searches and bookings. But, as we now look to a more promising future for the industry, we need to consider how travel post-vaccine can be a greener, smarter and less crowded affair. For me, in a post-vaccine world, the new frontier is ‘regenerative travel,’ or leaving a place better than we found it.
Winston Churchill famously said, “Never let a good crisis go to waste.” As the UK gradually comes out of lockdown and the news of an approved vaccine lifts the spirits of a nation, travel once again becomes a possibility. As we start moving again, regenerative travel is something we should all be thinking about. I urge everybody reading this post to leverage this unique moment in time, together pressing the reset button and changing travel for the better – for good. Ultimately, we all need to become more mindful of the fact that our holidays have a set of costs associated with them, which need to be paid by somebody. To those working in Travel & Tourism or to those looking to book their next break, let’s make our future travel choices more conscientious than before.
For so long, tourism success has been defined by growing the numbers — number of visitors, number of pounds spent, number of overnight stays... Even before this pandemic, there was a need for rebalancing. In 2021 and beyond, we should not be measuring success in solely economic terms, but against the wellbeing of the world, considering nature, happiness and community. We should be discussing the repositioning of travel as a means to re-engage local people in the positive power of tourism, especially those in certain parts of the world who are concerned with overtourism. Having a truly regenerative travel experience may be something for us to aspire towards, but some destinations have been on this path for a long time.
African countries, particularly those that depend on wildlife-based tourism, have long practised the principles of regenerative travel, advocating for a conscious, connected humanity. On one of my many trips to the continent, I learnt about Gamewatchers Safaris – an exceptional example of how a travel company can strive to ensure that the principles of regenerative travel are built in to maximise the benefits of tourism. They are committed to helping preserve Africa’s cherished wildlife and landscapes through ventures that also benefit the surrounding communities. Even during the pandemic, their ‘Adopt an Acre’ programme looked at how wildlife habitats and community livelihoods can be sustained during this turbulent time. People around the world were, and still are, being invited to adopt an acre of land to fund staff wages and land leases so that local families can continue receiving their income, in turn leading to the continued protection of precious wildlife and habitats. So far, they have had over 7,000 acres of land adopted, and those that adopt more than 30 acres have the entire amount credited towards a future safari.
And it’s not just Africa that exemplifies the thinking behind regenerative travel. In Puerto Rico, regenerative travel is in the island’s DNA. Puerto Rico has long recognised the importance of working hand in hand with locals to grow tourism in a meaningful manner, ensuring that communities flourish as a result. One of my favourite examples is Local Guest, a truly amazing, women-powered social enterprise and tour company which offers a variety of adventure-focused travel experiences, from caving to kayaking. Founders Carmen Portela and Monica Perez aim is to decentralise mass tourism in Puerto Rico, and direct visitors towards authentic culture and nature-rich communities, in turn giving sustainable support to locals who need it.
Determining what makes a place better, and who makes that decision, is an ongoing conversation. We need to reflect on 2020 and rethink our mission, repositioning from growing travel for the sake of the economy to creating an economy of meaning. This includes, among other things, creating more accessible connections between visitors and locals who share their passions. During this pandemic, many of us have discovered the value of supporting our local businesses — perhaps, we need to take this thinking with us on holiday. Moving forward, let’s work together to build back tourism better.