Beyond Sustainability: Regenerative Tourism and The Future of Island Nations

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Introduction

As the world is opening up again, it is more important than ever to examine economic opportunities for islands that relied heavily on the tourism industry. It is also important to ask a radical question: How can tourism help rather than hinder us to achieve ecological prowess, conservation, cultural resilience, profitability, and build back better for the future? The sector can be associated with the negative impacts of overtourism, and this blog seeks to explore how the industry can be transformed to create a positive future for islands across the world.

 

The Role of Tourism in the Development of Islands

Tourism plays a crucial role in catalysing the growth and development of island nations all over the world. In fact, it has been established that tourism accounts for more than one-quarter of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in a number of SIDS, and makes up 9% of the overall exports (US$61 billion).

Another important aspect of tourism is that, for island territories that are geographically isolated, a level of competitiveness is provided in the international market through the economic boost of tourism.

There are many opportunities and advantages provided by a robust and resilient tourism sector, including employment, the promotion of natural resources, and the development of the Blue and Green economies. Tourism contributes significantly to island nations’ GDP, which can eventually have a positive impact on overall standard of living. However, there are also some negative impacts of tourism which, in the long-term,  can undermine other sectors. For example, islands that rely too heavily on the presence of tourists for economic growth can sometimes neglect other crucial sectors, such as manufacturing, agriculture, and the arts. Also, tourism that is seasonal in nature tends to lead to economic disparity during the off-season, as there is a corresponding fluctuation in the disposable income that can be used to purchase local goods.

The aspect of tourism that causes the most concern is the environmental impact that tends to accompany it. Often, construction to facilitate the presence of tourists occurs along coastal areas, as these are seen as most attractive to visitors who wish to experience an island’s natural beauty. When this building activity occurs without corresponding consideration of environmental impacts, the destruction and degradation of coastal ecosystems and coral reefs can take place. There are other negative effects, which include soil erosion,  changes in water runoff, and potential storm damage because of their exposed location. Additionally, water scarcity is further exacerbated when golf courses are built on, and irrigation systems are prioritised for the maintenance of these spaces. Hotels can also place a strain on waste management facilities, further exacerbating any issues of solid waste disposal.

So, how do we create balance between what boosts an island economically, but also sustainably? The answer lies in the concept of regenerative tourism. 

What is Regenerative Tourism?

Regenerative tourism can be defined as  a sustainable way of travelling and discovering new places, with the main goal being for visitors to have a positive impact on their holiday destination, leaving it in a better condition than how they found it. The concept goes beyond “sustaining” the environment, and aims to actively revitalise and regenerate it. The concept is guided by a set of frameworks which establish multiple benefits for the communities, examples of such frameworks (as illustrated above) include:

  • The needs of the community are prioritised
  • The integrity of ecosystems and biodiversity is enhanced
  • Inclusive and diverse business models are embraced
  • There is just and transparent governance
  • Conservation partnerships are boosted

Regenerative tourism is firmly anchored in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. It therefore seeks a departure from seeking “sustainable” growth, to a more qualitative type of development that improves human health and wellbeing through ecosystems’ health. Couched within this goal is a resonant set of solutions that will form a foundation to rethink and rebuild the tourism industry. This approach will improve local economies, and preserve local cultures and biodiversity while offering “memorable, authentic life-changing experiences to the guests and allowing destinations to improve”

The Benefits of Regenerative Tourism

The United Nations have outlined some key benefits to pursuing activities and projects that exemplify regenerative tourism:

Exploring and integrated understanding and living-systems approach: This is the understanding, because everything is connected, the interactions between every stakeholder throughout the entire tourism value chain have an impact on each other and the entire ecosystem. This provides the opportunity for multiple co-benefits when these opportunities are explored.

Collaborative interaction: This creates  stimulating collaboration and partnerships between a broad range of island stakeholders from the government, the private sector, civil society, NGOs, academia, and the communities themselves. The benefit of this lies in the fact that the community that is likely to be the most impacted by the presence of visitors will be included in the planning process, and this provides the potential for a greater level of involvement from indigenous communities. 

Economic diversity: This is an important benefit for island communities, who can fall prey to an overreliance on a single sector when following the business model of traditional tourism. Implementing innovative and regenerative activities will create various income streams,and thereby decrease this level of reliance. There is also the benefit of increased resilience by diversifying between the different segments of the market – leisure vs. business and domestic vs. international. 

Enhanced inclusivity and equity: Regenerative tourism fosters greater possibilities for involvement of the local communities to strengthen the overall ecosystem, using their indigenous knowledge. Using the goods and services of local suppliers strengthens local economies, and reduces reliance on imported goods. 

The creation of transformational and inspirational experiences: Activities that responsively showcase the cultural heritage, folklore, cuisine, geographic phenomena and biodiversity of island communities can have truly beneficial effects on visitors. These experiences, because they represent unique aspects of cultures while simultaneously highlighting our common humanity, can spur personal growth and empathy.   Environmental responsibility: The beautiful and diverse island ecosystems will benefit from an improved level of  management of natural resources and biodiversity, as well as the protection of fragile landscapes and wildlife.

Cultural stewardship: Focus on regenerative tourism leads to a corresponding regeneration of local cultural heritage and island traditions. This, in turn, perpetuates local knowledge and wisdom for future generations.

Conclusion

There is a need for a radical re-imagining of the  tourism industry as a key catalyst for positive social, economic, and environmental change. It is possible for the sector to go beyond only sustaining a community, and instead form  a regenerative foundation of resilience.

This is one of the many topics that will be explored during this year’s Virtual Island Summit, and we would love to hear your voice as part of the conversation! 

Click here to register, and be a part of building a better future for islands!

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