An approach that learns from nature to radically change tourism

What is regenerative tourism?

First, let us specify what regenerative tourism is not: it is not a trend, a type of tourism, or a different word for the same way of doing things.

Rather than “regenerative tourism,” it would be better to speak of a regenerative approach to tourism, which indicates a way of thinking about and doing tourism that aims to constantly create the conditions for life to be created and self-generated.

The concept of regeneration is not unique to tourism but is associated with various fields: it is discussed in agriculture, architecture, design, etc. Nor is it a recent invention: many local, ancestral, and indigenous practices are, in fact, regenerative without being so self-defined.

Regeneration is a concept spreading as an evolution of the sustainability paradigm

which—given the poor progress made by the SDGs since the 1990s—is now demonstrating inadequate to address current and future challenges. Therefore, to talk about regeneration and regenerative tourism requires a shift in mindset and paradigm: one that does not undo the efforts made to arrive at sustainability outcomes but starts from them to initiate virtuous circles of value creation that enable communities and ecosystems to self-regenerate.


What are the characteristics of regenerative tourism?

Regenerative tourism is a fascinating and complex approach. Below, we summarize the essential elements that characterize it, then highlight the differences that distinguish the regenerative approach to tourism from the sustainable approach.

Nature as subject

Nature becomes the bearer of interest in tourism, no longer just a backdrop. Regenerative tourism aims to be Nature Positive in that it contributes to actions that protect, enhance, restore and regenerate ecosystems. Nature-based solutions are an essential part of this approach.

Communities at the centre

Communities are put at the centre – in a capacity-building and empowerment process (thus beyond mere involvement) – that sees them reappropriate the model of tourism development they desire for their territories.

Tourism as an ecosystem

Tourism is not considered an industry or even a sector but an ecosystem. Destinations are living beings and, therefore, complex, dynamic, unique systems in which cooperation, not competition, wins.

Place-based approach

There are no replicable “regenerative solutions”: tourism must use a place-based (place-specific) approach, that is, one that identifies and responds to local needs and improves social, economic, and physical well-being in a given place. Each path to regeneration will be different based on the uniqueness of the place.

System change

Quoting Albert Einstein, “You cannot solve a problem with the same mind that created it” The regenerative approach aspires to change the system from extractive and energy-intensive to regenerative and self-organizing. This also implies questioning the current metrics of what “tourism success” means, asking whether this creates well-being for the place or is only the preserve of a few. In this new perspective, the value created by tourism in the territory-not only economic but also relational, cultural, etc. – must remain in the territory to generate further value.

What are the benefits of regenerative tourism?

Regenerative tourism is based on the idea that tourism should serve the territory rather than vice versa: in this way, it can generate benefits for the territories, the communities that inhabit them, and visitors.

One of the main benefits of regenerative tourism is creating economic, cultural, and social value that lasts over time. Indeed, this approach encourages the participation of local communities, operators, businesses, and visitors in ways that would not otherwise be contemplated, such as through volunteer activities by which the visitor can actively contribute to improving the habitat in the destination.

The benefits also extend to nature: regenerative tourism aims to regenerate ecosystems by offering alternative and collaborative financing for environmental restoration. Tourists can contribute financially to these initiatives, actively supporting nature conservation and regeneration.

Ultimately, it also benefits tourists, who have the opportunity to experience transformative journeys – that is, “travel experiences that enable people to enact meaningful and lasting changes in their lives, connecting travellers with their truest selves and others, cultivating a sense of purpose and belonging,” fostering a connection with local communities, nature and other visitors.

What are the differences between sustainable and regenerative tourism?

Sustainability does not challenge business as usual; it sustains it by trying not to do further damage. Regeneration, conversely, wants to move away from the logic of “doing less harm” and embrace that of positive impact. 

Moreover, sustainability tends to work in watertight compartments (the SDGs are an example), while regeneration focuses on the interconnections between them, seeking positive impact at the system level.

The most substantial difference, however, is that sustainability does not aim for the mindset and system change(what do we want to sustain?) required by the regenerative approach, which instead invites us to reconsider our role within a complex system, even questioning the infinite growth paradigm.

What is required of destinations to be regenerative?

Let’s be clear: no one can claim to be regenerative to date. However, destinations can embark on a long and ambitious path to aspire to regenerate territories, the effect of which will only be seen in the long term.

Embarking on this path requires courage: it is not enough to make investments but to rethink one’s business model so that it answers the question, “Does what I do support life or not?”

Spaces for dialogue with communities must also be created: long processes that need facilitation.

Finally, it is important to introduce new professionalism and new indicators of business success.

How can we help on this path?

A process toward regeneration finds its strength from the bottom up. Still, it needs to be managed and guided: we have experience facilitating participatory processes among local stakeholders to strengthen destination governance.

We also develop slow and nature-based tourism products to foster low-impact or positive-impact experiences of connecting and enjoying the area.

We can assess where and how to regenerate degraded or at-risk habitats and how best to use ecosystem services and nature-based solutions.

Finally, the WOW nature platform allows tourists and businesses to directly fund (and participate in!) ecosystem regeneration interventions.