Evolving Destinations Toward Regenerative Futures

Written byLaura Field

A revelatory discussion around how we can work with communities and destinations to shift travel towards a more regenerative model.

Key Takeaway:

Destinations must embrace their roles and responsibilities as an equally important and dependent member of broader social and economic systems. Not just concerned by the bottom line or welfare of tourists but of local indigenous communities and other stakeholders.

Where travel all too often focuses on the traveler, it is crucial to shift focus to the community and their knowledge and input. The populations, natural environments and cultures that make a destination must be at the center of conversations. More importantly, we already possess the tools to start this shift so it simply requires a change in perspective about what is currently normalized in the industry.

As moderator Holly Tuppen, author of Sustainable Travel, noted in her introduction, “in the past, tourism has sometimes been to blame for projecting its idealistic perception of what it wants to take from indigenous cultures and what it wants to leave behind”. This opened an insightful discussion around how we in the industry, as well as individuals, can enact the change we wish to see.

Panelists accompanying Holly in this discussion were Kristin Dunne from Miles Partnership, Jeremy Jauncey of Beautiful Destinations and Api Movono from Massey University.

Systemic Change Starts With The Destination

A priority in the mission towards restructuring the travel industry with a regenerative approach is bridging the divide, disconnect and disparities between tourists and locals that the industry is responsible for.

By focusing on the destination and community rather than the traveler, we can make headway in restoring balance to tourist destinations, economically and culturally. A key example of this is how in numerous cases, nature has been given personhood and rights. This is to recognize the role it plays in the broader conversation of how to honor the destination over the traveler.

Kristin Dunne of Miles Partnership talked about what she has learned from the long-term tactics of Maori communities and how this reflects a greater shift in practices. “It’s about a shift in mindset, a shift in worldview and consciousness. You can have that for yourself, but I believe our responsibility as DMOs is to try and generate that for others which of course requires a shift in organizational culture. It requires a shift in power from the DMO or the regional tourism organization to the residents and to the community. It requires a shift in role and purpose within the organizational structure and resources so that the talent that you require changes. It’s a shift in identity, who we are authentically, not who we are as a brand or a logo or as a marketing campaign.”

We Need To Change The Way We Measure Success

A discussion point shared by all panelists also highlighted the need to change the metrics by which we measure success.

Historically, businesses use profit margins to determine how well they are doing. Instead, panelists suggested markers such as the contribution a travel business makes to regenerate the local wildlife population or restore indigenous culture.

When asked who is responsible for this change, panelists agreed change must be dynamic, from all parties and not in a single direction. Good leadership is also key in leading the way. Kristin added that a ‘regenerative work culture’ goes a long way to creating regenerative business models too.

As Api Monovo highlighted, “if a regenerative shift is to happen then destinations must embrace their roles and responsibilities as an equally important and dependent member of these broader social and economic systems. Not just concerned by the bottom line or welfare of tourists but of local indigenous communities and other stakeholders. Only then can tourism move into a space of regeneration.”

Community And Stakeholders Must Be Part Of The Conversation

To honor a destination before a traveler, the elements that go into making that destination what it is have an absolutely crucial role to play. Not only the site of the destination, but the local population and cultural beliefs and heritage come into play. Likewise, the environmental surroundings and indigenous practices must be central as we discuss how to work towards widespread positive impact travel.

Kristin Dunne again broke down this idea beautifully, as she noted that we can understand it plainly by asking ourselves a simple question: “Who is telling the story and whose story is it to tell?” From this, it’s clear that to achieve a regenerative travel model, we must give local communities the dominant voice. We must also learn from their unique generational knowledge and their understanding of the natural environment around them.

“How we have these conversations needs to be much more open. Not consultative but asking from the very beginning by asking the right questions with the right people in the room. We need to shift the way that we engage with stakeholders. It’s their place to share. We need to pay a lot more respect to that,” explained Kirstin.

Api Monovo also touched on the communal way of life that is present in the Pacific region and the profound lessons this holds in teaching us how to work with each other to deliver not only an improved experience for the traveler but also regeneration at the site of the destination; culturally, socially and economically.

Digital Media And Storytelling Can Be Leveraged To Enact Change

In an age where the power of digital channels and social media seems all too often detrimental to our chosen destinations, we need to consciously change the way we use these as a valuable resource in the shift towards regenerative travel models.

Jeremy Jauncey of Beautiful Destinations understands the potential that digital channels hold to enable conversations we could not otherwise have. We spend hours upon hours of our day scrawling through social media sites, so there’s a missed opportunity to harness the power of these platforms. We can use them to give destinations a stronger voice in the industry and to help us consult communities in the process of building better business frameworks.

“Traditional stakeholder and community management has been flipped on its head with the power of digital channels.” Now, companies that share the regenerative vision are seeing the business potential of embracing digital tools to both ask community members for feedback as well as change the narrative of these destinations that have until now acted to exploit indigenous cultures rather than honor them.

We quite literally hold in our hands one of the most powerful tools to start new conversations and guide travel in a better direction. Through a more mindful use of digital and social channels, we can combat overtourism by telling better stories through travel. We can also democratize marketing towards a more positive impact model and connect with people who align with regenerative principles regardless of the size of their business.

In this way, marketing becomes transparent and tells the story of indigenous cultures authentically rather than presenting an image of what tourism thinks will sell.

This panel discussion was part of the 2021 Regenerative Travel Summit.


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