Édition #5

The regenerative economy: a source of inspiration for the challenges of the tourism sector?

Marie-Laure DEVANT Project manager in action research and intervention at LUMIÅ (a research and training centre dedicated to regenerative business)
Our economic system is in crisis. No doubt because it has neglected the conditions for its success, namely to develop in a healthy environment and social body. 6 of the 9 planetary boundaries¹ that ensure Earth’s equilibrium have now been exceeded. Inequalities are rising once again. Infrastructures in many countries, even the rich and developed ones, are deteriorating. Addedto this are sometimes critical shortages of raw materials, devastating climate events although 60-70% of the world’s economic activities are weather-dependent, soaring energy costs and rising inflation, etc.

WHY A REGENERATIVE ECONOMY? WHY IS THIS?

There are many reasons. One of them is the volumetric logic of economic growth. The injunction of this logic is to keep selling more units of products or services and the tourism sector is no exception to the rule: since tourism is a major economic resource for the regions in which it operates, it is also constrained by this logic. Closely coupled with an ever-increasing consumption of resources and energy, intensifying an unsustainable extractivist model, it constitutes an ecological, social and economic deadlock.

Of course, many companies and regions have embarked on a strategy to reduce their negative impacts. While this approach is to be welcomed, it is no longer equal to the challenges. The facts are unrelenting. Even though many companies and local authorities have been committed to this approach for over 20 years, the overall ecological indicators continue to deteriorate. What is more, doing the same thing less badly is still doing it badly. Even net zero is not satisfactory today, since it does not allow the boundaries exceeded to go back to below their safety threshold. From now on, we need to organise and mobilise around a new course: the course of regeneration.

WHAT IS A REGENERATIVE BUSINESS?

Put simply, regeneration means going beyond reducing or neutralising negative impacts, and moving towards generating net positive impacts for the ecosystems and human communities on which the company depends and on which it has an impact. More specifically, regeneration aims to create conditions that allow natural and human ecosystems to express their full potential: it is a characteristic that is exclusive to living systems. Setting a business on the path of regeneration therefore involves two stages:

» Firstly, reducing the negative impacts of its activities to their incompressible threshold by freeing its economic model as far as possible from a strategy of volume.
» Then, generating net positive impacts by reconnecting the company to the power of continuous and spontaneous creation of living things.

Companies and activities in the tourism sector are highly dependent on the state of health of the natural ecosystems in their region, as well as on their cultural and heritage singularity. They have a key role to play in the regenerative goal.

“Regeneration aims to create the conditions that allow natural and human ecosystems to express their full potential.”

HOW CAN A BUSINESS BE REGENERATIVE?

As part of its regenerative approach, a business initially seeks to understand its impact on the local ecosystems and human communities. Which planetary boundaries are negatively impacted by its activities? What critical resources are essential to its operation? What social issues are specific to the business and its stakeholders? What is its performance dynamic? How does its growth and development affect these negative impacts?

To succeed and sustain its transformation, a business aiming for regeneration can refer to principles derived from the living world:

» Questioning its relationship with the boundary, adopting a systemic approach, aiming to create value that extends to ecosystems and stakeholders rather than focusing exclusively on customers and shareholders and sharing this value are key strategic pillars.

» As regards design, a regenerative business will be circular in design, sober in the satisfaction of its needs, favouring multifunction and all things local in the mobilisation of its resources and energies. It will seek a balance between performance and robustness, using simple atoms and bio-assimilable molecules. Above all, it will reinforce the ecosystem services that regulate and support it.

» On a social level, it will seek to weave relationships that are invigorating and emancipating, that develop the stakeholders’ capacitation², while nurturing cooperation.

These principles can certainly be applied by companies in the tourism sector, as well as inspiring tourist resorts that wish to contribute to the regeneration of the regions they depend on.

WHY THE REGENERATIVE APPROACH WOULD BE PARTICULARLY INTERESTING FOR THE TOURISM SECTOR?

The third largest sector in international trade, tourism accounts for 10.4% of global gross domestic product (GDP) and supports 313 million jobs worldwide. Tourism is also responsible for 8% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, according to the French Ministry for Ecological Transition. The carbon footprint of tourism is generated by everything that tourists buy on their holiday (food, accommodation, shopping) and above all by transport. More than half the tourists who crossed borders worldwide in 2018 travelled by air, according to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).

Tourism and tourist over-frequentation therefore have different negative impacts on living things, the main ones being: pressure on local resources (water, food, energy, etc.), destruction of nature and loss of habitat for the local biodiversity, increased pollution (plastic, light, noise) and destruction of historic monuments and natural sites, etc.

But, as we saw earlier, regenerative tourism is as much about the company as it is about the region, without which tourism could not exist: regenerative tourism therefore represents an opportunity to improve the living conditions of both the host community and the ecosystems and for visitors to have a positive impact on their holiday destination. Leaving the host region in a better state than they found it is a concept that goes beyond not damaging the environment and aims to actively revitalise it, leading to a cycle of positive impacts on local communities and economies.

“Regeneration challenges businesses as much as the region, without which tourism could not exist.”

HOW CAN WE MOVE TOWARDS REGENERATIVE TOURISM?

The move towards regenerative tourism requires destinations and operators to move towards:

» The need to regenerate damaged local ecosystems.
» Considering the strengths and weaknesses of the resources, the specific characteristics of the local communities and a definition of the “sense of place”: that makes people proud to belong to this region.
» Involving the local people in reflecting on and defining priority values and needs.
» Giving meaning to the journey.
» Connecting visitors with the local communities and players.
» Creating cooperative ecosystems between local players.
» Changing the tourism indicators to qualitative rather than quantitative indicators.

EXAMPLES OF APPROACHES INSPIRED BY REGENERATIVE TOURISM

Some players in the tourism value chain have launched programmes demonstrating the capacity of regenerative tourism to produce net positive effects for the biodiversity and local human communities:

» Adventure Canada organises holidays designed to enhance local customs, while promoting encounters with committed local players and funding projects that respect biodiversity. Adventure Canada has won some twenty different awards.

» In a standardised global market, Playa Viva is a hotel in Mexico that has managed to develop its own unique character. It was created with the aim of regenerating the ecosystems found on site (mangroves, forests, farmland), while helping to improve the living conditions of the local population. The local people benefit from a number of programmes run by the hotel in the areas of employment, education, health, access to water resources, etc.

» Since 2020, the New Zealand government has embarked on a regenerative tourism policy aimed at making the tourism sector more resilient, based on Maori cultural traditions and the preservation of natural ecosystems. The broader aim here is to ensure the country’s economic prosperity, which depends on the health and well-being of the population.


1 According to the Stockholm Resilience Center, planetary boundaries are the thresholds that man should not exceed in order to avoid compromising the favourable conditions in which it has been able to develop and to be able to live sustainably in a safe ecosystem, i.e. avoiding sudden changes to the planetary environment that are difficult to predict. This concept was proposed by an international team of twenty-six researchers and published in 2009. It has since been updated by regular publications.
2 In sociology, the process by which individuals take charge of their own economic, professional, family and social destiny.

Marie-Laure DEVANT
Marie-Laure DEVANT
Marie-Laure followed the “Sustainable Development and Global Responsibility of
Organisations” chair during her studies at the Bordeaux Business School. With a Master’s degree in Management, she has been working for over 10 years on the coordination and implementation of projects contributing to the ecological transition. At LUMIÅ, she contributes to action research.