Regenerative travel and the case for travel-driven conservation models

By | Wednesday, 30th September, 2020

Just a quick note to say that I was fortunate enough to be invited to speak at the first Regenerative Travel Summit. As a concept, regenerative travel made headlines earlier this year in the New York Times, in a piece by Elaine Glusac, provocatively entitled Move Over, Sustainable Travel. Regenerative Travel Has Arrived. 

While for some, the sustainable versus regenerative travel argument feels more a matter of semantics than it does anything else, for many its something of a move forward, with Glusac declaring: ‘If sustainable tourism, which aims to counterbalance the social and environmental impacts associated with travel, was the aspirational outer limit of ecotourism before the pandemic, the new frontier is “regenerative travel,” or leaving a place better than you found it.’ As she notes, its roots are to be found across multiple sectors, including agriculture and the built environment, with advocates arguing that where sustainability slows degradation, regeneration is a definitive paradigm shift.

Apart from hearing about it in the news, my own introduction to regeneration travel came with an out-of-the-blue invitation from Regenerative Travel’s Alexandra Seitz to be one of the beneficiaries of an e-book project designed to protect Covid-impacted jobs in the hospitality sector. The book’s called Checking In: Bringing The Hotel Home, in which we tell the story of Wild Philanthropy and the setting up of the African Tourism Crisis Fund.  From here, Seitz invited me speak at the summit on land management conservation, along with the likes of Derek Joubert, Elizabeth Ojo, Kris Tompkins, and Duke Phillips. For details on who’s who and the rest of the speakers, see here.

I won’t go into the ins and outs of the debate. For that, do watch the above video. However, one thing is clear: for many, the vulnerability of conservation models reliant on travel generated revenue has been exposed by Covid. This is true, but it doesn’t follow that travel-driven conservation doesn’t work. Indeed, it is never meant to work on its own. Rather, on land of little agricultural worth and in areas of poor governance, it’s role as the only or main generator of income makes it vital as catalyst and support for wider sustainable development, development unrelated to tourism.

In the case of our work in the Omo, that means using tourist income to establish community farms that enable local communities to grow both subsistence and cash crops that can be sold at local markets. In the Ntakata Village Land Forest Reserve, it means supporting local communities to develop supply chains for valuable non-timber forest products. In Enonkishu, it means enabling the conversancy to grow diversified businesses, namely Mara Beef, the Mara Training Centre and bee-keeping enterprises.  The end result: resilient local and locally-run economies capable of delivering jobs, security, and education.

In short, we can’t afford to allow Covid to impact negatively on our support for successful travel enterprise-based conservation models, especially given the huge funding gap in the sector. The Paulson Institute estimates that in 2019 between $124-and 143 billion flowed into biodiversity conservation. This sounds – and is – great. However, it’s less than a seventh of what’s needed. The same institute estimates that the cost of reversing  the staggering decline in biodiversity by 2030 at between $722-967 billion each year. Every little bit helps, and can, given the right conditions, (re)generate something much bigger.

If you would like to learn more about Wild Philanthropy and the African Tourism Crisis Fund, do get in touch. For anything on the summit, please see the Regenerative Travel Summit.