The COVID-19 pandemic has further emphasized negative environmental and social impacts of tourism, causing many advocacy groups, government officials and business owners to re-think Canada’s tourism model for the future. The concept of re-generative tourism has garnered increasing attention from industry leaders and travellers alike to re-build a strong foundation that is both environmentally sustainable and socially desirable.
“We are part of an industry where economic [contribution measures its overall value],” says Keith Henry, president & CEO of the Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada (ITAC). “Tourism is primarily about increasing consumption, increasing spend and increasing hotel [occupancy], and while we do need economic sustainability, there is very little attention paid to [environmental], cultural or social sustainability. If you don’t support re-generative tourism, then how are you valuing these other metrics?”
At its simplest, re-generative tourism can be defined as leaving a destination better than it was found. But the reality is the concept extends far beyond that. Re-generative tourism involves a more holistic and nature-based way of discovering new places that’s closely linked to Indigenous cultures. Areas of focus could include restoring natural habitats, engaging in truth and reconciliation, contributing to social projects, utilizing cover crops, improving local employment opportunities and more.
The concept is also connected to the experience economy and the industry’s focus on offering unique and memorable experiences that travellers are craving more now than ever before.
“Re-generative tourism looks at ways of leaving a place better than it was before, creating a net-positive impact,” says Joseph Clohessy, general manager, Delta Hotels by Marriott Grand Okanagan Resort in Kelowna, B.C. “That net-positive impact could include supporting local employment, truth and reconciliation work and climate change. Re-generative tourism is tied to the experience economy because although the shift was already underway, the pandemic accelerated travellers’ desires for different experiences, such as supporting a local start-up business or listening to stories from Indigenous communities. There are both environmental and non-environmental components.”
In August 2022, TIAC submitted its list of recommendations to the Minister of Tourism and Associate Minister of Finance, the Honourable Randy Boissonnault, for a new Federal Tourism Growth Strategy. The association has recommended several key targets to be achieved by 2030 based on four key pillars of action: attracting and retaining a sustainable workforce; improving access for visitors to and within Canada; developing and promoting tourism assets; and building a re-generative and inclusive tourism industry. Additionally, TIAC submitted its list of recommendations as part of the pre-budget consultations for the 2023 federal budget.
With regard to pillar four, building a re-generative and inclusive tourism sector, TIAC has been urging the government “to collaborate to define and practice re-generative principles that acknowledge tourism’s role in carbon reduction by introducing specific programs in support of businesses for new sustainable projects and retrofits across the country,” reads the strategy report. Furthermore, TIAC recommends the “government introduces new tax credits for businesses that develop specialized recruitment programs for equity-seeking groups, as well as allocate resources for the implementation of an Indigenous-led workforce strategy.”
“The Ministry of Tourism has given TIAC some funding to implement sustainable-tourism training over the course of ,” says Beth Potter, president and CEO of TIAC. “We’ve had the ability to contribute to the development of policy to ensure it applies to the travel-and-tourism industry, and we will continue to ask for this consideration in the future.”
Henry says it’s imperative for governments to support an Indigenous-community led process. “We continue to urge governments to invest in an Indigenous-led strategy, but they often support Indigenous tourism on their terms and through their strategies. That simply won’t work or be as effective. I would like to see all levels of government working with the local Indigenous tourism business community. Listen to them, invest in them and let them take the lead.”
In December, ITAC renewed a three-year contribution agreement with Parks Canada with the goal of developing, supporting and marketing authentic Indigenous experiences in regions across the country. An investment of $500,000 has been committed over the next few years. ITAC also signed a multi-year agreement with Destination Canada in 2021. The $2-million investment in funding and $950,000 of in-kind support allowed ITAC to move forward with their sales and marketing campaign, entitled The Original Original, to help stabilize the Indigenous tourism sector.
Strategies for Change
Re-generative practices can involve architecture and design, wildlife, activities, culinary experiences, transportation and more.
The 29-room Fogo Island Inn in Newfoundland is one of Canada’s leading examples, minimizing its impact on the environment and uplifting its local community. According to the Inn’s website, some architectural elements include local wood (black spruce and yellow birch) for the wood cladding of the exterior and interior of the Inn; underground communication and electrical systems, as well as water pipes, beneath the driveway to mitigate disturbance to natural habitats; rainwater collect-and-filter systems for toilet, laundry and kitchen appliances; and heat-recovery systems that re-direct heat from mechanical equipment to the rest of the building.
Additionally, seven luxury eco-resorts on the West Coast work together to preserve Canada’s natural surroundings and offer fun activities for guests, such as river drifts, Tundra trekking, whale watching, horseback riding and saltwater fishing. These properties include the Tweedsmuir Park Loge (B.C.), Nimmo Bay Wilderness Resort (B.C.) Siwash Lake Wilderness Resort (B.C.), Bella Coola Heli Sports (B.C.), Pacific Yellowfin (B.C.) and Churchill Wild (Manitoba).
While some properties have already implemented re-generative practices into many facets of the business, others are just getting started.
“We’re at the beginning of the [re-generative tourism] journey,” says Clohessy. “[At Delta Hotels by Marriott Grand Okanagan Resort], we’re constantly thinking about ways to support Kelowna as a destination in order to make those shifts. There is plenty of opportunity throughout the Okanagan to develop, support and grow a diverse ecosystem of experiences. We are known for lakes and golf courses, which is wonderful, but we also want to support our entrepreneurs, education and Indigenous businesses. Travellers are looking for a deeper sense of purpose.”
“TIAC is focusing on educating tourism operators on how they can change their business practices to better align with the sustainable development goals,” says Potter. “We don’t want to overwhelm anyone because there’s a lot of sustainable-development goals, but we want to work with the industry and with governments to make sure it’s easy for businesses to identify the goals they want to go after like reducing single-use plastics, for example.”
On a global scale, some of the top re-generative tourism destinations are Arenas del Mar (Costa Rica), where re-forestation efforts are an essential part of the hotel’s sustainability strategy; Xala (Mexico), a community development slated to open this year that will produce three hotels, a hostel and more than 75 new homes; and Oasyhotel (Italy), located within the privately owned WWF-protected Oasi Dynamo reserve consisting of undisturbed forest, farmland, lakes and rivers. Henry says many international destinations are working to develop Indigenous tourism experiences, too.
“We speak to colleagues in South America, Central America, New Zealand and Australia,” he says. “There’s no doubt that many countries are significantly increasing their investments and their development of Indigenous tourism as part of their overall packages to those destinations. Those countries look to Canada with a lot of global leadership. There has been a tremendous realization globally of Indigenous values and people want to connect to those values, and tourism is one of the strongest ways to do that.”
Roles & Responsibilities
Travellers also have a role to play, but being a re-generative traveller doesn’t have to mean staying in eco-luxury resorts. A traveller’s attitude toward sustainability and willingness to support businesses that are using travel to make the world a better and greener place is of highest importance.
“The traveller’s role is to ask questions,” says Henry. “[For example,] if a traveller sees a piece of Indigenous artwork, they could ask if it’s made by a local Indigenous artist or if it’s a mass-produced piece from a foreign country mimicking Indigenous designs. We can’t put too much pressure on the consumer, but we do ask that they do a little investigation into the destination.”
“The travellers are the ones asking for re-generative tourism models,” says Potter. “More and more people are looking for companies that align with their own values and are committed to reducing their carbon footprint. These values are also important to attract and retain workers in our industry.”
Although the sector’s recovery from COVID-19 has gained momentum, many operators are still struggling to survive. That said, it might be difficult for businesses to transition to re-generative practices in the short- to medium-term while staffing shortages remain the number-1 issue, among others. The key is to start small.
“The concept of leaving things better than you found them can be difficult to grasp and bringing that idea down to a specific business can be a daunting task,” says Potter. “That said, we want to make sure that we’ve worked with all kinds of businesses to understand their ins and outs, find commonalities and provide the right tools and resources needed in order to be successful.”
“Collaboration and alignment make a destination successful,” says Clohessy. “Those are two very easy things to say, but massively difficult to do. Naturally, I believe a lot of the other pieces will fall into place but if there’s no collaboration and alignment at the start then it will difficult to achieve success. There are challenges with homelessness, affordable housing, the opioid crisis, attracting labour – those things don’t disappear, but when people partner, collaborate and align, they can work through those challenges as
BY NICOLE DI TOMASSO