Going beyond the standard conversations of sustainability, newer generations are definitely putting culture, community, and environmental stewardship as a priority in how and where they travel.
The drive towards conscious tourism has never been greater, with 82% of travelers polled by Virtuoso saying the past two years have made them want to travel more responsibly.
Regenerative travel has emerged as a blending of sustainability and social responsibility with a philosophy that aims to not only minimize the negative impact of tourism but actively contribute to the regeneration of local ecosystems, economies, and cultures.
Ultimately a focus is being put on a triple bottom line: people, planet, and profit by replacing the extractive and exploitative nature of traditional tourism with an approach designed to bring benefits to destinations and local citizens.
We are intrigued by the regenerative approach because while sustainability measures are still part of the equation, the net is much wider and therefore allows for important growth and improvements in many areas. And it doesn’t have to mean taking bold moves to participate. Finding success with smaller steps can help generate traction and further the conversation to continually build momentum.
This past summer, we found ourselves at an immersive, four-day Regenerative Development retreat held at a farm in Saco River, Maine to learn about and potentially see what steps we could integrate into our design practice,
It was hosted at a proof-of-concept project that took a defunct farm and “regenerated” it into an The Ecology School. The educational campus provides an opportunity for regional youth groups to come and stay at the farm for a week long program designed to teach about sustainable agriculture and other lost arts and crafts practices.
An old barn was the centerpiece of the project and the new surrounding support structures were designed by local architects and members of the community to incorporate as many aspects of living building methodology that made sense within the context of the environment in which it was situated. Craftsmen from the surrounding area were also employed to provide furniture and fixtures for the property and all the food is organically grown from the onsite gardens or is sourced from within a 15-mile radius.
The retreat was being held there to highlight the values of this type of development, primarily as a catalyst for residential and mixed-use developers looking to add value to overlooked and underused assets while also having a positive impact on the local ecosystem and community. We were intrigued by this immersive experience and how different iterations of this concept could inspire similar applications within hospitality, particularly the luxury and lifestyle sector given how much we hear about the evolving guest profile.
We didn’t have to look too far to see that while the overall concept of regenerative tourism might be fairly new, there are already great properties around the world, in both urban and resort settings, that have been based on regenerative practices.
We didn’t think about this at the time, but a few years ago, we were part of the design team for The Asbury, a hotel project in Asbury Park, New Jersey that transformed an abandoned Salvation Army hospital that had sat empty for over eight years into a 110-room beach resort compound.
With the aim to leave a place better than it was found, our team set out to transform this discarded asset into a symbol of rebirth for a struggling community by including amenities and programs that provided opportunities to blend nearby residents with the guests, such as inserting a community pool, lawns for food trucks, outdoor yoga and a rooftop cinema. Another key component of the project was the establishment of a Hospitality School to provide training and employment for locals to help create an ongoing talent pool.
Similarly in Guatemala City, the Good Hotel, a small brand currently with 4 properties, operates on a unique model termed a “social business,” in that it reinvests its profits to support community projects.
Their tagline is “sleep good. do good,” and they use a portion of the revenue from every night a guest spends at the hotel to help a child from the area go to school for a week. The hotel also provides training opportunities for the community and works with local suppliers to source as much as possible, from the food to the up-cycled furniture.
A bucket list property we still dream of visiting is the Fogo Island Inn in Newfoundland. This luxury hotel, with only 29 rooms, was intentionally kept small to prevent over tourism. The architect was told to design a property that would last at least 100 years and embody the fabric of the place, both culturally and materially
Not only does the hotel showcase stunning, environmentally forward design, but it also actively supports the local community by investing 100% of the operating surplus back into the economy by promoting artisanal craftsmanship and sustainable fisheries.
As part of our growing interest in these types of developments, we recently hosted a session at The Global Hospitality Talk held in Los Angeles with a panel of leaders and visionaries in hospitality design. We discussed the importance of taking action toward more responsible travel and dove into the significance it has on ecosystems, cultures, and economies.
We all agreed that while travelers are seeking more meaningful and eco-conscious experiences in their travel, it is up to us and our development teams to be designing with a future-proof mentality that can ensure the valuable cultural and natural resources we all enjoy exploring will remain intact for future generations. Embracing regenerative travel is not only an ethical choice but a strategic one…know better. Do better. Sleep better.