Shifting the story of tourism


Our world is at a turning point and so are tourism communications. Pandemics and other business risks challenge today’s mainstream approach to tourism. More and more communities and customers are rejecting its harmful forms. At the same time, there is a great longing for transformative experiences, positive impacts, and a sense of belonging and beauty. Regenerative communications offer fresh perspectives to operators, destination managers and hosting communities for supporting the shift towards regenerative tourism.

“The planet cannot afford to resume previously unsustainable levels of tourism. These previous levels of tourism, the level of resources required to power it, and the emissions it produces are not consistent with the survival of the planet.”

Dianne Dredge
Regenerative Tourism and Design Thinking, Tourism Collab, 2021

Today’s tourism industry stands at a crossroads. Business viability is increasingly threatened by interconnected and multiplying risks, including terrorism, the cost-of-living crisis, extreme weather events, the destruction of the natural environment the business depends on, social conflicts in the local community, civilizational diseases and pandemics, as well as geopolitical factors. In their report on Regenerative Tourism for Destination Canada, Michelle Holliday and Bill Reed also identify worker shortages, disaggregated marketing channels, ever expanding digital technologies, and vulnerability to disruption and perpetual change. Through storytelling, case studies, and a powerful narrative, their report draws new pathways for tourism.

From a business perspective, customer expectations are shifting and diversifying. Yet, many touristic offers sell standardized experiences that create disconnection of the tourist from the place, its local community, and a personal enrichment. The fierce competition in the sector has contributed to a lack of future-preparedness and only incremental action to improve the impact on nature and local communities. However, “while sustainable tourism does endeavour to alleviate the negative social-ecological impacts of tourism, an enduring criticism is that merely striving to do less harm within tourism is considered inadequate and insufficient“, as pointed out by Chassagne and Everingham (2019).

Beyond just doing less harm, a regenerative approach offers fertile pathways to tourism. By grounding economic prosperity in communities in place, it can integrate different needs and open to greater potential for healing and thriving. For actors working in the field, this means to work on setting the conditions in which communications can help the tourist ecosystem, including the operators and customers, thrive.

What regenerative tourism offers

• The multiple crisis we are facing require a transition from an extractive mass tourism model vulnerable to risks towards resilient models that benefit the local economy, communities and natural environment.

• Cultivating a place-based culture of hospitality in the hosting community for guests to feel welcome and experience a unique sense of belonging and beauty

Communicating about the unique essence of the cultural character, community spirit and geography, which nourishes residents, enriches and enchants tourists, and attracts supportive resources.

• Growing demand for deep, unique and immersive experiences that are profoundly meaningful, as well as environmentally and socially responsible.

integrating and developing touristic offerings that provide the tourist with opportunities for learning, healing, greater vitality, and the development of personal and professional potential.

inviting the potential of a place beyond the limits of the status quo through imagination, co-creation and a common story of transformation that the hosting community and tourists can become part of.

The transition to regenerative tourism is also a shift in the way we communicate and relate. Regenerative communications offer important insights on how tourism can foster a sense of belonging, speak about a place’s essence, and connect stakeholders around a new story in which conditions are set for a thriving, place-sourced and community-based, touristic model.

Operators, destination managers, and communities each have a role to play in identifying their unique role in tourism, and learning to co-create beyond destructive competition. It requires a shared sense of meaningfulness, shared communication practices, and a common dream, to activate energy for the shift to regenerative tourism.

How regenerative communications support the shift in tourism

Revisiting the touristic value proposition to account to expectations for deeper experiences through an embodied and expressed sense of being, belonging and beauty.

Tapping into the abundance of diversity, while honoring communities' unique needs, expectations, and communication styles.

• Integrating a brand’s story into the history of the place by clarifying its role and honoring the culture, natural habitat, wisdom of elders, and communities inhabiting the place.

Developing community-based and place-sourced communications to promote touristic offers, engage (potential) tourists, and offer a meaningful story about the experience.

Understanding what people love about the place and care about. What are the stories of residents and tourists about the place that conveys its unique character?

bringing stakeholders together through narration, conversations, and other forms of communication, to tap into the collective potential of the touristic ecosystem and develop reciprocal, mutual benefits for operators, tourists, and the place.

To conclude, regenerative communications can be an important factor in the shift to a form of tourism that promotes aliveness, healing, and benefits to the larger ecosystem. Beyond often toxic marketing practices in tourism today, this approach can foster greater alignment, coherence, and mutual understanding. Lastly, learning to speak about the integration of more-than-human wisdom and other marginalized perspectives can give great insights on new ways of working, business model innovation, and service development grounded in real-world needs.