By Makayla Haertel

“Regenerative travel” is an emerging term that means rather than just doing as little harm as possible as a result of our leisure travel activities, we eliminate the harm and then do good on top of that. It goes beyond decreasing carbon emissions, reducing deforestation, reducing plastic use, etc. While many efforts are considered sustainable, such as offsetting carbon by planting trees, regenerative travel goes much further. So, how does this look in practice, for travelers and the industry? 

An industry-wide shift 
The organization Regenerative Travel, which focuses on impact in the hotel industry, has a mission to “generate lasting positive social and environmental impact for local people and environments.” This way of thinking adds to the traveler’s enhanced sense of being and goes beyond what is being done physically at the ground level, while still keeping it as a necessary part of the process. Bill Reed, an architect at Regenesis Group, explained in a New York Times article that “Regeneration is about restoring and then regenerating the capability to live in a new relationship in an ongoing way.” In summary, aim to leave a place better than you found it, not just the way you found it. 

The hospitality and tourism sectors are the leading early adopters. This is an opportune moment to take a look at their environmental and social strategies— like sustainability, it’s not just good for the people and planet, it’s also good for profit.’s most recent travel survey showed that 53% of travelers are starting to look for more sustainable ways to reduce their environmental and social footprint. Travelers, especially younger people, are thinking much harder about where they put their dollars in an effort to leave the world a better place than what they were born into. 

The progress in the last two years for sustainable travel has been astonishing—most hotels have at least some sustainability component. They are recognizing that it is both important and sought after by travelers. 

A holistic, multi-faceted approach 
Now, the shift to regenerative design poses another layer on top of green buildings, native landscaping plants, and solar panels. Many routes for this shift in hotels and tourism companies involve gender diversity and employing local and native populations, charitable giving and projects such as building schools and providing scholarship funds for local children, and involving guests directly in restoration and conservation efforts. The companies are seeking initiatives that will quite literally leave the community and environment better than when that hotel or tourism company or guest first arrived. 

Industry leaders 
There are many companies and organizations that stand out from the rest in helping to lead the industry past sustainable development and into regenerative design. Industry-wide organizations such as Sustainable Hospitality Alliance, Global Sustainable Tourism Council, and Center for Responsible Travel are raising awareness of this next level by serving as resources for the industry to learn, grow, and connect on sustainability and regenerative practices.

  • The hotel-focused organization Regenerative Travel acts as a resource for travelers to curate sustainable and regenerative experiences and stays at hotels world-wide. 
  • Many hotels themselves, such as PortoBay, have extensive social and cultural efforts. PortoBay has established a HOPE account through which it donates to local charity groups, and generates additional funds for donation through a 1 euro per room per stay surcharge to guests’ invoices. 
  • Regenesis Group is a consulting firm that has used regenerative design as an “approach to land use, community development, and the built environment” for nearly two decades.
  • Intrepid Travel, a tourism company that works internationally, has been guiding tours under sustainability practices for years, and is a great leader and example for other international tour operators. 
  • Marketing companies like GLP Films create communications strategies for sustainable destinations, tour companies, and hotels, and emphasize regenerative practices when designing how to market a company using storytelling. Among their extensive on-the-ground work, GLP Films also writes and produces content to educate others in the trade and showcases the leaders in sustainable travel for growth in the industry.

Travelers have a choice 
While regenerative travel is not yet the norm, there are things that the traveler can do to ensure their stay and activities are having a positive impact on the environment and community. For example, while booking a trip with Intrepid Travel is amazing, and putting your money where it won’t harm the planet or the culture of the country you’re visiting is commendable, travelers also need to rethink their choices to contribute to regenerative travel to have the most impact. 

It is worth noting that doing any small thing that you can is important and will make a difference. One does not need to cause themselves stress or guilt by not rethinking every aspect of their trip—any little bit counts and is better than doing nothing! Some travel agencies and hotels actually provide a way for you to offset the carbon emissions of your trip by purchasing carbon offset credits through them (such is the case at Tschuggen Hotel Group’s properties, among others). Or they offer opportunities to give back to the community by donating to local development projects, such as schools or conservation projects. 

While easy and convenient resources for travelers to find information on sustainable and regenerative travel companies are scarce, there are companies and technological innovations out there and plenty more in the works! Being conscious of your impact is the first step, and then comes actively taking steps to build upon how you can leave the destination better than when you got there. This can include choosing to buy from local vendors and community members, supporting projects financially or physically at your destination that contribute to the prosperity of the environment or culture, and being aware of how you’re spending your time there.

Adapting to change 
While the sudden up-leveling from sustainable design to regenerative design can seem overwhelming, it is necessary for all facets of a healthy future for our environment, people, cultures, and economies. The travel industry has fluctuated wildly in the past few years—from record high profits in 2019, to record losses in 2020, to a steady uptick in early 2021, to up and down levels the rest of the year. There is a common consensus from most people in tourism: we must build back better. 

Regenerative travel is the only way to do that, and that is what travelers are asking for. Companies that continue with business as usual will be left behind, as those that are eliminating their environmental and social risks and contributing to the betterment of the local communities will come out as leaders when travel is in full swing again. Focus on quality of life has taken a huge leap in the last decade or so, as Millenials and GenZers are looking to make life more meaningful. Travel and understanding other cultures while seeing some of Earth’s most beautiful places is a centerpoint of that focus. This transition is necessary to reverse climate change and bring the world’s cultures to a prosperous state as global populations grow, and inevitably the number of travelers grows as well.

VT XMNR Alum Makayla Haertel

Makayla Haertel is a Sustainability Analyst at Booz Allen Hamilton and an alum of the Executive Master of Natural Resources (XMNR) program. She graduated with a B.S. in Conservation Biology and a minor in Marine Science from the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry. After working on various wildlife conservation projects, she saw firsthand the effects of climate change on the natural resources, wildlife, and people in different communities. She aims to further her understanding and leadership in sustainability on a global scale to help organizations make more sustainable choices. Makayla is especially interested in using sustainable travel practices to enhance local communities’ ability to adapt to our changing climate and continue to prosper.

She shared her reflections on the potential of sustainable tourism in an earlier blog post: "Can the tourism industry 'come back better'?".