VisitFlanders, the tourism organization representing the Northern Belgium region, used local input to rethink its mission, repositioning its stance from growing travel for the sake of the economy to creating an “economy of meaning,” according to its master plan. That includes, among other initiatives, linking visitors with locals who share their passions for things like history or food and making storytelling central to sites like its World War I battlefields.
“We’ve managed to shift the thinking from having their primary objective be about growing the numbers, to creating flourishing destinations, flourishing communities and having them say what kind of tourism they want,” said Anna Pollock, the founder of Conscious Travel, an education and consulting enterprise devoted to positioning travel as a force for good, who worked with VisitFlanders.
A traveler’s role in regeneration
Ms. Pollock believes regenerative travel is a supply-side concept that asks operators to do more for the environment and community than they take from them. But travelers play a key role in demand.
“Become mindful of the fact that your trip is going to have a set of costs associated with it, which needs to be paid by somebody,” she said. “In the same way you think, ‘Should I buy that cheap T-shirt from the dime store down the road?,’ knowing it’s created by semi-slave labor. Now you’re thinking consciously about who do I buy it from and is it quality.”
The experience of the pandemic — when many are discovering the power of their pocketbooks in supporting local businesses like bookstores and restaurants — is, perhaps, the most instructive in demonstrating sustainability, even if the travel involved is within a few blocks of home.
“Travel is an important vote of your principles,” said Mr. Baker of OneSeed. “When you decide to put your time and resources into a trip, you’re affirming that’s the type of business you want out there.”
Sustainable travel, let alone regenerative travel, will still have to find solutions to the carbon emissions produced by air travel. Until the economy recovers, there’s likely to be less travel, more local travel, or slower travel by car, train, bike or foot. This moment of reflection, say proponents, is where regeneration begins.