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Reflections on the Global Regenerative Tourism by Design Summit

Girl's bare feet walking across a log on the forest floor

The Global Virtual Summit was held just a few weeks ago with the intention of creating space for good honest conversation about the future of tourism within its broader and more connected context. It was a free event held over 2 days (21-22 February 2024) in 2 x 3 hour sessions and was an experiment to better understand the interest in a regenerative approaches to tourism.

The idea for the Summit was borne our of participation in the FeralMBA, an ingenious learning journey in 2023 created and delivered by trade artist and feral economist Kate Rich. Thinking differently, challenging assumptions, listening to diverse sources of knowledge and learning to believe in our own inner wisdom (instead of being shaped by the roles and expectations about the economy and society) are all part of the journey. This experience empowers systems thinkers, creatives, artisans, alternative thinkers and connectors to come together to shape and create a different kind of future based on what matters to them, their communities, and the places they call special. It’s called Creative Environmental Stewardship.

From the get-go, the philosophy and way of thinking aligned with the way I had worked for 20+ years, and so the idea of a Summit, to test whether I was alone or this was part of a larger movement, was something I had to follow through with.

The Global Regenerative Tourism by Design Summit

Gathering together a few allies and champions, including the Centre for Good Travel, Mankind Digital, and World Heritage Catalysis  we reached out to global network of colleagues and friends, people we had worked with, had who been part of the CoLab courses, and those that we had enjoyed inspiring conversations with over many years. There was no call for speakers, no sponsored slots, and no participants with agendas. We gathered to have a head-heart-gut discussion about the future of tourism hoping that our genuine intention would attract a cohort or caring innovative and thoughtful participants.

And we were not disappointed!

The Speakers

We are so grateful to the amazing speakers who generously gave their time and energy and who are leading change in creative, thoughtful and innovative ways. The Summit was arranged around conversation format where panels of guest speakers could talk with each other, asking questions and focus in on key issues, challenges and potentials.

Due to the compressed time and the depth and quality of the conversation, the opportunity for questions was limited, but the chat was on fire with participants showing both energy, generosity and a true ethos of care and collaboration.

word cloud generated from zoom chat which shows connection, community, healing and planet as most common words

The Participants

We were shocked and humbled that in just 72 hours after the first post about the Summit, we reached 500 registrations. By the time of the Summit, there were 350+ on the waiting list. We had no idea just how many people across the globe would dive into the opportunity and engage in the conversation with such passion.

  • 38 countries from Oceania, Asia, Europe, South America, North America, and Africa were represented.

  • Europe (particularly Finland, France, UK, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Denmark and Germany) were well represented. A special shout out goes to those who participated in timezones that were difficult (e.g. NZ, Fiji, Cook Islands, Canada, USA).

  • 148 pages of chat text were generated

  • Participants came from a diversity of areas - 16% were consultants, 11% Destination management/marketing organisations, 11% Regenerative community development; and the remainder spread across hospitality, tour guiding, experience development, policy and education.

Why a Summit on Regenerative Tourism?

Our interest in mounting the Summit came from the heart. When we open up to the wisdom that lies within our deep heart, we open ourselves to a source of knowing that is whole, expansive and generous. For most of us, the majority of our time is spent in a conditioned brain that is dominated by the task positive, solution-oriented part of our brain. This judging logical mind has been captured by the dominant narrative about growth, individualism, competition and linear thinking. Neuroscientists, philosophers, and health researchers are now arguing that this social shaping of our brain has imprisoned us. This left brain is dominated by stories of modern life and they drive a common view of what success looks like. These stories drive consumption, and they separate and isolate us.

But if we took a moment to breathe, to reach into our inner heart-gut wisdom and ask “What is the most important thing in this brief life? What is real and true?” then the answer often has nothing to do with the conditioned stories about growth, success and ownership that we adopt. The answer comes from the heart, and its often about the importance of health and happiness - ourselves and those around us. It’s the importance of wellbeing, fairness and generosity of spirit. It’s about living and connecting into a place characterised by abundance, acceptance and presence.

Opening up to the wisdom of the heart (and I have written previously about holistic and integrated intelligence) allows us to surrender into a different way of knowing, feeling and being. When we open up our head-heart-gut wisdom, what we know to be true is often quite different to the external values and goals that have conditioned us. Our sense of meaning springs from the heart, as does our sense of wholeness and connection with community.

For those working in different parts of the tourism space, the stories are often of industrial growth and success defined by ‘thin metrics’ - volume of sales, visitor numbers, shares and likes, number of workshops and accreditations purchased by operators. However, these thin metrics are not a strategy for the deep systems change we need to make. The systems change we need to make requires that we tap into a deeper sense of purpose, an alignment to life itself, to generosity, and to use our agency for good - not just for ourselves but for all.

However, when we continue to be dominated by the left brain simple solutions and thin measures of success prevail. Thin measures keep us isolated, competitive and unable to collaborate with generosity. But when we allow for the right brain to strengthen, then we are able to use a more holistic and integrated intelligence. It is then we start to understand that the way we have thought about the multiple and cascading crises upon us, requires integrated head-heart-gut intelligence and generous collaboration.

Motivated by this thinking, we wanted to make space for the conversation by having the Summit. We are still processing the Summit, the pages of chat, the emails that we received, the recordings, so there will be more reflections to come. However, we would like to share what we have so far, and welcome comments and reflections.

What is coming up for you right now?

We started the Summit on the first day in a moment of attunement, a gathering of our whole selves, then we asked the questions: What is coming up for you right now as we gather for this conversation? See the list of responses here A word cloud generated from responses in the chat function set the scene:

Twenty four global expert speakers in regenerative tourism are pictured

The Program

The Summit had a packed program with the following panel sessions:

  • The polycrisis and tourism - Sonia Teruel, Geoff Manchester and Andrew Keast

  • Regeneration rising - Anna Pollock and Carlos Picanço

  • Creating space for nature-culture-country connections - Irena Ateljevic and Mat HInes

  • Stories of belonging - Sammi Gowthorpe, Ash Bickley, Pete Allsop and Gail Woods with Nadine Schmidt Rojas

  • Belonging, stewardship and thriving in place - Debbie Clarke and Michelle Holliday

  • Communicating regeneration - Keeley Warren, JoAnna Haugen and Debbie Clarke

  • Don’t let the system define you. - Andrea Lane and Andrew Keast

  • The learning journey - Nadine Schmidt Rojas, Daniella Ruiz, Cecilie Smith-Christiansen

  • Is the tourism system future fit - Sarah Lebski, Vicky Smith and Tina O’Dwyer

The conversations

At the risk of oversimplifying the richness of the conversations, a number of initial observations can be made:

  • There was a lot of discussion around community-led tourism, the importance of local perspectives, indigenous knowledge, deep listening, and storytelling. Concepts like “emergence’, "dynamic balance" with nature and moving from "me to we" were brought up (which we might even be able to channel Dr Dan Seigel and dissolve the boundaries between me and we and find a state of “mwe” or wholeness!)

  • Speakers and participants shared examples of regenerative tourism projects they are involved in. Many participants also put forward ideas and initiatives they are working on. We are collecting up these links and will make them available in the near future.

  • It was impossible to choose a favourite panel! Each panel brought a diverse conversation and new insights. The appeal was driven by the honesty of the conversations and the opinions shared.

  • There were thought-provoking conversations around the current tourism model, growth vs prosperity, the role of policy-makers, and redefining concepts like luxury.

  • The need for new terms and language was discussed that would help transition away from industrial and exploitative language that defines the sector. For example, using "place" instead of "destination", tourism versus regenerative hosting, hospitality versus economic exchange. There were also reflections on how language shapes perspectives.

  • Summit participants appreciated the dialogue and the chance to connect. “I am not alone” was a common response in the chat. There was strong interest in continuing conversations and the need to connect and continue conversations.

Ideas and Takeaways

We asked participants to share their key takeways, lightbulb moments or final comments in the chat function. See the list of responses here. The following word cloud reveals the generous sentiment that characterised the discussions, and points to the emergence of the community:

Word Cloud generated from chat which indicated Thankyou, community, regenerative, were most common words and many words of gratitude

Our Reflections (so far)

The list below is not a definitive set of takeaways but an initial harvest of reflections from the chat that will evolve:

  1. Separation, individualism and a loss of connection has underpinned many of the challenges we currently face. When we say “home’ we mean our own internal sense of being and belonging at home within ourselves, our communities and the places we belong. If we do not belong, how can we enact a sense of stewardship for the places that nurture us? And how can we genuinely host others?

  2. It’s not about tourism. It’s about regeneration. Let’s not get caught up on the language. Regeneration is to accept that we are part of a living system and not separate to, nor dominant over, the system. What we can do to restore and replenish the system that sustains us will define our wellbeing and those of future generations. The tourism system needs develop this broader systems perspective.

  3. If you are trying to sell ‘regenerative tourism’ then you’re not regenerative. If you are trying to measure, commercialise and sell certification templates its likely that you haven’t understood the paradigm change and are most likely operating from a business-as-usual/exploitative model.

  4. Urgency. Communities are operationalising regenerative approaches drawing from place-based alternative knowledge systems e.g. lived experience, indigenous knowledge, embodied and intergenerational wisdom. “I wouldn’t wait for the state to lead on this. We need to get on with it ourselves”.

  5. We need a new language. “Tourism is ‘a word out of time.” Language comes with implied meaning and understandings about how the world is, the values we prioritise and how we should be in the world. Regeneration requires that we think, be and do differently, so a new language that aligns with new values is needed.

  6. Communicating action is key to avoiding greenwashing. If you are not doing anything to drive systemic change and shift mindsets, then ‘regeneration’ is not the term you should be using. Communicate the actions you are taking, the intention behind your actions, and offer evidence/social proof of your systemic impact. (See our Effectively Communicating Regenerative Tourism blog post by Mankind Digital)

  7. Collaboration and community are key drivers of change. Communities are leading the change because they are unencumbered by the old system. Its important to empower communities to drive this innovation. I love that this is community-LED and not just community-BASED. I think that's an important difference.”

  8. The future of tourism will be different (starting with the word itself) “Many people are seeking an internal journey (growth), not simply an external, geographical journey. Does that makes sense? If so we’re looking for an experience that triggers an internal journey of self knowledge…” Travel should address that journey.

  9. People can only take the next step in front of them. Learning and expanding thinking is key for those that work in closed systems where roles and responsibilities are defined and agendas are set. Sharing case studies and encouraging a learning mindset, especially for those in the system, is important.

  10. I am not alone. There is a thirst to shift the conversation, to connect and generate new pathways. “I truly feel at home in those conversations. A heartfelt thank you!”


And finally, this post would not be complete without acknowledging the incredible support of Tourism Colab allies and champions and the enduring support of Nadine Schmidt Rojas - The Tourism Colab; Keeley Warren - Mankind Digital; Debbie Clarke - The Centre for Good Travel, Cecilie Smith Christiansen - World Heritage Catalysis and and Vanessa Taveras Dalmau. Mil gracias!!

Team of five women who made the summit possible sitting in the zoom room

Finally, for those interested in finding out more or watching the recordings, we're offering a 14 day access to the Tourism Colab's Communiversity where you can review the recordings.


About the Tourism CoLab

The Tourism CoLab is an education and change making agency that supports and nurtures a global community of regenerative practitioners working to drive systems change in travel, hosting and destination management. We adopt a living systems approach, redesigning tourism and visitor activity for a resilient future.

The Tourism CoLab's Communiversity combines the founder's 20 year career in research and education with her deep embedded community co-design, policy and environmental planning experience.

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