As major travel brands begin to embrace regenerative tourism, there is one area that’s incredibly undervalued: the tourism workforce.
Elevating the local community through workforce education
Some regeneration initiatives attempt to put the effort or the added cost of sustainability onto the tourist, which is not a bad thing. From optional cultural education activities, to partnerships with nonprofits for volunteer opportunities, to required patron donations to conservation efforts, businesses can facilitate regenerative tourism through their customers. However, local tourism workers can make the most significant impact when it comes to sustainability efforts.
While many hotels rely on imported talent, especially in the MENA region, upskilling local talent in regenerative practices achieves success two-fold. Not only can the hotel workforce serve as ambassadors, educators and spokespeople for sustainable practices, but hotels will also better serve local community members looking for employment.
“Tourism is the number-one employer worldwide, and the number-one revenue generator for many developing countries,” Gandhi said. “The biggest part of sustainability that’s overlooked is community-building. If you educate and upskill the local community to be sustainable and be part of the tourism workforce, that’s a game changer.”
Tourism companies can not only focus on hiring and upskilling local talent, but they can also partner with local small businesses who provide activities, dining, toiletries and more. While sustainability is about sustaining an area, regenerative tourism is about bringing new energy and life. Hotels have an opportunity to not only create new life in an environmental sense, but also in an economic sense.
Measuring and publishing holistic sustainability KPIs
Another area of regenerative tourism where travel brands can make an impact in 2023 is emissions and general sustainability goal tracking. While many hotels are tracking greenhouse gas emissions, improvements and long-term progress aren’t publicized. On top of that, there are many other KPIs that travel companies can measure.
From waste management, to employee well-being, to single-use plastics, there many quantifiable sustainability areas that few airlines or hotels regularly publish progress on. Companies can look at sustainability through a more holistic lens across more categories and track growth more openly.
Similarly, regenerative tourism means adding a positive impact to an environment, not just lessening damage. Most environmental goals focus on carbon neutrality, or net-zero impact, which is just offsetting current and future emissions. Very few hotels have set more ambitious goals of “carbon negativity,” or “climate positivity,” (i.e., the goal of regeneration). In planning future travel experiences, destinations and properties, companies can set the industry standard higher by establishing climate positivity, or regeneration, from the start.
“There’s always this argument: A sustainable building costs about 25% more than a traditional building,” Gandhi said. “But because of the way they operate, they actually make up for that cost with future savings. The same thing is true for talent. The upfront cost of setting up an educational facility and educating people is high, but the cost of consistently importing and replacing talent is consistently higher. The businesses that have adopted regenerative practices will see savings over the years.”
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Implementing smart technology management systems
One of the challenges of tracking sustainability KPIs is the accurate measurement of the data, as well as the storage and analysis of that data. For example, it’s unrealistic to manually track and manage visitor flow; yet, it’s crucial not only to the guest experience but for commitments to annual tourist caps. Setting up cloud-based resort management technology to automatically cap reservations or track visitor flow in high foot traffic areas can help to meet sustainability goals.
When it comes to biodiversity efforts, the Red Sea Project developed a simulation of ocean wildlife, like a digital twin, to evaluate potential impact and damage from construction. This digital map generated a baseline measurement of the environmental conditions and will further measure the effects of the project.
The use of IoT sensors can also be effective in tracking energy output from hotel rooms, or machine efficiency during hotel construction. Another benefit of smart management is the digital guest experience. Travel companies can use their app, website and other technology to give consumers more information about their own carbon footprint, as well as opportunities to feel good about their vacation choice.
Beyond just allowing guests to see their emissions, an app could reward them with points based on decisions they make that lower their environmental impact throughout their stay, like turning off lights or taking an alternate route.
Integrating a digital experience piece also builds loyalty with customers beyond the stay. Rather than just coordinating a turtle rescue activity on the trip, technology can allow guests to “adopt” a local turtle and track its growth and location through the app and a turtle tracker.