Discover hotels and resorts dedicated to positive social and environmental impact
As the world begins to emerge—slowly but surely—from a year of lockdown, many of us are eager to start travelling again. But we have done so much damage to our environment and communities that we must start thinking about how we can travel in a more sustainable way.
“We have to repair and replenish to make things better,” says Amanda Ho, co-founder of Regenerative Travel.
You’re probably wondering: what is regenerative travel, anyway? Another buzzword for sustainable, eco or green travel? Not quite. Regenerative travel is all about creating better conditions for the environment and the community, making a positive environmental and social impact on the place you're visiting.
“It’s about honouring place,” says David Leventhal, co-founder of Regenerative Travel and owner of the first ever regenerative resort, Playa Viva.
Secluded on the West Coast of Mexico, in Julchuca, Zihuantanejo—where the sunsets are unrivalled— you’ll find Playa Viva (pictured above). With farm-to-table cuisine, yoga retreats, nurturing wildlife habitats, visits to local farms, and opportunities to really get to know the local community, that one resort soon turned into something much greater.
“People started asking if there were more places like it in the world," says David. "We thought, if we were resonating with people and it was so hard to find us, we figured there was an opportunity to make it easier for all these great little projects that people are running all over the world.”
In response, the duo created Regenerative Travel, a booking platform for the Regenerative Resorts hotel collection—44 (and counting) independently owned eco-luxury boutique hotels that practice the highest levels of social and environmental integrity. More recently they have launched full trip planning services, and the Regenerative Travel Summit (the second one will be held virtually in September 2021).
We chatted with both Amanda Ho and David Leventhal of Regenerative Travel on what the word means, how we can start to travel more responsibly, and what the future of travel in a post-pandemic world might look like.
E911: How would you describe regenerative travel to somebody who might not be familiar with the term?
Amanda: The simplest way to describe it is that reaching sustainability is essentially achieving net zero while regenerative is making something better. For us to move from sustainable to regenerative travel, we have to have a whole systems approach, which is thinking about all the stakeholders that are involved. That’s everybody: the land, the people, the community and the wildlife. Regeneration is about getting to the root of the cause and the problem, creating a whole systems loop.
David: As a culture, I think using the term ‘regenerative’ is important. I want it to be defined that regeneration is inclusive and aspirational. You can always be greener, you can always be more sustainable, more regenerative—it is a path, it is a journey. I think that regenerative is a paradigm shift because it looks at things like being non-extractive and co-evolution.
Chaa Creek Resort, Belize
E911: Has the pandemic caused a big shift in people thinking about travelling more responsibly? Or were people already on that trajectory?
Amanda: With COVID-19, the travel industry essentially came to a halt. We now have an opportunity to rebuild a new framework that puts transformation in all travel experiences at the forefront, creating abundance and net positive impact for all stakeholders. We're looking at how travel can be non-extractive, more immersive, inclusive, diverse and equitable. Now, there's an opportunity to rebuild and think about how we can do travel differently, not only from a hotel standpoint but also as a destination.
David: Tourism was a drug that we got dependent on and we need to find a more resilient way to live that doesn't rely on that extract model. Hopefully, people will be moving towards more of this type of travel going forward because it's going to be more well thought through. They're going to have to be thinking about where they're spending their money. For the next little while, it's not the easiest thing to just jump on a plane and go somewhere. Do we travel because we deserve to be served by a local person on the beach to bring us a Corona and a burger with avocado on it? No, not at all, because we could get that anywhere. We go there to have interaction—person to person—with people that live there to understand how other people live.
E911: Are there any destinations or properties that are paving the way with regenerative travel?
Amanda: Hawaii has really championed regenerative tourism in their recovery plan as well as New Zealand and Scotland. Palau is another great example because they are looking to achieve carbon neutrality. Some destinations have been championing regeneration for a long time but not calling it that per se. Costa Rica is a really good example of how the government has made it part of their DNA. Bhutan is another incredible destination with its gross happiness index—regenerative pillars have been embedded in the essential core of how they operate their tourism for so long.
Now we're seeing destinations emerging with a specific focus on rebuilding their tourism. Hawaii is a really good example, specifically looking at how they can move away from over-tourism and the very extractive nature of how tourists have been traveling there. There was something like a 20:1 ratio of travelers to residents in a recent study.
Now they're looking at how they can be regenerative. They adopted this new recovery plan based around the word Mālama. Moving from the mantra of ‘Aloha’ to ‘Mālama’ which means to tend to care for, to preserve, and protect.
They rolled out a program on a regional basis where travelers can volunteer, give back their time, or be more proactive in how they contribute back to the community and they can get discounts or free nights. It's an incentive program to encourage people to contribute to the abundance rather than just taking it when they travel.
E911: Are there any specific properties in the Regenerative Resorts hotel collection that you feel are doing a great job, something unique, or something that others should aspire to?
Amanda: I think all of our hotels are doing incredible work. Each of our hotels has been selected for their environmental and social impact initiatives.
One of our newer properties in the Scottish Highlands, Alladale Wilderness Reserve, is located on over 23,000 hectares of land. Sport hunting and fishing are big industries in the country, but Scotland has a goal to be the first rewilding nation. Alladale has a concept that’s a mix of rewilding, hospitality, and renewable energy. In 2018, they stopped offering commercial stocking [for hunting] and have focused on reintroducing wolves and other key species of fauna and flora. They have a huge emphasis on restoring and protecting the natural wilderness area. They've tripled their revenue since they stopped stocking, and there's been a new emphasis on really pushing conservation and bringing back the wildlife and abundance that was once there. They are a great example of—very similar to Africa—moving from a hunting model to a conservation model, and how it can be done.Alladale Wilderness Reserve, Scotland
E911: What kind of changes can people make to start moving towards travelling in a more regenerative way? And, how can Regenerative Travel help people do that?
Amanda: We’re putting a huge emphasis on pre-designed itineraries. The hotels are the destination for us. We work closely with our hoteliers who are doing such incredible work. When a traveller books with us they know that the hotel has been thoroughly vetted for their contributions to the community, but also how they built the property and their operations. Step one, for us, is choosing your accommodations and being confident that the hotels you're staying at are contributing back locally, carbon offsetting, and dedicating their resources to help sequester carbon.
I think pre-COVID-19, everyone, including myself, was guilty of trying to cram in so much into one trip—taking many flights, bouncing back and forth, doing three nights here, three nights there in different cities. Now we have an opportunity to encourage longer and more immersive stays where you can dive deeper. We are trying to encourage that through our private and predesigned trips, so we can showcase to the travelers how they can go deeper in one destination.
E911: Can you tell me a little bit about Playa Viva? What makes it regenerative?
David: There are so many layers to the onion—it is whole systems thinking. If I just took one item out, it would be representative, but it’s co-evolution.
We're creating, organic, green, sustainable food. We’re now at the point where we’re compassionately harvesting the animal protein from our property. But is that what makes us regenerative? No. Is the fact that other chefs in the community want to participate? Sure, that helps. Is it the fact that we're working on a whole watershed regeneration process? Does that make us regenerative? Sure. But does it matter that Inez who's working in the kitchen doesn't have water in her home because of what's happening with the watershed? So, we implemented a water capture system in people’s homes. Is water capture enough just to be regenerative? No, because the local fishermen don't have enough fish, because they're fishing the oceans out so we have to work on sustainable fisheries and education, right? Well, is that enough? No.
Then there's environmental education with the turtle sanctuary. Is that enough? No, because the kids can't go to school because they don't have enough money to pay for their uniforms and their school lunches, which is required even though school is free. So, we have an adopt a student program. Is that enough? No, because there's COVID-19 and the kids can't go to school, so we have to create it. Is it enough that we're doing a soccer program because we need to add physical education for the kids to have fun and to meet other kids because they don't have another opportunity to interact with each other? So to say what's one thing that's like saying which one part of your body is important. Each piece continues to grow and evolve as we grow and we evolve.
E911: Are there other properties where guests are being integrated into the community in such a way as Playa Viva does, with social impact programs and conservation projects?
Amanda Ho: It's happening at pretty much every property. It's just about how intertwined the guest is looking to get in terms of the experience. A great example of another place that is doing it well, as a central offering of their DNA, is Fogo Island Inn in Newfoundland.
Fogo Island Inn is a community-owned asset. When they were initially building it, designing it, working on the architecture and how they would structure the interiors and how the whole inn functioned, they held formal design meetings called shreds, which essentially are formal stakeholder meetings where everyone in the community got together. The whole inn is a community-based decision.
That is really apparent in the guest experience. They’ve designed their concierge service to be community hosts. Every guest that comes to Fogo Island gets assigned a different community host and essentially, they take you home, show you around the Island, it’s about as local as you can get, you're just learning about their day-to-day lives of the Fogo Islanders.
When I went there, I had this lovely elderly couple, a fisherman and his wife. They had us over to their house and they showed us how they've been fishing for many years. They showed us their workshop. They had us over to their house and they made us pie and we tasted homemade jam.
David Leventhal: I talk about Fogo Island Inn as somebody we aspire to at Playa Viva. When you look at Fogo Island Inn, you think, "What an incredible building," but until you hear the story and understand the history of place and how it evolved, only then can you understand what makes it such an incredible property.Fogo Island Inn, Newfoundland
E911: What's up next for Regenerative Travel? Any big plans?
We have a couple of things on the horizon. We're launching Regenerative Retreats. This will be our group trip offering, launching in the next two months. Essentially, we'll be offering small group tours centered around the pillars of wellness and regeneration, offering anything from yoga trips with incredible wellness practitioners, or deep dives into conservation at some of our properties. These will be small group immersions with set departure dates to Regenerative Resorts.
To read about one of Regenerative Resorts' newest additions to their roster, check out this story on Three Eco Lodges to put on your Travel Bucket List, highlighting Chaa Creek, Belize’s original eco resort deep in the jungle of San Ignacio. There, you can explore numerous trails; take a guided bird-watching walk with the resident birder; go on a nature walk with the on-site naturalists; ride a quad through the rainforest; or take a canoe out for a paddle on the Macal River. Later, dine in an al fresco restaurant with local specialties and dishes made with ingredients from their 33-acre Maya organic farm.