The Coronavirus pandemic has caused a paradigm shift the world has yet to come to grips with. This has exacerbated many problems we face because our lives have already evolved via many failures in our human systems. A few things to note, which will be controversial, are the drawbacks of the present forms of capitalism and the fact that those at the head of our institutions do not have our backs. In this report, I’d like to discuss these issues to highlight the work of a few brilliant people and to suggest our next course of action as a global society. The report will focus mainly on the emerging trend and necessity for developing regenerative tourism.
The Next Evolution
An excellent way for me to begin to express my thesis is through the work of my great friend Brian Solis (below) and his concept of “digital Darwinism” described in his best-seller “The End of Business as Usual.” The book, which discusses the evolution of consumer behavior and humanity’s inability to adapt to emerging technologies, is a brilliant assessment by the world’s most thoughtful digital analyst. But, unfortunately, the work stops short, focusing on the CEOs and entrepreneurs and business success rather than business and economics aimed at serving the true greater good. This is no fault of Brian’s, for digital Darwinism is only one facet of our societal evolution. However, it’s a perfect example of how we have gone too fast in the past few decades and missed the right turns that would have led to a promising future.
Part of Solis’s work revolves around technology outpacing the human capacity for adaptation. In a similar way, our economics and even globalization have morphed into ever increasingly complicated systems that fail to serve our lives properly. I am thinking right now of the Capital Institute, which attempts to reimagine economics and finance in service to life. Founded by a former JPMorgan director John Fullerton, the institute addresses crucial issues from the carbon bubble to stranded assets and the likelihood of a whole system collapse if the right decisions are not made.
A Recent post by Fullerton is both insightful and cautioning, suggesting that we face an almost impossible BIG CHOICE between ecological and economic destruction. But he also offers a few solutions. This paragraph from his post explains:
“We must accelerate low technology paths such as avoided deforestation and grassland restoration[vii] to sequester carbon. But we must also remove subsidies and divest from the destructive fossil-fuel-based energy, transportation, and industrial agriculture systems and the destabilizing and counterproductive speculation of the Wall Street financial system.” He also says we must marshal unprecedented private and public resources to the great energy system transition to manage a successful outcome for the future.”
Fullerton is behind many endeavors to reboot our business and economic systems to create a holistic regenerative movement to replace “business as usual” and mitigate systems and the mindset of those who benefit from them. Long story short, Fullerton’s ideas revolve around evolving our conceptualization of the “good life.” Reading his works and the efforts of others, I am convinced that if Brian Solis had this information in front of him when he wrote “The End of Business as Usual,” he’d have suggested that some segments of society would be served better if they were not convinced to buy technologies that end up causing a stressed existence. Today, Brian deals with this in his lectures and other writings. Fullerton, like Solis and a few other visionaries, explores every avenue in his search for a better way.
Now we are seeing regenerative efforts by Fullerton and others across the spectrum from movements like the Savory Institute, which moves to regenerate grasslands. Another regenerative effort called First Crop reenvisions our economic system. The passage below sums up what the First Crop cooperative of farmers is about:
“We believe in a more just form of capitalism and seek to revitalize rural communities by empowering individuals to work together to gain more control over their financial security, health, and wellness.”
Shunning False Prophecies
The local community is the core of growth and synergy at the heart of regenerative economics and its offshoots. The current centralized corporate control mechanisms could never address the needs of the few or the one. As a result of our failed efforts at supra-capitalism, the balance of wealth in the world is unimaginably tilted toward the elites. Billions suffer and are victims of the flawed strategies world leaders have created and perpetuated for decades. The distanced corporate investor has little or no interest in the impact of overabundance on the local people most negatively affected by production. For example, the Walmart investor could care less about the fuel container ships use to bring cheap products for the retailer to sell.
Clinging to our past ideas of economic win, profit without community building is the looming catastrophe the ruling elites will not discuss. However, it’s abundantly clear we must empower everyone to realize the promise of globalization. I have two examples in the trendy regenerative tourism sector, a segment of the economy I am very familiar with. One example revolves around public relations, marketing, and what is effectively manufactured consent (advertising). The other is more of a bonafide regenerative tourism effort.
The first is a development called Neom, which is a planned smart city in Tabuk Province in northwestern Saudi Arabia. The 500 billion dollar project was not billed initially as a regenerative tourism project but was a mega-project now part of the Saudi Vision 2030 planning. But, first, the developers forcing 20,000 Howeitat people to relocate to accommodate the planned city is not exactly what anyone but a Saudi prince would think is “regenerating” a community.
As for the landscape, Tabuk Province is known for dairy and poultry farms and as a flower-growing center with blooms and plants exported to Europe. Traditionally, the area was a stopover for travelers headed to Mecca. Still, if Neom is stamped onto the landscape, many of the faithful will be tempted to stop at the high-rise luxury hotels or the remanufactured islands offshore. Ruder Finn used to be the PR company working on Neom’s image, so I expect new ad spend by the developers once this story comes out.
Neom is the exact opposite of regenerative economics and all its facets. It is 20th-century human-engineered growth masked as human-centric progress. Projects like this, and the PR campaigns misinforming the public about the true nature of the developments, must be called out whenever we find them.
Early Regenerative Tourism Practice
The second development, several ‘micro-hospitality’ projects by Thierry Teyssier (at right), the Founder of 700’000 Heurs, may be part of the ultimate regenerative tourism solution. An article in CEO Magazine refers to them as ephemeral hotels, temporary accommodations designed to last only a short time. Small in size, the hotels occupy remote places like deserts or forests for a few days or weeks, offering guests unique and immersive experiences. In theory, these small temporary hotels allow the surroundings to regenerate and rejuvenate once removed. I think of them as a new eco-friendlier form of glamping. Teyssier’s 700’000 Heurs (In French) move to remote regions worldwide every six months.
A pilot program by Teyssier in the village of Tiskmoudine in Morocco hints at how regenerative tourism can expand and ultimately change the industry. A passage from Teyssier’s website clues us as to how.
“The collaboration with the local community of Tiskmoudine and the Global Heritage Fund and works to revitalize economic activity, re-create the social fabric, empower the women of the village, restore the cultural heritage, and regeneration of natural ecosystems.”
Readers can extrapolate and expand on what Teyssier and his collaborators are doing. For example, the Tiskmoudine community provides unprecedented hospitality and an unbelievable opportunity for a transformative and meaningful travel experience. Another recent effort I’ve become familiar with in Zanzibar is another example of regenerative tourism’s potential for local communities and the world.
Problems as Opportunities
Orama Hospitality Group, a hotel management company started by three experienced Greeks, runs several small resort properties on the beach in the East of Zanzibar Island. Their ultimate goal is to rejuvenate traditional Zanzibar stays and transform them into regenerative tourism resorts.
The work has already begun as far as remaking classic Zanzibar bungalows, as has outreach efforts to the local community. In addition, the hotels already offer guests immersive experiences, and more community restorative efforts are taking shape. The Greeks aim for a niche larger hotels and resorts cannot satisfy while simultaneously creating a template for success more extensive operations (investors) can benefit from.
Zanzibar was famous for its highly lucrative spice trade. This is where the archipelago got the name “Spice Islands.” However, this industry began to fail, leaving tourism enterprises as the only real economic sector for the people of the island paradise. This has caused great benefits and serious problems.
The biggest problem was that the gated resorts and larger hotels offered no real benefit to the struggling locals. While a booming tourism industry in Zanzibar provides much-needed jobs and other economic benefits, negative social impacts and environmental degradation are two significant problems decision-makers still face. The research from World Bank from 4 years ago is too optimistic in my view, but the indicators are correct in the chart above.
As in many other regions, the issues do not emanate from local officials or business people. Instead, the situation in Zanzibar and elsewhere is the attitude and nature of outside investment. The paper “Tourism in Zanzibar: Challenges for pro-poor growth” from Professor Elena Rotarou of the Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro in 2014 keyed on this and other problems in Zanzibar. This paragraph explains the situation back in 2004:
“Overall, it is argued that the tourism sector in Zanzibar has been largely disorganized and focussed on satisfying the economic interests of foreign investors. As a result, tourism development has had little impact on poverty reduction and has established few links with the local economy.”
I spoke with Minas Liapakis, the CMO and one of the founders of Orama Hospitality, about how his company can help change this by adopting a business/investing model more in sync with a more positive future via regenerative hospitality. Here is what he had to say:
“Zanzibar has made considerable strides in rebranding and developing a thriving tourism sector in the past few decades. From 1985 to 2015, arrivals increased by over 700%. The impetus for this growth came mainly from outside investment. The problem was these investors sought maximum ROI over the short term. As a result, there was no mid to long-term investment thinking going on back then.”
Liapakis went on to say that more sound business practices, investing, and empowering the local community are reasons his group came to Zanzibar. According to Liapakis, while others see Zanzibar’s problems as liabilities, Orama and the investors they represent see opportunities. In short, Zanzibar is primed to be the next regenerative tourism success story. However, as Liapakis commented, the mission is not an easy one.
Zanzibar officials must make moves to favor SMEs to become the success story I speak of. Training for locals to become higher-level executives in hotels and resorts must be a priority. Foreign owners of resorts and hotels should receive incentives/benefits for employing and advancing Zanzabarian employees. In addition, my research shows that local growers and other suppliers are often locked out of doing business with these resorts and hotels, further exacerbating all the other problems.
Regenerative tourism is about travelers bringing more than they take from this paradise. This has little to do with revenue and everything to do with attitude, expectations, and the willingness to discover the authentic “good life.” Investors who put their money into such a transformation will reap a return on investment worth a hundred times more. Imagine two futures. One is where Zanzibar, Crete, or Tahiti are no longer paradise, where the “value” is gone. Now, imagine the converse. What kind of guest value will an authentic Eden be worth when so many other places are ruined? It seems to me we are in an era where redefining what the good life is will help us grow and prosper.
This post originally appeared on our editor’s LinkedIn profile