“Regeneration is about transforming our perspective and developing a collaborative relationship with nature and each other. It is an ongoing journey that is to be continually improved upon. ” CatchOn, A Finn Partners Company shares with the Five Regenerative Principles.
Being green is about doing less damage; sustainability, as it is generally practiced today, is aimed towards having a neutral impact; restoration is about making things better. Regeneration is about transforming our perspective and developing a collaborative relationship with nature and each other. It is an ongoing journey that is to be continually improved upon.
In this article, we share with SpaChina readers the Five Regenerative Principles, which are:
- Whole Systems Thinking
- Honoring Sense of Place
- Community Inclusion and Partnership
- Aspirational in Nature
- Continual Co-Evolution
Whole Systems Thinking
Regeneration is an all-encompassing approach that strives to illustrate how everything is interconnected and ultimately influenced by one another through whole systems thinking. All stakeholders, including elements such as physical land, are considered in every decision, as well as the potential ramifications choices have on all animate and inanimate systems.
“It’s getting people out of their rooms, to the communal area, and connecting with the community that is Playa Viva, which includes the staff. From there, out into the community, and the farther out they go, the more connected they become to place,” explains David Leventhal, Owner of Playa Viva. He talks of “the concentric circles of effect,” as one form of whole systems thinking. In Playa Viva’s case, this web starts with the guest, whose experience touches everyone and everything.
Whole systems thinking is not one-directional, but rather a mechanism to keep unearthing and learning what the place, people and space demand in a holistic sense. The methodology is a dialogue inclusive of all: “It’s a two-way street because it’s not just them learning from us, but we learn from them too,” Leventhal says. In adopting such a strategy, separation dissipates and the place co-evolves as one.
When looking at whole systems thinking applied to the hotel operator level, one can understand how regenerative tourism plays an integral part of a healthy ecosystem, particularly for those whose business depends on the oceans.
The health of the Belize Barrier Reef is crucial as the reef supports fishing industries and livelihoods. The tourism sector, in which diving and snorkeling play a key role, is estimated to contribute over 40% of GDP. In collaboration with fishermen, The Nature Conservancy (TNC) has developed an ingenious solution that will continue to provide livelihood while regenerating the depleted ocean environment through sustainable seaweed farms. Known as “Belize gold,” the farms’ seaweed provides a holistic approach to solving problems facing Belize by giving fishers alternative employment, combating overfishing, providing a safe habitat for native fish and invertebrates, and reducing ocean acidification locally.
The seaweed project has now been recognized by TNC as one of its most successful ventures to date and is supported by Hamanasi Resort. The hotel annually donates $10,000 to TNC Belize and encourages guests to donate to the organization while educating them on the importance of its mission. Guests can also learn about the benefits of seaweed firsthand, as Hamanasi utilizes seaweed in many ways from healthy smoothies to rejuvenating spa treatments. Seaweed farming represents a sustainable livelihood for many Belizeans—something that Hamanasi Resort owner Dana Krauskopf believes is integral to the region’s ability to thrive.
Honoring Sense of Place
Honoring a sense of place is an integral regenerative practice for hospitality as it allows the traveler to be immersed in its history, touching upon every aspect of the guest experience-from food to design.
“How do we weave as many elements of our community, of its past, of its practices, of its dreams and of its stories into the fabric of how it’s built and how it operates?” Zita Cobb, Innkeeper at Fogo Island Inn asks. “In my father’s generation, often people couldn’t read and write, so when they had to go from St. John’s all the way to Fogo Island by boat, they had navigation songs to help them steer. We took fragments of a long song and wove fragments of the words into the shower of every room. You would have to go to all 29 rooms to actually figure out how to get from St. John’s to Fogo Island. Most guests come and probably never really realize what it is or that it’s there, but it gives us deep pleasure to know we baked it in.”
Fogo Island Inn honors a sense of place through these precise details. Through formal charrettes (collaborative design meetings), they experimented with different colors to explore how the building would disappear in atmospheric conditions and blend into the landscape. They also discussed the layout for the bathroom and how a bathroom should work. How could they reconcile, for instance, how the people of Fogo Island traditionally approached bathing without running water? In designing a modern washroom, how could they honor the past at once? The charrettes also looked at the Inn’s food offering and encouraged residents to reactivate the gardens they had once abandoned. Through a return to ingredients that they had forgotten, and the discovery of ingredients that their ancestors didn’t know were edible, Fogo Islanders were able to rediscover what was already on their doorstep.
By recreating the fabric of the land and its people into the present, travelers can experience the ethos, values, and embodiment of the host. Luz Caceres and Roberto Fernández, the owners of Pacuare Lodge in Costa Rica, describe how regeneration “is in their DNA” as a result of their background and upbringing. “We grew up surrounded by the jungle and rivers, volcanoes, and outdoor adventure. We started this life mission when we were little, because we grew up in this environment. It was instinctual for us to say, ‘let’s stop this damage, let’s repair the damage that has been done.’”
Through continual development and trust-building with the local community, Caceres and Fernández were able to ultimately help protect their traditional way of life and art forms. The local people were able to relearn skills that they had lost over the years through workshops. “One of the ideas that we proposed to them was to build one of their traditional huts on our property. Young people who were losing these techniques would have the opportunity to build the hut and embody their original way of living and at the same time, allow our guests to learn from the structure as well.”
Honoring sense of place means to understand its traits, mannerisms, and all that constitutes and defines it as a dynamic ever-changing whole with its own unique essence. This identity experienced as “sense or soul of place” proves indispensable differentiation, providing a window of opportunity to learn, engage, and fully appreciate the potential of a place to benefit all.
Community Inclusion and Partnership
Regeneration is often intuitively associated with landscapes and the natural environment. While that is undeniably part of regeneration, the fundamental cornerstone of regeneration resides in the community of people that inhabit the land.
“The word ‘community,’” Zita Cobb, Innkeeper at Fogo Island Inn, explains, “is a physical, tangible place where people live together in some kind of tangle with each other, where by virtue of their shared geography, they have a shared fate, and it’s a healthy community.” Cobb’s definition illustrates a vehicle through which togetherness and collaboration emerge. In examining the concept of community against the backdrop of Fogo Island, Cobb describes how the early ecological mindset of the Fogo Islanders was essentially that of regeneration. “They had a really good relationship with the idea of how much is enough.” Most simply, explains, it is about relationships. “What is our relationship to this physical geographic place? What is our relationship with each other in this community? What is the relationship of the Inn to the communities that are on Fogo Island? It takes a very different kind of business model to pay your people properly.”
By incorporating all stakeholders with diverse experiences and intimate knowledge of the landscape, the potential of the land increases exponentially-and by extension, the need to protect it. Operating under this methodology rewards the traveler with authentic experiences, and the hotelier, a relationship whose dividends cannot be measured.
Before Sangjay Choegyal, Director of Gal Oya Lodge in Sri Lanka, began construction, he realized the importance of cultivating a relationship with the local indigenous community. He explains, “We wanted to make sure that we were working hand in hand with the veddas so that we weren’t accelerating the demise of their culture.” The open dialogue between Gal Oya and the indigenous communities offers a chance for all parties to voice concerns and become part of the ongoing evolution of the space. As a result of continual development and communication, Gal Oya and the veddas developed ‘vedda walks’ as an offering for its guests. These walks offer a unique glimpse of a culture that is rapidly disappearing.
Choegyal and his team also include the community as valued stakeholders in the physical construction and operation of the lodge. “We made sure that nothing was imported and that everything was made by local artisans. We hired local contractors and builders which cost us more in the long-term and took more time. But we wanted to ensure that it was almost a community exercise to build this new lodge.”
Aspirational in Nature
Aspiration is defined as the desire and ambition to achieve something. When placed within the regenerative context, this desire is translated into actualizing the potential of all, individually and collectively. Unlike traditional business relationships where the shareholder return and bottom line take precedence, regeneration opts to take into account all stakeholders. Anna Pollock depicts aspiration in action “when you’re creating the conditions for life to thrive because life, imagination, aspiration, all of these things are latent in the potential of that community. The challenge is you can’t prescribe solutions. But you can create the conditions for that essence of potential to emerge.” Aspiration is the vehicle through which potential is realized.
Six Senses Hotels Resort and Spa CEO Neil Jacobs describes their resorts’ unique role in inspiring guests to reconnect with themselves and develop compassion and gratitude, which contribute to their well-being and, consequently, the regeneration of self. “It is with greater consciousness and a willingness to dive deep into yourself that you will reconnect. You will regenerate, you will contribute more, and you will have a more well life.”
Jacobs states there is a shift in consciousness and a newfound desire to reconnect. “People want to come out of a travel experience in a better place than when they went into it,” Jacobs explains. “So much about wellness and regeneration goes hand in hand because it’s ultimately about our consciousness, our interactions, and our respect for one another. The question is how to articulate it in a hotel stay. I think we can influence how people live their lives through our programming.” The aspirational development is ignited by the experiences Six Senses strives to instill in the guest journey, with the ultimate hope that these leave a lasting impression on the traveler, even upon their return home.
Building upon the notion of travel as a change agent for transformation, Marcus Cotton, Owner of Tiger Mountain Pokhara Lodge, explains how the essence of their Nepali jungle backyard is captured in their mission and aspiration for their local community and guests. “Our mission is that tourism should be a force for good – for the local community, but also for travelers to have awareness of regeneration.” At Tiger Mountain, this aspiration creates an experience in service to a larger purpose.
At Playa Viva, potential rests in what most would envision as a problem. “Playa Viva is at the base of the watershed because it’s the estuary,” owner David Leventhal explains. Instead of choosing to overlook this natural feature, Leventhal decided to highlight the water basin’s role in the community. “That watershed empties into our property, and we feel we have a responsibility all the way up the watershed, whatever goes into it and touches us. And so it’s not just the town next to us. There are multiple levels: the first thing is the trash that enters. We need environmental education on waste and waste streams, and we need to bring kids down to the beach, to clean up. They see waste doesn’t just disappear. We need to connect them to that system and empower them.”
By looking at the long view and connectivity that exists at all levels of community in the form of this estuary, Playa Viva’s actions illuminate the collective potential of the environment. When potential is witnessed at all levels, what often appear to be obstacles become mechanisms to imagine, delight, and inspire places and whole communities.
Regenesis Group’s Bill Reed says that regeneration is not episodic: it evolves continuity, and one has to be conscious of its evolution. Continual adaptation is the essence of regeneration. Dereck Joubert, founder of Great Plains Conservation, judges their narrative against what was done in the past and what they wish to accomplish in the future. “Systems are evolving all the time. We’re looking at service, because we can always improve that. What have we learned that can make us more caring? Caring is key. Almost every relationship we have in the world is based on caring. Our reaction to lion population falls and pangolin scale poaching all stem from an uncaring. In a world with a dramatically increasing human population, it’s going to be harder and harder, because people are going to be more focused on looking after themselves.”
Joubert recalls a conversation in 1995 with the Okavango Community Trust aimed at convincing them that tourism would be more sustainable than hunting. As he looked around the table with blank stares, he took off his belt and laid it on the table, and shared how this was an example of a byproduct of tourism in Kenya. He had purchased the belt for a sum that equated to more than most in the village earned in a month. After introducing the idea, Joubert was later approached by a poacher who was interested in working as a guide for Great Plains. The erstwhile hunter became a leading guide, and eventually, a shareholder – expressing an example of how the coevolution of people and place can ultimately create a successful model from poaching wildlife to protecting wildlife for tourism.
Portia Hart, founder of Blue Apple Beach in Colombia, states that the hotel’s relationship with the community is constantly developing through employment and educational opportunities. “When we opened, the community was happy and everybody wanted to work for us. We have a fantastic relationship, because it’s not just about hiring local staff. Our guest activities are managed by locals, and that flow of wealth goes directly to the people. We have a network of 300 people who in some way depend on or benefit from our hotel. We’re always learning about how we can be more contributive and be better neighbors. We have seen positive changes with our staff—people building their houses with bricks and mortar for the first time, going on vacation and taking an airplane for the first time, sending their children to university for the first time… If you give people the opportunity, they seize it and fly.”
Hart is now working with the local tourism authority to start a sustainability fund where companies can choose to make contributions themselves or through their customers, as in Colombia, there is no local tax that goes back into tourism. Such a fund can assist small businesses like Blue Apple Beach achieve sustainable and regenerative changes to their operations. “For me, it’s really about making the whole city better rather than just my business. A destination is not regenerative if it only has one or two responsible businesses. I would like the whole destination to be seen as responsible.”
Through a regenerative mindset, there’s an unwavering desire to do better and recognize the potential in evolution throughout human development, infrastructure, and the economy.