Tourism is a pot of gold, accounting for 10.4% of global GDP (US$9.2 trillion) in 2019. (World Travel & Tourism Council). Governments who want a share of the pie indulge in mass tourism development. Typically, a developer is brought in to build attractions, resorts, or infrastructure to scenic or cultural places. This makes the selected destination ready to bring in tourists. A lot of them, that the number of tourists exceeds the capacity of the destination. This methodology of development also results in enclave tourism where tourism “takes place in a space that is segregated from the community outside.” (Tourism Teacher) Ideally, this form of mass tourism should serve to create jobs, re-distribute wealth and lift the local standard of living. However, this is not true. “On average, of each US$ 100 spent on a vacation tour by a tourist from a developed country, only around US$ 5 actually stays in a developing-country destination’s economy.” (UN Atlas of the oceans) Mass tourism fails to deliver on its dream and is “responsible for environmental problems, cultural commodification and a general decline in the living standards of the locals.” (Anna Corradi, Brown Political Review

In this new age where we are more aware of the issues with climate injustice and the highly-emitting nature of travel, sustainable tourism is on track to become the next trend in tourism. However, with tourism built on a linear economic model and shareholder capitalism, “the tourism sector’s commitment to sustainable development is decidedly weak” (Brian Mullins, World Economic Forum) This is the sustainable growth paradox. Where tourism is built to extract wealth and profits, it is impossible to achieve sustainable tourism on an industry-level. There is a need to re-conceptualise what tourism is built upon, which will be the new travel paradigm that introduces industry-level regenerative travel. 

Terraformers is a regenerative travel start-up. Our mission is to design a regenerative travel paradigm that allows nature, local communities and travellers to thrive in harmony. Our vision is for anyone to thrive anywhere. Travel will be restored as a force for good that ensures no one falls short of flourishing life essentials. 

The framework guiding the design of our new paradigm is built on the principles of the Doughnut Economics. (Doughnut Economics Action Lab

Way of thinking20th century mass tourism21st century regenerative travel
Change the goalTourism GDP Growth; ProfitsImprove social and environmental well-being of local communities
See the big pictureCommodification of culture, traditions, natureFacilitate cultural exchanges; shared appreciation and love for nature 
Nurture human natureRational economic traveller – money will buy luxury, relaxation and adventuresEmpathetic traveller seeking authentic, deep understanding of local communities; Travellers integrate and adapt to local communities, and contribute where necessary
Get savvy with systemsFinding the right pricing to earn maximum returns and exploit tourists’ capital leading to severe inflations on cost of living; Erosion of culture to adapt to tourists’ needsValuing affordability and sentiments of locals; A collective action to protect local culture while supporting them to thrive better
Design to distributeBenefits of tourism will trickle down to improve livelihoods for locals with increased employment and flow of capital Show-and-tell of personal culture/way of living; Shared responsibility and utilisation of commons
Create to regenerateTouch and go; ‘not my business’ after the destination is doneDeep authentic connections; formation of global communities undertaking collective action to protect the commons
Be agnostic about growthChase for growth in mass tourism numbers and capitalHolistic value creation; Focused on building thriving nature, local communities and traveller

With this framework in mind, Terraformers is building a new travel app to facilitate authentic, culturally-relevant travel experiences anchored by a sustainability metric that is the manifestation of this new travel paradigm. 

Author avatar
Shuen Hwee Yee

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