“Regenerative” tourism makes visitors more attractive to residents

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Hanalei Bay, Kauaʻi

“Regenerative” tourism is when visitors travel with a mindset to leave a destination better than it was before they arrived, and the experiences go beyond the traditional vacation. A new survey of 463 Kauaʻi residents, one of the first Hawaii which attempts to capture the perspective of residents, suggests that regenerative tourism makes the tourism industry and tourists more attractive to residents. An overwhelming 96.3% of Kauaʻi residents responded favorably to regenerative travel and 98.7% responded favorably to tourist appeal.

University of Hawaii at the Mānoa School of Travel Industry Management at Shidler College of Business Professor and co-author of the study Jerry Agrusa said the survey results provide direct evidence of an underutilized type of tourism that is not often practiced and studied.

“Before COVID in 2019, there was actually a pushback from people in Hawaii, they felt like there were too many tourists – the term ‘over-tourism’ was brought up,” Agrusa said. “When COVID came along and we locked everything down in 2020 and we had 200,000 people out of work in a month, it was an opportunity to stop and say ‘let’s see what we can do to improve tourism from the perspective of all stakeholders, including residents when we reopen upstairs.’ One of the things we’ve been able to do is try to target the kind of tourists we want.

Examples of regenerative tourism in Hawaiiand more specifically on Kauaʻiinclude replanting native tree species to offset the carbon footprint produced by flying to Hawaiihelp remove invasive plant species from hiking trails, work in a law (taro patch) to experience some of the Hawaiian culture and help remove plastic and abandoned fishing nets from the beaches. Regenerative tourism is about providing visitors with activities that will allow destinations to heal, while offsetting the social, economic and environmental impacts of tourism.

The purpose of the survey and study was to link regenerative tourism to tourist attractiveness, travel shaming (negative emotions expressed towards tourists) and resident support for tourism development. Residents were asked what they thought of statements that included:

  • Tourists visiting Kauaʻi should participate more actively in activities that contribute to reversing climate change (regenerative tourism)
  • I would like to spend time with tourists who participate in regenerative tourism activities (tourist attractiveness)
  • The volume of tourists visiting Kauaʻi should be increased (inhabitant support for tourism development)
  • I would directly criticize tourists if they violate local health and safety guidelines (travel shame)

Support for regenerative tourism

Key findings from the study include direct support for regenerative tourism by survey respondents:

  • Regenerative travel has a positive effect on resident support for tourism development.
  • Regenerative travel has a positive effect on tourist attractiveness.
  • Travel shaming (especially during the pandemic) tempers the effects of regenerative travel on tourist attractiveness.

“Keeping custody of resident support for tourism development is very important for practitioners today as they develop and implement policies to manage tourist destinations,” according to the study. “Contrary to the closed door policy during the COVID-19 pandemic, post-pandemic global tourism must accommodate destination healing mechanisms (regenerative travel), including the involvement of key stakeholders (residents and tourists) to restore and gradually develop the destinations.”

The results of the study were published in a June 2022 journal Travel Research Journal article.

-By Marc Arakaki

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