How Does Regenerative Travel Differ From Sustainable Travel?


Starry Night keeps its regenerative tourism initiatives at the heart of all practices, from visitor volunteer programs in Bozeman and Kauai to eco-friendly additions in hotels across the brand.

But when we talk about regenerative travel, it often blends with the more familiar term: sustainability. While the two concepts go hand-in-hand, there are some important distinctions that travelers should understand to deepen the significance of their stay and prioritize the elements that are most important to them and the communities they visit.

The short story of key differences

Sustainable travel is the Leave No Trace of the tourism world: it’s important to practice, but it holds minimizing impact at its core. Leave only footprints as you travel; take only pictures, in essence. Lessen your carbon footprint, reduce water usage, and cut down on waste.

Regenerative travel expands outward, encouraging visitors to make their mark in a positive way. It’s about not just reducing negative impact but increasing the positive one. Regenerative travel builds a new, healthier relationship with the world, whereas sustainable travel primarily aims to decrease the damage caused.

While sustainable travel looks at social impacts and the needs of host communities while focusing most heavily on environmental impacts, regenerative tourism takes a more holistic view. It considers the culture of the host area and the needs of residents just as strongly as the ecology of the area, making the visitor an active participant in improving the region through volunteerism, supporting local businesses, and giving back to local causes.

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The origins of sustainability in travel

Possibly the first definition of sustainable travel came in 1988 from the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), saying it is “Tourism that takes full account of its current and future economic, social and environmental impacts, addressing the needs of visitors, the industry, the environment and host communities.”

The Global Sustainable Tourism Council even has standards to guide the tourism industry in a quest to become more sustainable. And those standards tend to focus on the destinations, whether as a whole or focused on individual businesses.

A deeper look at regenerative tourism

According to a 2022 paper on the topic, “Regenerative tourism is a departure from the sustainable development paradigm by positioning travel-related businesses as entities that develop the capacities of places, communities and their guests to operate in harmony with interconnected social-ecological systems.”

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Dr Alessandro Inversini has spent time researching the concept of regenerative hospitality, taking the concept even further. According to his research, regenerative tourism is a mindset shift that individual businesses need to take, focusing on co-creating positive experiences with their guests that will resonate both with the host and the visitor long into the future.

Regenerative tourism doesn’t start and end with any one business, site or visitor. It’s about creating a relationship between all parties that helps foster the destination and improve the lives of residents into the future while also making a positive lasting impact on the visitor.

Sustainability and regenerative travel aren’t an either-or proposition. Businesses and travelers can prioritize both. But making the distinction between regenerative and sustainable travel allows for a deeper appreciation for and capacity to give back to the communities and spaces we encounter as we globetrot.

Join Starry Night in a movement towards more regenerative travel in the industry, helping nurture the spaces we love and supporting the communities that make them great.