Drum Circle in Malcolm X Park, Washington, DC. Photo by Corinna Moebius.
Can tourism play a role in helping cities and all their inhabitants thrive? How might it better respect the health and wellbeing of all people, and indeed, the whole of Earth, home to us all? Inclusive and regenerative tourism prioritizes these goals.
In contrast with “tourism as usual,” inclusive and regenerative tourism aligns with circular and distributive economics. It brings diverse people together to restore, heal, and transform their relationships with place, with humans and other-than-humans, with Earth, and with themselves.
Inclusive & Regenerative Tourism: A Critical Approach
I’ve personally witnessed the good, the bad, and the ugly of tourism as both a local tour guide and as a community leader and advocate in Miami, Florida–a popular tourism destination. And I’m as frustrated as you might be about overtourism (excessive numbers of tourists) and tourism’s impact on housing availability, climate change, social equity, and other factors that impact quality of life.
Nonetheless, I’ve also witnessed the Aha! moments when visitors (and locals!) see the world (and themselves) in a new way: the magic of the “crossing of paths.” Imagine how we can become co-participants in a broader human journey: a shift towards a more sustainable, ethical, and socio-ecologically just world.
In order to be genuinely inclusive and regenerative, I contend that tourism must engage critical thinking: a process of discovering, acknowledging, checking — and undoing — implicit assumptions about place, people, culture, heritage and the natural world. It also needs greater emphasis on eco-social justice.
Drawing from my experiences as a seasoned tourism professional, cultural anthropologist/geographer, and changemaker, I’ve written this essay to introduce my own definition of inclusive and regenerative tourism and 12 core principles of practice.
To Transform Tourism We Need to Undo Tourism
Why does tourism need to change? Residents in host cities–and travelers–are becoming increasingly vocal in their demands that the tourism industry change (“Tourists Go Home!” is the title of a July 2023 Forbes article about growing anti-tourism sentiment) . Unfortunately, the negative impacts of the $2 trillion dollar global tourism industry include:
- detrimental use of local land, leading to soil erosion, increased waste and pollution, excessive water use, the loss of natural habitats, damage to fragile eco-systems and increased risks for endangered species
- climate change, especially due to transportation
- commodification of local cultural traditions
- overcrowding and public spaces and eco-cultural landscapes
- violence/crimes against locals and against other tourists
- low wage, service-only jobs
- lack of integration with other sectors (prioritized over smart urban planning, for instance)
- leakage of revenues outside of local economy and real estate grabbing by foreign business owners
While there is a movement for change already underfoot in the industry, as evidenced by groups like Tourism Cares and the U.N. World Tourism Organization’s Sustainable Development Goals, I don’t think tourism will change enough until there’s a deeper intentionality about what we need to undo about tourism.
In addition to addressing issues like those mentioned above, we need to undo everyday tourism practices, livelihoods, representations and mindsets that perpetuate inequalities, dispossession, exploitation, unsustainability, and violence, including symbolic and structural violence.
What is Inclusive & Regenerative Tourism?
Inclusive and regenerative tourism is a whole systems approach grounded in respect and caring for Earth (there is no economy without the life-sustaining Earth! Its practices can be divided into three major areas (see figure above):
- FLOW & RELATE: Inclusive and regenerative tourism gives attention to flows, interrelationships and ripple effects, both systemic and embodied. It also emphasizes a critical analysis of who benefits (and who doesn’t) from these flows. In contrast, traditional tourism tends to treat place from a linear or birds-eye-view-perspective: as a map filled with points (“tourist attractions”), a list (e.g., of “cultural assets”), or a spreadsheet (e.g., “heads in beds,” “tourism revenues”).
- NURTURE & NOURISH: Traditional tourism prioritizes unlimited growth and linear approaches, whereas inclusive and regenerative tourism focuses on circular and distributive economies and benefits to the socio-ecological whole. It restores biodiversity and healthy socio-ecological systems and fosters cycles and relations of reciprocity that imitate natural systems and improve quality of life for all, in ways that are socio-ecological just and inclusive.
- GROW TOGETHER: Traditional tourism is hierarchical, with the needs of the very few leading to harmful effects on people and planet. In contrast, inclusive and regenerative tourism not only transforms divisive economic systems into distributive ones, but also creates a space for reconciliation and collective healing through public rituals (e.g., festivals, hybrid hybrid in-person/virtual gatherings, etc.). It offers an opportunity to dismantle Mind/Body, Us/Them, Human/Earth and other divides and bring people together in times of dramatic change.
Envision tourism as people gathering in person (and virtually) to learn, share and practice how to live, create and relate in a caring way. Imagine that visits spark collaborative actions aimed at enhancing wellbeing, the flourishing of life, and critical thinking, not only in the visited community but around the world.
When “tourists” become conscientious travelers, and community members have greater voice and decision-making roles, they can join together in a collective and emancipatory journey. Together, they can — we can– share ideas and wisdom, restore skills of environmental perception, and learn how to live and think differently. How might these encounters spark a shift in mindset, an embrace of a planetary ethic, and solidarity for a just and caring world?
Below are 12 principles that can help us transition away from the colonial/imperialist mindset and practices that permeate tourism to this day.
Mural in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico (2019). Photo by Corinna Moebius.
Principle 1: Plan for Long-Term, Adaptive, Socio-Ecological Thriving
Consider the long-term consequences of your actions on earth systems and socio-cultural life systems. Move towards policies, practices and processes that nourish long-term thriving (as in taking care of basic needs and earth systems) and nurture circular/cyclical relations of sharing and reciprocity that benefit the whole. Align your initiative’s purpose, networks, governance, ownership and finances with this goal. The U.N. World Tourism Organization’s Sustainable Development Goals and Doughnut Economics (see below) are a start, but only when aligned with the other principles shared here.
The Doughnut of social and planetary boundaries. Credit: Kate Raworth and Christian Guthier. CC-BY-SA 4.0
Participants on walk into the Cypress swamp led by Houston Cypress of the Miccosukee Tribe, Miami, Florida (2020). Photo by Corinna Moebius.
Life’s waters flow from darkness.
Search the darkness, don’t run from it.
Principle 2: Critically Examine and Contribute to the Flows Necessary for Thriving
The more you look upstream, at what is generating unwanted (or beneficial) outcomes, the more you can strategize ways to fold tourism into circular and distributive economies that imitate systems in the natural world. Too much growth is not better (consider overtourism), for instance: how can you distribute value to others rather than scaling up in size?
What tourism-related (and cross-scale) policies, programs, and processes enhance the flows and cycles necessary for socio-ecological flourishing? Hone in the processes that consume energy and resources and lead to negative outcomes (e.g., pollution, damaged eco-systems) all while generating value for very few. How can you shift to regenerative processes, like supporting the local businesses that add value to local economies?
Rueda de Casino performance at the Dance Plaza during Adams Morgan Day in Washington, DC (2005). Photo by Corinna Moebius.
Principle 3: Foster Adaptive Learning with Dynamic Balance
Use everything at its optimum level, which means ongoing learning, listening and adaptation, with attentiveness to the shifts and effects related to interventions. Include diverse stakeholders in developing tools for monitoring and evaluation, with results used to support new policies, programs, and projects. For example, balance when, where and how many tourists can go somewhere, to prevent damage to eco-systems and locals’ quality of life. Experiment with small-scale projects, making interventions where they count most.
Captive African elephant held down by a rope attached to his front left leg. Created for the 1878 World Expo in Paris by Emmanuel Frémiet (2023), during the age of imperialism. Photo by Corinna Moebius.
Human beings participate in history both as actors and as narrators.
— Michel-Rolph Trouillot, Silencing the Past
Principle 4: Consider Historic Context & Explore How Stakeholders Interpret the Meanings of the Past for the Present
Tourism is deeply linked to public history, or history shared beyond the classroom, through walking tours, museums, memorial landscapes, etc. Engage with (local) public historians, urban geographers, anthropologists, and ecologists, as well as longtime residents or former residents, to learn the history of your so-called “destination community,” including its history prior to human settlement. Who has benefited — and who has experienced loss — because of the impact of tourism and related practices? What are the present-day tourism ideologies about this place, and how are they related to the ways histories are remembered … or silenced?
Deploy lenses of analysis — gender, race, sexuality, class, power, etc. — to illuminate the past in more complete ways. Build on what you learn to make decisions that lead to beneficial, eco-socially just effects. Pay attention to how tourism has intersected with other interrelated urban systems (e.g., housing, policing, etc.) that influence thriving.
A commemoration of Afro-Cuban General Antonio Maceo from Cuba’s wars for independence in Little Havana’s Cuban Memorial Park, Miami (2015). Photo by Corinna Moebius.
Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.
― Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Letter from a Birmingham Jail
Principle 5: Prioritize Justice, Equity & Inclusion
Learn from the past, from current equity indicators (see the National Equity Atlas if you are in the U.S., for instance), and from listening to locals — and diverse worldviews and paradigms. Familiarize yourself with the harmful (and beneficial) legacies of tourism, both broadly and in specific places. What can you learn from local environmental justice efforts and social movements? Give special attention to historically marginalized and excluded communities–both locals and visitors: how will they benefit from your tourism initiative? How are they involved in planning and decision-making? Redistribute power to build inclusion, equity, and innovation, asking key questions: who benefits, who doesn’t — and why?
Implement policies and practices that demonstrate care for both urban citizens and tourism workers, including diversifying the industry, increasing wages, and supporting women- and minority-owned small businesses and their development. Enhance the possibilities for travelers to benefit and improve relationships with locals–such as working to deter tourism leakage.
Mural in Washington, DC. 2019. Photo by Corinna Moebius.
… there is that intake of breath, that inspiration. We breathe them into us and they breathe us into them … They need us just as we need them. We are all in this together. We are not alone here.
— Stephen Herrod Buhner, Earth Grief: The Journey Into and Through Ecological Loss
Principle 6: Promote Diverse, Mutually Beneficial and Translocal Stakeholder Relationships
Strengthen translocal and diverse community coalitions and partner eco-systems to uplift and amplify efforts, promoting participation (versus mere “involvement”), collaboration, and relations of reciprocity. Partner eco-systems can include thought leaders and academics, public agencies, planners, elected officials, non-profits, and grassroots movements. Yet also consider more-than-humans as stakeholders. How are you avoiding anthropocentrism, or the assumption that humans are naturally superior to all other forms of life? Try to include partners whose “ways of knowing” value all in the web of life.
Imagine Miami Changemaker Conference (2009). Photo by Richard Benitez.
You don’t “own” or control a community, and you don’t necessarily build one. You participate or engage with one. To be a recognized community member means operating so as to generate respect and trust.
— Jane Friedman
Principle 7: Deepen the Impact of Community Engagement
How are you engaging with community members who have born the brunt of exclusive and exploitative tourism and planning practices? Reach out to trusted grassroots leaders early in the process, and consider developing a facilitated and ongoing community partnership. Embrace multiple, creative and open processes for engagement with local communities, such arts-based small-group dialogue activities and city walkshops/critical inquiry walks. Prioritize inclusive and equitable models of governance and decision-making. Ensure accountability and transparency with a participatory approach to monitoring and evaluation.
It appears that people, in their daily lives, merely skim the surface of a world that has been previously mapped out and constructed for them to occupy, rather than contributing through their movements to its ongoing formation.
— Tim Ingold, Being Alive: Essays on Movement, Knowledge and Description
Principle 8: Enhance Public Spaces as Sites for Gathering, Sharing & Diverse Connections
The enclosures in tourist destinations give rise to the illusion that places are fixed, with a single place brand. Yet places are in fact dynamic processes without clear, fixed boundaries or singular identities. In whose interests are these boundaries and identities defined? Place uniqueness arises from the eco-social relations and stories that make places what they are. Imagine inclusive public spaces as bundles of dynamic flows: how can they support collective wellbeing? How, when, where and by whom are they used–and why? Beyond diversity, who is allowed to “flow” into public spaces (in tourism areas), and under what conditions?
Musicians at Waverly Farmer’s Market in Baltimore, MD (2022). Photo by Corinna Moebius.
Principle 9: Embrace Diverse and Relational Knowledge-Systems, Cultural Practices and Perspectives
Words like “culture,” “heritage,” and “nature” permeate tourism, yet the way these concepts are wielded can lead to narrow ideas about people and place. These terms shouldn’t be treated lightly; they emerged from historical efforts to explain (and rationalize) material differences, social order and relations of power. Ask in whose interest a particular idea of culture (or heritage or nature) is deployed and shared with visitors. Who ultimately benefits?
For instance, how are you protecting the livelihoods (and housing) of those who practice and teach in ways deemed “cultural” (see PolicyLink’s cultural equity plan, for some guidance)? What spaces do local tradition bearers need in order to share these traditions with other urban citizens? Instead of treating culture, heritage and nature as “things” that are fixed and unchanging (and commodified), consider how tourism can spark awareness about the different ways these concepts are understood and deployed.
Adams Morgan Heritage Trail in Washington, DC. Photo by Corinna Moebius.
Stories matter. Many stories matter. Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign. But stories can also be used to empower, and to humanize. Stories can break the dignity of a people. But stories can also repair that broken dignity.
— Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, The Danger of a Single Story
Principle 10: Promote Socio-Ecological Responsibility with Inclusive Place Storytelling
Complicate limiting “single stories” about people and place, create counterstories, and share silenced / lesser-known histories in ways that might incorporate arts, technology, and immersive movement experiences. Proactively address the symbolic violence of stories, including those told in memorial landscapes. Help people understand how dominant narratives get made in the first place, such as dominant narratives about “culture” and “heritage” and “nature,” as mentioned above. Create a space for locals and visitors to share stories and participate in dialogue, and consider the possibilities for trans-local storytelling.
Visitors at a ceiba (kapok) tree in Cuban Memorial Park, Little Havana, following a performance at the tree. Photo by Corinna Moebius.
Can you have a feeling for a tree, look at it, see the beauty of it, listen to the sound it makes; be sensitive to the little plant, to the little weed, to that creeper that is growing up the wall, to the light on the leaves and the many shadows?
— J. Krishnamurti, The Whole Movement of Life Is Learning
Principle 11: EMBODIED & RELATIONAL LEARNING & SHARING
Recognize the power of learning through the body — environmental perception — in relationship and interaction with others. Travel can open people up to shifts in worldview precisely because it involves moving your sensing body into an unfamiliar place; it can also shift thinking about “home.”
Be sensitive to the different ways people may experience a place, activity or people (locals/visitors), in part because of their positionality (and how they themselves may be perceived). How might you prevent violence (and disrespectful treatment) towards locals, and tourists? Also, think of “environment” as unique to each person, in the moment of encounter, not a static backdrop. Consider how tourism can be an avenue for re-sensitizing people to their surroundings and to empathetic and relational understandings of the web of life.
Community gardeners in Baltimore, Maryland (2022). Photo by Corinna Moebius.
But it is not enough to weep for our lost landscapes; we have to put our hands in the earth to make ourselves whole again. Even a wounded world is feeding us. Even a wounded world holds us, giving us moments of wonder and joy. I choose joy over despair.
― Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass
Principle 12: RITUALS of HEALING, EMPATHY, ACTION & SPIRIT
Create a space for healing from divides and fostering resilient hope in times of dramatic change. Consider that people are coping with changed landcapes due to climate change and tourism development impacts.
What if Inclusive and regenerative tourism — no matter how small in scale — could help us come together to grieve, to reconcile, to heal, to hope? What if it inspired translocal actions to improve the conditions of people and the planet? What if it helped us move away from mindsets rooted in anthropocentrism, colonialism and imperialism, and artificial divisions of mind/body, nature/culture, etc.?
When locals and visitors arrive at Aha! moments, it can shift not only how they perceive the place and people they’re visiting but also how they perceive their relationship with home, the Living Earth, and themselves.
Fabric art handcrafted by community member in Havana, Cuba (2016). Photo by Corinna Moebius.
What if we honestly assessed what we have come to believe about ourselves and each other, and how those beliefs shape our lives? And what if we did it with generosity and forgiveness? What if we did it with mercy?
— Ross Gay, “Some Thoughts on Mercy”
A Way Forward — With Inclusive & Regenerative Tourism
Our world is changing drastically due to climate change, threatened eco-systems, and widening social and economic divides. Inclusive and regenerative tourism reunites us, and invites us, to recognize our interrelatedness, to repair and heal from legacies of domination and exploitation, and to learn how to become planetary citizens. When we explore how and why we’ve come to understand who (and where) we are, we begin a journey that matters for all of us — and the future of our planet.
Want to learn more about inclusive regenerative tourism? Please contact me or learn more from my website. In November I am launching an online course on inclusive and regenerative tourism.