Tourism visionary Dianne Dredge, PhD and I were recently called out by name in an online opinion piece claiming that “regenerative tourism” is elitist. This is a common critique. Certainly, there are individual offerings and individual operators that are higher priced because they are deeply special, with many added layers of effort, experience and meaning. But at the level of the whole hosting community, the more significant story is one of accessibility, variety and care.

In a recent article in Northern Soul magazine, I wrote about both of these scenarios.

At the operator level, David Schonberger of Ottercreek Woodworks charges a few hundred dollars for his build-your-own-charcuterie-board experiences. That’s a lot to pay for a cutting board. But when you understand what goes into it and how many layers of regeneration – of healing – are woven in for participants, for the forest, for the community and for David himself, you see that this is absolutely appropriate.

But regenerative approaches to tourism don’t stop there.

At the level of the whole destination, Zac Gribble of Destination Stratford talks about his work as being “an incubator for community wellbeing.” If it’s not making people’s lives better, why do it? At the (free!) winter Lights on Stratford light festival, roughly half of visitors are locals. That’s by design. And not only is the community involved as local visitors, Destination Stratford’s approach to community engagement creates opportunities for people to create new forms of expression and to connect with each other in meaningful ways. I love the story of how dozens of local high school students got involved in the opening ceremony of the light festival, shining their phone flashlights into the air while an overhead drone filmed them scattering out into the town streets, like so many wishes blown from the central dandelion-shaped light installation. Things like this are not only a fleeting feel-good moment; they cultivate the “soil” of community, creating more cohesion, connection and care. This is vitally important at a time of polarisation and social isolation.

The point of a regenerative approach is not to make things more expensive or to attract only those visitors who are willing to pay more. The point is to connect local people in shared care for each other and their place so that harms may be healed and so that new things become possible, including offerings at many price points and for many types of guests. It is the very definition of inclusion.

I take the online critique as a signal that we need to do more to tell stories not only of the high-priced resorts but of small local initiatives and meaningful community cultivation.

My gratitude to Canadian tour operator Landsby for giving me a platform to tell some of these stories in their gorgeous magazine, Northern Soul.

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