He Ui, He Nīnau – What is Regenerative Tourism?

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When I am asked to explain “regenerative tourism,” I point to a Kānaka understanding of ʻāina and the ingenuity by which we continue to thrive.

For countless years, acres of loʻi kalo (taro terraces) fed generations of Hawaiʻi’s people. What is the secret to centuries of success? The loʻi kalo system is regenerative. The loʻi kalo system borrows water from streams, nourishes the kalo, and most importantly, returns the water with nutrients from the loʻi’s fertile ecosystem. In other words, the water returns in a better condition than when it was received. When we feed the system more than it feeds us, we create a regenerative system of abundance.

Regenerative tourism is at the core of the Hawaiʻi Tourism Authority’s strategic vision to “Mālama Kuʻu Home,” or “care for my beloved home.” It also guides the important work of the Native Hawaiian Hospitality Association (NaHHA). We believe that in order for tourism to be sustainable, it needs to be regenerative. It needs to feed Hawaiʻi more than it consumes Hawaiʻi. This is not just about money. Regenerative tourism acknowledges that we are a part of a larger, environmental system of island existence. Like the water that flows through loʻi kalo, if we borrow natural resources from this system, we must not only replenish it, but add to it.

How do we make this happen? One pathway has emerged in a partnership between NaHHA and travel2change. The Kaiāulu Hoʻokipa Cohort is a program that builds the capacity of Hawaiʻi nonprofit organizations to host experiences that not only allow kamaʻāina and malihini (guests) to enjoy our home, but to ensure that these experiences ultimately regenerate more than they consume. These experiences include caring for native ecosystems, working fishponds and farms, and an overall deeper engagement with our home. I ask all kamaʻāina to visit NaHHA’s website, nahha.com, to learn about this program and the 29 regenerative experiences it has assisted so far.

Kamaʻāina – if we expect our visitors to engage in regenerating our ʻāina, so must we! So I ask you, how are we managing our resources, the ways by which we and this ʻāina find sustenance? What will you do to make sure we sow more than we reap?

If we continue to take more than we give back, we can expect that the metaphorical stream will run dry, that loʻi of sustenance will produce less and less, and that we will thirst. Such a grim, yet sobering, reality is one we must avoid.

We all play a part in creating a different future, whether it is engaging these organizations dedicated to this future or creating a regenerative opportunity yourself. No matter what you do, it all starts with one question: Are we putting back more than we take, or are we simply drinking with unquenchable thirst?