Mary Rose Stafford, head of Business, Computing & Humanities at Munster Technological University, says a new business model for tourism development needs to emerge.
On Ireland’s southwest Atlantic coast lies Kerry’s Dingle Peninsula, ringed by sandy beaches and craggy cliffs. Rich in its incredible 6,000 years of history, the Dingle Peninsula is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Ireland, with thousands descending on the area each year.
According to Fáilte Ireland, Cork and Kerry are the most prosperous regions for domestic tourism in the country. With the two counties taking in a combined income of over €300 million every year.
“‘Regenerative Tourism’ is about leaving a destination in a better condition as a result of tourism activity”
While there are many coaches and vehicles bringing heavy traffic to the area, Dingle is at a crossroads. How many visitors can the Peninsula comfortably manage and how much do visitors spend while on the Peninsula.
Tourism and community in a jam
Dingle Peninsula Tourism Alliance made a submission to Kerry County Council in 2022 to raise awareness of the increasing issues Dingle faces with vehicles. It made suggestions to take a more regenerative approach to tourism in the region. This included the promotion of ‘Slow Tourism’ (focusing on walking, cycling, surfing, windsurfing, and more) by encouraging visitors to stay longer, using visitor dispersal techniques to quieter areas, and extending the season to support family-run businesses and enhancing job availability.
Similarly, at the Gap of Dunloe, a world-renowned valley and a longtime destination for tourists visiting Ireland, there are often traffic jam issues. The local farming community told a consultation set up by Kerry County Council in 2020 that they were worried about their safety, as well as that of visitors in an area, where the infrastructure has changed little in hundreds of years. From that consultative process, it was understood that the Gap of Dunloe needs to be built around a more inclusive model of tourism that includes local communities and small to medium-sized enterprises. These new inclusive models of tourism must first and foremost value each destination’s unique sense of place.
Prior to the global pandemic, tourism worldwide was responsible for 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions, with approximately 40% of tourism-related emissions coming from aviation. While 35% came from transport and 25% from consumption.
The halt to travel and tourism activities provided time to reflect and understand our responsibility to foster and grow local businesses while also allowing our landscapes to flourish.
Three years on from the outbreak of Covid-19, tourism has reopened across the world and once again impending climate action targets are at the forefront. According to the UN World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO), there is a growing consensus among tourism stakeholders as to how the future resilience of tourism will depend on the sector’s ability to embrace a low carbon pathway and cut emissions by 50% by 2030.
A more responsible model
It is clear that a new business model for tourism development needs to emerge. Environmentally responsible, affordable and attractive tourism is possible. The future will rely on a new kind of tourism that is based on a regenerative approach to development.
‘Regenerative Tourism’ is about leaving a destination in a better condition as a result of tourism activity. This is a concept that goes beyond doing the least amount of damage to the environment, but instead, encourages society to actively revitalise and regenerate it. This can in turn positively impact local communities, biodiversity and economies.
Going beyond the concept of ‘sustainable tourism’ which focuses on neutralising tourism’s negative impact on the planet, ‘regenerative tourism’ is based on adding a positive impact to the local community and environment.
Buying local, cleaning up tourist spots and restoring local environments can help grow regenerative tourism in local communities. But it’s also about reimagining how we holiday, such as travelling more sustainably, what we’re going to see and what we’re going to give our destination in return.
The Maharees Conservation Association on the Dingle Peninsula is a great example of how a local community engages with visitors to ensure their impact is regenerative. Local residents of the Maharees provide free guided walks of the area, educating visitors about the amazing but delicate landscape and biodiversity, which in turn creates a new-found respect and responsibility amongst visitors. These types of initiatives generate authentic memorable experiences for visitors to the area.
Quality over quantity
Organisations worldwide are beginning to get behind regenerative tourism. Twenty-two travel groups signed on to the Future of Tourism coalition’s 13 guiding principles, including “demand fair income distribution” and “choose quality over quantity.”
Munster Technological University (MTU) is helping address tourism’s impact on local environments and communities, while also promoting a more regenerative model for the tourism industry. Eighty small businesses in five countries are to be chosen for a new project led by MTU. The tourism team at MTU received an EU grant of €1.2 million to lead the ‘Circular Economy 4 Regenerative Tourism’ project, under which the university will be the Irish lead partner (other Irish project partners include Dingle Peninsula Tourism Alliance and The Tourism Space) with other partners in Finland, Iceland, Poland and the Netherlands.
The overall objective of the grant is to provide funding to directly support Tourism SMEs across the partnership to steer the tourism ecosystem towards more sustainable, smarter and resilient practices, including sustainability certification and regenerative approaches. The programme commenced in January 2023 for 25 months and tourism SMEs can register interest via the project website.