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Survey Gauges Residents’ Perspective on ‘Regenerative’ Tourism

July 13, 2022, 1:17 PM HST
* Updated July 13, 1:21 PM
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Hanalei Bay, Kauaʻi. (Photo courtesy of University of Hawaiʻi)

A new survey by the University of Hawaiʻi, one of the first of its kind, suggests that “regenerative” tourism makes the tourism industry and tourists more attractive to residents of the islands.

University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa School of Travel Industry Management professor and study co-author Jerry Agrusa said the results of the survey of 463 Kauaʻi residents provide direct evidence for an underused type of tourism not often practiced and researched. An overwhelming 96.3% of Kauaʻi residents responded favorably toward regenerative travel, and 98.7% responded favorably toward tourist attractiveness.

“Before COVID in 2019, there was actually a pushback by the residents of Hawaiʻi, they felt like there were too many tourists — the term ‘overtourism’ came up,” Agrusa said in a press release. “When COVID came and we locked everything down in 2020 and we had 200,000 people unemployed in one month, it was an opportunity to stop and say, ‘Let’s see what we can do to improve tourism from all stakeholders perspective, including the residents, when we open back up.’ One of the things that we were able to do is try to target the type of tourist that we want.”

The study findings were recently published in the Journal of Travel Research.

“Regenerative” tourism is when visitors travel with a mindset to leave a destination better than it was before they arrived, and experiences go beyond a traditional vacation.

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“What regenerative tourism does is it brings it to another step,” Agrusa said in a video accompanying the press release. “We’re looking at not just sustaining things, but making it better. And when we talk about making it better, we’re talking about for the environment, the land, the ocean, the ʻāina, but also the residents.”

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Examples of regenerative tourism in Hawaiʻi, and specifically on Kauaʻi, include replanting native tree species to offset the carbon footprint produced by flying to the islands, helping remove invasive plant species from hiking trails, working in a taro patch to experience first-hand part of the Hawaiian culture and helping remove plastic and abandoned fishing nets off beaches.

Regenerative tourism involves providing activities for visitors that will allow destinations to heal, while counterbalancing the social, economic and environmental impacts of tourism.

The purpose of the survey and study was to link regenerative tourism with tourist attractiveness, travel shaming, or negative emotions expressed toward tourists, and residents’ support for tourism development.

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“Do we need to diversify from being so tourist dominant? Yes, but it will take time to do that,” Agrusa said in the video accompanying the press release. “So, right now with this regenerative tourism, we can now focus on the tourists that want to give back, not just take. And they’re actually those folks that are willing to pay to give back.”

Among the major findings of the study included direct support for regenerative tourism by survey respondents:

  • Regenerative travel positively affects residents’ support for tourism development.
  • Regenerative travel positively affects tourist attractiveness.
  • Travel shaming, especially during the pandemic, tempers the effects of regenerative travel on tourist attractiveness.

“Keeping guard of the residents’ support for tourism development is highly critical for practitioners today while they develop and implement policies to manage tourism destinations,” according to the study. “Contrary to the closed-doors policy during the COVID-19 pandemic, the post-pandemic global tourism needs to welcome destination-healing mechanisms (regenerative travel), inclusive of major stakeholders involvement (residents and tourists) to gradually restore and develop destinations.”

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