At first glance, you might think things don't look too great for decoupling and green growth in hospitality. Recent research reveals not only a lack of empirical evidence supporting Paris-compliant decoupling [1], but posit that high-income nations that have fallen short of realizing green growth, are very unlikely to do so in the near future [2]. Furthermore, the management paradigms within the hospitality & tourism industry, characterized by relatively brief tenures of general managers and evaluations primarily focused on short-term return on investments, fail to foster an environment conducive to risk-taking, creativity, and radical change [3].

So is there no hope for decoupling within the tourism and hospitality industry? Are we destined for collapse, or should we instead critically examine our current practices and efforts?

Proponents of the 'heterodox approach' to growth management in tourism argue that the mainstream approach, which believes that decoupling is compatible with continued tourism growth, will inevitably continue to cause  environmental and social degeneration. They are skeptical of the belief that the power to propel change lies solely in technological advancements and efficient management practices, as held by many supporters of this mainstream approach [4]. Instead, these critical heterodox approach supporters consider more transformational alternative approaches such regenerative tourism and hospitality, which promotes the renewal and flourishing of the social and ecological systems within which tourism and hospitality are integrated, to hold greater potential [5].

I personally align with the notion that a regenerative approach could be the fundamental shift needed for achieving actual sustainable hospitality. It requires hospitality businesses to venture beyond minimizing the industry's negative externalities and instead create proactive positive change, promoting resilient social and environmental systems. I believe it provides the well-needed paradigm shift required for businesses to play their part in offering solutions to systemic issues. By applying an "outside-in" organizational perspective, defined by Dyllick and Muff as finding a match between the world's environmental, societal and economic challenges and the often hidden core competencies and resources of an organization to respond to these challenges [6], is what ultimately generates new innovative and futureproof business models that create shared value for all stakeholders.  

For examples of regenerative hospitality I can recommend the hotels of the  Cayuga Collection, a group of award-winning sustainable hotels in Latin America. Their mission is to protect and preserve the surrounding communities and ecosystems, and enrich the lives of curious travelers, everywhere. [7]

Hotel Aguas Claras in Costa Rica serves as an example of such a hotel, actively contributing to the restoration and flourishing of the ecosystems and social communities it connects with. Situated within the Cahuita National Park, safeguarding more than 55,000 acres of marine area, this hotel surpasses conventional practices aimed at minimizing resource use and carbon emissions.

One notable initiative is their active involvement in environmental regeneration, exemplified by daily beach cleanups both on their beach as well as neighboring beaches. In regard to social regenerative practices, the hotel exclusively employs Costa Rican staff, primarily from the surrounding region, and makes significant investments in staff training and professional development. The hotel is dedicated to ensuring the overall well-being of its employees, offering access to healthcare as part of its comprehensive approach. Furthermore, Hotel Aguas Claras plays an active role in supporting the local economy by sourcing purchases from nearby suppliers. Additionally, they contribute to the community's well-being by supporting the Manzanillo School through educational initiatives and donations [8].

In conclusion, the challenges facing decoupling and green growth in the hospitality industry are evident, with current mainstream practices yielding insufficient progress. However, a departure from the prevalent notion that decoupling and tourism growth can happen simultaneously, coupled with a redirection towards an alternative paradigm of value creation in the form of regenerative hospitality, shows a more promising futureproof path for our industry.

[1] Vogel, J., & Hickel, J. (2023). Is green growth happening? An empirical analysis of achieved versus Paris-compliant CO2–GDP decoupling in high-income countries. The Lancet Planetary Health, 7(9), e759-e769.

[2] Parrique, T., Barth, J., Briens, F., Kerschner, C., Kraus-Polk, A., Kuokkanen, A., & Spangenberg, J. H. (2019). Decoupling debunked. Evidence and arguments against green growth as a sole strategy for sustainability. A study edited by the European Environment Bureau EEB.

[3] MarConrady, R., & Buck, M. (2011). Trends and Issues in Global Tourism 2011. In Innovation Management in the Hospitality Industry

[4] Dwyer, L. (2023). Tourism Degrowth: Painful but Necessary. Sustainability, 15(20), 14676.

[5] Higgins-Desbiolles, F., Carnicelli, S., Krolikowski, C., Wijesinghe, G., & Boluk, K. (2019). Degrowing tourism: Rethinking tourism. Journal of Sustainable Tourism.

[6] Dyllick, T., & Muff, K. (2016). Clarifying the meaning of sustainable business: Introducing a typology from business-as-usual to true business sustainability. Organization & Environment, 29(2), 156-174.

[7] Cayuga Collection. (2023, 15 februari). Sustainability Journal - Cayuga Collection.

[8] Hotel Aguas Claras. (2023, 28 mei). Proud member of the Cayuga Collection - Hotel Aguas Claras.