Finding an ecologically intact destination: A needle in a haystack?

A group of multi-disciplinary scientists aimed to find out how much of our planet is ecologically intact and came to the conclusion that less than 3% of the world's land remains undisturbed and unspoiled [1]. Those ecosystems are surely a prime target for preservation work. No development of any sort should take place in those areas. Another 20 to 50% of the planet's surface is under minimal influence from human's footprint [2]. The bulk of those locations are either extremely cold or very arid. These offer proactive conservation efforts. Tourism and hospitality development here (if development at all), must undergo very strict procedures and requirements. There are too many stories and examples in our sector of commodification of nature and space where dispossession (e.g. property rights), privatization of commons (e.g. water), formation of enclosures (e.g. beach front, forest trails) have and are still negatively impacting the socio-spatial environment [3]. The way forward: restoration?

Restoration: A response to already damaged habitats

The UN Decade of Ecosystem Restoration [4] is a response to unabated degradation of ecological biodiversity with the stated goal of “Preventing, Halting, and Reversing the Degradation of Ecosystems Worldwide”. Biodiversity plays a critical role in the provision of ecosystem services which are the services nature delivers to humans (e.g., the production of fertile soils and pollination for crops, filtering air and water). Quantifying and valuing the ecosystem services for the hotel sector remains difficult, but it is clear that many processes, from the sourcing of construction material (e.g. timber) to provision of food and beverage, rely on functioning ecosystems.

Since restoration occurs after an ecosystem has been damaged or destroyed, this should be the very last resort moving forward.

Since any development incurs various sets of impacts which then require some form of restoration, this would indicate that any new hotel development must be:

  1. met with strict impact assessment,
  2. matched with the highest possible standards (e.g. in construction)
  3. supported with a clear conservation and restoration plan and
  4. lead by and to the benefit of local communities.

Regeneration: Where greater opportunities lie

Regeneration offers greater opportunities moving forward. By aligning communities, the physical environment and hospitality re-development, hotel companies can be looking at rebuilding degraded areas, refurbishing old buildings, considering converting existing space and renewing established infrastructures. This is a chance for revitalization of urban space. This is also an opportunity to tackle biophilic design and creating a unique experience so desired by travellers.

For the Urban Development: Hotel as a Center-piece of Deep Ecological Zones

Together with my colleagues Arjan van Rheede (Hotelschool The Hague) and Robert Schønrock Nielsen (Copenhagen School of Design and Technology), we propose a framework to not only understand the relationship between nature and urban spaces but also expand on the relationship between ecology, the individual, their community and urban society. We label this as 'Deep Ecological Zone', where nature is at the centre of experiences and at the centre of business decisions. This implies a transformation of our building stock to include nature-based features. Urban hotel and restaurant buildings are pre-destined to provide a safe space for communities of local and visitors to meet and develop meaningful connections, to work, learn, restore and recharge batteries; all elements of a regenerative experience.

[1] Plumptre, A.J., Baisero, D., Belote, R.T., et al. (2021). Where Might We Find Ecologically Intact Communities? Frontiers in Forests and Global Change, 15 April. https://doi.org/10.3389/ffgc.2021.626635

[2] Riggio, J., Baillie, J.E.M., Brumby, E.E., et al. (2020). Global human influence maps reveal clear opportunities in conserving Earth's remaining intact terrestrial ecosystems. Global Change Biology. 05 June. https://doi.org/10.1111/gcb.15109

[3] Devine, J. & Ojeda, D. (2017). Violence and dispossession in tourism development: a critical geographical approach. Journal of Sustainable Tourism, 25(5), 605-617. https://doi.org/10.1080/09669582.2017.1293401

[4] UN (2022). Preventing, Halting, and Reversing the Degradation of Ecosystems Worldwide. United Nations Decade on Ecosystem Restoration. https://www.decadeonrestoration.org/