A New Travel Frontier?February 10, 2021
“Move Over Sustainable Travel, Regenerative Travel Has Arrived,” headlined a New York Times article last August. “Some in the tourism industry,” the article went on to say, “are planning for a post-vaccine return to travel that’s better than it was before March 2020—greener, smarter and less crowded…the new travel frontier is ‘regenerative travel’ or ‘leaving a place better than you found it.’”
As our friend Sven Lindblad (of the sterling expedition company that bears his name) says, “We have a noble idea here,” but “a daunting one,” given the “massive beast” of overtourism and its impacts.
Micato has never been much of a follower of travel industry trends. How could we be? Going to see Africa’s uniquely charismatic animals in their natural homeland was a trend more than a couple of centuries before people started tracking trends. The same goes for the unceasing service and thoughtful luxury that are at the centre of Micato’s ethos.
But we thought it would be interesting for us to grade ourselves on some of the key components of that ethos and practice through the lens of regenerative travel, that marvellous and daunting idea. And we found that we flunked one—more on that downstream from here—and did quite well on another two of those components. First, the two high grades.
Luckily, Africa’s gamelands—vast, gorgeous, and ultimately fragile—are constantly being regenerated by very smart, very green nature. But nature needs some help in the form of letting it do its work with minimal human interference. Many of the conservancies and national parks we explore are former farmlands, now dedicated to regeneration of their natural states, and they, and all the places we visit, are fiercely protected as a matter of African pride and good business sense. We could go on and on about this, but it’s simple: it’s in our moral and commercial interest to help nature do its nurturing thing. If we and our carefully vetted lodges and camps weren’t in the regeneration business we’d all be out of business.
(And part of that regenerative imperative is the buy-in from Africa’s people. We often say that people come to Africa to see its animals, but leave in love with its people, who are indispensable partners in sustainable tourism, especially in the often community-owned conservancies we frequent.)
Second high grade: Though it’s sometimes overlooked in all the excitement of game drives and sundowners graced by monumental sunsets, one of safari’s great charms is the repose and serenity of these ancient game lands. The potent regeneration here is in the respite from what we were calling the jangled world well before the pandemic hit and jangled it dramatically. Safari—in our admittedly non-objective opinion—is perhaps the greatest of vacations, harkening back to the word’s Latin origins: vacare, to be free, to have leisure. To regenerate.
Now, about our failing grade. Maybe we’re playing with words here, but when it comes to one of Micato’s core missions, we don’t regenerate, we generate. Or we help generate. Through Micato-AmericaShare and Huru we’ve helped educate thousands of African kids, through school sponsorship (Micato’s One for One Commitment, under which we send a child to school for every guest on safari); in our Harambee Centre, an oasis of calm, learning, and mentoring in the middle of Nairobi’s bustling, brave, and terribly poor Mukuru slum and in South Africa’s Red Hill community; by providing many thousands of young women in Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda—183,000 and counting— with reusable sanitary pads, health education, and Huru Kits so they don’t lose vital school days during menstruation (in Kenya, the average girl loses three school days a month during her period).
We, and, crucially, our guests, help generate East and Southern Africa’s future—not regenerating the long-gone past—and we do it without a regenerative ideology or we-know-what’s-best-for-you plan, but by simply equipping children to become who they can and want to be, in the context of their own society and culture. If they use their education to become doctors, community leaders, entrepreneurs or solitary bookworms, it’s up to them. We provide water to those sparkling fresh plants, who grow naturally. And, as an African-born company, we’ve been helping that glorious generation for 55 years and counting. It comes naturally for us.