The concept of regenerative travel – giving back more than we consume - is not a new one for Tourism New Zealand. CEO Stephen England-Hall says it has been, and continues to be, "at the heart of every single thing we do".

"The thing that's changed over the last few years," he says, "is how we measure that."

Whereas tourism's impact was previously measured only on its economic benefit, many organisations are now trying to work more holistically.

"We're growing up a bit," England-Hall says. "We're becoming more mindful of the impact of business and consumption on the planet, and not just on the natural habitat but on our social and cultural environment and our community."

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Kiwi tourism operators are being encouraged to look at how they can support regeneration - things like pest eradication, native planting, and making sure that for every customer, there is "some kind of by-product benefit on the environment as a consequence," England-Hall says.

Tourism New Zealand chief executive Stephen England-Hall. Photo / Nick Reed
Tourism New Zealand chief executive Stephen England-Hall. Photo / Nick Reed

He cites Rotorua Canopy Tours and Dive Tutukaka as just two examples of a number of Kiwi companies already achieving these goals.

"Rotorua Canopy Tours are progressively eliminating pests from forests as they grow their business and service the needs of their customers," he says. "Every time someone goes on a zipline or walks through the canopy, they are contributing to predator-free New Zealand and actually restoring the native forest to its previous habitat.

"Dive Tutukaka are effectively the champions of marine reserves in New Zealand, and a real champion of the Poor Knights Islands. Every time someone uses their products they're contributing to the preservation of our ocean and the commitment to protecting our beautiful marine environment."

Prior to Covid's sudden global shutdown, Tourism New Zealand's focus was on encouraging international visitors to see more of the country's lesser-frequented regions. This improved not only economic contribution throughout the country, but also social, cultural, and environmental outcomes too.

"You create new jobs in different locations, you ensure communities thrive, more utilities, more amenities, things like that. And also people get an experience of a broader cultural view of New Zealand . . . You get a richer perspective of who we are as a people and that helps reinforce our identity."

With our borders now closed to international visitors, it's important for New Zealanders to keep up the good work. Plan a domestic holiday in a town or region you've never been to before, and book an activity or experience with a locally owned operator.

"That has a really big impact on local communities," England-Hall says. "It's not just about the money, it's also about supporting local businesses, supporting New Zealand enterprises, supporting the employment and wellbeing and health of those people involved in those enterprises."

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The CEO is personally leading by example – his next travel plans include walking the Rakiura Track on Stewart Island, and a trip to the Chatham Islands, neither of which he has done before.

On a broader scale, he says regenerative travel conversations are constantly emerging and evolving.

"The best aspiration to think of, a simple one but an incredibly inspiring one, is how does tourism help New Zealand to get to net zero carbon," he says. "If it could do that, that would be a pretty significant outcome for our country and our planet, but also for our brand reputation and national pride."