Picture courtesy of the Cordova Chamber of Commerce

A lot of people like to travel and spend a pretty penny doing so. According to reports, Americans across the board spend a couple thousand dollars on their summer vacations each year. With the global population at an all-time high, and consumerism running right alongside, why not give the option to the traveler to give back and make the places they visit better then they found them? Cue regenerative tourism.

The term regenerative simply means “tending to or characterized by regeneration, formed or created again.” Or the definition most applicable to this story: “Restored to be a better, higher or more worthy state.”

Regenerative tourism is gaining traction as the new buzz in travel and for good reason. People are becoming more aware of the impacts we have on the environment and good-hearted folks want to act. The Future of Tourism, “a coalition of six non-governmental organizations that have come together to stand united in an appeal for change,” as stated on the website, have paved the way for the regenerative tourism ideals. The coalition includes The Center for Responsible Travel and Green Destinations, both nonprofits.

An extensive Destination Strategy, created by the Crosscurrent Collective on behalf of the Cordova Chamber of Commerce, aims to makes this jewel of a place centered around the regenerative tourism movement.

“At the Chamber, we are the designated destination marketing and management organization for Cordova. We have been charged with promoting this destination as a place for visitors. Up to this point, the biggest tourism that we get annually is sport fishing, which typically happens in the month of September. During that time all lodging is booked up—they book a year in advance. That benefits certain parts of the local economy, but it’s a bit maxed out—not a lot of room for growth there because the season is so long, and the lodging is booked out,” said Cathy Renfeldt, executive director at the Cordova Chamber of Commerce. “We have been focusing more on non-consumptive recreation: promoting hiking, biking, wildlife photography and birding. That is part of the suite of activities that have been considered sustainable tourism.”

Renfeldt went on to explain the benefits of sustainable tourism and how it forays into the regenerative tourism ideals.

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“This idea of sustainable tourism has got this concept of the triple bottom line. You can create something that benefits people, planet and profits. Regenerative tourism takes it one step further. The idea of sustainability is the baseline we have right now for health: whether we are talking about environmental or cultural health, here is the baseline, we don’t want it to drop, we want to keep it right here. Regenerative tourism says maybe there is an opportunity to improve, to go from the baseline to an improvement,” continued Renfeldt.

What might regenerative tourism look like in action? A plethora of immerse activities fall into this category.

“One example would be a kayaking trip that stops and does beach clean-up along the way or a cultural offering where they are invited to come and learn more about the Indigenous people; maybe they are provided opportunities to support language revitalization,” Renfeldt said.

Mariculture and kelp production are making waves as a regenerative industry that both improves the health of our oceans and sustains us both economically and healthfully. The Chamber has been active in support of this movement and introducing the idea to Cordova, and companies like Noble Ocean are flourishing in the world’s richest waters.

“We are super excited for ways to promote it (mariculture). I believe there is a good opportunity for mariculture and regenerative tourism to work together,” Renfeldt said. “I am already working with some of the local kelp producers to try and create tour offerings that complement what they are already doing with kelp and oyster farming.”

Recently, Cordova was awarded a COVID-Safe Travel grant, given by the State of Alaska “to encourage local chambers to start promoting their destinations to bolster visitor traffic in the state of Alaska post-COVID-19,” according to Renfeldt, who went on to explain the grant was varied in its use, including launching a re-brand campaign and working with a sustainable regenerative tourism consultant to build out the destination strategy.

“The idea behind the destination strategy is similar to a tourism plan, but it’s a way of looking at things from a destination perspective. We want to improve this place for visitors and residents; we want to improve the destination itself. How can we make this place better for everyone and everything that lives there?” Renfeldt said.

The 15-year dream vision outlines it all. The Chamber, alongside an assorted stakeholder group, reached out to community members, conducted surveys and workshops, and asked several questions: what are the core community values, what makes this place special and unique, and what do we want to hold onto as we grow? Cordova’s community values were listed as connection, grit, our ancestors, nature as sustenance, and reverence of natural systems. Cordova’s strategic focus areas included in the narrative were: improving the visitor experience and support business growth, increase visitation and improve consistency of demand improve visitor access to Cordova and key visitor attractions, and foster community collaboration and coordination.

Stay tuned for upcoming coverage of the Chamber’s Regenerative Tourism Impact Studio for small businesses and cultural tourism.

For more information about the destination strategy, visit the website at https://www.cordovachamber.com/destination-toolkit/

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Amanda Williams is a freelance reporter for The Cordova Times. She is also Aquatics Resource Management Assistant for Copper River Watershed Project. Williams is a Navy veteran who served during Operation Iraqi Freedom. She has worked for a variety of newspapers in the Lower 48. She first came to Cordova as a VetsWork intern working for the Forest Service as a public outreach specialist on the Cordova Ranger District.