For some years now, the travel industry, in fact, all industries, has climbed aboard what could be called a “sustainability bandwagon.” And, while great strides have been made toward making hotels, resorts, and travel businesses more eco-friendly, the elephant in the board rooms seems invisible to decision-makers and investors alike.

The unseen truth is that sustainability is only a band-aid solution. Ultimately, all their efforts will only slow down the rate of degradation. What’s required is a total mental and procedural reset. We need to regenerate our mindset and the world around us. What’s required is a radical approach to solving our problems for the medium to long term. Most people see this since the pandemic put us at a standstill.

Since the global call for the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) came into being several decades ago, only slight inroads have been made toward even putting the rate at which destinations are being degraded on hold. Add to this unbridled development running under the appearance of a rethink, and you get a dismal and depressing honest look at the future.

The 17 developmental goals the UN set out to end poverty, protect the planet, and improve the lives and prospects of everyone everywhere, have yet to work on any significant level. On the contrary, the rate of decline, degeneration, and over tourism in places like Santorini, Crete, Cyprus, and many others, is accelerating, not slowing. The quote below from Cambridge Strategy and Sustainability offers a hint as to why:

“Sustainability has proved to be a valuable lens through which corporates have identified opportunities that they might have otherwise missed—to cut costs, reduce risks (regulatory, reputational and operational), and generate revenues.”

It’s clear why 98 per cent of corporate sustainability failures fail. Only John, a partner at Sustainability & ESG in UAE, is arguing for rescuing a flawed global developmental program. The quote from a list of reasons for failure is laced with thinking that will ultimately fail industries and humanity. I’ll explain by turning to the ideas of the investor and economist John Fullerton, the visionary who wrote “Regenerative Capitalism: How Universal Patterns and Principles Will Shape the New Economy.”

Fullerton left the leadership of JPMorgan’s oversight committee after 9/11, and then created the Capital Institute which attempts to reimagine economics and finance in service to life.

Since then, Fullerton became co-founder and Chairman of New Day Enterprises, PBC, the co-founder of Grasslands, LLC, and a First Crop board member, to name a few of his initiatives/efforts.

Without diving deep into the many facets of his efforts, it is sufficient to point out that the goal of the Capital Institute is “to promote a transformation to a more just and regenerative world.” Fullerton’s ideas are filtering down slowly, but critical academics, stakeholders, and interested parties are catching on.

This report at the Harvard Business Review validates many of the problems the Capital Institute and people like Fullerton are encountering. Authors Elisa Farri, Paolo Cervini, and Gabriele Rosani frame the biggest stumbling blocks for viable sustainability with this synthesis of what corporate executives see:

“They show that the real blockers to sustainability are hidden inside companies and are often the result of what was considered sound management practice in the 20th century. These are the “hidden enemies” of sustainability: the prevailing organizational winds that tend to blow in the direction of routine and an incremental approach rather than sustaining a more radical and transformative journey.”

The beach at the F-Zeen hotel, one of the resorts Greek hoteliers are transforming. Photo: Supplied

While the Harvard thinkers may disagree with my assessment of sustainability efforts as a patch, they certainly would give credence to Fullerton’s reimagining of economics, finance, and development in service to the “good life.” I know some readers are wondering what all this has to do with three Greeks managing resorts in Zanzibar. As it turns out, my allusion to the “good life” perfectly matches the name of a hotel run by a new company, Orama Hospitality Management.

This company, founded by three Greek hospitality experts, intends to create models for regenerative tourism by aligning existing resorts with new processes and thinking. They believe it’s time we redefined what we want life to look like and how we ultimately attain equity for everyone. But first, we must remember what moves us in the good direction.

One of their hotels, F-Zeen Boutique Hotel Zanzibar, gleaned its name from the ancient Greek word for the good life, or εὖ ζῆν (Which is pronounced F-Zeen). Orama Hospitality Management, founded by hospitality experts George Kotronis and two of his Greek partners, has taken over the operations of several resorts in Zanzibar with a mission to template regenerative tourism. Ultimately, they hope to transform the beachfront hotels into a new model for success focused on more than short-term revenue. I called Kotronis to quiz the hospitality guru about “why Zanzibar” when I heard of Orama Hospitality’s latest resort management effort. Here’s what he had to say:

“One reason we chose Zanzibar is that we consider this magical island a reemerging market or a mature destination that’s ideal for regenerative tourism. All our experience in Crete, on Cyprus, and Santorini especially tells us these post-mature markets will only convert to new ways of thinking once concrete models have been established. We know we can create such models in Zanzibar and similar markets.”

So, they chose Zanzibar because of the frustration and improbability of converting resorts in Crete, Cyprus, Santorini, or any of the Greek destinations. From my experience consulting on public relations with Crete hoteliers, the bottom line is that getting anyone in Greece even to consider a radical rethink, even if it’s necessary to save their island paradises, is currently impossible.

Zanzibar is a different story. This was illustrated not long ago when the Zanzibar Association of Tourism Investors (ZATI) convinced the Ministry of Trade, Tourism, and Investment and the Zanzibar Commission for Tourism to adopt a tourism rebranding and growth program. The plan was immensely successful and a significant first step toward developing a regenerative tourism model. Orama Hospitality is effecting this at F-Zeen and their other hotels in Zanzibar. Ultimately, they hope to convince clients in more mature markets by providing success models from this emerging paradise destination.

Orama Hospitality Management’s efforts can be considered grassroots compared to the scale the regenerative process will require. Yet, the Greek entrepreneurs nor economic genius John Fullerton are not alone in assessing the importance of shifting our focus. This quote from the Journal of Tourism Futures by Dr. Dianne Dredge, who is the Director of The Tourism CoLab cements what’s needed:

“Regenerative tourism requires a shift in social-ecological consciousness and depends on our capacity to evolve our thinking from “me” to “we” and to develop compassion, empathy, and collaborative action.”

Finally, the Greek hospitality entrepreneurs understand another key facet of what it will take for regenerative tourism to take hold. Like Fullerton’s sketches of rethought economic principles, Zanzibar should be a perfect test of whether or not “place based” economics can succeed. I’ll be talking with the Orama group shortly about how F-Zeen and the other hotels can take advantage of new technologies and programs targeting right-thinking tourists.