Run wild

“Rewilding” is a term I keep reading and hearing about, perhaps capturing our attention because we are shut in by the coronavirus and longing to set ourselves free in the world, and maybe in the wild – at least a beautiful garden. It is an optimistic word and maybe on our collective lips in response to being overwhelmed by technology, too many Zoom-like meetings, and a need to unplug.

Of course, the concept of supporting nature-driven processes, which in turn brings about wilder nature, is also our conscious or unconscious response to heal the planet we have been responsible for destroying. I bring this up today because it can also play a growing role in travel and tourism, and naturally hotelkeeping.

Rewilding is defined as a more progressive approach to conservation. It’s about letting nature take care of itself, enabling natural processes to shape land and sea, repair damaged ecosystems and restore degraded landscapes. Through rewilding, wildlife’s natural rhythms create wilder, more biodiverse habitats.

I might be getting too old, too busy and too set in my ways to make rewilding a focus of trip planning, but emerging generations see this as a way forward to reclaim what is real. They want to know how your hotel respects its environment, community and the people who engage with it.

Getty Images
Getty Images

Bangkok-based hotel designer Bill Bensley loves to talk about rewilding and its role in healing the world. “Conservation of the world’s wild places matter — and I firmly believe ‘rewilding’ is key to our mental health.”

Rewilding, to him, is all about getting back to nature, disconnecting from fast-paced city life and one’s overflowing inbox by way of immersion in nature. Trekking, fishing, bird watching. “It recreates a connection with nature, which most of us have lost, and teaches guests that they can have a personal impact on conservation, rather than it being an abstract concept,” Bensley says.

Rewilding applied to a hotel works best in a resort setting, but there are ways to make a statement in urban environments. Luca Franco, founder and CEO of Luxury Frontiers, which creates bespoke experiences in nature for resorts and lodges, often in the form of tented camps, is a champion of rewilding because he believes society has pushed its fragile eco-system to the edge. “We need to let nature rebalance us and inspire us,” he says.

Franco says rewilding, as it applies to people, would involve learning from the land, wild plants, and animals and encouraging the adoption of traditional lifestyles, as found in indigenous or ancestral cultures. “Ultimately, this re-education and re-immersion in nature would transform the luxury traveler so that he is more in touch with his interior life and his surroundings — fertile ground for self-exploration and discovery,” he told me.

Franco says travel brands can become active stakeholders in conservation and regeneration projects where low impact outdoor activities, such as walking, trekking, botany, geology, wildlife observation, and other activities, can be carried out. This would, in turn, lead to the creation of new protected wilderness areas and habitat corridors where wildlife can thrive and humans can restore themselves while being immersed in natural surroundings.

“I’m optimistic that this symbiosis could spark ideas for conservation efforts and environmental programs that could mitigate the effects of climate change,” he says. “Rewilding the luxury traveler is not necessarily about a total return to nature but rather freeing ourselves from the tyranny of technology. Travel companies that can see the correlation between the demands of modern life and the traveler´s need to rewild will have an edge in this decade and beyond.”

The purpose of this blog post is simply to get you thinking more about what you as hoteliers can do to contribute to our wellbeing, yours included. Just sitting here cooped up in my home office this morning and writing this note already has given me added hope. I hope you can embrace the concept of rewilding in whatever way you can. Give yourself and your guests a chance to get back to some basics of life.