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Regenerating Sri Lanka’s hospitality industry

Guiding Principle 1: See the whole picture. Recognize that most tourism by its nature involves the destination as a whole, not only industry businesses, but also its ecosystems, natural resources, cultural assets and traditions, communities, aesthetics, and built infrastructure.

When Sri Lanka’s civil war ended in 2009, the island experienced a tourism boom. Unfortunately, much of this boom was short-sighted, based on extractive and unsustainable practices that primarily focused on near-term economic gain – including rapid construction and property development. This led to problems such as corruption, poor waste and water management, coastal erosion, pollution, encroachment of strict nature reserves and degradation of ecologically sensitive areas, illegal construction, and exceeding of research-based carrying capacities, particularly in wildlife parks.

After a decade of exploitative tourism growth, Sri Lanka’s tourism boom came to a rapid halt because of a terrorist attack and the pandemic as well as a corruption-induced economic crisis that ultimately led to a shortage of imported goods, including fossil fuels, and electricity in 2022. This proved to be an opportunity to reset tourism on the island, transforming Sri Lanka’s hospitality landscape from being extractive to more regenerative and the Sri Lanka-based consultancy organization RETRACE™ Hospitality provides support to achieve this.

RETRACE™ Hospitality was born out of a belief that the hospitality industry can become a driver of responsible stewardship, by creating profitable businesses that improve the quality of the destination by enhancing native ecosystems and livelihoods, while strengthening cashflows and well-being for all stakeholders. Founder, Chalana Perera, suggests nature-based supply chains, ecosystems regeneration, digital detoxes, holistic well-being, and regenerative agriculture should be among the key pillars of tourism development in the country. Perera advocates for regenerative practices and a more circular approach to tourism and hospitality development, and operations. He argues that more revenue will be generated, and value created if Sri Lanka markets and manages the destination in a regenerative manner.

RETRACE™ uses advocacy and awareness building to encourage hoteliers and tourism stakeholders to consider KPIs beyond pure financial growth. These KPIs include air, soil, and water quality, employee well-being, community upliftment, and biodiversity indices for smarter, higher-value tourism development. They also encourage hoteliers to be mindful of their ecological footprint, take ownership of supply chains and develop hyper-local, fossil-fuel free supply networks, grow their own food, and use local and indigenous construction methods and materials that embrace the uniqueness and abundance of resources available across Sri Lanka, demonstrating truly what "sense of place" means.

In 2022, RETRACE™ undertook the redevelopment of a family-run tourism business, by implementing a strict local procurement policy which included sourcing 100% upcycled and repurposed waste furnishings, switching from chemical-based cleaning products to 100% organic and natural, locally produced cleaning products, introducing hourly wages and gender pay-parity to operating staff, establishing an entirely plastic-free operational policy, integrating an exclusively natural-fiber based interior and initiating partnerships with local environmental organizations with whom resources are shared for much needed conservation work. The property has since witnessed profits increase by over 35%.

During Sri Lanka’s resource crisis, RETRACE™ also advised on the development of a nature-based urban wellness retreat, constructed entirely out of materials sourced from within a 50-kilometer radius of the site, and built entirely by hand by local artisans- reviving lost craftsmanship and encouraging investment in local labor that would otherwise be spent on expensive imported materials.

With the support of RETRACE Hospitality, investors, developers, and operators in the Sri Lankan tourism industry are now more aware of the need for and value of regenerative and circular practices that ensure profits are aligned with the well-being of people, planet, and purpose.

Every month, the Future of Tourism Coalition highlights inspiring stories that bring our shared vision for tourism to life. Have a story to share? Submit yours today.


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