If travel was a result of the human desire to explore, a means to seek out knowledge beyond one’s immediate surroundings, a diligent thinker would ask, ‘how did we get here’?
Often the most Instagram-ed travel content inspires us to look for the ‘best’, the ‘top-most’, the ‘most convenient’. And while that’s a respectable solution for those attempting an easy escape, it’s arguably problematic in the larger scheme of things.
A newfound insight
“There are 1.4 billion tourists every year; and we travel on less than five percent of the planet,” says Thierry Teyssier, an advocate of regenerative travel and Founder of nomadic hotel company 700’000 Heurs.
“I’ve had some hotels for a long time, and one day I realized that we were spending a lot of energy, time and money to promote the same destination to new guests every year, to convince them to visit our place and not go to, for instance, India or any other country. It was like, ‘Please come to Morocco, our place is the best’.”
And with that newfound insight, he decided to step out of the conventional system and adopt a more sincere approach to travel and hospitality. Instead of convincing tourists from across the globe to visit Dar Ahlam, his luxury Moroccan property, he took his hotels to them – basing them in remote, under-explored pockets of the world for six-month periods.
But, as the diligent thinker would ask again, how do you decide the right locations and what is best for everyone? “The willingness must first come from the community,” Teyssier says. “If it doesn’t, then it’s a kind of colonization.”
Finding the sweet spot
Regenerative travel goes beyond the norms of sustainability – which peak at not causing any harm to the environment and society – and promotes the idea of development and restoration with a whole-systems approach.
With 700’000 Heurs, Teyssier is doing the same. Having partnered with not-for-profit organization Global Heritage Fund, which supports several communities during their economic and social development, he found a home for his pilot project in regenerative hospitality in 2022 in the largely abandoned Moroccan village of Tizkmoudine. After four years of setting up ephemeral hotels, the idea was to stay for longer than a few months to amplify the impact the hotel would have on the community.
The village, which has consisted of around 100 homes over the past 500 years, was restored by the organization looking for a community-focused hospitality project. This project’s launch brought that dream to fruition.
The willingness must first come from the community. If it doesn’t, then it’s a kind of colonization.
Luring travelers with no plunge pools, spa treatments or even a stable electricity connection, the village’s namesake was constructed on an ancient heritage site and offered a sense of adventure and spirituality. The project not only provides its guests with a one-of-a-kind opportunity to witness something truly unique, it has also restored the destination’s cultural assets, created jobs for the community and generated revenue for its residents.
“The biggest challenge was to change the paradigm, to not be focused on hospitality first but regeneration and community,” Teyssier says.
The biggest challenge was to change the paradigm.
Discussing his vision to strike the right balance between hospitality and regeneration, the French hotelier shares that they both go hand in hand. If hospitality is given more attention, the regeneration and communities suffer. But if emphasis is placed on regeneration alone, then hospitality doesn’t generate enough revenue for the communities.
With a perspective that supports restoring old houses and buildings before constructing any new ones, he planned and art-directed Tizkmoudine to feature three private suites – all housed in a few of the restored homes that the Global Heritage Fund had alchemized over the last decade. The orange stone walls, fine linen upholstery, locally-sourced artisanal goods, wood-burning stoves and a bespoke decor lend a theatrical charm to the desert village property.
Two halves of a whole
After founding 700’000 Heurs in 2018, Teyssier set up his first ephemeral hotel in Salento, a sub-peninsula in the southern part of Puglia, Italy. He then added others in places such as Cambodia, Hong Kong, Japan and Brazil. While the breakout of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 did throw a wrench in their plans, his team still managed to take the project to eight locations in the last five years. Tizkmoudine is their most recent offering.
But what was it that had him change his approach in 2022, lead him to launch the regenerative project and stay at a single location beyond six months?
“We use hospitality to generate revenues for the community. With these revenues, we create new businesses to help locals strike a balance between a better life, preservation of their history, their patrimonies, their buildings and so on,” he says. “But once we left, it’s like they had something in their hand that suddenly disappeared.”
While the ephemeral hotels were a success, he now sees the approach as a coherent and responsible way to scout for locations and communities across the globe that need support – while also building more permanent lodgings, following in the footsteps of Tizkmoudine, to help these communities in the long-term.
Once we have left, it is like they had something in their hand that suddenly disappeared.
“To have a deeper impact, we have to stay permanently with them, or at least for a longer time,” Teyssier says. “When a community has become completely independent, maybe three, five, eight or even 10 years after we set up the business, we can go ahead and do the same in another place. That’s regenerative hospitality.”