As part of his research on regenerative hospitality and digital technology, Dr Alessandro Inversini had the fantastic opportunity to visit two rural reserves in Lebanon, namely Shouf Cezar Reserve and Jamal Moussa Reserve. In this article, he shares his experience, and gives us insights into his research results. Discover the concept of regenerative hospitlality and how it could impact the industry!
"Come with me, I would like to show you something amazing!" Cezar urged me.
Cezar, my guide, takes our car keys and drives up towards the gently rolling hills of the Shouf Cedar Reserve. We have been speaking only a few minutes about the purpose of my field work on Regenerative Hospitality in Rural Lebanon, and he already wants to show me something. Honestly, I am not sure what to expect … but I decide to trust him.
After a few minutes in the car with Cezar, we arrive in a beautiful spot in the mountains: ‘Welcome to The Sunset Bar’ he exclaims.
The Sunset Bar, true to its name, is really a bar in the hills where you can see what is arguably the most beautiful sunset in the Shouf Cedar Reserve. The bar was built by Cezar and his friends from the community with the clear purpose of creating a viable business that will enable locals to stay in the community while fostering economic growth in the area. In addition, the business was designed and built in harmony with nature and the environment. This aspect is felt immediately upon arrival and is a focal point of every project run by Cezar and his friends.
The Sunset Bar, Shouf Cedar Reserve.
In fact, while speaking with the founders and managers of the bar, it became apparent that the very concept of ‘community’, along with the natural environment where they were born and raised, are the most important elements for this gang of entrepreneurs in their late twenties. They clearly want to highlight the authenticity of both the people in the community and the area’s natural beauty. Showing it to visitors from around the world is something close to a life’s mission for Cezar and his crew.
Cezar is one of the many rural entrepreneurs I have met in a week of ethnographic field work organized as part of a research project funded by the HES-SO Leading House MENA, which has facilitated collaboration between EHL Hospitality Business School and the American University of Beirut (Nature Conservation Center). The purpose of this project is to investigate Regenerative Hospitality and the use of Digital Technology in two beautiful nature reserves in Lebanon, namely Shouf Cedar and Jabal Moussareserves. Thanks to a fantastic team located both in Switzerland and in Lebanon, we conducted 21 interviews with travel entrepreneurs, we ran a survey in the two biosphere reserves, and we carried out a comprehensive social media analysis of the businesses connected with the reserve.
Read below some of the preliminary results of this research.
A light-hearted moment during the fieldwork in Jabal Moussa Reserve.
Place Intelligence & People Intelligence
According to theory, regenerative tourism is a departure from the sustainable development paradigm by positioning travel-related businesses as entities that develop the capacities of places, communities and their guests to operate in harmony with interconnected social-ecological systems (Bellato et al., 2022).
We observed this in action: the businesses we interviewed were deeply rooted both into the natural and social ecosystems of the reserves. They all had these elements in their DNA but, given the personality of the different entrepreneurs, they could be positioned on a spectrum. Take, for instance, Donkey Farm whose aim is to raise awareness (among both locals and visitors) about reforestation and indigenous donkey breeding. They started with a farm-to-table offer and evolved towards a more restoration/regeneration paradigm where the traditional and indigenous practices come back to life thanks to the work of a hospitality entrepreneur. In a different example, Al Fundok is a boutique hotel and restaurant developed on the premises of an old abandoned elementary school. Management strives to preserve nature and work to enhance the community. In particular, they endeavor to improve the lives of young people. In fact, Al Fundok involves community youngsters in formal training without having to leave the community. Moreover, they are actively involved in safeguarding their society’s customs by sponsoring and organizing traditional festivals. Vulnerable members of the community are involved in organizing and running the event.
This is what – in our research - we called ‘place intelligence’: a net-positive attitude towards the natural and social ecosystems around the “hospitality endeavor”. Hospitality that stresses ‘place intelligence’ is a means to an end where the end is celebrating and regenerating both their natural and social ecosystem. Place intelligence is the outer perspective of regeneration where hospitality entrepreneurs build a respectful and positive relationship with their natural environment and with the people of the community, finding ways to constantly regenerate and improve both.
One other clear trait of small and micro businesses in hospitality that we kept noticing in different data points of our study is the creation of experiences as well as the bond created with the visitors. For example, the social media content that we studied clearly showed that visitors were always thanking the hosts for the experiences. Even when small hospitality errors (e.g. SOPs) occurred they were mentioned only in passing, whereas most comments celebrated the meaningful and sometimes transformative nature of the experiences proposed.
This was very apparent in the numerous mentions of experiences and retreats related to yoga practices, or nature-related experiences such as hiking in the mountains and fruit-picking in the fields. However, one other most interesting examples is Emmanuelle, a host with a passion for hospitality and nature: she takes her guests in the forest to harvest different plants to later create herbal teas and other recipes together. During these activities, she teaches her guests about the herbs and their uses from the knowledge she has acquired over the years. Two other guest houses were looking forward to building a community kitchen to create a meaningful connection between the community and the visitor of the guesthouse. What is very interesting in these examples is that the community is the staff, and the staff is the community. By sharing who they are and what they do, the hosts impact travelers and their expectations, which are often far exceeded through this authentic relationship.
This is what – in our research - we call ‘people intelligence’. It is the systemic and net-positive relationship between hosts (and their staff) and guests, leading to the co-creation of extraordinary experiences that develop the well-being of hosts and guests. Extraordinary experiences are by definition experiences that are ‘outside’ of the ordinary. They trigger a keen interest—among both staff and guests—to co-create a net-positive value that was not there before.
Regenerative Hospitality: Place Intelligence and People Intelligence (Inversini et al., forthcoming).
Lesson Learned For Hospitality Entrepreneurs
Regenerative Hospitality is a different concept that is becoming popular in a bottom-up way. In other words, it is an approach to corporate responsibility adopted by several grassroots hospitality organizations that, at the present time, has no schemes, grids or KPIs. Even though it creates a regulatory vacuum, it enhances the responsibility of the individual hotelier (and/or hotel manager).
Therefore, at its very heart, Regenerative Hospitality is a business mind shift, not another compliance rule: managers who decide to embrace regeneration pursue net-positive goals to make the company flourish in the place where it is established (thus developing, fostering , nourishing and ultimately regenerating what we can call the genius loci) with the people who are part of it (both people who run the company, from managers to operations and the people who experience the actual service) – in a sort of hospitality partnership.
Lastly, Regenerative Hospitality may not be for everyone in the industry. However, becoming familiar with place intelligence and people intelligence can help managers to become truly responsible actors in the community (people and nature) and vis-à-vis people (staff and guests). Regeneration - especially in the hotel sector - shouldn't be just an afterthought or a vague notion, but should be concretely implemented. Small building blocks can result in a big impact on both the place and the people.