EDI has set out to create great architecture that is site specific, climate driven and raises the awareness of those who interact with or inhabit our projects.  We celebrate the uniqueness of the world by engaging projects passionately, designing responsibly, and daring ourselves to push the sustainability of architecture.  To us, more than anything else, ecotourism represents education: education about place, education about impact, education about balance, education about purpose, and education about ourselves.  What better pursuit than to craft spaces and opportunities for experience that engage people in their time of discovery, joy, recentering, peace and excitement?

Issues with Traditional Tourism (The Challenge)

Humanity’s desire to explore the unknown and discover new places and ideas is universal and enduring.  We are always searching for an understanding of our place on planet Earth.  In today’s world, people fulfill this need through travel and often through travel to resort destinations.  Although trends have changed over the years, there has been a shift to more responsible travel.  Despite the change in awareness of many new “ecotravelers,” traditional resort development is still a flourishing industry which, unfortunately, often fails to consider the negative environmental and cultural impacts of its growth and existence.  Using the principals of regenerative design and ecotourism, resorts can preserve and even enrich local environments and culture.  Demand for resort development will continue as long as human beings seek new experiences.  In order to protect vulnerable environments, preserve culture and enrich the travelers’ experience, ecoresorts are a desirable response to this need.

The tourism industry is one of the fastest growing industries on earth.  The World Resources Institute (1990) found that while tourism overall has been growing at an annual rate of 4%, nature travel is increasing at an annual rate between 10% and 30%.  Then according to the Oslo Statement on Ecotourism (2007) world tourism grew by 23% from 2002 to 2007 and is forecast to double by 2020.  The fast-paced, speculative development of tourist facilities explicitly impacts their immediate surroundings.  Tourism facilities are often built in natural areas that have not been developed.  This leads to the displacement of indigenous cultures and devastation of the surrounding environments, furthering worldwide issues of biodiversity loss and threats to natural areas.  Tourists often only see these areas after they are complete and from the “front of the house” and therefore do not understand the impact of their travel choices.  The ecotourism phenomenon is one that is gathering traction as more and more people of means and awareness choose to undertake their experience with and to leave a positive legacy and greater cumulative value with the places they visit.

Principles of Ecotourism and Regenerative Design (Proposed Solution)

EDI’s approach to ecotourism-based design is very different from typical approaches in the industry.  We combine our Regenerative Design Approach with a comprehensive understanding of place to develop an extensive needs assessment that informs the process from early concepts through operations planning and execution.

According to The International Ecotourism Society, “Ecotourism is about uniting conservation, communities and sustainable travel. This means that those who implement and participate in ecotourism activities should follow the following ecotourism principles:

  • Minimize impact.
  • Build environmental and cultural awareness and respect.
  • Provide positive experiences for both visitors and hosts.
  • Provide direct financial benefits for conservation.
  • Provide financial benefits and empowerment for local people.
  • Raise sensitivity to host countries’ political, environmental, and social climates.”

EDI shares this perspective and believes that informed, responsible, high quality, ecoresort design, when combined with Regenerative Design principles can achieve three main goals:

1.  Improve ecosystems in decline or sustain healthy ecosystems

2.  Empower local cultures through financial means while allowing them to maintain their unique identity

3.  Provide an enriching and genuine experience for the traveler

Through regenerative design practices, a natural site that is in decline can be improved.  We can couple ecotourism with regenerative design as a mechanism to reverse the damage to natural locations that have been mined, harvested, extracted or in other ways depleted.

Through this process the site and local culture will be regenerated, and also be sustained, its processes celebrated, and its people educated not only about the processes themselves, but about the long-term value of responsible development.  An example of this methodology is Ban Mai, a recent edi project in Vietnam.  Click here to see more about this project.

People are proud of their culture, heritage and local environment.  Ecotourism can provide the opportunity for celebrating and enriching local culture while providing employment and an economic advantage.  Local communities are often strengthened through economic improvement when there is the opportunity to showcase their culture.  It is often difficult for outsiders to build a genuine experience.  Therefore, partnering with local people, communities and stakeholders is fundamental to the development of a successful project.

As our world becomes smaller through technological advances, human beings crave the unique and genuine.  A growing number of tourists are demanding authentic travel experiences.  Ecotourism venues can fulfill this need.  Beautiful natural settings, genuine cultural experiences and an understanding of having done something good for the planet, leave travelers with a sense of value from their vacation.

A Snapshot of Our Process

It is our belief that the most important element in successfully implementing an ecotourism project is pinpointing the unique potential a place has to offer.  Every site has components to celebrate and challenges to overcome.  The appropriate design responses that integrate these elements will result in a truly exceptional place, which will continue to generate intrigue and interest for visitors and locals over time.  Items under consideration will include, but will not be limited to:  the historic processes and the movement of energies on the site; water presence and movement tendency; land capacity to generate life; existing and past cultural context; existing and potential waste flows; availability or lack of naturally occurring life supporting resources (food & water);  power generating opportunities; and the natural systems’ inherent resiliency to natural disaster (hurricane and/or flooding, drought, etc).

In partnership with our client, we assemble a team of appropriate specialists and stakeholders who work with us to develop as comprehensive an understanding of place as possible.  We add layers of information to build a knowledge base that includes, but is not limited to,  geology, hydrology, climate patterns, biology (flora and fauna), economics, anthropologic history, material relevance and construction methodologies.  With this information, we develop a thorough needs and assets assessment and then begin conceptual design explorations of a number of “seed” ideas.

We will test these “seed” ideas with the team through a series of charettes to determine which ideas have the deepest potential and most compelling output.  We anticipate an integrated and engaged process that includes local team members and experts, representatives from local constituencies and stakeholders from surrounding communities and islands.

These initial explorations become the foundation for a responsible eco-regenerative design, limited only by our imaginations.