Leilani Yats on the nuances and aspirations of regenerative travel


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A topic that I’ve been exploring personally for a long time is the concept of regenerative travel. I’ve been travelling my whole life in some way or another from when I was born in Tokyo, Japan and then emigrated to the US with my family when I was 7, through moving 9 times as a kid to taking off independently when I was 17 and traveling and working around the world. Travel has been a lifestyle for me more than a hobby or vacation and I’ve often wondered if my actions and contributions to the places I’ve lived and visited could justify the environmental impact of that way of living. 

Through reading and mentorship, my understanding of the concept of regeneration has evolved. I now understand how true regeneration goes beyond the “do good” paradigm to development of the full potential of any whole system you’re working with. Luckily, a dear friend of mine from my time in Guatemala is working on exactly this challenge through an initiative called Naturally Smart Travel. 

Leilani Yats is the Founder of Naturally Smart Travel, a tour coordination company partnering with impact investors and social entrepreneurs in the developing world through immersive travel. Previously, her unique experience in the Los Angeles startup industry helped small domestic teams grow into international success. Since 2017, she’s focused on connecting individuals with resources to community and environmentally focused businesses in Guatemala to help all parties thrive.

In this interview Leila walks me through the thought process that went into creating the tours and experiences that foster real connections and contributions that go both ways. She explains how tours can break out of the mold that often shows local and indigenous people as exotic and in need of help rather than fostering a deeper understanding of the lives of the people that you’re visiting. We cover some uncomfortable observations from having both lived in popular tourist areas in Guatemala for years and the patterns and assumptions that are often made by visitors who are just passing through. 

This is certainly only one part of a much longer conversation that I hope to continue to have around the subject of regenerative travel, but I think that Leila is the perfect person to kick off the dialogue through her work and experience. 

So let’s jump right in from the beginning. 

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