Supporting Global Development through Sustainable Tourism

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Eastern Sri Lanka

Since September 2013, Solimar International has been supporting USAID's BIZ+ Program in Sri Lanka. The country has been opening its doors to the world to improve its economy after a violent 26-year conflict that ended in 2009.

USAID's BIZ+ program aims to stimulate economic growth, job creation, and to increase household incomes in the economically lagging regions of Sri Lanka by providing small and medium-sized businesses with the technical know-how and financial resources they need to succeed.

Using our expertise in tourism training and education, Solimar is currently supporting two local tourism businesses in Eastern Sri Lanka by providing technical skills training in developing and managing tourism. By assisting Ecowave Travels in Arugam Bay and East N West in Batticaloa/Passekudah, we are working to increase not only awareness about the Eastern Sri Lanka region but grow tourism-related jobs as well.

Lucia Prinz, our Product Development and Training Specialist, is currently in Eastern Sri Lanka providing the businesses with support on product enhancement, establishing systems, tourism training, and creating promotional materials.

Even at the early stage of the project, Lucia has already received praises for her impressive business plan from the project manager of BIZ+ and one of the directors at Ecowave.

Solimar recently caught up with Lucia to get updates from the project.

Solimar International: Can you tell us more about the two local businesses, Ecowave and East N West, we are supporting through tourism training in Eastern Sri Lanka?

Ecowave Travels
Ecowave Travels (Photo from: TripAdvisor.com)

Lucia Prinz (LP): Both of the businesses are social enterprises. Ecowave’s goal is to provide employment opportunities to community people. They work on two main areas, one is organic agriculture and the other is tourism. In organic agriculture, local farmers provide them with vegetables that they sell to hotels and residents in Arugam Bay. In tourism, they strive to involve locals in their operations: Ecowave employs local women as cooking instructors for the cooking class, and both areas provide tourism training and employment opportunities for positions like tour guides, drivers, and fishermen. The Fisherman Association that provides the service of taking the tourist in their catamaran on a tour in a lagoon has benefited from this support, for example.

East N West also works to provide employment for the people of the communities that they visit in their tours. They also charge LKR (Sri Lankan rupees) 100, which is less than U$ 1, as a social fund; when the fund reaches a certain amount they will analyze the needs for each community and help them to acquire something that they need.

Solimar: Who are the partners and stakeholders for this project?

LP: The main partners are Ecowave and East N West, in addition to an Italian nonprofit organization called Institute for International Economic Cooperation (ICEI), which is based in Milan. ICEI is a Member of the UN World Tourism Organization and works in sustainable and responsible tourism in different countries.

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Solimar: What kinds of tourism training have you already provided to our partners?

LP: I have completed training of a sales manager at Ecowave in Arugam Bay in selling techniques and in financial procedures. For East N West, I have done training on online marketing. For both companies, I have advised on improvement of their tours.

Solimar: What are the next steps in the project?

LP: I am going to develop a 30-hour Guide Training for the guides of both Ecowave and East N West. The guides currently have very little knowledge about the history and nature of their areas. I am also going to provide them with interpretation techniques in guiding so that they can deliver information in a more fun and professional way, in addition to improving their overall professionalism as tour guides. This will start in November.

The Guide Training course focuses heavily on dynamic activities and opportunities for participants to practice and apply their new skills. In the training sessions the guides will be instructed in interpretation and natural and cultural history together.

Solimar is pleased to be part of the USAID VEGA/BIZ+ Program and we are looking forward to this next phase of activities.

Does your company require the tourism training that Lucia is providing to our partners in Eastern Sri Lanka? If you are interested in learning how to improve your own tourism staff, download Solimar's Tool Kit on Tourism Workforce Development.

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On September 24th, Solimar International Chairman Don Hawkins was a panel speaker at the first Myanmar Investment Outreach Business & Investment Forum, held in New York City. The event, which was headed by Myanmar Minister at the President’s Office U Soe Thane, was organized to promote and encourage foreign direct investment in the Southeast Asian country, which is undergoing significant political and economic reform. The panel convened to discuss a myriad of topics across all sectors of the Myanmar economy.

 Don Hawkins
Photo Credit: Peninsula Press

Dr. Hawkins’ panel was asked about Myanmar’s tourism sector. After opening its doors in recent years for the first time in decades, Myanmar shows promise in becoming a major tourism destination. The Minister of Hotels and Tourism, Htay Aung, announced foreign tourist numbers have been steadily rising, up from 800,000 in 2011 to about 2 million in 2013. Such a surge in visitors has put a blatant strain on the industry, which suffers from a lack of development and infrastructure.

With such great potential, how can the sector become a pillar of the economy?

Dr. Hawkins emphasized investment. Myanmar’s international visitor arrivals are growing at about 46% a year, and in the first five months of 2014 tourism generated US$ 552 million. This figure is expected to easily surpass $1 billion by the end of the year. This is fast growing tax base which should be used to finance investment in health, education, and infrastructure, Dr. Hawkins explained.

Another important aspect Don pointed out was the industry’s high labor intensity. The tourism sector is forecasted to create over 1 million new jobs in Myanmar by 2020. The sector’s growth is poised for success, Dr. Hawkins explained, because of its foundation. The Ministry of Hotels and Tourism is one of the few ministries to have prepared a sector master plan, which lays out strategies and actions focusing on poverty alleviation, community involvement, environmental protection and good governance.

How does the country implement sustainable tourism, retaining the profits while adding value for the international players involved?

In addressing the development of sustainable tourism, Dr. Hawkins was keen to call attention to the Smithsonian Institution’s involvement in Myanmar. The Smithsonian Institution has joined the Ministry of Environmental Conservation & Forestry (MOECAF), UNDP, and Green Economy Green Growth Myanmar (GEGG) to organize a stakeholders workshop—“Building the Foundation for Natural Resources Stewardship for Sustainable, Inclusive and Equitable Development: Towards a Ten-year Strategy Framework (2015-2025)”. This workshop, which brought together Myanmar environmental NGOs and international NGOs, aims to develop a national plan for natural resource management and begin a targeted program for expanding and managing protected land and seascapes. This workshop is just one of many that are being held with regional and international stakeholders in the pursuit of sustainable development.

Over 350 people participated in the Myanmar Investment Forum, almost 150 more than expected. Such turn out reflects the promise and buzz around Myanmar’s potential.  Phyo Wai Yar Zar, chairman of the Myanmar Tourism Marketing and joint secretary of the Myanmar Tourism Federation, recently announced the possibility of a “Visit Myanmar” promotion year in 2016. The tourism sector is growing rapidly and shows no signs of slowing down. Sustainable development of the sector will be of utmost importance moving forward to ensure continued success.

To learn more about becoming a more sustainable tourism enterprise, download the Sustainable Tourism Enterprise Development Tool Kit.

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ATWS

Last week, 700 international delegates from various sectors of the tourism industry gathered in Killarney, Ireland for the 2014 Adventure Travel World Summit (ATWS). The Summit aimed to promote Ireland as an adventure travel destination, connect hundreds of like-minded travel leaders from around the globe, foster peer-to-peer exchanges on best practices and operational strategies, and promote business development.


Two of our staff members, Natasha Martin and Gabe Seder, represented Solimar at the four-day summit. I spoke with Natasha, a seasoned veteran of the Summit, and Gabe, a newcomer, about their ATWS 2014 experiences in more detail.


The growth of adventure travel made ATWS a must-attend for Solimar. “When we did the first study in 2010, it was worth $89 billion, and now its nearly $250 billion – so more people are choosing adventurous holidays - which is great news for Solimar because we work, nearly exclusively, in adventure destinations,” said Natasha. “Adventure tourism is a great segment for emerging markets because adventure tourists don't care about developed infrastructure and fancy hotels– they want exceptional experiences.”


The Summit offered much more than just lectures and workshops. “Destinations compete to host world class events like ATWS because they create a unique opportunity to highlight the best of the destination to movers and shakers in all sectors of the tourism industry. Ireland made sure delegates got out of the conference center to go on a ‘Day of Adventure’—doing things like hiking, kayaking, climbing, etc. They also subsidize ‘pre-summit adventures’ for delegates to go on 3-4 day adventure tours around Ireland,” Gabe said. Therefore, said Natasha, “It’s a great networking opportunity as well as a chance to experience some adventure tourism.”

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Natasha commented on the different experiences offered in this year’s host country, Ireland, and last year in Namibia, which she helped facilitate: “The Summit in Ireland was much different from that in Namibia -- but equally as exciting, fun, and inspirational. The ATTA and Ireland team did a great job of organizing a seamless event and they brought together a great diversity of delegates from around the world." And even as a newcomer, Gabe had a similar perspective on his first Summit experience this year, “This was my first time at ATWS. The bar for the event had been set really high because I've been hearing Natasha and other coworkers talk about the Summit for years, but it exceeded my expectations because everyone you meet is eager talk about their experience in adventure travel, discuss the industry, and learn about Solimar.”


A talk on conservation travel stood out to both Gabe and Natasha as particularly important for Solimar’s work,. “The session on Conservation Travel was particularly interesting - we discussed how tourism can be a type of insurance policy for conservation. In many types of tourism, visitors want to see wildlife, so it has an economic value,” said Natasha. “The ‘Conservation Travel’ session also spoke to Solimar's approach of creating a business case for conservation by demonstrating the quantifiable value of wildlife preservation for a destination,” commented Gabe. Other highlights: “The session on ‘Going Head-to-Head with your Digital Future’ included a Q-and-A with representatives from Google, Facebook, and TripAdvisor, who advised tour operators and destinations on how to leverage the expanding reach of these platforms to engage and convert audiences around the globe,” said Gabe. “Several sessions discussed ideas on how to raise awareness of this type of tourism- I think it’s something we can bring into our work at Solimar,” commented Natasha.

Overall, the Summit was a great success, for our Solimar representatives as well as the rest of the adventure travel community. Solimar is excited for #ATWS2015 in Chile!

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In 2010, Solimar partnered with National Geographic, USAID, the Inter-American Development Bank and other key stakeholders to improve market access for small and medium sized tourism businesses in Bocas del Toro, Panama and Roatán, Honduras. The economies of Bocas del Toro and Roatán rely heavily on tourism and fishing, the growth of which jeopardizes their respective natural beauty and biodiversity.

In response to this impending problem, Solimar and its partners rolled out the Go Blue Central America (GBCA) project with its core product being a National Geographic co-branded website. The interactive website creates a platform for local communities to tell their stories and showcase their unique and sustainable attractions, activities, products and experiences. In doing so, the GBCA program drives increased visitation to the region and attracts visitors most likely to enjoy and care about the cultural and natural experiences of the areas. To be featured through GBCA, a business must meet certain sustainability criteria; this incentivizes businesses to adopt sustainable practices.

GBCA proved to be successful. Solimar documented a $1.3 million increase in sales of GBCA businesses, and established a Geotourism Stewardship Council working closely with the Coral Reef Alliance to direct and sustain the program over the long term. Social media channels, including Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest, were also pushed forward.

 GBCA

Solimar's contract ended in 2013. It is always a challenge for development projects to sustain momentum and support after the end of the contract. A year later, we are happy to report that GBCA continues to flourish, in many ways due to the tireless efforts of Manlio Martinez, a consultant and coordinator for the local Geotourism Council in Roatán. Mr. Martinez has successfully rallied stakeholders in Roatán to develop new attractions & product nominations for the website, and to create and publish valuable content to GBCA's Facebook page. At the end of Solimar's contract, the Facebook page had approximately 200 likes; the page now has 556 likes. And while Facebook likes are not the end goal of our efforts, they are an important intermediary step in building awareness around the two regions' sustainable tourism products and initiatives.

We had the pleasure to chat with Mr. Martinez the other day and hear his story. Prior to working with GBCA, Mr. Martinez was writing his own travel and tourism blog in Honduras. He was interested in writing a piece on the conservation efforts of a local dive site—Cordelia Banks—which put him in contact with the Coral Reef Alliance. Members of the Coral Reef Alliance quickly realized that Mr. Martinez would be a perfect fit for the GBCA. Mr. Martinez is a renaissance man of sorts—he's a travel blogger, photographer, loves to make videos, and is dabbling in graphic design.

Mr. Martinez revealed that his efforts generating content for the GBCA blog and Facebook have proven worthwhile. Facebook, Mr. Martinez explained, is the most used social media channel in Honduras and therefore receives the majority of his focus and efforts. GBCA's work is gaining exposure and he personally notices the word being spread; "Go Blue is being revived", Mr. Martinez said. At the end of the day, Mr. Martinez is nothing short of an inspiration. A man truly dedicated to his work—"This is not a job for me", he explains, "I am doing what I love".

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