Supporting Global Development through Sustainable Tourism

Tigers Nest Monastaery Bhutan
Shutterstock Photo Bhutan Tiger's Nest

The number of international tourism arrivals in Bhutan has steadily increased since the early 2000s but only 50,000 international tourists visited Bhutan in 2013. (RA Online Bhutan). This is a surprisingly low number given the country’s rich culture, picturesque landscapes, and location between the two largest countries in the world, India and China. The low number of arrivals is in part a result of the country’s policy of low impact-high value tourism, which caps the number of annual arrivals and sets a minimum daily spend for international tourists. This policy attracts a more valuable, high-end traveler than nearby Nepal, for instance, which is viewed as a more budget destination that attracts backpackers and adventurers. The low impact-high value tourism policy aligns with the commitment to cultural heritage preservation that underpins much of Bhutan’s public policy.

Bhutan has an ambitious program in place to index, monitor, and preserve culturally significant structures and monuments. In an effort to extend those protections to villages and cultural sites, the Ministry of Home and Cultural Affairs has drafted a piece of legislation called the Heritage Sites Bill. The bill, which will go before parliament in the fall, will create a process for designating nationally significant cultural sites and create a series of protections for these sites.

Bhutan Traditional Dress
Shutterstock Photo Bhutan

To support the implementation of the Heritage Sites Bill, the Ministry of Home and Cultural Affairs, Department of Conservation of Heritages Sites, in partnership with the World Bank, has contract Solimar to help develop a methodology for identifying and prioritize potential cultural sites, and for developing economic models that support villages that take on the Cultural Site designation. Our methodology for identifying and prioritizing potential cultural sites is includes:

• An analysis and mapping of existing geographic and demographic data from the Gross National Happiness Commission and other sources.
• A series of workshops with members of the Royal Government of Bhutan, private sector representatives from the country’s major industries, and leaders of development NGOs and conservation groups.
• A survey of the elected representatives of the country’s 5,000 villages, conducted via mobile phone.

As a result of this intervention, Solimar will provide recommendations for the criteria for selecting cultural sites for preservation, a prioritized list of potential cultural sites that meet those criteria, economic models to support newly designated cultural sites.

One of these economic development models will be tourism promotion to newly designated cultural sites, which will leverage tourism revenues to directly support cultural heritage preservation in traditional villages across the country.

To learn more about how tourism & conservation can work together, download our case study!

 

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Georgia Monks
Georgia Monks at a Feast

Tourism strategic planning is a comprehensive process for determining what a business or destination should become and the steps needed to achieve that goal. Many times when consultants are hired to create a strategic plan, the plan is at risk of remaining on the shelf and never being fully implemented. Why? Because those most affected by the tourism development plan may not have been fully integrated into the development of the strategy, and may not agree with the ideas. This is an ongoing issue the tourism industry faces, and a difficult one in which to find a solution.

The World Bank and the Georgia National Tourism Administration (GNTA) recognized this problem in the past. As part of a World Bank initiative, Solimar was contracted to develop a tourism strategy for the Caucasus nation. We were asked not to lead the development of the strategy, but rather facilitate and guide the GNTA through the strategy development process to ensure it was collaborative and comprehensive as possible.

Between the years 2009 and 2013, Georgia’s international tourism arrivals grew over 300%. This was largely in part to its envious location at the crossroads of Europe, Asia and the Middle East, as well as increasing amounts of exposure in international press as a unique, exciting destination. Georgia is the birth place of wine, has an exquisite culinary tradition, a rich early Christian history, and an abundance of natural assets - including 7 national parks. These attributes – if developed practically – demonstrate a significant strength to the country’s tourism sector within the high-value European marketplace, while improving the industry’s ability to contribute economically.

To keep pace with the increasing demand for tourism in Georgia, additional financing for private and public investments will be necessary. “The joint World Bank and IFC collaboration [in Georgia] focuses on fostering entrepreneurship and access to finance, improving the investment climate, and developing Georgia’s tourism strategy that will determine how to improve the sector’s performance, align implementation priorities and enable job growth.” said Henry Kerali, World Bank Regional Director for the South Caucasus.

Georgia’s tourism development approach has generally been focused on regional advancements rather than a cohesive national-level plan. Within the past decade, the World Bank and Solimar have worked on projects in the areas of Kakheti, Mtskheta-Mtianeti, and Samtskhe-Javakheti, each with creative solutions to grow the local tourism economies while conserving the natural and cultural resources. However, to maximize tourism’s national impact, a national strategy is required that takes into consideration large scale infrastructure and marketing activities that cannot be achieved by the regions alone.


The tourism sector currently provides nearly 20 percent of export earnings. The national tourism development strategy is, therefore, an instrument to take full advantage of Georgia’s potential and position it globally as a rich, diversified and high quality destination.” Ahmed Eiweida, Program Leader for Sustainable Development Programs in the South Caucasus.

Georgia Landscape
Georgian Landscape

Where is the Georgia National Tourism Administration now?

With the support of the World Bank, the Solimar team, and several Georgian experts, the GNTA produced a 2025 strategic plan that articulates the country’s current position, its vision for the future, and the key activities required in order to get there.
To build buy-in for the strategy, the GNTA led regional workshops, communicated with inter-government committees, issued press events and integrated action plans from other tourism-related sectors. The final document describes how the GNTA and its partners will deliver creative marketing to attract to higher income markets and statistical projections on how the GNTA will achieve a minimum of 5% growth rate over the next 10 years.

Where does Georgia National Tourism want to be in 2025?

The GNTA envisions the country as a premier, year-round, high quality tourism destination - a destination centered on its unique cultural and natural heritage, its world-class customer service, and timeless tradition of hospitality. The GNTA will be at the forefront of tourism competitiveness, through strategic investments in infrastructure, education, marketing, and the development of unique Georgian visitor experiences that appeal to high-value markets around the globe.

How does the GNTA lead the tourism industry to reach it’s vision?

Extensive stakeholder consultation resulted in the identification of 50 priority actions that have been grouped around the following 8 strategic objectives.

1. Respect, enhance, and protect Georgia’s natural and cultural heritage
2. Create unique and authentic visitor experiences centered on those natural and cultural assets
3. Enhance competitiveness, through delivery of world-class visitor services
4. Attract higher spending markets, through increased and more effective marketing and promotion
5. Expand and enhance Georgia’s ability to collect and analyze tourism data and measure industry performance
6. Enhance the business environment, to facilitate increased foreign and domestic investment
7. Expand public and private sector investment in the tourism sector
8. Build partnerships between government, industry, non-governmental organizations, and communities that will be needed to achieve all of the above

What will the challenges be?

Even though the GNTA has completed their strategic plan and found positive monetary incentive to start implementation; the national and regional tourism stakeholders must work as a team to have success. And most importantly, the 2025 strategic plan will only be effective if the GNTA continues to be committed and take ownership of this visionary strategic plan.

 Georgia 002 Church

At the crossroads of Europe, Asia and the Middle-East is the country of Georgia, tucked between the Caucasus mountain range and the Black Sea. Georgia has a long and rich cultural history that can be seen in its vibrant culinary traditions, dazzling dance, haunting polyphonic music, and soaring early-Christian cathedrals. Georgia is also widely known as the "birthplace of wine," with a documented viticulture over 8000 years old.

Tourism has played an important part in conserving the country's cultural heritage.  

Please join the Solimar team along with Ahmed Eiweida, World Bank Program Leader, Sustainable Development and Tika Lebanidze, Consultant to the World Bank, for a presentation and discussion on how the World Bank's South Caucasus Regional Development Program has supported regional development, cultural heritage and tourism growth in Georgia and neighboring Armenia. The presentation will be held at Solimar's Columbia Heights office. 

A sampling of Georgian wines will be served.

Date: Monday, July 6th

Time: 5-6pm

Location: Solimar International, 3400 11th Street NW, Suite 200, Washington DC 20010

Click HERE to RSVP

Georgia 001 Meal 

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culture matters smithsonian
Celebrating Peru at the Folklife Festival

The Smithsonian Folklife Festival is a celebration of cultural arts from exemplary destinations; destinations that are diverse, authentic, and home to living traditions—both old and new. This year's Festival highlights the cultural heritage of Peru - and to accompany the theme, Smithsonian created a symposium at the Freer Gallery of Art to emphasis the importance of culture for sustainable tourism development. The opening remarks from Richard Kurin, “Culture is what makes us human,” set the tone for the panelists to lead vibrant conversations regarding cultural conservation, intercultural communication, and the use of culture as an tourism asset for generating economic benefits. 

Cultivating Cultural Industry

The first session focused on the tourism experience and how leaders of the industry can cultivate culture. Juan Luis Reus, Director of Peru Trade, Tourism and Investment Office in DC, spoke proudly of the rich cultural resources and their implications for Peru tourism. Immediately after, Nilda Callanuapa gave a vivid example of the work done at the Center for Traditional Textiles of Cusco: the objective of the center is to preserve the weaving traditions of the pre-Columbian Andes culture. In order for the weaving techniques to stay alive storytelling to engage tourists in the Andean ways and teachings at the Center is vital.

“When I first started the project, the skill was mostly left with the elders…now, the traditional weavings support over 600 workers at the Center.” -Callanuapa

Colvin English, whose ByHand Consulting Company helps artisans all over the world thrive in the tourism industry, gave some straightforward tips on how to run a successful cultural tourism project. “Respect the artisans, have lots of opportunities for interaction and purchase, and always keep your goal in mind.”

Panelists Rafael Varon Gabai, Halle Butvin and Stefania Abakerli added meaningful comments and concerns based on their experiences, including how sustainable tourism is limited by investments and policy support, and how it might be possible to factor culture into a multi-dimensional approach to reducing poverty.

Storytelling Places

The second session, moderated by Professor Don Hawkins, is how storytelling serves, promotes, and builds culture. Senior Geographer at the National Museum of the American Indian, Doug Herman reminded us that we are still drawing from past lessons to cultivate wisdom in the present world, and stories offer us the material to do just that.

Betty Belanus, curator at Smithsonian, showed a video testimonial of how the Folklife Festival acts as a platform for telling stories outside of a local setting. The audience had the opportunity to become enchanted by the story of Ana Rees, an Argentine descendant of Welsh immigrants who maintains her connection with the past by learning her ancestors' language and most imporantly- preparing Welsh tea and baked goods in Patagonia.

 

Thinc Design Founding Principal Tom Hennes recounted the experience of making the Jordan Museum exhibits more relevant to its own people by connecting history and present.

“It is not about archaeology. It is about people, and it is about Jordanian people. We are who we were…and now tourists has the chance to see Jordan through the eyes of locals.” -Hennes

Victoria Pope, Editor for Smithsonian Journeys, showed us a side of tenderness and sensitivity in providing an authentic narrative for a destination. Panelist Norie Quintos, Exective Editor for National Geographic Traveler, echoed her approach. As Norie said, the world for travelers is expanding. Not just geographically, but also in terms of cultural experience. Karen Ledwin from Smithsonian Travel stressed the role of guides in forging connections between locals and visitors, and putting the stories in place for the tourists. 

Our CEO at Solimar, Chris Seek, took on a different perspective and warned against negative impacts brought on by unsustainable tourism practices. He urged for more active policy and market incentives to encourage sustainable tourism development, so that local communities can receive the respect and economic benefits they deserve. 

The audience contributed to the discussion through lively Q&A sessions. A major concern was how we should manage changes made to the local economic, social and cultural system. Experts pointed out that culture is not static, but rather constantly evolving. 

The symposium was informative for all and presenters and panelists aliked proved that making culture a focal point in sustainable tourism is not just important, it's also profitable. 

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