Supporting Global Development through Sustainable Tourism

Travel+Socialgood

On Friday, October 24th, innovators from the travel, tech and impact worlds convened in New York City for the Travel + Social Good summit. The event, organized by Gilad Goren of Only Six Degrees and sponsored by industry heavyweights, begged the question: how do we guide our industries to adopt meaningful social good into our missions?

Impact

The travel industry is sprawling, and as Gilad pointed out, 1 in 11 people around the world is employed by travel. Since it’s so powerful, how do we make sure our actions and the messages they spread to consumers do more good than harm?

Solimar sent two staff members to check out the summit and participate in the full day of learning, innovating and solution building.

Listening

The event kicked off with a welcome from Gilad, who foreshadowed the day’s activities by explaining what travel means to him: “bridging gaps, joining new communities: that’s travel.”

The event partners then took to the stage to pose three different challenges impeding social good from thriving in the travel industry.

  1. Transparency: Sophia Mendelsohn, Head of Sustainability at JetBlue, voiced the issue of transparency. How do we hold businesses accountable to social good? “We need to measure the financial value of corporate social responsibility”.
  2. Emotion: The Nature Conservancy’s Managing Director, Geof Rochester spoke to human emotion and the disconnect tourists have when they visit destinations- especially destinations in development. “How do we preserve the human touch in a digital world?”
  3. Innovation: Finally, Sue Stephenson, Vice President of the Community Footprints program at Ritz Carlton asked the participants to consider how we might innovate to encourage travelers to give back to the destinations they visit. “How de we foster a culture of social innovation in the world’s largest industry?”
Innovation
Credit: Sue Stephenson

Brainstorming

After hearing from the event partners, attendees broke into 3 groups based on the challenge that most interested them (transparency/ emotion/ innovation). Each group was broken further into subgroups of 6-person tables. Each table was tasked with coming up with solutions to the problems posed by the industry partners’ presentations.

The tasks were as follows:

  1. List 5 obstacles standing in the way of defeating the challenge
  2. Come up with a solution for each obstacle
  3. Pick your favorite 3 solutions and flesh them out
  4. Pick your best-reasoned solution, make it concrete and present it to the whole group (IE the whole Innovation group, Emotion group etc).
  5. As a large group, pick your top 3 favorite ideas to present to all the event participants.

Innovating

The purpose of this was to come up with pathways to better integrate social good across the travel industry. We used our combined knowledge of travel, tech and impact to find answers.

I chose the Innovation challenge and my subgroup included individuals from the travel journalism, travel trade, travel PR, destination development and fashion worlds. Each of us approached the challenges with a different perspective, and when we combined our thoughts, an interesting thing happened.

We realized that because of the scope of the travel industry, it is difficult to hold each part equally responsible for contributing to social good. There is no ‘Mr. Travel’. There’s no face to this industry, like Elon Musk’s in Aerospace innovation (actually, that’s travel, too!) Or how Warren Buffet is the face of American business magnates. Travel has a handful of influencers spread through each segment of the industry, but in order to achieve a united goal, we need to have a united industry.

Obviously our little team of 6 was not asked to solve the issue then and there, but rather, think of ways to broach steps to doing so. We considered an industry-wide sustainability certification that airlines, hotels and destinations could apply for, having to undergo tests for transparency, eco-consciousness and social good, proving that they provide benefit to the communities they exist in. 

Some solutions were based on small steps and targeted one company (like the summit’s partners)- and were easy to implement. Others, like ours, were grander schemes that would take years to realize. Regardless, what made this summit so impactful was how each attendee carved out a few hours of their Friday to brainstorm as a group to look for solutions. Hearing the multitude of ideas to promote social good in travel was galvanizing.

Outcome

Ultimately each sub-team was successful. Even if their ideas were somewhat far-reaching, it didn't matter. The conversations were rich and insightful, and each team was thoughtful in trying to improve the industry. As the industry heads towards a shift in thinking towards positive impact, we can also help travel consumers adopt the mindset, too. We, as an industry, have the power to make travel more authentic and positive for businesses, travelers, and the communities they join. Thank you, Travel + Social Good, and see you next year!

To learn about how Solimar International promotes social good through sustainable destination development, check out our website.

 

I met Lucia and Gabriel from Solimar and the Chocó Community Tourism Alliance during my first stay here in Medellín, Colombia, at the beginning of 2014. I was very interested in the goal of a community-based ecotourism project that would support local communities at the Pacific Coast, one of the poorest regions in Colombia. This is why I decided to apply for an internship with Solimar and luckily I was accepted. For logistical and practical reasons, particularly to better cooperate with Palenque Tours, a Medellín-based tour operator and commercial representative of the Alliance, I did my internship in Medellín.

I was responsible for marketing the destination Chocó, Colombia, and activating the Alliance brand “Visit Chocó.”

Choco Logo

My work in Chocó

During my internship I was in charge of all the social media channels used, publishing interesting content and beautiful photos daily on Facebook, Google+ and Twitter, to attract tourists to visit Chocó. I also interacted with similar pages promoting community-based tourism in South America to get inspired by new ideas and topics, and retweeted or shared their posts. Moreover, I published a blog about Chocó twice a week in both English and Spanish on Visit Chocó. Additionally, I managed the Visit Chocó website content to optimize it for best search engines results and make it easier to find for agencies and visitors.

Another aspect of my work was to do trade outreach to North American tour operators since North American travelers have been defined as the target market of the Chocó Community Tourism Alliance. The proximity and relatively quick flight to Medellín makes it a great destination for North American travelers. Therefore, I followed an outreach strategy whereby I evaluated a database of hundreds of tourism agencies in the US and Canada, sent them informational introduction emails and followed up via phone calls with at least half of them.

Choco Colombia
Photo from: Visitchoco.com

On September 3rd, Solimar, together with Palenque Tours, hosted a webinar for the agencies who had expressed interest in Chocó to provide more details about the Alliance and how to include Alliance tours into their existing itineraries. There will be other webinars held on December 3rd for both North American and European agencies.

In the last few weeks, I started to reach out to a number of distribution channels- guidebooks as well as travel affinity groups. Palenque Tours will continue this outreach in the next months and years, as they were chosen as the official sales and marketing representative by the Alliance. For this purpose a Travel Trade Portal was created on the website, which includes sales and marketing kits in English, Spanish, and German. The sales kit includes: (1) a destination guide with detailed information on Chocó including its people, wildlife, etc.; (2) a fact sheet about the Alliance and community-based tourism; (3) a travel guide with useful tips to answer clients' questions; and (4) a detailed list of Visit Choco's products. The marketing kit provides our partners with royalty free marketing material for download including a blog post, 10 Facebook posts, and 10 twitter posts, which are uploaded monthly.

What I learned

Apart from these tasks I was in continuous communication with Palenque Tours and Solimar in Washington, D.C. I received training from them and exchanged ideas and updates about program activities. All in all, I learned a lot about online marketing during my e-internship with Solimar International. In fact, I decided to write my Bachelor’s thesis about community-based ecotourism presenting the Chocó Community Tourism Alliance as a case study. This experience was a great opportunity to get closer insight into the project.

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Solimar Eastern Sri Lanka 04
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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