Supporting Global Development through Sustainable Tourism

Solimar is proud to announce that we have won a bid from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to develop sustainable tourism in the island nation of Timor-Leste. The project titled "Turizma ba Ema Hotu", translated to "Tourism for All", will be implemented by Chemonics International in partnership with Solimar International and Planet Partnerships.

"This aid from the American people will help the government of Timor-Leste achieve one of its key development goals as it seeks to diversify its oil-based economy," said USAID Mission Director Diana Putman. "We look forward to working with the Ministry of Tourism and the private sector to make Timor-Leste a tourist destination for those seeking adventure, culture and natural beauty while preserving the country's unique environmental and cultural heritage."

Timor-Leste is ripe for tourism with tropical waters, white sand beaches, mountain ranges and a unique and proud culture with a history of Portuguese and Indonesian colonization and liberation. The larger USAID program in collaboration with product development and marketing assistance from Solimar will provide a much-needed economic boost to the island nation and create an environment to welcome travelers to one of the most undiscovered yet beautiful countries in the world.

The "Turizma ba Ema Hotu" project is designed to help the Timorese government accomplish its long-term tourism goals by initially stimulating the tourism sector with the help of USAID and consulting services from Solimar and others. USAID estimates that the project should provide $25 million in eco- and community-based tourism investment, create an additional 1,000 tourism related jobs, and raise household incomes in communities where the project is active by 15% over its duration. Solimar's work in Timor-leste is part of a broader plan by USAID to bring sustainable economic stimulation to a nation long plagued by colonialism and underdevelopment and help it become an active economic participant in the South Asia region.

Click here to access the official press release from USAID:

Dili Coastline with fishing boats, Timor-Leste 


This past week, Solimar President/CEO Chris Seek joined a panel organized by the Center for Strategic & International Studies. The event was entitled "Travel and Tourism as a Strategic Sector for Development and Security." Chris was accompanied on the panel by Isabel Hill, Director of the National Travel and Tourism Office at the United States Department of Commerce, Hannah Messerli, Eisenhower Professor of Tourism Policy at the International Institute of Tourism Studies, John Perrottet, Senior Tourism Specialist at the World Bank Group, and Helen Marano, Executive Vice President of External Affairs at the World Travel and Tourism Council. The five panelists used their diverse backgrounds and experiences to provide unique perspectives on travel and tourism, and shared their insights on how this sector relates to sustainable development.

Key Takeaways from the Discussion

All of the panelists emphasized how important tourism is to economies around the world. Helen Marano pointed out that it represents over 10% of world GDP, with 1.3 billion travelers per year currently, and an expected 1.8 billion annual travelers by 2030. She also stressed the importance of tourism to local communities, citing the fact that this sector has the ability to raise the standard of living as well as provide the opportunity to share the local culture and promote community pride. Hannah Messerli noted an interesting point about tourism that makes it unique compared to other exports: it is consumed at the point of production, meaning there is great opportunity for the industry to benefit the area in which it was produced. All panelists mentioned that the travel and tourism sector doesn't get as much attention as it deserves considering the potential benefits around the world. John Perrottet mentioned that the benefits of tourism are difficult to measure, despite being plentiful, and because of this, it is difficult to communicate how much good it can do.

Chris touched on Solimar's extensive ground-level experience with tourism, specifically noting that our clients are not just looking to grow tourism, they're looking to use tourism to achieve another development objective. He also talked about the fact that tourism can benefit all parties, from travelers, to the companies themselves (lodges, hotels, etc.), to local communities, if implemented correctly. Isabel Hill talked about other potential benefits of tourism, citing China as an example of a country that focuses on growing incoming tourism as well as outgoing tourism to countries with which it would like to maintain strong alliances.

One common theme throughout the discussion was the importance of protecting local communities from "over-tourism," which can be detrimental to culture and the environment. Chris talked about how we need to ensure that places with a rich culture are kept intact, and that their culture is a centerpiece for tourism. Isabel echoed this need, providing some optimism by mentioning that there is a new kind of traveler that is interested in cultural or experiential tourism, which is beneficial for sustainable tourism. She added that we need a more educated traveler; one who understands their role in this process, so education is a major part of tourism development.

Everyone in the panel was in agreement that one of the most important aspects of sustainable tourism is involving the local youth and ensuring that they benefit from increased travel. Hannah said that tourism often provides that first job where people are moving from an informal economy to a formal economy, and that this often starts with the youth. As tourism grows, their opportunities grow, as well as their skillsets. This can be beneficial even if these talented youth go off to different sectors after gaining skills from the tourism sector. Helen mentioned Hilton and Marriot as examples of companies that are working to hire local youth in developing countries. She also pointed out that it's not only important to hire young people, but also to hire disenfranchised groups, citing Peru for its work in helping women create businesses.

The panel concluded with a closing statement from each member. All five emphasized the potential for tourism to benefit developing nations throughout the world. Chris stressed the importance of policy to put the private sector in a position where it can participate in sustainable tourism. Hannah talked about how tourism can also work to prevent climate change, explaining that policies can help cut back on fuel consumption, and revenue can go towards investments in clean energy. This discussion was a unique take on an often overlooked but incredibly important sector, and hopefully there will be more talks like it in the future.

A video from the full discussion can be viewed here: 




Photo by Hayk Melkonyan, My Armenia

Last week, the My Armenia program kicked off a seven week-long tour guide training in the three regions of Armenia where we are currently working; Syunik, Lori, and Vayots Dzor. Each week, current and potential tour guides of each region will get training on different topics, starting off with history classes last week. At the end of the seven weeks, all guides will also be given a hands-on practical training on how to work with tourists and how to guide each tour that My Armenia is developing.

I joined the My Armenia team to the Syunik region last week. Together with Hayk Melkonyan, our training expert and photographer, we geo-tracked most of the tours that are being developed in this region. Hayk guided us and took a lot of photos during our trip, while I wrote down all the stops of each tour and the information that would be given to tourists. In general, this work is a lot of fun and often I can’t believe that I am working as I am feeling like a tourist myself!

However, after the tour ends, reality kicks in and we have to develop the scripts of each touristic experience. The scripts include all information of the tours; where do we start/end, what is being said at what stop, how long will we stay at each stop, and how long does it take to walk/drive from one stop to another. To write the content, I am not only relying on the information given to me by Hayk and the owner of the experience, but My Armenia has also invested in an ethnographic research of each region. The information in these reports are very detailed and descriptive, and are a good representative of the rich cultural heritage of each region in Armenia. Having this information definitely makes my work much easier.

Writing the script has to be done in such a way that it can be used by the tour guides so that they can give these tours themselves. It is quite challenging at times, considering I want to ensure that the Armenian cultural heritage is at the heart of each tour, showing its value to tourists. It is also rewarding, realizing that the product you are developing will support the Armenian tourism sector as a whole in the end. The support from Solimar on this end is great, and the experience and expertise that they share with me has taught me a lot about what it takes to work in the field of tourism development.

Of course, my work is not done yet as we don’t only have to do this work for the Syunik region, but for Lori and Vayots Dzor as well. This means we will be busy the coming weeks with field trips to each region, exploring all the touristic experiences, geo-tracking, taking photos, and developing scripts. I can’t complain, life as a Solimar intern in Armenia is everything but dull!

Granada Nicaragua
Granada, Nicaragua

 Solimar and the SAVE Travel Alliance are thrilled to have recently launched the new and improved SAVE Travel Alliance Website. We have partnered with the SAVE Travel Alliance team to create a fresh, updated, and comprehensive website dedicated to linking travelers from all walks of life to amazing experiences at our seven global destinations: Jamaica, Nicaragua, Bhutan, Myanmar, Namibia, Sri Lanka, and Campeche, Mexico. Our team has been working hard to develop and establish SAVE centers to act as headquarters that promote Scientific, Academic, Volunteer, and Educational tourism experiences. These locations each bring their own traditions and diversity to SAVE Travel, but their common goal is to encourage ethical tourism and bring passionate travelers to their nations.

Travel should make a positive impact on travelers and the destinations they visit. Our goals are to connect with areas of the world that are in need of positive and responsible tourism and to serve as a bridge between travelers and destinations. SAVE travelers include university students, professors, researchers, volunteers, tour groups, and many more! We have been researching and gathering information on amazing travel experiences, including volunteering at a school in Namibia and enjoying a 7-day Mayan culture tour in Campeche! These regional centers will establish lasting economic and social benefits for their communities by increasing international travel to these destinations, boosting responsible tourism, and advocating for the success of local businesses. Our revamped SAVE website beautifully showcases the history and culture of each destination through a modern and welcoming layout, stunning images, and captivating text. We are continuing to add unforgettable travel experiences to each of our destination’s pages to ensure that there is an opportunity for every type of responsible traveler. 

Thingyan Festival in Bagan
Celebrating Thingyan in Bagan

Through this exciting SAVE project, we at Solimar and the SAVE Travel Alliance act as facilitators for travelers, organizations, universities, and our destinations’ local businesses. We are able to link travelers to our destinations’ amazing opportunities as they become available, and this easy access is invaluable to a passionate traveler. If a student is seeking a meaningful academic opportunity, such as a semester studying abroad, we point him in the direction of our academic experiences. If a scientist is looking to engage in biological research, we guide her to our global scientific experiences. It is then up to these potential travelers to decided to reach out to the organizations and make their dreams a reality! 

We will make sure to keep you posted on the exciting happenings and progress of our new SAVE website. In the meantime, check it out and let us know what you think!

Edzná, Campeche
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