A destination’s culture is manifested in its art, local traditions, colorful landscapes, and the diversity of the human intellect. Its most unique and alluring elements are derived from culture- and perhaps this is why the demand for cultural tourism in increasing.
Now, more than ever, it is vital for tourism industry leaders to preserve the cultures of destinations. Thanks to our numerous partners, Solimar’s team has had the pleasure of working with various people in dozens of destinations around the globe, and we want to share a few highlights from our favorite destinations for promoting cultural tourism:
Chris Seek, President/CEO: Integrating Local Communities into the Tourism Experience
“Our traditions and culture define who we are, our heritage reminds us where we come from. We must find a way to preserve and support traditional villages like Nobgang, that have tremendous cultural value to Bhutan.”
-Dorji Wangmo (Queen Mother) stated to Chris Seek, as they were discussing the importance of how to preserve the traditional architecture and way of life of the village she was born in, Nobgang.
Bhutan’s tourism industry continues to steadily increase, at a 10.25% growth rate. With this type of rapid development and a culture with deep traditional roots, responsible tourism is required. The Bhutan Ministry of Culture, the World Bank, and Solimar have teamed up to help integrate local communities and Bhutan’s rich culture into the tourism experience. Solimar understands that demand-driven products and experiences can greatly benefit heritage villages in Bhutan. When thoughtfully developed, cultural heritage products, such as the 13 traditional crafts of Bhutan, are a vital strategy for increasing revenue to rural villages that can directly support cultural heritage preservation.
Natalie Sellier, Director of Finance and Operations: Mapping Artisan & Cultural Heritage Routes
“Walking into the Jemaa el Fna (the night market) in Marrakech is something I’ll never forget. It’s one of the most chaotically beautiful places I’ve ever been. The whole area has such an incredible energy of sounds, smells and activity. Can’t think of anywhere else you’ll find monkeys wearing hats, snakes being charmed, African drummers, talented artisans, incredible food stalls… it’s such a magical place!” Natalie Sellier
Morocco is a country with rich cultural heritage and artisan traditions. Despite the success of Moroccan crafts in the international market, there is a lack of direct selling. With the help of Aid to Artisans, and Ministry of Crafts (Government of Morocco), Solimar linked the handicraft and tourism markets through the creation of artisan and cultural heritage routes in the cities of Fez and Marrakech. These routes—aided with over 500 interpretive signs--make stops at artisan workshops in each city, increasing awareness of Moroccan culture and craft traditions. The routes have also helped increase artisans' revenue by allowing them to sell their products directly to tourists instead of through a retailer or wholesaler. As a result of our work, the routes have had a direct impact on 6,603 points of sales in Marrakech and Fez.
David Brown, Marketing Director: Strategic Marketing in Rwanda
Rwanda is usually visited for its wildlife attractions - particularly the mountain gorillas. In addition to the country’s wildlife, it is rich with cultural heritage. With cultural tourism on the rise, the country’s cultural attractions have become an increasingly important component for the Rwanda experience. The Government of Rwanda and the World Bank partnered with Solimar’s Program Director to create a new strategic plan for the EAC region.
Through the new strategic plan, cultural tourism increased annual visits and the new marketing campaign reached 850,000 people. An example of this change can be seen at The Iby’Iwacu Cultural Village. This village sits just steps outside the gates of the Volcanoes National Park, and was designed to create opportunities for former gorilla poachers to find livelihoods in a more sustainable activities - demonstrating Rwandan traditions of food, dance, music, architecture, and healing to visitors. In addition, local artisans also use the cultural village as a marketplace to place to sell baskets and woodcrafts. This program has been an incredible example of how cultural tourism can support conservation efforts and create economic opportunities.
Annabel de Braganca, Marketing Coordinator: Marketing a Culture of Fusion
A traveler's first exposure to Namibia begins in a city, and one of the most interesting aspects of this encounter is taking in the unmistakable fusion between German-colonial influence & Namibian tradition. Take Swakopmund: even stopping for food or coffee is a unique experience. Visitors are able to enjoy classic Namibian barbecue in a cozy German-style café nestled somewhere between the arid Namib Desert and the wild Atlantic coast.
As a traveler heads to Northern Namibia, the unique and beautiful handicrafts and traditional dances of the Himba interest travelers. This semi-nomadic indigenous group attract a lot of interest from travelers, but exploiting this community is all too possible.
During the North American Destination Marketing Campaign (2010-2014) Solimar and its partners went to lengths to ensure that the local and North American travel trade was educating clients on appropriate behavior and interactions with native Namibian tribes; allowing cultural tourism to flourish, not degrade in Namibia. Solimar continues to connect sustainably minded North American travel trade members to well-informed Namibian ground handlers. As a team, we seek to introduce travelers to Namibia's wild & unique culture in a celebratory manner, not in what otherwise could be exploitative or invasive.
Simon Jones, Vice President: Revenues Generated by Cultural Tourism
Queen Elizabeth National Park is Uganda’s most visited park. It is home to tree-climbing lions, buffalo, hippos, and numerous other species. In addition to having vast bio-diversity, it is also where a group of women, known as the Kikorongo sell their intricate woven baskets. These women are part of an organization called Pearls of Uganda. This organization partnered with Solimar to increase the Kikorongo women’s revenue. We aided the Kikorongo Womens Group in establishing a small craft center appealing to visitors, and assisted them in developing craft workshops for visitors. Through the collaboration of Pearls of Uganda, Solimar, and strong work ethic of the Kikorongo women; the women were able to significantly increase their revenues and pay for a full time teacher at the local primary school and renovate the school building.
Gabriel, Director of Enterprise Marketing: Creating a Cultural Tourism Product
The largest nation in Central America, Nicaragua, encompasses many aspects of culture with its colonial seaside cities, scenic waters, and areas of deep cultural heritage. The regions of Masaya and the Pueblos Blancos are no exception. These areas contain several rural villages known for traditional crafts, including hammock making, artwork, ceramics, leatherwork, and furniture making. These artisans usually live in remote parts of Nicaragua, and needed a facet to distribute their goods. This is why Gabriel helped start a much needed partnership between a local Nicaraguan resort, Pacaya Lodge & Spa, and the local artisans. This partnership has developed cultural tourism products; artist workshop tours, interactive and educational tours, and art workshops for travelers. In addition, the Pacaya Lodge & Spa, has started to facilitate a sales and distribution for these tour products as well as the artists’ work itself.
Chris Seek, President/CEO: Tourism Strategy Resonates With Cultural Heritage
“Georgia is known for it’s Supras (feasts) that they have with guests - I have been to three now. These feasts are some of the most memorable travel experiences of my life. In addition to the excellent food, the practice of Tamada or making multiple toasts throughout the meal is incredible even if translation is required for non-Georgian speakers. They even maintain culture in the way they drink wine - proud to be the birthplace of wine and still use the Kvevri clay jars which is now on the UNESCO Intangible cultural heritage list” -Chris Seek
Georgia resides at the crossroads of Europe and Asia making the culture rich in cathedrals and churches, cuisine, customs, and folklore. In addition, Georgians have smaller enthno-cultures residing in different areas of the country. Each entity has produced its own values and traditions, but the country desired a national tourism strategy versus a regional one. The Georgia National Tourism Administration (GNTA) turned to the World Bank and Solimar to consult them in creating their own national tourism strategy, while highlighting the country’s rich culture.
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2015 was an exciting year for Solimar International! The past twelve months have taken us around the globe--from tourism strategizing in Tanzania, marketing the Great Himalayan Trail in Nepal, training Ethiopian officials, to launching a new ecolodge in Nicaragua. Check out our recap of some of the amazing projects that kept us busy this past year.
Campeche, Mexico: In July 2015 we began a partnership with the SAVE Travel Alliance Team and Fundación Avanza to create a SAVE Center in Campeche, Mexico. This program will promote Scientific, Academic, Volunteer, and Educational tourism experiences in the Campeche region while enacting economic and cultural benefits for local organizations and businesses for years to come. The SAVE Center will provide a way for travelers to directly experience Campeche’s rich heritage and biodiversity and help spread the word on what the destination has to offer to international visitors. The project will run through April 2016 to increase the number of SAVE tourism attractions as well as Campeche’s ability to sustain its SAVE projects over time.
Tanzania: In early 2015, Solimar teamed up with Dalberg Global Development Advisors and the Government of Tanzania to develop a conservation-friendly tourism strategy for Southern Tanzania. The plan included a universal blueprint for tourism development in this vast, lesser-visited region of the country; as well as a focus on four key tourism anchors for the area, including Selous Game Reserve, one of the largest reserves in the world and the Ruaha National Park, which boasts the largest density of lions in Africa. The plan took approximately 6-months to complete, including extensive stakeholders consultation, and was approved by the government in July 2015. The strategy is now a cornerstone for a $60 million World Bank loan to develop tourism in the region.
Armenia:In September 2015, Solimar built on its collaboration with the Smithsonian Institute through the launch of a 4-year cultural heritage tourism program in Armenia. The goal of the program is to enhance the cultural heritage tourism experience in the country, especially outside of the capital, to increase awareness about the destination and improve the skills of local people to benefit from tourism and sustain their cultural heritage. Armenia is not well known in the international market, and if it is, the focus tends to be on the long Christian history of the country. Solimar will be working with the Smithsonian and local partners in 2016 to tell the more diverse story of the country, including its food, wine, traditions, crafts and history.
Geotourism Program: 2015 was a busy year for our Geotourism Program! In January, we launched our largest National Geographic partnership program ever to create a Geotourism Stewardship Council and Interactive MapGuide covering the Mississippi River corridor. In June, we completed and handed over the National Geographic co-branded interactive geotourism mapguide to the World Bank / IFC-led Geotourism Stewardship Council of Eastern Sri Lanka. In September, we launched a Geotourism project to create a Geotourism Stewardship Council and Interactive MapGuide for the Tequila region of Mexico. More to come and even more exciting destinations in 2016!
Bhutan: Solimar has partnered with the Royal Government of Bhutan to help improve its in-country growth and source economic opportunities for Bhutan’s poorest communities - while remaining culturally aware. Our work to date has included suggesting tourism and development improvements to help the country preserve its cultural and natural resources. Through next year we will continue to assist the government with recommendations for modifying its tourism policy, pinpointing the tourism potential in Bhutan’s traditional villages, and boosting sales in local villages by providing opportunities for travelers to directly connect with Bhutan’s goods and communities.
Ethiopia: Solimar teamed up with The George Washington University to contribute to the Ethiopian Sustainable Tourism Development Project. To assist the country realize its tourism potential, we developed and conducted a series of five training sessions for the Ministry of Culture and Tourism and a handful of regional tourism bureaus. Our short-term trainings centered around five major areas: an overview of the tourism sector and how Ethiopia compared to competing nations, destination and site development, tourism marketing and branding, tourism planning and implementation, and management and technical skills, ensuring that the tourism officials will thrive in the industry. Our results were spectacular: we successfully trained 198 government officials in Ethiopia that will in turn benefit the entire Ethiopian tourism industry!
Myanmar: In January 2015 we launched a 3 year North-American Marketing Representation contract with the Myanmar Tourism Federation (MTF). In April Solimar opened its doors in Washington, DC as the brand new MTF headquarters in the US/Canada! Now with an optimized website launching this month, we are excited to promote Myanmar to North American travel trade and assist the country in developing important trade partnerships to bolster its tourism economy.
Nepal: Along with Adam Smith International, we spent 2015 working on a project for the Nepal Market Development Program, ensuring the effective online promotion of trekking in Nepal. Our project focused on supporting the marketing and promotion of destinations lesser-known by international travelers, using the framework of the Great Himalaya Trail that stretches from one end of the Nepali Himalayas to the other. A vast number of locals depend on tourism to survive, and we believed that showcasing hidden, less physically intense trekking during the off-season would help create a consistent income for Nepal’s rural poor. Our marketing work included organizing a trip of Instagram influencers, creating a short promotional video, and co-hosting AdventureWeek.
Jamaica: In August, we partnered with Jamaica Tourism Board (JTB), the Jamaica Tourism Product Development Company (TPDCo) and Jamaica Social Investment Fund (JSIF) to create a brand identity and marketing strategy for the Jamaica’s community-based tourism businesses. We are focusing on promoting rural enterprises across the island comprised of farmers, craft producers, and others who have organized themselves to carry out business activities. We have successfully created a national brand for community tourism with enthusiastic feedback from our partners and clients as well as a national strategy and action plan for community tourism, and we hope our project brings awareness to Jamaica as a community tourism destination.
Pacaya Lodge, Nicaragua: Pacaya Lodge and Spa is an ecolodge at Laguna de Apoyo, Nicaragua, and we have been working hard to prepare branding and marketing support for its upcoming opening. The lodge is located near villages known for their artwork, and we’ve developed the idea of showcasing local artisan goods in the lodge and collaborating with surrounding communities to implement craft tours and demonstrations to visitors. To date, our achievements include the development of a sales and marketing strategy, the creation of an engaging branding strategy, the management of a full time onsite volunteer, and the training of sales and marketing staff members.
Verde Valley, Arizona: Our project with the National Geographic Society Maps Division has been in action since November 2014, and by January 2016 it will be complete. We have helped a handful of local suppliers increase the value and importance of the Verde River in Arizona as an essential economic asset. To preserve this valuable but threatened natural resource, we are implementing a sustainable destination program in the Verde Valley region. Tourism is one of Arizona’s largest industries, and it is vital that we aid in its continued growth. To date we have managed an abundance of tasks, including content creation and design for a new destination website! We hope to raise awareness of and celebrate the Verde River while engage the Verde Valley community in conservation and sustainable tourism development efforts.
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.
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!