Supporting Global Development through Sustainable Tourism

Friday, 19 December 2014 16:06

Christmas Where We Work

Written by Liz Heimann

With the holidays coming up, we decided to look at traditional Christmas celebrations in some of the places where we work!

Colombia

Christmas in Colombia is largely structured around the Catholic calendar. The Christmas season starts on December 7th, with the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, widely known as "El Dia de las Velitas" or the day of candles. At dusk, tall, thin candles are placed on long pieces of wood and lit, illuminating houses, churches, and shops. The night continues with dancing, music, food, and drinks, like the famous Colombian liquor "Aquardiente".

Starting on December 16th, families gather together to pray "La Novena de Aguinaldos", a special occasion to get closer to their faith and remember the birth of Christ. This gathering continues every night until December 24th. Each evening includes food and traditional songs.

On "La Nochebuena", Colombians get the chance to indulge in traditional foods for the "Cena de Navidad" or Christmas Eve dinner. Between pork, ham, chicken, families have a wide variety of dishes to choose from. A traditional Christmas dessert is called "Natilla", made with cinnamon, milk, sugar and cloves. At midnight, there is a toast with aguardiente, rum or champagne.

Ethiopia

For Coptic Christians in Ethiopia, Christmas, known as Ganna, is celebrated on January 7th rather than December 25th. Many people fast on Christmas Eve, January 6th, and wake up at dawn to attend mass, dressed in traditional white cotton garments called "shammas". Mass is typically accompanied by singing and candles,  and is followed by a feast of traditional Ethiopian foods. The most iconic Christmas dish is a spicy stew made with meat and vegetables, served on a plate of "injera", or flat bread.

Twelve days after Christmas, the three-day celebration of Timkat, or Jesus' baptism, begins. Children walk to church services in procession, wearing crowns and robes, while adults wear "shammas". Traditional musical instruments are played during the procession, such as "sistrum", akin to a tambourine, and "makamiya", a prayer stick used to keep rhythm. It's a time of religious celebration, eating food, and celebrating with friends and family.

Georgia

In the Republic of Georgia, the majority of the population is Orthodox Christian, meaning they also celebrate Christmas on January 7th. On that day, large processions, called "Alilo", make their way through the streets of cities, towns and villages, led by clergymen. Dressed in traditional garb, people congratulate each other and collect money for charity during Alilo.

Georgian Christmas trees, called Chichilaki, are carved from the branches of walnut trees and decorated with curled strands of white wood. The Georgian version of Santa Claus, know as "tovlis papa" (Grandfather Snow), is usually depicted wearing traditional Georgian fur clothes. He does not have a sleigh or reindeer, but brings children gifts on Christmas Eve. Christmas Day is full of family, friends, and food, as well as candlelit church ceremonies, hymns, and traditions.

These are just a few of the unique and dynamic Christmas traditions around the world. At Solimar, we are proud to support cultural and heritage preservation to keep such amazing traditions alive.

How do you celebrate the holidays? 

Published in General
Wednesday, 04 February 2015 21:31

Solimar’s Top 10 Destinations For Your 2015 Bucket List

Written by Mallika Saini

Can you believe we’re already a month into 2015? We hope your year is off to a great start and that you are still keeping with those New Year’s Resolutions. One resolution we think you shouldn’t forget about: Travel more! To help you out, Solimar has compiled a list of the top 10 places we think should be on your bucket list for 2015. Check out these great sustainable travel options for ideas to inspire your next trip.

1. Myanmar

From gorgeous Buddhist temples to snaking, serene rivers, Myanmar has much to offer the adventure traveler. The rich cultural diversity of this “untouched” country makes it a must-visit for those looking for a unique Southeast Asian escape.

2. Great Himalaya Trail, Nepal

Nepal is on the bucket list for many adventure travelers because of the legendary Himalayas, but they tend to visit the same well-trodden destinations. The Great Himalaya Trail (GHT) is a network of trails that span across the mountain range. Trekkers enjoy spectacular views on these challenging trails, while also meeting and interacting with Nepali locals. In late 2014, Solimar started work with the GHT to ensure effective online promotion of trekking in Nepal. A must for the truly adventurous! 

Great Himalaya Trail Trek
Trekkers on the Great Himalaya Trail

3. Tanzania

Home to the Serengeti and Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania is the adventure traveler’s dream. Don’t be alarmed if you spot the king of the jungle during your visit – the Serengeti is believed to hold the largest population of lions in Africa.

4. Colombia

The Colombian archipelago of San Andres, Providencia, and Santa Catalina are the epitome of beauty and relaxation. Visitors are sure to enjoy the islands’ picturesque, sandy beaches and waterfalls. Make sure to explore the plethora of colorful marine life that live there! Solimar is currently working with National Geographic to create a strategic business plan and marketing strategy to provide a long-term geotourism solution to Colombia.

Waterfall in Colombia
Gorgeous waterfall in Colombia

5. The Mississippi River

Looking for a unique adventure in the heart of North America? Try a Mississippi river tour! The largest river system in the US, the Mississippi is an excellent option for exploring the geographic, ecological, and cultural diversity the US has to offer. Solimar’s Mississippi River Geotourism Project is working to create a destination marketing and branding strategy to provide the Mississippi River area with attractions to support geotourism in the area.

6. Namibia

No surprise here – Namibia has been and will continue to be one of our favorite sustainable travel destinations! The gorgeous sunsets over desert and coastal landscapes, big game encounters, and rich culture is truly unparalleled. 

Namibian Cultural Art
Namibian Artwork

7. Nicaragua

Nicaragua is 2015’s Central America travel hotspot. Boasting a rich tapestry cultural history (home to one of the oldest cities in the Western Hemisphere) and amazing natural wonders like Pacific Coast beaches and volcanoes, Nicaragua has something for everyone. Nicaragua is also home to Solimar’s newest ecolodge development project.

Ethiopia wildlife
Ethiopia is great for bird-watching

8. Ethiopia

Ethiopia is an excellent place to see the crossroads of African and Middle-Eastern cultures. For the history and culture lover, Ethiopia is sure to not disappoint. But don’t forget the wildlife! Ethiopia is also a perfect spot for bird-watchers and animal lovers.

9. Bethlehem

While most people know Bethlehem as the historic birthplace of Christ, this Palestinian city has so much more to offer. Along with the Church of the Nativity, travelers must also visit the ‘Land of Olives and Vines’, a hiking trail through ancient Roman terraces, and the desert Monastery of Ma Saba: just for a glimpse of the area’s long and rich cultural history. Solimar is currently working to create a master plan and strategic marketing plan for the Bethlehem governorate to make this location a competitive sustainable tourism destination.

10. Malawi

Get up close and personal with a rhino, lion, or giraffe in Malawi at one of its numerous wildlife reserves. The friendly, charming people and beautiful, varied landscapes are wonderful attractions for any traveler. 

For more information on our favorite destinations, please visit our website and sign up for our newsletter.

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Published in General
Thursday, 26 February 2015 16:18

Tourism Conservation & Planning at Peak Park in San Andres, Colombia

Written by Rashaad Jorden
Peak Park in Colombia
Peak Park in Colombia

Solimar was recently contracted to support the development of a 5-year management plan for a protected area on the Caribbean island of Old Providencia, in the Colombian Department of San Andres, Providencia and Santa Catalina. Solimar is tasked with developing innovative ideas to engage stakeholders working within the park to generate a sustainable source of revenue through tourism.

The Project

Solimar is applying our Business Approach to Conservation to develop revenue models and a business plan for the park that actively mitigate threats to conservation in the protected area and generate economic opportunities for local residents.

The Challenges

Because this is a remote region of Colombia, there is a unique set of challenges that must be considered in its development as a tourism destination. The island of Providencia is home to about 5,000 residents and receives fewer than 20,000 visitors per year. As tourism develops in the region, it must be done carefully and in a way that ensure economic opportunity for local residents. As in any destination, the charm of the communities around the park lies on their authenticity, something that should not be disturbed or “packaged” in a way that misrepresents them or threatens their way of life.

The Park

Regional Natural Park (PRN) The Peak was developed to preserve the fragile dry forest ecosystems in the mountains run the length of the island. Threats to the ecosystem include activities related to unsustainable agriculture and unregulated tourism activity. 

Solimar’s work with the protected area comes as Colombian national government plans significant investments in tourism infrastructure on the island.

Education
Tourism stakeholders receiving training

Our Work

Solimar’s Gabriel Seder recently completed a destination assessment on the island. During a five-day site visit, Solimar:
• Hosted workshops and community meetings with stakeholders, including community residents, guide associations, farmer cooperatives, conservation NGOs, and local government officials
• Completed a conservation threat assessment to identify direct and indirect threats to biodiversity conservation
• Conducted a tourism destination assessment to understand existing and potential attractions and supporting infrastructure and services
• Conducted a visitor survey to assess market demand for new tourism products
• Introduced business concepts for generating revenue in support of conservation
• Drafted a business plan to support the sustainable implementation of conservation and revenue-generating activities

In the next phase of the project, Solimar will develop a fundraising strategy that can be used to secure funding for key activities. Solimar will target funders and donors in Colombia and internationally to support the development of ecotourism products on the island.

Solimar’s previous work in Colombia incudes the development of a Geotourism interactive website on the islands of San Andres and Providencia, in partnership with National Geographic and funded by a loan from the InterAmerican Development Bank.

Solimar also worked in the region of Chocó to develop and market community-based tourism enterprises as part of the BIOREDD+ program funded by USAID.

Colombia was recently listed one of Solimar's top ten destinations to discover in 2015.

For more information on how Solimar’s business approach to tourism and conservation planning, click here.

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Published in General
Tuesday, 21 April 2015 16:48

Tourism’s Important Role in Conservation Projects

Written by Mallika Saini
Sea Turtles
Baby sea turtles

Conservation projects are currently taking the world by storm due to greater awareness and the unstoppable growth of global tourism. Did you know that tourism is one of the planet’s biggest industries and one of the largest drivers of economic growth all over the world? You may be surprised to learn that tourism is also one of the biggest driving forces of conservation efforts – spurred by the sheer volume of travelers circulating the globe and visiting sensitive natural areas. Conservation programs are being put into place to capitalize on tourism’s economic promise to ensure that natural resources endure for years to come.

What is Conservation?

First, let’s take a moment to define what conservation is. Conservation is the act of preserving or protecting the environment, natural resources, and biodiversity. Oftentimes, we see locations with underdeveloped economies struggle with conservation because resources are limited. An unwitting local population may sometimes exploit the natural areas and wildlife populations in order to make ends meet. It’s an understandable scenario, but with dangerous consequences to the long-term viability of ecosystems and the communities that depend on them.

Tourism is a solution, not the problem.

How does tourism tie into this, you ask? Well, tourism, when planned accordingly, can actually help developing economies by preserving the resources that communities rely on, rather than depleting them. Tourism generates economic growth by creating sustainable, non-consumptive means of income for the community such as tours. When done correctly, tourism can entice conscious travelers to visit, who in turn bring cash to communities. Tourism also has the benefit of unifying community stakeholders around a common goal with tangible outcomes.

Let’s take a look at some examples.

Lion

In many African nations, biodiversity conservation has always been important. In Namibia, we see the effects poaching can have on decreasing the populations of big game animals, like lions, elephants, and rhinos. Of the 1,750 black rhinos that live in Namibia, about 120 were killed in 2014 alone. Local communities have historically felt the need to hunt and kill these animals either for food, or because they believe the animals are destroying their own precious resources, like their grass-filled land, or preying on their livestock. Eventually, though, if populations continue using these endangered species for food, these animals will go extinct, and so will the communities’ food source. Additionally, the illegal export of rare animals to the black market in other areas is a brutal detriment to communities

What tourism has the power to do, is reverse the view that wildlife is a threat and demonstrate that there is an economic value to conservation. Instead of viewing lions and rhinos as a danger to their homes, or the pangolin as a wealth-inducing export, Namibians can let these animals provide for them. People across the world are willing to travel great distances and pay significant amounts of money to see these great creatures. For example, along with continued North American and European travelers, Chinese visitors to African safaris will grow to about 180,000 by 2017. Increased interest has developed in India as well. And as the world becomes ever more connected, through the power of the internet, tourism and a desire to visit these unique locations will only continue to grow. By investing in the conservation of preserving its wildlife, Namibia is ensuring that travelers (and their money) will continue to flow into the country for years to come.

The documentary Virunga, has brought attention to the endangered mountain gorillas residing in the Virunga Mountain Region. On the border of Uganda, Rwanda, and the Republic of Congo, the mountains are the only place on earth where you can find these magnificent primates. As the documentary highlights, oil drilling has posed an imminent threat to the lives of these endangered gorillas. However, oil is a limited resource, whereas investing in tourism will attract visitors – and funding – for generations to come.

Virunga Gorilla
Mountain Gorilla

Saving the sea turtles is another great example of how conservation not only benefits wildlife, but the entire world. A sea turtle is worth way more alive to us, than dead. Sea turtles help control the growth of sea grass beds on the ocean floor, which are breeding grounds for many species of fish and crustaceans. Without sea turtles, we would see an incredible decrease in sea grass beds, leading to a decline in the other species who depend on it for their survival. Not only do sea turtles help the marine ecosystem, but they also help recycle nutrients from the water to the land when they lay their eggs along beaches every summer. Without sea turtle eggs, our beaches’ ecosystems would be harmed, sand dunes would erode, and we can say goodbye to the precious, pristine beaches we enjoy today. Solimar has also done some work in the past to save sea turtles on a previous project in Nicaragua.

To do any of the above, conservation is of the utmost importance. Tourism can help ensure sustainable income for the future.

While tourism and conservation make an excellent duo, there are many challenges to overcome predisposed ideas of economic growth in countries where poverty and corruption run rampant. With the right methods and planning, tourism can help preserve beautiful locations, like the Virunga Mountains and Namibia, for generations to come.

Check out Solimar’s latest conservation effort project in Peak Park, Colombia.

Interested in learning more about tourism and conservation? Download our Sustainable Models and Strategies Toolkit!

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