Lucia Prinz and I are currently in Colombia completing a tourism sector assessment along Colombia’s Pacific coast for the USAID Colombia BIOREDD+ Program (Biodiversity - Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation.
Tourism sector assessments help destinations and development organizations plan strategically for tourism development. Similar to a feasibility study or value chain analysis, the purpose of a tourism sector assessment is twofold: it provides an analysis of the competitiveness of a region as a tourism destination and it helps deliver recommendations for the implementation of next steps toward tourism development. Solimar’s tourism sector assessments help projects, destinations, and individual enterprises get set up for success.
BIOREDD+ is an innovative USAID program reinforcing Colombian efforts to sustainably manage and utilize environmental assets in mitigating and adapting to climate change, preserving biodiversity, and promoting economic growth. BIOREDD+ plans to implement a set of activities to strengthen community ecotourism in the Nuquí (including Utría National Park) and Bahía Malaga (including Urambá National Park) areas on the Pacific coast.
In both areas, government and private institutions have recognized sustainable tourism as an alternative livelihood for local communities, one that promotes environmental awareness and conservation.
Solimar is providing BIOREDD+ with a sustainable tourism strategy that includes a comprehensive approach for strengthening community-based tourism development in Nuquí while improving products and services in Bahía Malaga that are tied to biodiversity conservation.
We'll be providing the following information as part of the site assessment:
Infrastructure and Services
Supply and Competitiveness
Human and Institutional Capacity
Value Chain Analysis
To learn more about how Solimar can assist you with a tourism sector assessment, check out our tourism assessment Ebook:
On Colombia's Pacific coast, USAID is promoting environmental conservation through an innovative program called BIOREDD+ (Biodiversity- Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation). The program provides funding and oversight for more than a dozen projects that share the objective of alleviating poverty in the region's Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities while protecting the region's natural resource base.
In October 2012, BIOREDD+ asked Solimar to conduct a tourism sector assessment along the coast to determine the feasibility of tourism as a driver of environmentally and economically sustainable development. We determined that the tourism sector has incredible potential based on its rich biological and cultural assets, but that growth is constrained by a lack of organizational and business capacity coupled with insufficient international marketing outreach.
To address these challenges, Solimar recommended creating a formal relationship between key local service providers, and to use this relationship as a framework to deliver management training to regional service providers and to create a cohesive marketing strategy.
In November 2013, Solimar was asked to implement these recommendations.
Solimar began by forming the Choco Community Tourism Alliance, which represents four community tourism enterprises near Utria National Natural Park, on Colombia's Pacific coast about 100 miles south of Panama. The Alliance provides a forum for the communities to work collaboratively to share best practices and plan for long-term growth.
In January, Solimar's Lucia Prinz began teaching Solimar's Operations and Management Training course to members of each of the four community tourism enterprises, as well as representatives of PNN Utria. By the time Lucia completes the training course at the end of the month, participants will have been trained in financial planning, accounting, communications, marketing, human resources, tour procedures and sustainability best practices.
Last week, Solimar completed a comprehensive marketing strategy designed to promote the Alliance among target audiences in Colombia and abroad. The strategy addresses the challenge of marketing and selling in a destination with spotty electricity and no cellular coverage or Internet access by forming a partnership with Palenque Tours, a Medellin-based inbound tour operator. Palenque Tours, which will act as the Alliance's sales and marketing arm, has established contacts with the travel trade in source markets and a demonstrated commitment to developing community-based tourism products in Choco.
Solimar is currently developing a traveler-facing website to promote the destination and position the Alliance to sell packaged itineraries to the region. The website will soon be live at www.VisitChoco.com.
In the coming months, Solimar will train the communities and Palenque Tours to implement and refine the Alliance's marketing strategy. Solimar will lead the Alliance's marketing activities through the first half of this year, then transition into a support role as Palenque Tours and the Alliance itself take over promotional activities.
To learn more about about Solimar's destination managment solutions, click here. For more information about Solimar's solutions for promoting sustainable tourism around parks and protected areas, click here. You can download Solimar's Enterprise Development Toolkit here.
Solimar International has been involved with the Colombia BIOREDD Project since 2012. We began by conducting a tourism assessment of Nuquí, which is located in El Chocó region of Colombia, and have been improving the tourism marketing of Nuquí/Utría National Park, as well as improving the business management capacity of key tourism operators in and around the park.
Where is Chocó and why visit?
The Chocó region of Colombia is the most rainy region in South America and the second rainiest in the world, providing the area with a lush and verdant landscape. Chocó enjoys warm weather all year round, however, the best time to visit the region is between June and September.
El Chocó has coasts on both the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean and is home to Afro Colombian culture as well as to indigenous communities. Along the Pacific coast, you can find towns such as Nuquí, Bahia Solano, and Quibdó surrounded by ecotourism initiatives.
Although this region is the poorest in Colombia, the people of El Chocó are friendly and welcoming. Local communities in Nuquí and its surroundings offer diverse services to their guests from all over the world and are ready to make their stay unforgettable. Chocó provides an amazing opportunity to disconnect from the world. Its draw for nature lovers is unmatched, as a paradise full of plant and animal life.
The summer is a particularly special time to visit, as it is whale-watching season in Chocó! You can see the beautiful humpback whales and their calves on their way to the warm equatorial waters.
How is Solimar supporting El Chocó?
Solimar International has set two main objectives in this project:
- To improve business management of the targeted community tourism organizations in the Nuquí/Utría National Park area
- Improve Marketing of Nuquí/Utría National Park’s tourism sector and increase tourism sales
What has Solimar done so far?
- Created a marketing alliance; including a strategic partnership Palenque Tours, a German-Colombian tour operator outside of Nuqui; and developed and implemented a business plan for the alliance.
- Lead a 4-month Tourism Operations and Management training course for members of each of the 4 community tourism organizations and 2 individuals from Utria National Park.
- Assisted the four community tourism organizations in the development of operations manuals and implemented all administrative procedures and logistics outlined in the operations manual, effectively putting them into practice for day-to-day operations.
- With the input of relevant stakeholders, developed and implemented the region’s marketing & sales strategy using the latest web and social media tools.
- Conducted a branding workshop with local stakeholders to update the current Nuquí Pacífico brand messaging strategy.
- Held meetings with key staff from the Ministry to introduce project and carried out a public launch event in Bogotá for the revised destination website, brand, and tourism marketing alliance.
- Worked with the Municipality of Nuqui to promote the adoption of sustainable tourism criteria into the Territorial Planning Scheme and establish a Tourism Board.
Most recently, Lucia Prinz, Solimar’s Product Development and Training Specialist, and Chris Seek, Solimar’s CEO, traveled to Bogota to attend a launch event for this project. We helped organize the event, connected with government programs that support community tourism, and reached out to national media, and tour operators.
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.”
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.
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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One of the greatest, and perhaps least recognized aspects of the sustainable tourism industry is the potential for economic growth and peace building in post conflict areas of the world. Solimar has recently worked in several regions that have seen conflict, such as Sri Lanka, Colombia, Jordan, and Palestine. Working in these areas proved that not only does sustainable tourism have the incredible ability to preserve natural and cultural resources, it can play a key role in the revival of economies and communities shattered by conflict.
THE STATE OF TOURISM IN POST CONFLICT AREAS
Some of the major problems faced by post conflict destinations are security based. The first hurdle in the revival of the tourism industry is making sure the destination is absolutely safe for visitors and pushing that message consistently across all channels of communication.
Another issue that arises in regard to security is rebuilding the destination's image, as these locations are often perceived as degraded during times of conflict and violence. It's important to highlight that a destination's cultural and natural heritage is alive and well by sharing high quality content about the destination, such as images, videos and copy.
The second set of issues facing post conflict destinations relates to infrastructure and human capital. Many times, after a long-lasting conflict like the civil war in Sri Lanka, many forms of infrastructure and many of the industries that service tourists are in poor condition, making it difficult for them to visit in a number of ways. For example, in some areas, roads may have become impassable; buildings may be dilapidated and need to be rebuilt. In order to sustain a tourism industry, these areas need rebuilding and basic resources restructured in order to revive their destination’s appeal and functionality.
When setting goals for these destinations, Solimar's approach tends to mirror that of a brand new, undiscovered destination, even if they had a tourism industry before the conflict. Through clear and coordinated communication between all stakeholders, the first phase of these strategies focuses on building the structures necessary to sustain the tourism industry.
A great way to kick start the tourism presence in these areas is to focus on regions that have not been affected by the conflict. Solimar's approach oftentimes is to promote off the beaten path, adventurous destinations and target tourists who are interested in those types of places. In each destination this might look different, but strategic marketing and promotion allows for such burgeoning markets to flourish.
BENEFITS & OUTCOMES
First and foremost, tourism in these countries means an influential source of capital. It provides economic opportunity through employment, ownership of businesses, and an increased market size. It also perpetuates personal and community empowerment by offering renewed opportunities for self-sustaining businesses and economies.
Tourism can also play a key role in reconciliation. It often unites communities that may have been broken or displaced during conflict around common interests and goals, fostering a sense of peace and cooperation that may not otherwise occur. In some cases, tourism can contribute to preventing the revival of a conflict in destinations with increasingly well-established tourism industries, as it contributes to a virtuous cycle of development and economic growth that would be threatened by the renewal of violence.
By rebuilding and strengthening culture, economy, and infrastructure, the tourism industry provides post conflict regions a chance to make a statement about their future to the world. These communities are able to showcase their homes as more than just what people see on TV news.
To read more about Solimar's projects in post-conflict areas, please visit our website: http://solimarinternational.com/our-work/projects
In today’s highly competitive global marketplace, it is difficult for destinations to compete without a well-trained workforce capable of delivering quality experiences for visitors. This is especially true when developing sustainable tourism in remote destinations—which is a challenging task. Engaging in sustainable practices requires a relatively high level of education and residents of remote destinations often lack adequate resources for education and proper training.
What does tourism training/workforce development look like on the ground? Let us look at a project Solimar finished earlier this year in the Chocó Department of Colombia to better understand the implementation of workforce development in sustainable tourism enterprises.
About the Project
In December of 2012, Solimar International was contracted to conduct a thorough destination assessment of Nuquí and Bahia Malaga, Colombia. The assessment identified two major weaknesses: lack of organizational and business capacity and insufficient marketing outreach. Then in November 2013, Solimar International was again contracted to address these weaknesses. This was part of an ongoing project funded by USAID called Biodiversity – Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (BIOREDD+).
A series of strategies and techniques were then enacted and implemented to address the lack of organizational and business capacity in 4 community tourism enterprises (CTEs). To build capacity Solimar conducted a tourism operations and management training course in each of the 4 CTEs. Prior to the first course, a baseline evaluation was held to serve as a benchmark for further assessments. The first course covered:
- Introduction and Roles and Responsibilities
- Financial Planning
- Policies and Procedures
- Personnel Management and Client Satisfaction
- Emergency Action Planning
- Conflict Management
- Sustainable Tourism Best Practices
Following the course, a second evaluation was conducted to evaluate incremental increased capacity. When not in session, Solimar Sustainable Tourism Training Specialist Lucia Prinz traveled to the four CTEs, aiding them in implementing their new skills in day-to-day operations. Lastly, a final exam was conducted to evaluate the overall achievement of the training course since the baseline assessment. Participants were given quizzes and an exam to test their increased knowledge as a result of the course. On each of the tests, participants outperformed the previous exam’s average.
Workforce Development Methodology
The Chocó Department of Colombia is one of the poorest departments of Colombia with 70% of the population living in extreme poverty. Solimar’s training methodology has been developed and revised over the years to best target informally educated learners. One important aspect of this methodology is constant monitoring and evaluation. Solimar recruited an intern to assist in the implementation of the newly acquired business operations and marketing skills. The intern also developed evaluation worksheets to gauge the CTE’s increased capacity. The results of these evaluations found that capacity increased in each of the 13 indicators used to measure the project’s progress.
The training courses mentioned above directly resulted in an increased business and organizational capacity which led to increased visitation to the area. Workforce development meant stronger economic growth, increased productivity, and expanded employment opportunities. This goes to show that the competitiveness of the tourism industry in an area rests ultimately on the capacity of its people to support it through their skills and enterprise.
For more information download our Tourism Workforce Development guide.
The World Tourism Organisation tells us that cultural tourism accounts for 37% of global tourism, and furthermore affirms that it will continue to grow 15% each year. With all of this market interest, destinations should leverage what makes their societies unique and invest in developing cultural tourism programs.
What is Cultural Tourism?
Cultural tourism allows travelers to be immersed in local rituals and routines, taking away not only pretty photos but also shared memories of unique experiences. For destinations, it encourages local communities to embrace their culture and boosts economic growth. Developing culturally geared tourism programs encourages destinations to celebrate and promote what distinguishes their communities, and in doing so, provides the opportunity for authentic cultural exchange between locals and visitors.
Solimar has a long history of involvement in development projects that promote cultural tourism. Here’s a glimpse at four of them:
Morocco: Down the Road of Traditional Crafts
Before 2010, Morocco has a vibrant craft industry, yet artisans had insufficient opportunity for direct sales. Solimar collaborated with Aid to Artisans and the Moroccan Ministry of Crafts to facilitate direct linkages between artisans and tourists in Marrakech and Fez. This was achieved through establishing new or updating existing artisan and cultural heritage routes, and furnishing them with engaging creating marketing collateral. The team involved as many as 6,603 sale points and was successful in increasing artisan revenue. As a result of this project, crafts and tourism in the area are now more linked than ever before.
Ethiopia: Empowering Community Enterprises for Long-term Success
Ethiopia’s Bale Mountain area is lush and beautiful, and is the home of successful community-led tourism initiatives. In 2009 Solimar addressed the conservation and regulation problems in Ethiopia by affecting a sustainable tourism development project in partnership with the Frankfurt Zoological Society. The team created 7 community tourism enterprises as well as branding and marketing tools aimed at awareness-building among foreigners and locals alike. The local communities now leverage their cultural heritage, which includes expressive dances and crafts, in its tourism development. This offers them alternative livelihoods that in turn benefit environmental conservation.
Namibia: From North America to Local Villages
Namibia is a country of rich tourism potential that prior to 2010 had not been successful in fully captivating the North American travel market. Solimar launched a comprehensive trade-focused marketing campaign with the goal of increasing North American arrivals in Namibia over the course of 4 years. By fostering partnerships between Namibian and North American trade, and leading destinations awareness campaigns, this mission was successful.
Community-based tourism was a large component in promoting the country to the North American market. The campaign succeeded in increasing the number of tourists and routes visiting Namibia by 75% by 2013, exceeding expectations. This helped improve local employment opportunities and enhance cultural awareness among international visitors.
Colombia: More than Whales at Nuquí/Utría National Park
Nuquí/Utría National Park is famous for its prolific whale watching opportunities. However, it suffers from a lack of organizational and business capacity, as well as weak marketing outreach. In 2012, Solimar and its project partners tackled the challenge by creating a destination marketing alliance with four local community tourism enterprises, providing them capacity building trainings. The team developed and promoted new tour packages that incorporated cultural elements, such as visits to a typical Pacific Chocó village. The team liaised with the Colombian Ministries of Tourism and the Environment to feature the park as a model for sustainable tourism development in a protected area. Through this work, the team was successful in increasing the gross sales of each of these community tourism enterprises and the number of tourism products in this remote area.
Cultural tourism is economically advantageous for both destinations and the communities that reside in them. Solimar is dedicated to the development of cultural tourism that benefits destinations, communities and visitors. We hope to continue to be an active and positive support in promoting sustainable travel, protecting cultural heritage and improving the living standards of local communities around the world.
To learn more about cultural tourism, check out our Sustainable Tourism Enterprise Development Toolkit!
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