Carpets, one of Morocco's most remarkable crafts, are all intricately hand woven on looms. The carpets that are most recognizable are probably the Berber carpets. Berber carpets date back to the Paleolithic era and the hand spun cloth that was used to make the carpets are from natural materials.
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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The Smithsonian Folklife Festival is a celebration of cultural arts from exemplary destinations; destinations that are diverse, authentic, and home to living traditions—both old and new. This year's Festival highlights the cultural heritage of Peru - and to accompany the theme, Smithsonian created a symposium at the Freer Gallery of Art to emphasis the importance of culture for sustainable tourism development. The opening remarks from Richard Kurin, “Culture is what makes us human,” set the tone for the panelists to lead vibrant conversations regarding cultural conservation, intercultural communication, and the use of culture as an tourism asset for generating economic benefits.
Cultivating Cultural Industry
The first session focused on the tourism experience and how leaders of the industry can cultivate culture. Juan Luis Reus, Director of Peru Trade, Tourism and Investment Office in DC, spoke proudly of the rich cultural resources and their implications for Peru tourism. Immediately after, Nilda Callanuapa gave a vivid example of the work done at the Center for Traditional Textiles of Cusco: the objective of the center is to preserve the weaving traditions of the pre-Columbian Andes culture. In order for the weaving techniques to stay alive storytelling to engage tourists in the Andean ways and teachings at the Center is vital.
“When I first started the project, the skill was mostly left with the elders…now, the traditional weavings support over 600 workers at the Center.” -Callanuapa
Colvin English, whose ByHand Consulting Company helps artisans all over the world thrive in the tourism industry, gave some straightforward tips on how to run a successful cultural tourism project. “Respect the artisans, have lots of opportunities for interaction and purchase, and always keep your goal in mind.”
Panelists Rafael Varon Gabai, Halle Butvin and Stefania Abakerli added meaningful comments and concerns based on their experiences, including how sustainable tourism is limited by investments and policy support, and how it might be possible to factor culture into a multi-dimensional approach to reducing poverty.
The second session, moderated by Professor Don Hawkins, is how storytelling serves, promotes, and builds culture. Senior Geographer at the National Museum of the American Indian, Doug Herman reminded us that we are still drawing from past lessons to cultivate wisdom in the present world, and stories offer us the material to do just that.
Betty Belanus, curator at Smithsonian, showed a video testimonial of how the Folklife Festival acts as a platform for telling stories outside of a local setting. The audience had the opportunity to become enchanted by the story of Ana Rees, an Argentine descendant of Welsh immigrants who maintains her connection with the past by learning her ancestors' language and most imporantly- preparing Welsh tea and baked goods in Patagonia.
Thinc Design Founding Principal Tom Hennes recounted the experience of making the Jordan Museum exhibits more relevant to its own people by connecting history and present.
“It is not about archaeology. It is about people, and it is about Jordanian people. We are who we were…and now tourists has the chance to see Jordan through the eyes of locals.” -Hennes
Victoria Pope, Editor for Smithsonian Journeys, showed us a side of tenderness and sensitivity in providing an authentic narrative for a destination. Panelist Norie Quintos, Exective Editor for National Geographic Traveler, echoed her approach. As Norie said, the world for travelers is expanding. Not just geographically, but also in terms of cultural experience. Karen Ledwin from Smithsonian Travel stressed the role of guides in forging connections between locals and visitors, and putting the stories in place for the tourists.
Our CEO at Solimar, Chris Seek, took on a different perspective and warned against negative impacts brought on by unsustainable tourism practices. He urged for more active policy and market incentives to encourage sustainable tourism development, so that local communities can receive the respect and economic benefits they deserve.
The audience contributed to the discussion through lively Q&A sessions. A major concern was how we should manage changes made to the local economic, social and cultural system. Experts pointed out that culture is not static, but rather constantly evolving.
The symposium was informative for all and presenters and panelists aliked proved that making culture a focal point in sustainable tourism is not just important, it's also profitable.