One of Solimar international’s current projects is helping develop tourism strategies for two fairly small regions of the Republic of Georgia, Mtskheta Mtianeti and Samtskhe Javakheti. The project is kicking into gear, with timelines and projects being identified and implemented.
Last week, Solimar International’s president Chris Seek spent several days in the Republic of Georgia for a series of meetings and events to assess the tourism strategies that Solimar has developed for the two regions. He presented the proposed strategies to Georgian and World Bank officials, who will discuss and decide on a finalized plan.
In the coming weeks, a list of objects to be rehabilitated will be revealed within the framework of this regional development project. We are looking forward to seeing where the project will take us from here!
International tourism is one of the largest contributors to the Georgian economy and there is demand for the development and improvement of the tourism sector, with the aim to stimulate local economies and provide much needed employment throughout the country.
Through a grant from the World Bank, in conjunction with the Ministry of Economy and Sustainable Development and the Georgia National Tourism Administration (GNTA), Solimar developed a national tourism strategy that has improved planning, developing, managing, and marketing the country’s many rich natural and cultural resources, and has resulted in an increase of money spent per visitor.
Previous Work in the Kakheti Region
Recently, Solimar completed another project in Georgia. Based in the Kakheti region, this project was sponsored by the World Bank in a region with a low level of tourism competitiveness primarily because it lacked professional tourism services and was therefore not well-known in the major international tourism markets. To stimulate tourism and generate income for local communities, Solimar and its partners increased awareness of the Kakheti region’s tourism assets and improved tourism capacity of stakeholders.
Through this strategy, the region has seen a tremendous boost in the economy, the creation of much needed employment, and a rise in private sector investment. This sustainable strategy has been critical for the success of the region and its people since the project’s implementation.
Designing a Strategy for the Mtskheta Mtianeti and Samtskhe Javakheti Regions
Using this work as a template, Solimar has produced similar strategies for the Mtskheta Mtianeti and Samtskhe Javakheti regions, to be implemented by 2020. These strategies will focus on two components: product development and marketing.
The product development aspect will focus on urban recovery, such as rehabilitation of municipal infrastructure and conservation of cultural heritage buildings and facades, and the development of tourism routes, which envisages urban landscape and parking area development among other projects.
The marketing aspect will work to develop a Georgia brand, which can then be perpetuated professionally and efficiently through a number of markets: online, traditional, and public relations campaigns. This campaign continues to develop the tourism industry in order to promote economic development and improve the standard of living for the local communities.
To learn more about tourism development and strategy, download our Sustainable Tourism Enterprise Development Tool Kit:
With the holidays coming up, we decided to look at traditional Christmas celebrations in some of the places where we work!
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.
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.
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?
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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Tourism strategic planning is a comprehensive process for determining what a business or destination should become and the steps needed to achieve that goal. Many times when consultants are hired to create a strategic plan, the plan is at risk of remaining on the shelf and never being fully implemented. Why? Because those most affected by the tourism development plan may not have been fully integrated into the development of the strategy, and may not agree with the ideas. This is an ongoing issue the tourism industry faces, and a difficult one in which to find a solution.
The World Bank and the Georgia National Tourism Administration (GNTA) recognized this problem in the past. As part of a World Bank initiative, Solimar was contracted to develop a tourism strategy for the Caucasus nation. We were asked not to lead the development of the strategy, but rather facilitate and guide the GNTA through the strategy development process to ensure it was collaborative and comprehensive as possible.
Between the years 2009 and 2013, Georgia’s international tourism arrivals grew over 300%. This was largely in part to its envious location at the crossroads of Europe, Asia and the Middle East, as well as increasing amounts of exposure in international press as a unique, exciting destination. Georgia is the birth place of wine, has an exquisite culinary tradition, a rich early Christian history, and an abundance of natural assets - including 7 national parks. These attributes – if developed practically – demonstrate a significant strength to the country’s tourism sector within the high-value European marketplace, while improving the industry’s ability to contribute economically.
To keep pace with the increasing demand for tourism in Georgia, additional financing for private and public investments will be necessary. “The joint World Bank and IFC collaboration [in Georgia] focuses on fostering entrepreneurship and access to finance, improving the investment climate, and developing Georgia’s tourism strategy that will determine how to improve the sector’s performance, align implementation priorities and enable job growth.” said Henry Kerali, World Bank Regional Director for the South Caucasus.
Georgia’s tourism development approach has generally been focused on regional advancements rather than a cohesive national-level plan. Within the past decade, the World Bank and Solimar have worked on projects in the areas of Kakheti, Mtskheta-Mtianeti, and Samtskhe-Javakheti, each with creative solutions to grow the local tourism economies while conserving the natural and cultural resources. However, to maximize tourism’s national impact, a national strategy is required that takes into consideration large scale infrastructure and marketing activities that cannot be achieved by the regions alone.
“The tourism sector currently provides nearly 20 percent of export earnings. The national tourism development strategy is, therefore, an instrument to take full advantage of Georgia’s potential and position it globally as a rich, diversified and high quality destination.” Ahmed Eiweida, Program Leader for Sustainable Development Programs in the South Caucasus.
Where is the Georgia National Tourism Administration now?
With the support of the World Bank, the Solimar team, and several Georgian experts, the GNTA produced a 2025 strategic plan that articulates the country’s current position, its vision for the future, and the key activities required in order to get there.
To build buy-in for the strategy, the GNTA led regional workshops, communicated with inter-government committees, issued press events and integrated action plans from other tourism-related sectors. The final document describes how the GNTA and its partners will deliver creative marketing to attract to higher income markets and statistical projections on how the GNTA will achieve a minimum of 5% growth rate over the next 10 years.
Where does Georgia National Tourism want to be in 2025?
The GNTA envisions the country as a premier, year-round, high quality tourism destination - a destination centered on its unique cultural and natural heritage, its world-class customer service, and timeless tradition of hospitality. The GNTA will be at the forefront of tourism competitiveness, through strategic investments in infrastructure, education, marketing, and the development of unique Georgian visitor experiences that appeal to high-value markets around the globe.
How does the GNTA lead the tourism industry to reach it’s vision?
Extensive stakeholder consultation resulted in the identification of 50 priority actions that have been grouped around the following 8 strategic objectives.
1. Respect, enhance, and protect Georgia’s natural and cultural heritage
2. Create unique and authentic visitor experiences centered on those natural and cultural assets
3. Enhance competitiveness, through delivery of world-class visitor services
4. Attract higher spending markets, through increased and more effective marketing and promotion
5. Expand and enhance Georgia’s ability to collect and analyze tourism data and measure industry performance
6. Enhance the business environment, to facilitate increased foreign and domestic investment
7. Expand public and private sector investment in the tourism sector
8. Build partnerships between government, industry, non-governmental organizations, and communities that will be needed to achieve all of the above
What will the challenges be?
Even though the GNTA has completed their strategic plan and found positive monetary incentive to start implementation; the national and regional tourism stakeholders must work as a team to have success. And most importantly, the 2025 strategic plan will only be effective if the GNTA continues to be committed and take ownership of this visionary strategic plan.