Supporting Global Development through Sustainable Tourism

Tuesday, 24 June 2014 14:31

Sharing Namibia’s Story Online

Written by Natasha Martin

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In the two years since Solimar started working in Namibia, the landscape of online marketing has changed dramatically, both in Namibia and abroad. Instagram and Pinterest, two platforms not included in our original strategy from 2011, have become central ways we track conversations and engage with potential travelers. Meanwhile, in Namibia, introduction of 4G internet, made our lives much easier!

But some things haven’t changed, travelers are still seeking value and turn to the internet for inspiration as well as research and planning.

In 2010, traditional source markets for Namibia were declining. European arrival numbers were lagging due to economic recession and market saturation. The Namibia Tourism Board (supported by donor funding from the Millennium Challenge Account - Namibia) decided to double up online marketing efforts and Solimar International has been implementing this project since early 2012.

Our task in Namibia was leveraging all online assets to create a competitive presence online for Namibia. We wanted to provide value to the traveler at every step of their journey – our job was to keep Namibia top of mind with travelers from initial awareness phase down to the booking. The key to closing the loop was linking interested travelers with those in the travel industry (tour operators, travel agents, hoteliers, airlines) who could facilitate their experience.

We recently handed the project over to the newly created online marketing unit in March 2014, who is continuing to explore new platforms and campaigns for creating an online buzz and inspiring more travelers to visit the land of endless horizons.

Snapshot of Key Results

Over two years, Solimar:

  • Increased inbound links to the website by 1685%.
  • Consistently kept 170 keywords in the top ten
  • Increased the online community size from 109 to 38,055
  • Facebook community size increased from 109 to 35888 over 26 months
  • A total of 1015 highly visible Facebook posts were created over two years.
  • 1.2 million viewed or interacted with Namibia Tourism content on Facebook (not including advertising)

Here are five key lessons that we learned during the implementation of the Online Marketing Campaign:

Lesson One: Content Really is King

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If you are a frequent reader of the Solimar blog, you’ll know that we truly believe content is one of the best marketing tools available to destination marketers. Our experience in Namibia proves this to be true. We saw website visits and engagement increase as we created niche content pieces, targeted at specific interests, like destination weddings or photography. We created 248 blogs posts in 2 years, with valuable info that was easy to find for travelers in the planning phase. Because we knew that search is #1 source for leisure travelers (and in fact, 58% of leisure travelers “start my travel booking and planning process with search.”) we made sure the blog posts were easy to find, including strategic keywords and optimizing each post.

We also made significant efforts to always have fresh content by sending our team out on content collection trips around the country. There are some experiences, some hotels and some amazing guides that just can’t be found by trolling the internet. We found some of our most popular stories through strapping the tent on top of the car and traveling around Namibia.  

We also published seven planning guides as free downloads available to travelers. The guides focused on special interest activities, like wildlife, adventure, photography or family travel.

Lesson Two: Partnerships Will Take Your Message Further

We knew that if we partnered with influencers, we could take our message even further than the reach we had through our own platforms. Over the course of the campaign, we partnered with various content providers including World Nomads, Virtual Tourist, the delegates who attended the 2013 Adventure Travel World Summit in Namibia as well as media.

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Examples of NTB Content Partners

Lesson 3: Keeping Up with Facebook is Worth it

Throughout the campaign, Facebook remained one of our most useful tools to inspire and help community members out through direct messages or through wall posts, sharing Namibia pride and sparking conversation. However, one of our challenges was keeping up with their frequent changes to its interface and functionality. We stayed up to date by reading the Facebook blog and other online influencers to stay up to date on how to use the platform to ensure maximum engagement.

Lesson 4: Rich Media Portals Can be Used for Trade and Travelers

During the campaign, we built up the Namibia presence on Flickr, YouTube and Pinterest. The rich media on these sites can be an inspiration to travelers as well as a marketing resource for the travel trade who promote the destination.

Snapshot of Rich Media results:

  • 3959 copyright-free images on our Flickr account
  • 38 Boards on Pinterest
  • 17 videos on YouTube Channel

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Lesson 5: Campaigns Drive Engagement

Over the course of the campaign, we launched four thematic campaigns. Each campaign required greater “engagement” from our community. The table below shares the four campaigns and their results.

Conservation Destination: Four endangered species were brought to life with their own Twitter feeds, which shared stories about their fight against extinction. Facebook users could enter to win a trip to Namibia by submitting their email.

  • Facebook community grew 1000%
  • 53 partners syndicated the Facebook application
  • Campaign reach was 20 million
  • 2,700 new leads were generated and distributed to our trade partners                               

Share My Namibia: The stories of 11 regions of Namibia were shared by local residents of those places. Facebook users could select three regions on an interactive map to create their  “Dream Namibia Trip”

  • 62 partners syndicated the Facebook application
  • 1893 new leads generated and distributed to trade partners
  • Total campaign reach was 14.48
  • Online advertising generated 12M impressions and over 14,000 actions (likes, comments or shares)

Landscape Escape: Facebook users were invited to submit a picture of the “landscape they want to escape,” and then encourage their friends to vote. The most votes won a trip to Namibia.

  • Over 10,000 new likes on the Facebook page
  • 42 partners syndicated the Facebook application
  • 202 entries and over 12,000 unique votes
  • 12,801 new leads were generated
  • The winners were travel bloggers who ended up extending their 7 day prize trip to 3 months!

Go Big Namibia: Designed to create content about adventure and distribute it within a wide network, we worked with 4 online influencers who went on an epic Namibian adventure. The Facebook app traced their journey.

  • 51 partners syndicated the Facebook application
  • Our team of bloggers generated:
  • 300 twitter posts
  • Over 300,000 likes on Instagram
  • Over 1700 comments on Instagram
  • Over 20 blog posts

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During these campaigns, we implemented what we had learned:

  • We developed a lot of unique, thematic content for each campaign. We collected content from relevant partners and used awe-inspiring images as much as possible.
  • Facebook was the main platform for each campaign, because of the large existing community.  
  • Using our partners helped us reach exponentially bigger audiences. We syndicated customized Facebook applications to tour operators and other interested stakeholders who had an interest in promoting tourism in Namibia to their communities. During the Conservation Destination campaign, reach through the NTB platforms was 1.6 million, but the combined reach of all our partners was 20 million.  
  • One of the most valuable activities we undertook was regularly tracking a series of indicators to monitor the progress of our work. Although time consuming, monitoring and evaluation helped the project re-evaluate our strategies in the ever-changing online environment to ensure that our messages were resonating with the people who were looking for them.

Solimar has really enjoyed sharing Namibia’s amazing stories with the world – and we look forward to continuing to follow the story of this amazing country online!

 

Published in General
Thursday, 11 September 2014 14:44

Developing a Successful Integrated Marketing Plan for Namibia

Written by Liz Heimann
Namibia Integrated Development
Photo: Gunther Wegner Source: Flickr

One of the most comprehensive services that Solimar International offers is our Integrated Marketing Program. The model entails a tailored, uniform marketing strategy across all platforms that highlights and meets the goals of a certain destination or business. We recently saw great success using this approach in our Namibia North American Destination Marketing (NADM) project, in which Solimar was asked to raise awareness of Namibia as a prime African tourism destination for North American travelers. The success of the NADM integrated marketing program led to an increase in North American arrivals and double the number of travel trade selling Namibia. Natasha Martin, the project’s leader, gives a more in-depth analysis of the strategy’s impact.

What were the reasons for selecting an integrated marketing program method in Namibia?

We knew we needed to match the changing landscape of online travel marketing with whatever solution we proposed. And we had a limited budget, so using non-traditional marketing helped us stretch the budget further. As you know, it’s easier to target whom your messages reaches online because the tracking is so much better.

What were the first components you identified for launching the program?

We started in late 2011, so we identified a blog, Facebook, Twitter. But as the campaign progressed things changed. And we had to bring in Pinterest and Instagram. These were especially good for reaching niche markets.

Namibia Leopard
Photo: Mazzali Source: Flickr

What were the biggest challenges you faced in developing the strategy and how were they overcome?

The biggest challenge was probablytime management, you can spend forever digging deeper and deeper into social media communities, having one on one conversations, etc., but you can lose track of priorities. Having a content calendar really helped us to manage time and thematic posting, and ensure consistency.

As you’re wrapping up the project, in what ways do you feel the integrated marketing strategy has been effective?

It has increased awareness of Namibia, it has shared the key messages of the country - so that it’s not just "a country in Africa" but "an adventure destination" and hopefully more people can associate with its assets. I really feel that before we started the project there was much less awareness about Namibia, and now its on the adventure travel map. We appealed to a wide range of travelers from culinary tourists, adventure travelers and families as well.

Looking back on the program, what would you say were the keys to success with the Namibia campaign?

Flexibility, and the ability to make changes to the program (for example, when Facebook apps became redundant, we stopped making them).

What are the advantages of using an integrated marketing program strategy?

A multi-pronged approach is always better; otherwise you put all your eggs in one basket so to speak.

Through this approach, Solimar was able to expand existing and create new itineraries centered on a community-based tourism strategy, significantly increase the number of North American tourists traveling to Namibia, as well as double the number of North American tour operators offering trips to Namibia, speaking to the value of a practical and effective Integrated Marketing Program.

To learn more about integrated marketing programs in the tourism industry, download our free eBook:

Inbound Marketing eBook

For more information on our services, visit our website.

Published in General
Tuesday, 16 September 2014 14:40

Wrapping Up The Namibia North American Destination Marketing Program

Written by Liz Heimann
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Photo: Frank Vassen, Source: Flickr

After four amazing, rewarding years, Solimar wraps up its work in Namibia.

Last week, the 4-year North American Destination Marketing (NADM) Campaign came to an end. The project was managed by Cardno and implemented with four other companies, including Solimar.

In 2010, when the campaign began, traditional source markets for Namibia, specifically European tourism, were lagging due to economic recession and market saturation. The Namibia Tourism Board (NTB), with support from the Millennium Challenge Account (MCA), decided to aggressively pursue the North American tourism market to boost their visitor numbers, and contracted Cardno, who then put together the NADM team to create a comprehensive marketing program. Separately, Solimar was contracted to develop an integrated online marketing campaign.

Within the NADM campaign, Solimar was responsible for the online tools component. Our role was to create educational and sales tools, trade campaigns and then market these to North American travel trade. Ultimately, our goal was to help North American operators sell more Namibia. We found that agents and operators knew and loved Namibia, but were facing a challenge: their clients were not asking for it. We began to develop tools that would help them create demand among their client base: campaigns that helped them engage with their communities about Namibia, as well as incentives to encourage them to sell more of our destination.

Over the course of four years, our team developed four targeted campaigns, which had trade and consumer components. These campaigns were fueled by interactive contests, which created a buzz among the communities of our trade partners through social networks.

The success of the NADM campaign was due to its integrated nature, the team tackled different sectors of the tourism sector at the same time. For example, at the same time as Solimar was creating tools and working with agents, our colleagues from the Business Tourism Company were training local businesses and business owners in destination management and marketing to optimize the opportunities available to them. The NADM campaign made it a priority to broaden local knowledge of the complexities and opportunities available through the use of online marketing and to build a foundation of understanding of destination marketing and the North American tourism value chain and market sectors. The campaign’s focus on training and education allows for more long-term and sustainable business practices, ultimately benefitting the local communities in a significant and effective way.

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Photo: Frank Vassen, Source: Flickr

Likewise, Cardno was coordinating attendance at trade shows and road shows. There were three North American Road Shows, two trade shows, and 34 other travel trade events held during the course of the campaign, which established linkages with North American operators, expanded Namibia’s presence in the market, and increased its market share in North America. The team from STI worked to strengthen Namibian festivals and events by developing a strong relationship with the city of Windhoek and supporting the relaunch of the /Ae//Gams Arts and Cultural Festival in 2014, linking market-ready festivals and events to the North American market.

Another essential component of the campaign was the Public Relations (PR) platform, which focused on raising the profile of Namibia and its products and experience offerings among North American target consumers. It involved creating a dynamic campaign and taking it to road shows, airlines, and news outlets both in Namibia and North America. The campaign earned multiple destinations in Namibia press coverage in a variety of influential North American media outlets, through newspapers, websites, and television.

An exciting highlight of the campaign was the opportunity Namibia was granted to host the Adventure Travel World Summit (ATWS) in October 2013. As ATWS is the largest gathering of adventure travel professionals in the world, with over 700 attendees, this was a key opportunity for Namibia to assert itself as a heavyweight in the adventure travel industry. The NADM campaign decided this it was crucial to capitalize on this opportunity, allocating energy and resources to pursue Namibia’s bid to host the campaign, as well as the organizing all of the logistics once it was awarded. This was the first time ATWS was hosted on the African continent, and support from the NADM campaign was critical to the Summit’s success.

Overall, Solimar and its partners were able to significantly increase the awareness of Namibia as a tourism destination in the North American market through this campaign. These efforts have left a legacy of strong business relationships between Namibian and North American travel trade, and increased awareness for Namibia and the Namibia Tourism Board to build upon. To get updates on Solimar’s projects and programs around the world, sign up for our newsletter:

Published in General
Wednesday, 12 November 2014 21:07

Characteristics of a Successful Online Marketing Campaign

Written by Jeff Yerxa

Being flexible and current are two important characteristics to a successful online marketing campaign. The social media landscape is constantly evolving—whether it is the changing of an algorithm, a new feature, new trend, or even the inception of an entirely new social media platform. To run a successful online marketing campaign you must be knowledgeable of these alterations and have the ability to adjust your marketing strategy accordingly.

Adapting to Changing Rules

To understand what a change in “social rules” looks like and how it could be a game-changer in your online marketing campaign, take a look at this recent example. Just a week ago Facebook instituted a change which disallowed requiring someone to “like” your page before entering your contest, promotion or giveaway. This feature, coined “like-gate”, has been a significant factor in online marketing campaigns. In many cases, the main purpose of offering a contest or giveaway is to enhance a company’s social media presence.

Flow Chart

In fact, many online marketing campaigns use “likes” as a metric for success. Does your contest now serve a purpose if it isn’t generating “likes”? If not, how can you modify your strategy to accommodate for this?

These are crucial questions in ensuring your online marketing campaign meets its objectives.

Finding Solutions

In 2013, the states of Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, and Mississippi partnered with National Geographic and Solimar to promote Geotourism development and contribute to the region’s competitiveness as a tourism destination. Solimar pushed forward an online marketing campaign focusing on the Geotourism MapGuide, which promoted the US Gulf Coast States (USGCS) through an online interactive map, mobile application, and print map. USGCS’s first marketing campaign was called “Hidden Treasures” and was designed to demonstrate the MapGuide’s utility as a resource for lesser-known attractions in the region. The mechanism behind this campaign was a giveaway in which participants could win a trip to one of three weekend getaways in Vicksburg, MS; Lake Charles, LA; or Miramar Beach, FL.

In early 2014, radical shifts in the brand page design and user feed algorithm on Facebook forced a shift in how the platform could be used for marketing and engagement. Facebook applications, on which the “Hidden Treasures” campaign was largely built, were sidelined. This meant that apps were no longer a central component in a page’s interaction with a user. As a result, driving traffic to the application was more difficult, entries into the contest were low, and the campaign did not achieve its intended result. This algorithmic change was largely focused to drive advertisers to pay for sponsored or boosted content. To adjust for this, Solimar rolled out a second campaign, “Summer in the South” which was adapted to better thrive in this environment by utilizing Facebook’s pay-for-play services. The adjustment proved successful, driving over 12,000 visits to the USGCS Geotourism website—nearly a third of the website’s 5 month total traffic in two weeks’ time.

Integrating New Platforms

In other instances, an entirely new social media platform may start trending. In 2012, while working on the North American Destination Marketing Campaign (NADM) for Namibia, Pinterest emerged onto the social media scene. Solimar’s online marketing team recognized the captive audience that Pinterest was garnering, joined the network, and adapted their content calendar accordingly. Solimar had to quickly learn the ways people used the platform and then generate content aligned with what was trending. Specific content focusing on recipes and weddings, for example a board for “Weddings in Namibia”, were created.  By staying current and on top of trends, a completely new audience was reached. 

These are just a few examples of how Solimar keeps a close eye on changes in “social rules” and trends when running online destination and tourism marketing campaigns.  Being able to quickly shift to enhance clients’ performance is key to success. To achieve this, a campaign needs to be flexible. Flexibility may be reached through diversification, as seen in the USGCS example. If the USGCS online marketing campaign solely relied on the “Hidden Treasures” campaign, the entire project would have failed. Being current is also extremely important. The NADM’s campaign would not have been as successful had it not been adapted to the social environment and utilize Pinterest. In an environment that is constantly changing, effectively running an online marketing campaign that is both flexible and current will help ensure that your campaign reaches its objectives.

For more information on inbound marketing for the travel and tourism industry, download our free E-book. 

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Published in General
Tuesday, 06 January 2015 15:27

Solimar Wins Travel Trade Marketing Contract With The Namibia Tourism Board

Written by Annabel de Braganca

It is no secret: Solimar International loves Namibia! And we have been fortunate enough to work with clients in the country of ‘Endless Horizons’ for the past 4 years- including several collaborations with the Namibia Tourism Board (NTB). In 2015 Solimar will launch a new, specialized trade marketing program for the NTB, with the goal of introducing North American travel trade and media to Namibia via the coordination of familiarization trips (FAMs).

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Namibia Horizon at Sunset

Previously, we worked with the NTB on the Namibia Online Campaign (2011-2013) and North America Destination Marketing Campaign (NADM) (2010-2014). NADM's objective was to promote Namibia to North American travelers and ultimately, increase community based tourism and household income.  Solimar's activities specifically targeted travel trade, marketing Namibia to tour operators, travel agents and wholesalers, incentivizing them to add Namibia to their destination portfolios by providing various sales tools, campaigns, FAM trips and special events.

While still awaiting the final campaign numbers on North American tourist arrivals, the projects were successful, resulting in a significant increase in the number of committed partnerships with North American travel trade, an increase in travel trade trained on Namibia, and an important surge in the number of Namibia tours and packages added to North American tourism business’ portfolios. 

Solimar is excited to continue North American marketing for Namibia in 2015. We will collaborate with the NTB by organizing a series of FAM trips, intended to introduce members of the North American travel trade and media to Namibia.

Solimar will be involved with the FAMs from beginning to end - creating thematic itineraries that best exemplify Namibia’s cultural and natural experiences, reaching out to members of the trade and media, vetting and selecting the most qualified for participation, organizing air travel, and after the trip, working with the participants’ to help them market their new Namibia itineraries to their clients.

We are thrilled to continue working with the NTB and helping spread the word about one of favorite, and most unique destinations in the world.

If you are a member of the North American travel trade or media and are interested in learning more about Namibia, please feel free to contact: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Check out our website to learn more about the work Solimar International does for Travel Trade Marketing.

You can also find us on:

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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
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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Published in General
Friday, 12 June 2015 19:15

Cultural Tourism: Four Examples of How It Works for Destinations

Written by Solimar Staff

 

Moroccan Basket
Culture and Tourism

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.

Moroccan Artisan
Moroccan Craft

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. 

Ethiopian Weaving
Colorful Ethiopian Weaving

Namibia: From North America to Local Villages

Himba Girl

 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.

Colombian Park
Boat Ride in Colombia

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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Published in General
Wednesday, 17 June 2015 19:54

The Solimar Team Shares Their Favorite Cultural Tourism Moments

Written by Stephanie Westhelle

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:

Bhutan Solimar Team
Project Team in Bhutan
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.

Morocco handicrafts
Moroccan Handicrafts
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.

Rwanda Fam Trip
Cultural Tourism in Rwanda
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.

Swakopmund desert and sea
Credit: Brian McMorrow, aerial view of Swakopmund
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.

"Uganda
Uganda Handicrafts
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. 

Nicaragua lodge
From: Jose Ortiz Bracamonte
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. 

BONUS:

Tbilisi
Tbilisi
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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Published in General
Thursday, 04 February 2016 18:38

A New and Improved SAVE Travel Alliance Website is Live!

Written by Marisa Mansueto
Granada Nicaragua
Granada, Nicaragua

 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. 

Thingyan Festival in Bagan
Celebrating Thingyan in Bagan

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!

Edzna
Edzná, Campeche
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