Working in the tourism industry has opened our eyes to the overall diversity of times, customs, and traditions that are associated with welcoming the New Year around the world. For many in the United States, New Year’s Eve will be celebrated with friends and family over a bottle or two of bubbly, Chinese food, and some fireworks. In Greece, people will get ready for the New Year by hanging an onion on their doors (as a symbol of rebirth). To the Western Hemisphere and those who follow the Gregorian calendar this day of celebration and reflection is on January 1st. Many Eastern cultures however, typically celebrate the New Year in late January or early February (because they follow a lunisolar calendar). New Year’s is a unique holiday because it presents a dichotomy of emotion- a sober reflection of the year past alongside an optimistic celebration and hope for the year ahead.
Let us share with you some of the traditions from the places Solimar will be working in the New Year:
In October of this year Solimar started preparation to run a series of trainings for the Ministry of Culture and Tourism and five regional tourism bureaus in Ethiopia. The trainings are focused on building public sector capacity to leverage sustainable tourism potential in the country.
Ethiopians follow a variation of the Alexandrian calendar and celebrate New Year’s, which they call Enkutatash, in mid-September. New Year’s Eve celebrations in Ethiopia include live music, cultural events, religious gatherings, parties and beer drinking. New Year’s Day begins with church services followed by a family meal where small gifts are given to the children.
Solimar began working in Nepal earlier this year developing and renovating an online platform that promotes trade and trekking along the Great Himalayan Trail. Through identifying and supporting a new legal entity to take over development, expansion, and maintenance of the website Solimar hopes to spur international visitors to trek in Nepal.
Nepal follows a lunar calendar and therefore celebrates New Year’s Day on the first day of the waxing moon. New Year’s EveDay fall during the Swanti Festival—a five-day festival celebrating the central role of women in the household and wishing family members good fortune. Newars observe New Year’s Day by performing Mha Puja, a ritual to purify and empower the soul. Outdoor celebrations, such as pageants, rallies, and cultural processions, take place throughout the day.
Beginning in February and extending into the New Year, Solimar will be working with USAID’s Biz+ program aiming to improve the economic climate, increase employment, and generate higher household incomes in Sri Lanka. Solimar is working with small tourism enterprises in Sri Lanka helping them develop business plans and strategies as well as improving their business capacity through a number of services.
The Sinhalese people of Sri Lanka celebrate New Year, or Aluth Avurudda, on the 13th of April, which marks the end of the harvest season. Interestingly, the Sinhalese New Year does not begin at midnight the day before, but is determined by astrological calculations. The time between the old year and the new is usually 12 hours and 48 minutes and is referred to as the Nonagathe (auspicious time). Cultural rituals including cleaning the house and lighting an oil lamp, begin once the New Year arrives and are followed by a celebration of fireworks and street parties.
From everyone at Solimar International, Happy New Year!
2015 was an exciting year for Solimar International! The past twelve months have taken us around the globe--from tourism strategizing in Tanzania, marketing the Great Himalayan Trail in Nepal, training Ethiopian officials, to launching a new ecolodge in Nicaragua. Check out our recap of some of the amazing projects that kept us busy this past year.
Campeche, Mexico: In July 2015 we began a partnership with the SAVE Travel Alliance Team and Fundación Avanza to create a SAVE Center in Campeche, Mexico. This program will promote Scientific, Academic, Volunteer, and Educational tourism experiences in the Campeche region while enacting economic and cultural benefits for local organizations and businesses for years to come. The SAVE Center will provide a way for travelers to directly experience Campeche’s rich heritage and biodiversity and help spread the word on what the destination has to offer to international visitors. The project will run through April 2016 to increase the number of SAVE tourism attractions as well as Campeche’s ability to sustain its SAVE projects over time.
Tanzania: In early 2015, Solimar teamed up with Dalberg Global Development Advisors and the Government of Tanzania to develop a conservation-friendly tourism strategy for Southern Tanzania. The plan included a universal blueprint for tourism development in this vast, lesser-visited region of the country; as well as a focus on four key tourism anchors for the area, including Selous Game Reserve, one of the largest reserves in the world and the Ruaha National Park, which boasts the largest density of lions in Africa. The plan took approximately 6-months to complete, including extensive stakeholders consultation, and was approved by the government in July 2015. The strategy is now a cornerstone for a $60 million World Bank loan to develop tourism in the region.
Armenia:In September 2015, Solimar built on its collaboration with the Smithsonian Institute through the launch of a 4-year cultural heritage tourism program in Armenia. The goal of the program is to enhance the cultural heritage tourism experience in the country, especially outside of the capital, to increase awareness about the destination and improve the skills of local people to benefit from tourism and sustain their cultural heritage. Armenia is not well known in the international market, and if it is, the focus tends to be on the long Christian history of the country. Solimar will be working with the Smithsonian and local partners in 2016 to tell the more diverse story of the country, including its food, wine, traditions, crafts and history.
Geotourism Program: 2015 was a busy year for our Geotourism Program! In January, we launched our largest National Geographic partnership program ever to create a Geotourism Stewardship Council and Interactive MapGuide covering the Mississippi River corridor. In June, we completed and handed over the National Geographic co-branded interactive geotourism mapguide to the World Bank / IFC-led Geotourism Stewardship Council of Eastern Sri Lanka. In September, we launched a Geotourism project to create a Geotourism Stewardship Council and Interactive MapGuide for the Tequila region of Mexico. More to come and even more exciting destinations in 2016!
Bhutan: Solimar has partnered with the Royal Government of Bhutan to help improve its in-country growth and source economic opportunities for Bhutan’s poorest communities - while remaining culturally aware. Our work to date has included suggesting tourism and development improvements to help the country preserve its cultural and natural resources. Through next year we will continue to assist the government with recommendations for modifying its tourism policy, pinpointing the tourism potential in Bhutan’s traditional villages, and boosting sales in local villages by providing opportunities for travelers to directly connect with Bhutan’s goods and communities.
Ethiopia: Solimar teamed up with The George Washington University to contribute to the Ethiopian Sustainable Tourism Development Project. To assist the country realize its tourism potential, we developed and conducted a series of five training sessions for the Ministry of Culture and Tourism and a handful of regional tourism bureaus. Our short-term trainings centered around five major areas: an overview of the tourism sector and how Ethiopia compared to competing nations, destination and site development, tourism marketing and branding, tourism planning and implementation, and management and technical skills, ensuring that the tourism officials will thrive in the industry. Our results were spectacular: we successfully trained 198 government officials in Ethiopia that will in turn benefit the entire Ethiopian tourism industry!
Myanmar: In January 2015 we launched a 3 year North-American Marketing Representation contract with the Myanmar Tourism Federation (MTF). In April Solimar opened its doors in Washington, DC as the brand new MTF headquarters in the US/Canada! Now with an optimized website launching this month, we are excited to promote Myanmar to North American travel trade and assist the country in developing important trade partnerships to bolster its tourism economy.
Nepal: Along with Adam Smith International, we spent 2015 working on a project for the Nepal Market Development Program, ensuring the effective online promotion of trekking in Nepal. Our project focused on supporting the marketing and promotion of destinations lesser-known by international travelers, using the framework of the Great Himalaya Trail that stretches from one end of the Nepali Himalayas to the other. A vast number of locals depend on tourism to survive, and we believed that showcasing hidden, less physically intense trekking during the off-season would help create a consistent income for Nepal’s rural poor. Our marketing work included organizing a trip of Instagram influencers, creating a short promotional video, and co-hosting AdventureWeek.
Jamaica: In August, we partnered with Jamaica Tourism Board (JTB), the Jamaica Tourism Product Development Company (TPDCo) and Jamaica Social Investment Fund (JSIF) to create a brand identity and marketing strategy for the Jamaica’s community-based tourism businesses. We are focusing on promoting rural enterprises across the island comprised of farmers, craft producers, and others who have organized themselves to carry out business activities. We have successfully created a national brand for community tourism with enthusiastic feedback from our partners and clients as well as a national strategy and action plan for community tourism, and we hope our project brings awareness to Jamaica as a community tourism destination.
Pacaya Lodge, Nicaragua: Pacaya Lodge and Spa is an ecolodge at Laguna de Apoyo, Nicaragua, and we have been working hard to prepare branding and marketing support for its upcoming opening. The lodge is located near villages known for their artwork, and we’ve developed the idea of showcasing local artisan goods in the lodge and collaborating with surrounding communities to implement craft tours and demonstrations to visitors. To date, our achievements include the development of a sales and marketing strategy, the creation of an engaging branding strategy, the management of a full time onsite volunteer, and the training of sales and marketing staff members.
Verde Valley, Arizona: Our project with the National Geographic Society Maps Division has been in action since November 2014, and by January 2016 it will be complete. We have helped a handful of local suppliers increase the value and importance of the Verde River in Arizona as an essential economic asset. To preserve this valuable but threatened natural resource, we are implementing a sustainable destination program in the Verde Valley region. Tourism is one of Arizona’s largest industries, and it is vital that we aid in its continued growth. To date we have managed an abundance of tasks, including content creation and design for a new destination website! We hope to raise awareness of and celebrate the Verde River while engage the Verde Valley community in conservation and sustainable tourism development efforts.