In July 2013, the Rwanda Development Board (RDB), the managers of Rwanda’s parks and tourism assets, contracted Solimar to assess the feasibility of creating an independent organization to take on management of the country’s parks and tourism assets as well as create a business plan for the proposed entity.
RDB is a government organization with the mission to transform Rwanda into a dynamic global hub for business, investment, and innovation. As such their focus is on economic development across all sectors of Rwanda’s economy. The RDB recognized that they needed to take a new approach to management of the country’s parks and tourism assets outside of their existing structure and had formulated a concept to establish a new organization to achieve this goal.
After an initial assessment, Solimar spent several months conducting a feasibility analysis of RDB’s concept. During this phase, Solimar worked extensively with RDB staff and other stakeholders in the tourism and conservation sectors to tackle a series of questions and create a common understanding of the concept proposed by RDB.
The major questions included: what did RDB and local stakeholders want for the future of tourism and their national parks and how did they see it being sustainably managed and successful for both conservation and the national economy. Stakeholders involved included tourism industry leaders and conservation organizations.
These conversations and Solimar’s analysis eventually led to a proposition, that RDB would transfer management and operations of two of its three national parks (the third being already independently managed by African Parks Foundation) and tourism assets to an independent organization, ‘The Rwanda Parks and Ecotourism Trust,’ that would be owned by RDB but able to operate independently to manage the parks and tourism assets on behalf of the country.
The feasibility report was used as a template for RDB and other stakeholders to review and comment, and then for the creation of a business plan, which provided the rationale, strategy, financial projections, and an implementation plan for the creation of the new organization. The proposed ‘Rwandan Parks and Ecotourism Trust’ will, if approved by the Rwandan Cabinet, be set up as a corporation under RDB and aim to increase efficiency and returns while remaining a leader in conservation and high quality ecotourism.
We are happy to announce that the innovative business plan Solimar created with our Rwandan partners was approved by the Senior Management of RDB in September, 2014 and the recommendations in the report will be submitted to the Rwanda Cabinet for review and approval. If approved, Rwanda will establish a new and innovative model for park management, conservation and tourism in the region.
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Positive perceptions of the destination dramatically increase; commitments secured from high-value tour operators to double destination sales.
In December 2014, Solimar hosted a group of 11 tour operators and travel agents from East Africa and the United States to explore Rwanda first hand as part of a program with the Rwanda Development Board (RDB) to expand global awareness of the country’s diverse attraction, increase the number of available Rwanda itineraries, and boost the volume of Rwanda itineraries sold.
Rwanda is home to one of the world’s most incredible wildlife experiences – an intimate trek with the Virunga Mountain gorillas. Visitors from all over the world descend on the iconic Volcanoes National Park to be close to the stately, playful primates. For many companies based in East Africa that service local and international clientele, Rwanda is only sold as a two-day gorilla extension to longer safaris in Kenya and Tanzania. But Rwanda is so much more.
The international tour operators visited a diverse set of cultural and natural attractions. Rubavu, Musanze, Volcanoes National Park, and Nyungwe National Park. The program concluded with a networking session with local Rwandan tour operators, hoteliers, and tourism service providers in order to create new working business relationships.
The program proved a great success. Surveys taken by the trip participants before and after their time in Rwanda showed a significant shift in positive perceptions of the destination – including better understanding of how both nature and cultural attractions would be relevant to their clientele. As a result, every operator will now list itineraries of 5 days or more in 2015 – nearly doubling the average itinerary length offered by the group before the trip. Over 80% of participants stated that the trip will help them boost sales by at least 50%.
The RDB has set an ambitious goal of 10% increase in visitation year-over-year. The East African market is an essential component in meeting this target. The timing of this familiarization trip with the East African operators was strategic.
Despite a 6% growth in visitation last year, travel to Kenya and Tanzania have been flagging in the wake of global press about the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. According to National Geographic Tanzania’s hotels have reported a 30 percent drop in business while 2015 bookings have plummeted 50 percent.
Rwanda provides a salvation for many of the tour operators on the trip. The country’s perception as a safe, clean, and “undiscovered” destination provides a desirable sales alternative for travel companies that have heavily relied on safari bookings and Indian Ocean beach trips.
To learn how Solimar can help you plan and lead a familiarization trip to boost destination awareness and sales, click here.
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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