The story of international tourism to Cuba is a complex one. From the pre-Revolution Tropicana Club and casino days to tourism's eradication under Castro, and now back again with predominantly Havana and all-inclusive resort promotions, the island's relationship to international tourism has constantly evolved. Cuba received more than three million international tourists in 2014, more than any other year in its history. This trend shows no sign of slowing down as arrivals for January 2015 outpaced January 2014 by 16%. Most of these tourists come from Canada and Europe, but as you might have heard, Cuba has another huge market entering the mix.
The smoothing of relations between the United States and Cuba nations may allow for a massive influx of American tourists in the near future, but for now this is uncertain. With the potential influx of tourists from the United States, will Cuba develop a sustainable tourism model a la Costa Rica, or will they choose to emulate the all-inclusive route so popular throughout the rest of the Caribbean?
Cuba has already developed a massive all-inclusive resort enclave, Varadero, on the northern coast a couple hours east of Havana. This 20-mile strand of beach is home to many joint ventures between the Cuban government and foreign companies, and only a small percentage of profits ever benefit the Cuban people. Massive all-inclusive resorts, although becoming more sustainability-focused, have a long history of being unsustainable. Profits depart destinations, environmental degradation occurs, and local traditions are shuttered or commoditized, leading to varying degrees of tourism imperialism.
Cuba has developed a few other all-inclusive resorts outside of Varadero, but an overwhelming majority of the island still lends itself to sustainable tourism development. By choosing to move forward with the sustainable tourism model instead of further developing mass all-inclusive resort tourism, four key benefits to Cuba arise:
1. Protection of natural areas:
Cuba has 263 protected natural areas that combine to make up over 20% its territory. Promoting ecotourism to these parts, while maintaining safe environmental limits, can funnel more money into the conservation and enhancement of these sites or encourage the designation of even more protected areas. Many travelers are seeking an experience beyond the typical sun, sea, and sand of mass tourism. A visit to Cuba's protected areas would create this opportunity while helping to develop the ever-elusive sense-of-place that destinations desire to create.
Costa Rica has used this sustainability-focused approach to become the ecotourism epicenter of Central America, if not the world. Sustainable ecotourism has become a dominant part of their destination image, and they have well-preserved resources that will sustain their tourism economy long into the future. Why couldn't Cuba become the king of Caribbean ecotourism? Cuba and Costa Rica have similar natural attractions including breathtaking mountains, extraordinary biodiversity, and pristine reefs and wetlands. No other Caribbean island has an array of natural assets to match Cuba.
Developing a sustainable tourism model brings an incentive to keep these areas protected long into the future. Solimar International has had success implementing sustainable solutions in a similar situation in the Dominican Republic, encouraging the protection of biodiversity through tourism with small and medium-sized businesses in the face of mass tourism resort development.
2. Preservation of cultural heritage:
In addition to amazing natural areas, Cuba has unique cultural tourism assets as well. UNESCO has designated an astounding seven sites on the island as cultural World Heritage Sites. Perhaps most importantly, these are spread throughout the island and only one is in Havana. Havana will never lack for tourists and distributing visitors throughout the rest of the country will be key to developing in a sustainable way. Linking these UNESCO sites and other cultural attractions together will encourage visitors to stay longer while creating a more authentic experience than all-inclusive resort travel. These outcomes fit the sustainable tourism model as profits would increase due to longer stays while spreading beyond the resorts and Havana.
The socialist history of Cuba is a tourism asset in and of itself. Even as Cuba eschews some of this philosophy, visitors will remain fascinated by the stories of Fidel, Ché, and the Revolution. Marketing these already-present Revolution-themed attractions instead of further promoting mass resort tourism builds upon Cuba's unique cultural assets without further degradation of the natural or cultural environment, a possible outcome of building more resorts. This way, Cuba can show their cultural heritage while further developing the authentic sense-of-place that encourages repeat visits and promotes a positive destination image.
Cultural tourism could become a more powerful force throughout the island and is by no means limited to socialist history or UNESCO-designated sites. Baseball, music, dance, art, culinary traditions, agriculture, and many other aspects contribute to the island's distinct cultural identity. By moving visitors and profits beyond the resorts and Havana, Cubans have more incentive to simply act naturally and be themselves instead of putting on tacky, commoditized representations of themselves at the all-inclusives. Solimar International has previously demonstrated how tourism can be a catalyst for protecting cultural heritage while increasing local revenue in Fez and Marrakech, Morocco.
3. Support for the Entrepreneurial Movement sweeping the Island
The combination of Cuba's natural and cultural assets can be integrated into an immensely marketable sustainable tourism arsenal. In theory, this sounds great, but what is the vehicle for achieving this goal? One option would be to facilitate the formation of private enterprise and entrepreneurial development, which has led to innovation, efficiency, and coordination in the tourism sector in other destinations. In recent years, the Cuban government has slowly integrated private enterprise into the economy. This has been undertaken largely to reduce dependence upon the government, which can no longer supply everyone with jobs or a livable wage, and to bring black market activities into the formal economy.
As private enterprise becomes more viable, competition will lead to innovation and increased efficiency in the tourism industry. The Cuban people, who are quite resilient and creative, have actually had to develop a sort of entrepreneurial spirit over the years to overcome economic hardships. In Cuba this concept is known as "resolver," which literally means "to resolve" and can be understood as something along the lines of "we'll figure it out," or "we'll do what we have to do." Deep neighborhood and family networks have evolved out of this process. These networks have come together to solve problems time and time again. Isn't that what entrepreneurs do?
Cuban citizens view tourism as an engine for enterprise creation, mainly in the forms of casas particulares (rooms available for tourists to rent in private homes), paladares (small, privately-owned restaurants) and transportation services. Patronizing these businesses undoubtedly leaves the impression of an authentic experience in the minds of travelers while simultaneously contributing to the well-being of local residents via increased income. However, categories of legal self-employment are still restricted in Cuba. For example, Cuban citizens cannot be self-employed as tour guides, although the government has shown a recent affinity for being more responsive than in the past. Further developing private enterprise in tourism disseminates the benefits of tourism beyond the top level, reduces leakage, and creates competition. Competition is vital to innovation and a constantly evolving tourism product.
Solimar International has experience in facilitating new sources of income for people via small, entrepreneurial tourism ventures, specifically in Mali. As Cubans transition from government-provided jobs, they will continue to see the tourism industry as a viable alternative. Solimar International's expertise in aiding small tourism businesses could prove to be valuable.
4. Improved well-being of Cuban citizens
As sustainable tourism catches on, Cubans will have access to more jobs and careers, higher earning potential, cross-cultural interaction, and new skills and training. A successful tourism industry with a healthy private sector component reduces dependence upon the government while empowering Cuban citizens to forge their own path. If Cuba can develop tourism similarly to the Costa Rican model, the results will be well-maintained natural areas and cultural sites which will provide jobs and careers well into the future. All of these developments contribute to improved financial security and overall well-being for Cuban citizens.
I see the potential for these four benefits to "spiral up" to create a sustainable tourism model in Cuba. If private enterprise flourishes, resident well-being increases, thus providing further incentive to protect natural and cultural heritage. Cuba has fantastic natural and cultural attractions, and once Cuban citizens gain more sovereignty in the business development process, the potential for innovative and sustainable tourism products is infinite. Of course the government will still be a key figure in this development, but it can help by enforcing environmental regulations and supporting programs to preserve cultural identity. Ideally, the public and private sectors work together to ensure that Cuba's tourism growth happens in a sustainable way.
During my studies at East Carolina University's M.S. Sustainable Tourism program, I worked with Dr. Carol Kline on my M.S. thesis and a subsequent publication in Tourism Management. My research examines the relationship between private enterprise and tourism development in Cuba. I traveled to Cuba as part of a research team to interview residents about these topics. Out of this process came a realization that this is a critical time in history for Cuba's tourism industry. The possible influx of U.S. tourists only adds to the importance and immediacy of the need for Cuba to choose a sustainable path of tourism development. These decisions will determine the long-term success of tourism on the island and who benefits. I joined Solimar International, one of the leading sustainable tourism development firms with the hope that combining my knowledge of Cuba with their experience can help Cuba follow the right path to development.
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.
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.
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!
Johnny Cay, a small Colombian island in the Caribbean, faces significant conservation challenges. Although the park is a protected area, currently no license system or code of conduct exists for the tour operators who bring tourists to Johnny Cay from nearby San Andres. This lack of a tourism management plan has led to negative environmental consequences on the island, which in turn jeopardizes the long-term sustainability of businesses operating in Johnny Cay Regional Park.
Solimar has recently completed a Sustainable Tourism Strategic Plan for the park. The plan supports conservation and business development in Johnny Cay Regional Park by identifying conservation threats, creating a plan to mitigate those threats, and implementing sustainable tourism best practices.
Principal conservation threats include environmental degradation, mainly pollution, both on the island and within the surrounding waters. The island is also losing its cultural identity and turning into a daytime party spot, leading to an abundance of alcohol consumption and diminishing authentic cultural interaction. Operations must become more conservation-focused if tourism businesses hope to use Johnny Cay Regional Park as part of their long-term business strategy.
The Sustainable Tourism Strategic Plan addresses conservation threats by employing five specific strategies over the course of three years:
1. Creation of a Sustainable Tourism Department within Coralina (The Organization for the Sustainable Development of the San Andres, Providencia, and Santa Catalina Archipelago).
This department will ensure that businesses comply with specific operational standards while operating within the park. The department will also develop training programs, implement environmental education programs, and act as a link between Coralina and tourism associations on the island.
2. Develop a Sustainable Tourism Certification Program within Johnny Cay Regional Park
This program will serve as a tool for setting operating standards and increasing sustainability awareness among local stakeholders. The program will provide best practices and codes of conduct for businesses and use the implementation of these practices as a filter to determine who can operate within the park. Businesses will be encouraged to gradually implement best practices and will receive recognition upon successful implementation. Businesses will also receive training related to different strategies for improving their product offerings. Ideally, this will serve as a pilot program for the region with possible extensions on the nearby islands of San Andres, Santa Catalina, and Providencia in the future.
3. Provide a Business Support Program for tourism businesses operating within the park
A relatively low standard of technical business knowledge emerged through the project's initial assessment process. This negatively impacted total revenues and product quality while poor marketing limited the ability for businesses to attract new clients. A business support program, run through Coralina, has been proposed to provide training in business planning, marketing, and monitoring and evaluation. A competition has also been proposed through which locals will develop their own business plans and compete for initial funding based on plan quality. Solimar launched a similar business plan and fundraising program with success on neighboring islands.
4. Develop a Communication Strategy to increase cooperation between tourism businesses and Coralina
Improving communication among local residents, tourists, businesses, Coralina, travel agents, and national tourism entities will be vital to the success of the sustainable tourism strategic plan. This communication strategy hopes to strengthen conservation efforts by ensuring that residents and visitors understand that Johnny Cay is a nationally-recognized regional park. The goal is to invoke a sense of pride within locals and operators to foster a culture of conservation. Additionally, the communication strategy aims to facilitate a smoother communication process between businesses and other entities while keeping businesses up-to-date on the implementation of the overall sustainable tourism strategic plan.
5. Develop a system for tourism businesses to pay a concession fee for operating within the park
The plan calls for this implementation to occur in year 3, after the above strategies have had time to take hold. Each business applying for a concession will have their tax calculated based on their financial projections. A maximum tariff will be established and businesses will have to comply with certain standards in order to apply. Very clear communication and successful implementation strategies 1-4 will be vital to establishing the concession system.
Johnny Cay faces serious conservation issues that threaten the long-term viability of its corresponding tourism economy. However, with the proper strategy and training, these negative consequences can be reversed.
The World Tourism Organisation tells us that cultural tourism accounts for 37% of global tourism, and furthermore affirms that it will continue to grow 15% each year. With all of this market interest, destinations should leverage what makes their societies unique and invest in developing cultural tourism programs.
What is Cultural Tourism?
Cultural tourism allows travelers to be immersed in local rituals and routines, taking away not only pretty photos but also shared memories of unique experiences. For destinations, it encourages local communities to embrace their culture and boosts economic growth. Developing culturally geared tourism programs encourages destinations to celebrate and promote what distinguishes their communities, and in doing so, provides the opportunity for authentic cultural exchange between locals and visitors.
Solimar has a long history of involvement in development projects that promote cultural tourism. Here’s a glimpse at four of them:
Morocco: Down the Road of Traditional Crafts
Before 2010, Morocco has a vibrant craft industry, yet artisans had insufficient opportunity for direct sales. Solimar collaborated with Aid to Artisans and the Moroccan Ministry of Crafts to facilitate direct linkages between artisans and tourists in Marrakech and Fez. This was achieved through establishing new or updating existing artisan and cultural heritage routes, and furnishing them with engaging creating marketing collateral. The team involved as many as 6,603 sale points and was successful in increasing artisan revenue. As a result of this project, crafts and tourism in the area are now more linked than ever before.
Ethiopia: Empowering Community Enterprises for Long-term Success
Ethiopia’s Bale Mountain area is lush and beautiful, and is the home of successful community-led tourism initiatives. In 2009 Solimar addressed the conservation and regulation problems in Ethiopia by affecting a sustainable tourism development project in partnership with the Frankfurt Zoological Society. The team created 7 community tourism enterprises as well as branding and marketing tools aimed at awareness-building among foreigners and locals alike. The local communities now leverage their cultural heritage, which includes expressive dances and crafts, in its tourism development. This offers them alternative livelihoods that in turn benefit environmental conservation.
Namibia: From North America to Local Villages
Namibia is a country of rich tourism potential that prior to 2010 had not been successful in fully captivating the North American travel market. Solimar launched a comprehensive trade-focused marketing campaign with the goal of increasing North American arrivals in Namibia over the course of 4 years. By fostering partnerships between Namibian and North American trade, and leading destinations awareness campaigns, this mission was successful.
Community-based tourism was a large component in promoting the country to the North American market. The campaign succeeded in increasing the number of tourists and routes visiting Namibia by 75% by 2013, exceeding expectations. This helped improve local employment opportunities and enhance cultural awareness among international visitors.
Colombia: More than Whales at Nuquí/Utría National Park
Nuquí/Utría National Park is famous for its prolific whale watching opportunities. However, it suffers from a lack of organizational and business capacity, as well as weak marketing outreach. In 2012, Solimar and its project partners tackled the challenge by creating a destination marketing alliance with four local community tourism enterprises, providing them capacity building trainings. The team developed and promoted new tour packages that incorporated cultural elements, such as visits to a typical Pacific Chocó village. The team liaised with the Colombian Ministries of Tourism and the Environment to feature the park as a model for sustainable tourism development in a protected area. Through this work, the team was successful in increasing the gross sales of each of these community tourism enterprises and the number of tourism products in this remote area.
Cultural tourism is economically advantageous for both destinations and the communities that reside in them. Solimar is dedicated to the development of cultural tourism that benefits destinations, communities and visitors. We hope to continue to be an active and positive support in promoting sustainable travel, protecting cultural heritage and improving the living standards of local communities around the world.
To learn more about cultural tourism, check out our Sustainable Tourism Enterprise Development Toolkit!
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This month, The Smithsonian Institution and The George Washington University (GWU) will host 'Culture Matters',a companion event to the upcoming DC-based Folklife Festival Solimar International's CEO Chris Seek has the honor of presenting as an expert panelist in the segment entitled Storytelling Places: Cultural Interpreters and Compelling Narratives. Chris will represent Solimar & share his experiences working to integrate communities into a destination's tourism value chain, and demonstrate how culture has a strong and positive impact on tourism for destinations and visitors alike
Collaboration between cultural heritage and international tourism has the potential to create impactful social and economic growth opportunities for a destination's local communities: capacity building, skills training, field guide training, product development and job creation. On the other side of it, by encountering a destination's compelling narratives, travelers come away with a deeper connection to the unique treasures that exist there, and most importantly a memorable, fulfilling travel experience.
Our clients are promoting cultural experiences to travelers from around the globe. We love seeing and hearing about visitors dancing with the Himba in Namibia, spending an afternoon with Bhutanese monks in the heights of the Himalayas, learning to fish Moken-style in the southern islands of Myanmar's Myeik Archipelago. These types of community-based tourism experiences are fun and foster cultural exchange while giving local economies a boost.
'Culture Matters' will harness the knowledge of its participants to discuss means for developing strong and lasting cultural tourism opportunities. Solimar is excited to participate in this symposium and panel discussion.
Thursday, June 25 2015
DC-based readers, sign up for the event here!
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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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With the tourism industry growing steadily, we became curious to see if cultural tourism is a key contributor. Over the past couple of weeks, we have found that an expanding number of travelers are more interested in cultural heritage and cultural activities when planning a trip now than ever before. Their search for cultural exposure brings them to off the beaten path destinations in search of authentic experiences. Today, more and more people seek to learn something new during their travels.
Numbers often tell stories by themselves, so let’s see how cultural tourism stacks up in the industry:
•International tourist arrivals reached 1.138 billion in 2014 - 4,000% higher than the 25 million annual tourists in the 1950s and 4.7% increased compares to 2013
•The travel industry contributed $7.6 trillion of world GDP in 2014, which equates to 9.8% of the total world GDP
•The tourism industry employed nearly 277 million people in 2014 and projected to increase to 356 million by 2025
•81% of the U.S. tourists are considered as ‘cultural tourists’
•Over one-third of U.S. tourists agree that specific arts, cultural or heritage events will influence their choice of destination
•Many travelers extend their stay in a destination because of cultural activities
These positive statistics indicate huge potential for cultural tourism to continue to thrive in the industry. Its upward tendency makes it a force, driving the industry forward.
Benefits of Cultural Tourism
Many destinations are famous for their cultural elements: Spain, Italy, France, and the United Kingdom. However, the benefit of cultural tourism is more recognizable in developing countries.
One of the examples is China, which is becoming a mecca for cultural tourism with its long and profound history. There are numerous historical encounters and human moments that should not be missed. And its long distance from source markets like North America and Europe is not a hindrance. In 2014, China received 3,846 million tourists. They brought in a total revenue of about ¥3,380 billion, a 14.7% increase compared with 2013. Travel industry contributes over 4% to the growth of the China’s GDP and greatly enhances employment and economic development.
The concern is how to promote cultural tourism sustainably, so it brings positive benefits to a destination instead of harm.The Global Sustainable Tourism Council’s criteria for destinations and travel trade addresses this and, replete with its own set of project indicators, offers destinations in development a measureable way to protect cultural heritage in parallel with the rising success of tourism.
Solimar & Cultural Tourism
Solimar deeply understands the value of cultural tourism. For more than a decade, we have been devoted to supporting small, developing and amazingly beautiful countries, exploring, enhancing and promoting their sometimes-overlooked cultural treasures. Our mission is to tell their stories and link them to curious & conscious visitors.
The power of cultural tourism is unlimited. We appreciate the fascinating plethora of cultures around the globe and believe it is possible to promote cultural tourism without exploiting local populations via sustainable tourism practices.
If you are interested in learning more about cultural tourism, check out our Tourism Destination Management – Achieving Sustainable and Competitive Results Toolkit!
The Smithsonian Folklife Festival is a celebration of cultural arts from exemplary destinations; destinations that are diverse, authentic, and home to living traditions—both old and new. This year's Festival highlights the cultural heritage of Peru - and to accompany the theme, Smithsonian created a symposium at the Freer Gallery of Art to emphasis the importance of culture for sustainable tourism development. The opening remarks from Richard Kurin, “Culture is what makes us human,” set the tone for the panelists to lead vibrant conversations regarding cultural conservation, intercultural communication, and the use of culture as an tourism asset for generating economic benefits.
Cultivating Cultural Industry
The first session focused on the tourism experience and how leaders of the industry can cultivate culture. Juan Luis Reus, Director of Peru Trade, Tourism and Investment Office in DC, spoke proudly of the rich cultural resources and their implications for Peru tourism. Immediately after, Nilda Callanuapa gave a vivid example of the work done at the Center for Traditional Textiles of Cusco: the objective of the center is to preserve the weaving traditions of the pre-Columbian Andes culture. In order for the weaving techniques to stay alive storytelling to engage tourists in the Andean ways and teachings at the Center is vital.
“When I first started the project, the skill was mostly left with the elders…now, the traditional weavings support over 600 workers at the Center.” -Callanuapa
Colvin English, whose ByHand Consulting Company helps artisans all over the world thrive in the tourism industry, gave some straightforward tips on how to run a successful cultural tourism project. “Respect the artisans, have lots of opportunities for interaction and purchase, and always keep your goal in mind.”
Panelists Rafael Varon Gabai, Halle Butvin and Stefania Abakerli added meaningful comments and concerns based on their experiences, including how sustainable tourism is limited by investments and policy support, and how it might be possible to factor culture into a multi-dimensional approach to reducing poverty.
The second session, moderated by Professor Don Hawkins, is how storytelling serves, promotes, and builds culture. Senior Geographer at the National Museum of the American Indian, Doug Herman reminded us that we are still drawing from past lessons to cultivate wisdom in the present world, and stories offer us the material to do just that.
Betty Belanus, curator at Smithsonian, showed a video testimonial of how the Folklife Festival acts as a platform for telling stories outside of a local setting. The audience had the opportunity to become enchanted by the story of Ana Rees, an Argentine descendant of Welsh immigrants who maintains her connection with the past by learning her ancestors' language and most imporantly- preparing Welsh tea and baked goods in Patagonia.
Thinc Design Founding Principal Tom Hennes recounted the experience of making the Jordan Museum exhibits more relevant to its own people by connecting history and present.
“It is not about archaeology. It is about people, and it is about Jordanian people. We are who we were…and now tourists has the chance to see Jordan through the eyes of locals.” -Hennes
Victoria Pope, Editor for Smithsonian Journeys, showed us a side of tenderness and sensitivity in providing an authentic narrative for a destination. Panelist Norie Quintos, Exective Editor for National Geographic Traveler, echoed her approach. As Norie said, the world for travelers is expanding. Not just geographically, but also in terms of cultural experience. Karen Ledwin from Smithsonian Travel stressed the role of guides in forging connections between locals and visitors, and putting the stories in place for the tourists.
Our CEO at Solimar, Chris Seek, took on a different perspective and warned against negative impacts brought on by unsustainable tourism practices. He urged for more active policy and market incentives to encourage sustainable tourism development, so that local communities can receive the respect and economic benefits they deserve.
The audience contributed to the discussion through lively Q&A sessions. A major concern was how we should manage changes made to the local economic, social and cultural system. Experts pointed out that culture is not static, but rather constantly evolving.
The symposium was informative for all and presenters and panelists aliked proved that making culture a focal point in sustainable tourism is not just important, it's also profitable.
The number of international tourism arrivals in Bhutan has steadily increased since the early 2000s but only 50,000 international tourists visited Bhutan in 2013. (RA Online Bhutan). This is a surprisingly low number given the country’s rich culture, picturesque landscapes, and location between the two largest countries in the world, India and China. The low number of arrivals is in part a result of the country’s policy of low impact-high value tourism, which caps the number of annual arrivals and sets a minimum daily spend for international tourists. This policy attracts a more valuable, high-end traveler than nearby Nepal, for instance, which is viewed as a more budget destination that attracts backpackers and adventurers. The low impact-high value tourism policy aligns with the commitment to cultural heritage preservation that underpins much of Bhutan’s public policy.
Bhutan has an ambitious program in place to index, monitor, and preserve culturally significant structures and monuments. In an effort to extend those protections to villages and cultural sites, the Ministry of Home and Cultural Affairs has drafted a piece of legislation called the Heritage Sites Bill. The bill, which will go before parliament in the fall, will create a process for designating nationally significant cultural sites and create a series of protections for these sites.
To support the implementation of the Heritage Sites Bill, the Ministry of Home and Cultural Affairs, Department of Conservation of Heritages Sites, in partnership with the World Bank, has contract Solimar to help develop a methodology for identifying and prioritize potential cultural sites, and for developing economic models that support villages that take on the Cultural Site designation. Our methodology for identifying and prioritizing potential cultural sites is includes:
• An analysis and mapping of existing geographic and demographic data from the Gross National Happiness Commission and other sources.
• A series of workshops with members of the Royal Government of Bhutan, private sector representatives from the country’s major industries, and leaders of development NGOs and conservation groups.
• A survey of the elected representatives of the country’s 5,000 villages, conducted via mobile phone.
As a result of this intervention, Solimar will provide recommendations for the criteria for selecting cultural sites for preservation, a prioritized list of potential cultural sites that meet those criteria, economic models to support newly designated cultural sites.
One of these economic development models will be tourism promotion to newly designated cultural sites, which will leverage tourism revenues to directly support cultural heritage preservation in traditional villages across the country.
To learn more about how tourism & conservation can work together, download our case study!
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.
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!