Supporting Global Development through Sustainable Tourism

Thursday, 12 December 2013 00:00

Destination Marketing in Africa's New Dawn

Written by Marine Langreney

When you think of your next water cooler conversation, you probably don't expect the words “I’m going on vacation to Rwanda” to come out of your mouth. This could be for a number of reasons; you may have seen the movie “Hotel Rwanda”, which portrayed the country’s 1994 genocide, or maybe you just can't imagine what there is to do in such a small African country. However, Rwanda has worked hard and come a long way in overcoming its difficult past. Now known as the "New African dawn", Rwanda is ready to show off its amazing tourism assets. 

In November, Solimar International was contracted by the Rwanda Development Board (RDB) to help market Rwanda to other East African Communities. Kenya and Tanzania are currently the front-runners when people think of visiting East Africa. Rwanda, being right next-door, has products and landscapes that differ from its neighbors and offers a unique and luxurious escape in the otherwise predictable sub-Saharan area. From lush, green mountains to safe and clean cities, this country is becoming a must-see destination in East Africa, and we are excited to help others discover its wonders!

Here are just a few reasons why this impressive country is earning its reputation for a being a captivating and diverse travel destination. While we can’t promise Don Cheadle will be waiting for you at the airport, we can say that you’ll have an adventure worth bragging about when you arrive back at that water cooler. 

Rwandan tourism is known for its monkey business. This landlocked "land of a thousand hills" is recognized for their abundant gorilla population, and is one of only three countries where you are able to see them in their natural habitat. These surprisingly non-aggressive animals are hosted in the Volcanoes National Park, where they are surrounded by a chain of seven volcanoes with the highest, Karisimbi, sitting at 14,764 feet. People from all over the world travel to Volcanoes National Park to trek up these lush mountains and see these majestic mammals up close. With volcanic ashes supplying fertility to these rain forest covered mountains, the landscape you get to witness on your trek is, in itself, enough to make you want to strap on your hiking boots and book your next flight.  

Once there, you will be taken care of by experienced guides who will help you on your adventure to the gorillas’ natural habitat. Your hesitation to take on this Tarzan-like adventure may be fueled by your concerns as to how well these creatures are being taken care of whilst being exposed to so many humans. To see the gorillas up close, you must purchase a gorilla permit in advance, which allows you one-on-one time with them for an hour. These permits are limited in the number handed out each day, to ensure that the gorillas get their respected alone time and to minimize exposure to human diseases. With gorilla permits seeming a bit pricey, you can rest assured that the money is returned to the aid in the conservation and protection of these animals and their environment. 

After trekking Volcanoes National Park, we understand that you may be worried about how much endurance you’ll have left. Rwanda is also home to a variety of leisure-based locations, which offer both tranquility and attention-grabbing qualities. At 4,790 feet above sea level, Lake Kivu lies in the Western Rift of the East African Rift Valley and is the highest lake in Africa. Offering awe-inspiring views of the mountains surrounding its sandy beaches, Lake Kivu is the perfect spot for you to unwind.

The fun doesn’t stop there. With Nyungwe forests’ canopy walks and chip trekking, you’ll want to get lost in this green dreamland. Featuring beautiful lakes and safari adventures is Akagera National Park, where marshes cover the landscape; you’ll never believe that a desert lies right over the border. Both these parks provide ample access to wildlife and outdoor activities such as hiking and mountain biking.

The best way to describe a trip to Rwanda would be to compare it to a kaleidoscope; a place that is swirling with culture, personality, and scenery. If you are looking for a destination to overwhelm your senses and allow you to travel alongside curious peers, you can find this and more in Rwanda. Whether you want to explore the well-maintained city of Kigali, walk amongst the gorillas, or just relax and enjoy the beaches of Lake Kivu, the possibilities are endless.

After experiencing these products firsthand (and falling in love!), we are thrilled to be helping others discover this amazing country for themselves. This is one stamp in your passport that will rouse jealousy from your coworkers as you describe your thrilling experiences visiting Rwanda.  

Published in General
Tuesday, 04 February 2014 00:00

Haiti: An Unexpected Destination

Written by Jennifer Park

Where would you guess this photograph was taken?

haiti beach
Photo courtesy Jenna Green via Haiti Tourism Inc.

What if I told you it was Haiti? That’s right, Haiti.

I bet your first thought of Haiti is not such a pleasant one, right? What immediately springs to mind is probably poverty and earthquake aftermath, among other negatives.

Haiti definitely has those things. But it also has many assets the international media fails to mention: white sand beaches such as the one in this photo, an incredibly unique history and present-day culture, and, in spite of the country’s hardships, a warm, hospitable, smiling populace.

As a country comprised largely of the descendants of African slaves but mixed with the indigenous Taino people and other Caribbean influences, Haiti’s cultural offerings are unmatched. It is the world’s only nation to have gained its independence through a slave revolt against its colonists.

Before the January 2010 earthquake, it seemed the country was on an upswing. Conde Nast Traveler featured Haiti as the centerpiece article of its September 2009 issue. But after one of the greatest natural disasters ever experienced on the Western Hemisphere, Haiti lost the traction it had gained in terms of its international image.

Solimar has an intimate connection to Haiti’s tourism development. In light of the positive direction Haiti seemed to be headed in in 2009, in December of that year we were hired as a subcontractor to a United States Agency for International Development (USAID) program to conduct a tourism assessment of the north of Haiti, particularly in relation to Royal Caribbean beginning to dock its new 9,000-passenger Oasis of the Seas ship there. We arrived in Port-au-Prince on January 12 and the earthquake occurred hours thereafter. I was seriously injured in the Hotel Montana and two members of our five-person team perished. Our assignment was postponed indefinitely at first, and a few months later that specific USAID program was canceled to funnel resources to recovery and reconstruction efforts. 

Partly due to losing colleagues there, but also because we honestly feel that there is solid potential for the development of tourism, as an organization we have been dedicated to trying to get back to work in Haiti since the earthquake. Most recently, we provided hotel marketing services for the Mont Joli and have shared ideas with the InterAmerican Development Bank’s tourism project in the North Department

Again, it would be remiss of me to say that Haiti doesn’t have its share of problems. But so do many other destinations. In regards to crime, you might be surprised to learn that in 2012, Haiti’s violent death rate of 6.9 people out of every 100,000 was among the lowest in the Americas and on par with that of Long Beach, California. In recent years, Haiti has increased the size of its National Police force by 50%. In August 2013, the U.S. Department of State downgraded its safety warning for travelers to Haiti.

But Haiti is doing its utmost to turn its image around. The young, social media-savvy Minister of Tourism launched a contest to reenergize Haiti’s brand, and just last week attended the International Tourism Trade Fair (Fitur) in Madrid. Budget Travel named Haiti a “to go” destination in its 2014 list, citing expanded flights from the U.S. and Canada and the launch of several new international hotels. Conde Nast Traveler is again featuring Haiti as its centerpiece article in its February 2014 Spanish edition. AirCaraibes and InterCaribbean Airways now offer flights between Port-au-Prince and the Dominican capital of Santo Domingo in the hopes of attracting more regional tourists.

haiti tourism
Photos courtesy Martine St-Victor.

 As a result of these efforts, independent travelers are starting to return to Haiti, lauding the country’s “range of experiences; from hiking and horseback-riding to the top of a historical monument surrounded [by] green sceneries that rival those found in Stowe, to secluded beach nooks where lunch is fished out in front of you. From dancing the night away like one would do on Collins Avenue, to getting lost in various epicurean experiences that even the Strip and its diversity can’t offer….” 

Philanthropic souls always want to know how they can help those who have fallen on hard times, which is admirable. In Haiti’s case, the best way might be visiting. Not only will you have a surprisingly wonderful experience, but you will be validating the nation’s economy and the spirit of the Haitian people, who are working hard to get themselves back on their own two feet.

For more information or to book your trip, contact Haiti Tourism Inc.

Published in General
Thursday, 27 February 2014 00:00

"Discover Rwanda" Social Media Campaign Reaches 850,000

Written by David Brown

Late last year, we began working with the Rwanda Development Board to help promote one of Africa's hottest destinations to potential travelers in the East African Community (EAC) - Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Burundi. The timing couldn't have been better: Rwanda appeared in some of the world's top travel publications as a must see destination in 2014, including National Geographic TravelerConde Nast Traveller, and Rough Guide.

Rwanda's most well-known attraction is their mountain gorillas. These iconic creatures gained world renowned in the Dian Fossey biopic Gorillas in the Mist and are front and center of just about every piece of Rwanda marketing collateral that's out there. But the country has so much more to offer, and our job as destination marketers is to help the Rwanda Development Board get the word out.

Our first social media campaign alongside the Rwanda team was aptly named "Discover Rwanda". It ran for three weeks in late December and featured a Facebook app that revealed one new amazing Rwanda travel experience a day as a countdown to the New Year - fifteen adventures in the "Land of 1000 Hills" and fifteen chances to win a free, all-inclusive trip to Rwanda. Prizes were sponsored by our partners at FCm Travel Solutions, Serena Hotels, and the Ruzizi Tented Camp located in Akagera National Park.

We also selectively used Facebook targeted advertising and boosted posts to increase the visibility of the contest and drive additional traffic directly to the fan-gated Facebook app. 

How'd We Do?

Total Impressions

Number of times a piece of campaign content was seen by the target audience

7.36 Million


Total Reach

Number of people who saw campaign content



People Engaged

Number of people who liked or shared campaign content



Facebook Followers

Number of additions to the Facebook community



Contest Entries

People that entered the contest




Why Facebook Campaigns?

Very few small and medium-sized destinations are working with monstrous marketing budgets these days. A Facebook campaign is a cost-efficient way to build and talk to a highly targeted audience. While our campaign was open to view for anyone, our proactive advertising was aimed just to users in the EAC countries that have already demonstrated through their posts and profile that they're interested in travel. We like to call these folks our "brand advocates" and we want to speak to them because they're the ones that want to hear what we have to say. We're also able to see - in real time - if they like what they're hearing. 

Traditional media campaigns are a lot more expensive and a lot less reliable. An advertisement in a magazine or a television spot is a one-off attempt to reach a broad audience. There is no follow-up and no way to reliably track its effectiveness. 

With our Facebook campaign, we can provide a clear incentive-based call-to-action ("Enter to Win a Trip") followed by an informational hook ("Click here to learn more") in multiple ways, multiple times. We can test and tweak the messaging throughout the campaign to better resonate with our target audiences. Once we've established a relationship with them, we can continue to place our messaging in their social stream. Each post couples more inspiration with more education - stunning photos and coloful stories alongside trip planning guides or tour opreator directories featuring seasonal deals. This composite effort is destination marketing with a clear purpose: SALES. 

Over the course of the next year, we'll keep trying to grow the Rwanda Tourism online community with brand advocates all while engaging, re-engaging, and re-re-engaging these fans of Rwanda - getting to know them better and giving them the kind of inspiration that they need to make Rwanda their next travel decision. 

Learn more about how to Market with a Purpose here. And stay tuned for more updates about our work in Rwanda.

Published in General
Wednesday, 05 March 2014 00:00

Promoting Community-Based Tourism in Colombia

Written by Gabriel Seder

On Colombia's Pacific coast, USAID is promoting environmental conservation through an innovative program called BIOREDD+ (Biodiversity- Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation).  The program provides funding and oversight for more than a dozen projects that share the objective of alleviating poverty in the region's Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities while protecting the region's natural resource base.

In October 2012, BIOREDD+ asked Solimar to conduct a tourism sector assessment along the coast to determine the feasibility of tourism as a driver of environmentally and economically sustainable development. We determined that the tourism sector has incredible potential based on its rich biological and cultural assets, but that growth is constrained by a lack of organizational and business capacity coupled with insufficient international marketing outreach.

Choco North

To address these challenges, Solimar recommended creating a formal relationship between key local service providers, and to use this relationship as a framework to deliver management training to regional service providers and to create a cohesive marketing strategy.

In November 2013, Solimar was asked to implement these recommendations.

Solimar began by forming the Choco Community Tourism Alliance, which represents four community tourism enterprises near Utria National Natural Park, on Colombia's Pacific coast about 100 miles south of Panama. The Alliance provides a forum for the communities to work collaboratively to share best practices and plan for long-term growth.

Choco Playa

In January, Solimar's Lucia Prinz began teaching Solimar's Operations and Management Training course to members of each of the four community tourism enterprises, as well as representatives of PNN Utria. By the time Lucia completes the training course at the end of the month, participants will have been trained in financial planning, accounting, communications, marketing, human resources, tour procedures and sustainability best practices.

About Choco

Last week, Solimar completed a comprehensive marketing strategy designed to promote the Alliance among target audiences in Colombia and abroad. The strategy addresses the challenge of marketing and selling in a destination with spotty electricity and no cellular coverage or Internet access by forming a partnership with Palenque Tours, a Medellin-based inbound tour operator. Palenque Tours, which will act as the Alliance's sales and marketing arm, has established contacts with the travel trade in source markets and a demonstrated commitment to developing community-based tourism products in Choco.

Solimar is currently developing a traveler-facing website to promote the destination and position the Alliance to sell packaged itineraries to the region. The website will soon be live at

In the coming months, Solimar will train the communities and Palenque Tours to implement and refine the Alliance's marketing strategy.  Solimar will lead the Alliance's marketing activities through the first half of this year, then transition into a support role as Palenque Tours and the Alliance itself take over promotional activities.

To learn more about about Solimar's destination managment solutions, click here. For more information about Solimar's solutions for promoting sustainable tourism around parks and protected areas, click here. You can download Solimar's Enterprise Development Toolkit here.


Published in General
Tuesday, 11 March 2014 00:00

Pop Culture in Tourism Marketing

Written by Katie Hardin

Destination marketing is a marathon. You spend months putting together an extensive marketing plan. Stakeholders are engaged, brands are developed, ads are prepared, content is finalized, etc. - and that’s before the real work of implementing the marketing plan even begins. 

As a destination marketer, it’s pretty easy to get so wrapped up in the big, shiny strategy that you forget to pay attention to the here and now. It’s an easy mistake to make, but it’s a big one! While you’re busy making plans for next year, you’re missing the conversation that’s happening right now. What are people currently saying about your destination? How are you using that in your marketing?

Destination marketers need to be prepared for anything at any time. Whether it’s taking advantage of a TV show reference or counteracting some negative press with self-deprecating humor, it’s important to engage before it’s too late. It’s destination marketing at a sprint, and it may just end up being your easiest, but most rewarding campaign.

Here are a few innovative campaigns that have done just that. By deftly playing the cards they were dealt (some good, others bad), these destinations took advantage of quips, perceptions and pop culture references and turned them into marketing gold.  


In August, during an episode of the popular TV show Breaking Bad, a reference was made to doing away with a character by “sending him to Belize.” It wasn’t the most flattering reference for the country, but that didn’t stop the Belize Tourism Board from using the line in a creative way. They immediately released a letter to the entire cast poking fun at the mention & inviting them for a relaxing visit after the season was over.

The timely and lighthearted response drew further attention to the destination. It was a smart way to quickly turn the conversation from a negative to a positive. The phrase “send him to Belize” continues to be used.



Americans love football. When quarterback Peyton Manning began yelling “Omaha” at the line of scrimmage earlier this year, everyone wanted to know “What’s up with Omaha?” That remains a mystery, but the city of Omaha is no longer a mystery. 

Instead of letting the conversation revolve only around football, Visit Omaha quickly reminded everyone that Omaha is an actual destination with a fantastic tweet that went viral.

It’s a small destination, but for a few weeks, everyone was talking about Omaha.

Sioux City

Now this is being dealt a bad hand. Years ago, Sioux City, Iowa’s small regional airport was given the 3-letter airport code, SUX. After years of trying to change the sad moniker, the city finally decided to just embrace it. “FLY SUX” became an official motto and even the website was renamed T-shirts were printed, coffee mugs were sold, and a billboard went up on I-29 advertising the airport and the town. 

As the airport commissioner put it, “It’s better to be memorable than to have three initials no one can really recall.” By embracing the quirky code, Sioux City has certainly become memorable.  



The Northern Ireland Tourist Board knows a good thing when they see it. In this case, it’s the TV series Game of Thrones, which has a huge cult following. The series is filmed in Ireland, and has become a central part of Ireland’s 2014 tourism campaign. There are already tour packages and driving tours established around the show’s various filming sites. We can’t wait to see what they will come up with next - we’re hoping a branded ad will follow! 


Since 2009, Visit Philly has been writing “letters” to all kinds of people, places & things. Signed, “With Love, Philadelphia XOXO” the entire campaign has been one of our favorites in recent memory. There have been several perfectly timed letters, but just one example is this snarky ad poking fun at the reality TV show “Jersey Shore.” It’s a great example of an adaptable campaign that can immediately respond to anything happening in pop culture.

 dear jersey shore-resized-600


And don’t think this only works for television references. Music can also be a great jumping off point for marketing material. You have probably heard the song Oklahoma from the musical of the same name. If you’re really lucky, you may have starred in this musical in high school. Either way, it’s probably the most recognizable thing associated with the state. This ad, which was released in 2013 and has over 2 million views on YouTube, took an old, familiar song and made it new again.


Published in General

Today, Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder announced plans to create the Original Americans Foundation in response to the controversy over the NFL team name. According to a letter written by Snyder to Redskins fans on Monday “The mission of the Original Americans Foundation is to provide meaningful and measurable resources that provide genuine opportunities for tribal communities”. 

As a life-long Redskins fan I am torn on this name issue. On one hand, as someone that lives and breathes burgundy and gold, the idea of changing the name of my beloved team is unthinkable. But on the other hand, I am very sensitive to the idea that this name is derogatory to our Native Americans. Normally, I would say that I would love the chance to be the owner of my favorite team, but this name controversy is something that I would hate to deal with or make a decision on.

I applaud Mr. Snyder’s move to create this Original Americans Foundation and invest in improving the well being of our Native Americans, but judging from the negative news stories that have covered the announcement, the foundation needs to do more then just distribute coats. This is why I strongly believe that Dan Snyder should use the Original Americans Foundation to create a genuine sense of pride and real economic benefits by helping tribes develop and promote cultural and heritage tourism on Native American land.

Using cultural and heritage tourism to support economic development is not a new idea for Native Americans. Several organizations that Solimar works with including AIANTABIANational Geographic Society, and George Washington University have been helping support the development of cultural and heritage tourism in Indian Country for decades. 

"Indian country is a unique part of the American experience. In today’s America, more than 56 million acres in the lower 48 states and more than 40 million acres in Alaska are considered “Indian country.” Native people also have ties to lands not currently under their management responsibility but which have been significant sacred places and landscapes since time immemorial. Notwithstanding their unique place in America, many tribal communities are looking to cultural and heritage tourism as an important component of economic development within their communities." - NATHPO's Tribal Tourism Toolkit 

Solimar works with indigenous communities around the world and here in the US to develop and promote sustainable tourism. We know first hand the power of tourism designed, developed, and managed by tribes themselves - unique, authentic, cultural, and nature-based tourism that create a sense of pride while providing real economic benefits. We know our Native Americans are capable and would like to provide these types of visitor experiences but unfortunately with a few exceptions, most tribes need a lot of help and support to develop this type of tourism.

This is the type of development support the Original Americans Foundation should be providing.  Not just because this type of financial support and technical expertise is needed, but more importantly because of the marketing reach the Redskins could provide to support these Native American cultural heritage tourism experiences.  

As a season ticket holder I would love for commercial breaks to feature breathtaking scenery and Native Americans inviting fans to come experience their land and discover their cultural heritage like this video produced by Montana's office of tourism. 

One of the biggest challenges for cultural heritage tourism is the lack of marketing and promotional budgets that help connect these experiences to the market. If the Redskins organization would open up their media empire to help showcase and celebrate our Native American communities, not only would we help create demand for these experiences, but each Redskin game would celebrate and showcase the cultural heritage of our Native Americans.  

This seems like a much more logical investment strategy to support the mission of this new Original American Foundation, but judging from the lack of investments in the free agency market to shore up our secondary, I guess we can’t always expect wise investments from this team. 

Regardless of what happens with the foundation, the name change, or the Redskins’ secondary, I will be there on opening day dressed in burgundy and gold routing for my team with the same passion as always. That’s what Redskins fans do – we hope, we believe, and we pray - at least for the first half of the season. #HTTR

Published in General
Thursday, 27 March 2014 00:00

Reaching Millennials- Tips from Music Festival Marketing

Written by Caitlin Green

It’s officially springtime, and that means the start of music festival season! Millennials across the globe are gearing up for their favorite events, whether they prefer EDM festivals like Tommorowland in Belgium, local music showcase festivals like Donauinselfest in Austria, or headline concerts like Lollapalooza’s offerings in Chicago.

As we’ve noted, destination marketing for millennials can be challenging, but ultimately this tech-savvy generation is willing and ready to travel to destinations that establish personal relationships with them, and music festivals are a great place to start. Marketers from all industries are turning their attention to music festivals, as through-the-roof ticket sales continue to rise. Brand sponsorships for music festivals, tours, and venues totaled $1.22 billion in 2012 and are projected to increase in the coming years. Connecting with millennials isn’t easy, but brands have a wide range of opportunities to engage with their target audiences at festivals. Crowds of attendees obviously mass around the entrance gates and stages, but successful brand activations, located throughout the festival grounds, are often just as popular as the beer tents!

According to Nielsen’s Music 360 report, 51% of consumers and 76% of festivalgoers feel more favorably towards brands that sponsor a tour or concert. Marketers attempt to capitalize on the powerful associative nature of music by becoming a memorable part of the festival experience through luring crowds into their air-conditioned tents, giving out free samples and souvenirs, hosting celebrity guests, or holding contests and sweepstakes.

Why Travel Brands Should Consider Music Festivals:

  • Thousands of millennials will be confined to the same area for two to eleven days- a captive audience for brand messages! 74% of music streamers prefer brands that engage them through music giveaways, sweepstakes, and sponsorships. Red Bull took advantage of this opportunity and created a music blog on its website to complement its festival sponsorships.
  • Festivalgoers most likely have some disposable income to spend on travel and experiences. Music festivals and concerts can be quite expensive, and many attendees even pay to travel to faraway events. The type of person who is likely to attend or travel to music festivals is likely to travel for other reasons as well and have the means to do so. 
  • Brands have the opportunity to present themselves as relevant to millennials. Marketers that can naturally integrate themselves into events can become cool by association with the music and festival. Of course, brands must be careful to choose brand messages that fit within the overall theme of the festival so that their activations are natural extensions of the spirit of the event.

Creative Music Festival Marketing Examples to Apply to the Travel Industry:

Social Network Interaction:

Lacoste offered free flower garland crowns in exchange for social media postings. While this the corporate equivalent of buying friends is no substitute for quality social media engagement with fans, it did succeed in generating buzz and brand impressions with Millennials. 


Gap partnered with a variety of music festivals and tailored their offerings according to the audience in attendance at each. At Sasquatch in Washington State, "Camp Gap" included a DIY cut-off shorts station, face painting, and a penny press machine to cater to the hippie, alternative, carefree crowd. They ran contests on Pinterest, Twitter, and their website to win free tickets and other prizes and encourage social media interaction with the brand. 


Pitchfork Music Festival created a free mobile app with a schedule, map, and other information and partnered with Rdio to provide a feaure that allowed attendees to take pictures at the event and attach songs to them. Festivalgoers could print their photos and receive a free trial of Rdio at the sponsor's tent. For apps to be successful, consumers need a compelling reason like this one to download and interact with the app. 

Experiential Marketing:  

PopChips created a "Rescue Hut" which was stocked with music festival necessities like cell phone chargers, games, and a prop fram for photos. Experiential marketing is about creating a personal connection between the consumer and the brand. PopChips' activation positioned the brand as a rejuvenating and essential product in a way that resonated with festival attendees. 

Product Placements:

Samsung's tent provided free henna tattoos. Festivalgoers could scroll through henna designs on Galaxy products while they waited in line. Samsung was able to offer a desirable service while simultaneously and quite naturally exposing its target audience to its product line. 

Our Favorite Global Music Festivals:

  1. Paleo (Switzerland): Despite its limited funding and all-volunteer staff, Paleo drew crowds of over 230,000 last year to see 200 acts on 6 stages. In addition to headliners and local acts, the event showcases a different region of the world each year. In 2013, Paleo featured food and music from Indian Ocean region. 
  2. Outlook Festival (Croatia): Outlook is an up-and-coming festival that takes place in a fortress in rural Croatia. Its sound systems and stages displaying hip-hop and electronic musicians are hidden throughout natural tunnels, abandoned ruins, and other unexpected sites. 
  3. Glastonbury (Glastonbury, England): If for nothing else but the expected muddy and wild music festival environment, Glastonbury is worthy of consideration for anyone's festival bucket list. 
  4. South by Southwest (Austin, TX): SXSW music festival runs concurrently with its film festival and interactive technology conferences to create a unique and vibrant atmosphere focused on up-and-coming talent. 
  5. Przystanek Woodstock (Poland): With an overarching theme of "Love, Friendship, and Music", Przystanek Woodstock emulates its namesake in its emphasis on rock music and inclusiveness. Entry is free for the crowds of over 550,000, as the Great Orchestra of Christmas Charity hosts the event as a thank-you to its volunteers. 
  6. Sweetlife (Columbia, MD): SweetGreen supports its mission of developing healthy, sustainable lifestyle options through sweetlife, their music and food festival dedicated to celebrating wholesome food and thoughful living. The event is carbon neutral, emphasizes composting and recycling, donates leftover food and swag to local shelters and food banks, and draws an incredible line-up. Lana del Rey and Foster the People will headline the 2014 festival. 
  7. Mawazine (Morocco): Although it drew over 2.5 million attendees last year, Mawazine remains almost unheard-of in the English-speaking world. The festival features mostly African artists from French-African countries, although international superstars also participate. The 2013 concert series was headlined by Rihanna. 
  8. Governor's Ball (New York City, NY): With on-site amenities like Luke's Lobster, Mexicue, and Cool Haus, this music festival has a decidedly upscale New York vibe. 
Published in General
Monday, 31 March 2014 00:00

Tourism Marketing with Instagram

Written by Katie Hardin

Instagram is nothing new - it’s long been one of our favorite social media platforms - but it still lags behind other tourism marketing tools. Don’t neglect this simple app that offers huge potential. Photos are a big part of travel marketing, and this humble app specializes in nothing else so there is no reason it shouldn’t be part of your tourism marketing plan. 

But where should you get started? Luckily, Instagram is a very straightforward platform. Here are a few tourism players who are doing great things on Instagram, and some quick lessons we can learn from their success. 

Highlight User-Generated Content

Why does Australia always make our lists of the best of the best? Because they are terrific tourism marketers. But don’t be fooled - you don’t have to have a huge budget like Australia to see results. In fact, Australia’s Instagram success does not come from employing hoards of photographers. Instead, Australia came up with an innovative way to crowd source their photos. Their entire social media strategy is aimed at enabling fans to build upon their platforms, like Instagram. They essentially turned their fans into marketers. Now, they receive 900 photo submissions each day and choose the best 4-5 photos to share with their 600,000+ Instagram followers. 


Pay Attention to Hashtags

If you feel a little overwhelmed, step back and focus on doing one thing really well. Instagram has a variety of common hashtags that encourage sharing among users. The most popular one, by far, is #tbt or #throwbackthursday where users post older photos on Thursday. Within the tourism world, nobody does #tbt better than Delta. In fact, most of their Instagram content is throwback photos from the earlier days of the airline. Your photos don’t have to be new and shiny. It can be a great marketing tool to reflect on the nostalgia of a different time – especially since so many people have vivid travel memories. It also inadvertently emphasizes the long tradition of your brand and highlights innovation over time.

Throwback Thursday isn’t the only hashtag around either. Read here for a list of other great daily hashtags, and don’t forget to pay attention to current trends. Specific hashtags pop up all the time to celebrate events, holidays, and other happenings. 


Don't Neglect Other Aspects of Your Brand

Yes, gorgeous travel photos are an easy sell on Instagram, but don’t neglect to highlight other aspects of your brand. Everything can’t be photos of sunsets or beaches! And those won’t necessarily help your brand or destination stand out in the crowd. Virgin America has found creative ways to highlight other aspects of the traveler experience. Their Instagram feed is full of passengers and cabin crew doing everything but taking themselves too seriously. Their photos help display the mood of the airline by emphasizing people and candid moments over scenery and posed shots. They always look like they are having fun, which is a huge feat for a company that deals in an area of travel most people consider to be a pain.

Virgin also runs some great contests, like this social media one from 2013. They offered 15 minutes of free in-flight wifi for Twitter, Instagram & Vine and encouraged passengers to use these social media platforms & a specific Virgin American hashtag to enter to win airline points. The easier you make it for users to interact with your social media (free wifi!), the more results you’ll see. 


Educate Your Audience 

Instagram isn’t just about gathering likes and follows. Like all social media platforms, the ultimate goal is to grow your audience and generate more customers. Sharing beautiful images is a great way to showcase your destination and inspire future visitors, but it’s also important to help nudge them down your sales funnel. You want them to go from aspiring traveler to actual traveler.

One way you can help this process is by focusing on educating your audiences with key pieces of information. This will also help set your destination apart. I know this is a huge need in tourism marketing because I had to look outside the travel world for a good example.


NASA’s Goddard Space Center does an outstanding job of marrying their breathtaking images with equally intriguing information. Each photo helps inform the viewer with interesting facts, tidbits and stories. You can do the same thing with your travel-minded audience. Rather than share a photo of a lake with only its name and location, mention a unique fact about it. Maybe it’s great for fishing or swimming. Maybe it hosts an annual festival. Maybe it’s a hidden gem that most visitors would be surprised to learn is easily accessed from a nearby hub city. 

You should still try to be concise, but by adding one extra sentence, you can help move your traveler from the dreaming to planning stage of travel.   



Published in General
Tuesday, 06 January 2015 17:55

From Three Hours to Three Days in Bethlehem (The Original One)

Written by Simon Jones

When I first told people that I was heading to Bethlehem to help develop a strategic plan to grow visitation from roughly half a day to multi-day visits, most people thought I was talking about Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. 

It was, in fact, the original Bethlehem in Palestine, but it was an easy mistake to make. If you Google “Bethlehem”, very little travel information can be found on the historic birthplace of Christ, but there are many results on the Pennsylvania town, as well as many other towns with the same name. 

Bethlehem town
The Town of Bethlehem from the Church of the Nativity and Manger Square

Our job is to work with tourism stakeholders in Bethlehem to develop a vision, action plan, and identify specific investment promotion opportunities for tourism that will help promote the region and extend the length of time people stay in the area from about half-a-day to two or three days. The longer people stay, the more they will spend and have a positive economic impact on the people of Bethlehem. 

Luckily we are not starting with a blank slate, at the present time visitors to the region focus on two main attractions: The Church of the Nativity, where it is said Christ was born, and Shepard’s Fields.  

Bethlehem Nativity
Grotto under the Church of the Nativity, marking the spot where Jesus is said to have been born
Bethlehem shepards fields
Shepard’s Fields

However, in addition to these important sites there is a lot more to see. Among the region’s major attractions are the UNESCO World Heritage site known as the ‘Land of Olives and Vines,’ a hiking trail through ancient Roman terraces; the desert Monastery of Ma Saba; and the ruins of King Herod’s Palace. The food is also a tasty mix of Mediterranean and Arab cuisine, the culture demonstrates the area’s long and varied history, and the people are among the most welcoming I’ve met. All in all, it is a destination well worth visiting for more than just a couple of hours. 

Bethlehem Land of olives and vines
Land of Olives and Vines – Battir Valley Hike
Bethlehem monastery of Ma saba
Desert Monastery of Ma Saba
Bethlehem Herods palace
Ruins of King Herod’s Summer Palace

To learn more about Solimar International, please visit our website.

Published in General
Wednesday, 07 January 2015 15:33

Solimar Begins Work With The Great Himalaya Trail In Nepal

Written by Natasha Martin

In late 2014, Solimar International began working with the Great Himalaya Trail (GHT) in Nepal.  The GHT is a network of trails that currently span across the Nepali Himalayas. The experiences offered along these trails are rough, but unforgettable. Trekkers are afforded spectacular views of the most breathtaking mountain range on earth, they have meaningful exchanges with Nepali people and push their own physical limits in some of the world's most challenging trails.  The GHT also seeks to promote responsible tourism in Nepal, and is used to unite the trekking industry around this concept.

Nepal is on the bucket list of most adventure travelers, specifically, the Everest Base Camp Trek, which is accessible but adventurous and provides a glimpse of one of the world's great natural wonders. As a result, most tourists to Nepal visit the same well trodden destinations. The GHT encourages tourists to get out and explore the rest of the mountain range, which stretches across the entire country.  

Nepal Peace Flags
Nepal Peace Flags

The GHT is currently being managed by the Samarth-Nepal Market Development Project, which is funded by DFID and contracted to Adam Smith International. They inherited this tourism product from a former DFID project and needed support from tourism experts to help transition the GHT to new management. 

Management of the GHT comprises several components, namely product development, marketing and trail management.

Solimar was initially asked to focus on GHT tourism branding, a destination assessment and identify an organization to take over the GHT website. During this contract period, our team traveled to Nepal and met with GHT stakeholders from associations, tour operators, guides and government organizations. We provided Samarth-NMDP with seven possible scenarios for moving forward. 

Mountain Peaks in Nepal
Mountain Peaks in Nepal

We were delighted to renew our contract with Adam Smith for 2015, and in the coming year Solimar will be working with GHT stakeholders to build a fresh website for the GHT, including compelling content for social channels and support the transition to a new management structure.  

The GHT has the opportunity to be a truly iconic product for Nepal: it provides both a base for activities and a unifying concept for the variety of attractions the destination has to offer. It exemplifies the concept of site doing, not site seeing. Solimar is looking forward to working with Samarth-NMDP in 2015 to help the GHT realize its full potential.

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