Supporting Global Development through Sustainable Tourism

Wednesday, 28 August 2013 00:00

Go Blue Central America Takes Off

Written by Super User

Solimar’s Go Blue Central America campaign is in full swing as team members work to increase revenue in local communities through sustainable tourism. Both destinations, Roatan, Honduras and Bocas del Toro, Panama, began a comprehensive marketing campaign through Go Blue back in December when Solimar launched the Go Blue Central America travel planning website. Local businesses created nomination pages that were submitted to the website for review before publication. During the summer of 2012, Geotourism Stewardship Councils (GSCs) were formed in both locations to manage the geotourism project, and under Solimar’s guidance, the GSCs reviewed and selected which nominations would be included on the website based on their qualifications as a sustainable business.

In May of this year, Solimar’s Lucia Prinz traveled to both Go Blue sites to conduct weeklong training sessions with the GSCs where there was also a review of their roles and responsibilities. The training was aimed at organizing and strengthening the councils. Topics included how council members can share their knowledge of “Best Practices” and “Codes of Conduct” by training the businesses participating in the Go Blue website, as well as prioritizing a business strategy that will generate funding to pay the yearly maintenance costs of the website and further promote the destination.

Back in Solimar’s home office, we've been working on the marketing program that focuses on building an online community surrounding the two Go Blue destinations, ultimately driving more visitors to the region and increasing revenue for local businesses. Our online marketing campaign has included an active Facebook page where we make posts weekly about the many things our member businesses have to offer, featuring an average of four businesses each week. We also created a blog that was launched at the end of July where we will post helpful travel tips and information about the destinations for potential visitors. Member businesses will also have access to a series of webinars offering instruction on online and other techniques of marketing that will be available this fall.

The GSCs are very excited about the push provided by the online marketing and educational tools their communities have been given and are now reaching out to local resources to fuel their own projects. The Bocas del Toro GSC has crated an alliance with a university in Panama. The university will send photographers to produce a photo book of Bocas and the profits from the sales will go to both the GSC and the university, allowing funds to be put towards further marketing and educational efforts.

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Thursday, 02 October 2014 19:51

Guidelines for Improving Tourism Operations

Written by Jeff Yerxa

A great business plan and strategy are important first steps in developing sustainable tourism in an area, but real results are a direct reflection of the operations and management on the ground. Take for example, Solimar’s work in the Pearl Cays region of Nicaragua or Big Bend-Rio Bravo, Mexico. Both of these projects, which started in 2012, required developing sustainable tourism strategies that empowered conservation efforts—among these, in both destinations, was protecting sea turtles.

baby sea turtle
Photo: US Fish and Wildlife Service Southeast Region Source: Flickr

But how does a destination go about implementing the strategy to ensure the protection of sea turtles?

The destination will develop operating guidelines or a ‘code of conduct’. These operating guidelines will build off regulations that may already exist in the protected area and incorporate further regulation with scientific input to mitigate the negative effects of tourism. It is also extremely important to successfully develop and promote these operating guidelines before a destination becomes popular. Operating guidelines will be more difficult to implement and much less effective if the destination is already a popular tourist spot.

Educate Visitors

One strategy to optimize the effectiveness of those operating guidelines is promoting them to your visitors. When visitors know the sustainable guidelines, they become empowered to make sound judgments and decisions when visiting the natural areas.

In the cases of Pearl Cays and Big Bend-Rio Bravo, the code of conduct addressed restrictions of flash photography, group size, waste management, and visitor behavior around the turtles. You can promote these operating guidelines through 4 main avenues:

Turtle Sign
  1. Guided Interpretation – Local guides are the most effective strategy in promoting your code of conduct, because they have a deep knowledge and appreciation for the destination. The effectiveness of guided interpretation relies heavily on educating and training the tour guide. In Pearl Cays and Big Bend-Rio Bravo, Solimar conducted a one-day guide and tourism training workshop to community members and provided a “Tourism Toolkit” for future trainings.
  2. Interpretive Signage – Because beaches where the sea turtles lay their eggs are typically unmanned and open, visual signs are essential to reaching visitors. Signs should be in all languages common in the area, and provide interesting information in addition to restrictions. 
  3. Signed Statements of Understanding – The code of conduct may also be presented to visitors on a document that requires them to review and sign, acknowledging their understanding of the code.
  4. Promotional Materials – Websites, brochures, and other promotional material are platforms to display your code of conduct as well. Displaying the code of conduct on these materials not only prepares visitors by exposing them to the code, but also appeals to potential eco-savvy clients.

Promoting the code to your visitors is only one possible avenue. Ideally, the promotion of your operating guidelines will take a multifaceted approach—promoting to visitors, through the travel industry, and through social media. How well you can promote these operating guidelines will directly impact how effectively you can reduce the negative impacts of tourism on species and habitats in a destination, and will be helpful when seeking sustainable tourism certifications.  

For more information on tourism management and operations, download our Tourism Destination Management Toolkit.

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Published in General
Tuesday, 07 October 2014 17:03

Best Practices in Integrating Sustainability in Tourism Management and Operations

Written by Carmela Otarra

The importance of sustainable tourism development is increasingly recognized throughout the sector. However, it has been a challenge for many organizations to integrate sustainability into tourism management and operations.

Geotourism-Gulf-States
US Gulf Coast States Geotourism website

Here are a few tips and examples on how to incorporate sustainability in your destination's tourism management and operations.

Involve Local Residents and Communities in Tourism Planning

Sustainable tourism development requires the participation of local residents and businesses at the planning stage. By consulting with local stakeholders, you gain their support and reduce conflict as the plan progresses.

In Solimar's Geotourism projects, which seek to highlight the unique culture and heritage of a region through the voices and stories of the people that live there, local residents are invited to nominate places of interest. This provides more economic benefits to local businesses especially those that are less known. The nominations are reviewed by a Stewardship Council, composed of representatives from the region, before being used to create an interactive website, a MapGuide, and a Smartphone app.

Uganda-Stakeholders
Solimar International and USAID in Uganda
Establish Partnerships with Different Stakeholders

Effective collaboration among different stakeholders from the government, tourism boards, businesses, and local communities is crucial to successful sustainable tourism management and operations. This facilitates a more balanced system of decision making as the priorities of various sectors are considered.

To assist Uganda in tourism development, Solimar actively involved stakeholders from each part of the tourism and conservation sectors. The cooperation among the stakeholders was important to enhance tourism products, build strong community enterprises, strengthen linkages among different attractions, and bolster the success of the program.



Develop Products Based on the Destination's Strengths

What are the local assets that your destination can highlight? Destination assessment should be conducted to identify the strengths of a destination and determine the best tourism products based on the findings.

In our destination assessment for the Sierra de la Gigante region, Solimar and RED Sustainable Travel identified potential conservation models that leverage the region's strengths in order to address conservation goals and provide economic opportunities for the local population.

Ethiopia-Strengthen-Local-Capacity-2
Solimar International in Ethiopia
Strengthen Local Capacity to Manage Tourism

Sustainable tourism management and operations need to equip local businesses with skills to succeed. Workforce development and training is therefore integral to a successful strategy.

To strengthen the capacity of the Ethiopia Sustainable Tourism Alliance (ESTA), Solimar conducted workshops and created materials to train personnel in using the necessary tools and activities to implement community tourism in Ethiopia.

Target High-Yield Market Segments

High visitor numbers aren't inherently valuable for your destination. In sustainable tourism management and operations, it is important to serve the proper target markets. Fortunately, there has been a growth in the number of travelers who demand more responsible travel and have higher visitor expenditure.

The Namibia North American Destination Marketing Campaign targeted travelers who would most appreciate the country’s strong conservation and special interest selling points. These include curious conservationists and experience seekers. This is why a destination assessment of strengths is so important—you must know what you are marketing and to whom.

Namibia-Target-Market
Namibia
Use Guidelines to Limit Impact

Creating guidelines is important in sustainable tourism management and operations. It not only helps the destination preserve its ecological value, but also helps businesses limit their negative environmental and socio-cultural impacts. Educating visitors and locals on best-practices matters.

Solimar is part of the Global Sustainable Tourism Criteria (GSTC) Initiative , which fosters increased understanding of sustainable tourism practices and promotes the adoption of universal sustainable tourism principles.





Have you used any of these tips at your organization? Are there others you would like to share? Your ideas and comments are welcome in the comment section below.

To learn more about becoming a more sustainable tourism enterprise, download the Sustainable Tourism Enterprise Development Tool Kit.

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Published in General
Wednesday, 11 February 2015 00:00

Three Natural Heritage Sites Our Grandkids May Never See

Written by Clinton Tedja

Natural heritage sites are changing in this ever-evolving world, and not for the better. Organizations like the PUP Global Heritage Consortium are working to revolutionize the way these sites are managed, with a holistic, adaptable approach. They are the ones working to ensure that our grandkids will get the chance to see these sites. But what are Natural Heritage Sites and what is happening to them? UNESCO defines them as “superlative natural phenomenon or areas of exceptional beauty and aesthetic importance.” They contain “the most important and significant natural habitats for in-situ conservation of biological diversity”. 

Unfortunately, many of these sites are facing extinction. 

For many of our grandkids, all that may be left of these wildly unique heritage sites will be a faded picture or a passed down story. Our grandkids may not get the chance to see the rare gorillas swinging in the trees, but only frozen in a museum. 

Read this list and memorize every detail to one day teach your grandkids on your rocking chair. Or, better yet, you can play your part in supporting conservation efforts and maybe then, you can take them there yourself.

 

1. Simien National Park, Ethiopia

Ethiopian Wolf Simien
Two Ethiopian Wolves
Gelada Baboon Simien
Gelada Baboons

Amongst awe-inspiring mountain peaks, cliffs and valleys live an array of rare animals as diverse and wonderful as the opening scene of The Lion King. Endangered animals such as the Walia Ibex (a wild goat found nowhere else in the world), a cat called the caracal, the Ethiopian wolf and the Gelada Baboon (both pictured above), are rare animals which call this place their home. But as the park is compromised by unsustainable agricultural grazing, human settlement and soil erosion, these animals are further endangered. 

A lack of effective tourism and conservation planning has meant that this park and its colorful inhabitants are in danger. Without such planning, human inhabitants will continue to graze the land for natural resources in an unsustainable way, putting pressure on wildlife and ultimately making the park more like the Lion King’s elephant graveyard than the circle of life. No more Hakuna Matatas. 

 

2. Virunga National Park, Democratic Republic of the Congo

Volcanoes Virunga National Park
Volcanoes of Virunga National Park
Virunga Mountain Gorilla
An Endangered Virunga Mountain Gorilla

Also home to endangered wildlife, the Virunga National Park is Africa’s oldest national park, with eight incredible volcanoes (two of which are the most active in Africa). The park once had the largest hippo population in the world, as well as a significant number of forest elephants.

However, it is the fight for the critically endangered mountain gorilla which has garnered significant media attention. Nearly half of the world’s 700 remaining mountain gorillas live in Virunga, but they are being hunted by poachers for meat or for sale. Many have even been senselessly murdered in the last decade. Since 1994, about 140 park rangers have been killed in their fight to protect the park from illegal poaching and land acquisition. This is no easy fight, but increasing media coverage and sustainable tourism development may just give this special animal a fair chance.

 

3. Los Katios National Park, Colombia

Collared Inca Hummingbird
The Collared Inca Hummingbird

Come to this site and you’ll find the fastest flowing river in the world, the Atrato River. You’ll also find yourself surrounded by varied landscapes, from forests, to floodplains, to low hills. This diversity extends also to the native fauna. Native species of mouse, grey-headed chachalaca, as well as 440 bird species and 550 species of vertebrae have been found in the park.

This diversity, however, is being threatened by illegal fishing, human settlement and deforestation. Trees are coming down all over the park as timber is illegally extracted. Anyone knows that without trees, a forest cannot be a forest and birds will have nowhere to rest their heads at night. Without adequate tourism and conservation planning, bedtime stories about forests will be like stories about distant planets.

We live in a unique moment in history where we have the ability to not only visit these sites, but to also try and preserve these sites for future generations with sustainable tourism development. Organizations like the PUP Consortium and UNESCO are leading the way in conservation and protection. The PUP consortium, in particular, offers adaptive training and reports for heritage sites, helping them thrive in an ever-changing environment.

The challenges are many, but if we make the right moves, these areas and their wildlife may survive. At the end of the day our grandkids will thank us. That is, in between texting on their iPhone v82 of course.

To learn more about tourism and conservation planning, visit our website or check out the work of the PUP Consortium.

You can also find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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Published in General
Wednesday, 01 April 2015 17:43

Why Washington DC Is The Perfect Place For US Marketing Representation

Written by Clinton Tedja
Lincoln Memorial Washington DC
The Lincoln Memorial

In this day and age, tourism’s growth is a force which simply cannot be ignored. This year, the tourism and travel industry will accelerate faster than the global economy, making up 10% of Global GDP and 9.5% of employment worldwide. It’s clear that the decisions affecting tourism will have tremendous impacts on lives everywhere.

Washington, D.C. is at the heart of this change - a vibrant world capital itself, it’s host to diplomatic envoys from all over the world. Seeped in the cultures of hundreds of nations, it is at the forefront of development and growth.

D.C. is home to world travelers, with over 400 international associations, 1,000 internationally owned companies and more than 180 embassies and international culture centers in the Greater Washington region. In all, D.C. is a prime city for introducing a destination to the North American travel market. 

Here are 7 reasons why Washington DC is the perfect place for US marketing representation:

 

1. DC is a Pedestal for International Relations

Washington is where decisions regarding tourism issues are decided upon and/or announced. Being close in a relational and geographical sense to the center of decision-making is integral, because just as in any other industry, knowledge is power. DC offers a world of exactly that, through the endless connections, meetings and conferences held there. For example, just last week, we found ourselves learning secrets about tourism’s future in Bhutan, from the mouth of the Bhutanese Prime Minister himself. This kind of information is priceless for tourism marketing representatives. 

 

2. Partnerships with DC Embassies are Invaluable

The fact of the matter is this: Embassies and US Tourism Marketing Representatives are like our left and right hands. Though they both possess different skills and abilities, they both work towards the same goal and work better together. So collaboration isn’t just smart, it is essential.

In many of our projects, having a close proximity to the plethora of embassies lining the DC streets has not only been convenient, it has been absolutely instrumental in ensuring streamlined and efficient communication. 

 

3. Endless Opportunities for Partnership

National Geographic, the various Smithsonian Institutes, as well as World Wildlife Fund (WWF) are among the many potential partners in DC who are outstanding partners for destinations. Tourism development (especially sustainable tourism development) are priorities for DC groups as well as destinations. If that’s not enough, DC is also home to great travel trade- tour operators and travel agents, essential parts of a compelling sales strategy.

 

4. It is an International Hub

In the past few years, Reagan National Airport and Dulles International Airport together have amassed over 40,000,000 passengers yearly, and are served by over 42 different airlines. Travel is a DC priority. In 2013, 6,988,903 international passengers arrived at Dulles International Airport.

 

5. Visas

Any North American tourism marketing representative knows the dread and fear caused by the word Visas. Having the Embassies at our fingertips can make all the difference in making things run smoothly, especially when time is tight.

 

6. Mutually Beneficial Public Relations

Little needs to be said about how effective partnering with the forces in DC can be when it comes to attaining stronger public relations and advertising. We’ve seen that when tourism marketing representatives and embassies agree on the image and message they want to present, they are able to work together to create far more effective public relations than they would be able to on their own.

 

7. High Level Officials Representing at Road Shows in DC

There’s no doubt that no other North American city has a larger concentration of high level officials than DC. Almost any global destination automatically has high level officials in the area by nature of diplomatic positioning; a DC-based marketing representative will be able to woo them to tourism events and activities promoting destinations, giving events more prestige and bigger opportunities for PR and marketing.

 

For more advice on marketing representation and sustainable tourism, feel free to try our “ask an expert” page.

And don’t forget to follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter!

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Published in General
Dominican Republic
Statue Gonzalo Fernandez de Oviedo

Tourism contributes significantly to the inflow of people and to the infrastructure development at cultural heritages. It is both a duty and an act of self-interest for the tourism industry to be invested in the conservation of these heritage sites. This cannot be handled by an external force; rather, the local stakeholders need to embrace the concept of sustainable tourism management using a “destination approach”.

Local destination management organizations (DMO) are usually in the best position to advocate holistic tourism development. They work to facilitate communication between different types of stakeholders, as well as to present commercial and community demands to policy-makers. For cultural heritage sites, without economic investment it can be difficult to maintain conservation of the site from internal and external pressures. For that same reason, destination management cannot effectively be carried out without the involvement of the local community. 

Chris Seek, Solimar CEO, explained the destination approach at the “Analysis of the Sustainable Cultural Tourism Situation in the Colonial City (Santo Domingo)” workshop July 8, which was co-hosted by Solimar, the Inter-American Development Bank, the Dominican Ministry of Tourism, and UNESCO. The workshop was the first of three to be carried out under Solimar’s consultancy for the Tourism Development Program – Colonial City, Santo Domingo (the program’s official name in Spanish is “Programa de Fomento al Turismo – Ciudad Colonial, Santo Domingo”).

“Analysis of the Sustainable Cultural Tourism Situation in the Colonial City (Santo Domingo)” workshop
Chris Seek speaking at the workshop

The ultimate goals of the consultancy are:

1. Enhanced understanding of the operational structure and understanding of the potential of a DMO by local managers and other stakeholders.

2. Active use by local asset managers and guides of the tools for development and implementation of a Sustainable Tourism Strategy.

3. Increased knowledge of local managers on structuring tourism management using a "destination" approach.

4. Integration of all the parties involved in the planning, development and management of sustainable tourism, using a destination approach for the conservation and empowerment of local communities.

5. Implementation of the proposed governance structure for the DMO, achieving interagency agreements and work commitments.

6. Design and implementation of mechanisms for the operation of the proposed governance structure.

7. Development of an Action Plan as a basis for the strategic implementation of the Sustainable Tourism Strategy and Strategy for the Development of a DMO.

These goals will be achieved in part by hosting three workshops in the Colonial City in order to:

  Conduct a thorough analysis of the current situation based on an analytical framework for sustainable tourism;

• Create a shared, strategic vision, mission, and priorities for a DMO for the Colonial City; and

Develop a comprehensive strategy for the management of sustainable tourism that unites all Colonial City stakeholders around a common vision.

Dominican Republic
Building in the Colonial City

To achieve the Colonial City’s conservation, economic and social objectives there first needs to be a shared vision. The Colonial City, the place where native, European and African cultures had their first encounter and left their combined marks, has suffered from natural disasters and most importantly, human impact. Land conversion, the development of underground transport, visitation facilities and tourism itself are taking a toll on the old city. Solimar and the Tourism Development Program – Colonial City, Santo Domingo have set out to address these challenges.

Solimar believes that a successful strategy is one that was developed by the people who will be implementing it. Upon completion of the analysis of the current situation and after achieving consensus on the vision for the Colonial City and the DMO, Solimar will work with local stakeholders to draft the Sustainable Tourism Strategy and Strategy for the Development of a DMO. The strategies will emphasize the promotion and protection of cultural assets in the destination management practices, as they are crucial in attracting higher-spending tourist segments and maximizing tourist contribution. 

Through appropriate destination management planning, development and implementation Solimar aims to minimize the possible negative impacts of tourism, improve economic and social development, and preserve cultural heritage sites so that they can share their tales for many more years to come.

To learn more about destination management, here's a useful toolkit:

 

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