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.
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.
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.
To learn more about Solimar International, please visit our website.
There are a plethora of emerging destinations around the world that could benefit from the presence of a Destination Management Organization (DMO) to facilitate cohesive, strategic development of tourism products and marketing. Unfortunately, there is a gap in funding, knowledge, and physical capacity to bring DMOs into being in many of these locations. To support DMO development in emerging destinations, Solimar recently received a grant from Destination Marketing Association International to develop a toolkit entitled “How to Start a DMO” that will be aimed at community leaders looking to organize and consolidate private, public, and social sectors around the tourism industry under a new destination marketing and management organization. The toolkit will help tourism authorities to create or enhance an institution that meets the requirements for DMAI’s Destination Marketing Accreditation Program (DMAP). It will cover each of the DMAP’s core concepts: Governance and finance, human resources and technology, marketing, individual and group visitor services, sales and communications, membership, management and facilities, destination development and research, and stakeholder relationships.
The toolkit will take 6 months to produce, starting with research and discovery, followed by pilot testing in three locations where Solimar is already working on developing DMOs, and finishing with publication. We will be working closely with colleagues at The George Washington University International Institute for Tourism Studies (IITS) to research and test the content of the toolkit.
We look forward to this collaboration and contributing to the positive growth of emerging economies.
In the meantime, you can check out one of our current toolkits:
Positive perceptions of the destination dramatically increase; commitments secured from high-value tour operators to double destination sales.
In December 2014, Solimar hosted a group of 11 tour operators and travel agents from East Africa and the United States to explore Rwanda first hand as part of a program with the Rwanda Development Board (RDB) to expand global awareness of the country’s diverse attraction, increase the number of available Rwanda itineraries, and boost the volume of Rwanda itineraries sold.
Rwanda is home to one of the world’s most incredible wildlife experiences – an intimate trek with the Virunga Mountain gorillas. Visitors from all over the world descend on the iconic Volcanoes National Park to be close to the stately, playful primates. For many companies based in East Africa that service local and international clientele, Rwanda is only sold as a two-day gorilla extension to longer safaris in Kenya and Tanzania. But Rwanda is so much more.
The international tour operators visited a diverse set of cultural and natural attractions. Rubavu, Musanze, Volcanoes National Park, and Nyungwe National Park. The program concluded with a networking session with local Rwandan tour operators, hoteliers, and tourism service providers in order to create new working business relationships.
The program proved a great success. Surveys taken by the trip participants before and after their time in Rwanda showed a significant shift in positive perceptions of the destination – including better understanding of how both nature and cultural attractions would be relevant to their clientele. As a result, every operator will now list itineraries of 5 days or more in 2015 – nearly doubling the average itinerary length offered by the group before the trip. Over 80% of participants stated that the trip will help them boost sales by at least 50%.
The RDB has set an ambitious goal of 10% increase in visitation year-over-year. The East African market is an essential component in meeting this target. The timing of this familiarization trip with the East African operators was strategic.
Despite a 6% growth in visitation last year, travel to Kenya and Tanzania have been flagging in the wake of global press about the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. According to National Geographic Tanzania’s hotels have reported a 30 percent drop in business while 2015 bookings have plummeted 50 percent.
Rwanda provides a salvation for many of the tour operators on the trip. The country’s perception as a safe, clean, and “undiscovered” destination provides a desirable sales alternative for travel companies that have heavily relied on safari bookings and Indian Ocean beach trips.
To learn how Solimar can help you plan and lead a familiarization trip to boost destination awareness and sales, click here.
Solimar International has partnered with Via Via Tourism Academy, at the request of the Ministry of Information, to develop a five-year tourism development strategy for Malawi. From February 1-8, two workshops were conducted with over 100 individuals from the private, public, non-profit, and donor sectors to identify the country’s unique tourism assets and create a shared story of Malawi’s tourism future. Participants were very enthusiastic and the presentation was very well-received. The information presented at the workshops was based on a year’s worth of research and conversation with the local industry. Through facilitation, Solimar was able to lay the ground work for several initiatives like the creation of a new public-private partnership destination marketing organization and a network of regional tourism management committees.
The “Malawi 2020 Tourism Development Strategy” is currently being finalized. The plan will document Malawi’s vision forward based on the outcome of the workshops, and will include a brand profile and marketing strategy. Representatives from both the public and private sector will work together to implement the actions in "Malawi 2020” starting June 2015. In addition to working with the Destination Management Organization (DMO) and the local tourism committees, there are a number of issues, like handing the required infrastructure, education, and taxes, that will also start being addressed through ongoing cross-sectorial dialogue and ministerial task forces.
Solimar is very excited about this new relationship with Malawi and looks forward to helping it grow as one of Africa’s up-and-coming destinations. With its numerous wildlife reserves, unique varying landscapes, and friendly people, Malawi is sure to amaze its travelers. Workshop instructor, David Brown, describes Malawi’s charm and beauty,
“Visiting Malawi is always an uplifting experience. It’s called ‘the warm heart of Africa’ and that’s not just some empty advertising. Malawians are incredibly friendly and happy. You’re hard pressed to go anywhere without hearing laughter. The landscapes are immense but still humble. On the drive from Lilongwe, the capital, to Blantyre, the commercial hub, it’s easy to get lost in the big open spaces pierced with solitary mountains. Big plateaus full of zebra dominate areas in the North and the South and when you look around can feel like you’re surrounded by sky. Anyone coming to Malawi will surely be headed to the “inland ocean” of Lake Malawi which runs almost the entire length of the country. When you arrive and see the big blue expanse and the golden sand, you feel like you’re David Livingstone discovering something truly incredible for the first time. There’s something very tropical and peaceful about being there, especially when the sunset turns everything pink and the only thing you can see on the horizon are local fishermen bringing their boats to shore and the children splashing around.”
Interested in learning more about tourism destination management? Check out one of our toolkits.
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In this generation, social media is more important than ever, especially for tourism marketing. People are spending over four times more time on Facebook than Google - today there are about 1.3 billion people on Facebook. Is Facebook really useful for businesses? Let this number convince you - 52% of businesses have acquired customers through Facebook. That’s a lot of potential for the tourism industry.
Needless to say, social media can be your destination’s magic megaphone. But do you know how to use it well? Here are some questions to ask yourself as you endeavor to amplify your roar.
Are You Connecting With People? No, Really Connecting?
A billboard does not listen. People listen. This is where social media differs from traditional marketing- as you can (and should) be interacting with your audience directly. Ask questions. Make it interactive. Reply to comments.
Another exciting thing about social media marketing is the way in which even one individual’s Likes, Shares, Comments, Tweets, Friends, or Tags are able to increase your visibility, diverting more and more eyes to you.
Are You Developing the Right Content?
60% of the sales process is over before a prospective buyer ever talks to a salesman or begins the process. What does that mean? It means that almost every single visitor will make a majority of their decision through online research before anything else. You want to create content that supports them in that online research phase.
So be sure to evaluate your content. Have you thought about keywords? How is the quality of your images? Are you providing a diverse enough array of multimedia content? What are you offering and are you communicating it in an appealing way? These are important thoughts to take into consideration.
Are You On the Right Platform?
It is also important to know where to roar. Find out who your target audience is, and where they spend their time in the online world. They could be on Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, Tumblr, or maybe even all of the above. There is more to social media than Facebook and one of the best ways to amplify your roar is to increase your reach through these different, targeted social media platforms.
Are You Showcasing Personality?
Social media also offers you a unique opportunity to be human. Nobody wants to talk to a salesman who is constantly pitching; they want to build relationships with real people. The same principle applies when it comes to creating brand loyalty, trust and eventually sales. Don’t be afraid to show a little bit of humor and personality in your social media marketing strategy. Be relevant, not robotic. If visitors to your social media site are having fun, they will want to have fun at your actual physical site too.
What Does Your Unique Roar Sound Like?
Every destination, including yours, has something unique to offer. So there’s no need to spend all your time trying to imitate somebody else’s roar.
A destination assessment can go a long way in identifying your hidden gems and how to best conserve them. Many destinations have a diverse array of brilliant tourism products which have been overlooked. You want to be able to spot these with destination assessments and to also tailor social media marketing strategies to showcasing your best colors. Our projects in Rwanda, Namibia and the U.S. Gulf Coast, for example, have been integral in doing that: maximizing an active audience of followers, generating stunning branding content and increasing revenue by presenting destinations at the very peak of their potential.
With unlimited online space, the opportunities to multiply your untapped audience are limitless. Take the right steps with social media and you could have the loudest roar of all.
Feel free to learn about more innovative strategies through our free e-book, "Inbound Marketing for the Travel and Tourism Industry".
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It’s getting easier to communicate with travelers around the world, but destinations looking to target specific markets often turn to destination marketing representation firms.
A destination marketing representative (or “rep”) is your destination’s tourism ambassador within a certain region who can effectively reach local consumers, outbound operators, and local media – all in an effort to drive destinations sales and increase visitation. Marketing representatives come in all shapes and sizes, each with a different set of tactics and know-how.
Here are some key items to consider when trying to find the right representative for your destination:
1. Make an Informed Decision About Which Market You’ll Target
This seems obvious, but many tourism boards skip this step. Select a target country or region that has a large growth potential, is receptive to the your destination’s tourism offer, and is accessible enough for your destination to compete. Carefully weigh the market’s travel volume, your current market share, existing competitors in the market, the demographics and interests of your potential customers, and potential barriers for entry. For example, many destinations that we work with are overly eager to jump into China. They’re excited by the potential of a market of that size, but don’t fully weigh how the time and expense required to make a dent in that crowded marketplace could be used in other areas where there is already a demonstrable interest.
2. Understand What Success Looks Like and How They Measure It
Be clear about what kind of results you expect from this market. Are you looking just for an increase in visitor arrival number or to increase visitor arrivals among a valuable market segment like high-end group travel? Also, consider how your rep can provide intangible results like increased goodwill and increased market awareness. Think carefully about outcome-driven results such as number of new sales partners and number of articles published, rather than easy output activities like press releases or events attended. This will help ensure that your rep is not just busy but effective.
3. Examine Their Experience and Expertise
You want a destination marketing representative that can hit the ground running. This means experience working with the consumer base, travel trade and media outlets that will best service your target market. While years of experience is great, ask if the firm has worked with destinations that offer similar experience and attractions as your destination. This focus makes a representative more suited to understanding the obstacles you face, your destination’s advantages and the mindset of the market you’re trying to attract. Examine how connected the firm is to important industry networks and niche media platforms that will speak directly to your target market. Reading testimonials from their previous clients may give you a different perspective on their work and abilities.
4. Get Good Value for Your Money
Also, importantly, consider what kind of budgets the firm is used to working with. If you’re working with a limited budget – can they make big things happen for small amounts? Scrutinize what they exactly cover, and choose a package that has the best balance between the cost and the services that you need to reach your goals.
Typical representative activities include:
• Establishing a local office (phone line, answer inquiries, day-to-day duties)
• Developing marketing collateral (branding and positioning strategy, brochures, banners, fact sheets)
• Strengthening online presence (website, social media content kit, online ads)
• Establishing trade partnerships (list of tour operators and agents, sales calls, educational webinars, familiarization trips, follow-up surveys and interviews)
• Generating earned media coverage (list of publications and media contacts, media outreach, news updates, press kit, media clips)
• Participating in events (summits, trade shows, networking events)
5. Seek Out a Passion and Dedication
You are putting a lot of trust and resources into a firm. It’s important to feel that they will be the best possible ambassadors for your destination. What’s your first impression of the marketing representative? Do they appear to be easy to work with? Are they responsive? Are they passionate about tourism and your destination beyond any of your competitors? Do you share the same value as you do? After all, there is nothing better than working with a team that is as enthusiastic about your place as you.
A destination marketing representative is a powerful part of your destination marketing arsenal. Choose wisely and you could find yourself reaching new tourism heights.
So you have successfully selected a marketing representative for your unique destination. You have been working with them for a few months now, but how do you determine if the work they are doing for you is paying off? You want to ensure that they are marketing your location accurately and effectively. In order to evaluate your marketing rep’s performance, you must monitor them on a regular basis. Here’s how:
1. Determine the set of Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) you are looking for.
It is important for your organization to determine what KPIs, or metrics, you would like to measure, and eventually see improve. You want to ensure that these metrics span across all marketing activities, and reflect the success of your organization accurately. Keep in mind that this varies from organization to organization. Most companies typically utilize Return on Investment as a KPI. However, you must ensure that you are calculating the return accurately. Are you carefully estimating how much you’ve gained from your marketing investment? Does this include retaining your customer base, as well as gaining new customer revenue? ROI is an essential KPI to track. Here are some more KPIs your firm can utilize, to ensure that you are recording your marketing performance accurately:
- Number of hits to website
- Performance indicators on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. These sites typically have their own performance metric tools that are easily accessible.
- Number of clicks, click-through rates – found through tracking tools like Google Adwords. This is effective for tracking how well your marketing rep is working on your search engine optimization (SEO)
- Revenue gained by traditional media marketing and advertisements
- Number of inquiries you receive for tours/activities you offer
- Actual travel volume – how many visitors are coming and going from your locale on a weekly/monthly basis? How many visitors are you receiving from your selected target market?
2. Find your baseline.
In order to see if your marketing representative has made any improvement to the KPIs you found above, you need to measure where you stand before they begin (or once they start). Make sure to record what level each KPI is at before any marketing campaigns have started. This is so you have a baseline to compare future numbers to and you will be able to track visible improvement.
3. Conduct performance evaluations on a regular basis.
Now that you’ve determined the metrics you want to measure and have established a baseline, it is important to regularly measure these metrics periodically. A good idea is to see how you are doing on a monthly or quarterly basis. Evaluating performance on a regular basis allows you to determine what aspects of your marketing rep’s campaign are succeeding and which are underperforming – allowing you to re-strategize sooner.
4. Analyze the change in performance
While you may be tempted to fire your marketing rep as soon as you see a dip in your ROI, don’t be so quick to make that decision. It’s important to analyze why certain KPIs are underperforming. For example, even though travel volume may not have increased over a few months, you may be seeing greater visitors to your website, which could mean greater awareness of your destination and more visitors in person in the future. However, if you see a consistent lag in the performance of KPIs across the board, it’s probably time to have a discussion with your marketing representative about their strategy and whether they are the best fit for your organization. It may be time to look elsewhere.
It’s important to measure the success of any marketing campaign, whether you’ve been working with your marketing representative for years or you just hired a new one last week. Finding a marketing rep that fits well with your organization is key, but consistent performance monitoring ensures that the door to your destination is open to the travelers you need and ensures that your marketing efforts continue to lead you down the road to success.
Do you have specific questions about the metrics your organization is using to measure your marketing performance? Ask an expert!
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.
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.
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Last night, Solimar International had the pleasure of opening the Myanmar Tourism Federation’s (MTF) first North American Office in history. This was a momentous occasion for both Myanmar and Solimar International, with bright expectations and hopes paving the way for a thriving future in this country.
The turnout at the event was spectacular, with representatives from a wide variety of spheres coming together to celebrate the future of Myanmar Tourism. Special guests included Mr. U Kyi Thein Ko, MTF Secretary General and the Myanmar Ambassador’s daughter, Thwe Myo Tut, who were giving their warmest welcomes.
Among the lively crowd were also representatives from National Geographic, Smithsonian Institute, World Wildlife Fund, Destination Marketing Association International and various Non-Profits, as well as various tour operators, PR and media personnel, tourism consultants, George Washington tourism professors/students, interested travelers and industry leaders.
Several speeches were given by Solimar International CEO Chris Seek, Mr. U Kyi Thein Ko as well as Ms. Thwe Myo Tut, Dr. Don Hawkins and the Mandelay Tour Operator. These speeches spurred all to imagine the unmeasured depth of Myanmar’s beauty, its incredible diversity and hopeful potential in what sustainable tourism could bring to the people and local livelihoods - as well as the wealth of rich culture it could offer the world.
Attendees described their enthusiasm all round. “I’ve been to Thailand but now I want to go to Myanmar,” said Devon Sponheimer, from World Resources Institute and Japlanning, “This is a great event, it’s a lovely space.”
Todd Metrokin, from Ogilvy creative marketing, was impressed by the event and described it as “lively, cool, fun. Beautiful pictures and now I’m going to have be sucked in to go to Myanmar!”
These positive impressions are vital in these groundbreaking moments of Myanmar’s history - a country which was once closed to international tourism for over 60 years. As this nation opens its doors to tourism, there is no telling what could happen, with tourist arrivals multiplying at phenomenal speeds in the past few years.
This symbolic opening of the first North American Office is only a sign of things to come - and a sign of increased openings to this breathtaking country.
Solimar International is conducting a study on behalf of the Standing Committee for Economic and Commercial Cooperation (COMCEC) to analyze information and communication technology (ICT) tools used in tourism marketing by SMEs in member countries of the Organization for Islamic Cooperation (OIC).
As online marketing is considered a crucial tool for destinations and tourism businesses to use and reach and influence travelers, OIC member governments will use the study in creating policies to support such businesses, especially regarding improving Internet technology and online marketing practices.
COMCEC has been working to enhance economic and commercial cooperation among the OIC's 57 members and tourism represents a significant driving force for the socio-economic development of OIC member countries.
The performance of tourism SMEs can be greatly enhanced by the Internet as it offers businesses the potential to make information and booking facilities available to large numbers of tourists relatively inexpensively. Appropriate ICT tools can help improve tourism SMEs by enabling them to communicate faster with their customers and distribute their services more efficiently online. In addition, ICTs will also assume a more significant role for tourism SMEs as roughly 68% of hoteliers will shift their budgets from offline to online marketing services
Challenges to Overcome
However, not all tourism businesses have been able to utilize ICT efficiently as many SMEs lack the capital for purchasing hardware and software as well as having insufficient marketing and technology training and understanding.
Most of the OIC members are developing countries, thus representing a significant challenge for COMCEC and OIC as the ICT infrastructure is lacking.
Thus, in order to gather information about current ICT practices and position Solimar to provide recommendations on how to make tourism marketing practices more ICT-friendly, David Brown sent out surveys to hotels and tour operators in the 27 OIC member countries registered to the COMCEC Tourism Working Group for the project.
Titled Effective Marketing Strategies: ICT-based solutions for the OIC Member Countries, the report will also feature eight case studies from OIC members - three of which include visits to Mozambique, Oman and Malaysia - that illustrate successes by tourism SMEs or a country's policy implementation. Furthermore, a section addressing general challenges faced within all three OIC regions, along with recommendations to ensure best practice, will appear in the study.
Findings from the study will be presented at the 6th meeting of the COMCEC Tourism Working Group on September 3, 2015.
The document will include policy recommendations on how governments can improve the operating environment for tourism businesses. In addition, the study will feature approaches undertaken by tourism SMEs.
To obtain more information on Solimar's tourism marketing services, click here.
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