Last week, 700 international delegates from various sectors of the tourism industry gathered in Killarney, Ireland for the 2014 Adventure Travel World Summit (ATWS). The Summit aimed to promote Ireland as an adventure travel destination, connect hundreds of like-minded travel leaders from around the globe, foster peer-to-peer exchanges on best practices and operational strategies, and promote business development.
Two of our staff members, Natasha Martin and Gabe Seder, represented Solimar at the four-day summit. I spoke with Natasha, a seasoned veteran of the Summit, and Gabe, a newcomer, about their ATWS 2014 experiences in more detail.
The growth of adventure travel made ATWS a must-attend for Solimar. “When we did the first study in 2010, it was worth $89 billion, and now its nearly $250 billion – so more people are choosing adventurous holidays - which is great news for Solimar because we work, nearly exclusively, in adventure destinations,” said Natasha. “Adventure tourism is a great segment for emerging markets because adventure tourists don't care about developed infrastructure and fancy hotels– they want exceptional experiences.”
The Summit offered much more than just lectures and workshops. “Destinations compete to host world class events like ATWS because they create a unique opportunity to highlight the best of the destination to movers and shakers in all sectors of the tourism industry. Ireland made sure delegates got out of the conference center to go on a ‘Day of Adventure’—doing things like hiking, kayaking, climbing, etc. They also subsidize ‘pre-summit adventures’ for delegates to go on 3-4 day adventure tours around Ireland,” Gabe said. Therefore, said Natasha, “It’s a great networking opportunity as well as a chance to experience some adventure tourism.”
Natasha commented on the different experiences offered in this year’s host country, Ireland, and last year in Namibia, which she helped facilitate: “The Summit in Ireland was much different from that in Namibia -- but equally as exciting, fun, and inspirational. The ATTA and Ireland team did a great job of organizing a seamless event and they brought together a great diversity of delegates from around the world." And even as a newcomer, Gabe had a similar perspective on his first Summit experience this year, “This was my first time at ATWS. The bar for the event had been set really high because I've been hearing Natasha and other coworkers talk about the Summit for years, but it exceeded my expectations because everyone you meet is eager talk about their experience in adventure travel, discuss the industry, and learn about Solimar.”
A talk on conservation travel stood out to both Gabe and Natasha as particularly important for Solimar’s work,. “The session on Conservation Travel was particularly interesting - we discussed how tourism can be a type of insurance policy for conservation. In many types of tourism, visitors want to see wildlife, so it has an economic value,” said Natasha. “The ‘Conservation Travel’ session also spoke to Solimar's approach of creating a business case for conservation by demonstrating the quantifiable value of wildlife preservation for a destination,” commented Gabe. Other highlights: “The session on ‘Going Head-to-Head with your Digital Future’ included a Q-and-A with representatives from Google, Facebook, and TripAdvisor, who advised tour operators and destinations on how to leverage the expanding reach of these platforms to engage and convert audiences around the globe,” said Gabe. “Several sessions discussed ideas on how to raise awareness of this type of tourism- I think it’s something we can bring into our work at Solimar,” commented Natasha.
Overall, the Summit was a great success, for our Solimar representatives as well as the rest of the adventure travel community. Solimar is excited for #ATWS2015 in Chile!
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I met Lucia and Gabriel from Solimar and the Chocó Community Tourism Alliance during my first stay here in Medellín, Colombia, at the beginning of 2014. I was very interested in the goal of a community-based ecotourism project that would support local communities at the Pacific Coast, one of the poorest regions in Colombia. This is why I decided to apply for an internship with Solimar and luckily I was accepted. For logistical and practical reasons, particularly to better cooperate with Palenque Tours, a Medellín-based tour operator and commercial representative of the Alliance, I did my internship in Medellín.
I was responsible for marketing the destination Chocó, Colombia, and activating the Alliance brand “Visit Chocó.”
My work in Chocó
During my internship I was in charge of all the social media channels used, publishing interesting content and beautiful photos daily on Facebook, Google+ and Twitter, to attract tourists to visit Chocó. I also interacted with similar pages promoting community-based tourism in South America to get inspired by new ideas and topics, and retweeted or shared their posts. Moreover, I published a blog about Chocó twice a week in both English and Spanish on Visit Chocó. Additionally, I managed the Visit Chocó website content to optimize it for best search engines results and make it easier to find for agencies and visitors.
Another aspect of my work was to do trade outreach to North American tour operators since North American travelers have been defined as the target market of the Chocó Community Tourism Alliance. The proximity and relatively quick flight to Medellín makes it a great destination for North American travelers. Therefore, I followed an outreach strategy whereby I evaluated a database of hundreds of tourism agencies in the US and Canada, sent them informational introduction emails and followed up via phone calls with at least half of them.
On September 3rd, Solimar, together with Palenque Tours, hosted a webinar for the agencies who had expressed interest in Chocó to provide more details about the Alliance and how to include Alliance tours into their existing itineraries. There will be other webinars held on December 3rd for both North American and European agencies.
In the last few weeks, I started to reach out to a number of distribution channels- guidebooks as well as travel affinity groups. Palenque Tours will continue this outreach in the next months and years, as they were chosen as the official sales and marketing representative by the Alliance. For this purpose a Travel Trade Portal was created on the website, which includes sales and marketing kits in English, Spanish, and German. The sales kit includes: (1) a destination guide with detailed information on Chocó including its people, wildlife, etc.; (2) a fact sheet about the Alliance and community-based tourism; (3) a travel guide with useful tips to answer clients' questions; and (4) a detailed list of Visit Choco's products. The marketing kit provides our partners with royalty free marketing material for download including a blog post, 10 Facebook posts, and 10 twitter posts, which are uploaded monthly.
What I learned
Apart from these tasks I was in continuous communication with Palenque Tours and Solimar in Washington, D.C. I received training from them and exchanged ideas and updates about program activities. All in all, I learned a lot about online marketing during my e-internship with Solimar International. In fact, I decided to write my Bachelor’s thesis about community-based ecotourism presenting the Chocó Community Tourism Alliance as a case study. This experience was a great opportunity to get closer insight into the project.
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What is a Public Private Partnership and Why Is It Important?
In sustainable tourism development projects, there are inherently multiple goals in which an array of parties maintains interest. From tour operators to local governments and communities, these stakeholders all have expected outcomes for tourism development. In order to properly represent these interests and create mutually beneficial outcomes, public–private partnerships are essential to a great tourism strategy. The most important piece of this puzzle is maintaining strong relationships and a clear understanding of divergent yet symbiotic objectives.
Solimar maintains strong relationships with a wide range of actors in the tourism sector, which is vital to the negotiation of these partnerships. These partnerships leverage financial and technical expertise and promotional benefits from private and government partners in exchange for improvement in stakeholder relations, marketing, and improved product and service delivery. Increased sales revenue and jobs, improved visitor experiences, alternative incomes for local communities, decreased levels of conservation threats in areas of high biodiversity, diversified production and increased production for small farms, and overall improvement of sustainability of destinations have all been marked results of these arrangements.
Public–Private Partnerships in Solimar's Geotourism Programs
Solimar's Geotourism programs, in association with the National Geographic Society (NGS), are some of the most focused on public private partnerships. At the onset of each program, a destination Geotourism Stewardship Council is organized, made up of a variety of stakeholders, including communities, non profits, businesses, and governments representing the interests of the natural, cultural, scenic, and historic features of the destination. This group then works with Solimar and NGS to develop the regional tourism strategy, defining the vision, goals, timeline, and objectives of the project. The Stewardship Council also plays a key role in implementing the strategy by meeting regularly to generate local nominations, review the information and materials created, and utilize the products established to sustain and promote the destination.
Public–Private Partnerships in Conservation
Another area of tourism that benefits from strategic public–private partnerships is conservation. In areas of high and rare biodiversity, Solimar builds partnerships between a number of public and private stakeholders, including protected area authorities, government bodies, conservation NGOs, the local tourism private sector, and communities living around the area. Generally categorized as Protected Area Alliances, these groups, similar to the Geotourism Stewardship Councils, play a key role in the development of the tourism strategy as well as its implementation. The alliances continue after the initial implementation of the program, allowing the community to continue supporting and sustaining the protected area. Through these partnerships, multiple goals and interests can be achieved, such as increased protection for the environment, increased revenue for the tourism sector, and increased economic opportunities for the local governments and communities.
Public–private partnerships are essential to sustainable tourism development, as they allow stakeholders across the globe to participate in the development of tourism strategy, communicate and achieve their goals and interests, and successfully implement tourism programs, all while collaborating to achieve a common goal.
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.”
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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.
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