Supporting Global Development through Sustainable Tourism

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.



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.

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.

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.

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.

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.


Published in General
Wednesday, 22 October 2014 15:15

Myanmar Investment Outreach Forum with Don Hawkins

Written by Jeff Yerxa

On September 24th, Solimar International Chairman Don Hawkins was a panel speaker at the first Myanmar Investment Outreach Business & Investment Forum, held in New York City. The event, which was headed by Myanmar Minister at the President’s Office U Soe Thane, was organized to promote and encourage foreign direct investment in the Southeast Asian country, which is undergoing significant political and economic reform. The panel convened to discuss a myriad of topics across all sectors of the Myanmar economy.

 Don Hawkins
Photo Credit: Peninsula Press

Dr. Hawkins’ panel was asked about Myanmar’s tourism sector. After opening its doors in recent years for the first time in decades, Myanmar shows promise in becoming a major tourism destination. The Minister of Hotels and Tourism, Htay Aung, announced foreign tourist numbers have been steadily rising, up from 800,000 in 2011 to about 2 million in 2013. Such a surge in visitors has put a blatant strain on the industry, which suffers from a lack of development and infrastructure.

With such great potential, how can the sector become a pillar of the economy?

Dr. Hawkins emphasized investment. Myanmar’s international visitor arrivals are growing at about 46% a year, and in the first five months of 2014 tourism generated US$ 552 million. This figure is expected to easily surpass $1 billion by the end of the year. This is fast growing tax base which should be used to finance investment in health, education, and infrastructure, Dr. Hawkins explained.

Another important aspect Don pointed out was the industry’s high labor intensity. The tourism sector is forecasted to create over 1 million new jobs in Myanmar by 2020. The sector’s growth is poised for success, Dr. Hawkins explained, because of its foundation. The Ministry of Hotels and Tourism is one of the few ministries to have prepared a sector master plan, which lays out strategies and actions focusing on poverty alleviation, community involvement, environmental protection and good governance.

How does the country implement sustainable tourism, retaining the profits while adding value for the international players involved?

In addressing the development of sustainable tourism, Dr. Hawkins was keen to call attention to the Smithsonian Institution’s involvement in Myanmar. The Smithsonian Institution has joined the Ministry of Environmental Conservation & Forestry (MOECAF), UNDP, and Green Economy Green Growth Myanmar (GEGG) to organize a stakeholders workshop—“Building the Foundation for Natural Resources Stewardship for Sustainable, Inclusive and Equitable Development: Towards a Ten-year Strategy Framework (2015-2025)”. This workshop, which brought together Myanmar environmental NGOs and international NGOs, aims to develop a national plan for natural resource management and begin a targeted program for expanding and managing protected land and seascapes. This workshop is just one of many that are being held with regional and international stakeholders in the pursuit of sustainable development.

Over 350 people participated in the Myanmar Investment Forum, almost 150 more than expected. Such turn out reflects the promise and buzz around Myanmar’s potential.  Phyo Wai Yar Zar, chairman of the Myanmar Tourism Marketing and joint secretary of the Myanmar Tourism Federation, recently announced the possibility of a “Visit Myanmar” promotion year in 2016. The tourism sector is growing rapidly and shows no signs of slowing down. Sustainable development of the sector will be of utmost importance moving forward to ensure continued success.

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


Published in General
Friday, 21 November 2014 15:53

How Sustainable Tourism Development Protects the Wilderness

Written by Jeff Yerxa

Sustainable tourism, when done well, celebrates cultures, alleviates poverty, empowers women, enhances education, creates jobs, improves the wellbeing of local communities, and conserves natural resources. This is a cornerstone of Solimar International’s work.  Understanding these transformative effects is mostly intuitive. For example, sustainable tourism development often showcases local culture and employs local people in doing so—this alleviates poverty and increases the wellbeing of the community, which in turn creates revenue that can be reinvested in education. The association between sustainable tourism development and conservation, however, is indirect and less intuitive. Many people associate any form of development with a bulldozer. So how can sustainable tourism development actually conserve natural resources? The answer involves a bit of economics so hold on tight.

Photo: Jamie In Bytown Source: Flickr

The Economics Behind Sustainable Tourism Development and Conservation

Let us envision a fictitious (and yes, impossible) tropical rainforest in the middle of the United States. A thriving sustainable tourism industry has developed around this rainforest, attracting thousands of people from all over the world. Then reports come out indicating the high probability of a large oil deposit under the jungle. The government begins plans to develop an oil field, but before doing so conducts a cost-benefit analysis. In this situation, the government is a benevolent social planner, therefore accepting or rejecting the project is determined by the equations below; where Bp is Private Benefit, Cp is Private Cost, and Cs is Social Cost.

BP – (CP+CS) > 0 è Accept the Project

BP – (CP+CS) < 0 èReject the Project

The private benefits and costs for the owner of the project (the government in this case) are simply calculated using projections of sales, prices, costs and so on. The social cost, however, is much more difficult to calculate. This is because it is extremely difficult to quantify the indirect benefits of a jungle. A large benefit of a rainforest is the ecological services it provides—crop pollination (bee habitat), maintenance of soil quality, carbon sequestration, conserving biodiversity, providing habitat, etc. New technology and methods to capture these indirect benefits are continually emerging. NASA recently launched a satellite equipped to map the earth’s forests in 3D. These new maps will allow scientists to better estimate the amount of carbon stored in trees and monitor forest degradation.

Again, these ecological services are indirect values. Given there is an established tourism industry that relies on the jungle as an attraction there are also direct values. How much revenue is being generated from the tourism industry? How many jobs? These values can easily be accounted for and calculated into the social cost. Developing sustainable tourism therefore increases the social cost which increases the likelihood of the oil project being rejected and protects the jungle from deforestation.

Real World Examples

Many of the projects that Solimar is involved with aim to develop sustainable tourism around national parks. Take for example, Solimar’s role in developing an eco-lodge to Bale Mountains National Park in Ethiopia. Solimar spent the first months of this project conducting extensive market research and visits to numerous Ethiopian destinations to determine which was most promising for eco-lodge investment. The clear winner was an area outside Bale Mountains National Park because of its pristine natural beauty and relatively low tourism numbers. Building an eco-lodge here taps into the region’s potential. As a result of this project, tourism in and exposure to the Bale Mountains National Park increased, which raised its economic value (social cost) too.

Photo:Ron Knight Source: Flickr

 In other projects, Solimar has worked with established sustainable tourism destinations to help promote and market them to the world. An example of this is our Nambia NADM campaign, where we pushed forward an innovative marketing campaign focused on increasing both arrivals from the North American market and the number of North American travel trade that offer tours and packages to Namibia. Again, effective marketing of Namibia as an ecological wonder has increased visitation to the country and in turn brought economic value to the land. Today, over 43% of Namibia’s surface area is under conservation management.

To learn more about the interesting dynamic between tourism and conservation download our free toolkit




Published in General
Tuesday, 25 November 2014 15:58

Environmental Indicators in Measuring Tourism Impacts

Written by Carmela Otarra

The task of measuring tourism impacts is often conducted by identifying certain economic indicators, such as the contribution to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) or the overall employment, and measuring their base before tourism, after a tourism project begins, and monitoring them as the project progresses. Here is an example infographic from the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC):

Namibia Infographic
Source: WTTC

With sustainable tourism development, we aim to manage the consequences of tourism in such a way to maintain a balance between its economic, environmental, and socio-cultural impacts. Therefore, it is important to identify environmental and socio-cultural indicators to measure as well.

Solimar has compiled a list of possible indicators that you can use in evaluating and measuring tourism impacts particularly environmental ones. Although this list is not comprehensive, these indicators are the most commonly used and can guide you in your initial tourism planning.

Effect on Air, Water, and Soil Quality

Environmental Indicators Tourism Impacts 1

Tourism relies heavily on natural resources, so its impact on the environment is crucial when measuring tourism impacts. Ideally, tourism should be able to improve the quality of air, water, and soil in a destination. Some example questions to consider when measuring this indicator:

  • Has tourism been able to maintain the quality of water in the destination?
  • In places that promote pristine and endless strips of beaches, how clear is the water from coliform bacteria contamination?
  • Is there sufficient drinking water for the communities in the destination?

Sometimes, tourism businesses use up most of the water in a local area because of the needs of the tourists, such as providing showers in hotels. This transfers resources from the locals to the tourists and sustainable tourism developers should be wary of this.

Effect on Conservation Goals

Environmental Indicators Tourism Impacts 2

At Solimar, we believe that tourism should be able to enhance and improve the conservation efforts in a destination. When measuring tourism impacts on conservation, use these guide questions to help you:

  • Is tourism helping in protecting wildlife and other environmental resources?
  • Has the number of endangered species increased or decreased?
  • Does tourism support forest regeneration and marine conservation?

Effect on Waste

Many tourist establishments generate a relatively higher volume of waste compared to the locals' waste. Well-implemented waste management strategies are crucial to prevent negative impacts on the environment such as high levels of dangerous bacteria. Consider:

  • How much solid waste is generated by tourism?
  • Is there a proper waste management system to prevent negative environmental impacts?
  • What is the ratio of the tourism establishments waste compared to the locals?
Environmental Indicators Tourism Impacts 3

Measuring tourism impacts using these environmental indicators is helpful in sustainable tourism planning as a guide in designing strategies to achieve the positive side of these indicators. Of course, your indicators will need to be customized to your destination.

Solimar has a thorough understanding of the indicator measurement practices and worked with various clients including the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), and the World Bank. If you would like to learn more about how we can help you in this regard, ask one of our experts.


Published in General
Wednesday, 03 December 2014 14:04

Why Do We Need Public–Private Partnerships in Sustainable Tourism?

Written by Liz Heimann

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.

Photo: finchlake2000 Source:Flickr

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.


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, 15 April 2015 15:36

Bhutan For Life - The Challenges and Opportunities of Ecotourism in Bhutan

Written by Clinton Tedja
Bhutan Prayer Flags
Photo by RadioFreeBarton, via Flickr

Bhutan is a land renowned for its pristine landscapes, diverse wildlife and its unswerving commitment to biodiversity conservation and cultural preservation. As Bhutan Prime Minister Tshering Tsobay came through Washington DC in March, he spoke on the history, the present situation, and what lies ahead for a nation that is small in size, but huge on sustainability. 


Bhutan: A Legacy of Conservation

In the 1970s, Bhutan’s democratic leaders decreed in their official constitution that a minimum of 60% of the land would be under forest cover. Since then, they have achieved a laudable result, by not only maintaining this target, but exceeding it by 10%.

Today, ecotourism presents a whole new world of opportunity and challenges for the country. Needless to say, the decisions made in this time of dramatic global change concerning ecotourism will be imperative to securing a brighter future for not only Bhutan, but the entire region.


Tourism’s Impact on Bhutan

The wrong type of tourism may mean that this unparalleled natural wonder could be spoiled by forces of human progress. The right type of tourism would mean that it is preserved for and admired by future generations. The right choice here is a no-brainer - all the more reason why so many forces are now acting to ensure this legacy of sustainability lives on. Asides from the sheer magnificence of this region, the benefits afforded from ecotourism provide us with further reasons to care. Bhutan is in one of the world’s top ten most biodiverse regions, a region which provides water for 1/5 of the world’s population - It is even ranked by many studies as the number one happiest country in Asia.


Why Bhutan and Ecotourism Work

On a purely human level, ecotourism has the potential to create phenomenal advantages for the people of Bhutan. Employment opportunities from ecotourism could bring long-term livelihoods for rural communities, improving standards of living all over.

That being said, ecotourism in Bhutan is not without its challenges. In fact, there has been more change in the last 50 years of Bhutan’s history than in the entire 500 years preceding it. This also means that this magnificent part of the world has never been exposed to such large and diverse threats. Among these many threats are climate change and poaching, just as with many neighboring Asian nations.

Bhutan River
Photo by Göran Höglund (Kartläsarn), via Flickr

Urban Sprint

However, one of the largest challenge may prove to be the change in mindsets and attitudes which have inevitably arisen with the proliferation of globalization. More than 60% of Bhutan’s population is under 35 years old - it’s median age is 22.3 years. Work needs to be done to ensure that the younger generation captures the vision and passion which their ancestors had for their natural land. This is no easy feat, with a huge proportion of Bhutan’s younger citizens moving to the city for work and education - thus increasing their disconnect with the environment. Rural opportunities will be difficult to develop if there is simply nobody left in non-urban areas.


‘Bhutan For Life’

As can be seen, both the challenges and the opportunities presented here are plentiful. 

‘Bhutan for Life’, an innovative funding of conservation led by World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and the Royal Government of Bhutan, exists to overcome these challenges while also utilizing the great opportunities existing within its own forests. Among their many goals, ‘Bhutan for Life’ will be preserving the parks, maintaining wildlife and ensuring this can continue, daresay, forever. Much of this will be achieved through what they have describe as balance - that is, balancing economic development with the conservation of natural resources, balancing jobs in the cities with jobs in rural villages, as well as balancing ancient traditions with modern materialistic desires. With this balance in place, they hope that Bhutan will continue to not only remain a natural wonder, but to also establish itself as a beacon of light, pointing other nations towards the achievability of a more sustainable future.


For more information, feel free to download our free Tourism and Conservation Toolkit.

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

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Published in General
Tuesday, 21 April 2015 16:48

Tourism’s Important Role in Conservation Projects

Written by Mallika Saini
Sea Turtles
Baby sea turtles

Conservation projects are currently taking the world by storm due to greater awareness and the unstoppable growth of global tourism. Did you know that tourism is one of the planet’s biggest industries and one of the largest drivers of economic growth all over the world? You may be surprised to learn that tourism is also one of the biggest driving forces of conservation efforts – spurred by the sheer volume of travelers circulating the globe and visiting sensitive natural areas. Conservation programs are being put into place to capitalize on tourism’s economic promise to ensure that natural resources endure for years to come.

What is Conservation?

First, let’s take a moment to define what conservation is. Conservation is the act of preserving or protecting the environment, natural resources, and biodiversity. Oftentimes, we see locations with underdeveloped economies struggle with conservation because resources are limited. An unwitting local population may sometimes exploit the natural areas and wildlife populations in order to make ends meet. It’s an understandable scenario, but with dangerous consequences to the long-term viability of ecosystems and the communities that depend on them.

Tourism is a solution, not the problem.

How does tourism tie into this, you ask? Well, tourism, when planned accordingly, can actually help developing economies by preserving the resources that communities rely on, rather than depleting them. Tourism generates economic growth by creating sustainable, non-consumptive means of income for the community such as tours. When done correctly, tourism can entice conscious travelers to visit, who in turn bring cash to communities. Tourism also has the benefit of unifying community stakeholders around a common goal with tangible outcomes.

Let’s take a look at some examples.


In many African nations, biodiversity conservation has always been important. In Namibia, we see the effects poaching can have on decreasing the populations of big game animals, like lions, elephants, and rhinos. Of the 1,750 black rhinos that live in Namibia, about 120 were killed in 2014 alone. Local communities have historically felt the need to hunt and kill these animals either for food, or because they believe the animals are destroying their own precious resources, like their grass-filled land, or preying on their livestock. Eventually, though, if populations continue using these endangered species for food, these animals will go extinct, and so will the communities’ food source. Additionally, the illegal export of rare animals to the black market in other areas is a brutal detriment to communities

What tourism has the power to do, is reverse the view that wildlife is a threat and demonstrate that there is an economic value to conservation. Instead of viewing lions and rhinos as a danger to their homes, or the pangolin as a wealth-inducing export, Namibians can let these animals provide for them. People across the world are willing to travel great distances and pay significant amounts of money to see these great creatures. For example, along with continued North American and European travelers, Chinese visitors to African safaris will grow to about 180,000 by 2017. Increased interest has developed in India as well. And as the world becomes ever more connected, through the power of the internet, tourism and a desire to visit these unique locations will only continue to grow. By investing in the conservation of preserving its wildlife, Namibia is ensuring that travelers (and their money) will continue to flow into the country for years to come.

The documentary Virunga, has brought attention to the endangered mountain gorillas residing in the Virunga Mountain Region. On the border of Uganda, Rwanda, and the Republic of Congo, the mountains are the only place on earth where you can find these magnificent primates. As the documentary highlights, oil drilling has posed an imminent threat to the lives of these endangered gorillas. However, oil is a limited resource, whereas investing in tourism will attract visitors – and funding – for generations to come.

Virunga Gorilla
Mountain Gorilla

Saving the sea turtles is another great example of how conservation not only benefits wildlife, but the entire world. A sea turtle is worth way more alive to us, than dead. Sea turtles help control the growth of sea grass beds on the ocean floor, which are breeding grounds for many species of fish and crustaceans. Without sea turtles, we would see an incredible decrease in sea grass beds, leading to a decline in the other species who depend on it for their survival. Not only do sea turtles help the marine ecosystem, but they also help recycle nutrients from the water to the land when they lay their eggs along beaches every summer. Without sea turtle eggs, our beaches’ ecosystems would be harmed, sand dunes would erode, and we can say goodbye to the precious, pristine beaches we enjoy today. Solimar has also done some work in the past to save sea turtles on a previous project in Nicaragua.

To do any of the above, conservation is of the utmost importance. Tourism can help ensure sustainable income for the future.

While tourism and conservation make an excellent duo, there are many challenges to overcome predisposed ideas of economic growth in countries where poverty and corruption run rampant. With the right methods and planning, tourism can help preserve beautiful locations, like the Virunga Mountains and Namibia, for generations to come.

Check out Solimar’s latest conservation effort project in Peak Park, Colombia.

Interested in learning more about tourism and conservation? Download our Sustainable Models and Strategies Toolkit!


Published in General
Friday, 24 April 2015 17:33

Five of Solimar's Conservation Projects

Written by Rashaad Jorden
Mauritius beach
Mauritius - a destination where Solimar has conducted tourism conservation projects

As Earth Day took place this week, it's only natural to think about how tourism is used to support conservation. When done sustainably, tourism serves as a powerful tool to support conservation of the ecosystems upon which it depends. In this spirit, Solimar has collaborated with a large number of hotels, tour operators and destinations to help them create a tourism product that supports conservation. Here's a lot at five of those destinations:

1. Bhutan

Recently, Solimar received a request from the government of Bhutan to help implement cultural heritage projects in the country's villages. When developed correctly, cultural heritage products can increase revenue to rural villages that can directly support cultural heritage preservation. During the project, which runs until August 2015, Solimar is conducting a comprehensive assessment of the tourism potential of Bhutan's villages and prepare a report which includes information about which villages have the greatest potential for tourism development. Culture-based tourism products will be developed by the creation of profitable enterprises and visitor experiences that enhance cultural preservation and communities.

2. Southern Tanzania

Solimar has also been contracted to create a master plan for conservation for conservation tourism development in southern Tanzania. Southern Tanzania is home to most of the country's elephants, making it a lucrative tourist destination, although it is relatively undiscovered. The development of sustainable tourism in southern Tanzania is likely to raise revenue for conservation while discouraging poaching and forest degradation that pose a threat to the region.

Solimar is conducting a field assessment of tourism circuits, issues and opportunities in the region and examining the potential impact of tourism on conservation. Following the assessment, a master plan containing analysis and recommendations will be submitted that should result in the development of conservation-friendly tourism in southern Tanzania.

3. Verde Valley Geotourism Program

A long running project, Solimar is collaborating with the National Geographic Society Maps Division to implement a sustainable destination program in the Verde Valley. The project includes developing a Vision, Strategy, and Action Plan for Sustainable Tourism Development to be realized through public engagement. Solimar is also creating - with the Sedona Verde Valley Tourism Council - a Destination Marketing and Branding Strategy, which focuses on sustainable tourism, river conservation and the region's culture. The project is anticipated to create greater community involvement in conservation and sustainable tourism development efforts.

Peak Park Colombia
Peak Park in Colombia

4. Peak Park, Colombia

Recently, Solimar developed a business plan that detailed a strategy for how tourism can directly enhance the conservation of the Peak Regional Park in Colombia. The park was seeking new ideas on how to involve local communities and organizations working within the park as well as create sustainable income through tourism. Solimar conducted a thorough tourism assessment to gather an understanding of current and potential attractions, market demand and tourism infrastructure. Solimar also collaborated with local tourism stakeholders to raise more funds for conservation and tourism projects that will enhance the visitor experience.

5. Mauritius

Solimar performed capacity assessments of the impacts of tourism on two marine protected areas in Mauritius as degradation and resource depletion with Balaclava and Blue Bay Marine Parks have become serious problems. The assessment utilized tourism conservation models to create a series of recommendations supporting tourism development in the two parks. After completing tasks such as providing technical training in conversation and sustainable tourism management in addition to developing online media and orientation videos to increase awareness of the parks' codes of conduct, the two marine protected areas benefited from improved tourism and conservation management systems as well as a greater awareness of biodiversity's importance to tourism and the overall economy.

These are just a few of the projects Solimar has implemented that focus on conservation. However, we believe in sustainable tourism and it permeates every project we do.

For more information about a business approach to conservation, click here.

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