Supporting Global Development through Sustainable Tourism

Tuesday, 19 June 2012 00:00

Roots of Ethiopia Website Launch Promotes Community Tourism

Written by Shawndra Herry

Solimar is proud to announce the launch of the Roots of Ethiopia website. This unique portal promotes the wide range of community tourism products found in Ethiopia; thus helping to position it as a top community tourism destination in Africa. The website has been developed by the Ethiopian Sustainable Tourism Alliance in partnership with the Frankfurt Zoological Society (FZS) and Tesfa (Tourism in Ethiopia for Sustainable Future Alternatives), and features an array of activities including culture and nature walks, weaving and cooking demonstrations, horseback rides, boat tours and craft shopping, among others.


The portal's launch event took place in April in Addis Ababa. It was opened by Ethiopia's State Minister of Tourism and was attended by key tourism stakeholders from the public and private sectors and across the development industry.

The core of the event was the presentation of the website and its functions. Solimar International's Jessie McComb led this section in a fun and engaging way by describing how different types of tourists might use the website to learn more about Ethiopia and the community tourism products. She used the following real and fictional case studies:

    • Ms. McComb's worry-wart mother, who would immediately ask about health, safety, transport and travel logistics. This information is all included in the "Plan Your Trip" section, which includes detailed FAQs for first-time travelers to Ethiopia and Africa.
    • Anna, an imaginary, well-traveled German tourist, is coming to Ethiopia on a package tour, but also wants to discover local culture. Using the "Search by Destination" function, which displays the community tourism destinations on a country a map, she can see which communities are located close to the sites that she will already be visiting.
    • Mike and John are expatriates living in Addis, with a good knowledge of Ethiopian geography. With the aid of the "Search by Activity" function, they can quickly find a tour that will fit their interests.
Gelada in the Sunset

Roots of Ethiopia has been launched at a key moment for the tourism market. In 2009, over 105 million Americans used the Internet for travel planning – a 16% increase from 2007- while the number of Europeans booking travel online is now approaching 50% and growing. This new web presence offers a tremendous opportunity for rural Ethiopian communities to reach internet-savvy tourists around the world, to improve their livelihoods, create much-needed employment and generate income.

Published in General
Wednesday, 30 January 2013 00:00

Tips for Making Guided Tours Great

Written by Natalie Sellier

While independent travelers tend to shun organized tour companies, we think they can be quite amazing—exposing people to places and experiences they might not find on their own. They make traveling downright easier, and many destinations (such as the Serengeti, Inca Trail, and the Galapagos Islands) are either inaccessible without them or just wouldn't be the same without a knowledgeable guide by your side. Organized tours are especially great for first-time travelers unsure about setting out on their own or visiting that “intimidating” destination on their list.      

Given the service-oriented nature of the tourism industry, we here at Solimar believe that a well-trained workforce is critical to the success of any tour company. That is why we have spent the past 10 years developing an enterprise development and training program that brings tour businesses from a concept to a profitable enterprise that contributes to both conservation and communities.  

When developing an organized tour, here are some tips for giving your clients an experience to remember!    

1) Go Off the Beaten Path: When you limit sightseeing to the obvious—and ignore the obscure—you can end up missing the good stuff. Allow your clients to meet local people and travel in unconventional ways. When possible, join local residents on their modes of transport, in their local markets, and even in their homes.    

2) Specialize: It’s impossible to successfully be all things to all people, and you should structure your trips accordingly. Do you cater to more adventurous travelers, a certain age group, birding enthusiasts? Be sure to really highlight and market your area of specialization online so travelers can find you based on their specific needs and travel styles.

3) Lower Your Impact: Always travel in a way that is respectful of local people, their culture, local economies and the environment. Some best practices to follow include:  

  • Travel in smaller groups to minimize environmental impacts. It can provide a more positive experience for clients too;  
  • Reduce litter in your destination by providing travelers with a reusable bag and encouraging them to use it when shopping;
  • Make potable water available when possible to reduce the need for purchasing multiple plastic bottles;
  • Encourage guests to give gifts of fruit to local children instead of money or candy;
  • Teach guests a few words of the local language so they can communicate with local community members. Providing a sheet of common words and phrases can be a helpful reference guide;
  • Ask first before photographing people. Encourage guests to show locals the digital picture or send back copies to help make it a two-way exchange;
  • Point out where the purchase of handicrafts can have the biggest impact; and
  • Monitor the communities visited during itineraries to ensure the interactions continue to be positive for both local residents and travelers. 

4) Hire Great Guides – We can’t stress the importance of using fantastic guides for any organized tour product. These folks are the main point of contact with your clients—acting as the “ambassadors” for your company, their communities, and the destination as a whole. Always use knowledgeable (preferably local) guides with great communication and customer service skills. They should be well trained and able to share experiences, stories, and traditions… all contributing to a more memorable experience, repeat customers, and referrals!

Interested in learning more about what other characteristics make a good tour guide? Find out by downloading our fact sheet:


Published in General
Wednesday, 26 June 2013 00:00

Understanding the Role of Tourism Development in Tourism Marketing

Written by Chris Seek

Even though Solimar began as a tourism marketing agency over 11 years ago, we quickly realized while supporting undiscovered destinations in Costa Rica, Jamaica, Panama, Mongolia, Romania, and West Virginia that destinations need more than just marketing to be successful. Most undiscovered destinations are also under-developed. That’s why we love working in these types of destinations. We know there is a huge market of travelers looking for opportunities to escape crowds of tourists and travel off the beaten path, and we love connecting them to these hidden gem destinations.

But to attract these types of travelers (or any travelers), a tourism product must exist. 

What are you going to do when you get there? Where are you going to stay? Where will you eat? How will the local residents treat you as a visitor? Will they welcome you? What will the service be like at the front desk or in the restaurant? Will your guide be knowledgeable and entertaining? Is the equipment you are using safe? Is the destination clean or littered with trash? Is there enough to do for more than one day?  

These are all elements that make up the visitor experience and create the tourism product. When a tourism destination is undeveloped, rarely is anyone in charge of helping bring the industry and residents together to address all of these issues and help create a holistic tourism experience. This leads to either a destination never realizing its full tourism potential or, worse, a tourism industry that develops unplanned with each sector only working toward their own good instead of the good of the whole destination.   

So what is the role of a tourism development organization in tourism marketing? We work with a lot of destination marketing organizations (DMOs) that believe their only role is to market the destination. But these same organizations are also charged with opening new markets, spreading tourism beyond the “must see” sites, and helping visitors find undiscovered destinations that provide economic benefits to rural communities. You can’t do this without helping develop new tourism products and destinations.

Let’s look at an example right here in the U.S. Travel Oregon is not only doing a fantastic job marketing the incredible tourism offerings in Oregon, but they are also growing Oregon’s tourism industry by supporting the development of tourism destinations and products that can attract new markets. Travel Oregon’s consumer website is world class, but what impresses me even more is their industry website. It’s designed to communicate directly to their industry partners and residents about the importance of tourism and the many ways Travel Oregon can help them develop their tourism business or develop tourism in their communities. Through their Rural Tourism Studio, which offers training programs, matching grants, and marketing support, the program helps bring community members together to develop tourism on their own terms, in a way that ensures tourism will not destroy their unique sense of place.

Take a moment to watch this video from Travel Oregon that summarizes this approach to destination development. What I love most about this approach is that no one from Portland is telling this local community what or how to develop their destination. Instead, they facilitate a process to bring people together and provide tools, education, and grants to make it happen. Watching this video makes me want to visit Oakridge, an undiscovered destination that is developing a tourism experience that I know I will enjoy.

Wondering how to get started developing your tourism destination? We can help. Solimar’s tourism development services range from destination strategyproduct developmentworkforce trainingroute/circuit developmentinvestment promotion, and marketingContact us now to learn how we can help develop your undiscovered destinations!

Published in General
Thursday, 08 August 2013 00:00

How to Involve Locals in Destination Management & Marketing

Written by Chris Seek

In today’s tourism marketing world, all the buzz is around discovering a destination like a local. If you search for "travel like a local," you will find countless articles and websites trying to help travelers discover destinations through a different perspective. As an avid traveler that loves to escape tourist traps, I appreciate destination marketing organizations trying to help me connect with recommendations from people who live in the destinations I want to visit.

I think this is why and the sharing economy are taking off, not just because it provides a different type of accommodation, but because it connects visitors with locals. One of the benefits of staying at an property is the ability to meet a local to give you recommendations for what to do, where to eat, and how to experience the destination away from the hop-on, hop-off tour buses. Who doesn’t want this type of local knowledge when planning a trip to an unknown destination?

The challenge for destination marketing organizations is how do you get locals involved and willing to share their recommendations with visitors? Destinations like Philadelphia, are launching programs called “Philly like a local” – Experience Philadelphia as its residents know and love it,” which recruits locals to take over the DMO’s social media accounts. But taking that approach to scale and getting hundreds or thousands of locals involved in a program to answer the question “What is so special about my place?” is not an easy task...

...unless you have the National Geographic Society on your side.

We have been very fortunate to work alongside National Geographic for the last 7 years helping destinations apply an approach to sustainable tourism development called Geotourism. A concept created by Jonathan Tourtellot, geotourism encourages destinations to develop and market tourism products that sustain and enhance the geographical character of a place—its environment, culture, geology, aesthetics, heritage, and the well-being of its residents. 

The Geotourism approach is unique among tourism development solutions due to its focus on the establishment and empowerment of a private-public partnership that serves as a forum for dialogue, collaboration, and planning among local businesses, non-profit organizations, residents and tourism authorities. The goal is to better manage challenges through cooperation while also identifying, sustaining, enhancing, and promoting the destination’s unique assets.

As a tourism development and marketing professional working in the field for more than a decade, I can tell you that bringing stakeholders together to participate in a tourism development and marketing program is hard work. Every one of our projects involves some type of stakeholder engagement process to plan and implement destination and marketing programs, but getting government, businesses, and residents to come together for a meeting or complete a task is extremely difficult.  

This all changes when National Geographic is part of the program. The power of that yellow logo is incredible. People all over the world admire the brand immensely and jump at the opportunity to collaborate with such an respected organization. With the mission of inspiring people to care about the planet, they are extremely effective at getting locals engaged in caring for their destinations.

James Dion who leads the Geotourism program for Solimar and National Geographic Maps Division, kicks off every project with a public launch announcing the program. This brings together businesses, politicians, residents, and media to learn about the program and how they can be involved. After the public launch event, local residents are encouraged to visit a National Geographic co-branded website to nominate a business, place, attraction, or event that is an authentically local experience. This event and program generates incredible media attention at a local level, helping further distribute the call for participation from locals. 

We are currently in production of a U.S. Gulf States Geotourism program supported by national, state, and local partners to raise awareness of the unique cultural and environmental experiences in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and the panhandle of Florida. We are working to rebuild the area’s allure following the 2010 Gulf of Mexico Deepwater Horizon oil spill that caused a devastating economic impact on the region.

Through local events and media outreach led by our local consultants, the program is generating incredible media coverage, which in turn has inspired over 1,000 nominations (and counting!) from locals for the Geotourism MapGuide. Once the nomination period closes, National Geographic’s team of cartographers, editors, fact checkers, and designers will work with the local public-private partnerships created at the beginning of the program to finalize the MapGuide and prepare for a public roll-out.

In summary, getting locals involved in destination marketing and management is not only a wise approach to ensuring a destination maintains it’s sense of place, but it also is a great way to help visitors discover the hidden gems of your destination. 

Contact us today if you are interested in bringing National Geographic to your destination to inspire your locals and visitors to care about your destination.

Here is some of the most recent media attention generated from the U.S. Gulf States Geotourism program. It's just one great example of how the program effectively brings people together and generates immediate excitement. 

Alabama to be part of National Geographic geotourism project - Your Town Alabama

Residents encouraged to nominate areas for geotourism - The Selma Times-Journal

What's special about Columbus? Nominate your pick for National Geographic map - The Dispatch

National Geographic launching locally built travel guides in BP oil spill states - The Time Picayune

Louisiana selected as part of National Geographic's Geotourism interactive map - WAFB News

Let National Geographic help you - Natchez Democrat

Your authentic Florida location belongs in Nat Geo's geotourism guide - Visit Florida

Alabama Gulf Coast site nominations sought for Geotourism MapGuide -

Massive geotourism project underway in U.S. Gulf Coast States - Destination Stewardship Center

Published in General
Tuesday, 09 December 2014 20:41

Workforce Development and Training in Chocó, Colombia

Written by Jeff Yerxa

In today’s highly competitive global marketplace, it is difficult for destinations to compete without a well-trained workforce capable of delivering quality experiences for visitors. This is especially true when developing sustainable tourism in remote destinations—which is a challenging task. Engaging in sustainable practices requires a relatively high level of education and residents of remote destinations often lack adequate resources for education and proper training.

 What does tourism training/workforce development look like on the ground? Let us look at a project Solimar finished earlier this year in the Chocó Department of Colombia to better understand the implementation of workforce development in sustainable tourism enterprises.

Chocó, Colombia

About the Project

In December of 2012, Solimar International was contracted to conduct a thorough destination assessment of Nuquí and Bahia Malaga, Colombia. The assessment identified two major weaknesses: lack of organizational and business capacity and insufficient marketing outreach. Then in November 2013, Solimar International was again contracted to address these weaknesses. This was part of an ongoing project funded by USAID called Biodiversity – Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (BIOREDD+).

A series of strategies and techniques were then enacted and implemented to address the lack of organizational and business capacity in 4 community tourism enterprises (CTEs). To build capacity Solimar conducted a tourism operations and management training course in each of the 4 CTEs. Prior to the first course, a baseline evaluation was held to serve as a benchmark for further assessments. The first course covered:

  • Introduction and Roles and Responsibilities
  • Financial Planning
  • Policies and Procedures
  • Personnel Management and Client Satisfaction
  • Emergency Action Planning
  • Conflict Management
  • Sustainable Tourism Best Practices

Following the course, a second evaluation was conducted to evaluate incremental increased capacity. When not in session, Solimar Sustainable Tourism Training Specialist Lucia Prinz traveled to the four CTEs, aiding them in implementing their new skills in day-to-day operations. Lastly, a final exam was conducted to evaluate the overall achievement of the training course since the baseline assessment. Participants were given quizzes and an exam to test their increased knowledge as a result of the course. On each of the tests, participants outperformed the previous exam’s average. 

choco training
Chocó, Colombia

Workforce Development Methodology

The Chocó Department of Colombia is one of the poorest departments of Colombia with 70% of the population living in extreme poverty. Solimar’s training methodology has been developed and revised over the years to best target informally educated learners. One important aspect of this methodology is constant monitoring and evaluation. Solimar recruited an intern to assist in the implementation of the newly acquired business operations and marketing skills. The intern also developed evaluation worksheets to gauge the CTE’s increased capacity. The results of these evaluations found that capacity increased in each of the 13 indicators used to measure the project’s progress.

The training courses mentioned above directly resulted in an increased business and organizational capacity which led to increased visitation to the area. Workforce development meant stronger economic growth, increased productivity, and expanded employment opportunities. This goes to show that the competitiveness of the tourism industry in an area rests ultimately on the capacity of its people to support it through their skills and enterprise.

For more information download our Tourism Workforce Development guide.


Published in General
Thursday, 11 December 2014 18:16

Tourism Services Training for Sustainable Tourism Development

Written by Carmela Otarra

In sustainable tourism development, the Global Sustainable Tourism Council maintains that an enterprise is considered sustainable if it impacts the local economy by employing capable local people. Sustainable enterprise development requires tourism services training in order to equip staff with the capacity to manage and operate the enterprises and organizations.

Tourism Services Training 01

The challenge in developing countries, however, is finding local people with all the skills needed to run a successful tourism enterprise. As such, high quality tourism services trainings are key in developing local employees to be more qualified.

The first step in tourism services training is to assess the needs of your workforce. Creating an education module to address the identified. There are several types of training modules that you can provide your staff depending on the skills they need.

The following is a selection of the possible tourism services training modules you can offer for workforce development in sustainable tourism development. These are based on Solimar's experience working in partnership with local businesses and organizations throughout the years.

Tourism Assessment

If you are a new tourism organization or business seeking to develop a destination, then you might need to conduct a tourism assessment to determine what products or services you offer about your destination.

You can train your local staff on how to conduct a tourism assessment and teach them why it's important. This will encourage them to be creative in developing other products that could be linked to your core business. For example, if you are a tour operator, locals who know about tourism assessment can recommend new possible tourist routes you can offer.

Tourism Services Training 02

Business Planning

Sustainable tourism development requires sound business planning skills including being able to find a strategy that balances economic, environmental, and sociocultural development. Local managers need to know how to protect their natural resources while at the same time gain a profit.

Training your local management staff on sustainable business planning will help them develop these strategies rooted in their own knowledge of the destination and their local culture.

Customer Service & Guide Training

The heart of the tourism industry is good customer service at all levels. Whether you are a business in the food, accommodation, tours, or airline industry, training your staff on how to offer good customer service is essential to success.

Look at your competitors and read about the best customer services practices in your field to have a sense of what you want your staff to achieve.

For businesses that offer tours, training locals how to be good tour guides will be vital. This not only ensures proper and meaningful interpretation of the sights that will be visited but also improves customer service to match the needs and expectations of the visitors.

Tourism Marketing

Tourism Services Training 03

One of the challenges facing sustainable tourism development and local social enterprises is being able to effectively market a product or destination to the right market segments. Most of the time, they have the product, but are not aware of strategies to connect and reach out to potential customers. You may have a very sustainable tourism product, but if the market does not know about it or cannot access it, then your efforts will go to waste.

Providing your staff with marketing training helps them understand the importance of looking at what the market needs, what the consumer behavior patterns are, where the potential customers are, how to reach these potential customers, and how to convince the target market to visit a destination, join a tour, purchase a product, or stay in your lodge.

If you feel that you need all of these services but are not sure if you can afford all of them for your staff, prioritize the most urgent and significant needs and begin there. Solimar can also help you in developing your own tourism services training module.

Download the Tourism Workforce Development toolkit to guide you in assessing and designing your own programs.


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