The World Tourism Organisation tells us that cultural tourism accounts for 37% of global tourism, and furthermore affirms that it will continue to grow 15% each year. With all of this market interest, destinations should leverage what makes their societies unique and invest in developing cultural tourism programs.
What is Cultural Tourism?
Cultural tourism allows travelers to be immersed in local rituals and routines, taking away not only pretty photos but also shared memories of unique experiences. For destinations, it encourages local communities to embrace their culture and boosts economic growth. Developing culturally geared tourism programs encourages destinations to celebrate and promote what distinguishes their communities, and in doing so, provides the opportunity for authentic cultural exchange between locals and visitors.
Solimar has a long history of involvement in development projects that promote cultural tourism. Here’s a glimpse at four of them:
Morocco: Down the Road of Traditional Crafts
Before 2010, Morocco has a vibrant craft industry, yet artisans had insufficient opportunity for direct sales. Solimar collaborated with Aid to Artisans and the Moroccan Ministry of Crafts to facilitate direct linkages between artisans and tourists in Marrakech and Fez. This was achieved through establishing new or updating existing artisan and cultural heritage routes, and furnishing them with engaging creating marketing collateral. The team involved as many as 6,603 sale points and was successful in increasing artisan revenue. As a result of this project, crafts and tourism in the area are now more linked than ever before.
Ethiopia: Empowering Community Enterprises for Long-term Success
Ethiopia’s Bale Mountain area is lush and beautiful, and is the home of successful community-led tourism initiatives. In 2009 Solimar addressed the conservation and regulation problems in Ethiopia by affecting a sustainable tourism development project in partnership with the Frankfurt Zoological Society. The team created 7 community tourism enterprises as well as branding and marketing tools aimed at awareness-building among foreigners and locals alike. The local communities now leverage their cultural heritage, which includes expressive dances and crafts, in its tourism development. This offers them alternative livelihoods that in turn benefit environmental conservation.
Namibia: From North America to Local Villages
Namibia is a country of rich tourism potential that prior to 2010 had not been successful in fully captivating the North American travel market. Solimar launched a comprehensive trade-focused marketing campaign with the goal of increasing North American arrivals in Namibia over the course of 4 years. By fostering partnerships between Namibian and North American trade, and leading destinations awareness campaigns, this mission was successful.
Community-based tourism was a large component in promoting the country to the North American market. The campaign succeeded in increasing the number of tourists and routes visiting Namibia by 75% by 2013, exceeding expectations. This helped improve local employment opportunities and enhance cultural awareness among international visitors.
Colombia: More than Whales at Nuquí/Utría National Park
Nuquí/Utría National Park is famous for its prolific whale watching opportunities. However, it suffers from a lack of organizational and business capacity, as well as weak marketing outreach. In 2012, Solimar and its project partners tackled the challenge by creating a destination marketing alliance with four local community tourism enterprises, providing them capacity building trainings. The team developed and promoted new tour packages that incorporated cultural elements, such as visits to a typical Pacific Chocó village. The team liaised with the Colombian Ministries of Tourism and the Environment to feature the park as a model for sustainable tourism development in a protected area. Through this work, the team was successful in increasing the gross sales of each of these community tourism enterprises and the number of tourism products in this remote area.
Cultural tourism is economically advantageous for both destinations and the communities that reside in them. Solimar is dedicated to the development of cultural tourism that benefits destinations, communities and visitors. We hope to continue to be an active and positive support in promoting sustainable travel, protecting cultural heritage and improving the living standards of local communities around the world.
To learn more about cultural tourism, check out our Sustainable Tourism Enterprise Development Toolkit!
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Johnny Cay, a small Colombian island in the Caribbean, faces significant conservation challenges. Although the park is a protected area, currently no license system or code of conduct exists for the tour operators who bring tourists to Johnny Cay from nearby San Andres. This lack of a tourism management plan has led to negative environmental consequences on the island, which in turn jeopardizes the long-term sustainability of businesses operating in Johnny Cay Regional Park.
Solimar has recently completed a Sustainable Tourism Strategic Plan for the park. The plan supports conservation and business development in Johnny Cay Regional Park by identifying conservation threats, creating a plan to mitigate those threats, and implementing sustainable tourism best practices.
Principal conservation threats include environmental degradation, mainly pollution, both on the island and within the surrounding waters. The island is also losing its cultural identity and turning into a daytime party spot, leading to an abundance of alcohol consumption and diminishing authentic cultural interaction. Operations must become more conservation-focused if tourism businesses hope to use Johnny Cay Regional Park as part of their long-term business strategy.
The Sustainable Tourism Strategic Plan addresses conservation threats by employing five specific strategies over the course of three years:
1. Creation of a Sustainable Tourism Department within Coralina (The Organization for the Sustainable Development of the San Andres, Providencia, and Santa Catalina Archipelago).
This department will ensure that businesses comply with specific operational standards while operating within the park. The department will also develop training programs, implement environmental education programs, and act as a link between Coralina and tourism associations on the island.
2. Develop a Sustainable Tourism Certification Program within Johnny Cay Regional Park
This program will serve as a tool for setting operating standards and increasing sustainability awareness among local stakeholders. The program will provide best practices and codes of conduct for businesses and use the implementation of these practices as a filter to determine who can operate within the park. Businesses will be encouraged to gradually implement best practices and will receive recognition upon successful implementation. Businesses will also receive training related to different strategies for improving their product offerings. Ideally, this will serve as a pilot program for the region with possible extensions on the nearby islands of San Andres, Santa Catalina, and Providencia in the future.
3. Provide a Business Support Program for tourism businesses operating within the park
A relatively low standard of technical business knowledge emerged through the project's initial assessment process. This negatively impacted total revenues and product quality while poor marketing limited the ability for businesses to attract new clients. A business support program, run through Coralina, has been proposed to provide training in business planning, marketing, and monitoring and evaluation. A competition has also been proposed through which locals will develop their own business plans and compete for initial funding based on plan quality. Solimar launched a similar business plan and fundraising program with success on neighboring islands.
4. Develop a Communication Strategy to increase cooperation between tourism businesses and Coralina
Improving communication among local residents, tourists, businesses, Coralina, travel agents, and national tourism entities will be vital to the success of the sustainable tourism strategic plan. This communication strategy hopes to strengthen conservation efforts by ensuring that residents and visitors understand that Johnny Cay is a nationally-recognized regional park. The goal is to invoke a sense of pride within locals and operators to foster a culture of conservation. Additionally, the communication strategy aims to facilitate a smoother communication process between businesses and other entities while keeping businesses up-to-date on the implementation of the overall sustainable tourism strategic plan.
5. Develop a system for tourism businesses to pay a concession fee for operating within the park
The plan calls for this implementation to occur in year 3, after the above strategies have had time to take hold. Each business applying for a concession will have their tax calculated based on their financial projections. A maximum tariff will be established and businesses will have to comply with certain standards in order to apply. Very clear communication and successful implementation strategies 1-4 will be vital to establishing the concession system.
Johnny Cay faces serious conservation issues that threaten the long-term viability of its corresponding tourism economy. However, with the proper strategy and training, these negative consequences can be reversed.
If developed and managed properly, a sustainable tourism strategy can aid conservation efforts. A destination's natural environment,often the catalyst for tourism development in the first place, must be preserved to sustain tourism in the long run. Part I of this article discussed the first three of Solimar's six models that link tourism to conservation:
- Improve Tourism Operations and Guidelines
- Increase Tourism Awareness and Constituencies
- Increase Income Diversification
Here are three additional ways that tourism can assist a destination's natural conservation efforts:
4. Increase Monitoring and Research
This model supports conservation by increasing the presence of guides, visitors, and researchers in critical areas where environmental degradation occurs. Two main strategies arise:
a.) Increase the Role of Local Residents in Monitoring and Research
Local residents often participate in conservation efforts by forming patrols or gaining employment as research assistants. Coastal residents can conduct nightly beach patrols to prevent the poaching of sea turtle eggs or illegal fishing. Tourism stakeholders can commit funding to these patrols or commission research projects with local residents as assistants. Execution of this strategy often depends on vital support from NGOs. By playing a role in monitoring and research, local residents gain awareness of conservation issues and form a deeper attachment to the local natural environment.
b.) Increase the Role of Visitors in Monitoring and Research
'Voluntourism' increases in popularity every year. Tourists increasingly seek travel through which they can learn about a cause while making a positive impact on their chosen travel destination. Tourists can sign up for long-term stays at ecolodges or engage in direct conservation efforts through National Parks or private businesses offering such experiences.
5. Increase Tourism-Generated Conservation Financing
Most conservation professionals agree that increased funding would help their efforts. If tourism can increase the amount of funding available to conservation-related businesses and organizations, reliance upon donations decreases and the whole operation becomes more sustainable. This model involves four strategies:
a.) Utilize Sustainable Tourism Profits to Support Conservation Activities
This should be seen as investing in a destination's long-term future. The natural environment often draws tourism to an area in the first place, so investing in the future of that environment enhances the likelihood of long-term sustainable tourism. Examples of profit reinvestment include increased monitoring and research, hosting 'volontourists,' or replacing less efficient equipment with new, more eco-friendly equipment. Solimar has recently worked with The Peak Park, Colombia to develop a business model that will support the island's conservation efforts.
b.) Develop Travel Philanthropy Programs
Creating programs that provide a reliable way for visitors to donate can greatly aid conservation efforts. This strategy involves several steps: developing visitor appreciation of the site's resources, increasing visitor understanding of the threats to those resources, fostering visitor understanding of efforts to mitigate those threats, and finally, presenting the visitor a reliable way to donate to those efforts.
c.) Develop Conservation-Themed Brands and Merchandise
Many National Parks and conservation organizations sell t-shirts, mugs, hats, and other merchandise. A simple, easily identifiable logo with clear text should be used on merchandise as well as websites, publications, and news releases. The WWF and their panda logo provide a good example. Publicizing details about how merchandise sales lead to conservation can encourage sales.
d.) Promote Mandatory or Voluntary Protected Area Entrance/User Fees
Visitors often have to pay a mandatory fee to use a protected area. Parks can sell daily, weekly, monthly, seasonal, or yearly passes. Sometimes fees correspond to an activity undertaken in the park so entrance may be one price while an additional fee may apply for fishing or camping. These fees can be used to hire more guides or rangers to protect the park or to increase the availability of interpretation within the park.
6. Increase Conservation Partnerships:
Increased cooperation between local residents, protected areas, NGOs, and private business can accelerate conservation efforts. When communities can share in the economic benefits of a sustainable tourism strategy, the likelihood of effective long-term partnerships increases. Solimar increased conservation partnerships between the public and private sectors with great success in Uganda. This model involves two main strategies:
a.) Developing Partnerships between Protected Areas, NGOs, and Universities
Attracting researchers from NGOs or universities brings revenue to protected areas through the provision of food, lodging, and other services. The research itself builds a more thorough understanding of the natural processes taking place and can inform future conservation efforts. The Tiputini Biodiversity Station in Ecuador often hosts researchers for months at a time while bringing in large student groups for 2-3 day tours and hikes. Many of these efforts develop through a partnership with the Universidad San Francisco de Quito (USFQ).
b.) Developing Partnerships between Protected Areas and Communities
Concession agreements, which allow local businesses to operate within protected areas, are becoming more widespread. This creates a financial incentive for local residents to engage in sustainable tourism practices. As business flourishes, commitment to the sustainable management of the protected area arises.
Destinations seeking sustainable solutions to conservation issues should employ the models and strategies listed above. Download Solimar International's Tourism and Conservation Toolkit to explore these ideas further.
Solimar's Six Models that Link Tourism to Conservation, Part I
One of the ways that tourism benefits destinations is by augmenting conservation efforts. After conducting an analysis of both internal and partner projects, Solimar has identified six principal sustainable tourism models that link tourism to conservation:
1. Improve Tourism Operations and Guidelines:
This model emphasizes limiting or reversing the negative consequences on nature that can result from tourism. There are three principal strategies for improving tourism operations and guidelines to promote conservation efforts:
a. Promote Sustainable Tourism Guidelines with Visitors
By promoting a 'code of conduct', destinations can ensure that visitors, for example, do not leave trash, pick endangered flora, or use flash photography where it might be harmful or startling to wildlife. It is important that these codes of conduct are communicated effectively through signage, pamphlets, interpretive guides, or even on websites and social media so visitors have an understanding of conservation before they arrive. Myanmar, new to hosting significant numbers of tourists, provides a great example of a visitor code of conduct with their 'do's and don'ts' campaign.
b. Promote Sustainable Tourism Guidelines within the Travel Industry
By promoting effective guidelines within the travel industry, local businesses and organizations can work together to limit their impact on the natural environment. Agreeing upon certain standards, preferably before a destination attracts large numbers of tourists, can maintain the natural beauty of an area before it's too late. For example, businesses and organizations can work together to establish best practices for responsible seafood harvesting, responsible souvenir gathering, and responsible boating practices. Solimar International worked extensively with businesses and organizations in Bocas del Toro, Panama to guide the establishment of acceptable practices related to natural conservation.
c. Promote Sustainable Tourism Guidelines within Protected Areas
Promoting conservation efforts within protected areas requires significant interaction from a wide range of stakeholders, both public and private. Example guidelines to follow may include limiting camping to select areas within a park or limiting the number of fish to be taken from rivers or lakes each day. Once a plan has been formulated, effective promotion is imperative to the success of the plan.
2. Increase Tourism Awareness and Constituencies:
This model moves beyond simple education about tourism impacts to emphasize the active role that both visitors and residents can play in conservation efforts. This model incorporates three principal strategies to augment conservation efforts:
a. Increase Awareness and Conservation Support of Local Residents
It is important that conservation efforts begin with locals, as residents are as much of a conservation threat as tourists. Lack of awareness, lack of economic alternatives, and long-standing traditions are often reasons locals engage in damaging practices such as unsustainable extraction of resources. Ways to increase awareness and reverse damaging actions include teaching environmental education classes with local groups or organizing a local festival to celebrate the very resource being damaged. In Latin America, sea turtle educational classes and festivals have been organized to raise awareness about the importance of sea turtle conservation and the damaging effects of poaching their eggs.
b. Increase Awareness and Conservation Support of Visitors
Guides are vital to informing visitors about threats to conservation and explaining to the visitors how they can help whether that be through a donation or "adoption" programs. Programs such as these can help visitors develop an attachment to an area, increasing the likelihood of a donation, and also to spread the word about the importance of conservation when they go home.
c. Link Benefits of Sustainable Tourism to the Community as a Whole
As local residents see benefits from sustainable tourism increase, the likelihood of long-term sustainable practices increases, too. Direct beneficiaries include tour guides, hotel managers, and chefs while indirect beneficiaries include family members of direct beneficiaries as well as operators of ancillary services such as construction companies or grocery stores. Non-employment-based ways the tourism industry can benefit communities includes the organization of local clean-up events, improving sanitary services, or hosting volunteers.
3. Increase Income Diversification
If local residents realize sustainable tourism presents a livelihood, they are more likely to behave according to sustainable tourism principles. Two main strategies for assisting conservation evolve according to this model:
a. Target Resource Extractors with Sustainable Tourism Employment
It may seem counterintuitive, but poachers can become optimal tour guides. Poachers often know a lot about a particular animal and can share stories and knowledge on a unique level. "Reformed" poachers often provide a unique human interest story as tourists are very interested in how and why their behavior changed. Resource extractors are much more likely to change if tourism provides an increased wage through tips, salary, or a year-end profit sharing program.
b. Developing Tourism Products that Directly Mitigate a Conservation Threat
An optimal situation occurs when new products, jobs, and revenues develop and directly support conservation efforts. Local residents can create arts and crafts out of old newspaper, cans, bottles or other upcycling methods and sell them to visitors, eliminating solid waste and creating revenue simultaneously. Artificial coral reef creation has been effective in attracting divers and photographers away from susceptible natural coral reefs, where damage from tourists is common.
The Global Sustainable Tourism Council provides a framework for destinations seeking to develop a sustainable tourism strategy. Many of their guidelines apply to the conservation-related ideas discussed in this post. For a more detailed look at these tourism conservation models, be sure to download Solimar's Tourism and Conservation Toolkit. Check back soon for Part of 2 Solimar's Six Models that Link Tourism to Conservation.