2015 was an exciting year for Solimar International! The past twelve months have taken us around the globe--from tourism strategizing in Tanzania, marketing the Great Himalayan Trail in Nepal, training Ethiopian officials, to launching a new ecolodge in Nicaragua. Check out our recap of some of the amazing projects that kept us busy this past year.
Campeche, Mexico: In July 2015 we began a partnership with the SAVE Travel Alliance Team and Fundación Avanza to create a SAVE Center in Campeche, Mexico. This program will promote Scientific, Academic, Volunteer, and Educational tourism experiences in the Campeche region while enacting economic and cultural benefits for local organizations and businesses for years to come. The SAVE Center will provide a way for travelers to directly experience Campeche’s rich heritage and biodiversity and help spread the word on what the destination has to offer to international visitors. The project will run through April 2016 to increase the number of SAVE tourism attractions as well as Campeche’s ability to sustain its SAVE projects over time.
Tanzania: In early 2015, Solimar teamed up with Dalberg Global Development Advisors and the Government of Tanzania to develop a conservation-friendly tourism strategy for Southern Tanzania. The plan included a universal blueprint for tourism development in this vast, lesser-visited region of the country; as well as a focus on four key tourism anchors for the area, including Selous Game Reserve, one of the largest reserves in the world and the Ruaha National Park, which boasts the largest density of lions in Africa. The plan took approximately 6-months to complete, including extensive stakeholders consultation, and was approved by the government in July 2015. The strategy is now a cornerstone for a $60 million World Bank loan to develop tourism in the region.
Armenia:In September 2015, Solimar built on its collaboration with the Smithsonian Institute through the launch of a 4-year cultural heritage tourism program in Armenia. The goal of the program is to enhance the cultural heritage tourism experience in the country, especially outside of the capital, to increase awareness about the destination and improve the skills of local people to benefit from tourism and sustain their cultural heritage. Armenia is not well known in the international market, and if it is, the focus tends to be on the long Christian history of the country. Solimar will be working with the Smithsonian and local partners in 2016 to tell the more diverse story of the country, including its food, wine, traditions, crafts and history.
Geotourism Program: 2015 was a busy year for our Geotourism Program! In January, we launched our largest National Geographic partnership program ever to create a Geotourism Stewardship Council and Interactive MapGuide covering the Mississippi River corridor. In June, we completed and handed over the National Geographic co-branded interactive geotourism mapguide to the World Bank / IFC-led Geotourism Stewardship Council of Eastern Sri Lanka. In September, we launched a Geotourism project to create a Geotourism Stewardship Council and Interactive MapGuide for the Tequila region of Mexico. More to come and even more exciting destinations in 2016!
Bhutan: Solimar has partnered with the Royal Government of Bhutan to help improve its in-country growth and source economic opportunities for Bhutan’s poorest communities - while remaining culturally aware. Our work to date has included suggesting tourism and development improvements to help the country preserve its cultural and natural resources. Through next year we will continue to assist the government with recommendations for modifying its tourism policy, pinpointing the tourism potential in Bhutan’s traditional villages, and boosting sales in local villages by providing opportunities for travelers to directly connect with Bhutan’s goods and communities.
Ethiopia: Solimar teamed up with The George Washington University to contribute to the Ethiopian Sustainable Tourism Development Project. To assist the country realize its tourism potential, we developed and conducted a series of five training sessions for the Ministry of Culture and Tourism and a handful of regional tourism bureaus. Our short-term trainings centered around five major areas: an overview of the tourism sector and how Ethiopia compared to competing nations, destination and site development, tourism marketing and branding, tourism planning and implementation, and management and technical skills, ensuring that the tourism officials will thrive in the industry. Our results were spectacular: we successfully trained 198 government officials in Ethiopia that will in turn benefit the entire Ethiopian tourism industry!
Myanmar: In January 2015 we launched a 3 year North-American Marketing Representation contract with the Myanmar Tourism Federation (MTF). In April Solimar opened its doors in Washington, DC as the brand new MTF headquarters in the US/Canada! Now with an optimized website launching this month, we are excited to promote Myanmar to North American travel trade and assist the country in developing important trade partnerships to bolster its tourism economy.
Nepal: Along with Adam Smith International, we spent 2015 working on a project for the Nepal Market Development Program, ensuring the effective online promotion of trekking in Nepal. Our project focused on supporting the marketing and promotion of destinations lesser-known by international travelers, using the framework of the Great Himalaya Trail that stretches from one end of the Nepali Himalayas to the other. A vast number of locals depend on tourism to survive, and we believed that showcasing hidden, less physically intense trekking during the off-season would help create a consistent income for Nepal’s rural poor. Our marketing work included organizing a trip of Instagram influencers, creating a short promotional video, and co-hosting AdventureWeek.
Jamaica: In August, we partnered with Jamaica Tourism Board (JTB), the Jamaica Tourism Product Development Company (TPDCo) and Jamaica Social Investment Fund (JSIF) to create a brand identity and marketing strategy for the Jamaica’s community-based tourism businesses. We are focusing on promoting rural enterprises across the island comprised of farmers, craft producers, and others who have organized themselves to carry out business activities. We have successfully created a national brand for community tourism with enthusiastic feedback from our partners and clients as well as a national strategy and action plan for community tourism, and we hope our project brings awareness to Jamaica as a community tourism destination.
Pacaya Lodge, Nicaragua: Pacaya Lodge and Spa is an ecolodge at Laguna de Apoyo, Nicaragua, and we have been working hard to prepare branding and marketing support for its upcoming opening. The lodge is located near villages known for their artwork, and we’ve developed the idea of showcasing local artisan goods in the lodge and collaborating with surrounding communities to implement craft tours and demonstrations to visitors. To date, our achievements include the development of a sales and marketing strategy, the creation of an engaging branding strategy, the management of a full time onsite volunteer, and the training of sales and marketing staff members.
Verde Valley, Arizona: Our project with the National Geographic Society Maps Division has been in action since November 2014, and by January 2016 it will be complete. We have helped a handful of local suppliers increase the value and importance of the Verde River in Arizona as an essential economic asset. To preserve this valuable but threatened natural resource, we are implementing a sustainable destination program in the Verde Valley region. Tourism is one of Arizona’s largest industries, and it is vital that we aid in its continued growth. To date we have managed an abundance of tasks, including content creation and design for a new destination website! We hope to raise awareness of and celebrate the Verde River while engage the Verde Valley community in conservation and sustainable tourism development efforts.
Solimar Kicks Off Destination Management Planning Initiative for the Colonial City of Santo Domingo, Dominican RepublicWritten by Yiran Lu
Tourism contributes significantly to the inflow of people and to the infrastructure development at cultural heritages. It is both a duty and an act of self-interest for the tourism industry to be invested in the conservation of these heritage sites. This cannot be handled by an external force; rather, the local stakeholders need to embrace the concept of sustainable tourism management using a “destination approach”.
Local destination management organizations (DMO) are usually in the best position to advocate holistic tourism development. They work to facilitate communication between different types of stakeholders, as well as to present commercial and community demands to policy-makers. For cultural heritage sites, without economic investment it can be difficult to maintain conservation of the site from internal and external pressures. For that same reason, destination management cannot effectively be carried out without the involvement of the local community.
Chris Seek, Solimar CEO, explained the destination approach at the “Analysis of the Sustainable Cultural Tourism Situation in the Colonial City (Santo Domingo)” workshop July 8, which was co-hosted by Solimar, the Inter-American Development Bank, the Dominican Ministry of Tourism, and UNESCO. The workshop was the first of three to be carried out under Solimar’s consultancy for the Tourism Development Program – Colonial City, Santo Domingo (the program’s official name in Spanish is “Programa de Fomento al Turismo – Ciudad Colonial, Santo Domingo”).
The ultimate goals of the consultancy are:
1. Enhanced understanding of the operational structure and understanding of the potential of a DMO by local managers and other stakeholders.
2. Active use by local asset managers and guides of the tools for development and implementation of a Sustainable Tourism Strategy.
3. Increased knowledge of local managers on structuring tourism management using a "destination" approach.
4. Integration of all the parties involved in the planning, development and management of sustainable tourism, using a destination approach for the conservation and empowerment of local communities.
5. Implementation of the proposed governance structure for the DMO, achieving interagency agreements and work commitments.
6. Design and implementation of mechanisms for the operation of the proposed governance structure.
7. Development of an Action Plan as a basis for the strategic implementation of the Sustainable Tourism Strategy and Strategy for the Development of a DMO.
These goals will be achieved in part by hosting three workshops in the Colonial City in order to:
• Conduct a thorough analysis of the current situation based on an analytical framework for sustainable tourism;
• Create a shared, strategic vision, mission, and priorities for a DMO for the Colonial City; and
• Develop a comprehensive strategy for the management of sustainable tourism that unites all Colonial City stakeholders around a common vision.
To achieve the Colonial City’s conservation, economic and social objectives there first needs to be a shared vision. The Colonial City, the place where native, European and African cultures had their first encounter and left their combined marks, has suffered from natural disasters and most importantly, human impact. Land conversion, the development of underground transport, visitation facilities and tourism itself are taking a toll on the old city. Solimar and the Tourism Development Program – Colonial City, Santo Domingo have set out to address these challenges.
Solimar believes that a successful strategy is one that was developed by the people who will be implementing it. Upon completion of the analysis of the current situation and after achieving consensus on the vision for the Colonial City and the DMO, Solimar will work with local stakeholders to draft the Sustainable Tourism Strategy and Strategy for the Development of a DMO. The strategies will emphasize the promotion and protection of cultural assets in the destination management practices, as they are crucial in attracting higher-spending tourist segments and maximizing tourist contribution.
Through appropriate destination management planning, development and implementation Solimar aims to minimize the possible negative impacts of tourism, improve economic and social development, and preserve cultural heritage sites so that they can share their tales for many more years to come.
To learn more about destination management, here's a useful toolkit:
The number of international tourism arrivals in Bhutan has steadily increased since the early 2000s but only 50,000 international tourists visited Bhutan in 2013. (RA Online Bhutan). This is a surprisingly low number given the country’s rich culture, picturesque landscapes, and location between the two largest countries in the world, India and China. The low number of arrivals is in part a result of the country’s policy of low impact-high value tourism, which caps the number of annual arrivals and sets a minimum daily spend for international tourists. This policy attracts a more valuable, high-end traveler than nearby Nepal, for instance, which is viewed as a more budget destination that attracts backpackers and adventurers. The low impact-high value tourism policy aligns with the commitment to cultural heritage preservation that underpins much of Bhutan’s public policy.
Bhutan has an ambitious program in place to index, monitor, and preserve culturally significant structures and monuments. In an effort to extend those protections to villages and cultural sites, the Ministry of Home and Cultural Affairs has drafted a piece of legislation called the Heritage Sites Bill. The bill, which will go before parliament in the fall, will create a process for designating nationally significant cultural sites and create a series of protections for these sites.
To support the implementation of the Heritage Sites Bill, the Ministry of Home and Cultural Affairs, Department of Conservation of Heritages Sites, in partnership with the World Bank, has contract Solimar to help develop a methodology for identifying and prioritize potential cultural sites, and for developing economic models that support villages that take on the Cultural Site designation. Our methodology for identifying and prioritizing potential cultural sites is includes:
• An analysis and mapping of existing geographic and demographic data from the Gross National Happiness Commission and other sources.
• A series of workshops with members of the Royal Government of Bhutan, private sector representatives from the country’s major industries, and leaders of development NGOs and conservation groups.
• A survey of the elected representatives of the country’s 5,000 villages, conducted via mobile phone.
As a result of this intervention, Solimar will provide recommendations for the criteria for selecting cultural sites for preservation, a prioritized list of potential cultural sites that meet those criteria, economic models to support newly designated cultural sites.
One of these economic development models will be tourism promotion to newly designated cultural sites, which will leverage tourism revenues to directly support cultural heritage preservation in traditional villages across the country.
To learn more about how tourism & conservation can work together, download our case study!
Tourism strategic planning is a comprehensive process for determining what a business or destination should become and the steps needed to achieve that goal. Many times when consultants are hired to create a strategic plan, the plan is at risk of remaining on the shelf and never being fully implemented. Why? Because those most affected by the tourism development plan may not have been fully integrated into the development of the strategy, and may not agree with the ideas. This is an ongoing issue the tourism industry faces, and a difficult one in which to find a solution.
The World Bank and the Georgia National Tourism Administration (GNTA) recognized this problem in the past. As part of a World Bank initiative, Solimar was contracted to develop a tourism strategy for the Caucasus nation. We were asked not to lead the development of the strategy, but rather facilitate and guide the GNTA through the strategy development process to ensure it was collaborative and comprehensive as possible.
Between the years 2009 and 2013, Georgia’s international tourism arrivals grew over 300%. This was largely in part to its envious location at the crossroads of Europe, Asia and the Middle East, as well as increasing amounts of exposure in international press as a unique, exciting destination. Georgia is the birth place of wine, has an exquisite culinary tradition, a rich early Christian history, and an abundance of natural assets - including 7 national parks. These attributes – if developed practically – demonstrate a significant strength to the country’s tourism sector within the high-value European marketplace, while improving the industry’s ability to contribute economically.
To keep pace with the increasing demand for tourism in Georgia, additional financing for private and public investments will be necessary. “The joint World Bank and IFC collaboration [in Georgia] focuses on fostering entrepreneurship and access to finance, improving the investment climate, and developing Georgia’s tourism strategy that will determine how to improve the sector’s performance, align implementation priorities and enable job growth.” said Henry Kerali, World Bank Regional Director for the South Caucasus.
Georgia’s tourism development approach has generally been focused on regional advancements rather than a cohesive national-level plan. Within the past decade, the World Bank and Solimar have worked on projects in the areas of Kakheti, Mtskheta-Mtianeti, and Samtskhe-Javakheti, each with creative solutions to grow the local tourism economies while conserving the natural and cultural resources. However, to maximize tourism’s national impact, a national strategy is required that takes into consideration large scale infrastructure and marketing activities that cannot be achieved by the regions alone.
“The tourism sector currently provides nearly 20 percent of export earnings. The national tourism development strategy is, therefore, an instrument to take full advantage of Georgia’s potential and position it globally as a rich, diversified and high quality destination.” Ahmed Eiweida, Program Leader for Sustainable Development Programs in the South Caucasus.
Where is the Georgia National Tourism Administration now?
With the support of the World Bank, the Solimar team, and several Georgian experts, the GNTA produced a 2025 strategic plan that articulates the country’s current position, its vision for the future, and the key activities required in order to get there.
To build buy-in for the strategy, the GNTA led regional workshops, communicated with inter-government committees, issued press events and integrated action plans from other tourism-related sectors. The final document describes how the GNTA and its partners will deliver creative marketing to attract to higher income markets and statistical projections on how the GNTA will achieve a minimum of 5% growth rate over the next 10 years.
Where does Georgia National Tourism want to be in 2025?
The GNTA envisions the country as a premier, year-round, high quality tourism destination - a destination centered on its unique cultural and natural heritage, its world-class customer service, and timeless tradition of hospitality. The GNTA will be at the forefront of tourism competitiveness, through strategic investments in infrastructure, education, marketing, and the development of unique Georgian visitor experiences that appeal to high-value markets around the globe.
How does the GNTA lead the tourism industry to reach it’s vision?
Extensive stakeholder consultation resulted in the identification of 50 priority actions that have been grouped around the following 8 strategic objectives.
1. Respect, enhance, and protect Georgia’s natural and cultural heritage
2. Create unique and authentic visitor experiences centered on those natural and cultural assets
3. Enhance competitiveness, through delivery of world-class visitor services
4. Attract higher spending markets, through increased and more effective marketing and promotion
5. Expand and enhance Georgia’s ability to collect and analyze tourism data and measure industry performance
6. Enhance the business environment, to facilitate increased foreign and domestic investment
7. Expand public and private sector investment in the tourism sector
8. Build partnerships between government, industry, non-governmental organizations, and communities that will be needed to achieve all of the above
What will the challenges be?
Even though the GNTA has completed their strategic plan and found positive monetary incentive to start implementation; the national and regional tourism stakeholders must work as a team to have success. And most importantly, the 2025 strategic plan will only be effective if the GNTA continues to be committed and take ownership of this visionary strategic plan.