Solimar International is starting off the New Year right – we’re proud to have just launched a new project in Sri Lanka on January 4th of this year! This project is called Entrepreneurship and New Product Development in the Tourism Sector of the Northern and Eastern provinces of Sri Lanka. With the International Finance Corporation as our client, we look forward to working hard on this project until its intended end date of December 31st, 2016.
Sri Lanka is a small island south of India, boasting gorgeous beaches, diverse wildlife, and lush rainforests as well as awe-inspiring ancient Buddhist ruins. Generally, Sri Lanka’s Western coast has been its tourism hub, but the Northern and Eastern provinces of Sri Lanka have recently been experiencing an emerging shift in the tourism industry. Although these parts of the nation encounter obstacles with respect to providing top-notch quality to tourists, we know that there is opportunity for growth and positive change. We intend to help develop these provinces into high quality destinations for international tourists with the goal of attracting visitors, both international and regional, for years to come. In this year’s project, led by Lucia Prinz, we are working towards boosting meaningful conversations in the Northern and Eastern provinces, specifically the Mannar, Batticaloa and Ampara districts, aiming for the advancement of improved policies and services between the private sector and government.
During our year working towards improving the Sri Lanka tourism sector, we will be busy with essential tasks including: collaborating with local tourism providers to ensure the most up-to-date client services, and implement skills development training to these tourism providers in geographical areas using our Small Tourism Enterprise Operations and Management training course as a model. We will also provide workshops, sales training, and technical assistance and enhanced market access to promote our designated Sri Lanka provinces. In addition, we aim to organize local festivals to promote Sri Lankan provincial culture and tradition.
By the project’s end, our anticipated results include: implementation of a Small Tourism and Enterprise Operations and Management Course; creation of measures for best practices to submit a work plan to the IFC; enactment of a relationship between government and private stakeholders in tourism; expansion of tourism products or services, and implementation of a marketing strategy. These are just a few of our anticipated results, and we will keep readers posted on our progress throughout the year. Solimar is excited to start this new journey towards improving Northern and Eastern Sri Lanka tourism!
In January, Pacaya Lodge & Spa celebrated a soft opening with a New Year’s party for staff and guests.
The resort, located 20 minutes from Granada, Nicaragua, overlooks the iconic Laguna de Apoyo and offers stunning views over the canopy to the crater lake below and Granada in the distance. The 26-room luxury resort features exceptional service, an infinity pool, gardens, restaurant, bar, spa, and beachfront access.
Solimar’s Involvement with Pacaya Lodge & Spa
Solimar began working on sales and marketing for the lodge in January 2015. Our partnership with the lodge began when we were approached by Opportunity International Nicaragua in 2012. The NGO asked us to develop a strategy to leverage tourism to fund a high school operated by the organization. Solimar delivered a feasibility analysis for a luxury resort on the site which became the blueprint for Pacaya Lodge & Spa.
Solimar is thrilled to see years of hard work come to life and we are excited for the next phase. The lodge will celebrate a grand opening in March.
A Lodge with a Social Focus
This beautiful resort has a mission to support the local school. Currently, 240 students attend Escuela Tecnica Emprendedora, where they study either agriculture or tourism, the largest industries in the country. Pacaya Lodge & Spa will serve as a lab for tourism students and will help refine the school’s hospitality and English language curriculum and provide hands on experience through internships in the lodge itself.
Furthermore, Pacaya Lodge will source its produce from the school’s working farm. The goal of the program is to train students to grow produce without the use of pesticides so that when they graduate they will have the knowledge to work on or develop their own organic farms.
Upon stabilization, Pacaya Lodge has committed to cover 40% of the school’s operating expenses. Pacaya hopes to provide students with the tools they need to succeed in Nicaragua’s rapidly expanding tourism sector and to ensure the sustainability and future of tourism and agriculture in Nicaragua.
Delivering an Exceptional Nicaraguan Travel Experience
Keeping these objectives in mind, one of our main roles in the Pacaya project was to develop the marketing and branding strategy for the lodge. Our goal was to deliver an exceptional Nicaraguan travel experience that differentiated Pacaya Lodge & Spa from other Latin American resorts.
The solution was simple: grow from within the community. While many upscale resorts in Latin America seek to shield guests from local communities, Pacaya Lodge & Spa embraces its sense of place. The lodge highlights local artists and artisans, offers unique cultural excursions, and promises the opportunity to engage with the community.
The lodge features furniture, fixtures, and art from 16 local artisans. These artisans live and work in Masaya and Los Pueblos Blancos. Rotating galleries and exhibits on the property feature local artists. Spotlighting these skilled artists and community members strengthens the local economy and creates a guest experience that is authentically Nicaraguan.
Customized excursions bring guests to nearby cultural and natural attractions, such as nature reserves, volcanos, and cultural sites. In developing these excursions, we wanted to create a one-of-a-kind travel experience and support the development of new tourism destinations.
We know that visitors are seeking more meaningful travel experiences with rich stories and authentic experiences. It was important to us to create an genuinely Nicaraguan story in order to present the colorful history and culture of the destination.
Solimar is thrilled to be working with the lodge to develop a strong brand based on the lodge’s unique location, local partnerships, and rich Nicaraguan history. We believe that a successful strategy is designed at the community level. We can’t wait for the grand opening!
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: