The quirky Bolivian town of Rurrenabaque is the ideal starting point for visitors wishing to experience some of the rich biodiversity, gorgeous landscapes, native cultures and friendly locals that make the Amazon so special. Whether tourists want to discover the ancient survival skills of the Amazon, visit the wildlife of the pampas, explore daily life on a Bolivian ranch, take a multi-day jungle adventure, go craft shopping, or just relax by a swimming pool in the tropical sunshine, Rurrenabaque has it all!
Nationally, Rurrenabaque has been admired for its Green Action Program, which showcases Rurrenabaque’s commitment to responsible business practices and the conservation of cultural and environmental resources. Solimar and its partners started the Green Action Program to help local tour operators develop and participate in more responsible business practices that emphasize community improvement and cultural and environmental preservation. Currently, the Green Action Program represents eight local tour operators.
Through the Undiscovered Travel Collection, Solimar is committed to help strengthen the marketing of Green Action members. In the travel industry, Internet marketing is one of he most powerfultools for an enterprise. In order to establish a sophisticated Internet presence, businesses must take into account several different marketing tools including websites, blogging, Facebook, twitter, youtube, to name just a few! The Undiscovered Travel Collection created a training program that would help these eight Rurrenabaque enterprises become more savvy in their Internet marketing. Solimar consultant Gianmarco Fiori conducted the six-part training course, which included the following topics:
1. E-marketing Introduction: The Basic Strategy behind Internet Marketing
2. Website Design, Maintenance and SEO
3. CRM and Sales
4. Facebook Basics: How to use your Facebook page for marketing and CRM
5. Trip Advisor and Travel Forums: How to use your forums & trip advisor page for marketing and CRM
6. Flickr and YouTube: Using Content sharing sites to complement other social media outlets and improve your marketing initiatives
Each of the six lessons lasted two hours and consisted of a PowerPoint presentation and at least one in-class activity. At the end of the course, each participant received a handout of screen shots detailing what they had learned. Lectures were composed of presenting students with important definitions, concepts, tips and tricks, and most importantly detailed step-by-step slides illustrating how to implement these marketing actives.
Solimar is excited to announce the launch of a new internship opportunity. The international intern program is designed to give recent college graduates real-world tourism development experience in an international setting. Three brave interns recently traveled to Bolivia for the inaugural 3-month internship.
The internship focuses on two main objectives: increasing sustainability and improving marketing. In Bolivia, the interns worked closely with 7 small tourism businesses that were all members of the local Green Action program. The Green Action program is committed to sustainable tourism by conserving cultural and environmental resources while maximizing social and economic benefits to the local population.
Our interns not only helped bolster the sustainability practices of the local businesses, but also created new marketing initiatives to attract new visitors to each destination. Here is what one intern, Cassie De Pecol, had to say about the experience:
“Five weeks ago today, I was just arriving back to Rurrenabaque after a 3 day, 2 night experience at Mashaquipe Jungle Lodge. I barely knew anyone and was in completely new territory. I look at where I was six weeks ago, having just arrived in Bolivia, to where I am now. The amount of knowledge and experience I’ve gained from this internship within the tourism and hospitality industry is immense. I’ve not only learned new marketing techniques, but practiced them with an established business.”
Solimar hopes to expand this program to new destinations in the coming months. If you are interested in applying for the program, please visit our website.
This year marks Solimar's fifth year working on the Global Sustainable Tourism Criteria – a groundbreaking set of voluntary guidelines created to provide an international understanding of sustainable tourism. The long term goal: strengthen consumer confidence in the tourism industry’s sustainability claims and provide a clear path for tourism business seeking more sustainability in their offers.
This movement has come a long way since 2007 when Solimar was first contracted to analyze nearly 3000 tourism criteria from around the world. After the original GSTC Criteria for hotels and tour operators were launched in 2008, the Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC) came to life out of the ad hoc coalition of partners such as the United Nations Foundation, UNEP, Sabre/Travelocity and Rainforest Alliance that helped finance and provide guidance to the initiative. Solimar has built websites, managed social media outreach, developed GSTC indicators and supported the ongoing technical review and revision of the GSTC Criteria as the Council has grown from a network of less than 50 to its current 200-strong membership.
Throughout 2011, the GSTC has focused on building a series of recognition processes that will add additional strength to sustainable tourism standards and certification programs by ensuring that they meet global best practices. Standards –may apply to receive GSTC recognition, and several – including those from the Rainforest Alliance, EarthCheck, and Costa Rican Tourism Board have done so. Certification programs with GSTC-recognized standards can then apply to become GSTC Approved. The first GSTC Approved standard is set to be announced soon.
This year, the GSTC is moving into its next phase as they develop a set of global criteria focused on sustainable destination management. Solimar Chaiman, Don Hawkins, has been involved in the development of the criteria set to launch in December. Like the criteria for hotels and tour operators, the Global Sustainable Tourism Criteria for Destinations will serve as an aspirational set of guidelines for places interested in conserving and strengthening their human, cultural, and environmental resources. Five pilot destinations, including the Okavango Delta and Lanzarote have volunteered to pilot test the criteria and ensure that they are attainable and useful in a real context.
The GSTC Criteria have proven to be a useful tool for Solimar’s projects in Bolivia and the Western Balkans where they provide a previously unavailable starting point to assess current sustainable tourism efforts and a clear path for operator training, product management, and targeted marketing.
The GSTC hosted its 3rd Annual Meeting this week in Washington, DC, featuring an impressive line up of speakers from the travel industry.
It’s no secret that ecotourism, which in turn evolved into sustainable tourism, was born out of the conservation movement. From international NGOs like Conservation International and The Nature Conservancy to their local counterparts, conservation organizations poured considerable resources into the ecotourism boom of the 80s and 90s.
But that interest and investment began to ebb about a decade ago – most likely due in part to the lack of success stories or replicable models illustrating how tourism could reduce biodiversity threats, not just contribute to them.
Fortunately, over the past few years Solimar has been increasingly approached by various conservation partners, from global organizations to local protected area managers, who want to know how tourism can become a bigger part of their conservation approach.
The up tick may be due, in part, to the unrelenting growth of global tourism. As more than one billion travelers traverse the globe each year, efforts to reduce their impact must increase, especially in fragile ecosystems. WWF’s Global Marine Programme approached Solimar in 2013 because coastal development, including that driven by mass tourism, is second only to unsustainable fishing as the primary threat to the world’s coastal and marine ecosystems. WWF realized the importance of developing a strategy to address the impacts of tourism in coastal areas head on, including efforts to create industry standards and to encourage alternative livelihoods for fishing communities.
Solimar and WWF’s Global Marine Program are now finalizing that strategy, and hope to see tourism increasingly embraced as a part of their efforts to support conservation worldwide.
Another potential reason for the renewed interest of the conservation community in tourism is because travel market trends increasingly favor destinations and businesses that embrace sustainability and offer opportunities for visitors to personally experience that wonderful space where tourism and conservation overlap.
For the past two years, Solimar has worked with the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) in the Nicaragua Caribbean to help establish Kabu Tours, a tour company owned and operated by ex-sea turtle fishermen who are attempting to transition from resource extraction to sustainable tourism. These ex-poachers have been trained by WCS to lead overnight trips to the Pearl Cays Wildlife Refuge where visitors learn about the organization’s sea turtle monitoring program and, if they're lucky, watch a sea turtle lay her eggs.
Turning a sea turtle poacher into an interpretive guide and environmental ambassador has an obvious upside for conservation, but so does giving an accountant from Sacramento a chance to be a marine biologist for the day. Doing so provides not only a world-class tourism experience, but it also increases visitors’ understanding, appreciation, and support of the destination and efforts to protect it.
For tourism to contribute to environmental outcomes, whether it’s through job creation for resource extractors or increased funding for conservation activities, a destination must first be successful in tourism. That requires demand-driven products, innovative marketing, and great delivery.
Second, tourism is one of the world’s most complex, dynamic, and historically fragmented industries. You need to know which partnerships are important, and how to build them. Whether it’s connecting a community-tourism cooperative to a German outbound tour operator or convincing a global hotel chain to adopt sustainability criteria, identifying and realizing mutually beneficial interests is vital.
Finally, you need a blueprint. A comprehensive understanding of the direct and indirect threats to biodiversity at a site, as well as a clear vision of how tourism can positively affect the socio-economic conditions that result in environmental degradation such as lack of economic alternatives, awareness, and industry standards.
Solimar attempts to consider and address all of these important pieces to the tourism and conservation puzzle. Our “Tourism Conservation Models” documents successful and replicable strategies that link tourism, communities, and conservation in parks and protected areas. Our Enterprise Development Program helps local entrepreneurs build successful tourism businesses from start to finish. Our approach to marketing harnesses the power of social media, the generation of great online content, and tourism networks that connect markets and products. And finally, our ability to engage multiple stakeholders – including public sector, industry representatives, NGOs and communities – helps to share and align interests.
Solimar looks forward to being a part of the growing global effort to make tourism more sustainable, and to explore and increase the ways in which tourism contributes to conserving the world’s most biologically important and diverse destinations.