Supporting Global Development through Sustainable Tourism

Tuesday, 21 May 2013 00:00

The Evolution of Destination Management

Written by Jennifer Park

In the 1950s, before affordable jetliners helped to launch the modern-day tourism explosion, the world experienced 25 million international tourism arrivals a year. Today, as the world population has grown significantly and people, on the whole, have more disposable income, that number has jumped over 1 billion. Before the advent of the Internet, destinations tended to focus mainly on promotion to maximize visitation. In an era when trip choices were more limited, promotion was often all that was needed to capture the visitor dollar. Now, however, travel options have increased exponentially, and the impact of technology has dramatically altered the provision of visitor information, both prior to and after arriving at a destination.

Tourism destinations have begun to appreciate the need to better manage the whole visitor experience as they realize that success can translate into repeat visits, longer stays, increased spending and positive word of mouth. The Internet has brought much more information to the traveler’s fingertips, making destination management even more important. Destinations must be better organized and promote themselves more effectively and more often to stay ahead of the curve. 

According to the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), the role of governance in tourism is undergoing a shift from a traditional public sector model that promotes government policy to a more corporate model that emphasizes efficiency, return on investments, the role of the market, and partnership between public and private sectors. Regarding the last of these, there has been a greater emphasis on public/private partnerships in recent years as destinations learn that both parties must be equally involved.

In response, destination management organizations (DMOs) have begun to form, comprised of both public and private sector stakeholders. DMOs are often the only true advocates for a holistic tourism industry in a place, and in this role, they ensure the mitigation of tourism’s negative impacts to the environment and local communities as well as the sharing of opportunities for a vibrant exchange of people. In fact, a DMO may best serve to facilitate dialogue among the private sector, public sector, and other stakeholders that may otherwise never collaborate or understand how their decisions reverberate down a destination’s long tourism value chain.

So what have we as tourism development professionals learned in the past 50 years? How have we evolved into better destination managers? Better organization, equal inclusion of the private and public sectors, and building local capacity all contribute to making tourism more sustainable. Here are some basic lessions we've learned: 

Communication counts. Residents need to understand why the historic site or natural landscape they see every day represent a potentially important economic benefit for them. Managers need to understand locals’ needs and concerns. Tourists need to learn the significance of what they see, why and how they can help preserve it. It is best when locals help with this interpretation, as the process increases their ownership of the story. And finally, the rest of the world needs to understand the value of the place. No better messengers exist than those enthusiastic home comers with travel stories to tell.

Planning counts. Without planning and public education, the incentive to protect can easily degenerate into mere exploitation. There is a need to see the whole picture from the beginning and focus on long-term goals throughout the process. 

Management counts. Just letting tourism happen likely leads to trouble, especially when visitation soars. Dispersing tourists and timing their access can mitigate crowding. Encouraging tourists to stay overnight instead of making quick day trips can increase local economic benefits. High-quality tourism rather than high-volume tourism conserves rather than exploits.

Individuals count. Behind institutional reports and government memos hides a key reality: individuals make huge differences. Success or failure easily depends on a dedicated local person working tirelessly to inspire others, organize them, and keep the process moving.

Communities count. People who live in gateways hold the key to create a “virtuous circle,” whereby tourism’s contribution to the economy generates incentives to conserve the resources that keep tourists coming. It may be necessary to have some kind of forum, such as a sustainable tourism stewardship council. Top-down schemes imposed from the outside don’t work well, if at all. Locals must own part of the process.

It is uplifting to watch destinations and industry practitioners begin to understand how best to harness the power of tourism and use it for better, not worse. Learn how Solimar can help your destination use tourism for good through our destination solutions. 

Published in General
Thursday, 30 May 2013 00:00

Destination Marketing: Brands We Love

Written by Katie Hardin

Creating a destination brand is an important part of destination marketing, but the process can be arduous and intimidating. How do you capture an entire destination in one cohesive brand? It’s no easy task, but here are some of our favorite destination brands and a brief look at what makes them successful.

Play on Words

I Amsterdam and cOPENhagen have used their destination brands to create a fun play on words, but the clever brands don’t just stop at the name. Both brands are also great representations of their city’s unique identity.

I Amsterdam

I Amsterdam is a two-fold brand which appeals to local residents and visitors alike. As part of an overall rebranding effort aimed at highlighting the city as a great place to live, work and visit, Amsterdam focused on showcasing their destination through local engagement. It’s not only a great way to attract visitors, but it’s also meant to inspire locals to take pride in their own city. By engaging local interest, Amsterdam has successfully recruited a key group of brand ambassadors – their own residents!

I-amsterdamPhoto from:


“Open for You” is the perfect brand for Copenhagen, a progressive city that prides itself on welcoming new ideas and new people. In fact, the brand is so open, they invite anyone to create their own logo and “open for….” slogan. The brand is broad, diverse, and adaptable – the perfect complement to the city it represents. 

copenhagen 0Photo from:

Choose A Unique Brand Ambassador

Sometimes a brand takes months or even years to develop, and sometimes a brand ambassador just falls into your lap. By taking advantage of 2 “awww”-inducing photos that went viral on social media, Scotland and Banff National Park capitalized on the attention by embracing their unlikely new brand ambassadors. 

Banff Squirrel

3643 1600x1200-wallpaper-cb1267712104Photo from: National Geographic

The Banff Squirrel won the job of the world’s first spokes-squirrel by successfully photobombing a visitor’s snapshot. After the photo was posted on National Geographic’s website, it went viral. Those few days of exposure could have been the end, but Banff Lake Louise Tourism astutely seized on the opportunity and welcomed the photo-bombing squirrel into their brand. 

It has been a huge success. Banff Squirrel now has over 13,000 twitter followers.  While the tweets are hilarious, they also serve as a practical way to interact with visitors and promote Banff.

Scotland Shetland Ponies

No single image has ever made me want to visit a destination as much as Visit Scotland’s photograph of Shetland ponies in cardigans. Launched as part of the Year of Natural Scotland, it’s no surprised that these sweater-loving ponies went viral. One should never underestimate the brand power of cute animals.

shetland-ponies-cardigans5Photo from: Visit Scotland

The ponies have become the unofficial mascots of Scotland and they have been used to help promote Natural Scotland on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. They’ve even inspired a few new Visit Scotland videos. We would love to see the shetland ponies make even more appearances in Scotland’s branding – perhaps as official mascots! 

Explain Your Brand 


Australia, along with their neighbor country New Zealand, has long been the gold standard of destination branding and marketing. One reason Australia continually rises to the top is their deep understanding of their brand and the time they spend explaining their brand to industry partners. They basically have an entire brand just to represent their brand. By bringing their brand to life for tour operators and other travel trade experts, Australia continues to grow their brand from the inside out. It’s not enough to just have a brand – you have to know how to promote it and communicate about it.     

Keep it Simple

Going back to our earlier question, how do you capture an entire destination in one cohesive brand? One answer is to develop a broad destination brand that can be adapted to represent the many different experiences within a destination. A narrow brand may have a strong message, but it’s limited meaning will ultimately hinder it’s  long-term potential. 

Incredible India

Sometimes, less is more. Incredible India may not be the most unique destination slogan, but its straightforward message has been wonderfully adapted to showcase India. We especially love their beautiful print ads that use India’s landscape to complete the exclamation point in their logo. With images this striking, why not let the photographs do the talking?

Namibia Endless Horizons

We might be a little (ok, a lot) bias on this one, but Namibia: Endless Horizons does a great job of highlighting Namibia’s expansive landscapes with a straightfoward, image-focused brand. “Endless horizons” conjures up visions of vast skylines and open spaces – exactly what you’ll find in Namibia. It’s a place where you can experience nature uninterrupted and find a new beginning on your own endless horizon. 

NAMIBIA TOURISM- Endless Horizons Promo from Warwick Allan on Vimeo.

Interested in learning more about destination branding? Check out our tourism branding resources. 

Published in General
Thursday, 06 June 2013 00:00

The Destination Approach and Why it's Important

Written by David Brown

There is one key question in travel and tourism industry: Where do you want to go? The destination is the answer.


First things first: what IS a destination?

Travelers most likely don't give it a second thought... but for tourism professionals, defining the destination can be a tricky task. Understanding what constitutes a destination is more than just an academic exercise because it can have real impacts on the breadth of branding required, business involved, government bodies consulted, and – perhaps most importantly – which travelers will eventually be wooed.  

The UNWTO defines a destination as the place visited that is central to the decision to take the trip.  But that's unclear... are you going to France? to Paris? to the Eiffel Tower?

We’ve worked with several destination management and marketing organizations that define their destination differently – whether it’s nationally (Namibia Tourism Board), regionally (Northern Montenegro), or site specific (Queen Elizabeth National Park in Uganda). In some cases, destinations - and the organizations that manage them, overlap: think Brand USA, Visit California, San Francisco Travel, the Presidio. Each place could fit into the UNWTO's dry definition - but each with a completely different scope.

Northern Montenegro Destination Management

Zabljak, Montenegro. Photo by David Brown.

As we've talked about recently, destination management has grown, changed and improved. One thing is for sure, destination managers - be they tourism ministries, destination management organizations, or park managers - are responsible for facilitating a great traveler experience.  


The Value of Destinations

Anyone who’s ever traveled before knows that the value of the experience is composite – it starts from when you begin thinking about your trip, to your first step off the plane, to the quality of the sidewalks, to the ease of getting around, to the apps available for your iPhone, to the hospitality of the corner cafe’s waitstaff, to the trustworthiness of the cabby, to the diversity of the wildlife… and on and on and on.

Destination organizations think about all this kind of stuff on a regular basis. Interestingly enough, destination management and marketing organizations are often the only advocate for the total well-being of a place – its people, its culture, its natural assets. Sure a hotel may want you to have a good night's stay and a tour operator will make sure your excursion is exquisite... but what about everything inbetween?

Because of this unique role that destinations play, destination marketing and management organizations are often positioned to facilitate dialogue on important topics among the private sector, the public sector, non-profit organizations, and residents.  

Our Geotourism program with National Geographic in the Western Balkans was a perfect example. While the “western Balkans” have never been a particularly well defined destiantion, governments and tourism service providers from around the region came together for the greater good of marketing their place. This region is not particularly well known for collective action. But destination marketing provided a neutral playing field where parties with differing views and backgrounds were able to come together for a common goal.  

Western Balkans Geotourism Mapguide Destination Marketing Solimar

Western Balkans Geotoruism Homepage.

In Uganda, we used a destination-based approach to support and strengthen biodiversity conservation. 

While not a panacea, taking a destination approach can open up a new way of thinking and problem solving.


Take Advantage of the Destination Approach

So what is the basic approach to building a destination organization that is the best steward for a place? I co-authored a Tourism Destination Management toolkit a few years back that provides step-by-step instruction and resouces for how to start – or improve a destination management organization. Here’s a quick rundown:  

  1. Comprise a tourism inventory. Get to where the true assets of the destination are by mapping them out. Attractions that are clustered or tied by a logical thread will help define where “the place” actually is.
  2. Set out a vision. What is the role of the destination organization? Is it purely to attract more visitors through marketing… or is there a larger desire to manage the destinations assets and problem solve?
  3. Set goals and milestones. Create measurable, achievable tasks that will work towards the success outline in the vision.
  4. Audit the visitor experience. If there are people already coming – and I’m sure there are – what do they like? What would they like to have improved? Is this inline with your vision.
  5. Audit the resident experience. Don’t forget about these folks. They’re impacted by tourism just as much as those that are visiting. Happy residents mean happy tourists (and the opposite is doubly true).  
  6. Build partnerships. Use tourism as a rallying cry to bring together everyone effected by the industry. Assess their priorities and needs of everyone present and use the neutrality of the DMO to break down barriers, and identify opportunities to solve problems collaboratively.

Dive deeper into each one of these activities – and access tons of useful planning materials, worksheets, and sample surveys by clicking below:  

Tourism Destination Management Toolkit

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
Monday, 22 July 2013 00:00

5 Takeaways on Destination Marketing from the DMAI Conference

Written by Chris Seek

Last week, I attended the Destination Marketing Association International (DMAI) Annual Convention in Orlando, FL. The event is created by, and for, destination marketers, bringing together more then 600+ Destination Marketing Organizations (DMOs) from mostly the US and Canada. In addition to the DMO representatives, another 100 DMAI allied members that provide destination marketing products and services, attended the event with the goal to develop new business relationships. I joined DMAI as one of these allied members and attended the conference with the aim to understand how to best bring our international experience in sustainable tourism development and destination marketing to the US market. 

As I sit and reflect on three days of incredible educational content and excellent networking with a great group of people, I thought I would share my 5 key takeaways from the event. 

1. Destination marketing organizations worry about relevancy more than anything else. Relevancy was the term I heard over and over throughout the conference. It is clear to me that DMOs in North America spend a large part of their time and energy defending and justifying why they matter. This seems crazy to me when DMAI’s research proves that in 2011 DMOs influenced 37.5 million room nights. In today’s time of government austerity, no budgets are secure. Even Brand USA, our 2-year-old national public-private official marketing organization is spending time and resources fighting for it’s own survival. If DMOs have to constantly worry about next year’s budget how can they possibly focus on long-term strategies to drive visitation and grow their local economies?

 2. Destination marketing has changed. Ok, so this was not a new revelation, but attending the event has helped me understand how challenging it is for DMOs to keep up with all of the changes, new tools, and new techniques available to destination marketers. DMOs are often understaffed and underfunded, so as destination marketing shifts from traditional marketing that focused on creative ads, brochures, and trade-shows, to today’s inbound marketing world, where content is king and real-time conversations with travelers win out, DMOs are having to completely re-invent what they do on a daily basis. Walking through the exhibitor hall and seeing the latest innovations in destination marketing and listening to keynote presenters Rachel Botsman and David Meerman Scott describe the new rules of marketing, I can understand why DMOs are overwhelmed.

3. Destination management and marketing organizations (DMMOs) are on the rise. If you have been reading this blog or know me, you know that I am passionate about making sure destination marketing organizations manage their destinations and protect their resources in addition to driving visitation. With the Evolution of Destination Management it’s imperative that DMOs facilitate destination development and stewardship. While many of the DMOs I met are still focused completely on destination marketing, I really enjoyed hearing case studies from VancouverLake Placid, and the Beaches of Fort Myers and Sanibel, who all introduced themselves as Destination Management and Marketing Organizations (DMMOs) that were taking the lead in tourism master planning, supporting small business/rural community development, and working to conserveo natural resources. These guys recognize their role is more then just destination marketing, and they are leading the charge to bring their communities together to think about the long-term sustainability of their destinations. I hope to see more DMOs follow their lead, but unfortunately, this session was one of the least attended of the conference.

4. Economic development and tourism marketing can and should work together. Tourism Winnipeg, Economic Development Winnipeg, and Greater Phoenix CVB led a session titled “Economic Development: An Untapped Resource” that stressed the importance and opportunities for DMOs to collaborate with local economic development offices (EDOs). This was a fascinating session as I learned that while there may be turf wars and confusion over who markets the destination and it’s quality of life to businesses, the benefits of working with EDOs are substantial. Not only can the EDO elevate and distribute the destination’s brand message, but these offices can also help attract needed tourism investment to create better tourism experiences for visitors. The key benefit that was stressed by the panelists is that by working together, the DMO can access the business leaders of a community beyond the travel and tourism industry. As more DMOs understand the role of tourism development in tourism marketing I expect to see more collaborations like this. 

5. DMOs should service their community, not just the visitor. Going back to my first takeaway, I thought it was fascinating to hear how Philadelphia’s DMO doesn’t spend their time worrying about relevancy. They have successfully crafted a new global message as “PHL – a modern renaissance city” that highlights the ideas and perceptions of more then 400 people from the city. Using a crowd-sourced approach to identify and tell the stories of what makes Philadelphia unique, PHLCVB facilitated a process to create the Philadelphia Narrative “created by many but owned by none”. Because they involved so many people in the creation of this narrative and offered it up to any partner for free through their PHLPartners initiative, the entire city embraced this new global message and recognized PHLCVB’s role and importance in creating and distributing this message. In this case, PHLCVB provided a service to its community, not just the visitor. As a result, they can focus on their mission instead of trying to justify their existence.

In summary, the DMAI annual conference was an eye-opener and a great experience. Spending three days with over 1,300 people that wake up every morning and live and breath destination marketing reminds me how much I love my job. But as I reflect on what I learned and think about how we tailor our sustainable tourism development and marketing services to this audience, I see an opportunity to help DMOs think about how to work more closely with their industry partners, residents, non-travel business leaders, conservation organizations, and economic development offices to drive visitation, improve visitor experiences, grow local economies, all while sustaining their attractions and improving the quality of life for the people that live there. I look forward to the opportunity to work with more North American destinations and bring the professionalism and effectiveness of DMAI members to our international destinations partners.

Interested in learning what Solimar can do for you? Check out our marketing services & solutions. 

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
Thursday, 10 October 2013 00:00

Destination Management in our own Backyard

Written by Natalie Sellier

As a consulting firm focused on the greater good, we are always thinking about ways to give back to our own community. We’ve participated in a number of volunteer projects (highlights over the years have included pulling weeds and painting fences), but have always felt we could better serve through utilizing our unique skills and expertise. 

After moving to 11th Street in February of 2012, we began witnessing incredible growth of the independent business scene around our office. We felt the story of 11th Street (dubbed D.C.'s "hip strip" in the New York Times), and the independent businesses that make the neighborhood so unique, was just too exciting not to be told. From speaking with the individual business owners, there was also a desire to connect with each other to tackle mutual issues and work together on community projects.  

Replicating what we’ve done in so many other destinations around the world, Solimar convened the business owners between Monroe and Kenyon Street and helped to form the 11th Street Business Alliance. Through a virtual connection and monthly meetings, the alliance is now providing advocacy and support to the local businesses while fostering a greater community dialogue within the neighborhood. We are currently discussing formalizing the organization as a non-profit in order to increase our impact by generating revenue and applying for grants.

As one of our first initiatives, the Alliance developed an 11th Street marketing campaign, website and social media presence. Through, there is a listing of all neighborhood businesses as well as a blog feature to keep DC residents updated with the latest happenings on 11th Street. The “Insider’s Guide” section of the website features exclusive information on what makes the neighborhood such a unique place to live, work and play—including guest posts from the people behind 11th Street’s thriving business scene. The “Upcoming Events” page includes details on upcoming events, festivals, menu specials and more. Just last weekend, hundreds of people came to celebrate the neighborhood's marquee event - Oktoberfest!

Stay tuned for more exciting updates, features and specials. In the meantime, be sure to check out 11th Street on FacebookTwitter & Instagram!

Published in General
Friday, 07 February 2014 00:00

Searching for a Sustainable Destination Management Model in Jordan

Written by Chris Seek

One of the greatest challenges facing destinations around the world is finding a way to bring together tourism stakeholders to work collaboratively to develop, manage, and market their tourism destination. 

It’s widely understood by tourism professionals that Destination Management Organizations (DMOs)play a key and important role in connecting the tourism industry and serving as an advocate for tourism that grows local economies while mitigating tourism’s negative impacts to the environment, cultural heritage, and local residents.  In most destinations the role of the DMO is focused on destination marketing since most tourism businesses recognize the advantages of working together to create demand for a destination.  But anyone who has been to an overcrowded, too touristy, trash-ridden destination should understand why focusing on destination management is just as important as destination marketing.

As important as Destination Management Organizations may be, unfortunately most governments fail to provide financial support to help them.   In most developed destinations a combination of a bed tax, industry membership fees, and/or government funding provides modest marketing budgets that in turn convenes and unites the tourism industry around a common vision for tourism development.  But this is not always the case in developing destinations.  It’s these types of undiscovered destinations that need DMOs more than anywhere since we all know that it’s unplanned, unregulated tourism development that destroys the places we love to visit. 

But how do you finance such an organization when there are only a few small tourism businesses in a destination and reluctance from national tourism authorities to decentralize tourism development and marketing?  

Ajloun is one of Jordan’s undiscovered gems that offers visitors wonderful experiences ranging from 12thcentury castles to hiking trails through green forests. But the best is that the majority of these services are provided by local communities that are welcoming visitors into their homes and at their dinner tables to experience the incredible Jordanian culture and hospitality.  Ajloun was not realizing its tourism potential and a main reason for this was because no one was working together to promote and develop the tourism destination.  I knew a DMO was needed, but how to make this work and what is required to make this successful?  

This was the question I was tasked with last week while on assignment with the USAID Jordan Tourism Development Program.  Below are my reflections based on experience in Jordan and countless other developing destinations on what is needed to establsh and sustain a destination management organization.

While every destination is unique and different I have come to learn that the following three key ingredients are required to establish and sustain a destination management organization in the developing world.

1.  Willingness to work together – as easy as it sounds the first and probably the most important ingredient to creating a successful destination management organization is making sure the tourism stakeholders are willing and able to work together.  Small tourism destinations are made up of people and people are complicated.  Especially in small towns where religious or political beliefs can be as divisive as loyalty to your favorite English Premiere soccer club or who someone is currently dating. 

In essence you are asking people who consider themselves competitors to agree to meet, work together, and invest time and resources for a shared good.  The first thing I did when visiting Ajloun is interview as many people as I could to try and determine if there was a willingness to work together and understand the personal dynamics in the destination that I need to be aware of.  Luckily in Ajloun there was an overwhelming desire to work together.  Everyone I met with expressed an overwhelming desire to be part of something that could help elevate Ajloun’s tourism offer.

2. Leadership and Passion – while a willingness to work together is critical, to establishing a Destination Management Organization, equally important is finding someone with the leadership skills and passion for making it happen.  This is where most DMOs that are established with the support of international development organizations fail.  It’s much easier for the external consultant to step in and be the leader and initiate the work of the organization.  But who becomes the glue that keeps everyone together after the donor support ends and the tourism consultant leaves?  Who calls the meetings and sets the agenda? Who sees the status quo and is passionate about making change?  Without a clear leader or group of leaders that are willing to invest substantial amounts of time and headaches to make this happen, it will not work.   

This was one of the challenges I recognized last week in Ajloun.  While many people I met are willing to come to a meeting and benefit from a destination marketing initiative, it was not clear to me who would be willing to take the lead and sustain this DMO over time.  But this is also why setting up a DMO takes time.  Several more conversations and meetings need to take place before I can say one way or another if there exists a leader in Ajloun that will ensure the long term success of this initiative.

3. A Sustainable Business Model – To be honest I have seen destinations that lack one or two of the above mentioned ingredients that are still able to sustain a Destination Management Organization simply because it had a business model that provided sustained sources of income or funding to operate. However even those destinations with the best leaders and a willingness to work together have not been able to sustain a DMO without a sustainable business model. 

But how do you create a sustainable business model for a DMO?  This is a question that tourism professionals around the globe are trying to solve.  In the US we have the membership model and the bed tax that funds most DMOs or new Tourism Improvement Districts (TIDs).  In Europe, funding from local governments that recognize tourism’s return on investment supports the operating budgets of most DMOs.  But in the developing world or in the case of Ajloun where there is less then 10 tourism enterprises that collectively sell less then $20,000 in services a year, how do we establish a sustainable business model for the DMO?  There is no way the businesses in Ajloun will pay a membership fee and even if they would the amount would not go far.  Government support is out of the question and the lack of large companies outside the tourism sector means that finding a Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) sponsor will be a challenge.

As I interviewed more and more people I realized that the lack of tour operators in the region combined with the inability of many of the community tourism enterprises to take Internet reservations or create packages meant that there was a business opportunity.  This business opportunity is around the creation of what I like to call a Destination Management and Marketing Company (DMMC).  A DMMC takes the same mission as a DMO and has a governance structure similar to a board of directors of a DMO but it uses a business model that provides services in exchange for compensation to sustain the organization’s operating costs.  By no means is creating a DMMC an easy task but I believe that Ajloun is a perfect destination for this social enterprise approach.  The next step, like any new business is developing a business plan to define the company’s products, services, target markets, operating plan, and financial models.  It is only after this business plan is developed and local stakeholders agree to the concept can the business be established.  I look forward to the opportunity to work with the wonderful people I met In Ajloun to see if the social enterprise business model can sustain and support the needs of the tourism industry.

In summary creating a sustainable DMO model for Ajloun will not be an easy task.  But together with the local stakeholders, if we can bring everyone together, identify a leader with passion, and establish a sustainable business model we might be able to help Ajloun realize its tourism potential. 

For more information about Solimar’s work in sustainable tourism in Jordan please click here

For more information about Destination Management please download this toolkit we helped establish for USAID and the Global Sustainable Tourism Alliance.  

Published in General
Thursday, 06 March 2014 00:00

Tourism Operations & Management: An Inside Look

Written by Matthew Humke

Have you ever wondered how Solimar improves the tourism operations and management procedures of the small and medium-sized tourism businesses we’ve worked with around the world?  

Of course you have.

There are countless steps that take place between receiving an inquiry from a potential guest to preparing everything that goes into a tour to following up with that guest to make sure they were satisfied.  Over the last decade, Solimar's Enterprise Development Program has developed a number of tools and training programs that help new and growing tourism businesses master the nuts and bolts of tour operations and management.  

Tour Flow Chart

The Tour Flow Chart you see here illustrates the procedural path that Rainforest Tours’ sales and operations staff (a hypothetical business case we use during our training programs) maneuver in order to deliver great customer service.  Follow along to learn more about the critical steps of good tour operations and management!

Our path begins with a guest inquiry.  We teach all of our businesses that in the age of instantaneous global communications a 24-hour response time (if not sooner) is mandatory.  Rainforest Tours’ sales staff answer questions, offer additional trip information, and also send well-defined policies for reservations, payments and cancellations.

Sales Invoice

Once confirmed, a guest is issued a Sales Invoice to request payment for their tour, which can also be easily updated as tour payments are made (e.g. deposit, final payment, etc.).  Guests are also asked to complete a Client Profile that allows Rainforest Tours to collect vital information about their guests – from emergency contacts to food preferences to medical history – that is a useful tool in customizing the tour experience to fit the guests’ interests and needs.  To get them excited and prepared for their visit, guests are also sent Pre-Departure Information like detailed itineraries and packing lists.

Client Profile 

 When guests arrive to the destination they are asked to review and sign a Liability Waiverthat informs them of any inherent tour risks and removes Rainforest Tours’ legal liability. In addition, guests may be asked to review and sign a Visitor Code of Conduct that informs them of ways to reduce their impact to fragile ecosystems or sensitive cultural sites.

Service Order RT 

At this point in our journey, tour operations start to shift from reservations and payments tologistics. Solimar has developed a highly useful tool called a Tour Service Order that Operations Managers can use to organize and track the various products and services that go into each tour – from staff to food to transportation.  The Service Order documents the projected costs for each one of those tour items, theactual costs of each item as they are incurred and finally the final profit andprofit margin earned from each tour.


Solimar has found that the creation of simple Checklists to guide staff before, during and after tours is a useful management tool – from prepping food and equipment to defining roles and responsibilities – all of which help to create high-quality customer service and visitor experiences.

Guest Survey

 As a tour is coming to a close it’s important that guests are given the opportunity to provide feedback on their overall travel experience.  This is especially true for new businesses.  AGuest Survey – administered either online or in-person – is a great way to capture that feedback.

Revenue & Expense Journal is the internal record of a tourism business’ costs (including “direct” costs like tour costs, as well as “indirect” costs like repairs or marketing) as well as revenue.  It helps show the financial “health” and history of business and guide financial decisions throughout the year.

Expense Journal








Screen Shot 2014-03-04 at 10.58.11 AM-resized-600Many of the tourism businesses Solimar helps to establish are in remote settings and managed by local people with limited access and experience with technology.  Therefore, Rainforest Tours’ journal uses a “single entry” accounting method that is simple yet effective, and can be managed manually (i.e. pen and paper).  Although this method is designed with simplicity in mind, the accounting principles it is based on are universal.

After all of the work and logistics that go into operating a successful tour, one final yet critical step that any tourism business should take is to send a Thank You Emailto recent guests.  Such an email let’s guests know that Rainforest Toursappreciates their business, requests that the guests connect with social media pages like Facebook, and asks that they submit a trip review on TripAdvisor, the world’s largest travel website. 

So there you have it…a quick glimpse into the world of tour operations and management and the various tools and templates that Solimar uses to build the capacity of local partners to manage and grow their tourism businesses. 



Published in General
Friday, 07 March 2014 00:00

Destination Marketing for Voluntourism

Written by Caitlin Green

Increased awareness of world issues and global needs has led to a rise in the desire to help others abroad. Travelers want to reconnect with humanity, find a sense of meaning, and help their global neighbors in a hands-on way, rather than simply through monetary contributions. While there has been some push-back questioning the merits of voluntourism, many eager travelers are still looking for opportunities where their time and skills will be useful to others.  

What is Voluntourism?

Voluntourism, the responsible travel experience which combines helping, learning, and exotic travelling, is becoming increasingly popular for people of all ages who are concerned with world issues and social responsibility. Travelers use their holidays to give back to others, rather than as pure recreation. These trips can be anywhere in length from a few days to a few months. Projects can involve teaching, building schools or other infrastructure, helping with agriculture, or assisting with disaster relief.

Participants typically pay their own expenses when volunteering abroad, but some costs can be tax-deductible. In exchange for their time, voluntourists typically receive an affordable alternative to a vacation that includes orientation, language and technical training, a safe place to live and work under conditions common to the country, and a network of logistical staff to help plan the trip. 

Types of Voluntourism

1. Philanthropic or donor travel

Travel philanthropy differs from other types of voluntourism in that its purpose is to supplement a philanthropic gift. Charitable organizations sometimes plan or even sponsor trips for their donors so that they can experience first-hand the work that the organization is doing. The trip could be intended to research a cause, establish a relationship with the recipient, or as reassurance that a philanthropic gift is worthwhile. 

2. Private or group travel

Individuals or groups who want a charitable experience during vacation can participate in cultural or community exchanges in which they can volunteer their time. Families, groups, or individuals can create their own voluntourism holiday with a tour operator or join an existing trip with an organization. 

3. Urgent service travel and disaster relief

There is an abundance of intense volunteer opportunities in second-response disaster zones after any type of natural disaster. This type of voluntourism tends to be less expensive than other types, although some organizations require that the participants raise additional donations above the cost of the trip. Skilled professionals like doctors and construction workers are in high demand, though almost anyone can help to provide immediate relief. 

Voluntourism Marketing Strategies for Destinations:

  • Review the region's current service assets to identify unique opportunities for visitors. Creativity and uniqueness are important, because travelers have a variety of volunteer opportunities to choose from. Offering one-of-a-kind experiences to travelers with differentiate a destination from its competitors.
  • Build on exisiting organizational relationships. Choose service projects that will also support tourism-related causes, issues, and events, such as museums, zoos, historic buildings, national parks, and conservation efforts that will interest tourists as well as connect them to the region's other offerings. 
  • Add information about volunteering to destination websites. The Alabama Gulf Coast's website promotes future travel experiences in voluntourism on its website and across its social media platforms as a fun activity to participate in that will preserve the coast for generations to come. 
  • Create a catalog of volunteering options for travel planners. Providing a program of unique voluntourism activities will interest tour operators as well as individual travelers. For example, partnering with zoos and national parks can provide sustainable conservation opportunities, while arts programs and musems can provide cultural opportunities for volunteers. 
Published in General
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