Working in the travel and tourism industry for the last 20 years has allowed me to meet and become friends with some amazing entrepreneurs that built and operate the world’s best travel and hospitality companies.
I remember first realizing a career in travel was possible when visiting my Aunt Laura’s travel agency in Huntsville Texas. As I was considering job options after college, I remember thinking how lucky she was to be able to work in the travel industry for a living. Later while studying abroad in Costa Rica I was introduced to some of the pioneers of the ecotourism industry (Finca Rosa Blanca, Lapa Rios, Selva Bananito, Aguila de Osa, Rafiki Safari Lodge, Selva Verde Lodge, Hotel Belmar, and Pacuare Lodge) that each taught me that not only could you make a living doing what you love, but you can also make a difference in the world. These entrepreneurs were making a profit by delivering an incredible guest experience while also supporting conservation and community development.
My career has since taken me around the world to many undiscovered destinations. I continue to meet people who have made the decision at some time in their life to pursue their passion for travel but also make a positive impact in the destinations where they operate. They are often the pioneers of tourism in these destination–opening ecolodges or inbound travel companies despite very challenging business environments.
It wasn’t until our work in Namibia with the Millennium Challenge Corporation where we were asked to represent the Namibia Tourism Board in North America and grow North American arrivals by cultivating the business of international tour operators that I learned the power and shared values of these companies to support sustainable tourism development. With the help of Natasha Martin and our friends at the Adventure Travel Trade Association, we were able to convince over 130 of the top US tour operators to not only start offering and selling Namibia, but also offer the community conservancies that were taking conservation and community development efforts to scale. It was during this time that I realized that just like the private sector pioneers working in undiscovered destinations, the international tour operators and travel agents in North America were also driven by more than making a profit. They truly wanted to see their tours and guests supporting sustainable tourism and the communities they visit.
Recognizing the power of sustainable tourism to support sustainable development goals and knowing that even with the best tourism policies in place or the best consultants advising destinations, it is only the private sector that is making sustainable tourism work for development. The private sector is who invests in the destination, creates jobs, and supports communities, and conservation. Unlike other industries that use philanthropy to give back, the tourism industry knows that investing in conservation and communities is good for their business and the right thing to do.
This is why Solimar has recently launched the Sustainable Tourism for Development (ST4D) Alliance. We are calling all tourism industry partners to join us and combine efforts to support sustainable tourism for development. With this Alliance, we hope to change the pattern we see in development projects where the private sector is only engaged when the project is over to sell a new community tourism project or add a new “off the beaten path” destination to their offerings.
By creating an alliance of like-minded tourism industry partners, we can change the way we approach sustainable tourism development projects. We know the end goal is to create jobs, conserve natural and cultural resources, and deliver transformational travel experiences to guests. Instead of waiting until the end of the project to engage the private sector, what if we started off by tapping into their knowledge, experience, technology, and potential support for connecting to the markets?
This is the idea of Solimar’s Sustainable Tourism for Development (ST4D) Alliance. We believe that by having the private sector, both in country and in the source markets when projects are designed, and resources are allocated we can ensure the products developed and the marketing efforts implemented will result in the desired impacts. The question for our private sector friends is are you willing to go beyond the tourism hot spots and help support these undiscovered destinations and create demand for these new destinations? Sure, selling Costa Rica is easy, and we know these trips are making a positive impact, but what about adding a new trip to Nicaragua or Honduras where they need tourism dollars and visitors desperately? Or even better, how about joining Solimar and supporting cultural sustainability in Armenia with the Smithsonian, or supporting marine conservation with Conservation International in the remote Island of Atauro in Timor-Leste, or supporting World Heritage Conservation with UNESCO and National Geographic in Europe.
Remember why you first got involved in the tourism industry. We know if you were just driven by profits you would have chosen a different career. You love travel and believe in the positive impacts it can create both for your guests and the host communities.
Contact us today to learn how you can join the alliance and work with Solimar and other like-minded private sector companies to scale our impacts and support global development through sustainable tourism.