Author: Derek Schimmel

Visitor Voluntary Contribution Fee

How can visitors voluntarily contribute to your destination and not individual businesses? Will asking for that voluntary fee discourage your guests from returning?

These were questions asked and answered as part of Solimar’s Virtual DMO Development learning session on voluntary visitor contribution fees. In previous learning sessions, tourism leaders learned about the variety of methods for collecting funds for their destination or DMO. Topics explored included:

  • government budget allocation,
  • business voluntary contribution,
  • bed taxes, and
  • tourism improvement districts.

These methods for collection all have the government as a shared handler of funds. A Visitor Voluntary Contribution Fee, on the other hand, boasts no government involvement.

How Does a Visitor Voluntary Contribution Fee Support Tourism?

This method uses a voluntary fee placed on the visitor’s bill at individual business within the destination, such as restaurants, hotels and shops. The fee is likely to be relatively small, usually less than one dollar or 1% of their total bill. From here, the DMO collects the fees from the individual businesses, after which the DMO’s Board of Directors delegates the funds accordingly to enhance the destination’s management and marketing efforts. 

Despite apparent similarities, this Visitor Voluntary Fee is not and does not operate the same as a DMO Membership Plan. Whereas a membership plan charges an annual fee, the small fee (that $1 or 1% of the bill) is paid by the visitor, not the business. The business is only where the fee travels through for this fund. While a membership plan offers specific benefits to the businesses involved, the funds collected from the Voluntary Visitor Fee benefit the entire destination. Thirdly, the main idea behind a membership plan is to bring the industry together rather than serving as the main source of revenue for the DMO.

Although a Voluntary Visitor Contribution Fee has great potential, a few prerequisites must be completed before it can work effectively. Ultimately, business buy-in a key for this fund. As the businesses begin collecting this fee which you promise them will benefit the DMO and destination as a whole, they need to be able to trust that the DMO (and its board of directors) are going to do what is best for the destination as a whole.

To reinforce the trust businesses have in a DMO and its use of the funds, an agreement is still very important. Not only can it offer security and peace of mind, it stands as an official record of the agreement with specific details regarding how much they’ll collect, how to pay the fee to the DMO, and the specific terms of the fund’s agreement.

Once the agreement has been decided upon by all parties, the next step is deciphering how to communicate the Voluntary Visitor Fee to guests. This final step of establishing a Voluntary Visitor Fund tackles the ‘why.’ When it comes to paying an extra fee, it seems most travelers are willing to pay the fee. Still, they want to know that their contribution is going to support a destination, not an individual business. It is important to determine the correct way to present this fee.

How do you market the benefit of tourists paying this extra fee? Think about what makes travelers feel good about paying to visit a destination. What will the impact be if this fund is successful? How many jobs will you create? How many peoples’ lives does it have the potential to impact? Answering these questions will help you determine your strategy to market this extra $1 or 1%.

To learn more about this topic, Solimar interviewed Cheryl Kilday of the North Myrtle Beach Chamber of Commerce. She identified the fear DMOs have that the additional fee might discourage guests. This may be more common with guests coming from outside the United States, or from areas without local tax who may not be accustomed to seeing these extra fees on their bills. She says those who pay the fee usually don’t even ask about it, but the best practice for businesse is to be willing to explain and have a conversation about this voluntary contribution. “As long as we can give [the consumer] a solid answer that we’re doing good things with the money that’s benefitting their visitor experience, then that’s all that matters,” she explained. “If they know that it’s helping their visitor experience and you’re doing something to make it a sustainable tourism destination and that they’re going to have a great time there, and that their impact is part of what they’re able to help manage, then I think they recognize that.”

To solidify our understanding that the destination can be a community between your DMO and those contributing, Cheryl Kilday left the DMO Development Course participants with a final suggestion: “Be visible. Be real. Get to know your destination through the eyes of your partners, as well as your visitors. Don’t forget to visit your destination!”

Including this Voluntary Visitor’s Fee gives your businesses a chance to stand as a support beam for the destination they are part of, and it gives visitors the opportunity to make a positive impact on the destination which made a positive impact on them.


Solimar International welcomed its largest group of interns to its sustainable tourism team earlier this month. This diverse group of future travel leaders comes to Solimar from across the United States and will be instrumental in further developing current projects (Southern Tanzania Marketing Plan, The Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail Experience & Georgia/Armenia DMO Development Programs) and the continued strategizing of Solimar’a DMMS program.

Meet the interns below:

Amelia Quarto is currently pursuing an MS in Global Tourism and Sustainable Economic Development through Johnson and Whales University. While completing her undergraduate degree in Hospitality Management, she embarked on a 105 day travel and educational journey that took her to over 12 countries through the Semester at Sea program. Amelia continued to gain knowledge and experience in hospitality management through an internship in Sydney, Australia. Later, it was a job she held in Glacier National Park that sparked her interest and showed her the importance and need of sustainable tourism. Amelia’s education, career, and solo travel adventures have taken her to over 25 countries.


Mason Meadows is a graduate of West Virginia University with a degree in Public Relations. Prior to joining the Solimar International team, Mason lived in Australia where he spent his winters working alongside the indigenous Jawoyn People at Nitmiluk National Park, and his summers living in the city of Melbourne and backpacking Southeast Asia. Previously, Mason served as Sponsorship Coordinator for the international nonprofit Children of Uganda, and as an AmeriCorps NCCC Team Leader based in Denver, Colorado. Mason is a passionate thrifter, avid adventurer, and strong believer in the power of using sustainable practices to minimize negative environmental, economic and cultural impacts.


A native of the San Francisco Bay Area, Dominic Gialdini holds an Bachelor of Science in Recreation Administration with an Emphasis in Sustainable Tourism Management from San Diego State University, where he was selected as the outstanding graduate of his program after having worked as a teacher’s assistant for the L. Robert Payne School of Hospitality and Tourism Management. In September 2020, Dominic graduated from the Erasmus Mundus European Master in Tourism Management Program (through the University of Southern Denmark, University of Ljubljana, and University of Girona). He also interned for the Alliance for Innovators and Researchers in Tourism and Hospitality (AIRTH).


Stephanie Auslander is wrapping up her final class for her master’s degree from Johnson & Wales University and is scheduled to graduate in December 2020. Stephanie previously worked for Key Travel as a business travel consultant and has recently completed an internship with the Economic Transformation group highlighting ways in which the tourism industry can recover from Covid-19. Furthermore, Stephanie had an opportunity to complete a project with the World Bank focused on a cultural landscape approach for the great Lumbini region in Nepal. Through both her course work and internship, she has steadily focused on sustainable tourism practices for destination management.


Rebecca Morris is a recent graduate of the Master of Tourism Administration program at the George Washington University with a focus in Sustainable Tourism Management. She is excited to be interning with Solimar and is interested in learning about marketing, brand strategy, and website development with the local Inn at Meander project in Madison County, Virginia.



Hannah Garland is a recent graduate of the University of Pittsburgh. While studying at Pitt, Hannah earned a bachelor’s degree in Communication along with a minor in History and a certificate in Spanish. Hannah enjoys traveling and being outdoors. She has been to many National and State Parks within the US, as well as in Ireland, Italy, and Canada. While in Ireland, Hannah experienced her first taste of geotourism and is looking forward to furthering her knowledge of the intricacies of geotourism.


Lolya McWest recently graduated from Rutgers University with a BS in Environmental Science. She plans on perusing a master’s in environmental and sustainable development and management. She is excited to be a part of the Solimar International internship program as it combines the two topics she enjoys the most; sustainability and tourism. From a very young age, Lolya loved to travel. She wants to travel as much as possible to meet new faces and see places she has never seen before. Lolya is not sure what the future holds for her, but her end goal is to solve environmental problems and aid communities in striving toward a sustainable future, especially in developing countries.


With over 15 years of experience in hospitality public relations and marketing, Brigid Finley has worked with top travel and tourism brands, including Visit Telluride, Visit Sun Valley, Visit Tucson, Healdsburg Tourism Improvement District, Peru Trade Commission and Eleven Experience, as well as hotels and brands including Loews Hotels, 21c Museum Hotels, The St. Regis Aspen Resort and The Broadmoor. Brigid holds B.A. from Boston College in Political Science and Latin American Studies and is currently completing a Professional Certificate in Sustainable Tourism Destination Management from George Washington Univ. and a Professional Diploma in Digital Marketing from the Digital Marketing Institute.


Robert Carter grew up in Mount Vernon and has over 15 years on the operations side of the hospitality industry, from managing all aspects of free- standing restaurants to working for the Starwood Hotel Company. One of his strongest quality was educating his staff on anticipating the guest needs, then going above and beyond their satisfaction. Robert then took this knowledge of leading, managing and applied to his own business model. His passion for sports really came to life, while living in Chicago, Il, (from 2014-2018) where he started a sports training business for youth sports.  Through the success of his business, he was recognized and teamed with Chicago City Soccer Club as a volunteer trainer for their entire club. With great results on the youth side, Robert was then asked to train their WPSL team. (Women’s Professional Soccer League).

Raised in a small town in Northern California, Elizabeth Evans graduated from Arizona State University with a B.S. in Tourism Development and Management. Beginning her career in tourism and travel marketing at the Arizona Office of Tourism, MMGY Global, and Visit Huntington Beach. Elizabeth is passionate about the Tourism industry and hopes to continue her career in tourism marketing or consulting. She hopes to learn more about sustainable tourism and stakeholder engagement in order to create a tourism product that closely aligns with a community’s personal values and traditions, forming an accurate and authentic experience for tourists and future generations.


Kylie Schultz is a senior studying environmental studies at the University of Pittsburgh. She is originally from the Pittsburgh area as well. In the future I hope to work with the National Park Service or similar organizations to promote sustainability and conservation. I am interested in learning more about the ways that eco-tourism can create a more sustainable world and educate people about the environment around them.



Lindsey Neuwirth is currently a junior at Stony Brook University pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Studies with a concentration in Environmental Law, Public Policy and Waste Management, minoring in Marine Science. She is passionate about bridging the worlds of tourism and sustainability, as well as ocean conservation.  She had the privilege to volunteer in Costa Rica at a child care center and saw how differently they live. After experiencing first hand how greatly they value sustainability and wildlife in their country, it is very clear how all destinations must practice the same methods. She has taken multiple trips to Mexico and has traveled to Germany, Ireland and Puerto Rico.


Emily Binder is currently a sophomore at Creighton University studying history. She is from small town Nebraska and is passionate about promoting local history.




Through Solimar’s work with the USAID Economic Security Program, we recently provided assistance to Caucasus University in obtaining TedQual International Accreditation by the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO). This distinguished designation for excellence in tourism education was awarded on September 17th, 2020 for the Bachelor’s Degree program in the School of Tourism at Caucasus University in Georgia.

To date, no university or college level program in the region has achieved UNWTO TedQual Certification. The UNWTO Certification will significantly increase the performance and competitiveness of the Caucasus University School of Tourism through upgrading the quality of the tourism education programs in compliance with the TedQual standards.

It is noteworthy that Caucasus School of Tourism is the first school in the region to have started the accreditation process of its programs in tourism. This accreditation program will significantly increase the competitiveness of its graduates and raise the program’s international awareness.

More information on the TedQual Certification can be found at



Content is at the heart of any marketing strategy. Content informs the target audience about a subject and it is the engagement piece that lures them to action.

Without content there is no message.

This week’s DMO Development Program session discussed Tourism Information Systems and the digital strategies for managing the content inside a tourism destination.  Tourism information relates to any and all content content pertaining to your destination. This might include factual information, descriptive marketing copywriting, maps, images, and videos. More recently, online marketing has become the primary driver of this content.

Content management relies on an active and seamless network of content generators and content “curators” – those that manage the content flow and that can edit, reframe, and distribute the content to appropriate audiences. Tourism Information Systems help content managers more easily conduct this process. Systems like Travel Oregon’s Online Tourist Information System (OTIS) or Australia’s Smartest Tourism Destination clearly lay out the content curators need to promote specific aspects of a destination, making navigating and promoting different points of interest easy and effective.

Categorizing Content

Content creation part of a destination management organization’s marketing strategy, can be broken into two different categories:

Static content is the foundation for online properties (such as a DMO website) and key informational gateways (such as GNTA’s Georgia.Travel website). Static content is basic, rarely changing information that might include destination descriptions, the destination’s history, currency, product descriptions, and relevant rules and regulations.

– Dynamic content is constantly evolving and is generally driven by what is relevant within a certain time period. Dynamic content might be news about new attractions, information on deals or sales, or reactions to current trends. The Lewis and Clark Trail Interactive Map or the World Heritage Journeys Map are examples of dynamic content, in which places can be nominated in order to be added to a map and guide. The National Geographic’s Geotourism Mapguides also demonstrates how this content can be dynamically utilized.

Numerous computer-based tools and softwares can be used for collecting, creating, storing, processing, and distributing content, regardless of whether it is dynamic or static. These include, but are not limited to:

  • Saas – Software as a Service, cloud-based servers and databases to make it easy to deploy information
  • Customer Relationship Management (CRM) for tourism suppliers/industry partners are a platform to keep demographic information on visitors/leads (ie: Salesforce, Hubspot, Microsoft dynamics 365, Simpleview)
  • Digital Asset Management (DAM) are used to catalogue images and marketing assets. (ie: Crowdriff and Mediavalet)
  • Reservation Management System (RMS) are designed to receive bookings online (, Adventure Bucketlist)
  • Marketing Automation Software (MAS) allow DMOs to build editorial calendars and content pillars (ie: Hubspot)
  • Social Media Management Softwares are built to keep all social media posts in one place (ie: Hootsuite)

Tourism Information Systems: In Their Own Words

As part of Solimar’s DMO Development Program, the Republic of Georgia’s tourism leaders were fortunate to sit-in on two expert interviews focused on Tourism Information Systems. The first DMO expert interview was Cecilia Suvagian from Travel Oregon. When asked how she defines tourism information systems, Ms. Suvagian responded: “Anything that helps the visitor plan their trip and find things to do on their journey. Questions such as ‘Where am I going?’, ‘What am I going to eat when I’m there?’, and ‘Where am I going to stay?’ are all important to have a better sense of the visitor perspective.”

Ms. Suvagian added that properly evaluating the DMOs goals and partnerships is a critical first step in creating a strategy in order to develop relevant content pillars and ensure that the stories are shared and promoted by the destinations stakeholders. “If you are working on a system where you will be sharing the data, be sure to bring in those partners early. Their input and feedback will be critical to your system actually being able to be used in the way you imagine it” Cecilia said.

The bonus interview for this week’s session brought two guests: Natalie Durzynski and Amrita Gurney from CrowdRiff, an online software platform and web-based tool for destination marketing. Solimar asked why visual images are so important to destination marketing, to which Ms. Durzynski replied, “Communication is happening due to visuals. Visuals get people to stop and pay attention,” Natalie said.

The underpinning of all DMOs marketing activities should be the identification, development, presentation, and distribution of content that is informative and engaging for potential travelers. A well-planned and executed content management structure is crucial to ensure that relevant, high-quality and engaging content is made available at opportune times and disseminated via the appropriate platform.

Solimar has written numerous tourism strategies over the last decade centered around Geotourism, which can be defined as “Tourism that sustains or enhances the geographical character of a place — its environment, culture, aesthetics, heritage and the well-being of its residents.” This methodology is hugely beneficial in identifying and developing asset inventories for a destination’s tourism landscape. Solimar’s methodology specific to Geotourism is centered around convening local stakeholders in order to develop an online MapGuide for a region. This website development process provides a platform to the residents of a destination to tell their story and promote the region’s tourism assets in their own words. After all, the best travel advice comes from the people who live there. 

Geotourism has been the nucleus in enhancing community engagement and buy-in for Solimar’s work along the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail. Throughout 2020, Solimar has been working with a group of university students and recent graduates from across the United States to help build relationships with tourism leaders and business owners in destinations along the Lewis and Clark Trail. Below, each of these interns writes about their experiences in better understanding asset inventory as it relates to the Geotourism methodology of tourism strategizing along the LCNHT.

Beau Baiocchi: Desktop Research To Identify Inventory

When utilizing desktop research to discover more about individual destinations, it is important to focus on localization and remember that residents know best. One can typically start at the macro level, researching state tourism websites and county chambers of commerce to gain a general understanding of the values and attractions of a region. However, to uncover the most detailed and accurate information, it is necessary to dive deeper into local town or community tourism pages and read through literature and advertising put out directly by those who are involved in everyday operations at the destination. This way, the information you collect is up to date and truly encapsulating of the spirit of that location. 

Maintaining authenticity is important in order to stay true to the sustainability tenants of Geotourism — authenticity is only achieved by collaborating closely with local stakeholders and prominent local characters who have a great understanding of their destination. One simple Google search will not necessarily be enough. Many times it takes a scouring of all online materials available via Tripadvisor, local tourism blogs, or individual company pages. Oftentimes, links will be embedded in a county chamber of commerce web pages or local tourism sites. Even a simple Google Maps look could reveal to you a new destination that had not appeared anywhere else. Remember, while there may be a myriad of ways to get there, the destination is always localization.

Julia Fassero: Becoming a Member of the Community

When identifying and developing local assets – whether they are restaurants, boutiques, parks or trails – it is essential to have the aid of a community member.  This help can come from either a dedicated tourism director or from individual community members.  Both are valuable, but a key to efficiency and success is a partnership with the tourism leader or business director.  It is essential to have them engaged in the project because of their connections with and knowledge of their area. 

In western Iowa, for example, the Harrison County Development Corporation has latched on to the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail Experience project.  By providing details, materials, and connections to local communities and businesses, the HCDC is forging partnerships between their restaurants, stores, and parks.  The engagement of the Harrison County Development Corporation allows community tourism assets to be identified quickly and efficiently.  The involvement of a local tourism or business director allows the process of identifying and developing the sometimes hidden gems of an area to be streamlined. 

In contrast, if local leaders are not interested or do not have the time to engage with stakeholders for a specific project, outreach becomes more difficult.  The lack of a key contact means the process becomes decentralized and the success of the project falls to the local community members.  Attracting the interest and engagement of some regional tourism leaders can be difficult, and without the Chamber of Commerce or tourism director to tie community actors together, local residents might be asked step in.  From there, the process remains relatively unchanged, as individuals use their knowledge of the area and their personal experiences to identify the best attractions in their region.

Kari Barber:  The Personal Element of Developing Asset Inventory

As an outdoor enthusiast, I knew there would be endless outdoor opportunities to explore in attending the University of Montana in Missoula. Missoula is encircled by the Northern Rockies, beautiful rivers, and acres of wilderness areas, and as my time at the University of Montana comes to an end, I have had the opportunity to dive deeper into the tourism industry both here in Missoula and in other communities across Montana. 

Being given the opportunity to engage with Montana’s communities while learning about sustainable travel through the nature and history of the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail has been a unique experience. Today, I am writing about sites and attractions in Montana along the Lewis and Clark Trail that I find attractive, based on my time in Missoula. I have researched and written about sites and attractions that bring me back to the reason why I ended up choosing Montana for school in the first place. I have also written about sites and attractions that are on my Montana bucket-list, and locations that friends and family have found interesting. Therefore, by using the local perspective I have gained, I am able to use Geotourism to promote tourism in Montana communities, all while allowing these destinations to tell their story in their own words.

Mary Haas: Linking with Local Tourism Leaders

Something that I have noticed while using Geotourism to build out inventory is the sheer importance of keeping up with community partners and local business owners. After all, as an outsider it’s difficult to get the same perspective on a town as someone who lives there. Though it becomes fairly easy to find promising tourist destinations after getting some practice with desktop research, it’s still difficult to represent these places, as well as the people who have a personal connection or leadership role in the establishments. Our community partners along the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail are able to help us get some of that perspective.

Having a close connection to local partners also provides for a major source of information. While we work mostly with resources that we find online, not all of our destinations have a great deal of information available on their websites. This can make it difficult to tell the story of a location, even if it seems like a wonderful place to go based on reviews and images. This is where business owners and community partners can provide the backstory and provide the necessary information about their locale. Whether we need a picture of a location with a certain view or a bit about the establishment’s history to add to our description, these community partners can help.

After a few emails and phone calls describing the program, I have been able to reach the leaders of DMOs and chambers of commerce fairly easily, and the information and help that I’ve received in return has been priceless. By showing some interest in their communities, you can start a wonderful partnership that will allow content creation to take on the tone of the local stakeholders.


“We rely confidently on Solimar's deep technical experience and professionalism as tourism consultants. You always are exceeding our expectations.”
Leila Calnan, Senior Manager, Tourism Services Cardno Emerging Markets

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