Sustainability in business has become a major priority in the global objective to better care for our planet. With tourism being one of the largest industries, it must play a major role in emphasizing this need. Done sustainably, tourism can provide economic growth for communities and businesses while also creating support for the conservation of natural and cultural resources. While there is no one correct way to develop a tourist destination, doing so in a way that balances the needs of residents, businesses, tourists, and ecosystems provides some extra considerations for the governments that allocate land use. Therefore, it is critical that countries learn from each other in their pursuit towards accomplishing this goal.
Solimar and the World Bank recently worked together to document a series of case studies intended to help governments understand how concession agreements can be used to develop tourism. The document includes research that describes the importance of proper development and provides several case studies of real-world examples from a variety of global destinations. The use of concessions is a common practice in tourism, and The World Bank and Solimar have put their own spin on the subject by emphasizing how these concessions can truly benefit the communities living in and around protected areas. As a result, they have collected information on the importance of sustainable tourism, the role concessions play in tourism, and the evolution of a protected area into a tourist attraction. Utilizing extensive research of various case studies over multiple countries, the document highlights the major insights from a series of practical examples. Our hope is that we will be able to catalyze smarter development by learning from the experiences of others who have done it.
“Why do we need another plan?”We hear this question a lot at Solimar when asked to help a tourism destination develop a national, regional, or destination specific sustainable tourism strategy. We know that most of the destinations we work with have a cabinet full of previous studies and plans that were developed but never implemented. So, we understand and empathize with tourism stakeholders that may be reluctant to spend more time in consultation meetings to discuss the challenges and actions needed for the tourism industry.As a sustainable tourism consulting firm, we believe strongly that every tourism destination needs a tourism strategy, or a long-term tourism plan that unites the industry and the government to puruse a shared vision for sustainable tourism development and management.But the question is how do you develop a tourism strategy that is implemented and doesn’t just end up on the shelf?
Based upon our tourism planning and implementation experience in more than 500 destinations around the globe, we know that tourism strategies often fail, but rarely because of a lack of good ideas. In our experience, we believe the process is just as important as the end tourism strategy.We see the keys to successful strategic tourism planning include:
Buy-in and consensus, from the wide range of public and private sector stakeholders that will be needed for successful strategy execution. Solimar uses a variety of tools and proven approaches for achieving that buy-in and consensus.
Detailed action plans that clearly define timelines, responsibilities, and the human and financial resources that will be required for plan implementation. Unlike most tourism planners, Solimar implements most of the tourism development strategies that we develop. That experience gives us valuable perspectives in defining action plans that are time-bound, practical and achievable.
A focus on demand-driven solutions. While policy frameworks, training, and infrastructure development are all important components of a comprehensive tourism development plan, increased demand is the primary and ultimately the only sustainable driver of more frequent and affordable airlift, product diversification, and improved service delivery.
Solimar’s sustainable tourism strategic planning process is centered around helping tourism stakeholders answer 4 main questions:
Where are we now? –what is the current situation with our tourism industry?How is the industry performing? How do we compare to our competition? What are our tourism assets? What tourism services are available for visitors? Who is responsible for tourism policy, management, marketing, investment, etc? How is the industry organized?But most importantly – what are the main challenges that are preventing our industry from reaching its full potential?Through a careful review of tourism statistics, previous studies, online research, and interviews and surveys with tourism stakeholders we are able to develop a tourism sector analysis or a tourism situation analysis that sets the foundation for the tourism strategy.
Where do we want to go? – the vision statement is one of the most important components of a tourism strategy. The objective of the visioning process is to build consensus around a shared vision for the future of the tourism industry in the destination.Solimar uses a variety of different approaches to create a shared vision but this is mainly achieved through a participatory planning workshop where stakeholders come together and think into the future and describe a tourism industry that they would like to see for their destination.How has tourism changed from today?What is improved?What remains the same?Asking tourism stakeholders to describe their desired future of the tourism industry shows that while stakeholders have many different opinions about what needs to be done and what should be prioritized, they often share a common vision for what they want tourism to look like in the future for their destination.
How do we get there? – Once a shared vision isagreed upon, thenext question is how the vision will be achieved and how best to organize action plans to be implemented. While every tourism destination is unique and has its own challenges and priorities, most tourism strategies tend to prioritize 5-6 main pillars of the strategy that we call strategic objectives or strategic goals.These tend to be focused around improving Policy/Coordination, Marketing, Product/Destination Development, Workforce Development, Sustainability and other topics that flow from the participatory planning process.After defining these main pillars, the next and most important step of the strategic planning process is to define the specific strategies to be implemented to achieve these goals. Individual strategies are the main components of the document and what provides the direction for the industry to realize the vision. Through stakeholder interviews and outcomes from the tourism planning workshop these strategies are identified and grouped under the corresponding goals. A description of each strategy is important to help everyone understand what is being proposed and why.The last and very important step is the creation of detailed action plans.These action plans are developed through working groups that include the public and private sector, conservation and community organizations, and other stakeholders. The key to action planning is aligning the action plan updating and reporting with the government’s own annual work planning and budgeting.
How do we know we’ve arrived? – Indicators are an important tool in a strategic plan to define quantifiable targets that can be used to measure the results of the strategy implementation process. Indicators should include not only economic performance, but also sustainability and other policy focused metrics that demonstrate progress towards realizing the vision and communicate progress.
A wise man once said “Without goals, and plans to reach them, you are like a ship that has set sail with no destination”. Tourism is not the type of industry you want to allow to set sail without a clear direction and someone at the helm. Sustainable tourism planning provides an important tool to bring tourism stakeholders together and define in their own terms how tourism can and should contribute to a desired future for their destination and community.
If you are a tourism manager or someone interested in learning more about Solimar’s strategic planning process, click here for an informational video that discusses our methodology in greater depth.
Economic development in a region involves a myriad of inputs from stakeholders. Due to the multi-faceted nature of tourism, improving this industry is a good way of stimulating growth in other sectors from accommodations to transportation to the creative arts. This week, Solimar returned to the Republic of Georgia (where we worked previously to help develop national and regional tourism plans) and is now assisting the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), DAI, and the Georgia National Tourism Administration (GNTA) through the USAID-Economic Security Program to use tourism as a means to diversify and strengthen the economy.
The Republic of Georgia is an incredible country with a number of tourism assets. Mountain ranges rise up over the land and provide magnificent hiking. The land is dotted with monasteries and castles; the remains of royalty and religious leaders. Ancient cities full of history, wineries, and sulfur baths provide a cultural experience no matter the city a visitor chooses to see. To the west, Georgia borders the Black Sea and provides a relaxing shoreline atmosphere. The country has tremendous opportunity for growth in the tourism sector, which will first be explored through a facilitative value chain development approach.
A tourism value chain analysis looks at industry performance, visitor profile, end-markets, competition, and binding constraints to growth through research and stakeholder input in order to find the needs of the market. Earlier in July, Solimar tourism experts met with a number of local stakeholders to identify what needs to be supported in order to combat these issues. With this information, the ESP will use “smart incentives” to invest in the solutions with the market actors themselves. USAID will also use their new Private Sector Engagement Policy to facilitate the creation of public-private partnerships. This process of analysis ensures that the entities affected by the industry are at the center of controlling its growth and creating its solutions. The development of this value chain was managed in three major parts:
Tourism Planning Committee: The GNTA and ESP formed a tourism action planning committee with major stakeholders and government agencies to conduct the tourism chain analysis.
Research and Survey: Research was conducted on Georgia’s tourism performance, visitor profile, competition and other aspects of the current tourism value chain. The ESP and Planning Committee also conducted surveys and interviews of Georgia’s key stakeholders in Tbilisi.
Validation and Action Planning Workshop: The initial Tourism Value Chain Assessment was presented to a group of public and private stakeholders at a one-day tourism workshop on July 25th. During the meeting led by Chris Seek, Solimar CEO, stakeholders defined the necessary actions and investments and compile the information into a 2-year Tourism Action Plan to strengthen the tourism industry.
The entire project is focused on using multiple industries to promote growth in the Georgian economy. Yet, Solimar’s impact will be focused on growing tourism through the Tourism Value Chain. With an emphasis on this value chain process, we can promote collaboration among the various stakeholders and agencies and ensure meaningful solutions are implemented.
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?
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.
The Trail, which currently extends from St. Louis to Cannon Beach, Washington, traces the route that Lewis and Clark and the Corps of Discovery followed during their 1804-1806 expedition to the Pacific. The Trail was designed by an act of Congress in 1978 and includes portions of 11 states and multiple Native American reservations. Today, the Trail links contemporary communities whose historic connections span generations to the places associated with the expedition.
Following a series of workshops in 2017 with stakeholders along the trail, Solimar drafted the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail Sustainable Tourism Plan 2019-2023. The Plan is intended to encourage the public’s use and enjoyment of the Trail without adversely impacting the resources, which the National Park Service is mandated to protect. Among the strategies laid out is a plan to build a local constituency of destination ambassadors and storytellers and work with these individuals to support the ongoing stewardship and promotion of the destination.
Solimar recently rolled out a new tourism website for the Trail, which includes content about more than 150 points of interest that was written and submitted by local experts who know the area best. Residents who live anywhere along the thousands of miles of Trail are invited to nominate businesses, destinations, and other points of interest to be featured on the site by logging in or creating an account here.
In March, the National Park Service announced that the Trail would be expanded a further 1,200 miles east to Pennsylvania to include what is called the Eastern Legacy, which includes parts of Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia.
Solimar is now tasked with supporting NPS’s outreach and engagement to hundreds of communities and millions of residents who will soon be connected to the Trail, and help extend the benefits of the Trail along the Eastern Expansion.
“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