Category: Blog

Written by Amélie Keller and Vincent Villeneuve

Today on June 8, Solimar International celebrates World Oceans Day to remind everyone that there is no life without the oceans. Oceans cover 71% of the earth’s surface and represent 97% of the water on the planet. They allow us to breathe by providing 50% of the atmospheric oxygen, nourish nearly 3 billion people, welcome 90% of internationally traded goods, constitute one of the most promising sources of clean renewable energy, and employ millions of people–including in marine and nature-based tourism. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Credits: Dan Charity

Healthy oceans also ensure a protected climate. Marine biodiversity plays an essential role in climate change mitigation and adaptation and provides many ecosystem services essential for the well-being of human societies. Over the past decades, the ocean has mitigated climate change by absorbing between one-third and half of the human-made carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, constituting one of the largest natural reservoirs of carbon. Marine ecosystems, such as coral reefs and mangroves, also offer valuable adaptation solutions, protecting the coastline from storms, contributing to soil stabilization and water purification, and constituting important habitats for biodiversity. With US $36 billion in tourism revenue supplied to the global economy each year by coral reefs, Solimar recognizes the importance of protecting these critical and endangered habitats in our work with island and coastal economies around the world.

Credits: Jack McKee

World Oceans Day was first declared on 8 June 1992 in Rio de Janeiro at the Global Forum, a parallel event at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) Earth Summit. In 2008, led by Canada, the General Assembly resolved that 8 June would be designated by the United Nations as “World Oceans Day”. (General Assembly resolution 63/111). The purpose of this day is to celebrate the oceans and to raise awareness among the general public of the crucial role they play in our subsistence, as well as in the various means that exist to protect them. This year’s UN World Oceans Day annual virtual event is held virtually in partnership with non-profit Oceanic Global and highlights the theme “The Ocean: Life and Livelihoods”. As the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development has already started, World Oceans Day is a great opportunity to celebrate and appreciate all the benefits humans get from the ocean. It is also the perfect occasion to remind ourselves of our responsibility to use its resources sustainably and to recall that every day should be an ocean’s day if we want to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 14 Life Below Water as well as all the other SDGs. 

Credits: Christian Vizl

Oceans are home to most of the earth’s biodiversity and there is no doubt that the ocean economy has always been an important contributor to growth and prosperity. However, human economic activities have put serious pressure on maritime and marine resources. There is now no doubt that we must do more to protect our most vibrant natural heritage. This is what the concept of the Blue Economy is all about – as well explained by the Ocean Foundation, it refers to ensuring sustainable marine economic activities and enhancing improved livelihoods and jobs while preserving the ocean ecosystem health. For more detailed information about the potential of the Blue Economy, this comprehensive report from the World Bank and the United Nations is a great place to start.

 

What is the Blue Economy? An infographic from the World Bank Group (Credits: The World Bank Group)

As we are living in an era of climate emergency and biodiversity losses, and constantly exposed to environmental heart-wrenching truths through newspapers, blog articles, or popular documentaries (Seaspiracy, Chasing Coral, My Octopus Teacher) – you might now be wondering, as tourism professionals, is there anything we can do to safeguard biodiversity and preserve our marine and coastal areas?

While the impact of tourism on the ocean and the climate is considerable, tourism also represents a vital pillar of a sustainable blue economy and can help drive conservation and restoration efforts around the world. The linkages between healthy ecosystems and a thriving tourism industry is perhaps nowhere more apparent than atop a coral reef. While the vibrant colors of soft coral shallows and intricate reef structures that provide a home for countless creatures can be dulled and broken by careless visitors, they can also be revived by tourism: private protected areas, funded by eco-resorts as seen in places like Misool in Indonesia, can maintain critical no-take zones that allow ecosystems to regenerate and recover while providing employment opportunities for local people.

While the UN underlines that we are currently taking more from the ocean than can be replenished, with 90% of big fish populations currently depleted and 50% of coral reefs destroyed, the Ellen MacArthur’s foundation also reminds us that in a business-as-usual scenario, the ocean is expected to contain one ton of plastic for every three tons of fish by 2025, and by 2050, more plastics than fish by weight.” Contributing to the good ecological state of the ocean and protecting the climate also means changing tourism practices and respecting some simple rules of conduct. By helping tourists adopt the right actions and learn from good practices, we can allow beaches, coastal paths, coral reefs, salt meadows, mangroves, and the ocean to continue to play their role as a climate regulator.

Coastal and ocean-related tourism come in many forms – diving, watersports, wildlife interactions, cruising, beach resorts – and, yes, the tourism industry must assume a major responsibility to take action in sustaining the management of the ocean economy. To do so, active leadership should be integrated at all levels of a destination. Solimar International is committed to helping Destination Management Organizations and tourism stakeholders to reduce large-scale impacts on the natural capital upon which the industry depends. Solimar International is part of the Tourism Action Coalition for a Sustainable Ocean, working together with other tourism leaders to achieve the vision of marine and coastal tourism that is collaborative and regenerative with social inclusion and sustainability at its core. In addition, Solimar International is implementing activities directly aimed at delivering on this vision. Check out some of our past projects to which we conducted sustainable marine-based activities in coastal destinations, such as Mauritius, Panama, and Timor-Leste.

 

Tourism Action Coalition for a Sustainable Ocean (Credits: The Ocean Foundation)

To give you some ideas, we have listed some general tourism best practices examples to follow for a sustainable tourism destination based on the Blue Economy:

  • Ban single-use plastic and reuse as much plastic as possible 
  • Implement guidelines and sustainable activities for wildlife interactions and reef exploration
  • Educate visitors and front-workers about social responsibility and best practices to reduce environmental footprints
  • Lessen the amount of pollution and waste produced by cruise operators, hospitality businesses, tourists, and local communities through awareness campaigns and community events
  • Assess tourism businesses sustainability levels
  • Work with other industries (such as fisheries, governments, maritime transportation, renewable energy, and aquaculture) to conduct holistic and sustainable approaches
  • Employ local people who are on the frontline in our battle to restore our ocean ecosystems, and who are the most knowledgeable about their coastal homes and resources

As summer arrives and the lucky ones are already starting to prepare their luggage for a seaside vacation, it is essential to have in mind some good practices and actions to apply to preserve the largest ecosystem on the planet. By reducing waste, following marked trails, avoiding disturbing marine species, tourists can help protect the oceans while allowing them to fully play their role in the climate system. You too, during your stay by the sea, can protect the ocean and thus contribute to the fight against climate change.

Sustainability is not only green – like the Earth we call home, it is truly blue. So celebrate World Oceans Day, and take this opportunity to remind yourself how beautiful our planet is, especially underwater. To share this world of wonder with future generations, we must ensure that tourism acts to protect these beautiful places and ecosystems–improving them for the many millions of people who have yet to witness their beauty, and the millions more who call these places home.

Feeling like diving now? Sign up to the World Ocean Day event here and take a virtual swim without any harm by discovering this wonderful campaign on Google Earth created by Underwater Earth and The Ocean Agency to raise awareness on the importance of our oceans!

2020 Photo Competition –  Winner of the Category ‘Underwater Life’ (Credits : Michael Gallagher) 

Travel Can Be the Tool to Write the Future We Want — But We Must Do it Carefully

In the midst of our first global lockdown last May, actors from the BBC comedy series W1A created a hilarious parody of their initial lockdown meeting via Zoom, the inauguration of a so-termed BBC Covid-19 “Bounce Back” group to assess the future of television broadcasting as millions were confined to their homes. “What we know of course is that it won’t look anything like the old normal,” Ian Fletcher, one of five floating heads, chimes in. “Or as I think we can safely call it now—the past.”

Nearly a year on, this dry satire resonates almost too well with the rhetoric we have all been swimming in this past year: talk of building back better/greener/bluer/cleaner has dominated narratives from national stimulus plans to entire industries—tourism perhaps the first among them to adopt such language. “I’m a firm believer that every problem is a solution waiting to happen,” Fletcher says confidently to his fellow attendees, their phones held comically aloft as their gazes drift idly from the screen. “And I think we can say with some confidence that we’re looking at one of the biggest solutions any of us have ever seen here.”

Rebuilding Tourism
What’s in a name? Green Destinations is one such organization working to build tangible change in tourism destinations around the world

A recent Bloomberg piece titled “The World Isn’t Building Back Better After the Pandemic” highlights that, out of $14.6 trillion in recovery spending announced by the 50 largest world economies in 2020, only 2.5% has been allocated to green activities. Money instead went largely towards rescuing existing corporations and businesses, with no innovation incentives or green strings attached. It is becoming clearer that, in many ways, we have squandered our opportunity to innovate and solve the problems that got us into this mess in the first place. Like Ian Fletcher, much of the world looked at the problem and expected the solution to present itself, so long as there was a catchy slogan to drive home the message.

Indeed, there is a much bigger crisis at hand with few solutions in sight. With 2020 officially tied for the hottest year on record, the public seemed to grow numb to the scale of destruction at our feet, from fires raging in the Amazon to mass coral bleaching events in some of the worlds’ most pristine reefs. Last year was not a good year for human health or the planet, despite understanding better than ever how these two issues are inextricably linked. Both of these crises require immense global cooperation and human ingenuity to solve; luckily, preventing future pandemics and climate disaster both share one core solution: protecting biodiversity.

As tourism practitioners and tourists ourselves, we understand the incalculable value of standing in the center of a rainforest at twilight, the air transformed into a dense curtain of sound, thrumming with heat and life. Around you grow untold numbers of medical cures to our present and future ailments, stored deep in the soil or in the smallest cell of a bright jungle flower. Cut down to clear the way for human ambition, these cells unleash their power against us, as diseases once contained within dense forest walls skip species and grind all we know to be “normal” to a screeching halt. We have spent a year witnessing the fruits of our destruction. But for everyone who has ever emerged from that jungle night, we too know the power that comes from our perseverance to protect it.

At Solimar we remain deeply committed to realizing this vision to “build back better” alongside our colleagues and communities across the globe, but we also know this cannot be done through rhetoric alone. The scale of the challenge is massive: we lost tropical forest cover the size of California between 2004 and 2017, representing biodiversity and livelihood opportunities we may never get back. Tourism, when it operates at its very best, represents one of the only viable alternatives to continued economic degradation. Community-based conservation activists, from Costa Rica to Cameroon, have shown what happens when this shift begins from the ground up. While Covid-19 has demonstrated the danger of overreliance on an industry easily susceptible to shock, ecosystems that have been sustained thanks in part to the tourism economy can now supply food to local people when visitors disappear, from marine reserves in Indonesia to regenerative agriculture farms in Mexico.

This fact highlights a crucial lesson learned this year. As tourism practitioners who advocate for conservation at the core of our projects, it is crucial that we ask ourselves: for whom are we building back better? Who gets to define “better” in the first place? If better means greater resilience and ability to adapt to change, why is it that local communities who have done the least to cause climate change must be “made” to be resilient to disasters beyond their control? As conservationists and policy practitioners, we must critically analyze the language we use in the everyday discourse of development, especially as we emerge from a year that has changed all of our lives irrevocably.

A recent graphic making its rounds on social media depicted the entire world in three colors: the wealthiest of nations, who would achieve widespread vaccine coverage by the end of this year; still wealthy others who would reach the target by the end of 2022; and the rest of the world, who would not achieve it until beyond then, if ever. As “vaccine passports” open up travel for the haves and tourist destinations for the have nots, we must be more vigilant than ever that we are not just “building back better” for those already better off. Covid-19, for the foreseeable future, is here to stay. We must put in the work to ensure that inequality does not stay with it.

As 2020 came to an end, reporter Gao Yu (高昱) wrote a letter that went viral across Chinese social media channels, as he expressed his despair at the state of affairs in China—but with a message that resonated deeply with how much of the world feels. One memorable passage, translated to English by the China Media Project, reads:

If we have failed then we have failed. I am a positive pessimist. Even if we have returned to the darkness, I won’t go and dwell on those days when light shone. If there is no light, then I must fetch fire. We don’t persevere toward the good things in the world because there is hope; our perseverance is what gives hope. Anything worth having is worth holding on to, and worth waiting for.

If there is one thing that 2020 has made clear, it is this: normal means nothing. Entire economic engines, ways of life and travel, and rules of international engagement have been written over and reworked in ways that no one could have predicted. We make no more promises to the future we expect—only the one we want. In the biting humor of Ian Fletcher, our mock-Zoom chat leader: “This is the time to think big thoughts, and to make the unprecedented into a precedent.” We have spent a year thinking big. It’s time we get to work.

Statistics on the Current State of Tourism and Why Sustainability is More Important than Ever

April 22, 2020 marked the 50-year anniversary of Earth Day. Though holidays may not be at the forefront of the minds of many Americans, it is important to recognize this special day and consider how sustainability will be affected by COVID-19. Solimar’s CEO Chris Seek participated in a webinar in conjunction with Miles Partnership, a tourism consulting and marketing firm and partner of Solimar International, on how destinations and tourism partners can renew their focus on sustainability and destination stewardship with the tourism industry being forced to hit the reset button. The webinar was led and organized by Chris Adams, Head of Research and Insights at Miles, which is continuing to host webinars and support research to help the tourism industry recover from COVID-19.

Current State of American Traveler Sentiment

The webinar began with Erin Francis Cummings, President of Destination Analysts, sharing a summary of their ongoing weekly surveys of Americans to gauge feelings and expectations about travel in light of COVID-19. The perceived safety of travel activities finally improved slightly during the week of April 20th after several weeks of decline. While 37% responded that they would not travel until a vaccine is developed, a similar number disagreed.

Americans also rank travel as one of the first things they want to do after stay-at-home restrictions are lifted. Although the tourism industry is currently hurting, these statistics show that there will be a recovery as demand becomes “pent-up”. 

Americans are also concerned about health risks. Three-quarters say they approve of mandatory health screenings at airports, and two-thirds do not want tourists coming to their communities during the crisis. This suggests that many Americans will change the type of destinations they will visit, and a trend of “active staycations” may emerge. A focus on day trips and local travel will likely recover before international travel does. To watch this section of the webinar, click here.

Current Challenges in Sustainability and Stewardship

Erin Francis Cummings went on to present research conducted in the fall of 2019, which reflected concerns about over-tourism and its environmental impact. According to the State of the American Traveler study, 63% of Americans have told others about over-tourism problems in a specific destination, and half are less likely to visit a destination with these issues. Additionally, data shows a generational divide in how Americans view travel as it relates to tourism, with Gen Z as the most concerned about its environmental effects. The good news is that 32% of all Americans consider leisure travel an important component of their happiness and well-being, and roughly 50% feel tourism is important for their local economies. In short, tourism may be down, but it will be back. Click here to learn more results from the study.

Cathy Ritter, the Director of the Colorado Tourism Office then discussed how DMOs can effectively market and manage their local destinations while addressing environmental and health issues. One such option is to create itineraries and websites for less-visited locales, thus creating a supply for travelers who may be more concerned about health risks and the environment in the future. Creating shared messaging and advertisements with organizations such as the Leave No Trace Center can help ensure that traveler etiquette and sustainability tips are recognized and followed. For the full video of Colorado Tourism’s strategies, click here.

Launching partnerships and coalitions is another great way to encourage sustainability and boost profits for small businesses. Kristin Dahl, VP of Destination Development at Travel Oregon discussed the success of its various Food Trails itineraries, bringing travelers into smaller, rural communities and helping entrepreneurs gain visibility in Oregon’s greater tourism ecosphere. Similarly, the recently developed Care for Colorado Coalition that includes hotel associations, tour operators, guides, and culinary groups around the state is designed around sharing a unified message directed towards tourists to promote a more environmentally mindful way of visiting Colorado.

These types of strategies help strengthen the travel industry and expand opportunities for travelers concerned about both public health and environmental issues. For more examples from Travel Oregon, click here.

Solimar’s Sustainability and Destination Management Strategies

Chris Seek, Solimar International’s CEO, ended the webinar by presenting international examples of sustainability. He stated that DMOs can play a special role in addressing the wants and needs of visitors and residents alike while inspiring the private sector and government to work together in creating integrated plans for destination management and sustainability. For example, Solimar has worked in Sedona, Arizona for several years after local residents and elected officials expressed concern over tourism’s effects on natural resources and habitats. Solimar stepped in to bring together shareholders, such as the city government, chamber of commerce, and Forest Service to create a shared, long-term strategy and action plan based on GSTC (Global Sustainable Tourism Council) criteria.

Planning and site management can also be strengthened through key partnerships. Solimar has been delighted to work with the EU and National Geographic to develop the World Heritage Journeys platform. Solimar developed themed routes, branding guidelines, and a website to promote UNESCO World Heritage sites. The project also engages managers, marketers, and tour operators to execute plans and programs to enhance the quality and sustainability of their destinations.

Finally, one third way of conserving biodiversity in destinations is to establish visitor funding mechanisms. Solimar has worked in Timor-Leste establishing a DMO and creating a forthcoming website. Reefs in Timor-Leste are some of the most biodiverse in the world, and to preserve this ecology, Solimar encouraged the local DMO to enforce a $2 fee for snorkelers and divers to support conservation projects and local fishermen. This kind of funding source is especially important in developing economies that may have less support for tourism from local and national governments.  For the full video of Chris’s section, click here.

In sum, while some tourism strategies may need to be adjusted due to COVID-19, other long-term priorities can continue to address sustainability issues. There will likely be a heavy push towards domestic tourism once we are all allowed to move freely, and government entities are in place to enable conditions for growth. Creating and enhancing linkages via partnerships will help the tourism industry recover and ultimately make it more resilient. The current situation affords an opportunity to refocus on long-term destination stewardship, marketing, and management.

Solimar is grateful for the opportunity to participate in the webinar and help guide the conversation. Click here to view the full webinar recording.

Read on to find out where Solimar is dreaming of traveling this year for Earth Day.

Today we celebrate the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, an event started in 1970 when one out of every 10 Americans took to the streets to protest the environmental impact that industrial development had brought to the world. We now find the entire planet united in the effort to defeat the COVID-19 pandemic, which has quickly become an unprecedented health and economic crisis. While our global community is working to manage this virus, we can’t help but wonder: What if the entire world united to protect our environment? Does this disruption to the travel industry give us the opportunity to rethink those vacations we might have once taken for granted? 

At Solimar, we strongly believe that tourism can help protect our planet. While we recognize air travel contributes to climate change, our friend Costas Christ reminds us that flying can also be a force for good for the planet. We work with destinations around the world that utilize sustainable tourism to protect wildlife, preserve wide open spaces, celebrate local cultures, and improve the lives of local residents. While travel restrictions may keep us from the ability to hop on a plane tomorrow, one of the greatest joys of travel is researching new destinations and anticipating that next adventure. For this Earth Day, we encourage you to take a break from the latest headlines to do some dreaming about your next travel destination. We welcome you to explore a few of the places where Solimar is working to help you begin planning your next earth-friendly adventure.

World Heritage Journeys
of Europe & Buddha

Visit UNESCO’s World Heritage Journeys Sustainable Tourism Platform developed with support from Solimar and National Geographic to help you dream about 34 World Heritage sites from the EU or three World Heritage sites of Buddhist heritage in South Asia. Take a tour to discover why these sites are designated as World Heritage or immerse yourself in a 360 virtual tour of the romantic city of Bruges, a participating site of the Romantic Europe journey.

 

Grobglockner Alpine Road, Austria

Known as one of Austria’s top three Alps destinations, the Grossglockner High Alpine Road is one of the most beautiful scenic drives in the world. Solimar is assisting Schmiek Plant, an Austrian tourism consulting group, conduct a comparative analysis of scenic byways around the world to help make a case for World Heritage inscription of this famous and beautiful scenic drive.

 

Republic of Georgia

This small but incredible country in the Caucasus Mountains offers visitors world-class wine, adventures, and cultural heritage experiences. There is a reason the Republic of Georgia was one of the fastest growing tourism economies on the planet before COVID-19, and there is no doubt it will recover quickly. Take a video tour of Georgian adventures, Georgian food, winters in Georgia, and summers in Georgia.  If you still don’t believe us, listen to the social media posts from travelers who visited Georgia and shared their emotions. Solimar is working with USAID and DAI through the Economic Security Program to strengthen regional destination management organizations, assist Caucuses University obtain Ted-Qual Certification, improve interpretation planning of key heritage sites, and update the National Tourism Action Plan to help the country recover from the COVID-19 crisis.

 

Sisian, Armenia

Discover Sisian, an off-the-beaten-path town in Southern Armenia that is the perfect basecamp for exploring the Syunik Region. Take a video tour of the Sisian History Museum, discover the hiking adventures and Soviet-era jeep tours waiting for you with Basen Tours, watch the inspiring story about the Sisian Women Resource Center that is supporting women craft makers, or take a hike from the famous Tatev Monastery through abandoned villages on your way back to a wonderful overnight in Sisian. Solimar is working with USAID and Smithsonian to create a destination management organization in this wonderful town.

 

Papua New Guinea

Papua New Guinea combines an incredibly diverse culture with an array of outdoor tropical adventures, highlighted by the 96 kilometer Kokoda Track. Check out PNG through the eyes of its local people with this virtual tour from the Papua New Guinea Tourism Promotion Authority and see how past history and traditions link beautifully with the country’s tourism offerings today. Solimar is currently working with the Tourism Promotion Agency to develop a new five-year tourism action plan that will help guide the country’s COVID-19 recovery efforts.

 

Timor-Leste

Tucked between the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean, Timor-Leste is the ideal destination for travelers searching for exotic locales with few tourists. What Timor-Leste lacks in size, it makes up for with its wildly rich cultural heritage, world-class diving and snorkeling, beaches and fishing. Intrepid travelers may choose to venture to Ataúro Island, roughly 20 miles from mainland Timor-Leste for a truly one-of-a-kind travel experience. Take a virtual tour and learn how tourism is helping to support marine life and about the sustainable efforts happening within Ataúro’s fishing culture. Solimar has been supporting local tourism stakeholders, creating a destination management organization in Ataúro and is building a destination website designed to educate visitors and support community-led tourism.

 

Annapurna Conservation Area of Nepal

With stunning mountain ranges, deep gorges, traditional villages, rich cultural diversity, and important spiritual sites, the Annapurna Conservation Area (ACA) is one of the most important and popular tourist destinations in Nepal. Take a 3D tour of the famous 220KM trek around Annapurna Mountain or enjoy these amazing views and vistas from our friends at World Expeditions. Solimar is working with the World Bank and the International Finance Corporation to attract a different and higher paying market to ACA through investment promotion for new accommodation offerings in Jharkot and Tukuche.

 

Southern Tanzania

Tanzania is known as a tourism destination by most travelers around the world mostly because it is home to Serengeti and Kilimanjaro National Parks, however these two parks are located in the far north of the country and leave Southern Tanzania with very little tourism traffic. With many parks and game reserves, the lower portion of Tanzania is a dream for all visitors searching for off-the-grid boating and walking safaris. Tour the Mbinga District for a cultural trip and find exotic safari experiences in this still-being-developed section of Tanzania. Solimar is kicking off a new project to help develop a marketing strategy, communication materials, and establish a regional Destination Management Organization for the Southern Circuit.

 

Namibia

While Solimar is no longer working in Namibia, this destination will always be in our hearts. They say “once you visit this pristine land of untouched natural beauty; of vastness, of awe-inspiring contrasts and mystical splendour it touches the soul. You take it with you forever.”  Namibia’s endless horizons and wide open spaces are the ideal place to find balance in nature. Watch this video from our friends at Travel News Namibia and the Namibia Tourism Board that reminds us Namibia is waiting for you.

 

Jamaica 

Jamaica is often thought of as a prime destination for sun, sand and sea vacationers. Its numerous beaches and crystal clear waters validate this description, but Jamaica’s renowned culture and history provides the island nation the perfect backdrop for cultural heritage and community tourism. Take a virtual tour of the Rastafari Indigenous Village, a group that Solimar is supporting to preserve the heritage and economic well-being of the Rastafari community through sustainable tourism.

 

Cayman Islands

West of Jamaica lies another gem of the Caribbean. For decades, the Cayman Islands has been a paradise for beach-seekers and divers alike. Take a virtual tour to discover the thriving underwater paradise that neighbors the islands’ shores and find out why so many travelers are dreaming of the Cayman Islands while staying home. Solimar International worked alongside The George Washington University in building a Visitor Management Strategy and National Tourism Plan for the Cayman Islands.

 

Or maybe something a little closer to home…
The tourism industry is in an unprecedented state as it reacts to the coronavirus pandemic. One near certainty is that domestic travel will recover quickly as restrictions are slowly repealed. Here are a few places where US-based travelers might consider to scratch that ever-deepening travel itch.

The Inn and Tavern at Meander, Virginia

The Inn and Tavern at Meander, located a short drive from Washington, DC offers what everyone is craving at this time of crisis – nature, silence, and solitude. Meander’s new contactless hospitality program invites travelers to self check-in to their own private cottage and enjoy room service via text, while taking in the views of the Central Virginia Foothills. Nestled on 80 rolling acres near Shenandoah National Park, Meander brings guests back through time in its tastefully renovated home that was built originally in the 1700s. Take a tour through The Inn and Tavern at Meanderand a virtual drive on the famous Skyline Drive, one of the most beautiful drives in America. Solimar helped bring together a group of family and friends to purchase this historic property and use sustainable tourism to preserve its history including hosting some of America’s founding fathers, including Thomas Jefferson and George Washington.

 

Huntington, West Virginia

Huntington, West Virginia is located on the banks of the Ohio River and though relatively unknown, the city has an eclectic mix of tourism offerings for both nature-lovers and those searching for a true Americana adventure. Take a video tour of the mountains, meet the people and immerse yourself in the cultural heritage of Huntington, WV. Solimar is working on a Market Strategy and Economic Feasibility Study to support economic diversification via tourism in the region.

 

Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail

The National Park Service stewards the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail and offers a trip through American history that stretches 4,900 miles and through 16 states, from Pittsburgh to Oregon. The historic trail links the towns, cities and counties along the expedition route while supporting historical preservation, all while celebrating the unique local cultures and living traditions of today. It has probably been years since you studied this important and remarkable historical event, so take a few minutes to watch this trailer for the Ken Burns Documentary on this amazing expedition. Solimar is in the midst of building a sustainable travel website to promote the tourism opportunities along this trail by inviting tourism leaders and local residents to share what they recommend to visitors tell their story in their own words.

We hope that sharing these incredible destinations has inspired our to begin planning your next trip. On earth day and every day, remember that your travel choices can make a difference in helping to protect the environment.

As we all do our part to help flatten the curve in the weeks and months ahead, the tourism and hospitality industries will face unprecedented challenges. It is now very clear that the only way to stop the spread of this virus is for us to stay at home and practice physical distancing.  This means taking a pause from restaurants, hotels, events, business meetings, and air travel. The result of these guidelines is an abrupt stop to the engines of an industry that—at its very core—is intended to bring people together. These restrictions, while necessary, will be devastating to over 10% of the world’s economy and the 1 in 11 jobs tied to travel and tourism.

Many of Solimar’s clients include Destination Management Organizations (DMOs), Ministries of Tourism, and Tourism Boards that are struggling to understand what this global impact will have on their economies and what priority actions are needed to deal with this crisis. The main questions we are hearing include:

  1. What should we be doing right now during this time of crisis?
  2. Should we stop marketing our destinations?
  3. Do we need to throw out the long-term tourism plan and create a new one?
  4. When will things return to normal and what impact will this have on tax revenue and the local economy?

Since we know these questions are top of mind for any tourism organization, we wanted to do the best we can to answer these for our clients and the rest of the industry.

  1. What should DMOs, Ministries of Tourism, and Tourism Boards do right now during this time of crisis?

The one thing this virus has demonstrated is that when we find ourselves in crisis, we need leadership. We need leaders who can clearly communicate facts, provide steady guidance, and help remind us that we will get through this together. Elected leaders from around the world are doing their best to provide this leadership to citizens. Even though we all hear these national guidelines, the tourism industry needs leadership too. Those that lead tourism organizations are asked daily to lead your staff, but in moments like this we need you to lead your industry as well. Your tourism partners need a place to get reliable information about tourism and understand the resources and support available to them. This doesn’t mean you have to communicate only the support your organization can provide; you can play an important role to help industry partners make sense of new stay at home guidelines being imposed, or details about the latest bill or stimulus package that has been approved.  Most importantly, as a tourism leader you need to remind those in the industry that they are not alone and the industry will recover together.

Tourism leadership also means advocating for your industry.  Often, the tourism leader is the only one that can pick up the phone and call those elected officials that are making national and local decisions about how to deal with this crisis. Your leadership is needed to remind government about the impact the tourism industry is facing and the support that is needed.  Remember, leadership is not only during this immediate crisis, but this is needed over the next year as the industry tries to recover.  We are convinced that it will be the destinations with the strongest tourism leaders that will be the ones that come out of this crisis the fastest and with a stronger tourism industry.

For an example of tourism leadership, listen to this webinar from BRAND USA, CEO Chris Thompson and Carroll Rheem VP Research & Analytics sharing insights to industry partners in light of this virus.

Here are some other great examples of tourism organizations making toolkits and information available to their industry partners:

Remember, as a tourism leader it’s important to speak to all destination stakeholders during this time of crisis, not just your industry partners.  See this wonderful example from Jennifer Wesselhoff, President/CEO of Sedona Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Bureau in her open letter to all Sedonans where she not only reinforces important safety messages but also how residents can support local businesses during this crisis and most importantly offering some messages of hope and perseverance closing the letter with “Keep up the good work. Let’s stand together, help each other and stay safe and positive. #SedonaStrong”. This is what tourism leadership looks like.

  1. Should we stop marketing our destinations?

Yes and no.  The simple answer during this time where the entire world is being asked to stay at home, is no, you should not be trying to convince people to visit your destination.  But that doesn’t mean you stop marketing.  The entire world is stuck at home right now dreaming of when things return to normal and they can get as far away from their home quarantine as possible. Their daily social media feeds are full of negative stories about this virus, why not brighten their day with an inspirational message while showcasing your destination?

See this example from the Namibia Tourism Board that executed this idea brilliantly. They reinforced the message that we must stay at home but reminded us that their beautiful destination that offers endless horizons waiting for you when you are ready and allowed to get off your couch.

and here is another wonderful example from Visit Portugal:

Another important marketing activity that you should be doing now is marketing planning.  This is the perfect time for you to inspire your marketing team and agency partners to help refresh your creative assets and develop a campaign that is ready to go the minute social distancing orders and travel restrictions are lifted. It is highly recommended to focus your first campaign on your domestic market and residents. As soon as people are given the opportunity they will want to get out of their houses and re-connect with family and friends. Start working now on your campaigns that will encourage your local market to get out and spend money with your hospitality partners.  Once you have the domestic campaign ready to go, reach out to your international tour operator and airline partners and start discussing now how you can invest marketing resources together to get those airplane seats full again.

3. Do we need to throw out the long-term tourism plan and create a new one?

No! You should adapt your plan, but do not start over. We believe strongly that all destinations need a long-term tourism plan that guides the industry towards a common vision. But a tourism plan should never be seen as a static document. A tourism plan is a strategic framework that gives direction to the public and private sector on how to work collaboratively to achieve a common vision.  For those that have a tourism plan, has your vision for where you want to see your destination in 10 years changed because of this virus?  Probably not.  Look back at your strategic objectives that frame your plan, have these changed because of the virus?  Probably not.  What has changed is the need to re-prioritize actions and specific activities.

What your plan will also need is a new high-level objective to show your industry partners that you are responding to this crisis.  This might be called “Assist the industry respond and recover from the COVID-19 crisis.”

Priority actions might include

  • Make low-cost loans available to help tourism businesses during this crisis
  • Create/strengthen a government safety net for tourism workforce that loses their job because of forced layoffs
  • Provide online skills development opportunities that tourism businesses and workforce can access during social distancing period
  • Provide industry support and training in disinfecting and deep cleaning, and develop a “COVID-Safe” certification program to incentivize industry participation
  • Develop a short-term marketing plan focused on locals to launch as soon as social distancing ends
  • Develop a cooperative marketing grant fund to incentivize and support international tour operators and low-cost airlines to start bringing visitors to your destination
  • Develop a crisis response emergency plan based on lessons learned from COVID-19 to have ready for future crisis

But if your new tourism plan is just focused on immediate actions that are needed in this time of crisis, you will never be able to achieve that collective vision you developed for your long-term plan and run the risk of just “taking action” without a clear direction or strategy to measure the success of those actions.

4. When will things return to normal and what impact will this have on tax revenue and the local economy?

This is the question everyone wants answered, but the reality is no one can say for sure.

The UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) is predicting a fall in international arrivals by 20-30% in 2020 and this would translate into decline in international tourism receipts (exports) of between US$300-450 billion.

But the UNWTO also reminds us that tourism has a history of continued growth and resilience as seen in the below graph that shows the impacts and recoveries from other global events in recent history.

international-arrivals

And as we learned from the 2003 SARS Virus and the 2009 global economic crisis, in both cases the industry re-bounded quickly as seen in the below graphs.

And just as important, remember how employment rebounded across all sectors by 11% after the global economic crisis between 2010 and 2018 compared to 35% employment growth in in accommodation and food services.

This reminds us again that when life returns to normal, our society returns to travel and spending money in the hospitality sector.  This is the benefit of travel, we know the industry enjoys “pent up demand”.  Everyone who had to cancel their spring break trips or summer trips will be the first to book new trips as soon as they are able.  Afterall there’s a scientific reason our suitcase is always half packed.

At Solimar International, we have experience helping many of our destination clients navigate these times of uncertainty. We were there after the earthquakes in Haiti and Nepal and the terrorist attacks in Egypt, Tunisia, and Sri Lanka.  We are here with you now and ready to support your recovery efforts.  Just remember you are not in this alone and our industry needs your leadership to help us return to the days where sustainable tourism is driving economic growth.

Contact us today to let us help you develop your tourism crisis recovery plan.

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“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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