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