“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 is agreed upon, the next 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.
When I first told people that I was heading to Bethlehem to help develop a strategic plan to grow visitation from roughly half a day to multi-day visits, most people thought I was talking about Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.
It was, in fact, the original Bethlehem in Palestine, but it was an easy mistake to make. If you Google “Bethlehem”, very little travel information can be found on the historic birthplace of Christ, but there are many results on the Pennsylvania town, as well as many other towns with the same name.
Our job is to work with tourism stakeholders in Bethlehem to develop a vision, action plan, and identify specific investment promotion opportunities for tourism that will help promote the region and extend the length of time people stay in the area from about half-a-day to two or three days. The longer people stay, the more they will spend and have a positive economic impact on the people of Bethlehem.
Luckily we are not starting with a blank slate, at the present time visitors to the region focus on two main attractions: The Church of the Nativity, where it is said Christ was born, and Shepard’s Fields.
However, in addition to these important sites there is a lot more to see. Among the region’s major attractions are the UNESCO World Heritage site known as the ‘Land of Olives and Vines,’ a hiking trail through ancient Roman terraces; the desert Monastery of Ma Saba; and the ruins of King Herod’s Palace. The food is also a tasty mix of Mediterranean and Arab cuisine, the culture demonstrates the area’s long and varied history, and the people are among the most welcoming I’ve met. All in all, it is a destination well worth visiting for more than just a couple of hours.
Solimar International has partnered with Via Via Tourism Academy, at the request of the Ministry of Information, to develop a five-year tourism development strategy for Malawi. From February 1-8, two workshops were conducted with over 100 individuals from the private, public, non-profit, and donor sectors to identify the country’s unique tourism assets and create a shared story of Malawi’s tourism future. Participants were very enthusiastic and the presentation was very well-received. The information presented at the workshops was based on a year’s worth of research and conversation with the local industry. Through facilitation, Solimar was able to lay the ground work for several initiatives like the creation of a new public-private partnership destination marketing organization and a network of regional tourism management committees.
The “Malawi 2020 Tourism Development Strategy” is currently being finalized. The plan will document Malawi’s vision forward based on the outcome of the workshops, and will include a brand profile and marketing strategy. Representatives from both the public and private sector will work together to implement the actions in “Malawi 2020” starting June 2015. In addition to working with the Destination Management Organization (DMO) and the local tourism committees, there are a number of issues, like handing the required infrastructure, education, and taxes, that will also start being addressed through ongoing cross-sectorial dialogue and ministerial task forces.
Solimar is very excited about this new relationship with Malawi and looks forward to helping it grow as one of Africa’s up-and-coming destinations. With its numerous wildlife reserves, unique varying landscapes, and friendly people, Malawi is sure to amaze its travelers. Workshop instructor, David Brown, describes Malawi’s charm and beauty,
“Visiting Malawi is always an uplifting experience. It’s called ‘the warm heart of Africa’ and that’s not just some empty advertising. Malawians are incredibly friendly and happy. You’re hard pressed to go anywhere without hearing laughter. The landscapes are immense but still humble. On the drive from Lilongwe, the capital, to Blantyre, the commercial hub, it’s easy to get lost in the big open spaces pierced with solitary mountains. Big plateaus full of zebra dominate areas in the North and the South and when you look around can feel like you’re surrounded by sky. Anyone coming to Malawi will surely be headed to the “inland ocean” of Lake Malawi which runs almost the entire length of the country. When you arrive and see the big blue expanse and the golden sand, you feel like you’re David Livingstone discovering something truly incredible for the first time. There’s something very tropical and peaceful about being there, especially when the sunset turns everything pink and the only thing you can see on the horizon are local fishermen bringing their boats to shore and the children splashing around.”
In July 2013, the Rwanda Development Board (RDB), the managers of Rwanda’s parks and tourism assets, contracted Solimar to assess the feasibility of creating an independent organization to take on management of the country’s parks and tourism assets as well as create a business plan for the proposed entity.
RDB is a government organization with the mission to transform Rwanda into a dynamic global hub for business, investment, and innovation. As such their focus is on economic development across all sectors of Rwanda’s economy. The RDB recognized that they needed to take a new approach to management of the country’s parks and tourism assets outside of their existing structure and had formulated a concept to establish a new organization to achieve this goal.
After an initial assessment, Solimar spent several months conducting a feasibility analysis of RDB’s concept. During this phase, Solimar worked extensively with RDB staff and other stakeholders in the tourism and conservation sectors to tackle a series of questions and create a common understanding of the concept proposed by RDB.
The major questions included: what did RDB and local stakeholders want for the future of tourism and their national parks and how did they see it being sustainably managed and successful for both conservation and the national economy. Stakeholders involved included tourism industry leaders and conservation organizations.
These conversations and Solimar’s analysis eventually led to a proposition, that RDB would transfer management and operations of two of its three national parks (the third being already independently managed by African Parks Foundation) and tourism assets to an independent organization, ‘The Rwanda Parks and Ecotourism Trust,’ that would be owned by RDB but able to operate independently to manage the parks and tourism assets on behalf of the country.
The feasibility report was used as a template for RDB and other stakeholders to review and comment, and then for the creation of a business plan, which provided the rationale, strategy, financial projections, and an implementation plan for the creation of the new organization. The proposed ‘Rwandan Parks and Ecotourism Trust’ will, if approved by the Rwandan Cabinet, be set up as a corporation under RDB and aim to increase efficiency and returns while remaining a leader in conservation and high quality ecotourism.
We are happy to announce that the innovative business plan Solimar created with our Rwandan partners was approved by the Senior Management of RDB in September, 2014 and the recommendations in the report will be submitted to the Rwanda Cabinet for review and approval. If approved, Rwanda will establish a new and innovative model for park management, conservation and tourism in the region.