“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:
Solimar’s sustainable tourism strategic planning process is centered around helping tourism stakeholders answer 4 main questions:
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:
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.”