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As the tourism industry continues to adapt and make sense of this unprecedented year, the team at Solimar has taken time to sit back and reflect on our past travel experiences. We asked ourselves, “What was that one travel moment that set me on the career/academic path of sustainability in tourism?”

Here are our answers:

Chris Seek

My first introduction to the concept of ecotourism took place while studying abroad in Costa Rica during my university studies. It was in Costa Rica where I learned how tourism could be developed in such a way that minimized impact and maximized benefits to the environment. A few years later I was introduced to the concept of Sustainable Tourism at the end of my 6 month road trip through Central and South America when I was starting Solimar. Just before I finished the 6 month adventure I came across the Yachana Lodge in the Ecuadorian Amazon. This small lodge was not only using tourism to protect the environment but it was also improving the lives of the local indigenous people through improved public health, education, and economic development.  I realized then that this is the type of tourism I wanted to support and have dedicated my life to this ever since.

Natalie Sellier

I grew up in a small town where tourism is critically important, so I had a fondness for the industry and appreciation for those truly special destinations even before I understood authenticity as a marketing term. After realizing that I accepted my first job out of college because it required over 50% travel, I knew I wanted to pivot and dedicate my career to the industry. Grad school at George Washington University introduced me to tourism consulting through a practicum in Istanbul, however it was a road trip throughout East Africa afterwards where I realized how truly incredible some destinations on this planet are that need to be preserved for future generations. I was able to see firsthand how sustainable tourism was supporting both the conservation of these places and creating economic opportunities for residents—and could serve as a tool for not only cities and small towns, but rural communities and protected areas alike.

Derek Schimmel

I was fortune enough to grow up vacationing in traditional sun, sand & sea destinations, exploring the beaches and resorts that dot the coasts of the Caribbean and Mexico. I understood the traditional ‘big-box’ travel experience but wasn’t well-versed on the idea of sustainability in tourism until I embarked on a backpacking trip through Southeast Asia. It was during this 7-month adventure — galavanting through Thailand, Cambodia and Laos with nothing but a bag on my back — that I began to understand the value of community tourism and the benefits of cultural immersion. Each day, with the world as my oyster, I would dive deep into a foreign destination and experience the unknown. It wasn’t before long that I understood that there was one resource that made each place memorable: its people. As the trip progressed, it became apparent that these people and their ways of life would be at risk as the world became flatter and tourism grew exponentially. These community-based experiences taught lessons of acceptance, patience and self-awareness, and in arriving at this realization I opted to pivot my career in hopes of bringing these places to the forefront of the tourism ecosphere.

Chloe King

I grew up believing in mermaids, entranced by the magic of the ocean and the alien-like creatures below its surface. At eighteen, I set off alone for a year to work as a dive guide in Indonesia and Thailand. I witnessed firsthand the power of tourism to transform livelihoods and preserve fragile ecosystems. I assisted in re-training dynamite fishermen to become local dive guides, watching their eyes light up in wonder with their first underwater breath. Together, we found the magic I believed in as a child beneath the surface: whale songs haunting us from the depths; kaleidoscopes of color layered over eons in coral shallows; intelligent eyes of my first manta ray finding ours, suspended before us, while we cut a fishing line from her 20-foot wings. After this first encounter, I watched two ex-manta ray hunters swim with one for the first time, after a lifetime of killing thousands. Hiding his tears, one exhaled: “Beautiful.”We protect what we love and what we learn to value. That is the lesson I have learned over five years of returning to coastal communities of Indonesia, understanding the myriad ways in which all of humanity is inextricably linked to life beneath the sea. Tourism to me is a clear pathway for establishing new values for these precious ecosystems–values rooted in respect for natural and cultural heritage–while ensuring that these local communities can continue to benefit from the magical marine life that has sustained them for countless generations.

Brigid Finley

Over the last several years two tourism experiences have really struck me in terms of the impact on culture, ecosystem and economy. First, Feynan Ecolodge in Jordan’s Dana Biosphere Reserve which is located in a remote area which was once one of the top three mining hubs in the world. The lodge puts a majority of its profits back into local conservation efforts. These initiatives are numerous, and include research of the Reserve’s animal population and biodiversity, employment opportunities for the local Bedouin communities as an alternative to mining and education, locally, nationally and internationally on the importance of conservation.

Another very memorable experience was witnessing the incredible success and commitment Rwanda has made to protecting their number one tourism asset, the mountain gorillas in the Virunga Mountains. Rwanda has created an incredible ecosystem around the experience. Local communities benefit in a tourism revenue-sharing scheme, receiving a percentage of annual income generated by Virunga National Park to fund community projects, including roads and small enterprises, while lodges such as Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge, are co-owned by local community members who also receive portions of the lodge’s revenue. Tourism has also created opportunities for Rwandans to open safari companies and private transportation companies, as well as other tourism related jobs from animal trackers and guides to waiters and front desk staff. Communities now have an incentive to protect the mountain gorilla and its habitat, instead of poaching and hunting, or using the area as farmland.

Stephanie Auslander

My passion for sustainable tourism started in 2015 when I went to Jasper National Park in Alberta, Canada. Upon arrival to the national park I quickly absorbed my surroundings; the crisp clean air, the crystal-clean drinking water, and the abundance of wildlife. As we toured the park and learned about the natural destination offerings such as the natural hot springs, hiking trails, and mountain ranges there were efforts to educate us about protection of the environment and leaving it for future generations to enjoy. A few years later I was studying global economic development and sustainable tourism for my master’s program and that led to more knowledge about the power of sustainable tourism in that it can be utilized to minimize impacts on the natural environment, help the local economy, and promote the destinations cultural heritage. In one of my classes I completed an in-depth report on Costa Rica’s sustainable tourism efforts which continued my passion for this field. Throughout the report, I detailed Costa Rica’s commitment to the building of nature-based hotels, biodiversity conservation, and the One Tree Planted program, which aims to achieve carbon neutral status by 2021.

Elizabeth Evans

Throughout my time in college, I was very grateful to learn from many brilliant tourism scholars. In addition to my studies, I was lucky enough to become a part of ASU’s new leadership academy, the Next Generation Service Corps (NGSC). The goal of NGSC was to learn about the private, public, and nonprofit sectors as well as gain knowledge on cross-sector collaboration to become a more effective leader. This led me to think about how I could contribute to the greater good in my own industry, which fueled my passion to pursue a career in the field of sustainable tourism. I learned that tourism can be used as a force for good to aid in community empowerment and conservation efforts. I wanted to work in the tourism industry to raise awareness about the importance of sustainable practices to safeguard natural resources and heritage for future generations. 

Mason Meadows

My home state of West Virginia is the only state in the union that lies completely within a mountain region, hence the nickname the Mountain State. Growing up, West Virginians learn that this is the reason our state was “left behind” – because highways and railroads are difficult and expensive to build on mountainous terrain. This simple fact created a paradox in which West Virginia’s greatest assets (rolling hills, wide rivers and deep valleys) were also its worst enemies, effectively restricting major innovation in the state during most of the twentieth century.

I’m from West Virginia’s eastern panhandle – the area lyrically romanticized in John Denver’s Take Me Home, Country Roads. The only place in the entire state that touches both the Shenandoah River and the Blue Ridge Mountains. Home to Shepherdstown (voted the “coolest small town in West Virginia”) and Harpers Ferry (the location of John Brown’s abolitionist raid), the eastern panhandle lies at the convergence of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers about an hour outside of the Washington, D.C. metro area.

In the early 2000’s, the eastern panhandle began experiencing a growth in tourism from inner-city folk who were looking for an easy escape from the hustle and bustle. During the first half of the decade, increases in tourism completely reimagined and redefined the towns that I grew up seeing crumble. As tourism exponentially expanded, local governments began working with businesses and conservation groups to enact laws and regulations to ensure the tourism revenue would benefit the local standard of living. By allocating increased funds for improved infrastructure and social services like education and drug rehabilitation, my small community underwent drastic improvements – improvements that directly impacted my own education and access to resources.

I take a particular interest in sustainable tourism because I’ve seen, first-hand, what it has done to build and nourish my community. I find comfort knowing that, in congruence with the expansion of green energy, West Virginia will find its future through sustainable tourism.

Hannah Garland

While I was abroad in Ireland, I had the chance to visit Belfast where I saw the impact of the culture and ecosystem of a place. Belfast stood out to me because there was a cultural and political divide that ended with a ceasefire (not a peace agreement) in the 1990s, what is known by many as “The Troubles.” Even though there was a ceasefire, the cultural and political divide can still be felt and seen throughout the city. I went on various guided tours, with various tour guides, each of whom gave us their interpretation of “The Troubles”. While on the tours, I visited bombing sites, seeing firsthand where the fight began, and where the community has found peace, in “The Peace Wall.” It was an enlightening experience to hear and see the history of the city which still very much shapes the culture today; a place where men and women refuse to shake each other’s hands.

At the end of one of the tours, my tour group went to an education center where former prisoners who were once in paramilitary organizations created an after-school program for young boys and girls, a place where they can unlearn their hatred for one side or the other. I experienced their education programs firsthand, immersing myself in a culture that is so deeply divided.

Nevertheless, within the heart of Belfast, the divide seemed almost traceless to me as I observed the locals enthralled in their daily activities. Belfast is a city that can come together despite deep rooted differences. Experiencing the dichotomy of the city and its people was powerful, educational, and important for understanding the locals and their vibrant enclaves within the city.

Lolya McWest

Last December, I visited a city called Kpalimé in Togo. While hiking in the area, I was mesmerized by the beautiful scenery, the indigenous animals, and the gorgeous waterfalls. My family and I were guided through the region, and we visited a botanical garden maintained by the locals. The plants in the botanical garden were said to be medicinal and had various health benefits. At the end of the tour, we were led to a shop selling some of the roots and leaves from the botanical garden and then to a local gallery to see and possibly purchase art made with plant-based paint. Kpalimé’s economy was being stimulated, small businesses were flourishing, the environment was taken care of, and cultural practices were being shared. I did not realize it then but looking back I see how tourism benefited that rural community. My experience in Togo opened my eyes to sustainable tourism and development, and I know this is the field I want to pursue.

Dominic Gialdini

In February 2020, just before Italy began its country-wide COVID lockdown, I spent a month interacting with local stakeholders (mostly accommodation providers, tourism offices, and municipal representatives) of the Via Francigena in the Valle d’Aosta region. In the shadows of Mont Blanc, this thousand-year-old trade and pilgrimage route spanning Canterbury to Rome follows a dramatic altitude drop from the Great Saint Bernard Pass to a valley that has been inhabited since before the Roman Empire. My purpose was to investigate stakeholders’ perspectives on the route’s sustainability and resilience for my master’s thesis. While conflicting views were discovered, locals generally expressed the socio-cultural value that the path has by virtue of allowing for cross-cultural interactions with pilgrims and trekkers, the increased attention to trail maintenance due to the valorization of the route, and the potential for economic inducement in small communities as a result of visitor presence. My experience with this form of slow tourism caused me to develop a growing interest in Cultural Routes of the Council of Europe Program, and I look forward to exploring some of the other 33 routes in the future!

Lindsey Neuwirth

As a college student studying the environment and environmental practices, I’ve always been aware of the importance of sustainability and being eco-friendly. Traveling has always been a great passion for me, but it wasn’t until recently that I realized how the tourism industry plays such a vital role in the sustainability of our planet. After visiting Holbox Island in Mexico, I experienced how destinations play a major role in this movement. The hotel my family and I stayed at was one of the most incredible, eco friendly places I have ever visited. From metal straws, to no plastic, to clean energy and water, it was outwardly noticeable that sustainability was something this place valued. As I walked around the town I noticed almost no cars, dirt roads, and every other restaurant and hotel displaying the same environmental practices. It then hit me that sustainability was something that was engraved into the culture of this small island. Without these practices, the island would not last long. Coming from a place where habits like this are few and far between, I realized how easily visitors could ruin all the beauty and culture the island and its people embodied. It became important to me that people are aware of how fragile places like that are. This inspired me to bridge my studies of the environment with my passion for travel, so I could take part in the movement of marketing destinations to ensure that they are respected and treated with care by tourists.

Rebecca Morris

I became interested in sustainable tourism because it looks at the travel industry from a broader lens. At GW, the International Institute of Tourism Studies focuses on responsible tourism and job creation for indigenous tribes. GW has also conducted research on urban walkability and tourism, developing strategies to enhance tourism while improving quality of life for residents. That is why I enjoy this field –you can get involved in this work through public policy, cultural heritage, consulting, and a variety of other ways. I have been interested in travel for most of my life, and I like the idea of helping shape the industry responsibly for the next generation.

Rob Carter

2015 was a trip for my lifetime. Cape Town, South Africa to Kruger National Park NE, of Johannesburg.

Tourism can help Cape Town S.A by providing jobs at local eateries and wineries. Fishermen brining in fresh seafood to sell to the chefs right at the market. To be prepared to perfection for the traveler.By providing Safaris in the country at the dominate price it is per traveler, it allows tourism companies to get creative and to have all hands-on deck for an exceptional Travelers experience. The sculptures we bought from local artist were all made from wild teak.


A DMO and its initiatives are only as successful as the reporting the succeeds it

After 16 weeks, Solimar has completed its first virtual DMOs Development Course which worked with representatives from six unique and growing DMOs in the Republic of Georgia. With the expert knowledge of Solimar’s CEO Chris Seek and several other experts within the industry around the world, the curriculum aimed to provide a well-rounded full circle of support for the DMOs. Over these 16 weeks, the organizations learned about and discussed the following topics:

As we conclude the lesson series, it is important for organizations to remember and respect the importance of quality reporting. After all the hard work that DMOs conduct on behalf of their destination, why wouldn’t they want to share the results? Although data collection sometimes seems like a daunting task, it’s important to show your stakeholders what your organization is doing, why they are doing it, and the impact it is having for stakeholders.

Destination International shares the opportunities that come with good reporting, stating,” Performance reporting is crucial to communicating the role and relevance of the DMO to its stakeholders. Effective reporting delivers not only a tremendous opportunity to tell a positive story, but also a key resource management tool for guiding sales and marketing decisions and staff development.” Clearly, reporting serves as much more than just a formality.

As discussed in week three of the series — centered around DMO Governance — DMOs should be accountable, transparent, and involve as many stakeholders as possible. There should be focus on the structure of your organization, how to make sure your work is effective, and how to use your power for good in your destination. Most DMOs report to four different types of stakeholders:

  • public sector partners,
  • a Board of Directors or advisory board,
  • the DMO team, industry partners,
  • and the general public.

As each of these stakeholders are unique from the next, and the information you provide to them in the form of a report should be the same.

Virtual DMO Development Course
Tourism consulting has required a pivot in the way DMO Development Courses are administered

In Summation

In this final session, we had the opportunity to reconnect with Jennifer Wesselhoff, who recently accepted the role of President/CEO of the Park City, Utah Chamber of Commerce|Convention & Visitors Bureau — congrats Jennifer! She emphasized the importance of making sure your DMO is reporting the correct information to the correct entity and that not every entity is going to understand or care about the same information you provide other entities. Take some time to research what information is valuable to whom.

Finally, remember that a report can benefit your organization just as much, if not more, than it benefits stakeholders. Jennifer reminded us, “Not everything works! You want to experiment, you want to try new things, you want to see if you can do a better job, or produce better results.” In this way, reporting can be of great use to a DMO.

Solimar has thoroughly enjoyed working with the various DMOs across Georgia and has loved seeing the growth from each organization. We are confident in their abilities to develop prosperous DMOs and we look forward to following their progress in the future!


Visitor Voluntary Contribution Fee

How can visitors voluntarily contribute to your destination and not individual businesses? Will asking for that voluntary fee discourage your guests from returning?

These were questions asked and answered as part of Solimar’s Virtual DMO Development learning session on voluntary visitor contribution fees. In previous learning sessions, tourism leaders learned about the variety of methods for collecting funds for their destination or DMO. Topics explored included:

  • government budget allocation,
  • business voluntary contribution,
  • bed taxes, and
  • tourism improvement districts.

These methods for collection all have the government as a shared handler of funds. A Visitor Voluntary Contribution Fee, on the other hand, boasts no government involvement.

How Does a Visitor Voluntary Contribution Fee Support Tourism?

This method uses a voluntary fee placed on the visitor’s bill at individual business within the destination, such as restaurants, hotels and shops. The fee is likely to be relatively small, usually less than one dollar or 1% of their total bill. From here, the DMO collects the fees from the individual businesses, after which the DMO’s Board of Directors delegates the funds accordingly to enhance the destination’s management and marketing efforts. 

Despite apparent similarities, this Visitor Voluntary Fee is not and does not operate the same as a DMO Membership Plan. Whereas a membership plan charges an annual fee, the small fee (that $1 or 1% of the bill) is paid by the visitor, not the business. The business is only where the fee travels through for this fund. While a membership plan offers specific benefits to the businesses involved, the funds collected from the Voluntary Visitor Fee benefit the entire destination. Thirdly, the main idea behind a membership plan is to bring the industry together rather than serving as the main source of revenue for the DMO.

Although a Voluntary Visitor Contribution Fee has great potential, a few prerequisites must be completed before it can work effectively. Ultimately, business buy-in a key for this fund. As the businesses begin collecting this fee which you promise them will benefit the DMO and destination as a whole, they need to be able to trust that the DMO (and its board of directors) are going to do what is best for the destination as a whole.

To reinforce the trust businesses have in a DMO and its use of the funds, an agreement is still very important. Not only can it offer security and peace of mind, it stands as an official record of the agreement with specific details regarding how much they’ll collect, how to pay the fee to the DMO, and the specific terms of the fund’s agreement.

Once the agreement has been decided upon by all parties, the next step is deciphering how to communicate the Voluntary Visitor Fee to guests. This final step of establishing a Voluntary Visitor Fund tackles the ‘why.’ When it comes to paying an extra fee, it seems most travelers are willing to pay the fee. Still, they want to know that their contribution is going to support a destination, not an individual business. It is important to determine the correct way to present this fee.

How do you market the benefit of tourists paying this extra fee? Think about what makes travelers feel good about paying to visit a destination. What will the impact be if this fund is successful? How many jobs will you create? How many peoples’ lives does it have the potential to impact? Answering these questions will help you determine your strategy to market this extra $1 or 1%.

To learn more about this topic, Solimar interviewed Cheryl Kilday of the North Myrtle Beach Chamber of Commerce. She identified the fear DMOs have that the additional fee might discourage guests. This may be more common with guests coming from outside the United States, or from areas without local tax who may not be accustomed to seeing these extra fees on their bills. She says those who pay the fee usually don’t even ask about it, but the best practice for businesse is to be willing to explain and have a conversation about this voluntary contribution. “As long as we can give [the consumer] a solid answer that we’re doing good things with the money that’s benefitting their visitor experience, then that’s all that matters,” she explained. “If they know that it’s helping their visitor experience and you’re doing something to make it a sustainable tourism destination and that they’re going to have a great time there, and that their impact is part of what they’re able to help manage, then I think they recognize that.”

To solidify our understanding that the destination can be a community between your DMO and those contributing, Cheryl Kilday left the DMO Development Course participants with a final suggestion: “Be visible. Be real. Get to know your destination through the eyes of your partners, as well as your visitors. Don’t forget to visit your destination!”

Including this Voluntary Visitor’s Fee gives your businesses a chance to stand as a support beam for the destination they are part of, and it gives visitors the opportunity to make a positive impact on the destination which made a positive impact on them.


Think of the last time you felt captivated by or drawn to a destination or an experience. What pulled you in and rooted your desire to go? What pushed you to search for more information, find a way to get there, or book a place to stay?

Was it the name of a place? Was it a picture of a hotel? Was it a map? Or was it a more extended plot line, one which connected the place and the hotel and plotted your journey out on a map?

Destination storytelling is the most powerful marketing tool of a DMO. While the DMO itself supports the story by offering the places, opportunities, experiences, and support available, the story is told by the destination’s stakeholders. When told correctly, storytelling within a destination can create an emotional connection between the place and its target market. Ideally, your online marketing tools will sew the two together and create an experience that people remember and share with their networks in order to continue the cycle of storytelling.

The Preface of Travel Storytelling

Before collecting the stories, DMOs — or authors — must  first ask what content will be produced, and when. During Solimar’s DMO Development Course in the Republic of Georgia, one of the DMO’s in Georgia pointed out that now, due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, collecting content for those stories is more challenging than ever.

The travelers who were normally helping to create and share their own stories of their experiences within your destination may not be around to collect that content, but when normal travel begins to resume, DMOs should have a plan to share updated stories – especially if experiences have changed due to COVID-19. On this same wave, take some time to determine who will produce and edit this content. Find the right story tellers to drive home the value of the experiences in your destination.

Next, be sure to have a clear call to action for the content that will fill your stories. When leisure travelers first start planning a trip, 78% don’t know which airline they will be using for their trip, and 82% don’t know where they’ll stay. One in three leisure travelers planning a trip haven’t even decided on a specific destination for their trip (stats retrieved from ThinkWithGoogle). This is your opportunity to create and show the whole story, detailing the experience that your destination can offer. The DMO’s role here is to provide content to help narrow down choices, answer questions, inspire, and help decide on the story they want to write it themselves. When providing this content, remember to first identify and customize the content to the audience using the following categories:

  • location
  • age
  • gender
  • language
  • interests
  • behaviors
  • connections

Finally, representatives inside a destination can work collectively in deciding how the content will be distributed and amplified and answering questions of how the content will be distributed.

Storyboarding for Travel Marketing

How will you encourage visitors to choose your destination and support your DMO?

Answering this question before generating stories helps one to understand why content, communications, and social media plans are necessary. These plans strongly reinforce the destination’s brand and encourages its DMO to think strategically and creatively. Furthermore, DMOs should use storyboarding to think of ways to help their stories stand out from others that may take place in closer locations or for lower prices.

Outside of drawing in visitors, storytelling — especially on social media — can generate buzz and excitement with industry partners and stakeholders.  With a plan, DMOs will end up with a more focused message and more focused calls-to-action for both industry partners and their guests. A well thought-out plan will clearly define the goals and steps to reach them for all involved. And don’t forget, a fun contest is a proven way to engage and grow your audience!


To conclude this lesson, DMO leaders in Georgia were able to hear from Michael Fetter, the Director of Marketing for Louisville Tourism. Both parties in the discussion agreed on the importance of offering opportunities to your partners. If you can be successful in getting people interested in visiting a destination’s website, reading it’s print collateral, and ultimately visiting the place, then the story should be considered as being read. Michael’s final suggestion for DMOs was as follows, “Do research, read industry publications, and do anything out there – just get your knowledge base up. Have good relationships with [their] peer DMOs. You might see them as competition, but they know things and you know things; it’s good to play off of each other.”

This interview was an excellent conclusion and reminder that the work of a DMO to tell their story has many different layers and should involve collaboration with their partners and other DMOs doing the same as they are.


Solimar International welcomed its largest group of interns to its sustainable tourism team earlier this month. This diverse group of future travel leaders comes to Solimar from across the United States and will be instrumental in further developing current projects (Southern Tanzania Marketing Plan, The Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail Experience & Georgia/Armenia DMO Development Programs) and the continued strategizing of Solimar’a DMMS program.

Meet the interns below:

Amelia Quarto is currently pursuing an MS in Global Tourism and Sustainable Economic Development through Johnson and Whales University. While completing her undergraduate degree in Hospitality Management, she embarked on a 105 day travel and educational journey that took her to over 12 countries through the Semester at Sea program. Amelia continued to gain knowledge and experience in hospitality management through an internship in Sydney, Australia. Later, it was a job she held in Glacier National Park that sparked her interest and showed her the importance and need of sustainable tourism. Amelia’s education, career, and solo travel adventures have taken her to over 25 countries.


Mason Meadows is a graduate of West Virginia University with a degree in Public Relations. Prior to joining the Solimar International team, Mason lived in Australia where he spent his winters working alongside the indigenous Jawoyn People at Nitmiluk National Park, and his summers living in the city of Melbourne and backpacking Southeast Asia. Previously, Mason served as Sponsorship Coordinator for the international nonprofit Children of Uganda, and as an AmeriCorps NCCC Team Leader based in Denver, Colorado. Mason is a passionate thrifter, avid adventurer, and strong believer in the power of using sustainable practices to minimize negative environmental, economic and cultural impacts.


A native of the San Francisco Bay Area, Dominic Gialdini holds an Bachelor of Science in Recreation Administration with an Emphasis in Sustainable Tourism Management from San Diego State University, where he was selected as the outstanding graduate of his program after having worked as a teacher’s assistant for the L. Robert Payne School of Hospitality and Tourism Management. In September 2020, Dominic graduated from the Erasmus Mundus European Master in Tourism Management Program (through the University of Southern Denmark, University of Ljubljana, and University of Girona). He also interned for the Alliance for Innovators and Researchers in Tourism and Hospitality (AIRTH).


Stephanie Auslander is wrapping up her final class for her master’s degree from Johnson & Wales University and is scheduled to graduate in December 2020. Stephanie previously worked for Key Travel as a business travel consultant and has recently completed an internship with the Economic Transformation group highlighting ways in which the tourism industry can recover from Covid-19. Furthermore, Stephanie had an opportunity to complete a project with the World Bank focused on a cultural landscape approach for the great Lumbini region in Nepal. Through both her course work and internship, she has steadily focused on sustainable tourism practices for destination management.


Rebecca Morris is a recent graduate of the Master of Tourism Administration program at the George Washington University with a focus in Sustainable Tourism Management. She is excited to be interning with Solimar and is interested in learning about marketing, brand strategy, and website development with the local Inn at Meander project in Madison County, Virginia.



Hannah Garland is a recent graduate of the University of Pittsburgh. While studying at Pitt, Hannah earned a bachelor’s degree in Communication along with a minor in History and a certificate in Spanish. Hannah enjoys traveling and being outdoors. She has been to many National and State Parks within the US, as well as in Ireland, Italy, and Canada. While in Ireland, Hannah experienced her first taste of geotourism and is looking forward to furthering her knowledge of the intricacies of geotourism.


Lolya McWest recently graduated from Rutgers University with a BS in Environmental Science. She plans on perusing a master’s in environmental and sustainable development and management. She is excited to be a part of the Solimar International internship program as it combines the two topics she enjoys the most; sustainability and tourism. From a very young age, Lolya loved to travel. She wants to travel as much as possible to meet new faces and see places she has never seen before. Lolya is not sure what the future holds for her, but her end goal is to solve environmental problems and aid communities in striving toward a sustainable future, especially in developing countries.


With over 15 years of experience in hospitality public relations and marketing, Brigid Finley has worked with top travel and tourism brands, including Visit Telluride, Visit Sun Valley, Visit Tucson, Healdsburg Tourism Improvement District, Peru Trade Commission and Eleven Experience, as well as hotels and brands including Loews Hotels, 21c Museum Hotels, The St. Regis Aspen Resort and The Broadmoor. Brigid holds B.A. from Boston College in Political Science and Latin American Studies and is currently completing a Professional Certificate in Sustainable Tourism Destination Management from George Washington Univ. and a Professional Diploma in Digital Marketing from the Digital Marketing Institute.


Robert Carter grew up in Mount Vernon and has over 15 years on the operations side of the hospitality industry, from managing all aspects of free- standing restaurants to working for the Starwood Hotel Company. One of his strongest quality was educating his staff on anticipating the guest needs, then going above and beyond their satisfaction. Robert then took this knowledge of leading, managing and applied to his own business model. His passion for sports really came to life, while living in Chicago, Il, (from 2014-2018) where he started a sports training business for youth sports.  Through the success of his business, he was recognized and teamed with Chicago City Soccer Club as a volunteer trainer for their entire club. With great results on the youth side, Robert was then asked to train their WPSL team. (Women’s Professional Soccer League).

Raised in a small town in Northern California, Elizabeth Evans graduated from Arizona State University with a B.S. in Tourism Development and Management. Beginning her career in tourism and travel marketing at the Arizona Office of Tourism, MMGY Global, and Visit Huntington Beach. Elizabeth is passionate about the Tourism industry and hopes to continue her career in tourism marketing or consulting. She hopes to learn more about sustainable tourism and stakeholder engagement in order to create a tourism product that closely aligns with a community’s personal values and traditions, forming an accurate and authentic experience for tourists and future generations.


Kylie Schultz is a senior studying environmental studies at the University of Pittsburgh. She is originally from the Pittsburgh area as well. In the future I hope to work with the National Park Service or similar organizations to promote sustainability and conservation. I am interested in learning more about the ways that eco-tourism can create a more sustainable world and educate people about the environment around them.



Lindsey Neuwirth is currently a junior at Stony Brook University pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Studies with a concentration in Environmental Law, Public Policy and Waste Management, minoring in Marine Science. She is passionate about bridging the worlds of tourism and sustainability, as well as ocean conservation.  She had the privilege to volunteer in Costa Rica at a child care center and saw how differently they live. After experiencing first hand how greatly they value sustainability and wildlife in their country, it is very clear how all destinations must practice the same methods. She has taken multiple trips to Mexico and has traveled to Germany, Ireland and Puerto Rico.


Emily Binder is currently a sophomore at Creighton University studying history. She is from small town Nebraska and is passionate about promoting local history.




“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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