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On September 10, Devex published an article on the 2012 U.S. presidential candidates’ positions on foreign assistance. In this day and age, although the U.S. allocates far less than most developed countries in terms of percentage of GDP, foreign assistance is unlikely to not be part of any administration’s budget. We live in a complex, globalized world, and our successes, failures, threats, and opportunities cannot be unlinked from those of all other nations.

The article, therefore, focuses instead on the nuances between the “ways and means” in which each candidate would implement foreign assistance. The Republican platform proposes implementing more foreign assistance through the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) as opposed to the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). The Democratic platform intends to increase U.S. international affairs spending, while the Republicans propose to rein it in, contending that lower taxes will allow Americans to give to charities and private donors of their choice. Democrats propose supporting the agricultural development of host countries to accomplish food security; Republicans support consolidating efforts, which are currently shared between USAID and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, into one agency. Mr. Romney stressed that the U.S. economy, not global climate change, would drive his agenda, whereas President Obama continues to voice his support for climate change mitigation and investment in clean energy technology.

What does this mean for Solimar?

The majority of our funding comes from the United States government, through contracts and subcontracts with USAID and MCC. For USAID Uganda, we are utilizing tourism as a tool for biodiversity conservation and community development. For MCC Morocco, we are bringing local artisans into the tourism value chain, showcasing traditional culture and generating income. For USAID Bolivia, we are assisting a rural municipality and its businesses improve their environmental sustainability.

It is extremely unlikely any administration would completely eliminate foreign assistance, although the “ways and means” could change. The current administration’s focus on global health, food security, and climate change could be diminished, or the agencies through which these efforts are carried out could shift.

As a consulting company that focuses on sustainable tourism, a multifaceted subject, Solimar’s work contributes to numerous aspects of development: environmental conservation, cultural preservation, more inclusive community development, alternative livelihoods and income generation, local capacity building and education, access to finance, national competitiveness; the list goes on and on. Sustainable tourism contributes to the current administration’s three focal areas; for example, by addressing local health efforts through improved water and waste management, through providing an alternative livelihood for fisher people whose stock has been depleted by overfishing, and even improving the ability for people to put food on their tables. In the broadest terms, sustainable tourism helps generate GDP for a country’s citizens, which is necessary to address health, food security, climate change, or any other concerns.

As a small business, Solimar remains nimble enough to respond to political changes. We have enjoyed working with USAID and MCC and hope to continue to do so. Yet we are eager to explore alternative financing mechanisms and methodologies for assisting the world’s citizens, as both President Obama and Mr. Romney suggest. Solimar is confident that tourism will continue to demonstrate its success as a mechanism for sustainable international development, and that no matter the funding mechanism or politics, we will continue to help affect that positive change.

“Why should I come to this event? I already sell Namibia and don’t need to spend a day meeting with 15 other tour operators.”

“I would love to come to your event! I am new to travel and have no idea where Namibia is located. You did say that food and wine would be served, right?”

These are the typical responses we received during last month’s push to invite over 500 North American trade contacts to attend 4 Network Namibia events in Denver, San Francisco, Seattle, and Vancouver. These events are part of Solimar’s tourism marketing work with Cardno EMG to implement a North American Destination Marketing Campaign to put Namibia on the map. The campaign includes several other components that are helping promote the country, including a recent feature in the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition and generating over 14 million impressions through social media contests.

Ask anyone who works in tourism marketing – trade shows and road shows are considered the backbone of any tourism marketing strategy. I would even go as far to say that some tourism companies and destinations spend their entire tourism marketing budgets on attending these types of events. But why? In today’s world where over 80% of people use the Internet to plan travel, are tourism trade shows and road shows worth the expense? 

It depends. If you are a destination or business targeting Europe, the Middle East, China, or India – trade shows like ITB in Berlin and World Travel Mart in London are part of your annual tourism marketing calendar and should be. In Europe and the emerging source markets, travel contracts between outbound operators, inbound operators, and suppliers are developed and finalized at these types of shows. Not attending these events could signal to your trade partners that you are no longer in business. 

But what about travel trade shows in North America? The problem North America doesn’t have one major trade show that brings together the best buyers who are sincerely interested in developing new relationships with destinations and tourism businesses. The best, in my opinion, are the Adventure Travel World Summit(takes place in a different part of the world each year – this year it will be in Namibia!), Virtuoso WeekUS Tour Operators Association Annual Conference and Marketplace, and the Educational Travel Conference. But these conferences and marketplaces are not cheap, and they often restrict who can attend – especially suppliers and inbound operators.

Over the last 16 months, Solimar assisted the Nepal Tourism Board and the Namibia Tourism Board organize 3 North American Road Shows and 2 Tourism Trade Show participations. Each of these events brought some of the best inbound operators and suppliers from Nepal and Namibia at their own expense. We followed the traditional format of the B2B networking exchange where we first introduced the destination and then broke into 15 five-minute networking sessions similar to speed dating. In some cities we had an incredible turn out, filling the room with both North American tour operators and travel agents. Other cities we had less than 1/3 of the people who RSVP’d actually attend the event. Getting people to the event is always the biggest challenge of a successful road show – especially when the people you want to attend most (big outbound tour operators) generally hate attending these types of events.

Reflecting on the success and lessons learned of last month’s Namibia road show, I believe tourism trade shows and road shows are worth the expense for the following reasons: 

1) It gives you a reason to create or strengthen trade relationships. Most tourism destinations and businesses use a Customer Relationship Management system to manage their trade contacts in a centralized database. When organizing an event, it gives marketers a reason to reach out by email and phone to reconnect or establish a relationship with a trade partner.  Sending an email or making a phone call to introduce a destination or company is one thing – inviting them to an event is another and meeting them in person is another.

2) A group of local tourism companies and the tourism board working together is the best way to conduct destination marketing. Everyone knows the importance of public-private partnerships in destination marketing, but the road show/tourism trade show format is one of the best ways to join forces with competitors and the government to elevate the marketing message. 

3) Tourism trade shows and road shows demonstrate to your trade partners that you are investing in their markets and creating consumer demand. Tour operators and travel agents are fickle. One minute they love your destination and are trying to promote it – the next, another destination grabs their attention. Bringing a road show to your trade partner’s market makes it clear you are investing in creating demand for them and can help them stay focused on marketing your destination or product.

4) It’s one of the easiest ways to answer the question “Where in the world is Namibia?” We attended the Santa Clara Travel and Adventure Show during this year’s road show. With 15 representatives from Namibia in one booth we offered free drinks for anyone who could tell us where Namibia is located. This helped us interact with over 1,000 consumers in a very short period of time. Take a look at this video from the tourism trade show that demonstrates the challenges of promoting a country that most people have never heard of:

As much as I would like to recommend that tourism destinations and travel companies stick to online and digital marketing where it’s much easier to implement what Solimar calls Marketing with a Purpose, I do believe there is a benefit especially for the destination marketing efforts of participating in U.S. travel trade shows and roadshows. However, attending these types of events must be a component of a more comprehensive destination marketing strategy that is designed to increase consumer awareness, strengthen trade relationships, and develop a clear pathway for converting sales leads into bookings. Attending U.S. travel trade shows alone will not accomplish this and will not produce a return on investment.

Learn more about Solimar’s Tourism Marketing services:

Tourism Marketing E-book


In just a few short weeks, Solimar’s Promart (Promotion d’Artisanat) Project will see the culmination of months of hard work with the placement of orientation and interpretation signs along the newly-created circuits in the Medinas of Fes and Marrakech. Medinas, translated as “the old city,” are the historic Arab sections of North African cities known for their artisan wares. The circuits are established pedestrian routes that will guide and inform visitors as they explore the art, history and culture of the Medinas. 

Six thematic circuits are being created in Fes: Monuments and Inns, Artisans, Fes Jdid, Palaces and Gardens, Knowledge and Knowhow, and Walls and Ramparts. There will be five circuits in Marrakech: Iron and Clay, A Thousand and One Doors, The Art of Wood, The Leather Route, and One Souk to Another. The circuits highlight the architectural, cultural and historical gems that these two Moroccan cities have to offer. 

Each circuit showcases the types of crafts that can be found in the Medinas – leather goods, wood carvings, mosaic tiling (zellige), metal works and pottery. The historical monuments found along the circuits date back to the 9thcentury and were built by artisans themselves. These edifices show the extreme attention to detail, the complexity of the craftsmanship and the expertise and talent that Moroccan artisans possessed to create such beautiful works of art. 

The inauguration of the artisan themed tourism circuits will take place in Marrakech on March 18-19, and in Fes on April 1-2. These two-day events will bring together all the project partners, artisans, artisan associations, international tour operators, local travel agencies, and media. An official ceremony will be held along with a ribbon cutting ceremony at the beginning of a circuit in each city.  

A press trip, a familiarization trip and a Business-to-business workshop will also be organized during these two days to introduce the new tourism circuits as well as highlight the marketing and promotion tools that will be used. The online promotion and social media campaign has already experience early success. In just two months, the Visit Medina Facebook page has reached over 3,400 fans. Plans are currently underway for a website and interactive map, printed map, and Medina-specific guidebooks. 

Solimar is very pleased to be working on this project and looks forward to the official launch of these products over the next few weeks. To learn more about how we could help your destination or tourism project with circuit or route development, visit this page

Morocco Project

Lucia Prinz and I are currently in Colombia completing a tourism sector assessment along Colombia’s Pacific coast for the USAID Colombia BIOREDD+ Program (Biodiversity – Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation.

Sustainable Destination Development in Utria
Sustainable Destination Development in Utria

Tourism sector assessments help destinations and development organizations plan strategically for tourism development. Similar to a feasibility study or value chain analysis, the purpose of a tourism sector assessment is twofold: it provides an analysis of the competitiveness of a region as a tourism destination and it helps deliver recommendations for the implementation of next steps toward tourism development. Solimar’s tourism sector assessments help projects, destinations, and individual enterprises get set up for success.

BIOREDD+ is an innovative USAID program reinforcing Colombian efforts to sustainably manage and utilize environmental assets in mitigating and adapting to climate change, preserving biodiversity, and promoting economic growth. BIOREDD+ plans to implement a set of activities to strengthen community ecotourism in the Nuquí (including Utría National Park) and Bahía Malaga (including Urambá National Park) areas on the Pacific coast. 

In both areas, government and private institutions have recognized sustainable tourism as an alternative livelihood for local communities, one that promotes environmental awareness and conservation.

Solimar is providing BIOREDD+ with a sustainable tourism strategy that includes a comprehensive approach for strengthening community-based tourism development in Nuquí while improving products and services in Bahía Malaga that are tied to biodiversity conservation.

We’ll be providing the following information as part of the site assessment:

  • Market Demand

  • Attractions Inventory

  • Infrastructure and Services

  • Supply and Competitiveness

  • Human and Institutional Capacity

  • Socio-economic Considerations

  • Environmental Considerations

  • Value Chain Analysis

To learn more about how Solimar can assist you with a tourism sector assessment, check out our tourism assessment Ebook:

Before you embark on your next adventure, take the time to view Gringo Trails. This feature-length documentary, directed and produced by American anthropologist Pegi Vail, sheds insight on the unanticipated impact of one of the world’s most powerful globalizing forces—tourism.

Gringo Trails illustrates three cautionary case studies that reveal the devastating effects tourism can have on local cultures and the environment: one deep in the Bolivian Amazon, another on the Salt Flats of Bolivia, and the third on Thailand’s small island, Ko Pha Ngan.The film flashes back to a 21 year old backpacker, Costas Christ. Eager to find a tourist-free island paradise, Costas travels off the “gringo trail” to the small island of Ko Pha Ngan. It is 1979 and during his month on Haad Rin Beach, Costas finds his paradise—authenticity. The film then jumps forward to 1999 showing Haad Rin Beach jam packed with over 10,000 people celebrating New Year’s Eve. This once pristine and secluded beach is now home to the famous Full Moon Festival, which attracts thousands of travels from across the world. Local businesses have flourished but socio-cultural and environmental aspects of Ko Pha Ngan are devastated.

As a local Thai admits, in Ko Pha Ngan, it is too late. Sustainable tourism development requires a thorough assessment. Context is key. This is why Solimar International stresses the importance of strategic planning, particularly destination assessments. Destination assessments provide in-depth analysis of the competitiveness of a region as a tourism destination and are key to identifying the next steps in sustainable tourism development.

Time and again throughout Gringo Trails, the viewer comes across tour operators, guides, and travelers who are not properly trained in sustainable tourism practices. The deterioration of the Salt Flats and the decreasing anaconda population in the Bolivian pampas, are partly due to a lack of professional training and education. Strategic planning can only be carried out to full potential if the destination has a trained workforce and educated travelers. Recognizing the instrumental role education has in cultivating sustainable tourism, Solimar works deeply to promote specialized training and education services geared toward sustainable tourism.

The case studies depicted in Gringo Trails demonstrate the importance and significance of sustainable tourism. Pegi Vail leaves the viewers with hope, as she takes us to a small indigenous village in South America where well-planned tourism development has proved to be a positive force in the village’s economic and social development as well as its environmental and cultural conservation. Gringo Trails truly is an eye-opener for the conscious traveler.

Gringo Trails made its theatrical release September 4-11 at Cinema Village in New York City. For a full list of screenings visit


“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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