All living creatures on Earth depend on a healthy and balanced ecosystem to support their basic needs, and human beings are no exception. Over the years, the rapid expansion of cities and industrial developments have taken a toll on the environment, causing the collapse of ecosystems and biodiversity in some of the world’s move beloved destinations.
To raise awareness and call for actions from people all over the world, World Environment Day (WED) was established on 5th June by the United Nations since 1972 with the slogan “Only One Earth”. Each year there is a host city with a specific theme addressing environmental issues, pushing people to participate and stimulate positive behavior in order to promote a sustainable future.
This year, WED will be hosted by Pakistan and calls for urgent action for ecosystem restoration. This years event will coincide with the launch of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration 2021-2030, an international movement that aims to prevent, halt and reverse the degradation of ecosystems through the participation from governments, corporations and citizens across the globe.
The government of Pakistan also launched the 10 Billion Tree Tsunami Programme in 2019, aiming to revive forests and wildlife resources. One of the key components of this mission is the planting trees for biodiversity conservation over the next 5 years. The plantation target of total 1 billion trees is set to be achieved by 30th June, 2021. As a result, the program provided 84,609 green jobs in Pakistan through the The Forest and Wildlife Departments during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Amid the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic that has put a halt to human activities and traveling, it is now essential for the tourism industry and destinations to rethink sustainability and take regenerative actions. Sustainability, in this case, might be defined as meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability for future generations to meet their needs.
Solimar has been helping destinations rethink their approach to management through The Institute for Sustainable Destinations, a recently launched online training and resource platform designed and developed by professionals within the industry that provides an integrated system for sustainable destination marketing and management. At ISD, Solimar focuses on economic enhancement, ecosystem regeneration and cultural enrichment perspectives, guiding leaders and DMOs through the destination development journey. As one of the fastest-growing industries around the globe, it is important for the tourism businesses to create strategies for crisis management and enhance the adaptability to all types of risks under the resilience-based framework. Beyond World Environment Day, it is the responsibility of each of us to be more mindful of our daily actions and decisions to minimize the impact on the ecosystem. After all – we only have one Earth.
The white-sandy beaches of Mexico during the cold weather months of November through March.
European cities in the Northern Hemisphere summer months of June, July and August.
Patagonia in the Southern Hemisphere summer.
Ski resorts in their local winter (and more recently, in the summer as well).
The seasonality of travel leaves destinations around the world facing a dangerous dilemma. As flocks of visitors travel during the locale’s high-season, occupancy rates in hotels skyrocket to 100%, trailheads are left without a free parking space, and restaurant reservations are as hard to come by as tickets to a Rolling Stones reunion concert. Yet during the off-season, these same locales are often remain quiet and void of visitors, at times leaving a job-force without work. It is a slippery slope that plagues less-popular and emerging destinations at a severe disadvantage.
Solving seasonality as it relates to tourism may be one of the keys to the sustainable travel equation, especially in developing countries. A responsible visitorship that is equally distributed throughout the calendar year keeps local residents gainfully employed and prevents often overloved cities and landscapes – beaches, hiking trails, rivers, oceans, etc. – from falling into the dangerous reflective pattern of overuse and underuse.
One of the primary goals of Solimar’s work along The Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail is to utilize the Geotourism methodology to spread the literal and proverbial wealth all year long. Most of the Trail’s communities are summertime destinations that see the heavy majority of visitors between May and October, and the Geotourism platform allows stakeholders to tell stories that promote off-season attractions/events in hopes of welcoming guests during cold-weather months. The Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail Experience recently hosted an expert seminar featuring Emily Reed from the Columbia Gorge Tourism Alliance. Click on the video below to watch an intriguing 30-minute crash course in the seasonality of travel. During this seminar, Emily explores the various ways to stretch visitorship throughout the year, the challenges of overtourism, and how the solution to seasonality might lie not with visitors, but instead the destination’s residents and stakeholders themselves.
Rivers and their surrounding areas are the main geographic features of the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail. Learn about conservation, storytelling, and outdoor adventure along some the largest water arteries in the United States – the Ohio River, the Missouri River and the Columbia River.
The Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail Experience uses a Geotourism methodology to build sustainability inside riverside communities and to conserve the history of The Lewis and Clark Expedition. As part of this strategy, Solimar hosts monthly expert seminars to create a knowledge-sharing forum for partners of the program. The latest seminar centered around conservation, storytelling and outdoor adventure on the Trail’s great rivers.
For this month’s expert panel, Solimar and the National Park Service were thrilled to welcome:
Lily Hart, Digital Manager for the Confluence Project
Brent Mortensen, Professor of Biology at Benedictine College (We will be working together to implement a wetlands restoration project for his students in the spring semester.)
Brewster Rhoads, Convenor of the Ohio River Recreation Trail
International Women’s Day deserves to be celebrated every day, especially in an industry that is comprised predominately by females. Inside the travel sector, women make up the majority of the workforce and earn almost 15% less. Solimar International knows first-hand how critical women are in pushing travel to new heights. The women in our organization have a wildly unique skillset that helps us to remain as a world leader in sustainable tourism consulting. These women – Natalie Sellier, Chloe King, and Jenny Lundt — collectively bring two Fulbright scholars, two Master’s degrees, a Marshall Scholar, and numerous fellowships to our virtual offices day-in and day-out.
Led and inspired by these women, each member of the Solimar community considered their own individual travel anecdotes in remembering these barrier-breaking women that champion tourism around the world and personify leadership, dedication, and forward-thinking.
In 2011, I had the privilege of serving as an on-site assessor for the World Tourism and Travel Council’s Tourism for Tomorrow awards. Intrepid Travel was up for the Global Tourism Business Award and I joined a group for their Classic Peru tour to evaluate how are they are putting their sustainable tourism philosophy into practice with local communities. We were led off the beaten path by Alejandrina Punel, a wonderful and fearless Peruvian guide with over 10 years of experience in tourism. She taught our group words and common phrases in Quechua to facilitate communication and was committed to showing us the real Peru—including navigating local tuktuk mototaxis, shopping in local markets, sampling traditional foods, meeting local people, challenging them to volleyball games, and joining them as guests in their homestays. We visited recipients of the Intrepid Foundation (such as Escuela Wiñaypaq and the Living Heart Foundation) and ate a number of restaurants that donated a percentage of proceeds to these projects. Alejandrina would later explain that Intrepid empowers their local staff to complete the application process on behalf of organizations to be considered for support by the Intrepid Foundation. While a large travel company such as Intrepid can have all of the right policies in place on paper, Alejandrina made me realize just how critical having dedicated guides like her is to making it all work within the local communities—and for travelers to have a truly unforgettable experience.
Seven years ago, when I set out for Thailand at 18 with a bag full of dive gear and a heart full of uncertainty and thrill, I had no idea just how the next year would utterly alter the trajectory of my life, throwing me head first into the world of sustainable tourism development without ever having strung those three words together in a thought. After training to become a certified PADI Divemaster in Thailand, I moved to Labuan Bajo, Indonesia, home of the Komodo Dragon and a fast growing dive and ecotourism industry that had quadrupled in size over the past decade. I learned and absorbed every detail of an array of dangerous dive sites from local dive guides, born and raised on fishing boats to know the direction of every current, the hiding places of the strangest fish, and the depths and layers to each and every reef. I was in awe of their intuitive and nuanced understanding of hundreds of dive sites, and began working with a dive company on their program to train young local fishermen as dive guides and instructors. Walking into the shop one day, I met Sary. She had just turned 17, was shy and soft-spoken, and had just come to inquire about joining the training program, which up until then had certified only young men in the village. I watched as Sary began to uproot and rewrite the rules of what women could do in her community. Becoming the first local female divemaster certified in Labuan Bajo, she was every customers favorite guide, her eyes attune to the most minute colors and patterns that many of her male colleagues overlooked. She went on to mentor and train more young women in the community, proving to them that the industry was not just for men, and that it had the power to transform the lives of so many others. Sary would go on to become a certified Open Water Scuba Instructor, and challenge one more norm: she had her first child and, within months, returned again to the sea.
In honor of Women’s History Month, Nellie Bly’s contribution to the tourism industry should not be forgotten. Inspired by the Jules Verne classic Around the World in Eighty Days, the premise behind the challenge was simple. Could Verne’s fictional race be outdone? Sponsored by journalism pioneer Joseph Pulitzer in the hopes to break the record for fastest trip around the world and gain notoriety for his newspaper World, Nellie Bly began her adventure. What was fascinating about Nellie Bly’s quest was how soon it captivated an international audience. A rival magazine publication soon sent their own envoy, a woman by the name of Elizabeth Bisland, to race against Nellie. And while her contributions to the travel industry are remarkable on their own merits, the focus of this paragraph is on Nellie Bly and her trailblazing story. Everything about Nellie’s own story is what speaks to the soul of a patriotic narrative that Americans are inspired by when constructing their own paths. Born and raised in the working class coal country of America, Nellie Bly was the image of pulling oneself up by their own bootstraps. She broke through the male dominated scene of the journalism world and gained a name for herself with sensationalist and investigative articles for well reputed publications. When it came to embarking on her journey, she packed nothing more than a single suitcase and a small toiletry bag and soon ventured off. Nellie traveled the world on her own, without the presence or assistance of a chaperone. She had done so with an already established career, having decided to forgo the societal expectations of marrying and having children. At a time when a woman’s narrative seemed determined to make women like Nellie comply with the passive and meek image, Nellie’s contributions shattered barriers. Accomplishing the race and having completed the race ahead of schedule on her own proved that women are more than capable in any era.
Kellee Edwards is a pilot and travel journalist with years of adventure experience under her belt. She is also the first black woman to host her own show, Mysterious Islands, on the Travel Channel. Towards the start of the pandemic in 2020, she interviewed with the Washington Post to discuss the future of travel. Edwards reflected in this interview on what a privilege it is to travel, as well as voice her concerns about the impacts of overtourism once lockdowns have lifted. As a trailblazer in the tourism industry, she hopes to continue acting as a model for respectful and mindful travel practices going forward.
Milena S. Nikolova is an expert and researcher in behavioral economics in tourism with a global professional network and experience gained across four continents. She has worked on projects covering various aspects of sustainable tourism development, business/market development, and policy planning, as well as entrepreneurship and innovation. She is a co-founder of BehaviorSMART, a boutique consultancy that assesses the recent advances in behavioral sciences into actionable solutions that can be applied to daily operations by professionals in tourism and sustainability. She is an author of the Behavioral Economics for Tourism and has vast travel experience having worked in over 20 countries on a variety of sustainable tourism initiatives. Nikolova has been a lecturer at the Central University for over 15 years and holds a PhD in Consumer Behavior and Sustainable Tourism form the George Washington University School of Business.
A recent article in Wander-Lush highlights the top 10 women who are changing the tourism industry and breaking gender barriers. One of the women led tourist companies that stood out was 5Bogota. This organization puts forward the importance of women in the recent development of tourism in Colombia. The company, founded by a mom and her two daughters, is a prominent organization in the capital of Bogota with an all-female team. The women broadcast the importance of culture in Colombia with offerings centered around cultural activities like cooking and dancing. This business has influenced other companies to hire women in leading positions and has created a new environment in women in tourism.
Diana, one of the cofounders of 5Bogota stated in an interview that building a tourism company in Colombia was not an easy task in a country still facing gender inequality. 5Bogota is a shining example in the tourism industry for other women with entrepreneurial passions.
Featured in the article 10 Female-Focused Travel Companies That Empower Women is Evolution Treks, a tour company based in Peru. Evolution Treks works to supply guides to take tourists through Peru’s biggest tourist attractions: Machu Picchu and the Inca Trail. Where the company differs, however, is in the fact that it was the first in the country to employ women as porters for the tours. By doing so, women are given an opportunity at pursuing new sources of income in Peru’s tourist industry.
While on the trips, Evolution Treks not only provides guests with an optimal experience and resources, but also makes sure to take great care of its employees. Both female and male porters are equipped with lightweight, high-quality camping gear to keep with them throughout the trips, and the company chefs who provide for guests make sure that the porters are well fed as well. All of these combined efforts make Evolution Treks stand out as a role model, and hopefully, other local companies will follow suit.
Every industry needs wonderful women like Ia Tabagari. I met Ia this year when we went with Sight Georgia to shoot her inn, ranch and brewery. I had always heard wonderful things about her, how she was pioneering in sustainable tourism development in Georgia and cheering for the industry, but listening to her was absolutely amazing. Ia is a chairman of the Georgian Tour Operators Association, founder of the agro-tourism complex Lost Ridge Inn, Brewery & Ranch and founder of Geofilm Production. She is an ethnographer and an expert in sustainable tourism development in rural communities. Back when tourism was still very new in Georgia, Ia started to work as a tour guide and then soon established her own tour operating company. She has also handled the logistics for multiple documentary film crews working in Georgia. She is also one of the first people who started wine tourism in Georgia, which is booming now and is considered one of the main attractions in the country.
One can go on and tell so much about this amazing woman, but I will finish my section with her words from an interview that beautifully displays her passion and dedication: “I never take part in projects that do not serve the least interest of the country. Experience has taught me that the team and idea are inseparable, business does not exist without loyal people. Having a clear purpose in life is a challenge. It is this quality that empowers us to create and develop an idea. The main thing is to never forget the people who worked with us day and night to create and evolve.”
For International Women’s Day, World Footprints published an article celebrating some of the women in tourism actively engaged in improving the tourism industry and empowering local women in their communities. Two of the women featured are Carmen Portela and Mónica Pérez, who run a San Juan based and women-led travel company that working with their local community to create sustainable tourism practices. Portela, with over 10 years of experience in tourism, and Pérez, founded Local Guest as a direct response to the economic crisis in Puerto Rico. Local Guest provides unique tourism experiences in less visited parts of Puerto Rico. These “community based” experiences are curated in partnership with local community leaders and local business owners, many of whom are women and fall under one of seven categories: Adventure Nature, Artsy Scene, Body & Soul, Community Love, Foodies Galore, Party Vibes, and Water Escape. According to their website, Local Guest’s experiential tourism is done, “for the benefit of the locals, their empowerment and their growth. The benefit of the environment by looking for eco-friendly solutions or mitigating impact. And fair-trade to bring true economic development of our region.”
Everything inside me felt out of whack. I had been away from home for 8 months when I plopped down at the bar of a guesthouse in Otres Beach, Cambodia. Though the rainy season was coming to an end, the lethargy of living out of a backpack had begun to take its toll. The joys of endless gallivanting were somehow, and unexpectedly, wearing off when Carrie, the owner of the establishment, appeared from behind the bar. Seeming to sense my dismay and state of disarray, Carrie slid a Cambodia Beer in front of me without so much as saying a word, allowing me to nurse my pint to completion before opening the dialogue. The conversation progressed quickly between us– I, a homesick traveler, she an expat business owner. I remember everything about that conversation like it was yesterday. Carrie moved to Cambodia some years before from North Carolina, and it wasn’t long after her arrival that she was offered to buy this beachfront guesthouse/bar/restaurant. Carrie employed only local Khmer women, many of whom had been forced from their nearby village by a Cambodian government making space for a new Chinese-run casino. These women had lost everything, and Carrie had given them an outlet to provide for their families and preserve their way-of-life. As the local lager flowed, Carrie explained everything to me about her mission: building an enterprise that shows western-travelers the warmth and hospitality of the Khmer people, creating an outlet for the staff to cook local dishes and offer tours of their community, and donating a portion of all proceeds to fund a soccer team for local-area children. Carrie explained her role as a volunteer at a nearby school where she taught English to Khmer children, and she offered to bring me there the next day to meet some of her students. The next day, I took up residence at the guesthouse after Carrie set me up with a volunteering gig at the English/Khmer school and with a job at a neighboring bar. She provided everything I needed to build a home away from home. October passed quickly. November and December felt like a dream. Before long, four months had gone by, and it took everything I had to pry myself from the beach and return home. Those sunsets were hard to leave. Looking back, I’m reminded that it was here where I learned of the unique power of travel, a force that links unbridled joy with a master class in patience and cultural understanding. In hindsight, my time in Cambodia shined a light on everything I didn’t know I was looking for when I set off backpacking 8-months prior, and it left my wandering spirit full of hope and with a vision of which direction to point my professional life. I also learned that only days prior to me planting myself at Carrie’s bamboo covered bar, she had changed the name of the guesthouse. Atop the bar read a sign signaling the new name: Everything is Everything Otres.
I remember the exact day when I realized how underrepresented women are in tourism leadership. I was attending the World Travel and Tourism Council’s annual Global Summit in 2013 in Abu Dhabi where the CEOs of the 100 leading travel and tourism companies come together and network with Ministers of Tourism and other high-level government officials. While watching another all-white male panel discussion, I noticed a tweet from an audience member and old friend Malia Asfor, the Director of the Jordan Tourism Board in North America, pointing out the lack of women on these panel sessions. That tweet opened my eyes to a growing disconnect, one where many of the people who run tourism companies and destinations are women despite the leadership is still dominated by men. While some people may accept this, I quickly learned that Malia was not one of them. I watched in admiration over the years as Malia has lead not only Jordan’s tourism marketing efforts in North America with incredible passion and effectiveness, but also as she stepped into leadership roles of industry associations like Tourism Cares, Adventure Travel Trade Association, National Tour Association, and the US Tour Operator Association. Malia is not only an inspiration for women in travel, but also for working in tourism. She refused to accept the status quo, and I guarantee that if you are fortunate to hear her present at an industry event you will notice that she is there because she deserves to be there. Jordan is lucky to have her as a tourism ambassador.
Among those that are actively contributing to the discussion around gender equality in tourism, there is the founder of Gender Responsible Tourism (GRT), an organization born to empower women through tourism. Iaia is a freelance journalist who choses to use her voice to amplify that of the often-overlooked female tourism workforce. GRT is trying to keep an open conversation about women in tourism and showcase the huge number of responsible tourism projects around the world that are run by female entrepreneurs. As they state in their vision, “We want more tourists to visit places where women are deservedly the ones who receive them, sell artisan products, cook, offer tours, educate them about their culture, manage, and are involved in decision making at all levels of tourism processes.” Iaia also co-edited the second edition of The New Independent Women Travelers Guide which displays destinations, itineraries, stories and experiences around the world of female entrepreneurs for female travelers. The guide is currently only in Italian, but an English version is on the way.
Social inclusiveness has become a foundational pillar of Solimar’s sustainability strategies, and one of our missions is to remain committed to building strategies that facilitate more opportunities for women, and especially women-owned small business enterprises. Follow us on Facebook to continue learning about these strategies, as well as the glass-ceiling shattering women of tourism.
With a global pause in the industry over the past year, Solimar revisied many of our former community-based tourism projects to compile lessons learned from our own work across the globe, in projects both past and present.
The emergence of the Covid-19 pandemic and the ongoing climate change crisis has prompted tourist destinations around the globe to re-examine their practices and question the notion of what “sustainable tourism” truly means. Once seen as a foundational framework for approaching tourism, this industry reset has led to the reimagination of community-based tourism.
Community-based tourism (CBT) is characterized by collective participation and decision-making by all stakeholders in a destination, from government officials to citizens, developers and planners (Haywood 1988). As any tourism practitioner can relate to, this is easier said than done. A complex range of factors must be considered when developing and planning tourism development to allow CBT enterprises to thrive.
Previous Solimar projects have used CBT practices to engage citizens in tourism development and share in the growth of local tourism-based economies.
In Jamaica, Solimar worked with the Jamaica Social Investment Fund, a self-organized coalition of community members in tourism, to promote their products and services.
In Colombia, Solimar worked to build the capacity of similar tourist groups surrounding Utría National Park. Tourism industry workers in Chocó, Colombia use this training to work for the conservation of the area’s natural biodiversity.
These projects demonstrate how the value of CBT practices extends beyond the destination community. Prioritizing the contributions and participation of all members of a community is not only a foundational principle in destination management, it is also an important aspect of visitor experiences. Travelers are eager to take part in a diverse array of cultural, natural, and culinary experiences, and are increasingly interested in using their travel to give back to the destinations where these experiences are based. From staying with local communities to increasing expectations for all-inclusive resorts, travelers are more eager than ever to engage with cultural heritage, environmental conservation, and community-based tourism initiatives…and the travel industry is taking note.
Ataúro Island, Timor-Leste
The Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste (commonly referred to as East Timor), situated on the Southeastern border of Indonesia between the Timor and Savu Seas, is an emerging tourism destination in Southeast Asia with rich history, cultural legacies, and nature areas – both above and below the ocean. Colonized by the Portuguese in the 16th century, Timor-Leste briefly gained independence in 1975 before being invaded and brutally ruled by Indonesian forces until 1999. Hundreds of thousands of Timorese perished under Indonesian occupation, with occupying forces destroying some 80% of the country’s infrastructure when forced to retreat following its United Nations-sponsored act of self-determination in 1999. As a result, Timor-Leste is one of the most impoverished countries in Southeast Asia, with a lack of available economic opportunities despite its immense natural resource base.
Under the efforts of the USAID Tourism for All Project, Solimar began working with local communities of Atauro Island in 2019 to develop a strategic plan for tourism development in the region, with the hopes of creating more economic opportunities for local communities. Located 25 km to the north of Timor-Leste, Ataúro is a rarely-visited destination home to six sucos (or villages), the ancient and culturally significant Manucoco Peak, and over 300 species of fish. Situated inthe Coral Triangle, an area with the highest biodiversity of any marine environment in the world, Ataúro is a diver’s paradise: from deep reef walls on the West coast to kaleidoscopic coral pinnacles on the East, hundreds of creatures swim through the waters year round, including several endangered species of whales and dolphins that use the waters as migratory corridors during winter months.
Through visioning, listening and planning exercises with local stakeholders and tourism advocates, Solimar helped to establish a Destination Management Organization (DMO) for the island in 2019, known as ATKOMA. By leading tourism development initiatives on the island, the Asosiasaun Turizmu Koleku Mahanak Atauro (ATKOMA) helps to ensure that tourism directly supports the community, and that its development includes the voices and vision of local people. From training local tour guides to selling day tours and multi-day itineraries exploring the most remote corners of the island, ATKOMA is the captain that steers the tourism ship in the direction that the community wishes to sail. With local leaders, forums for engagement, and membership programs with private-sector businesses, DMOs like ATKOMA are the focal point to achieving sustainable community-based tourism development in destinations all over the world.
DMOs and Community-Based Tourism: Lessons from Timor-Leste
In reimagining community-based tourism development, Solimar International is doing more than ever to provide the resources and training necessary for DMOs like ATKOMA to realize their tourism vision. Solimar recently launched its DMO Development Program to provide local tourism representatives with all the essential tools to create long-term sustainable tourism destinations. The 16-week virtual learning program is designed both for new DMOs or existing DMOs that hope to strengthen the institutional capacity and abilities of their staff. The program is designed to help transition DMOs into a financially sustainable and impactful organization that leads a destination’s development, marketing, management, and research efforts.
Solimar’s mission is to equip DMO staff with all the tools necessary to build a strong and vibrant brand identity around the destination, attract more visitors, support local economic and social development, strengthen institutional governance, and at the same time ensure better life quality for the community members. Local communities are at the forefront of our response to crises, from Covid-19 to climate change, and tourism must do more to empower their ability to address the many challenges they are likely to face into the future.
The last 12 months have revealed the fragility of one of tourism, one of the fastest-growing industries in the world, and many communities were left to face the consequences of unfettered tourism growth and collapse. From Bali to the Bahamas, overtourism left many destination ecosystems in ruin, unable to sustain communities when travelers stopped arriving. The pandemic has revealed the importance of placing tourism development and planning firmly in the hands of local communities. Building a new and improved space for tourism stakeholders to collaborate, such as through a DMO like ATKOMA, results in equal input from every stakeholder where financial, social, environmental, and political needs are addressed properly and taken into consideration accordingly.
“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