I was feeling just as restless as every other 2020 graduate when I decided to drive my car West, eager to engage with a country I had always called my own but never seen. In order to pull off such an excursion, driving over 1,500 miles from my hometown in Memphis, Tennessee to Zion National Park in Utah, I was going to need a comprehensive health and safety plan for traveling during COVID. I asked myself:
What do I need in my car?
Where am I going to sleep?
Where can I use the bathroom?
What will I do if I get COVID?
Two weeks into my journey, I have learned valuable and repeatable strategies for anyone looking to travel out on the open road this summer. Here are my “tips to traveling during covid” for this unprecedented tourism summer season:
1. Stock Up on COVID Essentials
Along with the obvious road-tripping gear (jumper cables, flashlights, batteries, a spare tire, etc), it is important to pack COVID-19 essentials. There is no guarantee towns along the way or your final destination will have the essentials you need, so it’s best to bring as much as you’ll need to get to your final destination and back before leaving (Note: this isn’t always possible.) I packed disposable rubber gloves, disinfecting wipes, multiple face masks/ face coverings, hand sanitizer, paper towels, and toilet paper. Some people recommend rubbing alcohol, bleach, a vacuum cleaner, and an air purifier, but I did not have room for these items. I’ve had the most trouble finding Clorox wipes and hand sanitizer. I recommend packing a week’s worth of food to minimize the number of grocery stores and dining options.
When you can, eat local — it’s a cross-country road trip after all! Supporting local businesses and tourism-dependent communities is one of the best ways traveler’s can help support communities. If you do plan to eat along the way, call restaurants in advance to learn about their COVID precautions and curbside pickup process.
Prepare your activities, rest stops, overnights, and food-runs a few days in advance. Because every state is operating under different regulations, it is important to know which states are open for camping, dining, attractions, and other services you may need. I used Roadtrippers to strategize my route. Togo RV is a great resource for the latest updates on RV, car, and tent camping during the pandemic. If you’re looking for a place to stay last minute, check out Campendium or find free campsites on BLM land. It’s best to reserve a spot to ensure that they have an available campsite before arrival, and always call in advance, as some hotels and campgrounds have not updated their websites and may be closed even if they indicate otherwise.
3. Make Your Car a Home
Cahira, my trusty 2012 black Rav4, is home. Before leaving, get your vehicle-of-choice fully inspected and give it a good wash inside and out. You’ll want to consistently disinfect your exterior and interior door handles, steering wheel, gear shift, turn signals, window washer knobs, car chargers, and any other button you’re using regularly. While you and your travel companions are the only ones touching these items, don’t forget that every time you get back into your car from the gas station, grocery store, restaurant, or attraction, you’re bringing unknown germs into your living space. This is why I like to keep paper towels in my passenger seat for easy access when touching a gas lever or drive-thru pickup. I keep hand sanitizer and other essentials in my glove compartment to use each time I exit and re-enter my car.
4. Be Kind to Locals
Even if you’re willing to take risks to travel the countryside or hike some trails, residents in these spaces may be apprehensive about the influx of tourism bringing potentially-sick patrons from all over the country. It’s great to support small towns and local businesses, who are hurting from COVID-19 more than anyone; however, respect social distancing guidelines to keep everyone safe. I became a WWOOFer, a worldwide initiative to link visitors with organic farmers, aiming to promote an educational and cultural exchange while building a global community of best farming practices. This is a fun and affordable opportunity to explore a new part of the country via local farms that are eager to receive guests. WWOOFing also makes it easier to socially distance while minimizing the number of bathrooms and sleeping arrangements you use, as visits can last from a single day to months at a time.
5. Have a COVID Plan
Even if you take every safety precaution, there’s still a chance you could get sick. Before you leave, have a COVID-19 Action Plan. Talk to family or roommates about what this would mean for the household. Prepare your quarantine location of choice with at least two weeks worth of food, medicine, and other essentials prior to leaving. Think about how you will return home if you start feeling sick. Consider your proximity to hospitals and resources. I recommend getting Teladoc, a 24/7 telehealth platform that connects you directly to doctors from the trails, car, or comfort of your bed.
On June 25, 2020, the Memorandum of Understanding was signed between the USAID Economic Security Program and Caucasus University. The Memorandum was signed by the President of Caucasus University Dr. Kakha Shengelia and the head of the USAID Economic Security Program, Mr. Mark McCord.
The USAID Economic Security Program and its contractor Solimar International will assist Caucasus University in obtaining UNWTO TedQual international certification. It is noteworthy that Caucasus School of Tourism is the first school in the region to have started the accreditation process of its programs in Tourism, as it will significantly enhance their quality, increase the competitiveness of its graduates and raise the program’s international awareness.
Under the partnership, the USAID Economic Security Program, Solimar International and Caucasus School of Tourism will work together to enhance Georgia’s competitiveness in the tourism industry by improving the qualification of its employees.
The cooperation also envisages:
Ensuring successful completion of Ted Qual accreditation process for BA and MA programs;
Developing collaborative master’s level programs in hospitality and tourism management together with the leading higher education institutions in the US, including the George Washington University’s International Consulting Practicum
Developing international certificate courses in hospitality and tourism management with higher education institutions.
“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” -Mark Twain
In the wake of recent events heightened by the murder of George Floyd on May 25, America has awoken to the consequences of racism in our society on a scale not seen since the 1960s. There has been a global call to action in demanding institutions, policies, and prejudices be critically examined in order for citizens of the world to become active allies of the Black community. While there are a multitude of complex challenges facing citizens and policymakers, there are a number of solutions that each one of us can employ in order to learn and unlearn racist biases so deeply entrenched in society. Travel is one of them.
Taking the time to travel and understand other cultures helps us all open our minds and replaces fear of the unknown with trust in humanity. While travel is certainly a privilege not everyone can afford, it doesn’t take venturing to the other side of the world to be exposed to new places, cultures, and ideas. As domestic tourism in the United States begins to reopen, Solimar invites you to explore the following destinations that may be in your own backyard as we all take the time to better educate ourselves during this global movement towards social justice and common understanding.
Washington, D.C. – East of the River (Chris Seek)
Washington, DC is Solimar’s home base and one of the best tourism destinations in the US (we might be biased). Every year over 20 million visitors come to DC to enjoy the Smithsonian Museums and National Monuments, but only a few venture east of the Anacostia River. One of DC’s earliest suburbs, Anacostia was home to Frederick Douglass and his home now serves as a historic site run by the National Park Service. Other highlights include the Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens and the Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum, which documents and interprets the impact of historical and contemporary social issues on communities. Many local and Black-owned businesses line the main street, and thanks to the support of a $50 Million grant from a non-profit, these businesses help ensure the historically Black neighborhood retains its authenticity and small town feel. While in Anacostia be sure to visit the Anacostia Arts Center, or cleanse your soul with a King Kong Kale juice from Turning Natural. Finish the day with a drink named after DC Go-Go icon Chuck Brown or Dr. Martin Luthr King at Uniontown Bar and Grill.
Explore the Underground Railroad (Chloe King)
Whether you live in California, Alabama, Virginia, or Vermont, chances are you only have to drive a few hours to visit one of the historical sites of the Underground Railroad, the famous network that helped slaves escape from Southern plantations to a freer life in the Northern states. As part of the National Park Services’ Network to Freedom Program, there are over 600 individual destinations you can visit nationwide, either in-person or virtually. From learning about leaders like Harriet Tubman who helped people escape to freedom to reading national archives rich with first-hand testimony of those with dreams of a better life, this network is an excellent way to explore the history in your own backyard. Read two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad on your journey, a story of two slaves on their bid for freedom from a Georgia plantation.
In Jackson Park, The Obama Presidential Center is set to open in 2025. This future landmark will be a massive draw to the South Side for travelers and locals alike. More recently, Illinois Congressman Bobby L. Rush reintroduced the Bronzeville-Black Metropolis National Heritage Area Act, designed to celebrate the history of the African-American community and preserve the cultural and economic benefits that it has brought upon the city since the Great Migration.
Gee’s Bend, Alabama (Natalie Sellier)
The Black Belt Region of Alabama—which stretches through 13 counties and has historically been an agricultural center for the state—contains some of the poorest counties in the United States. A sordid history of political disenfranchisement and violent racism combined with a fluctuating agrarian-based economy has left this region deprived of both financial and natural wealth over generations. The small community of Gee’s Bend located in the Black Belt is a microcosm for the issues plaguing this region. However, its scenic location on the Alabama River and its famous quiltmakers are untapped resources for growth through sustainable tourism – allowing people to experience a piece of southern culture that is still unique, palpable, and authentic. In 2012, Solimar worked with Sustainable Rural Regenerative Enterprises for Families (SURREF) through a Ford Foundation grant to help build a new community-based tourism enterprise that maximizes tourism revenues by offering—for the first time—tourism packages that encourage visitors to stay longer, spend more, and truly appreciate all that this small destination has to offer. Click here to learn more about visiting this incredible community, including the Gees Bend Quilt Mural Trail.
York- The Lewis and Clark Expedition (Sophie Levy)
Little is known about the enslaved African American who was vital to the success of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. York was a slave to William Clark and became the first African American to cross the United States from coast to coast. York was an invaluable member of the Lewis and Clark Expedition team, risking his life to save Clark in a flash flood on the Missouri River, hunting game to feed the group, and directing the sails of the boat that safely delivered the Corps of Discovery to Pennsylvania. York had only two features named after him on the journey. “Yorks 8 Islands”, renamed by the U.S. Board on Geographic Names in 2000 as “York’s Islands,” are a cluster of islands along the Missouri River in Montana. While the islands are predominantly privately owned now, there is public access available at the York’s Islands Fishing Access Site. The other was a tributary of the Yellowstone which Clark called “York’s Dry Creek.” An explicative sculpture named “York: Terra Incognita”, or “unknown land”, stands outside of the Library at Lewis and Clark College attributing respect to the often unrecognized historical figure. A bronze statue depicting York’s strength and valor is located on the Louisville Belvedere in Kentucky as a lasting legacy to honor York’s memory and importance in American history. Check out Solimar’s work on the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail.
Harlem, New York (Mica Pacheco)
Harlem is a neighborhood located in the Northern section of New York City borough of Manhattan. Known as one of the Meccas for Black history, Harlem was and still is a home to many races and ethnic group. The neighborhood gained its notoriety during the 1920’s in the era called the “Harlem Renaissance.” TheHarlem Renaissance is characterized by the literary, intellectual, and cultural flourishing of the new Black cultural identity. It was coupled with advancements in entertainment with the likes ofElla Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrongbuilding the innovation ofjazz, and in advancements in poetry with poets likeLangston Hughes. This period of activity caused the incorporation of Black culture into popular mainstream culture, making Harlem a key destination point for entertainment.
Today, the residents of Harlem are fighting against rising developments and property value as gentrification becomes a looming threat to the community. There are groups like Harlem Heritage Tours that offer many differenttours of the neighborhood and its history by local residents. Tours include iconic sights like theApollo Theatre and theNational Jazz Museum. For those who are unable to make the visit, the organization alsosells a variety of products in order to fund its cultural research and outreach to the community.
Kansas City, Missouri (Matt Clausen)
Kansas City has a vibrant African American culture and a deep history. The African American Heritage Trail of Kansas City, Missouri links over 50 important sites all around the city and a virtual tour provides people all across the world a chance to learn more about the city’s history. The American Jazz Museum preserves the history of American jazz music, with exhibits on Charlie Parker, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, and others. The museum is also home to one of Kansas City’s finest jazz clubs, The Blue Room. The Negro League Baseball Museum is the world’s only museum dedicated to preserving and celebrating the rich history of African-American baseball and its impact on the social advancement of America. Founded in 1974 by Horace M. Peterson III, the Black Archives of Mid-America collects, preserves, and honors the heritage of Black Americans. An African American museum in the former residence of John A. Walker, the Old Quindaro Museum in Kansas City preserves the rich history of the community where runaway slaves once found sanctuary.
Make sure to include the many nearby sites just outside of the city on your itinerary. Just north along the Missouri River in Leavenworth, Kansas is the Buffalo Soldier Monument which honors the bravery, determination, and courage of the African-American frontier soldiers who served in the 10th Cavalry. View memorabilia at the Richard Allen Cultural Center and Museum from General Colin Powell, Buffalo Soldiers, uniforms, freedom papers from former slaves, photographs, items from the old Bethel A.M.E. Church, and a stop on the Underground Railroad in Leavenworth. For insight into the abolitionist movement, visit the John Brown Museum State Historic Site in Osawatomie. This cabin served as an abolitionist’s headquarters in Kansas and a stop along the Underground Railroad. Nicodemus, Kansas is the oldest and only remaining Black settlement west of the Mississippi River. Nicodemus represents the involvement of African Americans in the westward expansion and settlement of the Great Plains.
National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, Cincinnati (Mary Haas)
Historically, the Ohio River was seen as separating the North and South. When enslaved men, women, and children were escaping the oppression of the slave states in the South, crossing the river was a crucial point in reaching freedom. It is only fitting that a museum that celebrates the heroes of the Underground Railroad is situated on the banks of the same river that so many people bravely crossed for freedom. The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center has a wide variety of exhibits that show the cruelty of slavery as well as acts of great kindness and strength. While generally focusing on the era of the Underground Railroad, the Freedom Center also has a wide variety of exhibits that educate visitors on the importance of equality and freedom, as well as the evils of institutionalized racism. A visit to the Freedom Center reminds us that history must be remembered in order to continue advocating for justice and equality for many generations yet to come.
Nova Scotia – The footsteps of the Black Loyalists (Caecilia He)
The story of the Black Loyalists is a very important and colorful moment in African-Canadian and African-American history. The Black Loyalists arrived in Nova Scotia between 1783 and 1785 as a result of the American Revolution. The term “Black Loyalist” particularly refers to men who escaped enslavement and served on the Loyalist side due to the Crown’s promises of freedom. About 3000 Black Loyalists were evacuated from New York to Nova Scotia. David George was an African American Baptist preacher and an influential Black Loyalist. George was born a slave in Virginia, yet founded the first Baptist church in Nova Scotia. One attraction highlighting this in Nova Scotia is the Black Loyalist Heritage Site, which takes visitors on the journey of these earliest Black settlers to Nova Scotia. The history of the Black Loyalists occurred more than two centuries ago, and descendants of the Black Loyalists are calling for the remembrance of spirits of their ancestors and discovering their stories of struggles.Click here to read the award-winning 2007 novel “The Book of Negroes” by Lawrence Hill with the stories of these brave individuals.
Colonel Allensworth State Historic Park (Beau Baiocchi)
Located in central California, Colonel Allensworth State Historic Park makes for the perfect educational stopover on the Los Angeles to San Francisco drive, or a perfect destination in itself for those interested in learning more about the little known history of this African American settlement. Now a historic park operated by the National Park Service, Allensworth was established in 1908 as a town founded, financed, and governed by African Americans. Their goal was to create a thriving community with programs that allowed individuals to create better lives for themselves. Purchased by the Park Service in 1974, this now vacated town offers a glimpse into its past with refurbished and reconstructed structures conjuring up reminders of its former days. Attractions include the baptist church, historic schoolhouse, and library. The site houses 15 campsites, a visitor center, and its paved roads are perfect for biking.
Oftentimes, we discover dream destinations that turn into unforgettable vacations from travel bloggers and writers around the world. For more inspiration, check out some suggestions below as well as these 50 Amazing Black Travel Bloggers
Storyteller, author, podcast host, and transformational lifestyle designer Ernest White II has circumnavigated the globe six times. His travel docu-series, FLY BROTHER,captivates viewers through his inspirational narratives on international friendship and connection around.
A talented photographer, video creator, writer, and passionate advocate for sustainable and green tourism, Ashley Renne tempts her audience to ditch the office and live life on the road. Not only is she a full-time content creator, but she also educates other explorer enthusiasts on how to intertwine entrepreneurship and travel at her co-founded academy Travelpreneur Life.
Family content creator, Monet Hambrick, permits no excuse for globetrotting parents and provides a unique, family-friendly perspective to adventure via The Traveling Child. Her helpful tips on how to travel with kids offers valuable insights from managing unforeseen illness abroad, packing properly for a lengthy road trip, and finding “alone” time just for parents.
DMOs have been a part of your travel life, whether you recognize it or not.
Those commercials and advertisements you see suggesting you visit a certain state or country? DMOs are behind those…
The bed/lodger tax attached to the end of your hotel bill that you’ve undoubtedly questioned at one time or another? DMOs once again…
The convention you attended a few years back, or the visitor’s center where you pulled brochures during your summer road trip? You guessed it…
What is a DMO?
The D in DMO stands for destination. A destination can take on a variety of meanings, whether it be it a city, national park, country or any other clearly delineated region. In the simplest terms, a destination is a place that is marketed to travelers as a place to visit.
The O of DMO represents organization. Though seemingly self-explanatory, organizations can take on a variety of meanings depending on the destination. At the national level, NTOs (National Tourism Organizations) and Ministries of Tourism help dictate rules, regulations and financial obligations of the travel sector for entire countries. Beneath them live RTOs, or regional tourism organizations. These are the organizations that are most familiar to the general public and include state, county and city-run tourism offices. Chambers of commerce and convention & visitor bureaus (CVBs) are two of the most prominent and most recognizable RTOs in the United States.
But what about the M of DMOs? It is here when things become a bit convoluted for tourism leaders. Until recently, marketing was the primary objective of DMOs, and the rational was simple and unassuming: more visitors means more money and notoriety for the destination. Through advertising in travel journals and magazines, on billboards, and through radio and TV spots, DMOs have promoted their place to the masses for well over a century. Today, the world’s citizens have more disposal income than ever before, and when combined with an ever-growing appetite to explore and experience new places, travel has reached unprecedented levels. The UNWTO reported that there were 1.5 billion international tourists in 2019. These record number of travelers have begun creating rifts between local residents and the traveling community.
Overtourism widens economic gaps and has become a key-term in numerous cities All around the world, natural lands and resources are being threatened by overuse. Sociologically, cultures and traditions are being lost to a gentrifying and flattening world. The tourism ecosphere is in the midst of a cultural change, and as sustainability in travel becomes evermore important, the M of DMO is transitioning from marketing to management.
The Importance of Evolving from Marketing to Management
Research shows a unique ebb-and-flow of a tourism destination, known as Butler’s Tourism Area Life Cycle (TALC). The chart below gives a well-defined glimpse into how destinations evolve as time passes and tourism numbers increase.
Butler’s TALC was developed in 1980, well before the advent of budget airlines, Instagram, TripAdvisor, and other elements that make travel more accessible and desirable nowadays. Still, it provides the perfect template to show the importance of DMOs pivoting from marketing to management.
In almost all tourist destinations, marketing is designed to bring in increased numbers of visitors. Most DMOs are funded by government budget allocations and/or lodger (or bed) taxes. More visitors equates to more money, which results in more marketing. This cycle turned vicious in cities like Barcelona, Venice and Amsterdam, all of which have shown that this model is unsustainable.
Imagine, for a moment, that the solid line on the TALC chart above represented resident sentiment towards tourism. Happiness levels increase, until a state of apathy (stagnation) is reached. At this point, local constituents will either move in the direction of re-strategizing to further elevate their happiness levels, continue towards apathy, or move downwards towards anger and burnout. If the TALC chart were recreated today, perhaps stagnation would be replaced with resident/tourist discrepancy and land over-usage.
It is here – and why – that DMOs have been forced to become managers and advocates of their places. No longer is higher visitorship the main goal of these organizations. Instead, these ever-adapting travel organizations are now tasked with stewarding a more targeted market and developing plans to help conserve their destination’s environment and culture. Through public-private partnerships, destination management organizations act as the mediator between the general public, private industries, and government entities. It is a tall-task, no doubt, but when completed successfully these partnerships will enhance community engagement and relations, and ultimately create a more sustainable travel destination.
An Example of DMO as Destination Managers
In the Netherlands, and specifically Amsterdam, tourism had reached a breaking point. Residents were being priced out of homes towards the city center, bikes were being thrown into canals, and streets and shops were too crowded to stroll through leisurely. The Netherlands Board of Tourism and Conventions (NBTC) took note of this shift and made the exceptional decision to no longer market visitation to the city. Last year, NBTC published Perspective 2030 as an initiative to move tourism dollars away from marketing and towards creating a more wholistic travel structure that benefits all Dutch citizens. As the report reads, “The coming ten years will require a different view and approach compared to the previous ten years. The future needs new paradigms as a basis for new content and processes, new KPIs and changing roles…Our focus is on shared interests and putting local residents first.”
The Netherlands may be one of the first destinations to consciously and strategically use tourism as a means of endorsing the wants and needs of its constituents, but it is certainly not the last. In fact, some may argue that DMOs have acted as the managers of destinations since the first CVB was developed in Detroit, Michigan in the late 1800s.
Regardless of its history, there is no denying that the travel industry, and namely DMOs, must manage their destination and provide support for all area stakeholders, residents, government officials, and of course visitors. Involving all players will create a sustainable model that can support environmental, cultural, and economic preservation. In the end, the result of masterful destination management will be an organically-created marketing tool.
UNWTO defines a destination management organization as the leading organizational entity which facilitates partnerships with various authorities, stakeholders, and professionals to achieve a unified mission towards a destination’s vision. Destination management is a broad and holistic management process that includes managing marketing, local accommodations, tours, events, activities, attractions, transportation and more. In terms of both supply and demand approaches, the destination must try to draw attention from both visitors and private tourism markets. A destination’s competitiveness and attractiveness comes from the use of effective, sustainable strategies and is based upon a balance of interests of all stakeholders inside the tourist destination. Within any tourism destination, the public sector designs the nation’s core identity with the mandate of national growth and advancement of the entire community; the private sector delivers the desire for future development with different goals and accountabilities; and the destination stakeholders are the entities connected together by travel experiences or through the tourism industry.
The DMO emerges as a key player in the development and management of tourism at the destination level with various functions. Depending on the potential needs, these functions may include strategic planning, implementation of the destination tourism policy, tourism product development, crisis management, quality improvement and assurance, workforce development, and sustaining the cultural heritage of the destination. A destination with an effective management plan usually possesses a high capacity for undertaking new innovations and trends, while being more resilient to potential challenges and disruptions–something more important than ever in the time of COVID-19.
Some advantages of having an effective destination management organization are listed below:
Establishing a competitive edge: Developing the destination’s attractions and resources in a way that highlights its authenticity and characteristics will enable it to thrive. Ensuring positive visitors’ experiences, allowing tourists to push their limitations and venture outside their comfort zone, will deliver an excellent quality experience in a destination.
Ensuring sustainability: The World Travel and Tourism Council encourages responsible tourism practices to preserve destinations for visitors and locals alike. Income generated from tourism can stimulate the destination’s development of new infrastructure and transport services, upgrade the skills of rural workers, and provide funds for natural, cultural, and historical resources to be managed in a more sustainable way. As a result, visitors will receive more authentic and engaging experiences–all while knowing they are having a positive impact on the destination. Additionally, good destination management can help avoid social and cultural conflicts and prevent tourism from negatively affecting local values.
Building a tourism culture in the destination: Communicating with the local community in a destination and listening to local residents’ voices is necessary to sustaining a tourism destination in the long term. DMOs are responsible for engaging local communities to ensure that tourism development is a mutual benefit between tourism stakeholders and local residents in the destination. This strategy is also vital for DMOs to preserve the cultures of destinations.
Building a strong brand identity: DMOs increasingly realize that the value of a destination brand is strongly linked to the value of the destination. Without diversifying the destination’s tourism sources, it is almost impossible to understand who the target market is and what that market needs. Therefore, brand identity is an essential driver to implement successful marketing strategies to the target market. By consistently conveying brand loyalty, tourists regularly return to the destination and become “free advertising” for a DMO: sharing with friends the value they saw in a destination, far beyond the time they spent in it.
Solimar assists destinations take a strategic approach for the better management of a destination. Read more about how Solimar can help your destination use tourism for good through customized destination management.
“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