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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.

 

 

 

Through Solimar’s work with the USAID Economic Security Program, we recently provided assistance to Caucasus University in obtaining TedQual International Accreditation by the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO). This distinguished designation for excellence in tourism education was awarded on September 17th, 2020 for the Bachelor’s Degree program in the School of Tourism at Caucasus University in Georgia.

To date, no university or college level program in the region has achieved UNWTO TedQual Certification. The UNWTO Certification will significantly increase the performance and competitiveness of the Caucasus University School of Tourism through upgrading the quality of the tourism education programs in compliance with the TedQual standards.

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. This accreditation program will significantly increase the competitiveness of its graduates and raise the program’s international awareness.

More information on the TedQual Certification can be found at https://www.unwto.org/UNWTO-ted-qual.

 

 

Destination Management Organizations are often funded by a combination of sources–including lodging taxes and membership dues. As a result of COVID-19, tax collections have decreased in destinations around the world. Now, membership plans are as important as ever for the economic sustainability of DMOs. There’s plenty of room to develop relationships between DMOs and local businesses – and if your DMO does it right, it could benefit both parties.

For a DMO to successfully attract members, they must ask the following question: how do you market, sell, and deliver benefits in a way that both attracts and retains members? To begin, DMOs must take time to identify the main benefits that they can offer private sector organizations with a membership plan.

Benefits of a DMO Membership

While the details of your membership plan will depend on your DMO’s resources and choice of direction for those members, the list of possible benefits members may be offered is extensive and can be tweaked to suit your needs, as well as those of your members. This is when pricing and fees must be decided upon as well.

As part of Solimar’s Virtual DMO Development Course, Solimar interviewed Bill Malone, President and CEO of the Park City Chamber Association. For the past 20 years, Bill has worked in Park City, Utah, where he has managed the Park City Chamber/Bureau, a beautiful and popular ski destination. Bill’s suggestions for deciding on the benefits to offer included looking at other similar benefits in similar locations, surveying members or potential members to find out what exactly they would like to have as benefits, and choosing specific benefits that allow these private sector businesses to really connect with the community’s DMO.

Below are some of those many benefits your DMO may choose to offer:

  • Marketing 
    • Exposure on DMO website
    • Inclusion in DMO’s coupons/deal pass
    • Promotion of member’s events
    • Distribution of member’s brochures in visitor center
    • Highlighting in DMO visitor guide
    • Being featured on DMO destination map
    • Promotion on DMO’s social media, newsletters and DMO’s blog articles
    • Introduction to media/travel trade
    • Wayfinding destination signage
    • Referrals from Visitor Information Centers, call centers, online inquiries
  • Communications
    • Members only research and intelligence
    • DMO annual report and plans
  • Networking
    • Member only events and conferences
    • Establishment of communications channels  
  • Advocacy Support
    • Local and national government advocacy
  • DMO Governance
    • Apply to be on the board of directors
    • Join an advisory committee
  • Professional/ Business Development
    • Member only training events 
    • Education seminars

After considering these possible benefits, it is vital to listen to what your potential members have to say. Do they see the value in a DMO? What do they feel should be the priorities of the DMO? Which benefit options do they find most attractive, and what do they think about the proposed price structure? Each of these questions show interested businesses that the DMO is taking the time to listen and work in unison with their partners. 

Recruiting Members

When you begin to form the base of your membership plan, you can further organize how you will recruit, sign up, and communicate with members. There are a few important considerations here:

  1. Make sure you have an internal on-boarding process — Who will process and approve new member applications, and how will new members be welcomed?
  2. Conduct door to door membership drive — Reach out to businesses you are already familiar with and set up in-person meetings to discuss the benefits of your DMO, as well as the benefits that come with membership. If businesses are unsure about joining, do your best to be persuasive but also schedule a follow-up call and put them on your mailing list to allow them to continue to see the great work of your DMO
  3. Organize an event to unite the industry — Use an event to unveil something the DMO has been working on, like a new tourism brand, marketing strategy, destination management plan, etc. During the event, make the case for membership and benefits. Some examples of member-events include: after-hours networking events, breakfast networking events, advocacy-focused events, training seminars, holiday events, open board meetings, and annual membership meetings.

Finally, it is important to keep your members engaged through effective communication. You may choose to do this with any or multiple of the following:

Offering a membership plan helps strengthen your work as a DMO while giving you freedom to customize your relationship with a variety of local businesses and organizations within your destination or region. Even better, a well-developed membership plan is likely to be mutually beneficial to both your DMO and its members. As Bill Malone suggested, a DMO membership program allows us to “celebrate the industry that you’re in.” 

Tourism itself is an experience economy. Social media content and visitor guides are two elements of this experience economy that must work together.

It is important for DMOs to use their social media strategy and visitor guides as a way to give potential visitors a way to imagine an experience in the region. Through the use of social media, a DMO can create content and share information that brings more traffic to their area. 

Social Media Practices

The changes in tourism as a result of COVID-19 have demonstrated the importance of the use of social media in tourism marketing. Social media allows DMOs to have conversations and share information with both their potential visitors and their local constituents. Through the use of social media channels, a DMO can:

  • build and maintain communities of interest,
  • collect user-generated content (UGC),
  • display photography and videos,
  • distribute topical news stories,
  • emphasize current events and campaigns,
  • encourage word-of-mouth recommendations, and
  • get feedback

These goals are best realized by a DMO when the organization has a presence on all major social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram). 

Social Media Content Strategy

A social media content strategy is designed so that DMOs can plan posts and content over a specific period of time. This helps the organization think strategically about its monthly, quarterly, and annual goals. DMOs should be scheduling 2-4 posts a week with at least one blog post per month (when applicable). Hashtags and tags should be used in posts to make the region’s DMO page more accessible and bring about a central message. Additionally, a unified voice should be maintained to create a consistent flow of content, all with the oversight of a peer review system to ensure all posts are kept professional and approachable. The DMO should also periodically check its analytics on their posts to see what performs well and what doesn’t, and adjust accordingly. 

In the social media module of the DMO Development Course, Anne Robertshaw spoke on the importance of this relatively new form of marketing. She emphasized that no DMO is “too late to start social media platforms.” Her interview gave insight into how DMOs should use social media to promote their diverse regions while also highlighting of its product offerings.

Visitor Guides

Visitor guides are complementary — and essential — tools for communicating with a destination’s audience and appealing to potential visitors. Think of it as the ultimate advertising booklet for your destination: a good or bad visitor guide can make or break your marketing efforts.  

When creating a concept for the optimal visitor guide for your region, consider having a compelling cover that will draw the eye of visitors — one that tells a story about your destination. In coming up with potential content to add, be sure to interview important people in the service community (i.e. chefs, artists, historians) to not only highlight the amazing people in the region, but also indirectly advertise their businesses.

It is also critical to include a map in the guide. With a well-detailed and visually appealing map, the visitor guide will create a sense of place and orientation to those who read it. This map can also be used by the DMO to highlight attractions, businesses, trails, art districts, and any other sites in the region. Map making is a great tool to bring tourism stakeholders together to create a tangible project

In Solimar’s Week 12 Module on Visitor Guides through our virtual DMO Development Course, Ronda Thiem and Katy Spining of Madden Media spoke on the importance of visitor guides. Spinning stated that to make a good visitor guide, there should be extra pages that allow for the publication of “authentic experiences of your destination with potential visitors.” Additionally, Theim recommended interviewing local community members about their favorite attractions in the destination. For instance, an interview with a chef from the community will entice visitors to visit the local restaurants that have been recommended. 

Much like social media marketing, visitor guides have to be authentic and represent the core message of the DMO — and the destination itself. Be consistent and use a unified voice through the messaging sent along via social media and visitor guides so that visitors can set their expectations. After that, trust that the destination’s attractions and stakeholders will offer products and services that help these expectations to be exceeded.

DMO Website Development: Sedona Verde Valley

Developing a Website for a DMO

As the Internet grows in popularity and usage around the world, so has its impact on destination marketing and on tourism as an industry. The web has changed how tourists search for information about destinations and plan trips and has paved the way for the business development of online travel agencies (OTAs) such as Expedia, Hotwire and Priceline. Other world-renowned companies like TripAdvisor, AirBNB, and Google Maps have also been major benefactors of the growth of internet marketing in tourism.

For DMOs, the Internet has become the major information dissemination and marketing tool. A DMOs website not only helps the organization market its destination, but it is also an important tool that provides benefits to its members. 

Best Practices of DMO Website Development

In building and promoting a website, DMOs must remain fluid and continuously adapt to ever-changing tourism (and technological) trends. Remaining cognizant of this adaptivity will allow websites to remain up-to-date. 

When updating your website, DMOs should follow these steps:

  1. Make an impression – To get the attention of a client, DMOs need to capture their potential client’s eye with a memorable experience. This may be anything from a well-formatted design to scenic pictures.
  2. Reinforce your tourism brand – DMO marketing experts need to showcase their brand essence. Consider what image the DMO puts forth and how you want to be perceived by potential visitors.
  3. Use your home page as a launch pad – The home page is the first thing that visitors see. Be sure to keep it updated and have relevant content.
  4. Use clear and easy navigation – Make sure that the site is organized in way that makes it easy for potential clients to navigate to the conversion page (which in this case would be the Book a Trip page). Content can be organized in many different ways (ie: places to visit, things to do, where to stay, etc). Test different ideas and find the best categorization for your destination.
  5. Highlight your seasons – Visitors want to travel to a region during its best and most beautiful seasons. When organizing your website, be sure to consider the different sites and activities in your destination for each season. For example, Breckenridge, Colorado is a ski destination but does a fine job highlighting its summer attractions in the middle of the year.
  6. Make sure you are speaking the language of your target markets – To attract more people, add more languages to your website.
  7. Geo-reference your content – Many people may not familiar with your destination, so make sure to utilize maps when promoting attractions and sites. This will allow the visitor to understand where they are and nearby points of interest around the area, creating an easier travel plan.
  8. Use blogging to create travel inspiration and increase web traffic – This is a great way to be the storyteller of your destination and provide visitors with inspiration and anecdotal stories.
  9. Let travelers provide social proof and real photos – User-generated content — real photos from real travelers — shows the uniqueness of destination through the eyes of its most important asset, it’s visitors.

Breckenridge Summer Offering

How to Prepare and Plan for your Website Design/Development Project

Before building a website, DMO’s should first meet with its governing board to obtain buy-in and sign off on the site as the decision makers. After funding is established, a website team should be formed with a small group of leaders, each with different roles within the community’s tourism industry. From there, wireframes, a content model, and editorial calendars are to be developed to better outline the project. Use the tips stated above to organize all data before bringing the outline to a website developer.

It is important to identify any specific functionality that will be required by the DMOs website, such as forms, languages, user login, e-commerce, etc. Finally, it is imperative that a DMO request proposals from various web agencies to find the one that will best fit their needs and time restraints.

Our expert interview on this topic welcomed Wes Rhea, the CEO of Stockton CVB. Wes offered valuable insight into why it is essential for DMOs to design and operate their own website, and his words help to summarize this sometimes overwhelming topic. “DMOs need to position [themselves] as the expert of the destination and not give that power to anybody else.” Wes said. “You need to be able to tell your story in your own way”

“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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