I met Lucia and Gabriel from Solimar and the Chocó Community Tourism Alliance during my first stay here in Medellín, Colombia, at the beginning of 2014. I was very interested in the goal of a community-based ecotourism project that would support local communities at the Pacific Coast, one of the poorest regions in Colombia. This is why I decided to apply for an internship with Solimar and luckily I was accepted. For logistical and practical reasons, particularly to better cooperate with Palenque Tours, a Medellín-based tour operator and commercial representative of the Alliance, I did my internship in Medellín.
I was responsible for marketing the destination Chocó, Colombia, and activating the Alliance brand “Visit Chocó.”
My work in Chocó
During my internship I was in charge of all the social media channels used, publishing interesting content and beautiful photos daily on Facebook, Google+ and Twitter, to attract tourists to visit Chocó. I also interacted with similar pages promoting community-based tourism in South America to get inspired by new ideas and topics, and retweeted or shared their posts. Moreover, I published a blog about Chocó twice a week in both English and Spanish on Visit Chocó. Additionally, I managed the Visit Chocó website content to optimize it for best search engines results and make it easier to find for agencies and visitors.
Another aspect of my work was to do trade outreach to North American tour operators since North American travelers have been defined as the target market of the Chocó Community Tourism Alliance. The proximity and relatively quick flight to Medellín makes it a great destination for North American travelers. Therefore, I followed an outreach strategy whereby I evaluated a database of hundreds of tourism agencies in the US and Canada, sent them informational introduction emails and followed up via phone calls with at least half of them.
On September 3rd, Solimar, together with Palenque Tours, hosted a webinar for the agencies who had expressed interest in Chocó to provide more details about the Alliance and how to include Alliance tours into their existing itineraries. There will be other webinars held on December 3rd for both North American and European agencies.
In the last few weeks, I started to reach out to a number of distribution channels- guidebooks as well as travel affinity groups. Palenque Tours will continue this outreach in the next months and years, as they were chosen as the official sales and marketing representative by the Alliance. For this purpose a Travel Trade Portal was created on the website, which includes sales and marketing kits in English, Spanish, and German. The sales kit includes: (1) a destination guide with detailed information on Chocó including its people, wildlife, etc.; (2) a fact sheet about the Alliance and community-based tourism; (3) a travel guide with useful tips to answer clients’ questions; and (4) a detailed list of Visit Choco’s products. The marketing kit provides our partners with royalty free marketing material for download including a blog post, 10 Facebook posts, and 10 twitter posts, which are uploaded monthly.
What I learned
Apart from these tasks I was in continuous communication with Palenque Tours and Solimar in Washington, D.C. I received training from them and exchanged ideas and updates about program activities. All in all, I learned a lot about online marketing during my e-internship with Solimar International. In fact, I decided to write my Bachelor’s thesis about community-based ecotourism presenting the Chocó Community Tourism Alliance as a case study. This experience was a great opportunity to get closer insight into the project.