Improving market access for small and medium sized tourism businesses in Bocas del Toro, Panama and Roatán, Honduras
- Partners: National Geographic Society Maps Division, USAID Regional Program, Inter-American Development Bank, El Sistema de la Integración Centroamericana, Instituto Hondureño de Turismo, Coral Reef Alliance, Bocas Sustainable Tourism Alliance, MAR Fund
- Project Duration: February 2012 – December 2013
The Go Blue Central America project encompasses two major regions- the Bocas del Toro Archipelago in the Caribbean Sea in northwest Panama and the Honduran island of Roatán. The Bocas del Toro archipelago remains largely undeveloped and teeming with natural wonder; the jungle and sea are teeming with exotic species and natural beauty. Roatán, Honduras is 40 miles long and just 2.5 wide but is packed with world-class diving and snorkeling opportunities. It is surrounded by a part of the world’s second largest barrier reef system and its waters are full of color and life.
The region’s economy is centered around tourism and fishing, and tourism is key to local livelihoods; however, the growth of tourism has also brought negative environmental impacts, especially in the fragile costal and marine ecosystems of the region. In partnership with USAID and the Inter-American Development Bank, our challenge was to enhance the region’s tourism development in a sustainable manner that incorporates the protection and preservation of the natural resources and cultural attractions.
The Geotourism Program for Go Blue Central America helps regional communities to improve their market position within the tourism sphere by providing potential visitors with local knowledge of the region’s unique place-based tourism attractions, sites and businesses, and the abundance of authentic experiences offered. The project’s core deliverable was a National Geographic co-branded website has motivated people to visit the region and provide a resource for travel that enhances the benefits from tourism for local people.
The Go Blue project has mobilized public action in the region to be part of an interactive platform to tell the stories of their places through the website, select the key messages, attractions, activities, products and experiences that tell the unique stories of the region’s communities and natural wonders. These are now highlighted, interpreted and marketed through the Geotourism website. The Geotourism website not only drives increased visitation to the region, but also attracts the type of visitors most likely to enjoy the cultural and natural experiences of the area and to care about the people and place they are visiting.
- Initiate key stakeholder outreach and establish Geotourism stewardship council: Program partners engage diverse regional stakeholders (conservation, community, business, cultural, and ethnic) to identify and recruit a broadly representative Geotourism Stewardship Council (GSC) to help guide the program locally.
- Develop methodology for submitting nominations for the map: Solimar, National Geographic and program partners developed a plan for gathering site nominations for the Geotourism Website within the local context and designed and create site nomination web site to start gathering local content.
- Geotourism MapGuide launch events: Participatory Workshops and events were held with key stakeholders to engage local participation in gathering local stories about sites, attractions and businesses.
- Execute community outreach and collect data: Solimar and the local Geotourism Stewardship Council organized community outreach activities, to help people from the region tell their story through the website.
- Verification and Fact Checking: Information uploaded to the site was checked, verified in partnership with the local Geotourism Stewardship Council and where needed lightly edited.
- Contextual Information: Based on the information gathered, destination level descriptions and introductory text was developed through interviews with key local voices.
- Cartographic design, research, edit Through the information gathered by Solimar in collaboration with our local partner, Natiponal Geographic placed the selected information on the website, researching, verifying and locating each map point, placing text and photos, securing photo rights, and editing text.
- Launch and Distribution/Dissemination The website was launched with local partners and National Geographic and promoted to targeted travel markets.
- Within this project, which created a regional marketing platform for 150 MSMEs, Solimar International documented a $1.3 million increase in sales of those businesses during the first year of the website’s existence above their baseline sales collected the year before.
- Creation of a National Geographic co-branded website that provides information on local, authentic tourism businesses, sites and attractions in the region
- Strategic business plan and marketing strategy to guide the long-term sustainability of the program
- Establishment of a Geotourism Stewardship Council of local tourism representatives to guide and sustain the program aver the long-term