In 2010, Solimar partnered with National Geographic, USAID, the Inter-American Development Bank and other key stakeholders to improve market access for small and medium sized tourism businesses in Bocas del Toro, Panama and Roatán, Honduras. The economies of Bocas del Toro and Roatán rely heavily on tourism and fishing, the growth of which jeopardizes their respective natural beauty and biodiversity.
In response to this impending problem, Solimar and its partners rolled out the Go Blue Central America (GBCA) project with its core product being a National Geographic co-branded website. The interactive website creates a platform for local communities to tell their stories and showcase their unique and sustainable attractions, activities, products and experiences. In doing so, the GBCA program drives increased visitation to the region and attracts visitors most likely to enjoy and care about the cultural and natural experiences of the areas. To be featured through GBCA, a business must meet certain sustainability criteria; this incentivizes businesses to adopt sustainable practices.
GBCA proved to be successful. Solimar documented a $1.3 million increase in sales of GBCA businesses, and established a Geotourism Stewardship Council working closely with the Coral Reef Alliance to direct and sustain the program over the long term. Social media channels, including Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest, were also pushed forward.
Solimar’s contract ended in 2013. It is always a challenge for development projects to sustain momentum and support after the end of the contract. A year later, we are happy to report that GBCA continues to flourish, in many ways due to the tireless efforts of Manlio Martinez, a consultant and coordinator for the local Geotourism Council in Roatán. Mr. Martinez has successfully rallied stakeholders in Roatán to develop new attractions & product nominations for the website, and to create and publish valuable content to GBCA’s Facebook page. At the end of Solimar’s contract, the Facebook page had approximately 200 likes; the page now has 556 likes. And while Facebook likes are not the end goal of our efforts, they are an important intermediary step in building awareness around the two regions’ sustainable tourism products and initiatives.
We had the pleasure to chat with Mr. Martinez the other day and hear his story. Prior to working with GBCA, Mr. Martinez was writing his own travel and tourism blog in Honduras. He was interested in writing a piece on the conservation efforts of a local dive site—Cordelia Banks—which put him in contact with the Coral Reef Alliance. Members of the Coral Reef Alliance quickly realized that Mr. Martinez would be a perfect fit for the GBCA. Mr. Martinez is a renaissance man of sorts—he’s a travel blogger, photographer, loves to make videos, and is dabbling in graphic design.
Mr. Martinez revealed that his efforts generating content for the GBCA blog and Facebook have proven worthwhile. Facebook, Mr. Martinez explained, is the most used social media channel in Honduras and therefore receives the majority of his focus and efforts. GBCA’s work is gaining exposure and he personally notices the word being spread; “Go Blue is being revived”, Mr. Martinez said. At the end of the day, Mr. Martinez is nothing short of an inspiration. A man truly dedicated to his work—”This is not a job for me”, he explains, “I am doing what I love”.