Tag: sustainable tourism

Destination branding – more than just a logo

What exactly is destination branding?

To start things off, it is important to first understand what a brand is: what is the purpose of destination branding, and how it is different from destination marketing? A brand is more than just a logo, a color scheme, and a slogan.

Your destination brand is a reflection of your culture and its people, history and heritage, traditional and modern ways of living, built and natural environments. It wrapped by the totality of perceptions, feelings, and thoughts that your guests have about your destination. It is the foundation of your marketing strategy and your most important marketing tool. 

Destination branding, commonly referred to as place branding, is the process of identifying, crafting, and nurturing the unique identity of a destination. It is building a story around the key elements, values, and the destination proposition, orchestrating consistent messaging that highlights just that and, ultimately, forming a reputation in the eyes of its visitors. In other words, destination branding is all about who you are. It is the focal part of destination marketing that, in turn, defines how you communicate and deliver your message to the right audiences. 

Top examples of destination branding

Good example destination Branding is Northern Ireland

Tourism Northern Ireland – Winner of The 2020 Travel Marketing Awards, Category Destination Brand of the Decade, image courtesy of Monotype.

Great example destination Branding is Northern Ireland

‘Northern Ireland – Embrace a Giant Spirit’ brand focusing on experiences, heritage and belonging, courtesy of Monotype and Genesis

Estonia destination branding

Courtesy of Lantern.  Estonia’s Repositioning and re-branding strategy focuses on telling a story about a lost paradise and experience-first destinations that allow travelers to make the most of their time. 

Why is destination branding important?

Prior to the COVID-19 global pandemic, travel and tourism was one of the largest and fastest-growing economic sectors in the world (UNWTO). While the global economy and the travel sector aim to recover safely, eager travelers are anxiously waiting for their time to travel again. Though it may still be unclear what exactly tourism will look like after COVID-19 recovery, and when that may take place, industry experts say the tourism sector will be among the last to recover

Not only are thousands of destinations planning and preparing for reopening, but undiscovered destinations are also establishing themselves every year joining the competition for the valuable tourist dollars. In such a saturated marketplace, carefully crafting a brand story that will resonate with the key audiences and potential visitors will allow your destination to stand out.

Differentiation is the ultimate objective of branding. Effective destination branding that stands the test of time while remaining competitive, dynamic, innovative, and agile to ever-evolving industry trends and consumer behaviors. It is what holds the key to successful destination development and tourism growth.

How to brand your destination successfully

Building your destination brand should focus on the uniqueness of the place and its surroundings. Consequently, the first step to building a destination brand, according to the World Tourism Organization and European Travel Commission, should be an audit of the destination to include the emotions and perceptions associated with it. Followed by that, it is important to recognize the strengths and weaknesses of the destination as well as identify your target market. Understanding your target audience will allow you to effectively articulate and deliver your destination’s unique selling point throughout the various touch points of the customer journey. A thorough competitor analysis should be carried out to identify a possible market gap, while successfully positioning and differentiating your destination.

It is important to mention that stakeholder involvement is an integral part of destination brand development and the branding process. A brand’s success is directly linked to the acceptance and support from local residents, and the public and private sectors. You should consider all these entities as brand ambassadors that will directly impact the perception of your destination in the visitor’s eyes. After completing an inclusive and comprehensive destination audit, you’ll be off to a great start to build your destination brand. 

Practical tools, such as the brand pyramid, can help define the destination and brand identity by considering all core components of your destination. The foundation of your brand pyramid lies in the rational attributes, the characteristics of a destination, and its tourism offer, i.e. the activities, the landscape, or the weather. Next, consider the emotional benefits and think about how the visitors feel about the destination and what feelings they take away from their visit. The third layer of the pyramid is the brand personality, the main characteristics, and attributes of the brand, including the question of how the brand should be perceived and described by the audience. Is your destination calm and charmingly intimate, or is it wild, vast, and rough? Perhaps it is a combination of the two? Furthermore, the brand positioning describes the uniqueness of your brand, led by the question of what makes the destination stand out from its competitors. Finally, the very top of the brand pyramid is the brand essence, the heart of your brand, and what wraps all other components and makes them into one.

After identifying all the components of your unique destination brand, it is time to build an engaging, empowering, and passionate brand story that will resonate with locals and visitors alike. Your story will be the backbone of your tourism marketing plan, strategy, and integrated marketing communications. Choosing the right visual tools and communication mediums will be essential in effectively and consistently communicating your brand promise, reaching the right audiences, and achieving your marketing goals. It also supports building relationships based on trust, and growing your destination popularity. 

Solimar acknowledges the importance of destination branding and provides more insights about this topic within our expert produced Destination Management Organization (DMO) development course. The course provides a deeper dive into the intrinsic components of destination and marketing organization planning, development, branding, and marketing.

Are you a destination who needs help with your destination branding? Contact us today!

Written by Lena Eckert and Emilija Zagere

A Tourism Improvement District (TID) is a revolutionary way to fund destination marketing programs. They are typically run by local businesses that collaborate and invest collectively to support the growth and development of their destination’s tourism industry. Depending on where you are in the world, the concept of a Tourism Improvement District has several different names. The United States first started using this term in West Hollywood in 1989. The UK and other destinations soon followed, by developing similar public-private partnerships sometimes called “Business Improvement Districts” or “Tourism Marketing Districts”.  Though they have different names, the goal is the same – increase the number of overnight visitors using business and services.

Lodging businesses are usually heavily involved, charging each visitor a per-night occupancy tax (also called a lodging tax, room tax, hotel tax, or tourist tax) usually ranging from 1-5% of the total bill. These funds raised are then directed to a destination marketing organization/destination management organization (DMO), and must be used on programs that increase paid nights spent in the destination. The TID tends to fund services such as marketing programs, tourism promotions, and projects to regenerate the destination to make it more attractive to prospective visitors. The period of the district varies, ranging from one year to a ten-year term, with some contracts lasting even longer. A 2016 survey of tourism districts revealed that most districts took between six and twelve months to form.

West Hollywood Tourism Improvement District Case Study

West Hollywood is the city where it all began and the home of the first TID (and now one of ninety-five of California’s cities that have a TID). In 2013, West Hollywood revived its previous TID and increased the hotel’s levy from 1.5% to 3%. The levy was then given to the West Hollywood Travel and Tourism Board where they used these funds to form strategic plans to promote the identity of West Hollywood, create a destination marketing strategy targeting potential visitors, and undertake advertising solely focused on the travel industry. In 2014, they implemented a three-year plan with the following objectives:

  • Increase demand of the destination
  • Strengthen domestic and international awareness
  • Improve and grow partnerships
  • Be a leader in developing the destination
  • Reinforce a culture of innovation

To achieve these objectives, they spent a total of $6,289,440 with the hotel levy contributing a staggering $5,900,000.

A 2015-2016 annual report by the West Hollywood Travel and Tourism Board, noted there were 1.38 million visitors to West Hollywood during this year. These visitors spent a total of $737,212,000, and directly supported 5,289 tourism industry jobs. In 2017-2018, West Hollywood saw record-breaking visitor numbers and spending, with over 3.59 million visitors, spending $1.73 billion, with an increase of employment supporting total 7,958 jobs. These numbers indicate how vast growth occurred in just two years.

Beyond West Hollywood, TIDs have developed other global destinations such as Visit Britain registering a 4 million increase in visitor numbers annually, and Visit Barbados showing an additional 2 million visitors per year. Once a Tourism Improvement District is implemented, destinations must be sure to maintain focus on the implementation of a tourism development strategy for consistent tourism promotion. Businesses in a destination need to collaborate and sync their efforts, to consider innovative ways to effectively market their destination.



August 9th is South Africa’s Women’s Day

Did you know that August 9th is South Africa’s Women’s Day? This special occasion honors the 1956 march that united more than 20,000 women in Pretoria asking for the end of the Pass Laws Act of 1952. These Pass Laws made it mandatory for all black South Africans over the age of 16 to carry a pass book with their biometric data (known as a dompas) everywhere and at all times. This law was designed to control the movement of black South Africans under apartheid as you could not move to a new area of the country without prior approval from the government. Those who violated the pass laws lived under constant threat of fines, harassment, deportation, and arrest.

South Africa’s National Women’s Day was celebrated for the first time on August 9, 1995 to remember the powerful women who fought against this injustice and the motto “You strike a women, you strike a rock” that developed from the resistance. South African women observe it now to commemorate the role women played in ending apartheid, while recognizing that the fight against injustice for women is not over. 

Why Does It Matter to Have Women in Tourism?

At Solimar, we strongly believe in tourism as a way to help the world attain the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals or SDGs (gender equality is SDG #5). Women are an important part of the tourism and hospitality industry accounting for 54% of people employed by tourism worldwide in 2019. Therefore, creating equal opportunities and supporting women’s livelihoods plays a large role in the fight for true gender equality. When done correctly, tourism is a source of fair employment, fosters entrepreneurship among women, and inspires leadership in young girls. To honor stories of powerful women across Africa, this blog highlights historic attractions focused on African women. These sites demonstrate how tourism can play a role in empowering women and preserving their legacies.

Source: South African History Online


5 historical sites to remember African women’s fights for equality

  1. The Union Buildings in Pretoria, South Africa. 

This is the most symbolic site for South African Women’s Day. On August 9th, 1956, this is the spot where 20,000 women banded together to protest the Pass Laws Act of 1952 and left a strong legacy protesting both gender and racial inequality. The Women’s March filled the entire amphitheater of the Union Buildings, the official seat of the South African Government and offices of the President of South Africa, as well as the place where President Nelson Mandela’s inauguration took place in 1994.  With such powerful, iconic meaning and history, the Union Buildings and their gardens have also become a national heritage site and a popular tourism attraction that offers a stunning view of symbolic Pretoria. If you ever have the chance to visit the exteriors, you will not only admire the many statues – including Nelson Mandela’s – but also the memorial created by Wilma Cruise and Marcus Holmes to the Women’s March, reminding everyone that “Wathint’ Abafazi, wathint’ imbokodo!” – “Strike a woman, strike a rock!”

Source: South Africa History Online

2. Women’s Living Heritage Monument in Pretoria, South Africa

In 2016, a monument was erected for the remembrance of the four heroic women who led the protest at the Union Buildings. Lillian Ngoyi, Sophia Williams-de-Bruyn, Helen Joseph and Rahima Moosa, the great leaders of the Women’s March, had the pleasure to attend the inauguration of their own statues on August 9, 2016 in Pretoria. Check out this article to know more about this Women’s Living Heritage Monument. 


Source : International Women’s Day 2021  

3. Women’s History Museum in Zambia

In Lusaka, the capital of Zambia, the Women’s History Museum was established recently to bring together and preserve African indigenous knowledge, with a particular focus on women. It aims at documenting and safeguarding historical narratives of African women, especially for the rich amount of knowledge and intangible heritage that is in danger of disappearing due to the impact of British colonialism. In addition to collecting and exhibiting traditional quits, audio recordings and photographs, the Women’s History Museum created the Leading Ladies animated video series to tell the histories of prominent Zambian women in pre-colonial times and make their stories more accessible. 

4. Musée de la Femme in Marrakesh, Morocco 

Heading to North Africa in the old Medina of Marrakesh is another women’s museum that represents the great culture and heritage of women. Since 2018, the Moroccan Musée de la Femme hosts different exhibitions to showcase the important contributions of women in the North African country. The museum also offers space to talented women – from photographers to artisans or leaders – bringing them out of the shadows and giving them the spotlight to be more widely recognized. 

Source: Musée de la Femme in Morocco (Atlas Obscura)

5. Voices of Women at the Phansi Museum in Durban, South Africa

Another project emerged in South Africa this year – ‘Amazwi Abesifazane – Voices of Women’ – a museum dedicated to the artwork of local women. Creator Andries Botha’s goal is to protect and conserve 3,000 unique archives (including embroidered cloths, memories and stories) to remember the fascinating lives of South African women. As a living museum, these exhibits provide sound excerpts in indigenous and English languages for each piece of art, thus offering a voice to these often unheard women. The Phansi Museum displays some of the greatest collections of arts and crafts from the country. This site is a meaningful portrail of South Africa’s Women’s Day. 


At Solimar, we are committed to fostering inclusion and it is important for us to position ourselves as allies in the fight for women’s rights. Creating opportunities for women to succeed in the tourism industry must be a priority in sustainable development. From the DMOs to the tourists, everyone in the industry can take part and choose to make tourism more responsible and inclusive of all genders, races, and sexual orientations.

If you are interested in learning how tourism is inclusive for women, make sure you follow us on Facebook and LinkedIn.  Stay tuned for our Sustainable Destinations Podcast through the Institute for Sustainable Destinations, available wherever you find your podcasts.  

By Amèlie Keller and Keller and Marina de Moraes Lopes

At Solimar, we value tourism for the economic and social development that it brings to communities all over the world. Protecting cultural heritage is one of our utmost priorities as well as a core development objective in all of our projects. When done right, building a strong tourism economy is a great way for local residents of any region to nurture their own cultural heritage and also provide meaningful educational experiences to visitors. Today’s travelers are looking for more than just pretty views and fancy dinners; they want the authenticity that comes from diving into an entirely new culture. From rural communities in Armenia to World Heritage Sites in Portugal, learn more about how tourism can protect cultural heritage. 

Community Building and Empowerment

One of the most impactful ways that tourism can protect cultural heritage is through community empowerment. This occurs when tourists are educated about the history and traditions of the local community, and in turn that community feels a stronger cohesion and sense of pride in that cultural history. Additionally, tourism based around cultural assets encourages locals to continue to pass on traditions and practices that are embedded in their history. The process of teaching other community members about these traditional methods creates a sense of unity through history. The feeling of community allyship is strengthened when tourists visit a place specifically to experience the culture. 

Having people from all over the world know about the importance of a community’s history and cultural heritage is something to be proud of, and community members will embrace their heritage more and more as that pride grows and spreads. In Atauro (a small island in Timor-Leste), tourists are encouraged to visit the local arts and crafts markets. Rising popularity of the markets encourages locals to continue crafting and creating goods that reflect their culture. When tourists appreciate local markets such as these, it sparks pride in the community and allows them to continue doing work that is culturally significant. In order for this to occur, Destination Management Organizations (DMOs) and local governments must ensure that community stakeholders are present and involved in tourism development.


Tourism as a Cultural Teaching Tool

When looking at tourism as a tool to protect and inform cultural heritage, it can also be seen as a teaching tool. Tourism can be viewed as a process: money is exchanged, parts of a community are engaged through a tourist’s stay, and the tourist walks away with memories and feelings for the location. However, when the tourist is engaged with an itinerary that focuses on heritage tourism, the takeaways or “post-visit behaviors” are likely to be more significant. This is for two main reasons: 1) Someone who seeks out cultural heritage tourism is more likely to be motivated to learn something on their trip. (Check out this awesome study by Indonesia University of Education to learn more about what their study revealed) and  2) The nature of cultural heritage tourism allows for an extra layer of a destination to be revealed. 

For example, let’s say a tourist visits a beach to watch the sunset at a particular destination. They walk away with an impression of the beauty of the location. What if it was framed through cultural heritage? Instead of just watching the sunset, the tourist gets to watch the sunset while engaging in a traditional feast that honors the island and all that it gives and includes a local folktale of what the sunset means to local culture. Now, that sunset experience has more significance for the tourist whose motivations resided in seeking knowledge. A large part of tourism is the intentions that motivate tourist behavior, and engaging with cultural heritage tourism allows a tourist to expand their horizons and connect more deeply with the people and the destination.

UNESCO World Heritage Sustainable Tourism Toolkit

The universal recognition and classification for the world heritage sites were adopted by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 1972, originated in an international treaty called the Convention concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage. Their mission is to encourage the identification, protection and preservation of the valuable cultural and natural heritage sites to humanity around the world, regardless of the boundary limitations. 

To help site managers, national/local authorities, local/international tourism industry, or even visitors and residents fully understand the essence of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites and sustainable tourism, a toolkit is provided by the UNESCO with the holistic guideline for managing heritage sites in destinations. Step by step guidance from understanding, strategic planning, governance to stakeholder engagement are available on the website with real case studies are available on the website. 

Building on this work, Solimar recently launched its World Heritage Journeys of the Silk Road, a 10-week virtual training program for tourism and cultural heritage authorities in Central Asia. This program builds on the results from the sustainable tourism planning and management capacity building workshop that brought together tourism stakeholders from Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. The workshop introduced participants to UNESCO’s World Heritage and Sustainable Tourism Programme and the tools necessary to conserve cultural and natural heritage of Outstanding Universal Value. This Virtual Training program will build on these learnings by reuniting World Heritage and tourism authorities from the participating countries to work together to learn how to better manage sustainable tourism, how to recover and prepare for the return of tourism in the era of COVID-19, and to develop a series of cross-border itineraries that are hosted on UNESCO sustainable tourism platform – World Heritage Journeys.

institute for sustainable destinations
Solimar’s Sustainable Tourism & World Heritage in Central Asia Course, available at institute.solimarinternational.com

As a specialist consulting and marketing firm in sustainable tourism, it is always our mission to ensure that sustainability underlies everything we do. We must work to ensure that the cultural and natural resources are protected in the development process, which leads to the long-term success for destinations. By building a sustainable tourism environment, empowering local communities, and preserving cultural values and heritage boosts the understanding and collaboration between stakeholders in different sectors. Working with local communities, we can help more destinations realize how tourism can protect cultural heritage and cherish our shared history of place.

Interested in learning more about how your destination can improve its cultural heritage offerings? Contact us today.

This blog was written by Gabby Whittaker, Kevin Lewicki, and Kuanlin Lu in July 2021

Illustrate Visitor Service Sign

Providing visitor services is an essential function of every Destination Management Organization (DMO)

Destination Management Organizations (DMO) are responsible for the management and marketing of a tourism destination to attract visitors and to offer them a good experience during their stay. One of the key functions of DMOs is the provision of visitor services, before and during the visit to the destination. But why are visitor services so important and what visitor services should a DMO provide? 

Within the booking process, all services and information need to be accessible for visitors. Potential customers may choose another destination if they do not get the information that they need. Therefore, DMOs must provide that role while informing potential visitors of information regarding their trip. DMOs also play an important role in facilitating the booking process, either directly on their website, or with the help of their partners. Apart from the booking period, visitor services can enrich the traveler experience, as more information and help can lead to an improved experience. This can result in a higher interest in returning to the destination and in sharing the experience, either with family and friends or on social media.  Within the destination, visitor services can also increase revenue and the time that tourists spend in the area, as a study from Philadelphia’s visitor center showed. Consequently, visitor services should not be neglected by DMOs as they have a significant impact on tourist satisfaction and revenue. 

There are different types of visitor services and DMOs should strive to provide a combination of them all. First, DMOs should provide materials like print collateral and maps to help customers find their way and to garner interest and demand for specific attractions. Although a tourist searches for information online every second each day, it is still important to provide printed information as many people like being able to hold and engage with the material. Nevertheless, the DMO should ensure the provision of information and services online, and it should become clear on their website what can be done in the destination and where tourists can stay.


Illustrate Visitor Service Sign
Visitor Service Sign


Providing accommodation with commission from hotel partners, packages, and discount passes on the website can also be beneficial for the DMO itself to gain income but also help the visitor prepare for the trip. The destinations’ website should also offer information about all activities and more specific topics like meetings and conventions so that all target groups can find the information they need. Importantly, customer service should also be provided as well so that concerns and questions can be answered and resolved. For that purpose, DMOs should offer contact possibilities via phone, mail but also social media and answer those inquiries as fast as possible. Customer service on social media platforms is gaining importance, especially for younger customers. DMOs should strive to respond timely, strengthening their brand loyalty through quality digital customer service. Alternative solutions like chatbots, that answer questions or guide customers through everything that they need to know, can also be a beneficial and innovative way to communicate with potential visitors. Regardless of what method is employed, rapid customer service needs to be provided, so that visitors can get the help that they need directly and timely. 

In the destination, tourism information centers are often the first and most important contact point between DMO and visitors. There, tourists can get brochures, help and first-hand tips from staff on what to do and where to go. Furthermore, visitor centers are an important point of sale, where experiences and packages, but also souvenirs, can be purchased. Within the destination, the DMO should ensure that visitors can find their way through the area that they are visiting, which is why signs about important sights and infrastructure should be supplied. Furthermore, public services like parking, toilets, and Wi-Fi should be provided as this allows for a painless, convenient stay. Finally, the DMO should also deal with complaints and conduct meditation if, for example, experiences or tours are not as expected. Providing this to visitors is beneficial and important to decrease potential frustration. 

DMOs should also identify gaps in their services and experiences, led by the question of if marketing is actually reflective of the destination’s marketing. All advertised promises should be fulfilled, otherwise, frustration and disappointment can occur on the visitors’ side. As such, a DMO must critically review their offerings. For example, if they promote themselves as an outdoor destination, they must make sure that trails for hiking or biking paths are accessible. If gaps in deliverance are identified, the DMO must work on developing the infrastructure to sync the expectation with the reality. Also, creating new experiences and packages attracts more visitors with broader interests. The DMO can then work together with partners to deliver and promote the new packages and experiences. The DMO should then help and support their partners with booking, marketing, monitoring, and adjust the experience as needed. An interesting example of a newly developed DMO visitor experience can be found in the city of Fort Worth in Texas, a historical place and connected to cowboys. However this reputation of a cowboy town did not actually reflect any Fort Worth experiences at the time. To live up to their international reputation, the DMO was thus inspired to create a new, engaging experience and hire a herd of Texas longhorn cattle to walk through the main street each day, attracting visitors from all over the world. This is an example of a DMO action that was highly responsive to visitor expectations and their global positioning.


Forthworth longhorn herd
Forthworth longhorn herd through town

Picture source: https://www.fortworth.com/blog/post/19-facts-you-didnt-know-about-the-fort-worth-herd/

Visitor services are essential to provide a good tourist experience and DMOs need to ensure that all types of services are available in their destination. Interested in learning more about visitor services in detail? Solimar’s online program in DMO Development emphasizes this topic through a learning course and offers valuable tips on how visitor services should be coordinated to fulfill tourist expectations. Through providing the required information and booking opportunities, answering questions before and during the stay and offering the needed infrastructure and services to developing new experiences, all visitor services need to be considered and can highly influence visitor satisfaction, experience, and expenses, which all benefit the destination. 

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