Tag: #SustainableTourism

tourism planning trends

What is Tourism Planning? 

Tourism planning consists of creating strategies to develop tourism in a specific destination. Knowing and understanding current trends allows those in the industry to tailor their operations to meet demand. It is crucial for DMOs and tourism businesses to stay up-to-date.  

Origin and development of tourism planning

Tourism planning was born from the necessity of simultaneously balancing the economic goals of tourism and preserving the destination’s environment and local welfare. It arose in the second half of the 1990s, when mass tourism brought an unparalleled change in the travel environment. Consequently, the industry had to develop new standards to adapt to this change. 

The aim of tourism planning

The current objective of tourism planning is to control tourism’s unprecedented expansion to limit its negative social and environmental effects, while maximizing its benefits to locals. 

These goals can be reached by:   

  1. Analyzing the development of tourism in the destination
  2. Examining the state of affairs in a specific area and executing a competitive analysis
  3. Drafting tourism policies
  4. Defining a development strategy and actionable steps

Businesses looking for support through this process can reach out to Solimar International or check out this free toolkit. Solimar has a dedicated team of staff who employ a wide range of skills to promote economic growth, environmental preservation, and cultural heritage conservation. 

developing strategies and planning are key to improving destination tourism
Planning development strategies are necessary to improve tourism.

Why is Tourism Planning Important? 

Tourism planning should be part of destination development plans because it supports a destination’s long term success and incentivizes the collaboration of key stakeholders.

Tourism planning maximizes tourism benefits like: 

  • Promotion of local heritage and cross-cultural empathy
  • Optimization of tourism revenue
  • Natural environment and resource protection

Tourism planning also minimizes tourism drawbacks such as: 

  • Overtourism, and consequently anti-tourism feelings
  • Economic leakage
  • Disrespect for the local culture
  • Damage to the local environment

Tourism planning is also important because, by creating plans and strategies, destinations provide an example that other destinations can follow to improve tourism in their area. It ensures that the destination is consistent with changing market trends, constantly addressing tourist and resident needs as they arise. 

This was made clear in the Cayman Islands. The surge of cruise tourism caused a massive influx of tourists, which brought new challenges to the small islands. Consequently, the destination’s goal shifted from attracting tourists to sustainably managing them. The development of a National Tourism Management Plan was key to provide stakeholders with the tools they needed for sustainable tourism management. 

What are the Newest Tourism Trends?

In the planning process, it is fundamental to consider how new tourism trends influence the future of tourism planning and allow destination strategies to stay innovative.

1. Safety and Cleanness

The Covid-19 pandemic brought about significant change to tourism and tourists’ perception of travel. Tourists are now more concerned about safety and cleanliness. They have a preference for private home rental, contactless payments, and booking flexibility due to the constantly-evolving global health situation. They are also more willing to visit natural environments and less crowded destinations where they feel safer.

Tips for DMOs: Have safety and cleanliness standards, allow flexible bookings and contactless payments, and focus on open-air experiences. 

An excellent example of these practices is Thailand, which decided to boost tourism after Covid-19 by rebranding itself as a safe tourist destination, issuing safety certificates to infrastructures to build public trust. 

2. Social Media

Social media is the preferred channel for travel inspiration, influencing travelers’ decision-making because videos and pictures create an emotional bond between people and places. 

The preferred platform depends on the traveler’s generation:

  • Gen X uses Pinterest and aesthetically pleasing blogs
  • Millennials use Instagram
  • Gen Z uses TikTok

Generation Z is also more willing to travel after Covid, and they will have  high spending power in the next few years

Video content is favorable because of the high engagement and interaction it creates compared to pictures. In this context, TikTok is the future of travel marketing. On this fast-growing platform, videos are likely to become viral because of the app’s algorithm. For example, the travel campaign #TikTokTravel, where people were invited to share videos of their past trips, was viewed by 1.7 billion people

tourists use social media like Instagram to plan travel
A tourist searches for Instagrammable locations

Tips for DMOs: DMOs can use TikTok to promote attractions, restaurants, and tours partnering with influencers. Social media can attract new customers, monitor Instagrammable locations, and manage overcrowding by promoting lesser-known areas. This all helps shift tourists away from hot spots. 

Follow Solimar International’s success with social media promotion through their World Heritage Journeys of the European Union project. By providing research, media-rich itineraries, website promotion, and mobile maps, Solimar International can help your organization reach its target audience.

3. BLeisure Travel

Due to technology, the separation between work and life is blurred. This premise gives birth to the BLeisure travel, a genre of travel that combines business and leisure. Aside from those who travel for work, combining some leisure during their stay, there is an increasing number of digital nomads. These people are freelancers or smart workers who decide to adopt a traveling lifestyle. They will look for business hotels where they can easily obtain a fast Internet connection and a good working environment.

Some destinations are rebranding themselves, targeting those who work remotely. A good example is Aruba, which promotes itself as a paradise for workation.  

BLeisure tourists could work from their favorite destinations
How working as a BLeisure tourist could look

4. Destination Uniqueness

The tourism market is becoming increasingly competitive, especially for destinations with similar climates or natural features. To stand out, destinations need to focus on their distinctive assets. Places should identify a destination brand, which highlights their culture and the unique experiences they offer to tourists, instead of branding common and widely-available tourism practices.

An example of destination uniqueness as a trend of tourism planning is Uganda, which is widely known as a safari destination. The country rebranded itself by focusing on its one-of-a-kind cultures, landscapes, food, and traditions, labeling itself “The Pearl of Africa.” This is one aspect of Uganda’s tourism planning process. By identifying and promoting a destination brand, Uganda aims to develop an immersive tourism for meaningful and transformative experiences abroad. 

5. Transformative Travel 

Transformative travel is an expression of the experience economy combined with experiential travel. The latter is about living once-in-a-lifetime, off-the-beaten-track experiences rather than conventional ones, connecting visitors with local cultures. 

Transformative travel is defined by the Transformational Travel Council as:

 “intentionally traveling to stretch, learn and grow into new ways of being and engaging with the world.”

Therefore, transformative travel is an immersive experience that aims to inspire personal transformation, growth, and self-fulfillment. People travel to transform their own lives and the lives of those who live in the destination. 

Tips for DMOs: Destinations should focus on providing unique and authentic experiences that connect travelers with locals. This enables tourists to experience local culture, food, and lifestyles, lending way to authentic experiences that they are sure to remember.

6. Sustainability and Community Engagement

Travelers are becoming more conscious of their environmental impact, and they are more willing to adopt a sustainable travel style. This means not only doing less harm to the environment, but also making a positive impact on cultures and economies, generating mutually beneficial relationships between tourists and locals.

An excellent example of a country that stays ahead of trends in tourism planning is Jamaica. Instead of boosting sun and beach tourism development, Jamaica has recently focused on community-based tourism, providing several experiences that empower locals. 

By focusing on poverty reduction, gender empowerment, equality and employment, Jamaica utilizes tourism to achieve social justice goals. 

Similarly, Solimar contributed to an Artisan Development project in Morocco. By strengthening the connection between local artisans and tourists, Marrakech and Fez saw a significant increase in direct selling to consumers, which contributed to increased local welfare.

developing sustainable framework is ket to the tourism planning process
Giving tourism a sustainable framework is a necessity for tourism planning

7. Technology to Manage Overtourism

The rise of charter flights boosted mass tourism. This has pressurized cities, raising the debate on the limits of acceptable change and generating anti-tourism sentiments among residents. One example of this is in Sedona, Arizona, where we helped manage visitor flow by marketing and promoting the nearby towns and attractions in Arizona’s Verde Valley

Tips for DMOs: Destinations should exploit technological advances to develop crowd management techniques. Some DMOs used gamification to manage tourism flow, spreading visitors in less known or less crowded areas. This is popular in London, for example, with the Play London with Mr. Bean app, a program that allows tourists navigate to different parts of the city and find points of interest quickly. This gives the city the opportunity to redirect tourist flows to spread-out spots in London.

To learn more about the tourism planning process and future trends in the tourism industry, visit our Institute for Sustainable Destinations website today. 

By Greta Dallan & Hannah Lambert

diver visiting for tourism participates in the blue economy

Tourism can positively impact the blue economy when properly planned, developed and managed. When this happens, nature heals, marine life returns, local communities are engaged and empowered, and culture thrives. In this piece, we explore the concept of the blue economy and the impact of sustainable and unsustainable tourism on blue growth.

What is the Blue Economy and how does it connect to tourism?

According to the World Bank, the blue economy is the “sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, improved livelihoods, and jobs while preserving the health of the ocean ecosystem”. 

The Center for the Blue Economy adds, “it is now a widely used term around the world with three related but distinct meanings- the overall contribution of the oceans to economies, the need to address environmental and ecological sustainability of the oceans, and the ocean economy as a growth opportunity for both developed and developing countries”.

Unsustainable Tourism: Pressure on Ecosystems

Tourism is the world’s largest economic industry. According to the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC), it accounts for 10% of global GDP. It introduces new jobs, promotes entrepreneurship, and drives investment in destinations. 

Unfortunately, many places have experienced more harm than good due to overtourism, pollution, resource depletion, and environmental degradation. For island and coastal communities, this means overfishing, coral bleaching, and disturbing the harmony and health of marine and aquatic life.

One example of tourism gone wrong is Thailand’s notorious Maya Bay in the Phi Phi Islands. Due to overtourism, corals died and marine life disappeared. Another example is from Central American islands Roatan and Bocas Del Toro in Honduras and Panama, respectively. The islands, where marine life once flourished, became at risk of habitat loss and environmental degradation due to mass tourism. 

crowded beach in portugal
Mass tourism on a beach in Lagos, in the Algarve region of Portugal

Sustainable Tourism: The Only Way Forward

When sustainably developed, tourism can be used as a force for good, where it sustains and regenerates rather than stresses and depletes. Similarly, when the damage has already been done, sustainable tourism can help restore and regenerate ecosystems. In either case, endless opportunities arise through circular and regenerative blue economy development. 

The Thai authorities decided on a three-year visitor closure in Thailand’s Maya Bay to regenerate the ecosystem. Over this period, they worked on construction and restoration to plant more corals, create a conducive environment for wild residents to return, and improve travelers’ experience. Today, the bay has reopened.

Similarly, Solimar’s Go Blue Central America Project worked on developing Central American islands’ tourism without compromising the natural environment. The project supported private sector businesses adhering to blue economy principles to protect and regenerate the islands’ coastal and marine habitats.

diving is the most famous way that tourism impacts the blue economy
Coral colony in Koh Chang island, Thailand

What Types of Tourism Benefit the Blue Economy?

Residents of water-surrounded countries can keep the economy afloat with day-to-day transactions of food and certain goods that come from the ocean. However, tourism can significantly boost production and income through product, service, and experience offerings. Here are five types of tourism that are benefiting the blue economy: 

  1. Dive Tourism

One of the main ways that tourists can contribute to a country’s blue economy is by booking a guided trip with a local dive master. In some countries, this type of trip turns out to be even more vital than guided fishing tours. People will book a trip to exclusively scuba dive, free dive, or snuba to explore reefs and exotic fish. 

While some tours include spear-fishing or lobstering, most dive tours are led in particular areas where wildlife is protected. In doing so, dive tours catalyze the protection and growth of surrounding reefs. When marine ecosystems are well preserved, locals can carry on producing and providing more of the products and services that tourists love. As a result, the underwater world will be richer and more attractive to explore, fish will be more abundant, and corals and shells will become more available for harvest to be made into collectables.

Divers exploring a reef in the Maldives as tourists contributing the blue economy
Divers exploring a reef in the Maldives
  1. Fishing Tours and Trips (Pescatourism)

Many places on the water offer guided fishing trips with town locals. Like dive tours, these trips foster blue economy development. Usually, travelers experience a day in the life of a local fisherman by joining them on a boat, helping them catch fish, visiting their local community, and cooking and eating the fresh catches using traditional recipes. 

By following fishing guidelines and regulations, fishermen keep fish populations at balanced levels for healthy ecosystems. As a result, marine environments and local economies both thrive. Fishermen have a strong incentive to protect marine life and avoid overfishing so that they can continue to sell their experiential travel products. This, in turn, increases and diversifies their income streams and makes them more resilient to external shocks.      

Fishing boats parked in Iraklio, Greece is a form of pescatourism

Fishing boats parked in Iraklio, Greece

  1. Local Artisan Markets

Local markets that showcase artisan work and crafts are vital to small countries’ economies. Sellers showcase their products to tourists, who are often eager to purchase them as souvenirs and collectable decorations. In island and coastal nations, many of these products are made of materials from the ocean. Often, craftsmen use dead coral, washed-up shells, or sand, which are natural, renewable resources.

shells from the ocean

  1. Marine Ecotourism for the Blue Economy

According to the UNWTO, ecotourism involves observation and appreciation of nature, education, environmental protection, and community engagement. It integrates ecological protection with the social and economic development of local communities. Marine ecotourism is that which corresponds explicitly to coastal and marine ecosystems. Such tourists usually visit natural, virgin areas with little to no development to observe wild species or scenic landscapes. This form of tourism highly regards nature and culture, where it focuses on protecting or improving the natural environment and preserving and respecting cultural heritage.

A sea turtle swims over top of a shallow-water reef, tourists love diving with turtles
A sea turtle swims over top of a shallow-water reef
  1. Scientific, Academic, Volunteer, and Educational (SAVE) Tourism

This type of tourism is fundamental to blue economy development. SAVE travelers view tourism as a way to learn, explore, help, and grow. Inherently, SAVE tourism focuses on safeguarding and improving destinations, including their resources, communities, sites, and organisms.

Group of volunteers picking up trash from a beach
A group of volunteers picking up trash from a beach

All five types of tourism contribute to blue growth, where economic and environmental benefits are not mutually exclusive. Through these models, incentives are correctly aligned, where tourism success depends on a balanced, healthy, and rich cultural and natural heritage. As a result, tourism acts as a bridge between economic, social, and environmental sustainability, directly feeding into blue economy development.

How does Tourism Positively Impact the Blue Economy?

After delving into the different types of tourism, let’s explore how tourism can have a positive outcome:

  1. Natural Conservation and Restoration

The blue economy is crucial for environmental conservation and restoration due to its focus on sustaining and regenerating marine ecosystems. This happens in two ways. First, sometimes conservation and restoration are inherent to the activity, such as cleanup dives. In this case, divers actively clean oceans and reefs out of genuine concern and demand for a fulfilling experience.

Other times, locals are incentivized by economic motives, as with pescatourism. Here, fishermen are cautious about maintaining healthy, balanced systems so they can carry on selling their experience. If they engage in overfishing, this leads to imbalance and loss. On the other hand, if there are no more fish, there is no more food or demand for fishing experiences. Hence, the blue economy properly aligns incentives and encourages fishermen to act responsibly.

Second, and in many cases, travelers who experience natural treasures such as pristine beaches or rich and colorful coral reefs recognize the importance of respecting and safeguarding our planet. Sometimes, conversations with locals about how they deal with food or freshwater shortages help visitors recognize the value of such resources. This encourages travelers to consume more responsibly, reduce waste, and urge others to follow suit.

 A flock of flamingos

2. Improvement in Income and Livelihoods 

Tourism helps local communities in improving their income and livelihoods in two ways. The first is job creation. Tourism development naturally requires more capacity to cater to visitor needs. As a result, many new businesses will seek labor to fill newly-created jobs.

The second way is in entrepreneurship and innovation. Tourism development is an opportunity for creative entrepreneurs to unleash their innovative potential. When there is a favorable enabling environment, local communities can build their own businesses and take ownership and sovereignty for their development and long-term vision.

A worker in traditional dress at a hotel in Zanzibar on the ocean

3. Cultural Preservation

Tourism also encourages communities to celebrate and preserve local cultures, many of which are at risk of disappearing altogether. Several recipes, dances, languages, craftsmanship techniques, and other traditions passed down from generations risk being forgotten. 

With the rising demand for immersive, community-based travel, communities recognize the value of their unique cultural heritage. As a result, this encourages them to protect their heritage, embrace it, and share it with the world.

4. Preventing Social Dislocation and Rapid Urbanization

Many major cities are located along coasts and waterfronts, and these places experience pressure from rapid urbanization in many countries. People flood to urban centers for better economic opportunities, which increases stress on existing infrastructure. It also creates congestion, pollution, resource depletion, inflation, and reduced quality of life overall.

Since community-based tourism introduces livelihood opportunities in rural underserved areas, it propels members to stay. This prevents threats of social dislocation, cultural dilution, and rapid, unsustainable urbanization.

Indigenous houses in the Amazon river basin near Iquitos, Peru

In conclusion, tourism has had adverse effects in some countries. Still, as this piece demonstrates, sustainable tourism can be a positive tool to strengthen economies and encourage ecological growth.

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Blog by Dalia Hammad and Miles Rieker

polar ice caps climate change

In part one of this series, we discussed how tourism and climate change are inextricably linked. Nature-based tourism is becoming increasingly vulnerable to changing weather patterns, while the nature of tourism itself contributes 8% of global emissions. The landmark Glasgow Declaration on Climate Action in Tourism – launched at COP26 – urged destinations and the tourism industry to reduce carbon emissions by 50% before 2030, and reach Net Zero as soon as possible by 2050. Solimar Internationa’s recent white paper publication echoed this commitment, designing Five Principles for tourism businesses to invest in Nature-based Solutions to respond to the causes and consequences of climate change (see photo). In addition to a mitigation pathway of measuring and reducing emissions, it is imperative for governments and businesses to simultaneously invest in climate change adaptation – using tourism as a means to build, finance and sustain climate resilient destinations.

Five Principles for Effective Nature-based Solutions in Tourism from Solimar International’s report

Five Principles for Effective Nature-based Solutions in Tourism from Solimar International’s report Climate Action through Regeneration: Unlocking the Power of Communities and Nature through Tourism

The World Economic Forum (2020) estimated that over half of global GDP, US $44 trillion, is potentially threatened by loss of nature and biodiversity, while the transition to a nature-positive economy could create 395 million jobs by 2030, or around one fifth of the total projected increase in global labor force (World Economic Forum, 2020). Global investments in NbS already surpassed US $133 billion in 2020—only 14% of which came from private finance (UNEP, 2021a; UNEP and IUCN, 2021). The UN State of Finance for Nature report 2021 argues this investment must triple by 2030 if we are to meet global climate and biodiversity goals.

The second in this article series showcases how we can increase investment in nature in destinations around the world–including those that we support through our international development projects–to respond to the consequences of climate change by investing in actions that will protect and restore nature and communities.

The Sundarbans Reserve Forest – Bangladesh 

The Sundarbans Reserved Forest in Bangladesh is the largest mangrove forest on Earth, home to the Bengali tiger and hundreds of bird, fish, mammal, and reptile species. Spanning three wildlife sanctuaries across 317,950 hectares, including Ramsar and World Heritage Sites, the Sundarbans provides sustainable livelihoods for millions of people and act as a shelter belt to protect communities from storms, cyclones, tidal surges, and seawater intrusion.

Sunderbands reserve forest in Bangladesh

The Sundarbans Reserve Forest in Bangladesh. Photo by Chloe King

A total of 7.79 million people live in the Sundarbans Impact Zone, with about 28 percent of people from this zone directly dependent on the Sundarbans for their livelihoods, including as woodcutters, fishermen, and gatherers of honey, leaves, and grass. However, according to a recent study, Bangladesh lost 73 percent of mangrove forest cover since the 1960s, with only 11 percent of the country remaining forested (Bangladesh Forest Inventory). Nearly 2.5 million people depend upon the SRF for their livelihoods (Gopal and Chauhan, 2018), and the mangrove forest naturally shields millions from increasingly erratic weather events, such as Cyclone Amphan that hit the coast in 2020, the most powerful to strike Bangladesh in 20 years (AlJazeera, 2020). Unsustainable development, such as the Ramsar Coal Fired Power Plant, under construction only 4km away from the buffer zone of the SRF may provide jobs, but ultimately risk undermining the natural climate protection the SRF offers (Chowdhury, 2017). 

USAID/Bangladesh, in partnership with the Bangladesh Ecotourism and Conservation Alliance (BECA) implemented by Solimar International and the Government of Bangladesh, is currently focusing on interventions in and this iconic tourism destination and arguably most important protected area. By ensuring that tourism develops sustainably and is better distributed to local communities, this project hopes to reduce pressure on natural resource extraction, while also deterring environmentally destructive industries from developing around the periphery of the reserve. The communities living around the periphery of the last great mangrove forest cannot afford to lose the living lungs of the Earth. Without nature and wildlife, humanity can neither address the climate crisis as a whole, nor save those who are most vulnerable to its consequences. 

map of the sundarbands reserve forest

Climate Change Adaptation in the Maldives and Sri Lanka

Climate risks in the Maldives and Sri Lanka are growing in frequency and intensity. Sea level rise, coastal storm surges, and flooding pose a significant threat to the Maldives, where more than 80% of the land area is less than one meter above sea level. Flooding and drought in Sri Lanka are among many of the consequences of climate change that negatively impact the most important elements of Sri Lanka’s economy. For these reasons, both countries have policy frameworks in place that identify climate change risks and prioritize adaptation strategies.

The USAID Climate Adaptation Project (CAP) is a five-year project in the Maldives and Sri Lanka where its purpose is to enhance the adaptive capacities of the public and private sectors and local communities to respond to the impact of climate change. The first year of the activity (2022) is focused on the Maldives, and Solimar International is leading the private sector engagement for the project. CAP will help identify and scale up solutions to climate-related challenges, strengthen governance to address climate-related risks, and improve access to high-quality information for decision-making to reduce vulnerability to climate change. Solimar will support this work by identifying innovative solutions to adaptively manage climate-related risk through market-driven private sector and community engagement.

Tourism operators in the Maldives have the unique ability to take advantage of increased interest in and funding for Nature-based Solutions for climate mitigation, while simultaneously utilizing these same solutions to respond to societal challenges and help their respective destinations adapt to the realities of climate change. Tourism can play an important role in helping communities adapt to this new reality and build resilience to future risks. For example, many of the resorts and tourism businesses in the Maldives are already investing in coral reef restoration through organizations such as Reefscapers. However, interviews with businesses revealed that this restoration work is not being done in a consistent or effective manner, with lack of national policy guidelines for tourism operators.

coral reefs threatened by climate change

Coral reef ecosystems in the Maldives are threatened by climate change and coastal tourism development. A more sustainable industry can help to mitigate both of these threats. Photo by Chloe King

An example of nature based solutions include mangrove tourism projects. On the Maldives’ Huvadhoo Atoll, mangroves were covered with sand to reduce mosquito populations; however, flooding also increased as a result. Local communities pushed for restoration and the construction of eco-huts which linked tourism and mangrove restoration. Solimar is exploring opportunities for destination management at other mangrove sites in the Maldives, linking mangrove ecotourism to support conservation. These models of nature based solutions can be further explored to link tourism and climate change adaptation.

Another opportunity for tourism to be involved in climate adaptation includes creating structures that protect and nourish sand and shorelines in ways that are nature-based and nature-positive. For example, living sea walls can be created as a blend of hard engineering seawall solutions that foster growth in coral and other marine life. This could offer an opportunity to resorts in the Maldives that are looking to invest in sea walls to create more environmentally-friendly and adaptive solutions.

Are you a tourism business or destination with innovative ideas for climate adaptation? Are you financing nature restoration or protection in new or exciting ways? Take our survey here for a chance to be a featured business in an upcoming white paper publication: https://tinyurl.com/enterprise-nbs-survey

By Shivya Nath, Alexandria Kleinschmidt, Annie Combs, and Chloe King

smoky mountains hikers exploring the region

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park, colloquially called the Smokies, is far more than protected national lands to locals and visitors. Before its establishment as a national park in 1934, the Smokies were home to hundreds of local farmers and paper manufacturers. The ethos of these self-sustaining locals prevailed long after the establishment of the park into the present day. For thousands of years before, Native Americans and thousands of native species were home to this beautiful park. Now, the park is known as one of the most ecologically rich landscapes in the United States. Today, locals share significant pride in calling the mountains their home. Millions of tourists come each year not only to experience the beauty of the mountains, but also to learn the local history, to engage seriously with nature, and to enjoy the culture of mountain locals.

The Smokies occupy a unique role as habitat, as nationally protected land, and as a cultural enclave for thousands. What makes visiting the Smokies stand out from other experiences, however, is the interplay between these roles. The below 7 are just a few of the reasons why the Great Smoky Mountains are so unforgettable to national park visitors.

Teeming wildlife and beautiful natural landscapes are abundant along the Alum Caves Bluff Trail in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

1. Mountain Biodiversity

The Great Smoky Mountains is well-known for its rich biodiversity. Among the national parks in the United States, the Smokies boast the most recorded plant and animal species. As of 2021, over twenty thousand organisms have been found in the Smoky Mountains alone, and over one thousand of them are unique to the National Park territory. Scientists believe that this does not account for thousands more plant and animal species that remain undocumented in the mountains. This makes great opportunities for wildlife enthusiasts and travelers who wish to connect with the natural environment.

2. Historic Downtown Gatlinburg

Gatlinburg is a stunning town in this region
Downtown Gatlinburg is home to hundreds of store owners, distinct tourism destinations, and beautiful forested landscapes. Source: Shutterstock

Gatlinburg is known as the opening gateway to the Great Smoky Mountains. Nestled amid the thick of the green forested landscape, Gatlinburg has a bustling tourist economy that serves its millions of visitors. The town of Gatlinburg hosts the historic home of the town’s first settler family and the popular Tennessee Heritage Trail, which both tell stories of the town’s early days. Another site of interest is the Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts, a famous arts school founded in partnership between the local Pi Beta Phi school and the University of Tennessee. Throughout downtown are a number of locally-owned shops and enterprises, each of which hold their own local legacies. Whatever your interest is, there are dozens of ways to immerse yourself in the ongoing history of downtown Gatlinburg.

3. Local Artisans

Local artists and craftsmen give the foothills of the Smoky Mountains a one-of-a-kind creative environment. Inspired by the local culture of southern Appalachia and the broader East Tennessee arts and crafts community, artisans of the Smokies have much to offer visitors. While in Gatlinburg, feel free to visit any number of local arts and crafts venues. The proceeds support local businesses, which enable them to continue to produce high-quality, one-of-a-kind products and services to tourists and locals alike. You can also rest assured that purchases from local artisans is a sustainable practice. Most goods are produced using local materials, meaning that goods and services around the Smokies are distinct in their making and planet-friendly to the core.

4. Experiences for All Ages

At the Smokies, there are a variety of events to keep people of all ages engaged. The Arrowmont School offers students of all ages the opportunity to participate in educational and entertaining art workshops and classes. Hiking trails vary in lengths for different skill levels and ages. People who wish to enjoy outdoor activities can find options for children, adults, and families. Couples can enjoy the magnificent sunset view at Newfound Gap, and older visitors can soak up in a Pigeon Forge log cabin jacuzzi. The possibilities at the Smokies are nearly endless.

Father and son hiking in national park in US

5. Strong Record of Historical Data

There are several ways to learn more about the history of the Smokies. The Database of the Smokies (DOTS) is an online tool operated through the University of Tennessee Libraries. Another digitized archival source includes The Open Parks Network, which compiles data and objects from over 20 national parks in the United States. A physical archive dedicated solely to the Great Smoky Mountains lies in Townsend, Tennessee: there, the Collections Preservation Center holds thousands of original artifacts and historical sources. 

6. Opportunities to Engage Sustainably

Around the Great Smoky Mountains, there are several ways to be a sustainable tourist. Lodging in Gatlinburg and the Great Smoky Mountains can be an eco-friendly practice. For example, Camp Atagahi is one of several sustainable lodging options. Technology-free and off-the-grid, Camp Atagahi is one of many that encourages tourists to connect meaningfully with each other and to experience what the local environment has to offer. Activities like river rafting and ziplining are sustainable activities that have a strong presence in the Smokies. Even local eateries look for green options: The Local Goat in Pigeon Forge uses only locally-sourced ingredients and employment. This makes the Smokies an attractive tourist destination for sustainability-minded travelers.

7. Robust Tourism Environment

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most frequently-visited national park in the United States. In 2021, the Great Smoky Mountains recorded over 14 million visitors—more visitors than any year prior. Its tourism numbers surpass other famous national parks, including the Grand Canyon National Park and Yosemite National Park. Near the Smokies of Tennessee are also a number of other tourism venues. In the nearby town of Pigeon Forge, a number of attractions and resorts abound, including the famous amusement park Dollywood and The Island resort. In Gatlinburg, there’s the Gatlinburg Space Needle, the amusement venue Ober Gatlinburg, and a scenic tram that overlooks town. Around the Smokies, you’ll find an abundance of things to do and places to visit. 

Sunset over great smoky mountains

There are dozens of important and interesting national parks in the United States, but the Great Smoky Mountains National Park offers a truly unique experience that will be hard for visitors to forget. Whenever you plan to visit one of the United States’ many national parks, be sure to consider the Great Smoky Mountains as your next destination.

Want to learn more about our sustainable travel destinations in the United States? See our current projects on the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail or the Sugar River Region in New Hampshire. Check out our Contact Us page and reach out for additional information!

destination branding two kayak sunsetters

Want to learn how to successfully make your destination stand out from the competition? This article tells you all about destination branding and how to build your own original brand!

How to Build a Successful Destination Brand

The tourism industry is one of the most universally robust industries in the world. Hundreds of thousands of people travel every year, and there are many types of travelers who feed into the industry. Even more people work in the tourism sector. So, how do you attract potential visitors to your tourism destination?

There are plenty of approaches to attract potential customers to a tourist destination. Social media, marketing campaigns, and word of mouth are just a few ways to achieve this. You might see photos of dazzling landscapes on Instagram, see a hotel ad on TV, or read a post about a famous tourism destination in a magazine. What these things have in common is a recall to what makes a destination unique, important, or appealing to a specific audience.

Bringing these features out through tourism marketing is a tactic called destination branding. Think about a famous city—Berlin, for instance. There are a number of images that you probably think of when Berlin comes to mind: the (in)famous Berlin Wall, the unmatched cosmopolitanism, the tall-standing TV Tower, and the authentic Brezeln. A collection of cultural markers like these produces a profile that is unique to Berlin. These markers can then be used to produce and to employ a marketing strategy that attracts potential tourists to Berlin. Of course, this is not specific to just one city; any site can have a brand identity. 

So, the question remains: how do you produce a successful brand for your site? Below, we have compiled a short list of items to get you started on building a successful destination brand.

Berlin skyline

brand your destination like berlin's beautiful skyline with memorable landmarks

 

Berlin TV Tower (Fernsehturm) has become an iconic piece of Berlin’s identity, completing the panorama of the city alongside Brandenburg Gate or the Berliner Dom

A Brand is the Most Valuable Tool in your Marketing Strategy

A brand goes far deeper than a logo or company slogan. These are simply considered marketing tools. A brand is defined by the public perception and the emotion it makes you feel. It is the promise being made to the target audience that is derived from the product or destination’s uniqueness. Your branding efforts are the process of creating brand messaging and experiences that attract visitors. These should be as compelling and memorable as possible, in order to draw in potential customers. Successful branding occurs when this experience remains in the hearts and minds of the target audience. 

Developing a Valuable Destination Brand Identity

Developing your brand identity, or brand personality, revolves around three main axes:

  • Destination uniqueness;
  • Stakeholders’ and travelers’ perceptions; and
  • Consistency in the marketing campaigns.

A strong brand identity is essential when you are trying to reach potential tourists and attract them to your destination. We could define the brand identity as a summary of the destination’s main traits, the words your main audience would use to describe the destination.

Does your destination offer a wide array of cultural experiences? Are most visitors coming to your destination to relax, or do they come to challenge themselves and take on new adventures? Is your destination mostly suitable for families, groups of friends or romantic getaways?

Developing your brand identity starts by auditing your destination and identifying your main target. It is recommended to involve stakeholders to better understand how they perceive the uniqueness of your destination. Start a conversation with small tourism businesses, travel agents and tour operators promoting your destination, local authority or former visitors and gather their emotions about your destination.

Including the consumer perception of your destination will ensure that the appropriate types of travelers are targeted in your brand messaging. Do not neglect to take a look at competition – locally or internationally – and to think it through: “What do I offer that is different?”, “What is our added value?” You can read an example of destination branding through consumer perceptions from Croatia.

namibia landscape ideal for branding

The wide open Namibian landscape – understanding the consumer perception of your destination’s uniqueness is key to build a strong brand identity

Understanding the travel motivations of your visitors, as well as their decision-making process, will support you in building a suitable brand messaging. Associate experiences with your destination which are as distinctive, compelling, memorable and rewarding as possible. Take the example of Namibia’s online marketing campaign which Solimar ran between 2011 and 2013 that emphasized the breathtaking and seemingly endless natural landscapes of Namibia.

Once this message is clear, your marketing campaigns will help spread your identity and reach your targeted audience. The key in the marketing campaign is consistency! Make sure the brand messaging perceived is coherent on all the elements of your integrated marketing communication. Each support and channel should represent the same brand identity. 

Moreover, the consistency of the brand identity continues on the spot where it is important to build brand value at each point of contact, from signage at the airport to landscapes while driving to the hotel or between parts of a destination. The experience of the traveler must reflect your brand identity.

Finally, keep track of the success of the campaign and reassess your strategy every year, or if a major event has disrupted your campaign (Covid-19 anyone?).

In short, developing a powerful brand identity consists of:

  • Running a destination audit
  • Clarifying who is your target
  • Building your destination SWOT
  • Identifying your competition, their location, and your added value
  • Involving local stakeholders in your branding process and assess their perception of the destination
  • Reassessing your Marketing Strategy annually

turkey destination branding cappadocia

Using the Brand Pyramid for a Strong Destination Brand

One of the most effective ways to produce a powerful destination brand is by using a brand pyramid. Brand pyramids are models that distill the important elements of a site down to an advertising essence. Brand pyramids are important for destination branding, because they clarify the most important aspects of the destination. This helps produce a tagline that markets the message of a destination to potential visitors. 

There are five tiers in the brand pyramid, which are organized from a wide base to a narrow top. The first tier, labeled rational attributes, are tangible destination characteristics. In other words, rational attributes are the markers that can be empirically observed. The physical, quantifiable features of a site are listed here. These features can be diverse, ranging from unique products and services to local cuisines to historic landmarks. 

The second tier is labeled emotional benefits. These are the feelings associated with a site. This tier plays a crucial role in creating a destination brand, because it addresses the tangible emotional experience(s) of visiting a site. The first two tiers work together to create a strong brand image by listing tangible attributes alongside the emotional sentiments that the site produces. 

The third tier of the brand pyramid is brand personality. This lists a group of adjectives that describe the personality of the site. This is how a target audience will describe a site in a few basic words. The brand personality can describe atmospheres and resources, and they can also attract specific audiences. As the public health situation evolves, a brand personality can illuminate how amenable a site is to a specific audience.

The fourth tier, the positioning statement, describes the one-of-a-kind site attributes. Here, brand developers ask which characteristics are seen or experienced only at that site. This is an especially important step in the brand development process. Knowing what makes a site stand out will give shape to a strong brand identity.

The final tier is brand essence. The brand essence is exactly what it sounds like: it distills aspects of all the tiers below to produce an essential brand identity. This is what the brand means, described in a few words. This is the tier that creates a destination brand, usually in the form of a tagline. A great example of the destination branding process was successfully implemented in Solimar’s Jamaica Community Experiences project from 2015-2018.

Solimar DMO Development branding pyramid to help brand a destination

Brand Pyramid model to build a powerful destination brand – Solimar DMO Development Program

Looking for more destination development strategies? Check out Solimar’s Institute for Sustainable Destinations program on DMO Development. Or Contact Us directly for information!

Authors: Caitlyn Marentette / Célia Hulin / Thomas Kalchik

“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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