Leadership and Management


Don Hawkins

Chairman and Principal

Dr. Don Hawkins, Solimar International’s Chairman and Principal is an expert in tourism policy, strategic planning, workforce development and management education with 52 years of international experience. Don held the endowed Eisenhower Professor of Tourism Policy Chair at the George Washington University School of Business. In 2003, he received the first World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) Ulysses Prize for individual accomplishments in the creation and dissemination of knowledge in the area of tourism policy and strategic management. In 2012, he was elected as Vice Chairman of the UNWT0 Affiliates Council and appointed as Special Advisor to the UNWTO Secretary General for the Knowledge Network. He was the Founder and Chairman of the SAVE Travel Alliance, serves on the Board of Directors of the Ulysses Foundation and is Chairman Emeritus of Sustainable Travel International and Volunteers for Economic Growth Alliance

Don has consulted all over the world including North American, Caribbean, Latin American, European, African, Middle East, and Asia/Pacific Regions. His doctoral degree was in Park Management, awarded by New York University in 1967. He is credited with over 114 publications, including books, journal articles, monographs, project reports and educational materials.


Chris Seek

Chief Executive Officer

Chris Seek oversees the strategic direction of the sustainable tourism company while ensuring the organization’s work supports environmental conservation, cultural heritage preservation, and enhances the lives of local residents. Based in Washington DC, Chris manages Solimar’s staff of more then 20 tourism professionals working in over 17 countries. Chris leads new business efforts, strategic partnerships, and ensures all of Solimar’s clients are able to connect to the tourism market.

Over the last 12 years with Solimar, Chris has applied his professional background in marketing and corporate social responsibility with his own personal travel experiences (more then 50 countries) to design sustainable tourism development strategies that provide tangible results to both our clients and targeted beneficiaries. Prior to working in tourism, Chris worked as a marketing professional for Fortune 500 clients including Heineken, Sony, Perrier, GE, and others. Chris holds a bachelor's degree in Communications from Wake Forest University and a Masters of Business Administration from American University with concentrations in Sustainable Destination Management and Integrated Marketing Communications.


Jim Phillips


Jim Phillips has 30 years of experience in international tourism consulting, including strategic planning for tourism development, small business and microenterprise development, hotel and tourism-related investment promotion, marketing and promotion, feasibility studies and economic impact analyzes. Prior to becoming an independent consultant, Jim worked for Arthur Andersen LLP and Arthur Consulting Group International, completing assignments in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, Russia, and the Middle East. Jim also served as Director of Tourism Development Programs for the U.S. Department of Commerce, Office of Latin America and the Caribbean, where he conducted programs and events for more than 30 countries in the LA/C region. Programs included hotel investment missions and conferences, investment promotion strategy development, tourism planning, and product development and assessment missions. Work at the Commerce Department also included providing technical assistance to entrepreneurs and small businesses to establish and operate a range of tourism and export-oriented enterprises.

Jim holds a Bachelor's degree in economics from Eckerd College and a Master's degree in International Business from the American Graduate School of International Management, Thunderbird campus.


Natalie Sellier

Chief Operating Officer

Natalie Sellier has over fifteen years of professional experience in finance, accounting, business planning and project management. Natalie originally joined Solimar in 2007, utilizing her business background and passion for travel to assist small tourism enterprises and destination management organizations achieve financial sustainability by way of strategic business planning, public-private partnerships, and market linkages. As Chief Operating Officer, Natalie has assumed leadership over Solimar’s internal operations, oversees contracting and financial management, and assists technical staff achieve programmatic objectives. Natalie brings technical expertise through her involvement in the implementation of over 100 technical programs and is well-versed in the intricacies of both federal and donor contracting and cost accounting standards.

Natalie holds a Bachelor's in Business Administration from James Madison University and a Master's in Business Administration from The George Washington University with a degree focus in sustainable destination management.


Gabriel Seder

Director of Marketing Services

Gabriel Seder has ten years of experience working in tourism development, including destination assessment and strategic planning, market research, sustainability, product development, training and capacity building, and marketing. He has managed tourism development and marketing projects for National Geographic, United States Agency for International Development (USAID), World Bank, Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and the Organization of American States (OAS). Gabriel joined Solimar in 2009 and has worked on assignments in Bhutan, Bolivia, Colombia, Haiti, Jamaica, Nicaragua, Sri Lanka and the United States.

Gabriel has a Bachelors of Arts in International Affairs from the George Washington University. 

Specialists and Advisors

Solimar works with a large network of tourism consultants around the world that bring specialized skill sets to our projects. Below is a list of our key sustainable tourism specialists and advisors.

Yuri Horowitz

Tourism Specialist

Yuri Horowitz Senior Tourism Specialist and Faculty at Georgetown University, Yuri Horowitz has over 20 years of experience working throughout the travel and tourism industry, across the entire value chain – from front-line hospitality to high-level tourism planning and policy. Specializing in community engagement, emerging destinations, and sustainable tourism, he focuses on developing a shared vision among stakeholders and implementing programs that have far-reaching social benefits. He has worked with a wide range of organizations in both the public and private sectors, including the World Bank, Clinton Foundation, U.S. State Department, U.S. Peace Corps, USAID, U.S. Travel Association, Caribbean Hotel & Tourism Association, Tourism Cares, Tetratech, and Starwood Hotels. Mr. Horowitz has a Master of Tourism in Sustainable Destination Management from George Washington University’s Business School and a BSc in Business Administration from the University of Colorado, Boulder. A traveler at heart, he has been to over 83 countries on 6 continents and worked on tourism development projects around the world from Peru to Port-au-Prince and Tajikistan to Timbuktu.


Maria Lucia Prinz

Tourism Specialist

Maria Lucia Prinz started working in tourism 15 years ago as a tour guide while studying ecotourism in Guatemala City. When graduated from the university, she started working in Peten, Guatemala, developing community based tourism enterprises and linking theses enterprises to support conservation.

Since then she has helped develop a number of ecotourism enterprises in Central, South America, Africa and the Caribbean and specializes in product development, staff training in tourism operations and nature guide training through a proven methodology. She also has expertise in the areas of business planning, product development, sales and marketing.


Juan Luna-Kelser

Tourism Specialist

Juan Luna-Kelser made a career at the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB). In the last ten years of his career, he concentrated his efforts in the planning, designing, and managing of tourism investment loan projects, as well as technical assistance operations. Since his retirement from the IDB in January 2007, Juan has been advising and consulting for Solimar International and continues to be engaged by bilateral and multilateral financial institutions, as well as NGOs and private clients for the development and implementation of sustainable tourism projects in various countries.

Currently, Juan is a Sr. Research Scholar at the International Institute of Tourism Studies at George Washington University’s School of Business. He holds a Masters degree in Tourism Administration with a concentration in Sustainable Destination Management from George Washington University, as well as a Masters degree in Political Science from Drew University, Madison, New Jersey. He earned his Bachelors degree in Political Science at the University of the Pacific, Stockton, California. Juan is originally from Mexico City and is fluent in Spanish, English and Portuguese.


Matt Humke

Tourism Specialist

Over the last twenty years, Matt Humke has pioneered an approach to building community-based tourism enterprises that directly support biodiversity conservation and poverty alleviation efforts in protected areas throughout the developing world. First working with Native American communities such as the White Mountain Apache Tribe in Arizona, next as Rare Conservation's Senior Manager of Enterprises in Latin America & the Caribbean, and now managing Solimar's small business development projects around the world.

The community-based tourism enterprises Matt has helped to establish, such as "La Ruta Moskitia" in Honduras, have generated more than $5 million for local economies over the last ten years. The success of these enterprises in conservation and poverty alleviation has resulted in a number of the industry's top honors, including a Tourism for Tomorrow award, a Responsible Tourism award, and inclusion on both Condé Nast Traveler's "Green List" and National Geographic Adventure's "Best Adventure Travel Companies on Earth".


Natasha Martin

Tourism Specialist

Natasha Martin is an adventure tourism marketing expert. She has experience working with private sector, government and trade associations, and has worked with clients around the world from Greenland to Namibia.  She currently conducting  research into the motivations and preferences of Asian adventure travellers, and working with destinations and companies to help them reach this growing segment.

Natasha has a BA in African History from Concordia University and a Masters of Tourism Administration from The George Washington University. Natasha speaks French and Spanish and is based in Hong Kong.


Bradley Weiss

Tourism Specialist

Bradley Weiss is a tourism development consultant who has worked with Solimar on numerous assignments over the past ten years. Most notably, he spent four years with Solimar in Ethiopia leading the private sector competitiveness and workforce development efforts for a Global Sustainable Tourism Alliance (GSTA) Project. During this period, he also lent support to a similar GSTA project in Uganda. 

Previously, he worked at the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), where he mobilized educational institutions to aid member nations in areas such as training, knowledge management, and strategic planning. He has also gathered experience in tourism development through consulting engagements in countries such as Mozambique, Ecuador, Philippines, Botswana, Peru, Madagascar, Vanuatu, Kenya, Brazil, Armenia, Mali, Panama, Rwanda, Seychelles, Mexico, Dominican Republic, Honduras, Lesotho, São Tome e Príncipe, Cape Verde, and Zambia. His consulting work in these countries, conducted primarily through World Bank and USAID-financed initiatives, has been in the areas of tourism policy & planning, capacity building, marketing, public-private dialogues, quality standards, shared economy, and community enterprise development.

Bradley holds Master’s degrees from the George Washington University in Tourism Administration and Universidad Politécnica de Valencia (Spain) in International Tourism and Hotel Management.


Olivier Messmer

Tourism Specialist

Olivier Messmer joined Solimar in September 2008 to work on USAID-Dominican Republic Sustainable Tourism Alliance program. With a strong knowledge of the eco-tourism sector, Olivier was responsible for community tourism product development, including helping to promote and link these new enterprises to the market. Since 2010, Olivier has mainly worked in African destinations (including the Marrakech and Fez Medinas, High Atlas and Sahara desert in Morocco, Benin, Madagascar and Ghana) where he was in charge of several tourism development projects financed by USAID, The World Bank, Millenium Challenge Corporation, UNDP and GIZ. Olivier has extensive experience managing international development projects in Western Africa and a wide network of European Tour Operator contacts, particularly in France. Olivier has over 15 years experience in tourism marketing, tourism product development, development of public private partnerships and tourism investment promotion. Olivier holds a joint Erasmus Master degree in International Business from Bordeaux Business School, France and the University of Rotterdam, The Netherlands.


Hitesh Mehta

Tourism Specialist

Hitesh Mehta is one of the world’s leading authorities, practitioners and researchers on sustainable tourism and ecotourism physical planning and both the landscape architectural and architectural aspects of ecolodges. In July 2006, National Geographic Adventure magazine identified Mr. Mehta as one of five Sustainable Tourism Pioneers in the world.

Hitesh has over 27 years’ experience and having worked and consulted in over 57 countries spanning six continents. He is a multi-International award winning designer with Awards in Landscape Architecture, Planning, Architecture, Urban Design, Creative Writing and Publishing, and Interior Design. He is also an Adjunct Professor and the author of three books, including the recently published “Authentic Ecolodges” by world renowned publisher - Harper Collins and what is considered the Bible on Ecolodges - International Ecolodge Guidelines. A strong proponent of Authentic Ecotourism, Hitesh is currently the Chair of the “Standards and Ethics Committee” of TIES. Additionally, Hitesh was Captain and is a Hall of Fame Cricket player from Kenya. He is also a professional Photographer.


Catherine Carter

Tourism Specialist

Catherine Carter has held various hotel management & senior leadership roles during her 18-year profession in hospitality, including a long-standing career within Starwood Hotels & Resorts (later acquired Marriott International). Well-established as an industry expert, she has been responsible for leading a team of Global Account Executives & Managers focused on increasing Marriott’s preference, loyalty and profitability share across the US Corporate account portfolio (up to $599M in annual revenue). During her career as Director of Sales & Marketing, Catherine supervised teams of more than two dozen directors, managers and associates, with an emphasis on maximizing topline revenue and implementing strategic marketing campaigns to complement the team’s sales efforts on both the national and local levels. Catherine served on Choose Chicago's Big 12 Committee solving for the major obstacles facing the convention business in the downtown Chicago market. Through a strategic partnership, she engaged DePaul University's Hospitality students to conduct research and understand the business impact of the 20% supply growth in the Chicago market.

Catherine has extensive experience in hotel operations and sales, including renovations, redeployment, collective bargaining, and corporate acquisition. She was a member of the Starwood GPS Council from 2012 to 2014 providing feedback and piloting special new projects at the corporate level. She received both her Bachelor of Business Administration and her Masters of Tourism Administration from The George Washington University School of Business. An avid volunteer, she has devoted time to food banks, local schools and pet adoption organizations.


Aditya Dhanwatay

Tourism Specialist - India

Aditya Dhanwatay is a nature tourism expert and conservationist based in Nagpur, India. Aditya continuously works on new initiatives related to tourism and conservation to further improve the circumstances for nature, wildlife and people. He co-owns TigerTrails, a wild get-away, deep inside tiger country, and a previous winner of the Best in Wildlife Conservation, World Responsible Tourism Awards at WTM. He has worked on Habitat regeneration, improvement of underground water strata by ground water harvesting, human-wildlife conflict mitigation as well as participation of local people through the village eco development program.

As Vice President of the Vidarbha Tiger Research Foundation, Aditya has also served as a member on Maharashtra State Compensatory Afforestation Fund Management and Planning Authority to implement a Riparian Buffer Zone Conservation program that protects the corridors connecting Pench – Nagzira – Navegaon – Tadoba landscape.

Project Staff


Ani Davtyan

My Armenia Program

Ani Davtyan is working as Senior marketing specialist for My Armenia program. Her role includes promoting and raising awareness about My Armenia program and tourism experiences. Previously she worked in non-profit foundation that engages both local community and international stakeholders in the creation of sustainable programs with long-term social impact for Armenia. Ani was in charge of marketing and promotion, researches, event management and community engagement mainly in tourism and educational programs. She worked also in local marketing agencies and research companies, as well as developed several cultural startups. Ani hold master’s degree in Trade and Marketing from French University in Armenia and University Jean Moulin Lyon 3.


António D.M. Gusmão

USAID Tourism for All Program, Timor-Leste

António D.M. Gusmão is currently serving as the Senior Business Development Specialist for USAID's Tourism For All Project in Timor-Leste. António has more than 20 years working experience both in the private and public sectors. Antonio has dedicated more than 10 years in the development of tourism sector while served as a national adviser to the Ministry of Tourism, Commerce and Industry with specific assignment to the directorate of Finance and Administration, Directorate of Research and Development and the Directorate of Tourism Planning and Development. Antonio has a long employment with different USAID projects in community development as well as with Australian funded project (AUSAID) managing high profile interventions in the areas of tourism, agribusiness, rural distribution, and manufacturing. Antonio holds a Bachelor degree in Economics from the Catholic University of Atma Jaya in Jakarta, Indonesia.


Avet Pepanyan

My Armenia Program

Avetik Pepanyan has more than 10 years of experience working in tourism development, including community tourism product development, helping to promote and link new enterprises to the market. He has experience working with private sector, government and wine producers, and has worked in different regions of Armenia.

Currently Avetik works as a tourism product development specialist in My Armenia program implemented by Smithsonian Institution in cooperation with Solimar International.

He holds BA degree in Turkish staudies from Yerevan State University and Postgraduate diploma in conservation and tourism from Kent University. Avetik speaks Russian and English.


Naira Vardanyan

My Armenia Program

Naira Vardanyan is USAID “My Armenia” Program, Monitoring & Evaluation and Research Specialist. Before this, she was the program manager for data initiative at CRRC-Armenia, worked at the Caucasus Institute as a Researcher. She headed the Business Consulting and Training Center at Business School of Slavonic University in Armenia following the work at the Armenian State Pedagogical University and Russian State University of Tourism and Services as a lecturer. Naira also collaborated to a number of local and international organizations as a researcher, trainer and analyst. Naira has more than 15 years of experience in conducting researches in various fields.


Taguhi Sahakyan

My Armenia Program

Taguhi Sahakyan has more than 15 years of work experience in leading USAID projects working in tourism sector in Armenia, U.S. Embassy and the World Bank. She has founded a Bed & Breakfast, which currently has the highest ranking in Stepanavan based on internationally recognized official booking websites such as www.booking.com, www.tripadvisor.com and etc. During her spare time, she works as a tour guide all around Armenia and/or promoting Lori region where she is from.

Taguhi currently works as a Tourism Specialist at My Armenia program, which is financed by USAID and implemented by Smithsonian Institution in cooperation with Solimar International.

She has a Master’s degree in Business Administration from American University of Armenia, has been an exchange student at Montana State University where she studied American Studies, has bachelor’s degrees in Enterprise Management and Economics and Foreign Languages. She speaks in English, Russian and understands some French and Italian.


Zarmine Zeitountsian

My Armenia Program

Zarmine has an extensive track record of entrepreneurial and marketing leadership in The United States, Russia, and Armenia. After receiving her MBA degree she left a career in corporate banking to pursue her entrepreneurial dreams through founding and operating a successful art gallery in Los Angeles and curating over 50 art exhibitions. Zarmine gained strong brand recognition through successful marketing and publicity campaigns around the world that contributed to several successful art exhibitions. She also co-founded and managed a first-time annual multi-gallery art fair in Los Angeles which attracted over 6,000 attendees. Zarmine also pursued her dream to become a dancer and opened an international dance studio in Los Angeles, which now ranks number two in the city.

She moved to Armenia in 2010 to contribute to her home country and has worked in the fields of marketing, fundraising, project management, and development. As the Project Manager of Tatev Revival Project at the National Competitiveness Foundation of Armenia, Zarmine successfully led one of the large-scale tourism development projects in Armenia. Other positions she has held include Development Director of the RVVZ Foundation and Dilijan International School of Armenia (UWC Dilijan), and Communications Director at the American University of Armenia. From 2016 to 2018, Zarmine was appointed as the inaugural Chair of the newly established State Tourism Committee of Armenia. During her chairmanship, Armenia experienced over 18% growth in tourism numbers. Zarmine is currently working with Solimar and the USAID-funded MyArmenia project to implement marketing activities that promote cultural tourism throughout the country.

Zarmine also currently teaches Integrated Marketing Communications, Tourism Management, Marketing in Tourism, Sales Management, Branding, and Consumer Behavior at the Public Administration Academy of the RA, the American University of Armenia and the French University of Armenia. Zarmine also serves as a guest speaker at various conferences and training workshops, covering topics such as community development and current issues in tourism.


Ivane (Vano) Vashakmadze

USAID Georgia Economic Security Program

Mr. Ivane Vashakmadze brings more than 30 years of working experience in tourism sector as mountain climber and guide, resort operator and development consultant. He has worked as a project manager and lead consultant for the international cooperation projects with various donor organizations and public institutions such as World Bank, USAID, EU, KfW, GiZ, SDC, ADA, WWF etc. Amongst the other specific tasks, he has been working on tourism sector national and regional strategies, institutional policy, protected areas (National Parks) and eco-tourism planning, cultural heritage management, tourism economic assessment and land use planning and urban planning, mountain resorts management and adventure tourism operations.

Mr. Vashakmadze has also experience to work in public sector as a deputy general manager of the National Agency for Cultural Heritage Preservation, acting head of Georgian National Tourism Administration and GM of government JSC "Gudauri ski resort".

He has solid experience of developing tourism sector initiatives and recommendations for tourism strategy, assisting public institutions in heritage management and policy regulations, developing employment opportunities and SME development projects within tourism sector, assessing investment proposals for regional development and tourism, supporting business initiatives in tourism and hospitality services, implementing small scale pilot project in mountainous areas etc. In addition, he has been engaged in conducting tourism scoping assessment in Central Asian countries under USAID CTJ project.

Mr. Vashakmadze is a member of several organizations in tourism sector. He is a Co-Founder and board member of "Georgian Mountain Guide Association", steering committee member of "Adventure Tourism Leaders school", board member of bio-farming association "Elkana", founder member of "European Mountain Forum" and Co-founder of "European Mountain Forum" / "Global Mountain Forum", Member of World Bank experts group, etc...

“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

Contact us

  • Address

    641 S Street NW, Third Floor
    Washington, DC 20001
  • Phone

    (202) 518-6192