Our planet’s cultural and natural heritage sites are irreplaceable sources of travel inspiration. They include destinations as unique and incredible as Peru’s Machu Picchu, East Africa’s Serengeti National Park, the Galapagos Islands of Ecuador, Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, and the Pyramids of Egypt. These amazing places make up our world’s heritage and often appear on the top of many travelers' “must see” lists.
We’re celebrating heritage this month at Solimar, and what better place to start than by highlighting UNESCO’s amazing collection of 981 World Heritage Sites! Since 1972, the UNESCO World Heritage Committee has been spotlighting the planet’s most fascinating—and sometimes most threatened—places and civilizations.
A site is designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site for many of the same reasons that millions of tourists choose to visit these places each year - they are incredible legacies left from our past and some of the most treasured spots on our planet. Given their popularity, responsibly managing tourism is an absolutely vital component to ensuring that they can be enjoyed by future generations. Developing tourism sustainably protects and maintains heritage sites, improves tourist experiences, and boosts local economies through generating increased opportunities from tourism.
Solimar has had the opportunity to contribute to managing tourism sustainably in and around several World Heritage sites over the years, including:
1) Panama/Costa Rica (La Amistad National Park): Solimar formalized a bi-national sustainable tourism alliance between Costa Rica and Panama to promote and further develop sustainable tourism activities in the transboundary region of Parque Internacional La Amistad. Alongside this alliance, Solimar facilitated the creation of “La Ruta Amistad”, a cultural route linking Costa Rica and Panama, and designed marketing materials to help visitors travel more sustainably. Learn more about our project here and be sure to download La Ruta Amistad Green Passport!
2) Ethiopia (Konso Cultural Landscape): Solimar created seven community tourism enterprises, which provided jobs and revenue for the communities living in the Central and Southern Rift Valley. Solimar also created a Traveler’s Philanthropy Program to encourage tourists to participate in conservation initiatives and worked alongside government institutions to improve the current tourism and conservation policy environments. Learn more about this project here.
3) Izabal, Guatemala (Archaeological Park and Ruins of Quirigua): Solimar worked directly with local stakeholders to help position Izabal as a world-class, stay-over destination. We established the Izabal Geotourism Alliance, a Destination Management Organization (DMO) comprised of public and private sector stakeholders, and provided marketing services as an incentive to participants, which encouraged the protection of resources like the Quirigua ruins. Solimar also designed the Izabal Conservation Fund, a travel philanthropy fund to support regional conservation efforts. Learn more about this project here.
4) Jordan (Petra and Wadi Rum Protected Area): Solimar is helping to promote and increase Jordan’s competitiveness as an international tourism destination by establishing the proper institutional and regulatory framework that enables a private sector-driven approach to spur tourism growth while preserving the nation’s historic and natural treasures. Solimar is contributing to the achievement of this solution through marketing activities, improved destination management, human resource development and tourism product development. Read more about this project here.
5) Mali (Cliff of Bandiagara/Land of the Dogons): Solimar helped to diversify the economy of the Dogon people by building awareness of Dogon Country as a tourist destination and promoting its many tourism assets while enhancing the capacity of local tourism businesses to service international tourism markets. This has helped to provide the Dogon people with alternative sources of income to their traditional agricultural activities and has allowed them to further develop tourism assets and enterprises. By providing this alternative livelihood, some of the environmental pressures have been alleviated that are associated with a dominantly agrarian society. Learn more about this project here.
6) Montenegro (Durmitor National Park): Solimar worked to expand and more equitably distribute economic benefits through developing both community-based and eco-based tourism experiences with northern communities around Durmitor National Park.
7) Morocco (Medinas of Fez and Marrakech): Solimar linked the craft and tourism markets through the creation of artisan and cultural heritage routes in both Fez and Marrakech. These routes include stops at artisan workshops, increasing awareness of Moroccan culture and craft traditions and helping increase artisans' revenue by allowing them to sell directly to tourists rather than selling through a retailer or wholesaler. Solimar helped to market and promote these routes to the international travel market through online platforms, thus further increasing awareness of Morocco's cultural and artisanal heritage and enhancing both the craft and tourism sectors. Read more about this project here.
8) Portugal (Douro Valley Wine Region): In partnership with National Geographic, the Douro Valley Sustainable Tourism Initiative is promoting sustainable tourism development and facilitating collaboration between relevant business owners, local governments, interest groups, and residents and helping market the region's sustainable tourism assets. Solimar is assisting in the implementation of key Douro Valley Sustainable Tourism Initiative activities such as the establishment of a Douro Valley Geotourism Stewardship Council and the development of marketing tools and strategies that contribute to the ongoing process of promoting this unique region to the world. Read more about our project here.
9) Uganda (Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and Rwenzori Mountains National Park): Uganda’s national parks and protected areas, particularly these two World Heritage sites, are the country’s main tourism attractions. Solimar worked with a broad variety of stakeholders in the tourism sector to improve the tourism products in these national parks, build strong community enterprises linked to the parks and conservation activities, and invigorated the tourism sector by connecting tourism businesses to international and domestic tourism markets. Read more about our project here.
This summer, Jember Limited’s General Manager Guy Levene and the Ethiopia Wildlife Conservation Authority’s (EWCA) Director General Dr. Kifle Argaw signed a concession agreement for the construction of an eco-lodge in the Bale Mountains National Park (BMNP). This momentous occasion - only the third concession agreement ever signed by EWCA -represented the culmination of several years of work for Solimar International within the USAID-funded Ethiopian Sustainable Tourism Alliance (ESTA) project.
The process began in mid-2009, when Solimar began conducting extensive market research and visits to numerous Ethiopian destinations to determine which site was most promising for eco-lodge investment. The clear winner was the 850-square mile BMNP, which contains stunning Afro-Alpine landscapes and numerous endemic mammal and bird species. Despite its great potential, tourism numbers to the park had been low due to difficult access and a lack of quality accommodations. Although a paved road from Addis Ababa was under construction (it has recently been completed), it was clear that efforts to develop tourism that could incorporate local communities would have limited impact until the destination had an anchor property.
Once the destination was chosen, Solimar’s goal was then to attract an investor who shared our values in terms of environmental conservation and community participation. To be able to make a strong case to potential investors, we undertook a feasibility analysis and created both a detailed business plan and investment prospectus. We disseminated this information to select investors and presented at various tourism and business conferences in the U.S. and Ethiopia.
After pursuing several strong leads, we ultimately decided to endorse the UK-based private investment group led by Guy Levene because of its strong commitment to building a high-quality lodge that will have minimal impact on the environment and bring significant benefits to neighboring communities. The endorsement was followed by support that included facilitation of an Environmental Impact Assessment and assistance through the concession negotiation process.
The groundbreaking for Bale Mountain Lodge took place in November. The eco-lodge, to be built in a stunning location within the Harena Forest, will have a total of 15 units including several tree-houses. Among several innovative approaches that Jember will take to reduce its footprint will be a hybrid micro-hydro and solar energy system. Jember’s initial investment for the lodge will be $1.2 million. The lodge is slated to soft open this spring, and be fully functional by October 2013.
To learn more about how Solimar can help facilitate the funding of your tourism project, download our Tourism Investment & Finance Toolkit:
To learn more about our work in Ethiopia, check out our project page!
Photo courtesy Martin Harvey.
Solimar is proud to announce the launch of the Roots of Ethiopia
website. This unique portal promotes the wide range of community tourism products found in Ethiopia; thus helping to position it as a top community tourism destination in Africa. The website has been developed by the Ethiopian Sustainable Tourism Alliance in partnership with the Frankfurt Zoological Society (FZS) and Tesfa (Tourism in Ethiopia for Sustainable Future Alternatives), and features an array of activities including culture and nature walks, weaving and cooking demonstrations, horseback rides, boat tours and craft shopping, among others.
The portal’s launch event took place in April in Addis Ababa. It was opened by Ethiopia’s State Minister of Tourism and was attended by key tourism stakeholders from the public and private sectors and across the development industry.
The core of the event was the presentation of the website and its functions. Solimar International’s Jessie McComb led this section in a fun and engaging way by describing how different types of tourists might use the website to learn more about Ethiopia and the community tourism products. She used the following real and fictional case studies:
- Ms. McComb's worry-wart mother, who would immediately ask about health, safety, transport and travel logistics. This information is all included in the "Plan Your Trip" section, which includes detailed FAQs for first-time travelers to Ethiopia and Africa.
- Anna, an imaginary, well-traveled German tourist, is coming to Ethiopia on a package tour, but also wants to discover local culture. Using the "Search by Destination" function, which displays the community tourism destinations on a country a map, she can see which communities are located close to the sites that she will already be visiting.
- Mike and John are expatriates living in Addis, with a good knowledge of Ethiopian geography. With the aid of the "Search by Activity" function, they can quickly find a tour that will fit their interests.
Roots of Ethiopia has been launched at a key moment for the tourism market. In 2009, over 105 million Americans used the Internet for travel planning – a 16% increase from 2007- while the number of Europeans booking travel online is now approaching 50% and growing. This new web presence offers a tremendous opportunity for rural Ethiopian communities to reach internet-savvy tourists around the world, to improve their livelihoods, create much-needed employment and generate income.
The dramatic scenery of Konso in southwestern Ethiopia has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This will be Ethiopia’s ninth such site, meaning it has more than any other country in Africa. This occasion was celebrated in Konso with an event organized by the Ethiopian Authority for Research and Conservation of Cultural Heritage, and was attended by the Minister of Culture and Tourism, UNESCO representatives, ministers, ambassadors and the private sector. Konso was awarded the honor in recognition of its unique landscape, which demonstrates cultural traditions stretching back over 400 years – many of which are still alive today.
The region’s stone-walled terraces and fortified settlements demonstrate the shared values, social cohesion and engineering knowledge of its people. They are also examples of how local communities have adapted – over 20 generations – to southern Ethiopia’s arid environment, allowing them to live sustainably in this hostile region. Groups of anthropomorphic wooden statues represent respected community members and heroic events, and stone stelae mark the passing of leaders, and determine a family’s status even to this day.
Konso is also an emerging community tourism destination. New tourism products are being developed here with the support of Ethiopian Sustainable Tourism Alliance (ESTA), a five-year USAID-funded project. One of these products is the Travelers’ Philanthropy Program, which gives visitors the opportunity to donate and plant tree seedlings as a way of contributing to the rehabilitation of the land. You can find out more about this and other tourism activities in Konso on the newly-launched community tourism portal www.RootsOfEthiopia.com.
Konso is a member of The Undiscovered Travel Collection for its commitment to sustainable community tourism.