Finding and Re-Finding Yourself

Interview with Senator the Honourable Robert Tonge, Minister of Tourism and Urban Renewal for the Commonwealth of Dominica

For my project, I wanted to meet with the government ministers and get a pulse for what they feel is needed in order to create more jobs on the island and reduce poverty. Tourism seems to be one of the biggest ways to make that happen. What are your thoughts on tourism as an avenue for employment generation?

As you rightfully know, here in the Caribbean our choices are somewhat limited in terms of bringing economic activity to the country. The tradition here has been agriculture, but when Dominica and some of the other Caribbean islands lost preferential treatment in agricultural trade, we really couldn’t compete on the same scale as the larger nations. We can still sell our produce to other island nations, but it obviously does not generate the income as exporting to Europe once did. So now, many are turning to tourism as an economic driver. For example, countries are using a citizenship by investment program to create income. For families who have the means and interest in purchasing land or traveling, this is sometimes of interest for them.

Tourism is one of the major drivers for Dominica now because we see it as a way to create more jobs for our people. Entering the tourism market however is not without its challenges. One of the major challenges we’ve faced is how to promote the country. The average person does not know about Dominica. More than likely, they know of the Dominican Republic and so when they hear about Dominica they assume the Dominican Republic. But if they were to see our island and compared us to the Dominican Republic, there would be no mix up.

IMG_2438We have to be very clear with our marketing for the country. Spending is limited, so we cannot just cast out a wide net; we have to be very pointed with marketing. If we place our advertisements in front of people who are more interested in a white sand beach and drinking a tequila, as opposed to someone who is into nature and sustainability then we are marketing to the wrong crowd. But if can place our advertising in front of people who appreciate what we have to offer, then we we believe that we can provide the kind of experience that they are looking for. So the idea is to be very pointed with are marketing. We try to use technology and analytics that allow us to place our advertising in front of people who are interested in nature, healthy food, hiking and diving. Using analytics helps us to connect with the right people in a much shorter period of time and at a time of decision when they are actively in the market for a tropical destination like ours. We want Dominica to be a country where it is all about finding and re-finding yourself. Dominica is a place to come enjoy nature, taste wonderful food, meet friendly people and find yourself again.

Sustainability is also very important for us here in Dominica. We want our hotels to provide the type of experience that shows sensitivity to the environment. When you hear that Dominica is the “Nature Island” of the Caribbean and the world, you expect to see certain things when you come here. Something that we are concerned about right now is keeping our country clean. It all starts with us. I always use the phrase: “Garbage has no legs, no feet and no hands; garbage cannot walk or crawl. We are the ones that determine where garbage ends up.” We have the ability to reduce our impact upon the environment. We want visitors to see that our island is clean. One of the efforts I have embarked on is the cleanliness of the gutters in Roseau. We have guys that wake up at 5:00 AM in the morning to go out and clean the streets of the capital city. Rather than campaigning first, let us begin to clean first and set the example. Let us start the trend and then say, “Hey, I am Dominica and I do not litter.” A city that is cleaner, a city that doesn’t smell, a city that is not overrun with rats and cockroaches will be more pleasant for residents and more attractive to visitors. We are passing legislation that require restaurants to have grease and food traps so that waste is not running off into gutters and polluting our waters.

IMG_2303We also want to make Dominica more accessible. Sometimes booking travel to Dominica can be very difficult. Many travel agents do not know who we are, so we are joining different travel associations that will make more people of aware of who we are. We are trying to put our name in the Global Distribution System (GDS) so that more travel agents will have visibility of Dominica and so that when you go on those different search engines, Dominica will pop up more. Someone trying to book a flight to Dominica should have more information and options on how to get here. We can potentially lose around 20% of our business if someone goes to a travel agent wanting to book for Dominica, but not enough data is available quickly. After spending 15 to 20 minutes searching, the agent may suggest someplace else.

We want to increase our budget for marketing so that we can get more people to come to Dominica. If we can fix the awareness, we know that people will come here and have a fantastic experience. From the time a guest hits the ground, we want our customs and port officers to welcome them with a smile. We want our receptionists to be welcoming. We want our bus drivers to exemplify courtesy and safety. We want our hotel staff and bartenders to practice hospitality. We know that we will need to improve in all of these areas to make our tourism experience better and so that what a guest experiences matches what has been advertised. The government is making an effort to encourage this mindset and invest in developing these kinds of accommodations. We are looking for ways to promote our unique hotels, describe their various amenities and facilitate hotel bookings through a hotel booking system that can be utilized by guests to make and pay for a reservation online.

Another step for us would be to improve our human resources by ensuring that more people are properly trained and certified. We will utilize a strategy to train trainers in different areas of hospitality. This will not only improve our services, but it will help our workers feel more confident and content in their roles. A certified worker will be more marketable in the industry and more trained workers will raise the standards of excellence island-wide. We have to improve on our hotel stock and we have to ensure that the sites that our guests go to are more people friendly. We are more or less soft-adventure, but we are going to have people who come here who cannot walk to the waterfall. So at some point we are going to have to build a track that will make it possible for anyone to be able to see and enjoy beautiful waterfalls.

So the idea is that, if we can put all of these things in place: marketing, awareness, sustainability, accessibility, technology, hospitality and training; then more people will come to Dominica, more jobs will be required in the tourism industry and many others will be indirectly employed as a result of the influx of people. From the perspective of the Ministry of Tourism, we can make our stakeholders happier by attracting more people to our shores. We are guided by principles in our tourism master plan and we have tourism initiatives taking place around the island, but when all is said and done it is about creating as many jobs as possible.

What about tourism niches like agri-tourism where guests are taken out to visit farms or pesca-tourism where people are taken out on fishing excursions that support local fisherman and at the same time helps to mitigate the exploitation of fish populations?

As a tourism destination, Dominica is unique in that we are all about the experience as opposed to just spending your entire vacation just relaxing on one beach. What is offered at hotels on most of the other Caribbean islands is all-inclusive and they are more profitable by making it so that you never leave their hotel. Dominica is different because we want you to go out and explore. Passengers of a cruise ship in port can take an agri-tourism excursion to an organic farm, survey the island landscapes, learn about local practices, sample some of the produce and make a donation. One farmer said that the tips he made on the tour were more than he could make by selling the produce in the market. Tropical Storm Erica has damaged some of the roads that lead to those farms and the cruise ships are only here for a season, but these are still areas that we feel can benefit tourism in the local communities. We want to advise our hotel owners, stakeholders and potential entrepreneurs with some ideas that have been successful on other islands to see if they might be interested in capitalizing on some of those same tourism and ecotourism opportunities here.

How do you encourage communities to develop their own special tourism niches?

We have also been supporting Community Based Tourism so that individual communities can benefit from tourism. The reality is, if the communities do not benefit from tourism then they really do not care to uphold the standards that we would like to reflect. One of our better projects is the village of Mero, where the entire community has realized that the beach is a major asset. So now they make sure that the beach is clean and they ensure that the area is safe for people to come. Even among the locals, on a Sunday the number of Dominicans that visit Mero beach is amazing compared to what it was before. This is all a result of the tourism and cleanup efforts that have been put in place there.

There are other areas around the island where we are trying to encourage community-based tourism projects. In the North of the island, for example, we have the Portsmouth Association of Yacht Services, (PAYS), which provides nightly security in the harbor, island tours, hikes, dives and other services for people and their boats that are anchored in Prince Rupert Bay. This has been so successful that we are looking at the possibility of providing moorings for boats in other coastal areas of the island so that they too can offer similar services in those communities and introduce more customers to their shops who might purchase fresh produce, water, food and other items.

Another idea we have been thinking about is developing an App like Uber or Lift that not only provides transportation but also puts tour guides on board. So if you are visiting the island you can open up the App and find a tour guide in your area. There is a company out of Jamaica that does this. This app will give better visibility and improve the chances of persons in those respective areas of generating business as a result of this technical tool. Community tourism really makes a difference because it can decrease unemployment in specific areas and give people a sense of responsibility to care for and protect those areas.

If university students were to come to Dominica to complete their internship projects in the areas of tourism or entrepreneurship, what particular projects would you suggest?

I think that for short projects one of the best things that a university student could offer is training. That could be training in the areas of tourism or concepts in entrepreneurship and also some motivational speaking. Also, as previously mentioned we could certainly benefit from assistance with marketing and creating awareness about our Nature Island.  In the area of technology, we could use some assistance in App development from computer programmers. Students could also assist in other areas like water and sewerage management.


It was really great for Senator Tonge to take the time to meet with me. We had a great conversation and the focus of his work was so fresh on his mind that he answered many of my questions even before I could ask them.  Dominica offers so much in regard to ecotourism, adventure tourism, beautiful landscapes, healthy food and undisturbed natural environments.  Though it’s tourism industry is relatively young, that is what makes it a great opportunity for entrepreneurship.

Click it! Graph it!

For all of the surveys, I used Qualtrics – a digital surveying program that has the huge advantage of saving me the time of typing hundreds of responses into the computer or sorting the data by hand. I’m sure many of you are thinking, “Who in their right mind would sort through 400 surveys by hand?”

I wanted to make a note, for those of you thinking something along those lines, that dozens of people who I surveyed reminded me of their pre-twenty-first century hardships when doing their own graduate research. I even had one professor say, in jest, “I kind of want to smash this tablet on the ground just so you have to do the pen and paper analysis”. So I thought I would include this as a friendly reminder that we live in an age of convenience, and the cross tabulations that literally take me seconds to do digitally used to take hours. Hours of sorting through a stack of paper data. Hours of math. Hours.

Now that we have all taken a moment to appreciate the convenience of our lives, here are my preliminary findings:

50% of respondents answered that their “primary form of transportation while visiting Key West” was – WALKING!

Aside from creating incentives and disincentives to driving, a good part of this research is aimed at how to market “car-free” to tourists. Knowing that half of people primarily walk around the island may be useful in marketing to tourists. “Car-free is carefree” or “walk in the park” sort of marketing angles may prove useful. Related to this is the finding that:

32% of visitors used a car zero times throughout their visit

Regardless of the number of days they visited, nearly a third of visitors never used a car. Can you remember the last time you went 1, or 5, or 8 days without using a car? Perhaps it was during your last visit to the Keys??

Finally, the most exciting findings of my early analysis: Going into this, the sustainability director for Key West, and one of my advisors for this research, had anecdotal evidence to suggest that first time visitors were more likely to arrive with a vehicle than repeat visitors.

Going into this, the sustainability director for Key West, and one of my advisors for this research had anecdotal evidence to suggest that first time visitors were more likely to arrive with a vehicle than repeat visitors.

  Rented a car for their visit Drove Personal Vehicle
First time visitors 42% 31%
Second time visitors 21% 16%
Visited 3-5 times 18% 28%
Visited 5 or more times 9% 25%

As you can see, her anecdotal evidence was confirmed by my research! For both rental and personal vehicle cases, around half as many second time visitors arrived with cars when compared to first time visitors. This jumps back to the question from my first post – How can we convey the knowledge of repeat visitors to first-time visitors?

Also from the graph you can see that while renters continue to drop over the number of visits, personal vehicle drivers, well, don’t. But the good news is, as I continue with my analysis, I should be able to dig deeper into these numbers. Perhaps personal vehicle drivers are mainly from Florida? So driving may actually be cheaper and easier than other options? We’ll see.

Beep. Bop. Boop.

Until next time….


Down Time in Dominica

There are a routine number of activities that are common among the locals on the weekends: Saturdays involve time in the garden, going to the market and washing clothes; Sundays are about going to church, eating a big lunch and taking a long nap.  And when time allows, you fill find them hiking forest trails, swimming in the river or relaxing on the beach.

For me personally, I just spent a whole week lining up appointments, creating surveys, making phone calls, sending emails, popping in to government office buildings, connecting with tourism organizations and networking with people on the island for the development of my capstone internship project.  So to get a little down time over the weekend has been a real joy.  On Saturday I participated in an amazing ecotourism adventure called Hike Fest, which I will write about in another blog.  So let me tell you what I did today.

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Today is Sunday.  After attending a local church service filled with island style music, dancing, special artistic presentations by the youth and some powerful preaching, I decided to hike into the jungle forest to try and find that cocoa fruit that I had promised to show you guys.  As I made my way to the trail head I could smell the lemon grass that had recently been cut and all the evidence of a tropical island was around me.  The Caribbean Sea was shimmering in the distance. Village streets were lined with trees adorned by mangos, bananas, kokoi-plantains, limes, soursop, breadfruit and pawpaws (papayas).  I passed three kinds of nut trees too – coconut, almonds and cashews. (I try to avoid the cashew tree even though it has a tasty plum;  I’ve learned the hard way that tampering too much with a raw cashew nut can cause a severe allergic reaction.) Moving on.

As I entered the trail I was greeted by five baby goats that were leaping on and off of a large stone – cute and curious.  The trail meandered along a river which created the soundtrack for my afternoon trek.  I found several guava trees along the trail but the fruit was still green; so I helped myself to some of the young red leaves to make into a delicious tea later on.  I located some cocoa (cacao) trees but most of the fruit that remained had already dried up.  Finally I found a ripe one, but it was so high up I couldn’t get to it.  I started to climb the tree, but I had to step on a termite mound… so I changed my mind.  I threw a couple of rocks at the cocoa even making a direct hit but that thing was not coming down.

I decided to walk further up the mountain trail toward one of the Waitikubuli entry points (the Waitikubuli is the longest hiking trail in the Caribbean).  This segment of the trail has a primitive but adventurous swinging bridge like a scene right out of a movie.  Passion Flowers, Flamboyant Trees and wild Caribbean Orchids gave color to the green landscape.  Bananaquit birds were chirping loudly all around me, Green Throated Carib Hummingbirds buzzed by quickly then darted into the trees and two Jaco Parrots squawked overhead. At last I found more chocolate trees and one of them was ripe and in reach.  Hooray!

The walk back home was just as nice and natural as the walk up the trail and it concluded with a not as natural dip in the swimming pool, but hey, I’m not complaining.  Come discover Dominica for yourself.

Cocoa (Cacao) Fruit

One Lump or Two?

Saturday morning in Dominica is when most people head to the open market to purchase their organic produce for the week.  My favorite stop is for the coconut water, affectionately called Jelly Water in Dominica, because after you drink the water, they will split the young coconut for you so that you can eat the coconut jelly inside.  The coconut has so many uses as food, drink, oil, lotions, crafts and other uses.  Here’s a picture of my good friend Eddie and I enjoying some jelly water at Saturday market.

Coconut Water in the Market

Another favorite is the homemade cocoa that is made from the cacao fruit that is grown in gardens and even wild throughout the island.  There is a delicious white pulp around the cocoa beans that tastes sooooooo delicious, I wish I could make a juice out of it.  After the beans have been dried, roasted, peeled, pulverized into a paste and formed into sticks, they can be boiled in coconut milk and spices to make cocoa tea (a version of hot chocolate).  Once while making the tea, I didn’t have coconut milk and so I used hot water which made it kind of thin, but someone had told me that a little flour could thicken it up.  I had no idea what I was doing and I ended up with lumps of flour floating in my hot chocolate.  I would have preferred marshmallows or even lumps of sugar over lumps of flour.  That story traveled fast and to this day the locals all laugh at me for making cocoa dumpling tea.

In another blog post I will have to show you the fruit that surrounds each cocoa bean – so delicious.  But for today feast your eyes on a cocoa stick used for making hot chocolate or as they say here, “Cocoa Tea.”

Video – Cocoa Tea in Dominica with Jerry John Comellas

The Other Dominicans

Tomorrow I begin my internship on the Nature Island of the Caribbean.  When I tell people that I will be working on the island of Dominica (Dom-min-EEKA), their responses are clear that they have never heard of the island nation. “Do you have to learn Spanish to go there? That’s the country that shares an island with Haiti, right? How come you pronounce it Dom-min-EEKA… isn’t it supposed to be Duh-min-ni-kah? Ohh, I have a friend that is from the Dominican Republic!”

After a quick geography lesson, I explain to them that the Commonwealth of Dominica is a Windward Isle located in the Lesser Antilles and they are closer to the French islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe than they are to any Spanish speaking islands. The people of Dominica speak English and a version of French Creole called Patois. Dominica does not share an island with Haiti, Great Britain, France and not even the United States for that matter.

Truly, these “other Dominicans” do not like it so much that people have no idea that they exist. Cristopher Columbus sailed there too; and he encountered a tribe of Island Caribs, the Kalinagos, when he landed there. Slaves were brought to that island too and provided the work force for both French and British occupation. Dominica is the true quintessential volcanic, tropical paradise. The island has the second largest boiling lake in the world, the longest hiking trail in the Caribbean (the Waitikubuli) and beautiful coral reefs that are on the path of whale migration. Tropical fruit trees and coconuts are there in abundance. Green forests define the landscape along with magnificent waterfalls and a “river for every day of the year.” The only living species of Sisserou Parrots live in Dominica. The country has its own government, departments of government, education system, healthcare, seaport, airport, tourism and even an American Medical School.

The point that people are unfamiliar with the island nation reveals the reality that Dominica has not received the development attention and investment that many of the other Caribbean Islands have received. Some might say this is both a blessing and a curse; others might say that it is both a problem and an opportunity. However one defines it, due to the lack of attention their economy is fragile and employment outside of subsistence farming or fishing is limited. Some innovative community leaders have done well and have created jobs for others. Ross Medical School also provides some jobs. Carnival Cruise Lines now comes into port there. Expatriates from Europe and the United States have also sought opportunity in Dominica. Eco-resorts, health tourism, and organic island living are becoming popular buzz words associated with the island.

In summary, because the natural beauty of the island has been preserved and because sustainability and ecotourism are now more frequently associated with travel destinations, and because the island has so much biodiversity, forests, mountains, fresh water and geothermal activity – the opportunity is there to help create a sustainable island that serves as a model to the world of successful green and blue economies that generate employment for its people. With some creativity, we can turn current problems into opportunities for university student research, social-entrepreneurship, poverty reduction, ecotourism, pesca-tourism, agri-tourism, renewable energy generation, all of which contribute to the goals in the country’s “Organic Island Initiative.”  Follow me on my journey as I unveil some of the sustainability practices already on the island and identify innovative ways for moving forward in their Green and Blue Economies.

Sustainability and the Nature Isle – by Jerry John Comellas

Week 7 & 8: The other part of Peru

Well, what would be going to Peru without also getting to experience world-wonder Machu Picchu and the great Amazon? These weeks, I had those opportunities! (This is also a good time to travel as the kids don’t have school for two weeks due to Independence Day coming up and their mid-school year break.)

On the bus ride from Cusco to Ollantaytambo.
On the bus ride from Cusco to Ollantaytambo.

For the first adventure, we headed to Cusco and Machu Picchu. I actually met up with some fellow USF alumni and we all had the best time exploring these Inca ruins. We flew into Cusco Saturday afternoon but caught a bus and headed straight to Ollantaytambo, a town in the Sacred Valley in between Cusco and Aguas Caliente (also known as Machu Picchu Pueblo). Ollantaytambo is a beautiful, historic, small town with lots of offer. We were fortunate to have one whole day in Ollantaytambo, where we went hiking, checked out a local market, enjoyed the local foods, and made a few local friends. In the evening, we headed to the train station to catch a 2 hour train heading to Aguas Caliente, where we would enjoy the following day in Machu Picchu.

On top of Wayna Picchu with Machu Picchu village below.
On top of Wayna Picchu with Machu Picchu village below.

And Machu Picchu is everything it claims to be: large, impressive, and ever so beautiful. The history, the architecture, the agricultural terraces, the beauty of the Andes, it’s all so awesome. When we arrive at Machu Picchu in the morning, we make our way to the entrance to Wayna Picchu (a mountain just behind Machu Picchu village that’s the famous mountain in the iconic photos). Hiking Wayna Picchu is not for the faint of heart; the rock steps are quite steep and narrow in some places and there are a lot of steps. Once at the summit, however, the view makes the scary steps totally worth the climb. There’s also something about seeing such a famed, historic place that fills your soul with the kind of excitement that can only be experienced firsthand.

Machu Picchu residents
Machu Picchu residents

Once back to Machu Picchu village, we found a tour guide and enjoyed the rest of the day learning more about the Incas, their architecture (there is no mortar in MP, all the stones are shaped to fit together perfectly); the way the Incas worked with the solstices and agriculture; how MP was lost and rediscovered just over 100 years ago; it was fascinating. It was a great day.

Machu Picchu with Wayna Picchu in the background (WP is the taller mountain in the center)
Machu Picchu village with Wayna Picchu in the background (WP is the taller mountain in the center). Also, these mountains form the shape of a face in profile: WP is the nose, to the right is the forehead, to the left is the mouth and chin.
Machu Picchu residents
Machu Picchu residents
Somewhere on Wayna Picchu
Somewhere on Wayna Picchu
Steps up to Wayna Picchu
Steps up to Wayna Picchu
The Andes Mountains as far as the eye can see.
The Andes Mountains as far as the eye can see.
The Andes Mountains as far as the eye can see.
The Andes Mountains as far as the eye can see.
Incan agricultural terraces
Incan agricultural terraces

We visited Cusco after Machu Picchu and it is a really beautiful town; we easily could have spent an extra day or two there. It also has a great history with ruins of its own, with museums, food, markets, everything.

Trip 2: Iquitos and the Amazon

The Amazon River
The Amazon River

The second trip on my agenda was to the city of Iquitos, located in the north of Peru in the Amazon Jungle. It is the largest city in the world inaccessible by road, it can only be reached by plane or boat. It’s an interesting city. Some of the guide books made it sound small, but it is a giant place. And I don’t think I’d call it a built-up or well developed city, although it looks like it was trying to be at one point in time. The main mode of transportation is by mototaxi (there is a sea of mototaxis, actually, like hundreds of them), and none of the buildings are exceptionally tall. There’s a huge library with all things Amazon, a few fancy cafes, a cathedral, a Museum of Indigenous People, and a few other gems, but nothing too extravagant. It’s quaint in a giant, dusty, hot, haggling at markets, crowded streets kind of way.

If I’m honest with you, the main reason I went to Iquitos was to catch a glimpse of the selva (what the jungle is called in Peru). The thing about Peru is that about a third of the country is selva so I didn’t have to go that far north to see it; but the thing that makes Iquitos interesting is it is boarded by three rivers, one of them being the Amazon. So we’ve got the Amazon River and the Amazon Jungle; there are worse places to be.

Our guide for hiking in the Selva.
Our guide for hiking in the Selva.

So among the usual tourist and sight seeing ventures, we spend a day hiking in the selva. A tip of advice: if you go hiking in the selva, wear boots. Throughout our hike, the path became very muddy in places and slightly difficult to hike in. We tried to buy boots beforehand, but the market didn’t have any. We should have gone to another market. But between slipping many times because the bottom of my Nikes were caked with mud and trying to catch my balance by grabbing a tree with a bunch of spiky caterpillars on it, we saw wild potatoes in the jungle (yes, potatoes; they were purple), a few birds, some butterflies, two small snakes, banana trees, medicinal plant vines, more caterpillars, sugarcane, and a man carrying a pig. Hiking in the mud really sucked at the time. And as we were heading out of the selva, it started to rain. But it was a great experience and a fun adventure. Oh, and our tour guide was a local. Where he was raised in Iquitos, the selva butted up against his barrio and the selva was his backyard. It was definitely an interesting day.

Iquitos, Peru
Iquitos, Peru

As exciting as all of this sounds (and it was, don’t get me wrong), I was really shocked with how much trash and pollution are common throughout Iquitos. Even 2.5 hours into the selva, there were plastic Coca-Cola bottles on the ground. The river had so much plastic washed up on the shoreline. The neighborhood we stayed in had trash lining either side of the street for at least a mile. And the air isn’t so great from all the exhaust from the hundreds of mototaxis. It was really sad to see so much trash. The Amazon has problems of its own with regard to deforestation. And the Amazon River, I was lucky enough to take a boat ride down a small part of it, but’s not nearly as pretty or romantic as it sounds or you may see in some pictures. I think my first suggestion would be to invest in a recycling facility. And if there is one (I should look into this), then to invest in its capabilities. Iquitos has the potential to be great. If I’m not mistaken, it is the most visited jungle city in Peru. A little sustainable tourism investments could go a long way; and not just a few eco-lodges, the city could use some help, too.

All in all, I’m very thankful for the opportunity to explore more of Peru, even if they were two of the biggest tourist areas here. But truly, how could you come to Peru and not go to these places.

Selva del Amazonas
Selva del Amazonas
Amazon River crusing
Amazon River crusing
Amazon skies
Amazon skies


Selva fare
Selva fare

Week 5: Jlag (The Umayyad Route and a View on Sustainable Development)

Week 5: JLag


Brusfete du misique iconsels is full of things to do on the weekends.  This weekend was another music fest: Fête du Musique.  Friday night was a small gathering just ten minutes walking from my apartment.  I went with my roommate, and had a great time.  It was sadly pretty cold, so when the sun began to hide behind the taller buildings, and the shadows liberally stretched themselves across the cobblestone streets, I started to head home.  I ran into an English speaking German girl outside of a pub on my way, and I asked if she knew where the next venue was, and we ended up talking about politics and education around Europe compared to the United States.  She did not want another Bush in the White House.  I’ll leave it there.

Saturday night I went with my roommate to a friend’s house.  They invited me to break Ramadan with them.  They explained to me the significance of this month, how fasting during the daylight hours contributes to their sense of empathy and connections with the poor.  They are to feel what the less fortunate experience daily- fatigue and hunger. They are encouraged to give to charity, feed the hungry, and Ramadanbe in the moment, finding gratitude for their place in the world.  It was a lovely dinner, with many delicious dishes, and lasted for hours, until after 1AM.  (Of course, the sun goes down here so late that they must wait until around 10:30pm to eat!)  They are delightful, very open, kind, and welcoming, and I felt like I had made immediate friends.

flower market jetteSunday, I walked out of my door and across the street and was in a very large market.  It was amazing.   I loved Anderlecht market, which I wrote about before, but this one was a little more approachable, still had plenty of things, and was literally outside my apartment.  Clothing, electronics, food vendors, accessories, luggage, jewelry, meats, cheeses, olives, produce, and amazing lengths of flowers and plants.  I had a lot of fun exploring the market, and next Sunday will arrive earlier!DSC_0234

That night, I went with a different friend to a different venue of Fête du Musique.  The first band was a little too lulling for the large venue, but the second band was energetic and had the crowd dancing and clapping along.  I enjoyed my first (I pause-I am almost ashamed to say it) Belgian waffle.  It was delicious.  It’s probably a good thing I didn’t try them before, because, I would have been eating them this whole time…


The work part of my internship has definitely kept me busy.  I am here to research and learn about capacity building, understand the PM4SD material and develop case studies that support its use as a capacity building tool.  I am pleased to say that last week was successful in identifying 2 more than likely possibilities and I have begun to assemble the information and write the rough drafts for the two projects.  This is a great way for me to interact with some professionals in the field, and have a chance to ask them some questions, pertaining both to their application of the PM4SD material as well as the field itself.  I am interested to know how professionals feel about the direction of sustainability, and what some challenges and barriers are to it reaching its goals.  I get the feeling that Europe experiences a unique situation when it comes to getting funding from the Commission.  It’s also been implied that the management of projects is pretty poor, and many European Commission funded projects (in terms of sustainable tourism, anyway) seem to be stuck in a cycle of ‘apply for funds, get funds, use funds until they are gone, fail.’  Like most things, I am afraid, plans to action seems to be a difficult thing to realize, and there is no sustainability, both in terms of longevity and triple bottom line sustainability.  (I realize longevity can be considered a part of sustainability, but I differentiate the two here, because longevity is just  that- a very precise part of sustainability, and when there is trouble in achieving long term success with projects, something has most certainly gone wrong in the three areas that are required to achieve ‘sustainability’.)

Umayyad site in Anjar, a mid-country stop on the itinerary.
Umayyad site in Anjar, a mid-country stop on the itinerary.

I am working with an agency that is striving to create a tourism itinerary in Lebanon based on the shared history of numerous destinations.  The itinerary is founded on the Umayyad, a Muslim Dynasty that formed after the death of Muhammed.  There are a few cultural sites in Lebanon that the project is striving to highlight, in hopes of addressing the lopsided tourism season.  This unbalanced year of tourism influx creates hardship for the locals that are employed in the tourism industry.  A way to even out the tourism schedule was to create tourism revolving around something other than the “sun and sea” aspect that the Mediterranean is known for- in this case history and cultural heritage sites that are often overlooked.

The Heliopolis in Baalbek, another destination away from the coast on the itinerary.  These are estimated at 900 years old.  They are UNESCO Heritage sites.  Photos retrieved from the Umayyad Route website:
The Heliopolis in Baalbek, another destination away from the coast on the itinerary. These are estimated at 9000 years old. They are UNESCO Heritage sites. Photos retrieved from the Umayyad Route website:

The project faced some difficulties early on, such as defining the final product, nomenclature debates and sensitivity surrounding the Umayyad dynasty, as there was reluctance to create an itinerary based on the infamous dynasty in the region.  (It was responsible for the murder of one of their Saints.)  I am happy to say, it is evident that the use of some PM4SD tools were instrumental in overcoming these barriers, creating an action plan and moving the project over the motivational gorge that had previously stalled its progression.  I will be analyzing this further in my case study.

I believe PM4SD management techniques have the potential to transform projects, but in order for it to be a success, I think we need real backing for its implementation. I believe we need higher level buy-in, in order to change the way projects are managed, and patience and realism to do them properly.

I think that most of our colleagues can agree with me on this point.  Development can no longer be swift and careless.  Development must be carefully planned.  It must be considerate of external factors.  It must be aware of its consequences and benefits.  It must be analyzed with care.  It must be sustainable.  Development must be built on the knowledge of the past, with an eye to the future, and a 360 view of the present.

A Day in the Life of a CEO – Chris Seek of Solimar International

For my internship I have the privilege to work with one of the world’s top sustainable tourism consulting firms, Solimar International. Their work enhances destinations and inspires travelers to visit them, through strategic planning, tourism development, tourism partnerships, tourism marketing, and training and education.

Chris Seek
Chris Seek

Chris Seek is the founder, president and CEO of Solimar. I had the good fortune to shadow Chris for a day. For this post I want to share about that day – a typical day in the life of Solimar’s CEO.

  • We started the morning at a coffee shop meeting with a representative of The World Bank, where they discussed projects in Sri Lanka and Albania, as well as extending their existing work in Nepal in support of the recent earthquake relief efforts.
  • We walked several blocks where Chris gave a presentation about the value of sustainable tourism to a group of tourism ministry representatives from 19 countries, invited by of the U.S. Department of State’s International Visitor Leadership Program (photo above).
  • After a quick bite of lunch, we were off to meet with Chemonics, an employee-owned international development company, to discuss a potential future project in Madagascar. In 2005 Solimar created the country’s travel website to follow the publicity created by the Disney movie, “Madagascar.”

The World Bank 051315After Chris showed me The World Bank Group InfoShop Bookstore (imagine a Barnes and Noble full of World Bank publications and resources), the last stop was a meeting inside the tightly-secured World Bank. In this three hour meeting, with The World Bank project manager and a Bhutanese consultant who happened to be in town, Chris reviewed the detailed plan for the project to implement Bhutan’s draft Heritage Sites Bill.


Realizing that he had to be at a Columbia Heights community meeting across town, we walked outside of The World Bank, where Chris found a Car2Go. After tapping his membership card to the windshield, we zipped in this car back to the office, where the 11th Street Business Alliance was planning the annual festival that Solimar helped launch to bring the neighborhood together.

It was a busy day for a busy man, and all of this was before he went home to his favorite job, that of husband and father.

Solimar International – I am fortunate to be their intern

After years of working in a variety of roles in the travel industry and in sustainability, I returned to grad school to study sustainable tourism. One exciting requirement of the graduate degree is an internship.

For my internship I have the privilege to work with one of the world’s top sustainable tourism consulting firms, Solimar International. Solimar is a tourism development and marketing firm that Solimar logobelieves in the transformative power of sustainable tourism. Their integrated, market-oriented tourism solutions are designed to grow economies, enhance livelihoods, celebrate cultures, and conserve natural resources. Their work on 80+ programs has taken them to more than 200 destinations around the world for over a dozen years to support global development through sustainable tourism.

Solimar is based in Washington, D.C. and has strategic alliances with such impressive partners such as The National Geographic Society, The Smithsonian Institution, and the UN World Tourism Organization. Providing end-to-end solutions, their clients include The World Bank, USAID, WWF, The Walton Family Foundation, and governments and ministries of tourism around the world.

Their accomplishments are impressive:

Solimar impact

The founder, president and CEO of Solimar is Chris Seek – a high-energy, highly-regarded, passionate and driven professional. I started my internship in early May, after Chris identified several projects that matched my interests and background, but that also provided an opportunity to learn and add value to Solimar. Prior to traveling to their office in Washington, I conducted a significant amount of research on each of the projects.

Chris and the Solimar team welcomed me in Washington and were generous in their explanations of the projects. We focused on a top priority, working with The World Bank to implement Bhutan’s draft Heritage Sites Bill.

Bhutan countryside. Credit:
Bhutan countryside. Credit:

About Bhutan: The small country of Bhutan is a mystically intriguing kingdom in the Himalayas, nestled between India and China. In part to guard its precious ancient traditions, the country was completely cut off to outsiders until the 1970s. Bhutan’s breathtaking scenery, and deep cultural ancient Buddhist traditions, make it an intriguing tourist destination. Bhutan is now facing unprecedented challenges related to economic liberalization, bringing an inflow of modern influences and materialistic aspirations.  

About the project: The draft Heritage Sites Bill is an effort to safeguard the country’s national cultural landscape and identity across generations. The primary goal of the project is to identify and prioritize cultural heritage sites for the Royal Government of Bhutan using an asset-based approach to conserve cultural landscape, improve living conditions and create economic opportunities.

I am very excited about engaging with Solimar, and working on the Bhutan project. I will post more about this project, and my involvement, as it progresses.