Solimar International is a tourism marketing and development company that understands tourism is a powerful tool that can improve destinations and attract travelers to visit them. With field offices around the world, Solimar pairs its own experts with industry leaders in sustainable tourism to identify, develop, and market new tourist destinations.
By definition, Solimar International is a tourism marketing firm, but it is definitely a company with a mission, thanks to Chris Seek, Solimar’s founder and CEO. “There is just something so great about helping places that are just getting started with tourism,” says Seek. “The people are so excited and so full of hope. And we are right there with them, to make sure they build up their tourism industry based on the authenticity of their people and their culture.”
Seek invites tour operators, travel agents, and faith leaders to partner with him to support sustainable tourism, which will quicken development in countries that need a helping hand. He says one way to do this is to consider taking groups to new destinations and less-developed places where your tourism dollars can provide a real boost. “You have the opportunity to make a real difference through tourism,” says Seek, “and I encourage you to join me on this rewarding journey.”
And what a journey it’s been for Seek. When he started Solimar Marketing and Travel in 2001, he envisioned a marketing company that would allow him to travel and be involved in the tourism industry, but he had no idea that just five years later, the company would evolve into Solimar International, a much different tourism-related enterprise.
When Seek first started his business, he would go to different places and stay in hotels at no charge in exchange for creating promotional videos for those hotels. This experience sparked Seek’s passion for undiscovered and undeveloped places.
Next, a visit to his sister, who was studying abroad in Ecuador, opened Seek’s eyes to tourism as a driver to support underdeveloped countries. His own study abroad time in Costa Rica and a course on ecotourism led Seek and a partner to start a small sustainable-tourism business in that country. “We would barter rooms in small hotels in exchange for our marketing services,” says Seek, “and we operated that business till 2004.”
But the defining experience for Seek—and what brought Solimar International to life as we know it today—was the Tourism Development Practicum course he took while working on his MBA at George Washington University.
“Dr. Donald Hawkins completely changed my view of tourism during that course, which involved participation in a USAID project in Morocco,” says Seek. “What I learned is that tourism development is much more powerful than what I had previously realized. First, tourism can help pull entire nations out of poverty, affecting the daily lives of millions of people in a positive way. Second, tourism can save the cultural heritage of a people in a way nothing else can. And finally, the organizations tasked with tourism development are often not tourism experts.”
With this life-changing, light-bulb experience, Chris Seek was motivated to start Solimar International in 2006 with a new mission, to serve as the expert on sustainable tourism development projects all over the world. His first assignment was to work with Mongolia to help develop a website to promote tourism there, and his second project was in Romania.
In the 13 years since, Solimar has completed 200 projects in 60 countries and managed more than $30 million in funds. Currently the company has 10 projects in progress, including a partnership with the Smithsonian and USAID in Armenia and a project in the U.S. to develop sites in impoverished areas along the Lewis and Clark Trail.
To support the Armenia project, Solimar worked with the Faith Travel Association to offer a product development trip to Armenia in September 2019. Five U.S.-based tour operators toured religious and historical destinations and experienced the food, people, and culture of this beautiful country first-hand to learn about the travel options available in Armenia for their customers. This product development trip was just one way that Solimar is building the tourism industry in Armenia.
Asked about his most rewarding project to date, Seek identified the country of Georgia. “We worked with Georgia 10 years ago to get them started with a tourism strategy, and at that time they had virtually no tourism infrastructure. Now we are back to help build cultural tourism, and I am amazed by the many new hotels and all the development I see. It’s a real success story, and so rewarding to witness.”
Top photo: Supporting Ataúro Island’s tourism association to develop a destination management and marketing organization.
Photo by Timor Leste