If You Print It They Will Come

Here is a blog post I recently wrote for our Natural Resources Conservation Program Blog to explain to other volunteers how to create a map of their community for tourism purposes.

Okay, so a throng of excited tourists is not going to show up in your town just because you printed a tourism map but it can’t hurt! We recently went through the process of planning, designing, funding, and printing a tourism map of Palmar, Ecuador (see above) and we thought we would share how we accomplished this.

The folks at Fundación Neo Juventud and the Palmar Tourism Commmittee approached us at the Centro de Arte y Diseño. They wanted to collaborate on a project that would help the local community-based tourism effort as well as provide marketable skills and productive activities to the Foundation’s youth.

Hence, the idea for the map (and the website: Palmar-Ecuador.com) was born. Paul and I chose 8 promising students from the youth foundation and who were already participating in the art center classes to be interns that would learn how to create a website and map and then would teach their peers similar design projects in the future. In the end, 5 stuck with it (we expected as much) and through a generous grant from Starbucks and the International Youth Foundation, we were able to pay them stipends during their training as well as when they completed the final projects.

Step 1: Speaking with Stakeholders

We were lucky in that the president of Fundación Neo Juventud is also the head of the Tourism Committee so it was relatively easy to coordinate between those two groups. We met with people from the Comuna as well as other members of the Tourism Committee and dueños of local businesses to see if there really was interest in the map. Although we had some funds from the grant to print the map and host the website, we solicited sponsorship from local businesses who would receive an ad in the map (see above), printed copies, and dedicated space on Palmar-Ecuador.com with photos and details about their business. We felt it was important to get buy-in, especially if more maps need to be printed in the future.

Businesses pitched in from $10 – $40 and printing 1,000 copies of the A4 map tri-fold cost $140 at a printer in Quito while site hosting from AwardSpace.com costs from free – $36 per year depending on the speed you choose. That’s right – there is a free option but it is slow. The domain name costs from $10 – $14 per year from GoDaddy.com. We were thrilled that businesses were more than happy to pay for this new service and walking around with the interns and other stakeholders to secure the sponsorship and take photos of businesses built excitement about the final product.

Step 2: Mapping the Community

This is easier said than done, especially in communities that don’t show up on Google Maps and that don’t have any street signs, like Palmar. The first time we realized that our neighbors had no idea what a map of their own town looked like was when we did a palm tree reforestation project. I created a very simple map of the main areas where we would be planting the palm trees and showed it to those involved. They couldn’t locate their houses on the map because they had never seen a map of the town. It was an eye-opening experience.

So, we turned to the internet to see if there were any tools out there to help us in our predicament. We found: OpenStreetMap.org where you can search for satellite images of your local area and then use the site’s tools to draw in roads and paths as well as indicate parks and other landmarks.

We started with the OpenStreetMap.org file (save as a PDF if you want to be able to edit in a program like Adobe Illustrator) and then we walked around the town with the interns to confirm which were the most important streets, paths, and landmarks to include on the map. Since we were also interested in creating a digital map for the website, we found the site: MapBox.com.

Go to: MapBox.com, search your location and you will find that the work you did adding streets in OpenStreetMap.org (after it updates) will automatically show up. You can make an interactive version of your map to put on websites and you can make it prettier with their design tools. A flat version of our interactive map is shown above.

Step 3: Designing the Printed Map

We used Adobe Illustrator to draw the map including the landmarks and participating businesses we wanted to showcase. We oriented the map a little differently than the online, interactive version. You will have to decide what works for you. The interns used source images of important landmarks and then drew on top of them with Illustrator’s various drawing tools. We applied the watercolor effect after everything was drawn.

This may seem very complicated and I assume that not everyone has access to Adobe Creative Suite, so I’m including an amazing resource that does basically the same thing (for the streets but not for the landmarks) called Stamen. The Stamen Map Site is free to use and integrates with OpenStreetMap.org and Google Maps. Search your location and the site will automatically make your map look like a watercolor map (wish I had found this before we did all the work by hand!). They also have a “terrain” and a “toner” version that applies different stylish filters to the map kind of like Instagram (see above).

If you want to draw but don’t have any design programs at your disposal. Check out this article of 10 Free, Open Source Alternatives to Photoshop. We found the easiest way to teach how to digitally draw was to have students use photographs and draw the basic shapes of the buildings on top of the images in the design program. Then, delete the source image and you have a pretty good digital drawing of the building. Play around with brushes, thickness of lines, and transparency of color to make it look like it’s watercolor.

Step 4: Finishing Up

After printing the 1,000 maps and finishing Palmar-Ecuador.com, we ended up having a bit of extra money left over in the grant. So, we consulted with our partners and together we decided to print a large banner of the map with the key. This printed banner is on durable, anti-fade, water resistant material and cost about $40 at a local printer to make. Ask the printer first how they would like the file – we sent it as an Adobe Illustrator file but you can also use JPEG and PDF. The bigger the image, the better the quality for printing.

The official “inauguration” of Palmar-Ecuador.com and the printed tourism map is scheduled for later this month with the interns presenting their final projects to the Comuna, Neo Juventud, and the Tourism Committee. We couldn’t be prouder of how the project turned out and we hope that some of these resources help you to create your very own tourism map.