Of all the souvenir shops on Nigeria Street, near the General Post Office, there was only one shop that offered a fair price to Azza Babikr, 50, a Sudanese tourist visiting Addis Abeba with her two daughters. Or so she felt. The three were looking for cultural jewellery but the prices of the cultural items were higher than expected and too high for their pockets.
Abagiya Derbew, 25, was standing idly with no customers, when Fortune entered her shop. She thinks that the cultural items are not being promoted even though their quality is improving. Most of the tourists that visit her shop purchase only small items such as jewellery and scarves that cost less. The reason for the higher prices is scarcity of the raw materials needed for creating the cultural items, she reasoned.
For Azza, the expense was not something to easily dismiss.
“The price of the cultural items is not like what I had expected when I came here. They are expensive for a tourist like me,” she complained.
Staying for three days in the capital, Azza was happy with the hotel and most other tourist services available in the city, she said. But her daily expenditure everywhere was a little too much, forcing her to cut her stay short.
But there is more to Ethiopia than its city. The country has a variety of tourist attractions, including historical, geological and cultural resources. These include 25 high-elevation mountains and active volcanoes that appeal to adventure tourists. There are more than 80 ethnic groups and the southern cultural routes, particularly south Omo, are among the most famous. Visitors also enjoy the northern historic route.
The tourist flow has been growing over the years. Current visitor arrivals are estimated at 780,000 per year, up from 523,438 and 596,341 in 2011 and 2012, according to statistics obtained from the Ministry of Culture & Tourism (MoCT). But this increase is not accompanied by longer tourist stays in the country.
Hotels are among the basic infrastructure that benefit from tourism opportunities. The number of hotels in the country was 552 in 2011 with 19,025 rooms, 24,083 beds and 31,460 employees, increasing from 2010 when there were 493 hotels. Now, there are over 595 hotels, with 19,998 rooms, 24,978 beds, and 33,180 employees. In Addis Abeba the number of hotels has reached 128 with 5,987 rooms, 7,778 beds and 10,597 employees.
Despite this growth, the major problem experienced with hotels services, rests in the absence of a well-trained labour force capable of rendering high quality hotel management as well as customer service, Tadele Jemal, senior expert of Public & International Relations at the Ministry of Culture & Tourism said. The Ministry is working to get many universities to provide tourism related training, he added. Currently such courses are offered at Gonder, Hawassa and Mekelle universities.
The Ministry has also started giving star ratings to hotels to introduce international standards. This initiative is being taken in co-operation with the World Tourism Organisation (WTO), ensuring that hotels are awarded stars based on the quality of their infrastructure and services, with criteria based on international standards.
“We also support the hotels starting from construction to importation of equipment necessary for their services by allowing them to import goods duty free,” Getenet Yegezaw, vice director of public relations at the Ministry of Culture & Tourism stated.
However, Seleshi Debebe, general manager of Harmony Hotel, a four star hotel located at Bole Medhanialem thinks that the institutional support given by the Ministry is so far very little.
“Especially in relation to conference tourism, the country cannot search out international conferences because of lack of connection with international event organisers,” Seleshi opined.
Various international event organisers look for hotel services and security for their events, but they do not have much information about facilities in Ethiopia, he added.
“A hotel show should be conducted at least once a year to attract international event organisers,” he continued.
Conference tourists account for only a small percentage of the total flow, with only 57,578 recorded for 2012 – 9.66pc of the total, according to the statistics of MoCT.
“Even though the country has comparatively good advantage because of the relative peace compared to neighbouring countries, and expansion of hotels both in number as well as standard, a lot has to be done on the promotion of the available opportunities through trade exhibitions,” said Tekelu Abate sales and marketing manager of Elilly International Hotel. “If the country is to gain the full benefit from tourism, there has to be adequate infrastructure and basic conveniences of water and power supply, as well as telecom network, which should be provided without interruption.”
Other stakeholders in tourism include tour operators and travel agents who should also provide high quality services to increase the tourists’ length of stay. There are 310 tour operators with a work force of 2,500.
“The big challenge for tour operators is taxation. During taxation the authorities asked for VAT receipt but most of the tourist attractions in places such as Afar and Southern Nations Nationalities Regional states are not covered with the VAT system,” explained Samrawit Moges, managing director of Travel Ethiopia a tour operator.
She said that the law is not clear about the duty free importation of three four-wheel drive vehicles. The first cars that had been imported duty free are getting old, and it is becoming impossible to import new ones. She also complained that poor hotel infrastructure outside Addis Abeba is forcing tourists to shorten their stay in the country.
Despite the selection of the country as a best tourist destination, Ethiopia is still not well-promoted. Other countries including Kenya and Tanzania have multiple tourist offices in different countries. But Ethiopia does not even have one tourist office abroad that promotes tourism opportunities, which is a big gap in promotion, stated Samrawit. She recommends that the government consult with the private sector in framing policies and laws related to tourism, because it is the private sector that faces the actual challenges.
In order to increase the benefits the country derives from tourism, the government adopted a tourism development policy in 2009 to give direction to the scattered efforts of the sector. Before this, the country had no a clear policy framework that determine the institutional structure and relationship between the responsible organs. The policy is based on several pillars mainly: benefitting the society from the sector sustainably, preserving natural and cultural tourism resources in the country and driving the sector on a clearly-defined and institutionlised system.
But there is a challenge to implement the policy, Getnet said, adding that it is in partnership with other developmental partners such as the World Bank and European Union that the activities of improving the infrastructure and preserving the tourist attractions are being undertaken. The World Bank supported Ethiopian Sustainable Development projects in Lalibela, Axum and Tiya tourist attraction sites. The Ministry is also preparing a Master Plan for Sustainable Tourism with IGAD member states of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), according to Getnet, who adds that GTP II is framed in line with the Master Plan.
In addition to that, in March 2014, the government had established a Tourism Transformation Council, led by Prime Minster, Hailemariam Desalegn. Council members comprise regional state presidents and representatives of tourist service associations. Government also established the Ethiopian Tourism Organisation (ETO) which is directly accountable to the MoCT. ETO functions as a promoter, developer of the tourism opportunities as well as performing marketing tasks. The Council is currently drafting a plan to identify the potential tourist destination areas and promoting them, Yakob Melaku, the Ethiopian Tour Operation Association board member of the council said.
Among the services given by the ETO, is provision of tourist information. The Tourist Information Office receives tourists and gives information about areas known for tourism resources. The service is based on the preference of the tourists but it also guides those who come without pre-determining their destination site visits. The institution updates all of the existing conditions in the tourist attraction places. Because some of the attractions may have inadequate infrastructure or challenges of access, there may be conflict. As one expert explained, ETO also repairs tourist attraction sites such as the Lalibela Monasteries where, in an effort to preserve the site, people residing in the monasteries were relocated and given compensation.
With all these challenges in the tourism sector; currently, the the tourism sector is contributing a 4.8pc share to the total GDP of the country. Its GDP contribution has increased from 4.2 pc in 2013.
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