Tourism Endeavours to Stay Afloat

Although there have been improvements, the Ethiopian tourism industry has seen declines in revenues and tourist numbers over the last two or three years Thies follows political unrest and the declaration of a state of emergency by the government. The new administration under Abiy has reshuffled heads of boards and tourism institutions in an effort to revitalize the industry, and efforts are underway to promote tourism in Ethiopia, writes TSION WUDMATAS, FORTUNE STAFF WRITER.

Cheung Man is a native of Hong Kong, a special administrative region of China and a city known for being one of the largest tourist havens in the world, and loves travelling.

He travels to different countries across continents to visit historical, cultural and heritage sites and also attends festivals.

Cheung has visited over 100 countries across five continents, among which are nine African countries with Ethiopia as his tenth, a country he has returned to fifve times.

During his previous visits, Cheung traveled to all the major tourist attraction sites and towns from Gondar, Lalibela and Axum in the north; to Arbaminch in the south; and Harar and Dire Dawa in the east. The wealth of tourist attractions in the country persuded him to make several trips back to Ethiopia.

Aside from the attractions, Cheung states that the hospitality of the people is the major draw for his repeated visits to Ethiopia.

“I even stayed many nights at my driver’s house,” Cheung told Fortune.

Cheung applauds the hospitality in the country, comparing it to his other experiences.

Some people, however, believe that the country and its residents are not giving emphasis to the commercial aspects of the tourism industry.

Lack of budget to develop destinations and implement modernized strategy is the major reason that has caused lags in the tourism industry, according to Gezahegn.

Stella Pasl, a Dubai-based US citizen who works at a non-governmental organisation, is one of those who believe that the country is not fully tapping its tourism industry.

Last month she was visiting the Red Terror Martyrs’ Memorial Museum at Mesqel Square, established in 2010 as a memorial to those killed during the Red Terror of the Derg regime, as part of her research project on genocide and mass killings. It was her first experience visiting Ethiopia.

Apart from the museum, she has been to the monasteries of Adadi Maryam and Lalibela, two of several other ancient churches found scattered across the country.

Relating her experience in Kenya, she asserts that most of the tourist destinations in Ethiopia are not as developed, and the country lags behind in providing modern facilities for tourists at the attraction sites.

“Kenyans have monetised their tourist attraction sites very well,” she told Fortune.

The government has recently begun to focus on the industry with new planned reforms. The administration of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD) has brought new faces to lead these efforts at the city and national levels.

The Prime Minister reorganised the Tourism Board that was dissolved by the former Minister of Culture & Tourism, Hirut Woldemariam (PhD). About four months ago, he assigned Sertse Feresebehat, a 36-year old musician, as deputy CEO of the Ethiopian Tourism Organization, replacing Yechale Mihret (PhD).

Six weeks ago, Lensa Mekonnen was assigned as the CEO of the Organisation, established in 2014, and as a member of the Tourism Transformation Council, entities designed to transform the tourism industry of the country.

With the new reforms, the country plans to attract 1.25 million tourists this fiscal year.

Last month, Addis Abeba Tourism Bureau received Nebiyu Baye, a renowned artist and lecturer at Addis Abeba University, as its new head, replacing Gebretsadik Hagos. Nebiyu moved from Ethiopian National Theater, where he was assigned recently by Prime Minister Abiy.

These new appointments were followed by various drives to attract tourists into the country. Early last month, the Board of the Tourism Organization announced a minimum of 25pc discount packages and other incentives across the board for the Ethiopian diaspora, that started on August 15 and will continue until September 30, 2018.

Ethiopian Airlines, Department for Immigration and Nationality Affairs, Association of Hotels, Ethio telecom and the Ethiopian Tour Operators Association are among the many that offered discounts for Ethiopian New Year diaspora travelers.

Over 118 hotels in the capital city provided an average of 31.8pc discount for accommodations.

These were some of the moves designed to motivate the tourism industry, which had sunk into panic mode during the last two years. Last year many hotels reported an average decline of 21pc in occupancy rates as a result of the State of Emergency issued following unrests and violence in Oromia.

The hotels reported losses amounting to 380 million Br last year, according to Addis Abeba Hotel Owners Association.

Though tourism has seen declining in recent years with lower revenues lower than regional players like Kenya, which saw 1.4 million tourists last year, the industry as a whole is improving in the country.

In 2014 a total of 770,428 tourists visited Ethiopia generating 2.8 billion dollars. The number climbed to 933,000 last year generating 3.5 billion dollars in revenues.

The revenue generated from tourism stands higher than export revenues that stood at 2.8 billion dollars last year. The nation’s export revenue does not fully cover two months of Ethiopia’s import bill, which led to a severe forex crunch in the country.

Gezahegn Abate, corporate communication director at the Ministry of Culture & Tourism, admits that the country is not fully reaping the benefit of the tourism industry.

Lack of budget to develop destinations and implement modernized strategy is the major reason that has caused lags in the tourism industry, according to Gezahegn.

He said that the Ministry is working aggressively to attract more tourists and boost revenues from tourism.

“We are working on different promotional activities on our website,” he said. “We are also advocating for both local and international investors to get involved in destination development, such as building lodges and hotels near different tourist sites throughout the country.”

Partnering with academic centres and searching for funds to develop the industry are additional efforts taken by the Ministry, according to Gezahegn.

The Ministry also engages with some destination development and concervation works. The preservation work was done in collaboration with the local communities to preserve tourist sites, national park cultural heritage, and to participate in road construction activities.

Ayalew Sisay (PhD), a tourism expert and lecturer at multiple universities, also believes that the country is underperforming, considering its ample tourist sites and cultural heritage.

Instability and lack of promotional activities are the major cause for under-performing , according to him.

“Addressing these, the country can perform better and generate revenue that can potentially help the economy and forex reserves,” he said.

With the new reforms, the country plans to attract 1.25 million tourists this fiscal year.




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