Ethiopian Airlines is doing its part to improve the nation’s tourism figures by getting its transit passengers to spend money in the country rather than at the airport. But there is more Ethiopian can learn from other international experiences, writes David Desta (firstname.lastname@example.org), a Cornell University graduate from the School of Hotel Administration who has been working in Ethiopia for the past several years.
The continuous growth of Ethiopian Airlines is a testament to the organisation’s ambitious goal to be one of the world’s leading airlines. In the last fiscal year, it was able to add 14 aircraft, eight international destinations, and carry 21pc more passengers – figures any airliner would be proud of.
By focusing on the improvement of its fleet, addition of new destinations, and establishment of Addis Abeba as a transit hub, Ethiopian has been able to carry more passengers than ever before. These figures suggest that the company is doing wonders to promote Ethiopia.
But how many of its 10.6 million passengers actually visit Ethiopia?
At least two thirds of Ethiopian’s passengers travel through Bole International Airport, according to senior personnel of the airline. This is almost seven million people.
But when the Ministry of Culture & Tourism reports that only less than a million people have entered the country, it raises questions about what the other several million are doing at the airport?
To be fair, the airline has taken actionable measures to help increase the number of transit and stopover passengers entering the country through its in-house tour operator, Ethiopian Holidays. This specialised wing of Ethiopian is responsible for curating and developing packages for passengers throughout the airline’s network.
But what constitutes layovers or stopovers?
In its simplest form, a layover refers to a connection point between flights. This can include a stop from 30 minutes up to 24 hours. On the other hand, a stopover refers to a stay that lasts longer than 24 hours in any given city and can last for several days.
A good example would be a passenger travelling on an Ethiopian Airlines flight from London to Johannesburg with transit in Addis Abeba before moving on to Johannesburg. If that person stays in the airport for the entirety of the transit, this would be a layover. If one instead decides to leave the airport and spend a day exploring Addis Abeba, this would be considered as a stopover.
In June, the Addis Ababa Transit Tour Program was introduced for passengers to explore some of the city’s attractions. However, these deals are limited to a cultural dinner, spa retreat, tour of the National Museum and enjoying an Ethiopian coffee ceremony.
A wide range of stopover deals were then introduced expanding the options available to travelers. These included itineraries to Jimma, Wonchi, Debre Libanos, Lalibela, Arba Minch, and Addis Abeba that lasted up to three days. Each package, depending on its destination, included accommodations, meals, entrance fees according to tour programs, airport transfers and an English-speaking guide.
These deals are ideal for travellers who want a complete itinerary organised for them, but they ignore the individuals that would like to have a laissez-faire approach. Some travellers would prefer to roam the city on their own accord and experience the true cultural identity of its inhabitants, instead of being guided around the whole day.
They might also want to choose a hotel of their own preference rather than be assigned to one. The lack of freedom and spontaneity might put some people off. This is one weakness that might prevent people from buying these deals.
The idea of creating a stopover destination is not new. Many countries have used their flag carriers and major cities as the base for attracting stopover travellers. This can be seen with Icelandair, Singapore Airlines, TAP Air Portugal, Emirates Airlines and Finnair.
But what differentiates successful and unsuccessful programs is the ability to create authentic and real experiences that cater to every type of traveller.
Icelandair stopover deals have been running since the 1960s for travelers crossing the Atlantic Ocean at no additional airfare cost. Today, any transatlantic passenger on Icelandair can book a stopover online and request a “stopover buddy” – a local personal guide for up to a day – for free.
All one has to do is choose a theme of one’s choice and pay one’s own expenses. Themes include quirky gimmicks from a “food buddy”, “culture buddy”, “CEO buddy”, and “adventure buddy” all based on one’s interests.
TAP Air Portugal stopover lasts from one to five days for no additional airfare as well. Their deal allows travellers to roam free in Lisbon or Porto. What makes their program interesting is that they have over 150 partners that offer exclusive offers and discounts for travelers on restaurants, hotels, museums and other activities.
They also created a free mobile application with up-to-date activities and deals so travelers can choose what they want. To highlight the success of the program, TAP’s stopover was able to attract 70,000 stopover travellers in its first year.
The “buddy” concept of Icelandair and the convenient booking platform and mobile application of TAP Air Portugal have allowed travellers to get a taste of a local destination without the need of an official tour guide to usher them around town.
Ethiopian Airlines’ stopover deals are still in their infancy, but with more data and customer feedback, the program should be able to refine their deals. In addition, it might be better to allow travelers to have more options when it comes to selecting hotel accommodations. There is a lot more to see in Addis Abeba than the dull, and unexciting Bole International Airport.
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