Yared Teka is a tour operator diligently working even on holidays and weekends. He understands that Meskel is one of the celebrations that attract tourists from all over the world. He said his company had shuttled hundreds of tourists to Gonder and Addis Ababa for the celebration this year. He imagines this year’s celebration has marked the revival of Ethiopian tourism industry after the year long state of emergency was lifted on August 2017.
He is telling tourists that Meskel celebration is one of the major tourist attractions of Ethiopia registered by UNESCO. Recently, millions of followers of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church had celebrated it on September 26, 2017. Meskel festivities mark the end of the three-month long rainy season and the return of summer to Ethiopia; no rain is expected to occur after that.
He witnessed that tourists who had once taken part in the celebrations often find it riveting that urge to come again and again; the sheer ecstasy and surprise that the festival offers. Many indeed return repeatedly, some for numerous times. They fall in love with this festival which offers unique chants and different dramatic scenes. It has been drawing thousands of visitors from all over the world and is observed with calmness and serenity without any worries over security.
Yared said business is reviving slowly. Last year had been challenging and he was paying salary of employees and office rent despite significant drop in the amount of income and business taking a tumble. The number of visitors had plunged to record low last year and it had affected the tourism business negatively.
Currently, the tourism industry is booming in Ethiopia. His company has started to fully cover its loss and profitably run its business. This in turn has enabled to warm up activities and motivate employees. He said business is good as usual and he is busy answering lots of phone calls from around the world. Numerous foreigners interested to visit Ethiopia are calling him and he is busy giving information.
Yared said his company is transporting tourists to their preferred sites and helping them enjoy their visit. According to him, his company has made readily available everything needed to facilitate smooth run of tour operation activities including deploying knowledgeable tour guides, promoters, stand by drivers and supplying camping facilities.
He said the business atmosphere is smoothely getting back to normal. Currently, he can understand (from burgeoning calls and voluminous bookings for hotels) that business is thriving again. He also understands the fact that tourism business is reviving in northern Ethiopia. Currently, tour operations to Lalibela, Fasil, Ras Dashen and Aksum are booming through time. Iindustry players are predicting that there will be good start with the onset of the October- January high season, giving better hope to the fledgling Ethiopian tourism sector.
Following the revival, he said, several customers from many European countries (with whom his company had a business link) have started to call and resume business. Currently, many visitors from Germany, France, Italy, UK and Israel have made hotel reservations for the coming October, November and January (including Bahir Dar, Gondar, Debark, Axum, Hawzen, Mekele and Lalibela towns).
Yared believes, his company will work busily to satisfy the demand of tourists in the coming months. Hence, preparation is well underway more than ever including recruiting capable human power needed to provide excellent services and stockpiling essential items.
Despite this very fact, he said, many foreigners have informed him that tourism business in Ethiopia is not sufficiently supported by IT and Internet services. They complained that they could not find list of places and available prices when they surf the internet from where they are; they could not choose places to be visited and compare affordable prices. They are also complaining of the very fact that hotels do not publish their list of services and prices on websites.
Moreover, he said, some tourists are disgruntled by exorbitant cost of services that do not match their quality, even by African standards. Some tourists told him that the services of hotels and lodges in Ethiopia are at preliminary stage. However, they are forced to shell out every penny for the service that does not mach it. In addition, the price of souvenirs and cultural items is very much costly compared to other countries who work to promote their tourism services at lower prices.
Similarly, following the inflow of tourists, construction of three to five star hotels is booming in Ethiopia. However, the quality of service and the qualification of personnel trained to be employed in the tourism industry is not sufficient enough to satisfy the taste of sybaritic visitors; quality of service and knowledge of personnel do not match the need of visitors that need high-end hotels and lavishing entertainments.
Hence, he is of the opinion that immoral and illegal act of greedy hoteliers, operators and service providers who require exaggerated prices for services they do not provide should be rectified soon for it may hinder inflow of tourists and tarnish the good image of Ethiopia known for its hospitality.
Ethiopia has managed to earn more than 3.4 billion USD from tourism receipts in the fiscal year that ended on last July, a huge leap from last year's revenues that were entangled with many challenges. In this regard, the Ministry of Culture and Tourism earlier stated that the said revenue exceeded the earnings in the previous year by half a billion. Similarly, a decade ago tourism had contributed as meager as one percent to Ethiopia's gross domestic product (GDP). The contribution has now grown to more than four percent; relatively better than the previous years and it is hopeful to burgeon.
Cognizant of the success being registered in the tourism sector, Ethiopia has formulated executable plans to become among the top five tourist destinations in Africa by 2022. To this end, nation has aimed to triple the number of foreign visitors to more than 2.5 million by 2020.
Nation believes that hammering out the aforementioned challenges are essential to further flourish the tourism market. Hence, it is investing in the development of information infrastructure used to guide visitors throughout the country; to help visitors find their way easily (earlier it has been said that preparation of new appliance is well under way, which will enable visitors to get information quickly and easily on their phones).
In line with this, the tourism policy clearly stated that IT-based system would be instituted eyeing at enhancing tourist influx in to Ethiopia and burgeoning tourist revenue. Particularly, the Tourism Satellite Account (TSA) which is currently being implemented internationally would be adopted as quickly as possible; to collect, analyze, and organize timely data and information for the consumption of tourists and individuals engaged in the tourism sector.
Similarly, the revival of the tourism sector is expected to be fully realized when the capabilities of employees deployed in the sector are enhanced through short and medium term trainings; rigorous system of professional certification will also be introduced in order to help employees render quality-oriented service (using high professional caliber).
As part of the solution, the main stakeholders engaged in the industry should act in cooperation which is of strategic importance to ensure synergistic results; and this is possible only when each stakeholder fully understands its responsibilities and discharges its role.
In this regard, the duty for the government to revive the sector includes creating conducive environment, constructing infrastructures and upgrading their status. Particularly, the effort of the government should be involving private investors in the sector and successively building the implementation capacity of development actors at each level. Similarly, investors and other stakeholders should focus on overhauling the sector by constructing facilities used to provide quality services; participating as vanguards in the construction of hotels and other infrastructure used to develop the sector.
Over all, nation understands the very fact that investment in the country’s infrastructure is definitely necessary to be a winning actor in the tourism industry. And it will sedulously work to build more infrastructures and realize robust tourism services across the country.
Yared believes business will continue to burgeon with time. However, revival of tourism at the national level needs the concerted effort of all actors. His company is trying hard to cope with problems and render best services. However, he is interested to see main stakeholders of the sector act in unison. The spirit of cooperation and partnership is of strategic value to ensure synergistic results and this is possible only when each stakeholder works in a team spirit.
BY FEKADU W.