Today’s guest is Dr. Ayalew Sisay. He is a Tourism Professional and a high scholar in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. He had played a great role in taking the Ethiopian Tourism Industry to a new chapter of accomplishment. He was a Senior Expert in the Ethiopian Tourism Industry for several years apart from working as a commissioner at Addis Ababa Tourism Commission. Furthermore, he is Manager of various private Tour Operators. He also works as Tourism consultant. He wrote about six books revolving around Culture and Tourism to this point. Furthermore, he had produced about twenty articles in a range of magazines and newspapers on the subject of Ethiopian culture, heritages and what not. At the present time, Dr. Ayalew offers a range of courses at various private colleges and government universities.
The Ethiopian Herald had a short stay with Dr. Ayalew Sisay with a view to familiarizing his professional life with readers. He had touched upon a number of issues concerning chapter and verse of the Ethiopian Tourism. Excerpts:
What is your take on Ethiopian Tourism?
When we compare the status of Ethiopian Tourism past and present, various changes have been manifested in the left, right and center of the country considering the determination of the Ethiopian government which has been aspiring to take Ethiopian Tourism to the pinnacle of growth.
At some stage in the Derg regime, Ethiopia was once a synonym to drought. There were no western tourists’ inflows to Ethiopia at that point in time. A case in point, the number of tourists who came to Ethiopia in 1973 was about 74,000. To the surprise of many, in the middle of the Derg time, the number of tourists’ inflow went down to 27,000. To be honest, the number of American tourists who had visited Ethiopia in 1973 was only 20,000. After that, tourists’ inflow had made a nose dive by three or four folds. Tourism got one of its legs in the grave.
What hindered the growth of tourism at that point?
At some stage in the Derg regime, the whole thing was centralized. Even worse, private sectors did not get themselves engaged in the Tourism Sector. All hotels were centralized by National Hotels Corporation in six chains such as Wabi Shebele Hotel, Ras Hotel, Ghion Hotel, Ethiopia Hotel, Filwuha Hotel. The sector was highly centralized. Tourists were not allowed to stay in private hotels except in government ones at that point in time. Furthermore, foreigners were not allowed to go out of Addis Ababa without a permission letter. These realities on the ground had hindered the Growth of Tourism for years.
What measures were taken to get to the bottom of the problem?
When the Derg government was at a loss what to do, it came up with a catch phrase called “Know your country!” with the intention of promoting tours. In the same way, Ethiopians jumpstarted paying homage to tourist spots from towns to an assortment of sites across the country. I would say, it was the time that domestic tourism made a u turn. What is more, Ethiopians jumpstarted visiting the wide-range of tourist attractions of the country via schools, different organizations and the rest. Sadly, the influx of foreign tourists was completely dead at that point. After that, the government changed the communist system to a mixed economy apart from proclaiming that Ethiopia was open for everybody. For this reason, tourists nonstop restarted flowing to Ethiopia. Private investors were as well allowed to open hotels. Slowly but surely, tourism started growing.
What was the next move?
When the incumbent came to power, the tourism sector kept on reviving. The government kept on engaging itself in the entire economic activities of the country placing focus on the tourism development. Hence, tourism was upgraded from commission to ministerial level. Enterprises were finally transferred to private sectors. Therefore, currently, the owner, the developer and responsible body of tourism development is the private sector. At this point, the government is getting itself involved in facilitation (constructing roads, expanding telephone lines and electricity, water and so forth). Ethiopia is heading in the right direction on the subject of tourism and other development activities of the country.
Many planning steps were taken concerning the entire economic activities and the tourism development of the country. A case in point, tourism was upgraded from commission to ministerial level within the shortest time possible. At the end of the day, enterprises were put up for sale to private sectors. Ethiopia is very rich in terms of resources. The Ethiopian government has been harvesting the fruit of success regarding the tourism sector at this point in time. A lot of activities have been underway on the topic of tourism. Hence, tourists’ inflows have been increasing from time to time as the country is meeting the required facilities every so often. The number of tourists’ inflow is close to one million at the moment. We should be able to attract as a minimum five million tourists.
How do you see Ethiopia's Tourism Resources?
There is no equivalent to Ethiopia in terms of tourism resources. Manmade and natural attractions are available in Ethiopia in large quantities. Perhaps if one goes to Egypt one can see man-made attractions like pyramids and other related aspects. But, there are several tourist attractions across the county such as Lalibela, Gondor, Tana, Axum, natural parks, the Blue Nile, Wildlife and what not. But in terms of wildlife, Kenya will overpass Ethiopia by multitude. Endemic animals are concentrated in Ethiopia. In actual fact, thirty-one endemic mammals are found in Ethiopia. Among them, the seven big mammals which are not found anywhere in the worlds are found only in Ethiopia. We have to exploit all these resources, as far as I am concerned.
Can we conclude that Ethiopia is achieving the intended target at this moment?
As a matter of fact, the desired goal is making Ethiopia one of the five tourist receiving countries in Africa. Where is the status of Ethiopia at this moment in time? It is better to pose this question to the concerned body. There are experts who calculate where our exact location is. The number of tourists’ inflow is increasing little by little. This being the case, tourists’ inflow is around one million. Moreover, in terms of dollars, we are getting in billions and billions. As there is a Statistical Directorate in the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, they know exactly how much money Ethiopia earns from the Tourism Sector. But in terms of number we are approaching one million. To the best of my knowledge, I would say, the number is small.
We have to work day and night with a view to achieving the desired goal after a short time. We should be able to give our all. We do not have to leave the work for the Ministry of Agriculture or else for the Bureau of Regional Tourism. Everyone should work hand in glove.
What is your take on the tourism infrastructure of the country?
I would say, the tourism infrastructure is in a better position at this point in time. Ethiopia's tourism infrastructure was behind the time in the past. The status of the infrastructure was difficult. It was not comfortable. It took long hours to go to any tourist destinations of the country at that point. Nowadays, all the roads found across the country are asphalted. They are all attention-grabbing. In terms of transport, the whole thing is properly met. In the past, starting from half June to half October, there was no journey to Lalibela considering the weather condition. But today one can fly on a daily basis to any parts of the country.
Above and beyond, all tourist destinations of the county are facilitated by airport roads. There are facilities all over the place. Many hotels are concentrated in and out of Addis Ababa. But we still need more hotels in the various tourist destinations of the country. Previously, we had finger-counted hotels in the capital but at the present time, we have got various eye-catching hotels in every nook and cranny of the county. The country is as well bedecked with a range of infrastructure. The whole lot in every part of the country is being modernized. To cut a long story short, I cannot say the infrastructure is one of the best but it is better.
What should be done to take the Tourism Industry to a new chapter of success?
One of the important things is peace. In the absence of peace, it will be easier said than done to achieve the desired goal in a little while. If there is no peace in any part of the world, tourists will not be interested to visit that area. It is crystal clear that a State of Emergency (SoE) is declared in Ethiopia. But when Tourists hear about the SoE, they may shy away as they may not have an idea about the resilience of the country's tranquility. Hence, we should actively engage ourselves in promotion. We should be able to depict the clear picture of the country. We should be strong enough in promotion. Let me cite Israel as an example. Israel has been fighting with Palestinians almost nonstop. But still, Israel is visited by millions and millions of tourists. Israelites are vigilant. They inform tourists that nobody would touch them. No tourist is killed in Israel. Therefore Ethiopia must put into practice the same strategy as there is no one who would touch tourists in Ethiopia.
As a final point, is there anything you would like to say?
Everybody should take care of his/her resources as they are the starting point of our tourism development. Ethiopia is one of the top countries in Africa who got registered about 28/29 World Heritages in UNESCO. These heritages must be well taken care of by the general public. As much as we can, we should be able to take care of our resources so that we can take our tourism to a new level of success down the road. If resources are well take care of, they will serve us tomorrow.
BY ADDISALEM MULAT