Dr. Mulugeta Feseha is a researcher, an author of many books and Community Services Director at Addis Ababa University. He has over 14 years of research experience in the tourism industry and he has written five books on tourism development. His first book entitled as 'Participatory Tourism, the Future of Ethiopia: A case study from Adwa’ was published in 2010. Though unpublished, he and his colleagues wrote a second book on 'Community Based Tourism Development: From Debre-Tabor to Mekdela.' His third book was about the fundamentals of community based eco-tourism development in Ethiopia. And then, he published other two books one in Tigrigna another in Amharic languages. The essence of these books mainly concentrates on how to map tourism resources and create national and regional tourism database center; while keeping their authenticity how to transform tourism resources into customer friendly tourism products; and how to implement tourism that is environmentally friendly and which benefits the community. The books also included ways of creating job opportunities for the youth and women in the tourism sector. Recently, Dr. Mulugeta has conducted an exclusive interview with The Ethiopian Herald on the opportunities and challenges of tourism development in Ethiopia. The excerpt:
Could you first brief our reader about the various opportunities of the Tourism industry in Ethiopia?
One of the opportunities in Ethiopian tourism is the availibility of the diverse tourism attractions. For example, its national parks, biodiversity, landscapes and wonderful water resources. All are still untapped. The country has both historical and archaeological heritages that go back to three thousand years. It is known that most of the discovered human ancestor fossils and the oldest stone tools are discovered in Ethiopia. Ethiopia also has a unique and modest weather. These attractions could grab a large number of visitors to the country.
Above all, Ethiopia has more than 80 nations, nationalities and peoples with lots of cultures, different costumes, food and drink. They have also unique hair styles which could astonish foreigners. Besides, Ethiopia is one of the countries where, natural and cultural interactions are exhibited vividly. So, unlike other African countries, Ethiopia has undisturbed cultural attractions as old as 3000 years and diverse natural attractions together. The country has indigenous historical, archaeological and cultural heritages for many successive years as it wasn’t colonized. The availability of these and other wonderful tangible and intangible heritages are opportunities for Ethiopia.
Despite its multiple tourist attractions; the country did not utilize it fully and efficiently that could also be another great opportunity for the development of the tourism sector.
Nowadays, the government has a serious commitment to develop the tourism sector. Besides, the private sector has been expanding and playing its part in developing the sector. One of the significant facilitating factor is the development of infrastructure both in the urban and rural areas that every Woreda in the country is interconnected. The Ethiopian Airlines has also been offering regular flights in all tourism hot spots in the nation. The country has lots natural, historical and archaeological heritages all distributed all over in the country.
Another great opportunity in the tourism industry is the strong demand for job by the youths, women and many members of the society. The expansion of the industry offers a wide range of job opportunities for thousands of citizens and enable them switch from farming to tourism and diversify their livelihoods.
Then, how do you express the development of tourism in Ethiopia at this time in point?
There is strong interest and commitment from the government's side. However, there is lack of informed society or well trained manpower that can spearhead the development of tourism at the required level. Besides, there is capacity limitation to implement the policies and strategies crafted for the development of tourism industry and there lacks tourism destinations’ map and manual to make destinations easily visited.
There are two important things in utilizing the untapped tourism resources for development in Ethiopia. Firstly, there must be a travel manual and a destination map which describes what is located where and narrates why that attraction attracts tourists; and the other one is empowering the society so that they could fully engage in tourism development and become beneficiaries from tourism. If the government of Ethiopia decides to develop tourism, the first thing to be done should be to know the tourism resource base and empower the community concurrently. While carrying out community empowerment, the positive and negative effects of tourism development on culture should be reviewed. Are the existing cultures be easily eroded or attacked by the development or further flourished? This should be studied and answered.
The willingness of the society in sharing their cultural experience for tourists is also the other issue to be considered. We have to asses if we have the actual platforms at Regional, Woreda and destination level. To this effect, all stakeholders should discuss and agree on the opportunities and challenges. Economically, even though we have the resources and people can engage to diversify their source of income, there is still gap in entrepreneur skills. People are not well aware about the services and activities of tourism.
Equally important, tourism is not smokeless industry as it is always said. Tourism enhances environmental degradation, promotes noise, air and water pollution. Hence, when developing tourism awareness should be given to community on how to manage wastes; reduce air, water and air pollution.
Tourism development has to consider the existing cultural, social, economic, technological and environmental contexts. This need to be followed by identifying the bottlenecks that hinder the community from involving in the tourism development; and the next step is to design capacity building strategy to train, educate and mobilize the society so that it will be part of the tourism development process.
The ABCs of tourism development targets how to change the resources into products. This process includes having a strategic plan which narrates how to develop tourism and how to empower communities by the tourism sites. The strategic plan should also deal with the management plan that should exist at the destination so that the tourism development could be competitive, standardized and well managed. In addition to that the ways of promoting and marketing the sites should be well considered.
What do you think is the government’s assignment in developing the tourism industry?
There is a big challenge. I have been doing research for the last fourteen years. We initiated and attracted government officials, higher learning institutions and other pertinent bodies to utilize the research findings. However, except to organize a platform, there are no initiation and deployment of research outputs into development.
Hence, the first assignment is to utilize what is already studied in connection to the sector. However, we know that researchers think that they have done wonderful jobs; when it comes to implementations and to the stakeholders end, it dissolves. Interactive work is very important here. What has been done by the researchers should be presented to stakeholders, amended and implemented by the government. When I say the government, I am referring to the sector which is assigned to the development of tourism and culture that is the Ministry of Culture and Tourism. There has to be a mobilization at all levels from the parliament up to the lowest group: people of tourist destination sites. Issues like where are we in terms of tourism development, what needs to be done, where do we aspire to reach and what should be the way to reach there should be studied at the government level.
It is also paramount important to support research outputs. So far, we were working and publishing books from the little fund we obtained from the university which is very insufficient to do extensive research. And many of the time, we write books and we fail to publish them. Obviously, publishing books is a personal job but publishing development oriented books is a national job that needs support. But none of the books we published were supported by the government except the very last one. We had to beg foreign embassies for publication. So, the other assignment should be to think how to utilize research out puts.
The initiative for the development of tourism pilot sites in selected mega historical sites of Adwa and Mekdela should also be the other assignment that I recommend for the government officials to pursue the initiatives. And finally, establishing a platform where researchers and stakeholders would interact through the initiative of the government could be the priority.
What do you think is the role of researchers in transforming the sector?
Researchers have their own mandate. There is a territory where they could work versus not. Researchers take initiatives to carryout researches and probably they create platforms and invite the end users. But that cannot be implemented unless a particular sector takes the responsibility. Our experiences witnessed that in every initiative that we took, senior officials usually gave words but did not bring about significant changes at the desired level. Even the media usually talk about what has happened but nothing came out about the implementation and the follow up, which indicates the fact that any initiative carried out by the researcher will not go anywhere that there has to be a responsible organ to carry that out.
Do you intend to forward any recommendation for the government or any other concerned body?
Most of the time, it has been said that universities are islands where research outputs are shelved. No opinion in the reverse way. Many of the government offices are shielded, shielded probably as strong as diamond and not easy to penetrate. When someone goes and visits the sector offices, what they said in the media is not similar to what they do for their research partners. There is a wide actual divergence.
You don’t see such an interest. I think the accountability should be serious on those who did not discharge their duties accordingly. They should have to go to research institutions through their research and development offices. Otherwise, the sector offices stay locked in their offices and the researches left behind in the universities. I know also offices like the Ministry of Water, Irrigation and Electricity with functional research and development section. This section has its own tentacles to access university professors and discuss about new research findings. That should be the way to go. I do recommend the same to the Ministry of Culture and Tourism.
Before we conclude our stay, let me give you the chance if there is something you wish to add on this issue?
What I should add here is while Ethiopia has lots of tourism attractions yet untapped, there is high possibility to utilize these sites. When we talk about tourism there are people afraid of cultural degradation and alteration. But if we really think about the developed countries, for instance Germany, France or the US, there is no cultural alteration at all. The only reason for this is simply it is not they are magic people but because they have empowered their people.
If people are empowered, they know what is right and wrong and there would no fear of cultural alteration. It is possible to protect cultural erosion as empowered people could develop a sense of ownership.
There are also other people that wrongly think as tourism has great dependency syndrome. Those highly engaged in the tourism sector are passive and if the sector downturns, these people will face crisis.
But that is not true. When people in the sector are certified, it is possible to make mandatory criteria that they will have a second job than only clinking on tourism business. There is always mechanism to protect potential fears.
Another challenge is that there is perception emphasizing on the difficulty of training the farmers residing around the tourism sites. But this is totally untrue. When we go to the rural places to teach people about tourism, the farmers are very practical and they understand it easily. So, what has to be done is teaching them interactively via their local languages so as to easily engage them in the tourism sector. Therefore, there should be consolidated efforts towards utilizing untapped tourism resources and developing the sector.
BY HAFTU GEBREZGABIHER