Ethiopia’s Minister of Culture and Tourism, Aisha Mohammed Mussa, explains the details behind the extra impetus Ethiopia’s government is adding to its tourism sector development and promotion to reach and indeed surpass the ambitious growth targets it has set for 2020.
Having such a vast past and culture, what would you say makes Ethiopia different from other tourism destinations?
My country is blessed with immense natural, cultural, and historical attractions. To mention some: Ethiopia is the origin of humanity, the origin of coffee, the origin of the Blue Nile. It is also the home of Erta Ale, the second most active volcano, and the beautiful Danakil Depression. Ethiopia is called “the water tower of East Africa.” It has beautiful scenery with a spectacular chain of mountains that are sometimes called “the roof of Africa.” We have four biosphere reserves that are registered by UNESCO. Ethiopia is home to numerous rift valley lakes, hot springs and highland lakes, even around Addis Ababa. We have various national and regional parks, such as the Awash National Park and the Simien Mountains National Park, among nine other national parks and two beautiful sanctuaries. On top of all these, Ethiopia has a dependable peace and stability as an advantage to attract tourists.
It’s also the home of ancient religions, like Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. And it is the home of ancient cities with beautiful ancient mosques and churches with carved stones and monuments, in Axum and Lalibela, among others. We have national archives and a national library with different rare manuscripts. And we have our own unique calendar and alphabet. The country has never been colonized; it’s considered as a symbol of independence in Africa and we are very proud of that. We boast more than 80 nations and nationalities and peoples, with their own distinct culture and amazing traditions.
The country’s aim is to triple the number of foreign visitors and increase it by more than 2.02 million by 2020. If we develop our sites fast enough and promote them accordingly, it might even get quadrupled. We are very ambitious in our vision.
Could you please discuss the prominence Africa is gaining on the international arena?
Africa’s role in terms of investment opportunities is growing for both advanced and emerging economies. This is mainly because of the fact that the continent has huge potential, having immense and untapped natural resources, availability of an adequate young and competitive labor force, relatively sustainable economic growth, and a comparative advantage of peace and security – even though we have some spot areas of conflict that may sometimes hamper the continent’s image. These, among others, are some of the main factors that make Africa attractive and prominent on the international arena.
Among other key priorities for the continent are power and critical infrastructure. Could you please discuss Ethiopia’s work in this regard and the impact of power and infrastructure development in tourism?
True, infrastructure development is one of our top priorities. Our tourist destinations used to be inaccessible as there was no adequate road and air infrastructure, and not enough power infrastructure and other facilities around those sites. However, at this time, the government is investing a lot into these areas. There is construction of domestic and international airports, extensive road and rail infrastructure, and huge electricity infrastructure from hydropower, wind, geothermal and other power sources, etc.
Consequently, at present our tourists are accessing those destinations more easily and investors are keen to invest in building lodges, hotels and restaurants around those destinations.
Also, power infrastructure is our top priority so as to support this growing economy and we are doing well in this regard.
The next priority is education. It is very important to develop our destinations and infrastructure, but what we also need are educated human resources who can work efficiently in the hospitality sector. We should develop our talent and training alongside the development of infrastructure.
Africa is the youngest continent in the world: by 2040, the continent is projected to boast the largest labor force in the world – 1 billion workers strong: more than China and India combined. What are the challenges and how can Africa address them?
First of all, as a continent with a big young workforce, I think there might be some challenges because of a lack of democratization, good governance and political stability in some cases. Thus, we have to ensure good governance and democracy in our countries in order to effectively use this young workforce.
On top of this, we have to ensure tolerance among the diverse communities in our countries, like we are perfectly practicing in Ethiopia, as well as reduce the scale of poverty. By achieving this, our workforce will definitely be one of our main competitive advantages.
We also have to minimize the rate of corruption. We can do that by ensuring rule of law, accountability and integrity among stakeholders. All these factors contribute to our growing economy.
Regarding the tourism sector, we have to provide market-oriented training for young people who want to work in hospitality, invest in the expansion of our employment and proper professional training, encourage the entrepreneurship spirit in these young people, including women, and target those who are vulnerable to poverty and drought. This sector should work seriously in order to use that potential workforce to benefit our economy and foster its development and growth.
Ethiopia is one of the fastest growing economies in the world. What is the role of the tourism sector in Ethiopia’s economic growth, job creation and as a forex earner?
First of all, let me give you some facts behind this achievement. Of course, the tourism sector provided us with relatively large revenues. It was $2.9 billion just last year. It created more than 700,000 jobs in the same year. One of the reasons behind these achievements is that the government has a strong commitment to end poverty. The government is committed to eradicating the poverty we are facing because of drought, famine and climate change, among other factors. Ethiopia used to be known for famine but over the past 15 years the country has been fighting really hard against drought. Of course drought will remain a challenge but it should not necessarily turn into famine.
The other factor behind the achievements are the government’s policies. There are clear and appropriate government policies and strategies for each and every sector that is leading us to the eradication of poverty. There is also a win-win collaboration with our development partners. The government strives for mutual cooperation and win-win collaboration with partners in every sector. This is why they are completely engaged in what we are doing side by side with our government.
Another factor is the stable political arena we have had over the past 24 years. This also gave us another competitive advantage among the East African regions. We are working to maintain peace and security with our neighbors. Thus, the sector has immensely benefitted from this conducive environment.
The government is showing a firm commitment towards tourism by the creation of the ETO and the ETTC to boost the sector.
His Excellency the Prime Minister is the chairman of the newly established Ethiopian Tourism Transformation Council (ETTC). There is also the Ethiopian Tourism Organization (ETO) that has not existed before. The ETO is mainly focusing on destination marketing and promotion, as well as the destination development in terms of service, quality and access.
We are now working on different websites to promote our country as a favorite tourist destination. We are working on changing our tourism brand and trying to build a completely new communication campaign. It will be launched before March and it is very exciting, as it will support our former promotion strategy.
The Growth and Transformation Plan (GTP) is transforming Ethiopia’s economy. Could you please discuss its main focus and expectations regarding tourism?
Yes indeed, our vision for the next GTP is to make Ethiopia one of the top five tourist destinations in Africa by 2020 through developing our attractions and promoting our culture and tourism products. To attain this aspiration we have identified five main focus areas on our GTP 2 agenda. These are: natural and cultural heritage conservation and development; culture and tourism products marketing; service excellence; improve culture and tourism research and information systems; and enhance cooperation and collaboration with our development partners. Based on these focus areas, we tried to put clearly defined goals which could enable us attain the intended outcomes in the coming five years.
I would also like to talk about the outcomes of GTP 1. As I indicated earlier we have established the tourism board, the ETO and the ETTC. Before GTP we had already eight registered World Heritage Sites by UNESCO, but during the last GTP we also registered two more – one tangible and one intangible. The first was the Konso Cultural Landscape and the other one was Meskel Demera festivities (the finding of the true cross). Recently we have also registered one additional intangible cultural heritage by UNESCO, called Fiche-Chambalala, which is the celebration of the New Year for the Sidama people situated in the southern part of the country. That means our number of heritage sites has been raised to 11.
We started working with partners such as the World Bank. There is a destination development project with the World Bank that was very successful in our World Heritage Sites like Lalibela and Axum. We can use it as a benchmark for our future partners as we hope there will be many more projects like that. We also have assessed nearly 400 hotels in the last GTP in collaboration with UNWTO. Based on this, therefore, 68 hotels were awarded with stars from 1 to 5 in Addis Ababa alone.
How are you diversifying the tourist base?
We are indeed focusing on the diversification of our tourism product offering. Thus, in addition to the already existing traditional cultural and historical destinations, we definitely will focus on MICE tourism since we have a big opportunity we can harness as the political capital of Africa and diplomatic hub of the region.
We will also focus on nature-based tourism such as mountain climbing, river tracking, bird watching, etc., since we have ample resources in this aspect. Therefore, I can assure you that we will do whatever we can to diversify our tourism products as per our tourism marketing strategy in such a way that enables us attract more tourists to our country.
As UNDP Resident Representative Eugene Owusu mentioned during ETO’s launch, Ethiopia needs to be bolder in marketing itself as a tourism destination of note. What are your efforts to promote Ethiopia internationally?
This is why we are planning to have the new brand and slogan to communicate our country’s attractiveness and uniqueness to the rest of the world as it deserves. Additionally, we are developing new websites, software and mobile apps to promote Ethiopia. We are also participating in different worldwide trade fairs in order to expand our promotion scope and get better market access to our tourism products. But, at this juncture, our priority mainly focuses on destination development and service excellence in order to sustain current and future customer relationships.
The UK is one of the world’s top tourist issuers and its nationals are the fourth biggest spenders globally. What opportunities would you like to highlight to the UK audience?
We have very good, longstanding relations with the UK, especially in terms of socio-economic cooperation, as the UK is one of our primary development partners.
Regarding tourism, we have been participating in the World Travel Market (WTM) since 20 years ago. That means we are promoting and marketing ourselves to the UK visitors. But we also have to invite UK investors to invest in our tourism sector, such as infrastructure development, like roads and electricity, hotels, restaurants, etc.
We have to adjust our way of communicating with the UK audience and focus on discussing working together in the tourism sector, as we are doing it well in other economic endeavors.