From stunning national parks and mountain ranges to an enormous array of cultural landmarks and traditions which survive to this day, Ethiopia is a gem of a destination.
Epic landscapes, historical wonders and a severely underrated wildlife scene, Ethiopia is a destination which has it all. One of the world’s oldest countries, it is also the only African nation to escape the clutches of European colonial rule, evidenced in its array of monuments dedicated to a great many other faiths and powers which have imparted their influence. A nation brimming with culture, ancient customs and traditions from the likes of the Surmi, Afar, Mursi, Karo, Hamer, Nuer and Anuak all remain intact and are cause for a great many spectacular festivals.
Ethiopia is also one of Africa’s most beautiful landmasses, housing the vertical extremes of the Simien and Bale mountains and the Danakil Depression, the lowest place on the continent. Couple this with an abundance of wildlife, and the country is an ideal destination for those looking to explore the best of what the region has to offer in terms of the great outdoors. Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital, is among the safest places in Africa and is its fourth largest city. Home to some inspiring cuisine and thought-provoking museums, it is well worth a visit here to complement any ventures in Ethiopia’s natural landscape.
THE BUSINESS END
Ethiopia’s economy has undergone marked changes over the decades, the communist Derg regime introducing nationalisation of all industries when it came to power in 1974. Some liberalisation progress has been made since the 1990s, but the contentious question of land ownership remains and has hindered the development of commercial agriculture. However, the country’s farming land remains its most promising resource despite the damaging impact of soil erosion, deforestation and overgrazing.
Although agriculture contributes around half of Ethiopia’s GDP, the services sector is not far behind, generating approximately 40 percent of the nation’s income. A sizeable proportion of this is derived from tourism, an industry which turned over $1.4 billion in the second half of 2018 according to the country’s Ministry of Culture. This is down on the $2.7 billion target, but nevertheless Ethiopia managed to welcome more than 380,000 tourists during the period in question. Among the initiatives brought in by the government to boost tourist arrivals include a more liberal visa regime, with the issuance of e-visas seen as a catalyst for more visitors. Indeed, Ethiopia’s Travel & Tourism economy grew by 48.6 percent through the whole of 2018, the largest of any country in the world, according to the World Travel & Tourism Council’s annual review of the economic impact and social importance of the sector.
TOURISM INSIGHTS: ADDIS ABABA HOTEL OWNERS TRADE SECTORAL ASSOCIATION
The Addis Ababa Hotel Owners Association (AHA) was established in 1997 as a non-profit under the name of Ethiopian Hotels and Restaurants Employers Association. As Lude Abiy, the organisation’s General Manager explains, “the founders’ initial vision was to establish an association that would support the industry with the highest quality services and resources available.
“However, due to the enormous changes of the past decade, the association members felt the need for it to reform, anticipating and meeting the growing and changing needs of its members and the city. For this specific reason the association was rebranded in the year 2012 to Addis Ababa Hotels Owners Trade Sectoral Association.”
Abiy went on to answer our questions about AHA and the wider tourism scene in the city.
Q&A WITH LUDE AIBY, GENERAL MANAGER, AHA
Since inception, how has the AHA developed and progressed in terms of its key objectives and the messages it tries to get across?
Lude Abiy (LA): AHA has developed greatly since its inception. There are many developments that have been accomplished by AHA, the first being the fact we have greatly grown our membership base. The second major change is that we have started to work with government offices and other stakeholders to change policies which are not favouring the tourism sector, as well as fostering those that are promoting the sector. Thirdly, AHA has started to produce its own city hotel guide that shows the city capacity and its hotels. This enabled the association to promote members and the city throughout the world. AHA has also been offering training and workshops for members’ employees to develop the services and skills required to succeed. Further, we have created a platform/job fair and networking day that will be happening every year which enables member hotels to recruit qualified citizens who want to join the hospitality sector.
How would you say Addis Ababa has developed in recent years as a business travel hub and what are the key reasons behind its growing appeal?
(LA): Addis Ababa has developed in recent years specifically in regard to the number of hotels in the city as well as global international brands. The number of rooms in the city has increased which means it is now possible for the city to host big conferences, expos and meetings. In addition, out of the 121 member hotels of the association, 95 of them have halls and function spaces to cater to business meetings and conferences. Among these 95, there is a total of 293 halls varying in size to facilitate any event, boosting over 47,000 square meters of space. In addition to this, big convention halls are under construction which will make the city more preferable for many event hosts.
Why, in your opinion, should someone visit Addis Ababa?
(LA): In my opinion, Addis Ababa is a great city for visitors in major ways. Just to mention some: one – it has the best weather throughout the year; two – it has hotels for everyone, from small independents to big international hotels; three – the city has many fantastic international restaurants, traditional restaurants, souvenir houses, museums, and historical places; and four – it is one the safest cities in Africa.
Are there any specific attractions, landmarks or places to eat and drink that you would recommend?
(LA): I recommend the Emperor Menelik II Palace-Entoto area, the National Museum, The Addis Ababa Museum, the Ethnographic Museum, Merkato Market and Shero Meda traditional cloth market, among other places. In terms of places to eat and drink, Tomoca coffee house, Yod Abyssinia restaurant and Baata restaurant are well worth a try.
What trends are transforming the tourism industry in Addis Ababaat present? How are you responding to these trends?
(LA): In my opinion the trends that are transforming the tourism industry in Addis Ababa at present are the growth of demand for a variety of services, and the attention of the government to the sector. The Association is responding to trends by giving more support to these services, ensuring they are delivered as smoothly as possible. Further, the arrival of more new global international and local hotels in the city and the completion of the convention centres that are being constructed are positive developments, and will be followed by an increased number of events and expos being hosted by the city of Addis Ababa.
Are there any plans or projects in the pipeline that you wish to highlight?
(LA): We have many projects in the pipeline. One is to organise a hospitality industry job fair and networking event that is being held every year – this is an event that gives a platform for unemployed people to be hired in member hotels in the fields they are qualified in. A second project is producing a hotel guide every year that can promote member hotels and the city, while another project involves establishing a tourism academy that will produce many professional citizens in the sector.
Are you optimistic about the future of the tourism industry in Addis Ababa?
(LA): I am very optimistic about the future of the tourism industry in Addis Ababa, especially when it comes to MICE tourism. Addis Ababa has all the potential to host big exhibitions, meetings and conferences. Currently the city has more than 11,000 rooms and the biggest airline in Africa which gives us a great opportunity to work on MICE tourism. Moreover, it has conference halls such as the UNECA and AU and a big convention hall development on the horizon.
Tropic Air, from its base at Nanyuki Airfield in the heart of Kenya, offers private flights and helicopter services. The company has a strong East African footprint and 28 years of experience in the industry, offering heli-services and pioneering heli-safaris throughout the region, including Ethiopia. A helicopter safari over Ethiopia is a highlight for any visitor, the trip exploring the medieval world of historical treasures and places of worship from above, as well as the high and low terrains found in the country.
OUT AND ABOUT IN ETHIOPIA
Ethiopia offers boundless opportunity to explore nature, and any visit to the country is not complete without a venture into Simien Mountains National Park in the north of the country. UNESCO-listed, it is one of Africa’s most stunning mountain ranges and perfect for those wanting a casual stroll or serious trek. One will also be spoiled by the abundance of wildlife on offer, from elephants and crocodiles to hyenas and a tremendous variety of birdlife.
In terms of food, drink and entertainment, then Addis Ababa is a safe bet and where many visitors will set up base camp for their stay. The city is awash with restaurants covering all cuisines, but it is particularly worth looking out for local-inspired food here, which is characterised by hearty stews, barbequed beef and fresh fish. Addis Ababa is also home to many excellent museums, not least the National Museum of Ethiopia, which contains many precious local archaeological finds such as the fossilised remains of early hominids, the most famous being Lucy, the partial skeleton of a specimen of Australopithecus afarensis. The Ethnological Museum, Holy Trinity Cathedral and Meskel Square are also worth a visit, especially if the latter has an event on.
GETTING THERE AND AROUND
Bole International Airport is Ethiopia’s only international air transit gateway, with airlines flying in and out of the country including Ethiopian Airlines, EgyptAir, Emirates, Kenya Airways, KLM, Lufthansa, Saudi Arabian Airlines, Sudan Airways, Turkish Airlines and Yemenia. Once in the country, there are many ways to get around including a comprehensive domestic air transport network. A solid long-distance bus network also covers much of Ethiopia, with new operators such as Selam Bus and Sky Bus offering a modern and comfortable service. Coupled with a growing network of paved roads, and travel by bus is becoming a more viable option for many visitors.
Another popular means of exploring the country is by hiring a car with a driver, with costs starting at around $120 per day with anywhere between 50 and 75 kilometres offered for free before a charge kicks in. For travelling within cities, most operate a minibus network which is a cheap and quick way of getting about, while taxis are another common mode of travel. It is also worth mentioning the opportunities on offer for cyclists, although rough terrain and roads make taking spare parts and repair kits essential.