Tourism is considered as one of the main trade and industry activities in the world that contributes to economic, cultural and political advancement of various regions.
Mastering the art of tourist hospitality for over 30 plus years in Ethiopia, is one Samrawit Moges Beyene – a successful Ethiopian entrepreneur who founded Travel Ethiopia in 1994, a tour company involved in eco-tourism. Travel Ethiopia was the first company to hire women as tour guides and following its success she went on to start Village Ethiopia in 1998, a company that operates Bilen Lodge in Afar which provides employment to the local community. Samrawit has also started a floral business that is the first in the sector to hire persons with difficulty. Capital caught up with Samrawit for an inside insight on the sector as well as its development over the years. Excerpts;

Capital: Tell us about yourself and the company you run?
Samrawit: My name is Samrawit Moges. I am the founder of Travel Ethiopia – a private, eco-minded tour and safari operator which has been in business for more than 25 years following its establishment in 1994.
Apart from the tourism network industry, since 2003, I have also ventured in the agriculture and horticulture sector through our Chancho and Samore flower farms which sit on a 30 hectare plot of land in Sululta town in Oromia region, which is about 20 km out of Addis Ababa.

Samrawit Moges Beyene (Photo: Anteneh Aklilu)

Capital: What are your views on the tourism sector in Ethiopia?
Samrawit: I started working in the tourism sector after I graduated from Addis Ababa University. I worked at the National Tour Operation, which was under the umbrella of the Tourism Commission for 10 years before I established Travel Ethiopia. For me, Ethiopia is a unique country, where you will find a harmonious blend of culture, nature, cuisine, arts and architecture brimming with unlimited number of fun and frolic. In my view, Ethiopia attracts people from all walks of the life. It offers myriad of travel activities ranging from adventures like the jaggedly carved Simien Mountains, a UNESCO heritage site, to Danakil Depression, which is the lowest and hottest place on earth and is said to be a geological marvel with more than 30 active and dormant volcanoes. Moreover, Ethiopia is also known for its rock-hew churches of Lalibela and the obelisks of Axum, which are renowned for their architectural beauty and mesmerizing history, giving you a glimpse of one of the greatest empire in history. Ethiopia should be in the bucket list for all travel enthusiasts as it’s popularly referred to as the cradle of mankind.
Through time the industry has been moving forward, except some challenges both global and local hurdling the growth here and there just like any other sector. Generally, it has been having a year on year growth as Infrastructures in the country continue to develop and get better each year. Furthermore, the number of travel agencies has been growing in stride as many companies are engaging in the hospitality industry. But I believe there is still room for growth.

Capital: How does the industry compare from past to present in terms of development? What do you suggest for better development?
Samrawit: In the past, that is some few decades back, many touristic places and infrastructure were not expanded and developed and the tourist flow was low. During the Derg regime there was only four famous hotels, that is, Tana hotel in Bahirdar, Goha in Gondor, Roha in Lalibela and Yeha in Axum which were owned by the government which later turned to the private sector when EPRDF came to power.
Then they allowed the private sector to engage in different business sectors including us. However the growth has been constrained by the lack of suitable hotels and other infrastructure, despite a boom in construction of small and medium-sized hotels and restaurants.
The tourism sector in Ethiopia has been challenged from time to time from political instability, now war, and also the global pandemic. In comparison to former government regimes, the Abiy Ahmed administration has placed emphasis on the sector by giving it priority unlike past experiences. The Prime Minister has been spearheading in promoting the sector which plays an integral role in the economic growth of our country by reeling in forex.
The COVID-19 pandemic has hit the hospitality sector adversely; however, most African countries have been trying various mechanisms to expand local tourism as well have a global bounce back from international tourists.
We can learn a lot from Kenya. Kenya has a smaller number of tourist attraction sites compared to us, yet the country works a lot on the tourism sector. Ethiopia has more tourist attraction heritages, yet lack of infrastructure, hotels, and awareness in the society has made the sector to play catch up.
In my opinion, I can suggest government to give its full support to the sector by developing modern international tourism training centers and by increasing the manpower in the sector. Moreover, I would encourage the private sector to invest heavily on the industry.
Medias should also work on awareness creation among the society with regards to the importance of tourism and tourists and the beauty of protecting our heritage. This is beneficial as it goes a long way in helping the local community who can draw revenue from tourists.
Tourism is a fast growing sector and can easily generate huge revenue apart from providing the locals with employment opportunities. And for Ethiopia, it should be the backbone of the economy by generating huge amounts of forex.
So generally government should prioritize the sector, all of the firms engaged in the sector should be experienced with in the tourism sector and embassies should promote our heritage. It would be better if we have our own tourism promotion offices over the world as we have embassies in many countries globally.

Capital: What are the success stories you have in Travel Ethiopia?
Samrawit: As a member of the responsible tourism network, Travel Ethiopia also tries to minimize negative, social, economic, and environmental impacts and generates economic benefits for local communities. Travel Ethiopia is especially committed to contributing to women’s empowerment in Ethiopia. Travel Ethiopia became an example for others in the tourism sector in Ethiopia by being the first tour agency to hire permanent female guides. We also have numerous initiatives to minimize damages to the environment and wildlife. This allows our clients to travel responsibly, without the worry of causing destruction to local cultures, environments, and economies.

Capital: Is there anything you want to add?
Samrawit: Our country has lost a lot as result of the war. However, this is a double edge sword as it has introduced Ethiopia across the world. This means that, it is very difficult to find someone who doesn’t know our country because of the war. We can use this in our favor to promote tourism when the situation eventually subsides and comes to an end by promoting both foreign and local tourism.
Government should also forge partnerships with the private sector who are engaged in the hospitality sector as well as tour operators.
Since it takes a concerted effort for the success of any sector, I take this opportunity to request our Prime Minister to hold consultative talks with us so that we can streamline our industry in order to fully utilize all the potential that the industry has to offer for the economic success of our country.

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