By Chinelo Obogo, email@example.com 07064781119
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) recently reported that air travelers are increasingly frustrated with the COV- ID-19 travel restrictions and a survey of 4,700 respondents in 11 markets in September demonstrated confidence that the risks of COVID-19 can be effectively managed and that the freedom to travel should be restored. To this end, Ethiopia is among countries that has opened up for travel and tourism and operators like Ethiopia Airlines is strategically being deployed to drive tourism.
Operations Director, Kuriftu Resorts in Ethiopia, Yonaiel Belete, said the government is putting in a lot of effort into setting up infrastructure that will make the country not only a passenger hub but a tourist destination. He also revealed that the resorts have made more profits because women make up 85 percent of their workforce.
How Ethiopia is positioning itself as travel, tourist destination
The Ethiopian government has put in a lot of emphasis on infrastructure development in Addis Ababa in particular and it is partnering with a lot of private investors to improve travel and tourism by allocating more space for people who are willing to take the risk to develop infrastructure. It’s a very deliberate policy which the government is using to make more people fly into Ethiopia and not just to transit. Right now, there are 10 tourist locations with tax incentives and with that, you don’t have to pay profit tax so that you can actually build your resorts and ours is one them.
The government has in- vested in three tourist locations in the country; South, Elephant Century and Golgora and they are trying to make people invest in more hubs so that Addis Ababa is not the only place you think of when you come to Ethiopia. One thing more that they need is to get others into the market by allowing investors from neighbouring countries who are interested in invest- ing in the Ethiopian tourism industry to have a chance to look into other locations because we can’t always do it by ourselves. We need to allow other people to see the benefits that can be reaped from working in Ethiopia as a whole.
Currently, we have a big surge especially among the younger generation between the ages of 20 to 30. People now use social media especially Telegram groups for discussions on where to go for holidays and more people are using Ethiopian Airlines to fly in, especially those that are going to far destinations and they also come by road too. But, I also think it much depends on the private organisations to ensure that they have more accommodation for these people to go to these locations.
There is a lot of potential in this sector and if we can add more accommodation, it can attract a lot of the older generation who want something that is safer, cooler and reliable. I think that is the grey area in the gaps that I am seeing right now.
I have been working in Kuriftu Resorts for six years as the Operations Director, but I have been working here six years before that. So, I have been here from the very beginning when we had 18 rooms, but you can see there is a lot of growth. In fact, we just inaugurated an additional 61 rooms and another 131 beds to this property so that we can accommodate more people because we are gearing up to become a power house especially in inter-African tourism. Obviously, we have not always been a very strong contender, but we have always showed a very high promise.
Now, we are trying to raise the bar, invest our ideas and finances to areas within our country so that we can develop because there are lots of incentives to grow within this country, especially from the tourism angle, it just depends on who wants to be the risk takers. Being the first entry into the market is always the scary part. We have many beautiful locations, but unfortunately, people are afraid to take the risk in terms of investment to create destinations.
Destination is regarded as natural here, but you have to bring infrastructure and investments. Presently, we have about 12 business units and a few of them, we have to bring in expertise from abroad, but most of them, we do it ourselves. When my father was trying to build this place at the beginning, he received a lot of rejections from the government. They wondered why they should give him a prime property to build a lake, but he had to organise familiarisation trips for government officials to several countries so that they could see how things were done there. So, when they came back, they then agreed that he could proceed. Since then, we have been able to represent our country in a more unique way.
Tourism in Ethiopia is growing rapidly
Let’s look at the projection right now; this particular place was built to mainly take care of the local market within our own country. This is also because Addis Ababa was not as attractive as it is right now as a tourism destination as not many people wanted to come here for a night. So, this location was actually made for people who live inside Ethiopia. Not that we should be limited to that, though because now, Addis Ababa is investing in more parks like Unity Park, Friendship Park, Museums and others.
We are not limited in scope because we have to take care of people’s needs in terms of events and others. I think for the future if everything goes on well especially with the Covid-19 pandemic and with the proper guidelines and if people are comfortable, I think there is a lot of potential for travel and tourism to grow especially for Addis Ababa and a lot of cities that are close to it. But, as I have said earlier, taking the risk and investing in this form of business will take some time to break even.
Nature themed resorts
This location is actually one of the seven created lakes and it is not actually meant for swimming but for hiking. People can come here to relax, especially couples who can use the spa facilities. We also have the cinema, but we are planning on upgrading it in the next month also so that we can have better sound systems. This particular facility is for people to have a more comfortable scene. They can watch movies at night. Obviously, everyone can watch movies on their smart phones, but the cinemas still have a very pleasurable experience.
In addition to that we have the water park, which is a big attraction to families and we are also planning to expand the park so that we can stay more competitive and add more to the needs of the customers. We usually have people from the African Unions (AU), United Nations (UN) and a lot of the non-governmental organisations who come in to use the resorts. We also have a wide range of restaurants here that take care of different types of dishes. We are also expanding the land areas and we intend to hold music concerts here. Music is a big culture and we intend to collaborate with a lot of people all over Africa and the world.
Impact of Covid19 on Ethiopia’s travel, tourism sector
When Covid-19 pandemic broke out in the first quarter of 2020, it affected a major part of our business and we could only operate one to two percent of our capacities for about eight months. We have hundreds of workers in this facility and we have continued to construct the space years in the past 16 years. As it is, we have about 300 construction workers and a lot of people depend on our business. By March of last year, we had very low business transaction. It was so tough for us.
People could not travel as they used as a lot of restrictions were there globally. So, by September, which is Ethiopia’s New Year when the entire team came back, people decided they could spend their money internally and that is where we benefited as a company. We focused our facilities on domestic tourism where people can take away their kids out for even one day holiday.
Ratio between local and the international visitors
Before the outbreak of Covid-19, it used to be between 20 and 80 per cent for inter- national and local, respectively for this location, but for other locations outside this facility, we have a higher number of international visitors. The fact is the market is shrunk and I hope that we can increase this number especially from the intra- African setting to something more appreciable. To grow out of Ethiopia of course, we have to focus on the international community. We have tried a lot of things; we used to work with Ethiopian Holidays, the tourism division of Ethiopian Airline for about six years. Also, my father is a part of the Board of Tour- ism for Ethiopia and he also has close ties with the Ethiopian Tourism Organisation as well. But, because of our current situation as a country now, there has not been much result achieved, but for the future, the plan is to collaborate with others, especially international organisations like AKWAABA.
More than 80 percent of our workforce are women
Eighty percent of our management are led by women and 85 percent of our total workforce are women. It was not a deliberate policy but it just happened naturally because women in our country are more accommodating and hospitable than men. You can see it because we started from the spa and we saw how women were able to take care of people in a much way than men. All our supervisors are female and the trajectory has tilted towards women. I believe that this has increased our profitability because it made us more likeable.
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