Bereket Gebru 07-29-16
Along with the new Ethiopian tourism brand “Land of Origins,” the recent disclosure of over two and half billion USD revenues from the sector in the current Ethiopian year alone has drawn the sector to the spotlight of social attention in the past weeks.
As an admirer of the former Ethiopian tourism brand “thirteen months of sunshine,” I always felt like a better replacement would be hard to come by but, I was happily surprised to have found another one that I like even better. Although change might take time to diffuse throughout society, this one may not face that sort of problem as quite a number of people have already liked it. I like the identity implicating reference to our calendar and the cheerful sense of reference to our weather in the former brand. It stands in stark contrast to the gloomy image associated with Ethiopia by foreigners.
However, the new brand revokes all sense of negativity associated with the country and presents it as the source of every human achievement in the world as it is the origin of mankind. It goes deeper than the former in explaining what it means to be Ethiopian as it indicates that every human being out there can trace themselves back to Ethiopia. In so doing, it presents Ethiopia much more appealingly to all people around the world. It invites everyone to checkout their ancestral roots and take a scoop from the ocean of history the country provides. It also creates a spark of curiosity in people to ask what other origins the brand is referring to.
Therefore, I think the new brand is deeper, more comprehensive and more contemporary in terms of the current trend in the international system than the former. Accordingly, it might just sell Ethiopia better.
The other issue that helped pop up the issue of tourism in discussions among friends recently is the disclosure of over two and half billion USD worth of revenues from the sector with still two months remaining till the end of the year. Upon reading or hearing the figure for the first time, a number of people were captivated by the seemingly inflated estimates. Honestly, I wondered whether there was a typo or a miscalculation in arriving at the number. Therefore, I decided to check out its authenticity from the relevant body – the Ministry of Culture and Tourism.
Speaking to director of the statistics directorate of the Ministry, Dagnachew Getnet, I came to understand that a few journalists also dropped by to check on the facts. Dagnachew then explained that the figure is calculated by multiplying the number of foreign tourists that have come into the country during the specified period with the average number of days they spend in the country and the average amount of money they spend a day. He went on to explain that they get the number for every month from the immigration and Nationality Affairs office while the average stay and daily expenditure for foreign tourists are taken from the “international visitors’ exit survey” of 2013 conducted by the Ministry.
Accordingly, the number of international visitors that are expected to come into the country until the end of the current Ethiopian year is specified to be 910,128. The 2013 survey determined that the average number of days an international visitor spends in the country is 16 while the average amount of money spent a day is found out to be 234 USD. The result of the three figures becomes 3.4 billion USD as clearly stated by the Ministry’s statistical data. The figures for the first nine years indicate that 712,111 international visitors came into the country leaving the earnings at nearly 2.7 billion USD as reported by the media.
Dagnachew went on to say that he is very surprised by the perception that the figure is inflated when in reality they are actually most likely going to be conservative estimates. His argument was the average number of days spent and the daily expenditure set by the 2013 survey is most likely to go up in the three years since then because of inflation and other variables such as better infrastructure. The inflation in the three years since the survey can push the daily expenditure of visitors up while better infrastructure might increase the length of their stay. These factors, explained Dagnachew, might even push the figure up.
These numbers seemed inflated for some because the revenues from tourism have largely been in millions until a few years back. For instance, the Ministry’s tourism statistics bulletin of 2009-2012 indicates that Ethiopia’s tourism earnings in 2011 were just over 410 million USD. The bulletin states: “the next year (2012), following the update parameters from 2013 exit survey the total gross revenue generated by the tourism sector was estimated to be nearly 1.2 billion USD, an increase of 189.27%.”
Identified as one of the fastest growing sectors in the economy, tourism has come to play a pivotal role in the development of the Ethiopian economy. The ambitious goals set in the sector by the first Growth and Transformation Plan (GTP) as implemented by the tourism marketing and promotion strategy have obviously paid off in drawing more people to visit Ethiopia. This can be corroborated by the fact that the number of international visitors coming into the country has gone up from 596,341 in 2012 to 910, 128 currently (2016).
The second GTP has also not been less audacious in the goals it has set for the coming five years since 2020 as it projected to raise the number of international visitors to 2.16 million by then doubling the earnings generated from the sector to 6 billion USD. That calls for tremendous marketing and promotional activities to draw in more than a million more people by the end of the plan period.
For this ambitious goal to be realized though, the economic and security situations in the country need to be in a complementary state to the efforts in the tourism sector. The expansion of infrastructure, promotional capacity and security across the whole nation needs to be at its utmost suitability.
Other factors to take account in pushing towards this goal include addressing the shortcomings identified by tourists as areas that need improvement to draw in more people. The 2013 exit survey states that the majority of visitors who expressed their opinions about their experience in the country showed high level of satisfaction despite the prevalent problems and uncomfortable situations. It states that the visitors pointed out that they were especially impressed by the welcoming and friendly nature of the Ethiopian people and the beauty of the country including its landscape, culture, history and the weather.
There were also areas of concern to the visitors which they deemed as needing improvement. These include:
1. The state of infrastructure: respondents complained about the poor state of roads leading to some of the tourist attractions. They also indicated the need to address the problems of sustained supply of safe drinking water, electric power, the internet and mobile coverage. Others complained about lack of credit card facilities, foreign exchange problems and the need for more ATMs at the airport and hotels along with recognizable street signs.
2. Accommodation facilities and restaurants: lack of water at many lodges, poor maintenance and hygiene of facilities were reported regarding accommodations and restaurants. Others complained that the prices do not match with the services rendered while some thought that the hotels do not express the Ethiopian way of life.
3. Security and safety: though most visits to Ethiopia were expressed as trouble free, respondents stressed on low-level street crimes such as mugging, purse snatching and pick pocketing by thieves. The response rate by law enforcement has been expressed as displeasing as there are no emergency lines to call and the language barriers of police officers to take their reports and do a follow up.
4. General Service delivery in every sector: a good number expressed their dissatisfaction with the customer service in the country in general, which they said is time consuming and unavailable.
5. Tourism facilities: respondents suggested the setting up of offices at tourist destinations staffed with people who have enough knowledge about the country’s tourist products and have good language capabilities.
6. Begging and exploitation issues: a fair number of respondents called for solutions to the problem of begging as it leads to harassment, petty street theft and uncomfortable situation for visitors. Others reported that they have been swindled by tour operators, taxi drivers, etc.
7. Pollution and environmental protection: many frequent visitors said that Addis is getting warmer because of the increasing number of glossy buildings and the CO2 emission from outdated cars, which is destroying the environment. They also complained of improper garbage disposal.
With the ongoing tremendous changes in tourism development in the country, the direct and indirect addressing of the above stated concerns would make the move even better. While some of the problems pointed out can be fixed quite easily by the concerned Ministry, others call for coordinated efforts between various government offices. Yet a few others demand a better stage of development in the country and can, therefore, be addressed in the long term.
The alarming pace of the growth of the sector along with its increased initiative to identify problems, map out strategies to solve and implement them indicate that there is still a brighter day for tourism in Ethiopia.