BY GIRMACHEW GASHAW
Today’s guest Dr. Ayalew Sisay, the former Addis Ababa Tourism Commission Commissioner, was born and raised in Amhara State, Wag Himra Zonal Administration, the then Sekota Woreda studying religious education. Later, he came to the capital to attend modern school education.
Even though he joined Addis Ababa University, he did not continue education beyond two years due to the chance he had got to attend a scholarship abroad. While staying in Yugoslavia for 10 solid years, he made first, second and third degrees in tourism and marketing.
He then came back home and served the Ethiopian Tourism Commission for 14 years. Dr. Ayalew, who is optimistic enough concerning the issue of tourism and eager to push his county to a new level of success no matter what the cost maybe, was hired as General Manager of Pelican Tour and Travel Agency. Before his retirement, he also served as City Tourism Commissioner at times when Mayor Arkebe Equbay reformed Addis Ababa and later served with the caretaker administration. Dr. Ayalew has been serving as a lecture, researcher in various colleges apart from writing books.
The had a short stay with this renowned tourism expert in connection with # the great Ethiopian homecoming challenge#, its contribution to promoting the country’s overall development especially the tourism sector and the range of issues imperative to prop up the sector. Excerpt;
Would you tell us briefly about your contribution to the development of the sector?
I studied tourism. It is a plate that helped me to cook my food. It is my specific profession. As I passed through the Ethiopian Orthodox Church system and much of the tourism resources we promoted are the property of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, it is a great advantage for me to provide lectures or promote the potentials for tourists. As various books of the church are written in the Geez language, it assists me to translate books written in Geez into various languages.
Many people consider me a preacher of tourism. Over the past 30 plus years, I have been promoting the tourism sector and its significance to boost the economy of the country greatly. I also wrote several articles for newspapers and magazines. When I was Tourism Commissioner of Addis Ababa, I also promoted Ethiopia’s tourism potential by going abroad. I also wrote seven books that directly or indirectly related to the culture and tourism of Ethiopia such as Agew People and Zagwe Dynasty, Historical Development of Tourism and Travel in Ethiopia, Traditional wedding in Ethiopia, Introduction of Hotel industry in Ethiopia.
When I worked in the Ethiopian Tourism Commission, I collected in-depth information about Ethiopia tourism destination areas significant to local and international visitors. I also provided lectures to the young generation focusing on ways of promoting Ethiopian historical places and other tourist destinations.
The Ethiopian government invited one million Diaspora home to celebrate Ethiopian Christmas and epiphany together? If we see them as a tourist, how can the country maximize their benefit from the Diaspora?
They are tourists. As per the parameter of the profession, a tourist is a person who is travelling or visiting a place for pleasure and spending a minimum of one night and a maximum of 365 days. The journey must be only for tourism purposes but not for murder, invasion, theft, beggary or migration. However, these people are Ethiopians residing abroad and included inbound tourists. The visit has its purpose – they came respecting the call of the country. They may visit friends and relatives on their way.
When these people come home, they are our bride or bridegroom. We know what to do when the bride comes in. The Diaspora community members are our ambassadors. During the regime of Haile Selassie I, Addis Ababa residents were ordered to warmly receive the Iranian president. Thus, the people have to receive the Diaspora in that order. To do that there must be an organization that facilitates transfer, hotels, accommodation and visit of destination areas.
When they are doing such activities, service providing institutions should stand by their side. They have to make discounts. As the Diaspora community stays abroad for long, they forget the country’s history. It is also imperative to deploy experienced guides. Some of the Diaspora did not have a chance to visit historical places due to financial and time constraints.
Ethiopia can reap benefits from the Diaspora community in many respects. One is, the western politicians are talking about Ethiopia not being a peaceful country. So, they (the Diaspora) can play a significant role in correcting the deceptive thought of the foreigners, when returning home. Whatever cost it expends for promotion, Ethiopia could not convince the world that give deaf ears to it. However, these people have been residing with foreigners and they can easily convince them. They can vividly see war victims, document it and use it as evidence while they debate on the matter.
Second, the visit of the Diaspora has an economic return. We advise them to make discounts for them, whatever the discount rate is, every drop of the dollar is quite imperative to help the Ethiopian economy or the tourism sector which is harshly affected due to various reasons. We were hit hard by the high-level dehydration of tourists due to COVID-19. The money they will expend for any purpose with no doubt benefit us. We also gain the contribution in dollars. That is why; we call the tourism sector an invisible export. They also promised to exchange dollars through legal financial institutions.
On the other hand, the Diaspora will have an irreplaceable role to stimulate investment in the country. Some have their investment in the country they come from. In this regard, they can invest independently or in the form of joint ventures or they can invite potential investors from the country they reside in. There is also know-how, technology etc within the investment.
Visiting the war-affected areas, the Diaspora community first identifies the type of damage and the necessary assistance to the victims. Thus, they are expected to explore mechanisms such as organizing fundraising events and contributing some amount of money to rehabilitate war victims. They also can be eyewitnesses for international organizations and convince them and help their country with more funds.
The Diaspora has been promoting Ethiopia in the country they reside in. What sort of assistance should they pledge for them to further strengthen their endeavours?
When I was tourism commissioner of Addis Ababa, I went to the Houston feast for promotion. There was a quarrel among Ethiopians who love and hate EPRDF. Those who hate the party did not allow me to make a speech. Anyhow, I delivered a speech. I told them that it is you who know the culture of the society you reside in to promote Ethiopia. You have to identify the government from that of the country. Promoting Ethiopia is not promoting the government. I am here not to promote Ethiopia but I am here to give you this assignment.
Every Diaspora is busy and has no time even to sit for a meal. It is the influence of westerners that forced them to engage in the #Nomore campaign. To assist the Diaspora, it is quite significant to establish a tourism center. In 1957 EC, when the tourism establishment proclamation was enacted, said, Ethiopia will have a tourism center in tourism origin countries. However, over the past 60 years, it has not yet been implemented.
So far, it was Ethiopian Airlines that promoted tourism. Thanks to E-marketing, now, every business is going on through the internet. However, the site has to be promoted well by a professional assigned to facilitate the task in the midst of them. To do so, the promotion system has to be organized well.
How do you see our capacity of receiving a huge amount of tourists at a time? Do we have a capacity to bestow every service (hotel, guide, tour operators, transport, and internet connection) to these tourists?
Say one million Americans can come to Ethiopia; does our embassy have enough manpower to provide efficient and effective service to these tourists? Let alone one million, we were not as such ready to receive 1,000,000 people at a time in the Ethiopian airlines. Thus, we have made ourselves ready to provide standardized service to them.
We have a few hotels. I don’t know the exact figure. If Addis Ababa prepares a conference where some 10,000 people partake, it would not have the capacity to provide service at a time unless it transfers some of them to the nearby towns. However, the tourists have not come at a time. As they come phase by phase, we can entertain them well through making packages. Gradually, you can improve that considering the demand as production begins from the demand. Ethiopia is an overseas country that requires tourists to travel long distances via plane and save money for a long. As the tourism sectors sold before a year, after we made a promotion, we can make ourselves ready to receive several tourists.
Regarding road infrastructure, we are in a better stage. The landing and takeoff of many airports are now changed to asphalt roads. The domestic flight capacity of Ethiopian airlines is limited and the cost is expensive. However, there is no shortage of a fleet. There are many hotels open for tourists.
Now the prime minister is promoting top-down tourism. He prepares Koysha, Gorgora, and Wonchi as new event organizing destinations. If the tourism sector stimulates itself in that way, issues related to capacity and facilities would not hamper tourists’ inflow.
What should be done for the tourism sector to resolve its financial shortcomings on its own?
Above all, we have to vividly identify the benefit that we get from the tourism sector. The sector has poor statistical data management. What we talk about so far is speculation, estimation, and assumption. The exact tourist figure and the dollar it gained were not specified. The contribution of the Diaspora, for instance, has to be registered in every instance. If that is so, we could say the sector is standing by its foot. And if the sector vividly shows the contribution of the sector to GDP, it will allocate a huge amount of money.
A retention quota will upgrade the tourism sector and provide capacity for the better. There is a gross value-added contribution of an industry. It is defined as the value of its output minus its purchases of goods and services used in the production process. The private sector contributes additional money for the growth of the sector apart from paying income tax. Ethiopia has to put in place such a system.
Tourism is a wide sector. In which sector do you advise Ethiopia to focus?
As the saying goes, if a gluttonous person gobbles down too much, he may think he is well nourished. Ethiopia has huge tourism resource potential. If you are a merchant, you collect the product that is highly demanded. What is the intention of tourists who want to come to Ethiopia? Ethiopia would better focus on heritage and cultural tourism. When you say cultural tourism, there are more than 80 ethnic groups. Even if we have wildlife and other resources, we have to set priority first and develop other attractions in that order.
What do you think about tourism regional integration? How do countries in the Horn integrate to tap the sector well?
There was such an attempt in the regime of Haile Selassie I. By then Ethiopia had established CTTI to get the upper hand. There was a thought to make Ethiopia a center of excellence. There was a study entitled: “East African Joint Forces to Promote Tourism” There was a highway-six developed by Italy to connect Addis Ababa with Nairobi via Mombasa and the rest of east Africa. United Tour Company was also established for tourists who want to pay visits throughout the continent. It is imperative to reestablish such institutions.
On the other hand, the willingness of countries is very critical. There was a threat, lack of confidence and envy between countries. What should be clear here is, the source of Kenya tourism is wildlife while Ethiopia has historical and cultural attractions. To change such sort of thought to practice, it has to be started from the African Union. Thus, we should promote Africa in general and countries with their special tourism resources in particular. Highway-six was failed due to a lack of interest in Kenya. There is All Africa Tour-it is a kind of adventure tourism. It is not good. What is needed is a tour organized in an integrated manner through building an African highway like that of Europe. If it was practical, it was grand tourism promotion for Africa. It is good to do joint marketing. Even if the idea is gigantic, it requires ceaseless effort.
Thank you for your time!
You are welcome.
Editor’s Note: Dear readers,
This interview was published last week, 8 January 2022. In that edition the photograph of our guest was not published due to technical shortcomings. We have reprinted the interview today with the photograph.
The January 15/2022