Thamimul Ansari is an associate professor at the University of Gondar. In addition to providing teaching, training, research, community outreach, and consulting services, he has more than 20 years of experience as a professional in the tourism, hospitality, and management fields. Ansari has worked in the education and hospitality fields in many countries, including India, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the Maldives, Ethiopia, and the United Arab Emirates. The professor spoke with The Reporter through email as he reflects on the future of Ethiopia’s tourist industry.
The Reporter: Ethiopians and Africans in general have a wonderful hospitality culture. In business, however, the opposite is true, especially in Ethiopia, where customer service is likely the weakest link in hospitality facilities. What do you believe is causing this?
Thamimul Ansari (PhD): It is true that Ethiopians in particular and Africans in general have a wonderful hospitality culture. However, there are root causes for poor customer service, particularly among lower-level or frontline staff. They lack communication skills, expressing a passive posture, fear, and hesitation to talk in foreign languages while dealing with international customers. They also don’t have the people skills and customer service skills needed in the hospitality industry. Some of them don’t have the problem-solving skills that are important for supervisors and managers in the hospitality industry.
I know you and your colleagues in Gondar offer hotel training as CSRs. What are the shortcomings you’ve noticed when providing training to Ethiopian businesses in the hotel industry?
The majority of hotel employees didn’t have a background in hotel management and didn’t know enough about how to deal with customers. This was one of the problems we ran into when training them. Also, not many hotel owners make it a point to train their employees and give them the skills and knowledge they need.
Ethiopia, particularly Gondar, where you are based, has huge tourism potential. However, many argue that the country did not sufficiently capitalize on this. What are the gaps you noticed?
It is because of the lack of promotion to the end users, specifically the tourists from various countries, who have a wrong perception about the African continent. They still consider it a dark continent and have failed to identify the brighter sides of it. They don’t know much about Ethiopia’s tourist attractions, and the country itself is not shown in a good light on the internet.
One of the huge gaps in the tourism industries of countries such as Ethiopia is the lack of basic infrastructure, such as amenities. Tourists, for example, have difficulty finding restrooms on their way to tourist destinations. The authorities are completely unconcerned about this. What is your take on this?
It is hard for developing countries like Ethiopia to build better infrastructure, but this situation needs to be looked at, and the government should focus on providing the basic amenities that tourists expect. If they don’t, bad word of mouth from tourists will slow down the tourism business.
Before moving to Gondar, you worked in Aksum. I’m sure you’ve seen how the war devastated both cities’ tourism industries. With the signing of a cessation of hostilities agreement between warring parties, how do you foresee the future of the tourism industry in North Ethiopia?
The Tigray region had many religious, historical, and archaeological tourism products, and a good number of tourists were visiting the region earlier. Because of the war and the way things are going politically right now, the future of these tourist attractions is in danger.
The future of the tourism industry in northern Ethiopia will face many challenges in its restructuring and promotion to visitors. It is up to government officials and other stakeholders to conduct a thorough investigation and devise aggressive action plans to restore potential tourism resources to their former state in order for the industry to survive.
Hotels and other hospitality firms in Ethiopia always struggle to recruit skilled labor. Even though many people have graduated in the discipline, the problem remains unsolved. What is the missing link in this sort of situation?
Many educational institutions offering hospitality programs in Ethiopia have not created good industry-institution linkages, which is one of the reasons the hospitality industry is not able to get skilled labor. Industries should set up campus interview programs for graduating class students at their educational institutions in order to hire them. Also, educational institutions should set up a training and placement cell and hire a special officer to deal with these problems.
Asfaw Shibabaw, a colleague and head of the hotel management department, talked about the need for skilled and qualified workers in the hospitality sector at a workshop put on by the Ministry of Education to help graduating students prepare for their exit exams. This was accepted, and the exit exams for the hotel management graduating class will take place in this academic year. So, businesses can hire certified students who pass the exit exams and have the skills they need.
According to a study conducted by you and your colleagues, hospitality education in Ethiopia requires continuous change, including the modification and inclusion of new courses in the hotel management curriculum, in order to meet the alarming demand of the hospitality industry’s expectations and advancements. Do you believe this is being implemented now? And can you tell us what areas need to be modified in Ethiopia’s hotel management curriculum?
A national curriculum workshop was hosted by the University of Gondar and invited professionals from all higher educational institutions that offer hotel management degree programs. The outcome of the workshop was the revision of the hospitality curriculum, adding new courses like event management, training and development, and food and beverage cost control. The course content was reorganized with the needs and expectations of the hospitality business in mind.
Another study you published in 2021 revealed that chefs in Ethiopia are at risk of respiratory ailments and that preventative measures are not being taken. Can you tell us about it?
The study was conducted on the respiratory symptoms and their risk factors among the hotel chefs working in the star-rated hotels in Gondar town. The study’s results indicate that the level of education and the frequency of cooking were significantly associated with the respiratory symptoms among the hotel chefs. But these results can’t be used to describe all of the chefs who work in different cities in Ethiopia. The cases and results may vary based on their work conditions, infrastructural facilities in the working environment, their health, physical fitness, habits, etc.