Ethiopia has been voted by numerous tourists as the top 10 places to visit for the past two years and most tourists have advocated on behalf of Ethiopia and the hospitality of the Ethiopian people. However, what most tourist have always complained about is the lack of hospitality they have received from the service providers compared to the gracious hospitality they have received from the population of Ethiopia, writes Neftalem Fikre.
The service industry has an old saying: “The Customer always comes first.” At first glance, this saying seems simple; the need of the customer comes before the needs of the service provider. Yet, like many things in Ethiopia these days, what seems like common sense is lost in a confusing web of profit, ego, pride, stubbornness and grandstanding and nothing encapsulates this more than our service industry. I mean one has to stand at awe when everything that can go wrong has gone wrong again and again. I lost count of how many committees, experts, workshops and meetings that have taken place to address the status quo of where our nation’s service industry finds itself in. Ironically the solutions to improve this sector actually came from the average citizens. The truth is the service industry in Ethiopia cares more about its Vision and Mission than it does about the needs of the customers it serves. For the sake of time, let me focus on the major actor within the service industry, the tourism sector.
It’s important for the tourism industry in Ethiopia to understand at its core, Tourism is a self-discovery journey a person takes. As much as a person comes to see landmarks they also come to learn how life is through the lens of people and cultures that have built or sustained such landmarks so that such an experience will add value to the way they view the world. That is why, at the end of the day, tourism like business or politics is about people. However in Ethiopia, we have made tourism about Ethiopia rather than the tourist experience in Ethiopia. We focus on how the world should understand how “great” we are, our history, our development and our accomplishments. Such a stand makes Ethiopia seem egotistic and opportunistic and makes many tourist feel undervalued and the relationship they build here in Ethiopia cosmetic. Therefore, here are some suggestions that could help the tourism industry shake off its cumbersome performance and get back on its two feet.
Firstly, the Ministry of Culture and Tourism has to do research on grouping major Ethiopian tourist attractions into categories that focus on niches. For example, religious (Lalibela, Harrar Mosques), landscapes (Simen Mountains), metropolitan (Addis Ababa), historical (Axum, Adwa) and cultural (Gadda, Chembelala, Timket). The next step should be focusing on creating engaging activities for each niches, so that tourist can partake in (rather than be observers) when they reach their set destinations. For example, rather than a tour guide explaining what had happen in Adwa, there could be an event on Adwa day where a reenactment of the Battle of Adwa can take place. In tourism, this is called “Living History”. Living history brings together historians, actors, directors and volunteers together to recreate or reenact events in history in real time. This is done for example in the US when American Civil War reenactment is done in an effort to recreate the appearance of a particular battle or other event associated with the American Civil War by hobbyists known (in the United States) as Civil War re-enactors, or living historians. This has managed to draw in millions of people both from within the US and abroad. By providing these services the tourist can finally internalize the Ethiopian experience that adds value in their journey.
Secondly, it ought to capitalize on the internal experience the tourist has taken and create a memory that will help them add value after they leave Ethiopia. This is done by investing in souvenirs (products they can purchase before leaving Ethiopia). However, unlike most products we have in Ethiopia which are poor quality and mass produced, these souvenirs have to meet a basic standard of craftsmanship, handmade, good quality, accessible and done by the natives of the land tourist have visited. To accomplish this, artisans have to be trained (certified) and provided with local materials and their products made available on the spot. It is sad to see when one travels to Gambella and wants to buy authentic Gambellan souvenirs to be surrounded by poor quality products from other regions. Thirdly, it ought to focus on establishing regional hospitality tourism offices for all major tourist hotpots. Each hospitality office should have trained English speaking staff that will help tourist get in touch with all service providers within the area, essential products available for sale, information on sites to see, logistic help, cheap affordable mobile phones for emergencies and a standby health professional. By providing these services the tourist knows their safety and needs are a priority.
Ethiopia has been voted by numerous tourists as the top 10 places to visit for the past two years and most tourists have advocated on behalf of Ethiopia and the hospitality of the Ethiopian people. However, what most tourist have always complained about is the lack of hospitality they have received from the service providers compared to the gracious hospitality they have received from the population of Ethiopia. What the service providers lacks is empathy, not ambition, resource management, not resources, lack of focus, not vision and mission statements. If Ethiopia wants the global community to understand its attractions, then service providers within Ethiopia need to first understand a tourist is not a cash-machine or a statistics to help Ethiopia achieve its GTP-II development goals. A tourist is a human being, a guest who chooses Ethiopia out of more than 190 countries to learn about humanity. The money they spend is just a transaction not the measurement of their value. A tourist needs to feel mutually respected regardless of, if they spent 100 or USD 100,000 during their stay in Ethiopia. If this is accomplished by the service sectors, then an average tourist in Ethiopia is not only willing to return, invest and through word of mouth or blogs attract more tourists to this nation, but will have a deep connection with the nation and its people.
Ed.’s Note: Neftalem Fikre owns a digital marketing firm known as NSDM. He has a background in International Relations. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of The Reporter. He can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @NeftalemF.