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ETO chief receives backlash from sector
Lensa (Aida) Mekonnen, CEO of Ethiopian Tourism Organization (ETO)

ETO chief receives backlash from sector

Ministry forms first tourism think-tank

The embattled CEO of Ethiopian Tourism Organization (ETO), Lensa (Aida) Mekonnen held a three-day marathon of meetings with operators of the sectors at Harmony Hotel this week and received harsh criticisms.

At the helm for a year, she heard from the tour and transport operators and hotel owners asking, among others, for her dismissal, incompetence and openly questioned her ability to lead the government agency and the recent actions of the Organization, which included the abrupt cancellationofthe participation by Ethiopian delegates to international tourism forums.

“Preventing us from taking part in such international forums is like removing us from the international tourism compass and map,” said tour operator YakobMelaku. “To look at our participation in a monetary value alone is not looking at the long–term vision of Ethiopian tourism sector.”

Furthermore, Lensa was accused of implementing a top-down leadership style with little consultation with the leading actors of the industry and taking bold actions.

“The decision to not attend such a forum was rendered with little warning and no consultation,” another tour operator, AbebeDegmo told The Reporter.

According to him, there has been little professionalism rendered by the agency, including having its staff at the Bole International Airport conduct personal business interests, negotiating prices on behalf of other tour operators and having them stay in selected establishments instead of distributing information as intended.

The CEO was also questioned on the newly announced Advisory Creative Team that is expected to shape sector’s future and how she chose its membership which includes an agent of Emirates Airlines, a direct competition to Ethiopian Airlines, a celebrity chef and a noted event organizer. Notably absent were tour operators.

“I did not select them myself, they organized themselves and came to me and decided to form the Team,” she said.

Ethiopian Tourism changed its name from Ethiopian Tourism Organization, last year. It has had a rocky leadership at its top, including YohannesTilahun, an Ethiopian – American who was fired last year for receiving double payment from the government which was 14,000 Birr and UNDP’sUSD 8,000.

In related news, the Ministry of Culture and Tourism has created an arms-length think-tank to serve as an independent advisory for the government, this week.

At a gathering at Elili Hotel, State Minister of Culture and Tourism, Buzena Al Kedir announced the names of the executives who will lead the new think-tank, including veteran tourism public servant and advocate, TewodrosAtlabachew (PhD) as chairperson and KumnegerTeketel of Ozzie hospitality management Group as vice-chair.

The gathering also heard from a slew of speakers on how tourism is linked to the development of the nation, and how the sector needs new and better ideas to attract more tourists to the many tourist attractions within Ethiopia.

“We have to take advantage of our immense potential and use it to our advantage and use our unique culture as a unique attraction to bring the world to our shore,” said HirutKassaw (PhD), the Minister of Culture and Tourism.

To the new members of the think-tank named “the Ethiopian Tourism think-tank and advisory group,” she said that “they have a unique opportunity to develop ideas and work towards its practical implementations and that we (the ministry) will do our utmost to make sure of its end success.”