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A traveler’s guide to Ethiopia

A traveler’s guide to Ethiopia

Trevor Jenner is a lifelong traveler with vast knowledge and experience on traveling across Ethiopia. He has written a new travelers handbook - Ethiopia Travellers' Handbook - with references on travelling in Ethiopia. Here, he reflects with Samuel Getachew of The Reporter on his own biography, experience, on his handbook and suggest ways to make the nation attract tourists. Excerpts:

The Reporter: You are a man who has traveled widely within Ethiopia as well as the region and you have an interesting biography. Tell me about yourself.

Trevor Jenner: I was born in England and I was born to travel – all of my life I have been a traveler and naturalist. In my childhood my favorite books were about exploration in remote parts of the world. Those books and my passion for exploration have remained with me to this day. Since then I have had a lifelong interest in travel, wildlife and the excitement of experiencing new things. In particular I have a liking for remote places, often very desolate. I have a sense of wonder at the peoples who inhabit such places. My opening lines in my book: Ethiopia: Travellers’ Handbook includes ‘…on my first visit [to Ethiopia] I was hooked, the country was so though-provoking and the people astonished me with their kindness and happiness.’ That was almost 25 years ago and I still feel the same.

Sir Richard Burton the Victorian explorer, who came to Harar in 1821, has been a hero of mine for many decades. In his explorations Burton took his time, he learned local languages and dialects, observed local cultures and spent a great deal of time getting to know and understand the local people. This is the most rewarding way to explore. I like to take my time in travel, to spend time with the people and fauna, to look beneath the surface.

My professional life started as a mechanical engineer and later, during a long industrial career, ended as an international sales and marketing professional. Then, when I got the chance, I hopped into the tourism business and started a tour company operating in Asia and Africa. Ethiopia was always my favourite country and I travelled widely within it and got to know some fascinating people. However, when the world financial crisis hit, in 2007, I decided it was time to change course - just travel alone and write.

You are now a publisher of a reference traveler's book on Ethiopia. Share with the highlights of the book

It took eight years to research and write Ethiopia: Travellers’ Handbook. The book is in full color throughout with over 600 photos and maps to add to the story of Ethiopia. More books are in the pipeline- the next, to be published later this year, will be a first - a field guide to the mammals of Ethiopia.

Ethiopia: Travellers’ Handbook is about all aspects of Ethiopia, the northern tourist attractions are well documented but my version is soaked in colorful images to provide a good feel for what a tourist will see. And there is a solid resume of Ethiopia’s splendid history.

The tribes of the lower Omo Valley are described in detail, including some tribes seldom heard of. I have also provided more background detail including the Ilemi Triangle and how the tribal peoples of the surrounding countries are part of a wonderful area incomparable with anywhere else on earth. Also a detailed passage describing the entry into Harar of Sir Richard Burton revealing some little knows details of his journey and stay there. All of the National Parks are described, as are the people, birds and animals likely to be seen along the way. Together with a whole chapter on the fauna of Ethiopia!

To the readers of your book, what impression would you want them to take from it on visiting Ethiopia.

I wanted Ethiopia: Travellers’ Handbook to be a countrywide guide and a basis for reference. It was designed for the traveller, the package tourist and those people wishing to have a quick reference guide with a range of facts at their fingertips. But above all I wanted it to showcase Ethiopia as an exciting destination with much to discover and enjoy.

Anyone who has read my book will see that I love Ethiopia. I really wanted to write a book about the country I loved, particularly my experiences. I focused on a travel guide but with a different concept, more in keeping with the needs of the group tourist who could take advantage of modern technology, like the Internet, for up to the minute information about security and hotels. But I made one rule - quality above all else. And I have to say this concept has proved to be a winner. Take the two most recent purchaser’s reviews: UK - ‘I love this book. Clearly a vast amount of work has gone into it and it gives fabulous information on a huge number of topics, nothing beats this for fascinating depth and great insight. Buy it. You won't regret it’. US - ‘Lots of really interesting information, presented well. I’m so excited to be reading this!’ The fabulous reviews are mounting up and quite honestly I feel honored that anyone could find that depth of feeling about my book and then take the trouble to write about it.

With little practical infrastructures within the nation, many highlight difficulties of touring Ethiopia for tourists. What has been your experience?

Managing tourist’s expectations is what tourism is all about. National Parks leave a lot to be desired, but the service side of things is an area where frustrations occur, for example: Recently, I wanted to pay for three hotel rooms, two for habesha people and one for myself - the only way that I could pay the same price for each of the rooms was if I took an inferior room compared to my habesha friends. In other words I was told I am a ferenji (true translation is white person) so I have to pay more. It comes as rather unfair when paying for three rooms and the hotel owner was not willing to change his rules. I refused to stay in that hotel and found one who liked ferenjis. Fortunately, this attitude is changing but it can be offensive to tourists.

Another rather odd and recent development that is annoying and could be spreading is banning of the use of cameras in hotel gardens. Case in point is the Haile Resort and Emerald Lodge both in Arba Minch and both having superb views over the forest and lakes below, which is what tourists come for. I do hope that individuals like me will report this on Trip Advisor and Face Book, certainly I reported it to the Mayor of Arba Minch and he was appalled at the very idea.

Where do you see Ethiopian tourism to be heading currently, in terms of its vision to attract the tourists of the world that are important to the local economy?

Local economies can only prosper when more tourists come into the country. There is a lot of work to be done to build a tourism industry that competes with others on a worldwide scale. My suggestions for improving the tourist vision of Ethiopia would be: One - introduce high quality family run ‘boutique hotels’ in local style, with a local flavor and lovely gardens. As opposed to international style hotels and resorts which many tourists would like to get away from.

Two - there are many National Parks, all of which are valuable and important, but taken as a whole they are difficult for the government to improve significantly. So, why not take one park, that has reasonable access to Addis Ababa (not remote), and develop its eco-system and wildlife to become a flagship venture - an example to all: local people, local naturalists, government officials and tourists alike. Make it a ‘center of excellence’ so that tourists can see that the government of Ethiopia does see a future for its parks.

In reflection of you time in Ethiopia, perhaps on it becoming a tourist destination, what suggestions do you have to make that a reality for the nation?

To make it a reality the government must keep its eye on the big prize - the goal of vastly increased numbers of tourists. It would not be possible to do all necessary in one step - so, create a two-step goal. The first is to take Ethiopia to the annual level of two of its near neighbors - Kenya and Uganda at about 2 million. The second would be to take Ethiopia to the level of ‘say’ Morocco at 12 million.

The first thing that must be done is to dispel the myth that Ethiopia is a land of famine with little to see, because this is still a major negative factor in the eyes of the world. The industry is doing all it can to dispel this, including myself in writing Ethiopia: Travellers’ Handbook and writing appropriate articles for international magazines, but it really needs a government worldwide campaign of simple TV advertisements to combat this - short and not necessarily unbearably costly. 

Get a UK company to make it a reality: short, sharp and low cost - in line with foreign tourist’s expectations. In tandem with this Ethiopia needs another descriptor for its country that has impact and will invoke greater curiosity in the tourists’ minds. Currently it is ‘Ethiopia: Land of Origins’ which may be true but lacks impact and does not compare with India’s ‘Incredible India’ campaign.