The Ethiopian Tour Operators Association held a panel discussion on community based tourism on Tuesday September 30th at Capital Hotel where tour operators and stakeholders in the hospitality sector were present.
The panel discussion was mainly focused on community based tourism and what needs to be done for it to develop and expand in Ethiopia overcoming the challenges the tourism sector as a whole faces.
“There are several challenges. One is that, in general the concept of tourism is still new to Ethiopia, it has only around 25 years of history. Although Ethiopia has huge potential, to utilize that we need to further develop our understanding and knowledge about the sector,” said Fitsum Gezahegn, President of the Ethiopian Tour Operators Association.
According to him, the concept of community based tourism is even newer to Ethiopia which has contributed to the slow development.
“The concept is very new, not only to us but to the world as well. Many other countries, since they have a longer history and experience in the tourism sector, they have been able to easily catch up on the concept of community based tourism. For us, since the whole sector is very young to begin with, we have been a bit slow in catching up to that trend,” said Fitsum.
Although community based tourism has not developed fast, there are several organizations working on the sector and different projects have been carried out in parts of Ethiopia that have shown success.
“This is one of the reasons we held this panel discussion on community based tourism, we wanted more tour operators to work on the concept and help our communities to promote sustainable development,” Fitsum added.
He also stated that the country still lacks knowledge, experience as well as expertise in the tourism sector. Another challenge is also lack of coordination with different stakeholders in the sector.
“The different stakeholders in the sector have different mandates but we believe that those mandates need to be well defined. They also need to work with each other; governmental bodies have their own work, researchers have their own, the private sector has its own, NGO’s have their own and also the community has its own work. For a successful out come all these must work with each other, I think now that is what we are starting to see,” he said.
According to him, the association has been able to accomplish significant things in the past year. “The fact that we were able to work very closely with the government is a big accomplishment. The government took notice of our hard work and accepted our recommendation to establish the Ethiopian Tourism Council, Ethiopian Tourism Board and the Ethiopian Tourism Organization. This is a very big shift for the Ethiopian tourism sector and we believe it will bring a significant sustainable change,” Fitsum stated.
He also stated that the previously seen hopelessness within the tour operating community due to issues with taxation and confiscated vehicles is not there anymore.
“Now, that has been changed and the operators feel that they are able to run their business well and contribute to the growth of the country,” he said.
According to participants, the association has been doing several things to promote Ethiopia as a tourist destination. Among those are; participation in international exhibitions and road shows. “Due to that kind of promotional work, there are indications the number of tourists have increased. We have also used local communication mediums to spread information about tourism,” Fitsum said.
Two years ago, the number of tourists who visited Ethiopia was around 300,000 and that number more than doubled last year reaching 650,000. The Association is hopeful that in this fiscal year, that number will grow to one million.