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Habteselassie Tafese, the man who coined the official Ethiopian tourism motto “The land of 13 months of sunshine.” passed away this week. He was being treated at Balcha Hospital for a stroke he suffered and was awaiting financial assistance to seek treatment in Thailand.
Habte-selassie Teffasse was born in 1932 in Addis Ababa. Because of the Italian attempt of colonization in Ethiopia, his father left Ethiopia and fled to France and Habteselassie had to be separated from his family when he was only two years old, and was taken to Greece by a refugee Russian family.
In Greece, he completed his elementary and perused secondary education at Athens collage. In 1947, Habteselassie came back to Ethiopia and rejoined with his family. Able to speak only Greek and Russian, he attended Teferi Mekonnen School for a year mainly to learn Amharic language.
After Italy left Ethiopia, Habteselassie father became Ethiopia’s ambassador to Egypt which gave Habteselassie an opportunity to travel to Alexandria and reunite with his father. There he attended Victoria Collage in 1950, where he also learnt French. In 1954, however, Habteselassie left for the United States and entered Carlton College in Northfield, Minnesota, and graduated with B.A degree in International Relations and Government.
The then Emperor of Ethiopia, His Majesty Haile Selassie I, considering Habteselassie’s gift of language, offered him a job as Assistant Director in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Habteselassie reached the limit of what can be done within his Department and he proposed that a special organ be set up to handle the little developed sector of tourism.
Soon he was transferred from the ministry of foreign affairs to an office under the prime minister’s office with no budget and staff to start his new assignment of establishing and running Ethiopian Tourist Trading Organization. However, ETTO was formally decreed and with Habteselassie’s sole effort, minimal budget was secured, appropriate office acquired and the necessary staff hired. Consequently, Habteselassie was charged with inventing and organizing all aspects of the tourism industry in Ethiopia from the scratch.
In an effort to raise funds for the sector, Habteselassie then introduced Duty Free Shops and with a personal borrowed money of 25,000 USD and he went to Aden for shopping. Luck was with Habteselassie and all items were sold instantly and with in short period of time the Duty Free Shop expanded and became one of the world’s leading duty free businesses and the international weekly magazine – Newsweek, feature it in a full page article as one of world’s largest duty free enterprise.
Habteselassie’s innovative work continued in introducing the modern concept of tourism to Ethiopia and for creating an image of the country under the slogan “Land of 13 Months of Sunshine”. Similarly, he created operational mechanisms, services, practices and institutions in the tourism industry such as Ethiopian Tourism Trading Corporation (ETTC), Tour and Travel Operation which created the present pioneer state owned (just privatized recently) tour operator, the present National Tour Operator (NTO), the first tourist class and tourist oriented hotels, the Catering and Tourist Training Institution(CTTI), and many more.
Not only this but Habteselassie produced a range of international standard tourist literature covering all parts and all aspects of the country from taking pictures for posters, to organizing tours operated personally by himself.
In association with Ethiopian Airlines and Ethiopian Chamber of Commerce, Habteselassie took part and played significant role in many national expos and exhibitions held in Addis Ababa, Asmara, Jimma, and elsewhere. Working as travel consultant, Habteselassie took part in the constant modernization and expansion of Ethiopian Airlines. He was also part of the inception and subsequently a member of the organizing committee for the establishment of both ECA (Economic Commission of Africa) and OAU (Organization of African Unity, the present African Union, AU) in Addis Ababa.
Moreover, he also took Ethiopia and Ethiopian products to international expos in Canada (1967), Japan (1970), and Nairobi (1972) where he conceptualized, designed, constructed ideas and even financed expenses.
Working under the then Ethiopian Tourism Commission, he also played a role in the organization of the Gold Mercury Trade Fair Center and attended and participated in annual tourist trade fairs and conferences held in major cities around the world, such as Miami, Las Vegas, Tokyo, Sydney, France, Athens, Honk Kong, Spain, and others.
In February 2011, Habteselassie is recognized as “the Father of Ethiopian Tourism” by the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia Ministry of Culture & Tourism.