Commission plans to develop ten new tourism destinations in Oromia Region
Ethiopia is a paradise for a tourist who loves history or dramatic landscapes: it has some of the best of both in the world. The nurturing Rift Valley is one of the cradles from which early humans spread from Africa into the rest of the world.
Oromia region also have so many tourist attraction sites. So far Oromia region has managed to have three intangible heritages in Ethiopia got recorded to UNESCO world heritage list. Presence of sites and many fossils attest to the fact that Ethiopia is indeed the cradle of humankind, and MelkaKunture is one of the two archaeological sites next to Afar region.
Oromia enjoys diversified culture with authenticity, various land forms (landscape scenery), unique and diversified fauna and flora, endemic birds and wildlife, favorable climate and above all hospitable people.
Yared Nigussie of Origins Business sat down with Nega Wedajo, Oromia Tourism Commission Deputy Commissioner to discuss regarding the tourism and travel sector in the region. Nega earned diploma in Language before earning his Bachelor’s Degree in Leadership and Development Studies from Mekane Yesus Management and Leadership College. In 2015 and 2021, Nega obtained his MA in Social Work and Public Policy and Management from Addis Ababa University respectively. He first started his professional career as a teacher and later worked as a Communications Expert. He also had stints in nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) as Program Development Officer, Monitoring and Evaluation Expert and Program Director.
Origins Business: Why Oromia Tourism Commission (OTC) was established?
Nega Wedajo: Oromia Tourism Commission (OTC) was established two years ago on July 7, 2020. OTC has undertaken rigorous activities that laid foundation for the region’s tourism development. The national reform introduced four years ago attributed to its establishment. After the reform the Ethiopian government has identified five key economic pillars that the economy will be carried on. Tourism is among these priorities including agriculture, manufacturing, mining and IT. Various rationales can be listed out for why tourism was picked among the economic pillars. Ethiopia has registered well-known heritages in the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). Additionally, we’ve got a lot of tourism assets including coffee, which we gave to the world. Most of this coffee production comes from Oromia region. Oromia covers more than 65% of the national coffee production.
Oromia has multitude of tourist attraction areas including forests and mineral resources to mention a few.
Oromia region hosts mammalian species endemic to the region. You can take Bale Mountains, which mostly praised by the tourists as “A park with many World.” The Borena National Park also hosts the most endemic species of animals, for example, one can find the Grevy’s Zebra only in Borena Park; while Nech Sar hosts Burchell’s Zebra.
Wellega, Yayo and Gera Biospheres are also national treasures found in Oromia, where it has all these and many other resources. Eight out of six rift valleys are located in Oromia. The region has also a number of tourist attraction sites such as national parks, reserves and captivating natural wonders. There’re tens of thousands of migrating flamingos, which spend a while in Abijata-Shalla National Park area and they fled elsewhere every year. We’ve all these resources that are not well utilized.
Not only the region but Ethiopia too has not been reaping significant benefits from the resource. Cognizant of these facts Oromia region decided to establish a separate entity that promotes tourism assets, develop the destinations and generate revenue in a bid to generate more revenue out of these resources.
That’s why we came here. We focus on four major areas of destination development—basically pertaining to developing; diversify listing new tourism products to best meet our guest market needs and expectations. For example, we don’t accomplish things alone, but we collaborate with sectors such as the roads authority at regional and federal level to deal with access to infrastructures. Such sector needs working in synergy to be more effective. Linking up tourism destinations is important in this regard. There will also be job creation and developing new products activities.
The second function of ours is marketing promotion, which involves undertaking research-based, planned, technological-driven marketing and promotion of Oromia as better tourism destination.
The third activity is resource mobilization. It’s basically soliciting sectors—it could be from the government, Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), private sector, and making more partners to mobilize resources—either financial or non-financial to develop tourism destinations, create jobs, and backing the tourism initiatives elsewhere in Oromia.
The forth and most important is tourism digitization, research and analytics. Perhaps, in its seven decades of history; Ethiopian tourism is very poor in data management. If you ask for every kind of developments accomplished in the tourism sector, it’s very hard to find robust data in every aspect. Most of the data are even disputed. This emanates from the way data has been managed. We understand this reality and as a Tourism Commission we started with trying to make to collect data with nine surveys. But we still not yet succeeded in finding all the important data—basically due to we cannot get enough available data. It’s important that tourism is being done but it doesn’t t tell you where it has been—still the data’s are mismanaged. The main function of this directory is to manage the tourism, statistics and conduct problem with tourism research in partnership with universities, where there are tourism departments. Digitization is another important function. We are doing a great job in this regard, especially using the detail platform to promote the best of Oromia.
Origins Business: What is the role of the private sector in tourism development across Oromia region?
Nega Wedajo: The role of private sector is very much significant. Construction of hotels, resorts, engaging in tour and travel businesses could be mentioned. And any tourism service providing companies are very important. It’s not the government that builds hotels and executes all the activities for tourism development. As an organ of the government we don’t want to be the jack of all trades—we’re facilitators for the private sector. The private sector is supposed to invest in these areas, where both local communities and private sectors can benefit. The images of Ethiopia and Oromia region specifically can be exhibited to the world in this regard. Therefore, we are inviting the private sector to come and invest, but its level of engagement is not enough; it’s doesn’t suit the level we are expecting.
If you go to Kenya and Tanzania, the private sector has done great jobs in terms of constructing international standard hotels, lounges and resorts, where tourist can come and spend more days in these places. Likewise, the nations can generate more revenue from the sector.
When it comes to our country, however, if you go to Bale there is an airport, but we don’t have good hotels. In that case tourists cannot be interested to go there and spend more time because there are no enough places and accommodations for them to make their stay longer. But still tourists go there and passionate to make recurrent visits although their number is not enough. In case if tourists pay a visit to there in bulk number, there are not enough accommodations for them. In comparison, we can see Bahir Dar or Gonder visited by more number of tourists because there’re scheduled daily nonstop flights. In case of Bale, you can find three flights in a week, which are not regular flights. We need more flights to Bale. We have established a good partnership with Ethiopian Airlines. We are also on further discussions on the matter. Some airports built in Oromia region are not functional yet. We hope these airports to go functional soon. More airports are also under construction; when these all are finalized it will be a golden opportunity for us. Hence, the private sector engagement is more needed and these infrastructures are necessary facilities, which they are worth awaiting for.
Origins Business: How has the relationship between tourism and local life been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic?
Nega Wedajo: The coronavirus pandemic has affected the tourism sector significantly. As you can observe not even country like Ethiopia, the whole world has been affected by the pandemic. Now, the new normal is coming. The pandemic will not last forever, but there’re lessons that we’ve learned from it. The way we do tourism before Covid-19, while there’s Covid-19 and we’ve doing tourism during the post-Covid-19 is not similar. Not only the pandemic but also the conflicts in Ethiopia beset the tourism sector. But there’re also way outs as the Covid-19 vaccination has been developed and countries are building Covid-19 resilient economies. Countries have now turning to the normalization. We are also part of this world. Airlines are now on duty with the maximum precaution measures. Tourism based institutions are now providing their services but it still takes more time to get back on track.
Origins Business: In addition to insecurities across Ethiopia and Oromia region particularly, there are bureaucratic hurdles in the region imposed by security officials. What do you think of it as a challenge for attracting tourism?
Nega Wedajo: I can view it in from different dimensions. Ensuring security is very important. The way we understand things shouldn’t come from one way. Awareness creation for our people regarding tourism is important because this country has been doing tourism for decades, where tourism mostly vested to few destinations. Speaking of tourism of this country, only a few places cross our mind since childhood; that’s one of the problems we had. But now when we started to do tourism business, people started to get awareness, and more local domestic tourists started to travel across different places, they might encounter some problems, but I can’t vouch that everybody has the same level of awareness that I have because the people are at local—at Kebele level, might not understand tourism—basically stemming from they have not been benefiting from the sector. For somebody else who doesn’t utilized/benefited from tourism at all what kind of understanding are they expected to develop after all? For them maybe tourism is a different thing, which was not part of their life or their economy. Therefore, creating awareness should be the priority we are going to do.
Especially our media and even prominent figures have complaints about the services, the way they were treated and at the same time they are in charge of giving awareness on tourism to our people. If I don’t tell them what tourism really means, and how it is beneficial to the community, maybe as part of voluntary service, how can I expect from that community to have the level of my understanding while they were not entitled to get benefits or to learn from it? If you take the community in Lalibela town they have been benefiting from tourism for decades, and they know it very well. Hence, you don’t need to teach them; they can teach you about tourism. But if you see the community around Yerer in Oromia region, where tourism has not been practiced before, the situation is different. On this point, we have a plan to conduct awareness creation activities through using the media and the government structures at all levels. That are the jobs we’re planning to discharge in the future.
Origins Business: Tell us about the Commission’s future plans.
Nega Wedajo: The Commission is eager and ready to achieve many targets. There’s tourism’s ten years plan at the national level. Oromia region also plans to develop ten new tourism destinations and expansion of the existing one’s through fresh investments. We further want to hammer on skill development projects across Oromia due to hotel and tourism hospitality skills are very scarce. Moreover, this should too go beyond such efforts because the community awareness is a part of it and the people should benefit from the sector. Once the local communities are aware, they can take care of any guests. Actually, they have been taking care of the guests, but it should be in a manner they can make the maximum benefit out of the sector. We want to create over 260,000 jobs in five years. In normal scenario our ambition was to create 500,000 jobs. Normally, we take our ambition from 260,000 to 500,000 jobs—but that mainly depends on the context of the country. If the current Ethiopia’s situation improves, we can surpass our plan. The Covid-19 pandemic, conflicts and other factors could possibly challenge our work. Also, increasing the number of tourists who visit destinations in Oromia to one million along with scaling-up the number of their stay are the activities we aspire to accomplish in five years ahead.