When we think about a local economy, we’re referring to the interconnected markets and networks within a particular community. The local government, organizations, businesses, and people all contribute to this economy. Local businesses may purchase their raw materials from sellers who are nearby.

The tourism sector is one of the economic sectors engaging local businesses, thereby accelerating a nation’s overall economic development. Though Ethiopia’s tourism sector has faced various challenges at different times, the stakeholders specifically tour operators and managers seem to strive hard in beating ups and downs.

ABN meets Henok Tsegaye, a former tourist guide and President of Ethiopian Tourist Guide Professionals Association, and holds talks on current activity of the association and “Great Ethiopian Homecoming” event.

Henok has been working as a tour operator, manager and more recently as an expedition leader in the Ethiopian tourism industry for over 16 years. Born in the cosmopolitan city of Addis Ababa, he majored in Marketing and tourism management along with other qualifications before starting a stellar career in 2005G.C. He is currently serving as secretary general of the newly established Ethiopian Tourist Guide Professionals Association which has been running for the past year and a half.

The Ethiopian Tourist Guide Professionals Association is an association that stands to assure the fair and equitable benefits and rights of tourist guide professionals which was lacking before but many professionals in the industry was sensitive about the issue and eager to see a united effort that stands for them.

Formerly, such efforts to establish the association did not come to fruition due the nature of the tourist guiding sector as it requires moving around places, as such making collaborative works difficult since most tourist guide professionals find themselves working scattered in the corners of Ethiopia.

However, the COVID-19 pandemic made it possible for the professionals to come together and establish the association. The association was inaugurated a year and a half ago to address the long standing demand for an association that stands for the benefits and rights of tourist guides, assist to mitigate the sector’s shortcoming, while also serving as a hub for tourist guides and other professionals in the tourism value chain to come together to address their concerns, opportunities and areas of weaknesses that can be tackled with joint efforts.

Regarding “The Great Ethiopian Homecoming”, Henok said that this great national call brings solidarity and unity to Ethiopians residing abroad and home. But it can only become reality if all Ethiopians can have a common ground which is the existence of Ethiopia. To make this a successful reality, the Ethiopian tourist guides association, as part of the involved stakeholders (Ethiopian airlines, tour operators, immigration offices), is working with Tourism Ethiopia to offer professional, knowledgeable, skillful  guides to give unbiased and truthful information about Ethiopia who can also play a great role as Ethiopia’s internal ambassadors. In response to the national call, the members of the association will offer a 25-30% discount for any service rendered.

“The association is well-equipped with professionals having excellent language and educational backgrounds. The educational backgrounds of the tourist guides and operators include an array of professionals acquiring experience and knowledge in history, geography, politics, and economics, among others.”

Standing currently with close to 200 memberships, the Ethiopian tourist guides association is working with other unregistered tourist guides and operators with diverse educational, cultural, social and language backgrounds. Under its books, the association has a plethora of professional who speak English, French, German, Chinese, among other Scandinavian languages. Hence, as Henok stressed, the association is well-equipped with professionals having excellent language and educational backgrounds. The educational backgrounds of the tourist guides and operators include an array of professionals acquiring experience and knowledge in history, geography, politics, and economics among others.  This eclectic mix of professionals is an important asset that can diversify the capabilities of the association’s members in delivering satisfactory levels of service provision.

ABN asked the secretary on the current Ethiopian conflict which is hugely impacting the tourism industry, Henok said that a significant number of lucrative Ethiopian tourist sites registered as UNESCO’s world heritage are located in the northern regions of Tigray and Amhara and the ongoing conflict exacerbates unfavorable conditions for the industry.

Hoping that the situation will find a resolution soon, tourist guides and other professionals in the value chain are now working to explore the diversity of Ethiopia in finding other attractive tourist sites. For instance, the association’s professionals are tapping into the rich cultural attractions of the Omo region, and also identify new destinations in West Ethiopia such as Sidama, and Limu highlands, known for their coffee plantations. The fact that Ethiopia is a nation of contrasts can be tantamount to finding three different countries within this vast African nation.

As Henok told ABN, the great Ethiopian homecoming will be a great opportunity for Ethiopia and its influential diaspora community in delivering a bold statement to the international community which is biased by western media which disseminated false and misleading news. The event hallmarks that Ethiopians are there for their motherland at a time of need. He stressed that the diaspora community is showing its solidarity by playing a key role in overturning a legislation bill which was about to be passed by the US congress.

The community also responded very well to the homecoming call and now all flights from the US to Ethiopia are booked. This kind of response is vital in changing the political narrative and gives Ethiopia the upper hand in political approach. It will also mark an iconic historical spectacle whereby Ethiopians spoke with a common voice for a shared dream, which is to see a united and thriving Ethiopia.

The importance of national events such as “Dine for a Nation” and “The Great Ethiopian Homecoming” is significant in voicing a common agenda on a pronounced scale. Speaking on the possibility of organizing similar national events in the future, Mr. Henok said that for now the concern of the Ethiopian tourist guide professional association is to get the proper recognition and it has plans to organize national events in line with the objective of fulfilling a common agenda through speaking together. There are some works being undertaken and the association will deliver detailed information in the future, Henok said. .

“Only 2 years ago, the country was able to secure 1.5 billion USD in foreign currency within a space of only 5 months, in response to the prime minister’s call to the diaspora community to contribute a minimum monthly remittance of 100dollars.”

The Secretary General believes that the diaspora community should make their return to their homeland meaningful by contributing to the economy of the country. Small activities such as getting the service of shoe shiners, or consuming local products, fast foods and other recreational and touristic activities count as beneficial economic activities and has thus called on the diaspora community to make their homecoming meaningful in living up to the expectations rendered.

National events of such caliber are of insurmountable significance for nations such as Ethiopia. However, the utilization of such campaigns should be carried out in a wise manner as Henok cautioned. If not properly organized and Ethiopia cannot be able to garner the necessary benefit associated with it such campaigns would only be a one-time happenings with no real value associated with them.

Attraction of foreign currency should be seen a major contribution as Henok said, highlighting that just only 2 years ago, the country was able to secure 1.5 billion USD in foreign currency within a space of only 5 months, in response to the prime minister’s call to the diaspora community to contribute a minimum monthly remittance of 100 dollars.

The Ethiopian tourist guide professionals association is a young and ambitious establishment to be mentioned as a success. But on its part, whenever tourists visit Ethiopia, they convince them to consume products or services and pay in foreign currency which is very beneficial to alleviating the national deficit in foreign currency. The products or services that tourists can use include using the services of local businesses, such as souvenirs and eateries.

In all these aspects, there are shortcomings that the tour guiding sector is suffering from. These shortcomings are observed in the form of poor service quality and the limited number of standardized hotels, resorts and other hospitality services that the nation has at its disposal. However, with all these limitations the tourist guides and operators of the country are working around the clock to maximize the quality of their output.

As such, to solve the problem of sub-standard accommodation the Ethiopia tourist guide professionals association is working to standardize the capacity of professionals through building their capacity with knowledge and skills. Eventually, this effort is believed to elevate quality of service in the industry. Mr. Henok also applauded the big national tourism project accomplished over the past 3 years hailing the new destinations such as friendship, Entoto and Unity park along with wonchi-dandi, Gorgora and others by stressing their importance in improving quality service delivery and increasing the number of tourist destinations.

In his concluding remarks, the secretary general gave his thanks to the diaspora community for returning back to its home nation and also for being the son and daughters of Ethiopia at its time of need. The willingness of the community to stand together in refuting the notion that Ethiopia is a conflict zone as other media houses were reporting is a courageous and bold act that every other African nation should replicate in resisting the influence of foreign powers.

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