Ethiopian marketing expert harps on potentials of tourism developmentMarch 14th, 2010
APA - In an exclusive interview with APA in Moscow on Saturday, the head of the marketing team from the Ethiopian Ministry of Culture and Tourism, Mr. Jemal Kedir Biadgligne, spoke about the potential significance of tourism development, market strategies and challenges in the industry, as they prepare to participate in the International Tourism and Travel Exhibition scheduled for March 17-20 in Moscow.
APA : How important is tourism development with Russia and the former Soviet republics to Ethiopia ?
Biadgligne : As you probably know the Russian economy particularly and a few of the former Soviet republics have been showing tremendous growth but Russia becomes one of Ethiopia’s most essential tourists originating countries. Russian tourists are moving outside of their countries in millions to several destinations.
More interestingly, incomes are fast growing and more Russians are looking for vacation places to spend their money. One of their favorite destinations is Africa. Ethiopia, as a unique destination in Africa, will be a great surprise for Russian tourists to feel a sense of discovery as part of their holiday. Therefore, the Russian market can be a considerable potential for Ethiopian tourism development.
APA : Do you see the overall economic changes in Russia as a sea of opportunities for expanding tourism business to Ethiopia ?
Biadgligne : The tremendous economic growth in Russia has had a positive impact on the unprecedented growth in its outbound travel. Although the number of Russian tourists to Ethiopia does not reach a significant figure, the tourist numbers are rising every year. It is widely accepted that the Russian tourists’ expenditure behavior is higher than those tourists who originated from European countries. The Russian tourists are becoming more and more experienced in traveling ; they are now seeking exotic destinations for their holidays.
Ethiopia can offer unique and unforgettable experiences to the Russian tourists. The major reasons why Ethiopia can be chosen as a best destination by Russian tourists are, among other things, the cultural heritage product is purely Ethiopian, it is considered as "off the beaten track" for adventure travelers, it provides an authentic experience, it appeals to religious tourists (especially Christianity and Islam), it has an attractive and unusual landscape, its being the cradle of mankind, its being the origin of coffee and its ancient traditions and customs of nations, nationalities and tribes.
APA : Could you also discuss your government’s key policy on tourism promotion and some of the strategies your office has adopted to sell your country’s tourism destinations in Russia and the former Soviet republics ?
Biadgligne : Ethiopia uses below the line promotional techniques to reposition itself in the international market. This technique includes participation in trade fairs, opens representative offices, disseminating information using brochures, and engages in good public relations. Under restrained marketing budgets, the marketing plan relies heavily on public relations to promote its tourism business.
It has been identified that five primary markets (United States, United Kingdom, Italy, France and Germany) and seven secondary markets (Japan, Netherlands, Canada, Australia, Spain, Switzerland and Israel). Moreover, three emerging markets (China, Russia and the former Soviet republics, and Eastern Europe) were identified.
The participation in major annual international tourism and travel fairs have created the opportunities to meet intermediaries, professionals and members of the public to promote Ethiopia as a destination in the tourism market. As part of the ministry’s strong efforts to promote the untapped potentials of tourism in the Russian market, and Ethiopia’s regular participation at Moscow International Tourism and Trade fair over the past few years.
Moreover, several schemes have been adopted for promoting Ethiopia, such as the visiting journalist programs and familiarization trips for trade partners.
Positive words of mouth will continue to be one of the useful influencers in considering Ethiopia as the Russian tourists’ choice for their holiday. A dynamic web page is used as another tool in providing information, creating social networks and forums for exchanging suggestions and recommendations to visit Ethiopia. Travel media, magazines and newspaper articles in Russia are used to increase the awareness of the potential tourists to make their final decisions to visit Ethiopia.
In addition, the partnership created between the Ethiopian embassy in the Russian Federation and the travel club that consists of tour operators and media as its members are strong arms to showcase and promote Ethiopia 365 days in the Russian market.
As competition is becoming fierce and challenging Ethiopia concentrates its resources on a few selected markets. It is vital to ensure the limited resources available for marketing are utilized to generate the best return on investment. As a result, Ethiopia as a destination focuses on the products that differentiate it from other competitive offerings.
Ethiopia has based its product strategy on searching the uniqueness of its products so as ‘identikit or me too product’ can be avoided. It should be understood that the unique products of Ethiopia are strong forces to have different products from the products of the potential competitors in the Russian market.
APA : Is your country looking for wealthy Russians and agencies to invest in the tourism industry and what possibilities are there for these investors ?
Biadgligne : Ethiopia is witnessing its seventh straight year of economic growth. It is attracting foreign direct investments to the country. The government of Ethiopia has expressed its commitment to use tourism as a pivotal component in poverty alleviation programs. The government has invested multi-billion projects on expansion programs of airports, telecommunication, roads and other relevant infrastructures.
For example, the expansion of broadband, internet and mobile phone throughout Ethiopia is on the rise. In 2010, the number of mobile phone lines will be raised from 1.5 million to 7 million and the number of fixed lines from 1 million to 4 million. Hence, the expansion of ICT will give opportunity to the tourism industry to be engaged in e-Marketing in order to ensure productivity and efficiency.
Furthermore, the political situation in Ethiopia is very stable ; the country is relatively the safest destination for visitors compared with other competitive destinations in East Africa.
Hence, the government has created a conducive environment for investment in the tourism sector. Tourism is one of the opportunities for foreign investment. Attractive opportunities have been created for potential foreign investors to invest in highly quality star level hotels, lodges and specialized international restaurants.
APA : What key challenges do you still face in promoting tourism abroad in such countries as Russia and the former Soviet republics ?
Biadgligne : One of the prime challenges to Ethiopia’s tourism promotion implementation resides in the fact that Ethiopia, as a tourist destination, is still not very popular among the potential tourists.
Ethiopia is widely suffering from the negative images perceived over the years as a country of famine, drought and war. The blurred presence across distribution channels makes the Ethiopian tourism product less visible, unfortunately.
APA : What are the most interesting (exotic) places in Ethiopia, in your view as a tourism expert at the ministry ?
Biadgligne : Ethiopia has enormous potential for tourism development offering a rich and diversified array of cultural, historic and natural sites. Ethiopia has a unique set of resources for international tourism. It is one of the richest and most diversified potential destinations of international tourism.
The key elements of Ethiopia’s tourism potential are its array of fauna and flora, dramatic landscapes, abundant wildlife, varied and rich areas of archaeological wonders, historical sites and other cultural attractions. UNESCO has registered eight world heritage sites that include Aksum, the monolithic churches of Lalibela, Gonder Castles, the Omo Valley, Siemen National Park, Hadar (where the skeleton of Lucy was discovered), Tiya carved stones and the walled city of Harar. Two additional sites are in the pipeline to be registered soon.
Moreover, Ethiopia, which has a 3,000-year old history, is one of the oldest human civilizations in the world and houses the oldest archaeological discoveries in the world. Furthermore, Ethiopia is a symbol of tolerance and peaceful coexistence of different religions.
APA : In your critical view, what measures the Ethiopian authorities have to take to raise some facilities to the level that will attract more foreign tourists ? What challenges do you think still remained that have to be overcome ?
Biadgligne : The government of Ethiopia has endorsed a tourism development policy in August 2009 to show its commitment. The tourism policy framework has to address the following issues : first, how tourism related infrastructure such as transportation, water supply, telecommunications and the like can be developed to create synergy with other forms of development.
Second, focuses on product development of the existing tourism products and creating new ones to diversify them in type, number and quality.
Third, promotes the expansion of tourism specific developments in and around tourism destinations.
Fourth, enhances the international marketing activities to enhance its competitiveness.
Fifth, creates partnership among all stakeholders.
Finally, focuses on capacity creation on the tourism industry to overcome the low status of institutional capacity of the sector.
Above all, the Ministry of Culture and Tourism of Ethiopia will use any possible opportunities to create meaningful cooperation with its Russian partners to promote Ethiopia in the Russian market.