analysisBy Tsegaye Tilahun
Although there is no well documented evidence on how conference tourism began in Ethiopia, it is believed that the sector made its way into the country following the construction of the African Union Hall and the United Nations Conference Centers in Addis Ababa.
Although there have been improvements in recent times, experts who work in the sector indicate that the country needs to invest huge sums of capital to make the industry competitive, and have a comprehensive strategy to further exploit the sector.
Yohannes Kifle, former General Manager of Shebelle Ethiopia Conference Services has established the company noticing the fact that teleconference and MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Exhibitions) tourism facilitators were non-existent in the country.”For long, there were only two conference organizers due to shortage of highly skilled professionals in Ethiopia,” he says. Conference tourism and ordinary tourism are two sides of the same coin.
The tourist flow and the income that the country earned from the industry are flourishing, though it slightly diminished in the past three years said Sisay Teklu who has been working as Hotel and Tourism Expert for 30 years. However, the conference tourism is gaining momentum as many of the events hosted by the country have been conducted as per their schedules.
“Africa Union leaders’ summit, for instance, is carried out once per year in Addis, while Ethiopia is usually taken as a second option when countries organizing an event are unable to do so.”
Sisay talks about the expansion of hotels and other related service delivery institutions as having a positive effect on the industry.
Most of the international and local meetings are arranged in hotels, he says, and a number of hotels have been constructed not only in Addis Ababa, but also in other emerging cities like Adama, Mekele, Hawassa and Bahirdar, which are suitable for conference tourism.
He also points out that the numbers of conference and meeting facilitators have also been increasing, though the figure is still below the required level.
What matters most, for him, is that tourists who come to attend the conference extend their stay and spend their time and money to visit various tourist destinations.”Pre and post conference tours need to be organized for tourists. Here, the expansion of service providing institutions is vital to attract tourists.”
Moreover, Sisay indicates the importance of promotion in order to exploit the comparative advantages, and develop all the possible opportunities that tourism brings about.
“Ethiopia, especially the capital Addis Ababa has its own comparative advantage to develop the sector; the presence of hotels, the expansion of airlines, and its suitable temperature/ topography.”
It is important to invest on the sector by bringing other countries’ best practice to further develop the sector, as many countries have benefited a lot by cultivating the sector extensively.
Conference tourism in Ethiopia is not in a position to claim that it has shown progress. The main reason for this is low infrastructure development, Kumneger Teketel, MICE expert, believes.
He stresses on the need for setting up a public institution that organizes international meetings so as to facilitate conferences in an organized manner. Kumneger laments on the need of having a broad strategy to develop the meeting industry, and the involvement of all the pertinent stakeholders.
“Unless we come up with a strategy to lead the sector, the meeting industry will stall. So far the meeting industry in Ethiopia is not developed, and we are saying this based on internationally recognized report of the International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA),” he adds.
Indicating that international exhibition organizers association is in a position to be established, he says the objective of the association is to professionalize the industry.
The capacity of the country’s meeting organizers might be limited given that it is a new industry. To this end, it is decisive to produce well-trained professionals and further enhance the sector. Conference tourism should also be given as a course in higher level education institutions.
Tourism Marketing Research Expert at Addis Ababa Culture and Tourism Bureau Mihiret Getachew says the prospect of conference tourism is promising compared to the previous period.
Low awareness of the society towards the industry, inadequacy of the infrastructure development, and absence of meeting hotels are mentioned as bottleneck to further develop the sectors, he adds.
Although hotels construction has been expanding throughout the country, they are not enough both in number and in providing standardize services, he insists. “Enough promotional and marketing works have not been done efficiently and effectively. As the capital is a place where various international organizations such as UNECA, AU and others reside, awareness raising works should be done. For this to happen, adequate capital should be allocated.”
Mihiret says that improving service provision, developing tourism facilities and beautifying the capital and other towns are important in this regard. When conference organizers come to a given city, they are not only thinking about the event, but also the various tourist sites, he notes.
There are few meeting organizers; in number as well as in capacity. They have to gain support from the government and others. “Though there is a visible change, we are at an early stage. When you develop a given sector, you have to take economic benefit into consideration. All stakeholders should provide due consideration to get benefit out of the sector.”
However, this does not happen overnight. It requires huge amount of effort and investment, they all agree.
Given the strategic importance of Ethiopia in continental politics and as an emerging economy, the conference tourism sector has the potential to become yet another contributor to the economy given the required infrastructure and strategy are put in place.
BY GIRMACHEW GASHAW
Empowering cooperatives to promote development
In Ethiopia, cooperatives are playing crucial roles in the socioeconomic development endeavors. As an economic enterprises and profitable organizations,cooperatives can play a significant role in uplifting the socioeconomic benefit of members and local communities to engage in income generating activities.
Nowadays, the number of cooperatives and their capital investment is rising year in year out. But this doesn’t mean that they have been reaching to the present stage without facing any hurdles. Recently, the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock Resources held a discussion with agricultural cooperatives and stakeholders especially with those who involved in vegetables and fruits producers to overcome the possible challenges.
On the occasion, Abdi Oumer, Deputy Director of Federal Cooperative Association said that currently the number of cooperative associations and their capital investment is raising across the country.
According to the director, more than 84 thousand cooperatives, 380 unions and three federations are operating across the country. These cooperatives have irrepressible role in generating more than 22 billion birr capital to the economy. Besides, cooperatives are creating job opportunities for many citizens. Of which, more than 1.5 million citizens have got permanent jobs.
What is more, the involvement of cooperatives in various sectors is increasing time to time. They are promoting common goals, enhancing community participation in value chains, and protecting producers from unfair pricing and illegal brokers and traders. Cooperative institutions are serving as an important instrument for the implementation of the national agricultural development policy and strategy as well as growth and transformation plan of the country ensuring the benefits of the member farmer communities with effective value chain development, inputs supply and creating market linkage.
However, the functionality of cooperatives is constrained by various challenges. Regional cooperative association representatives who participated in the forum indicated that market linkage, supply of inputs and infrastructure are the main challenges for the production and market of their vegetables and fruits. Due to these reason farmers are facing various obstacles with participation of illegal brokers and traders with lack of legal framework to protect vegetables and fruits from unfair market price. Lack of legal framework opens the way to unfair market price.
Moreover, the competitiveness of cooperatives also limited by shortage of skilled human resources, shortage of capital and limited access of credit for their business development. An effective and sustainable cooperative movement requires overcoming major constraints and strengthening capacities of administrators and management.
As to cooperative represe ntatives, market information is an August challenge for producers. Acquiring timely information helps producers and farmers not to abuse by illegal traders.
At national level, there is no sufficient supply of irrigation development inputs for producers and farmers. Most of the time, irrigation development inputs are supplied for fruit and vegetable producers if the input is adequate for other agricultural activities especially for the rainy season agricultural activities.
Nuradin Assero, Small Irrigation Coordinator at Ministry said that various efforts have been exerts to solve problems related to inputs supply and market linkage for vegetable and fruit producer cooperatives and to change the outlooks towards irrigation development.”We are working to solve associations’ problems having a plan to supply irrigation inputs in first and second phases so as to increase farmers’ productivity and profitability.”
Working aggressively with concerned stakeholders, cooperatives are now solving problems related to finance, market linkage, inputs supply and others. By replicating best practices and experiences, it would possible to maximize opportunities for betterment of cooperative institutions.
To some extent, the government is creating market linkages between cooperatives and universities to solve market problems and trying to close the door to avoid the involvement of illegal brokers and traders in the market.