Ethiopia is one of the world’s oldest countries, its territorial extent having varied over the millennia of its existence. In ancient times it remained centered on Aksum, an imperial capital located in the northern part of the modern state, about 100 miles (160 km) from the Red Sea coast. Ethiopia country on the Horn of Africa. The country lies completely within the tropical latitudes and is relatively compact, with similar north-south and east-west dimensions. The capital is Addis Ababa (“New Flower”), located almost at the center of the country.
Mr Desale Mitiku, an Ethiopian and Managing Director of Grand Holidays Ethiopia Tours with a vast experience of 16 years in tourism. He is also the President of Skal International Addis Ababa. He also served as board of directors at Ethiopian Tour Operators Association which is the biggest association with more than 200 members.
In this Exclusive interview with Adewale Adenrele of African Development Magazine. Mr Desale speaks about hidden treasures and jewels of the oldest ancient Ethiopia and tourist attraction sites, his experience in tourism, photography, lifestyle and historical fact about his country and many more. Below are excerpts:
Can you tell us briefly about yourself, your family and educational background?
My name is Desale Mitiku. I was born in the ancient city of St. Lalibela where you find 11 rock-hewn churches from the 1200 AD curved out of one solid rock. I studied Business Administration and more than 16 years of experience in tourism. I am the managing director of Grand Holidays Ethiopia Tours. I also serve in the board of directors at Ethiopian Tour Operators Association which is the biggest association with more than 200 members. We also re-launched Skal International after 40 years of absence recently and I am the current Addis Ababa Skal International President.
Ethiopia is the oldest independent country in Africa with 3000 years of independence, how would you explain this?
Thanks to our forefathers who died to give us this freedom. A lot has been paid by them for the freedom we are enjoying now and who also helped and inspired our African brothers and black people around the world as a whole to fight for their freedom. This is why Ethiopia is regarded among black people around the world as symbol of freedom and independence. Hence, we celebrate victory day, not Independence Day. Because Ethiopia has never fallen under the brutal colonialism you can see undiluted history, culture and sense of pride. This the reason why we still have our own unique writing, undiluted African culture, history, and many languages we still use nationally. This also gave us an economic freedom and indigenous economic growth.
What are the challenges you faced while doing travel and tourism business and how did you overcome them?
One of the biggest challenges we have till date while we do travel and tourism marketing is people’s understanding about Africa. They think, all the problems of the world are concentrating in Africa. People don’t update themselves about the current situation and the positive developments we are experiencing in Africa. People think Africa is one small country, when one thing happens in West Africa or East Africa, they think it is all over the continent. For example; when Ebola happens in West Africa, they think it is everywhere in Africa, while the distance from West Africa to Europe is closer than the distance from West Africa to East Africa or South Africa. People need to understand that Africa is not a country, it is such diverse and beautiful big part of the world with more than 54 countries in it. That is often a challenge to market tourism.
In Ethiopia: The infrastructure and accommodation facilities have been a challenged 10 years ago. But, but now because the government have given a lot of attention to tourism there are much better roads, lodges and hotels in destinations. We also have one of the biggest domestic airport connections in Africa.
In tourism, we have aspect of tourism like educational tourism, religious tourism, medical tourism which area has Ethiopia selling point of tourism to world?
Ethiopia is one of the ancient countries in the world. With more than 3000 years of history, it is a country where you can see ancient African civilizations undiluted. Ethiopia is also a melting pot of cultures as it is a country where you have more than 84 different ethnic groups each one of them having their own unique culture. When it comes to nature, we have more than 63% of the African mountains, the Great Rift Valley, one of the lowest and oldest active volcanos also is found in Ethiopia, so we also have something for nature and wildlife lovers too. Having 9 of its sites registered under UNESCO World Heritage, Ethiopia also possesses the highest number UNESCO world heritage site in Africa. We are strong on the educational and cultural tours, but you can also easily say that Ethiopia has something for everyone’s interest. In general traveling to Ethiopia is like traveling to at least three countries on single trip.
What are the major attractions in Ethiopia?
We have our attractions distributed across the country. As you know Ethiopia is such a big country. The Northern Part: The Classic Historic Route with Simien mountains is one of the most famous routes for cultural tours and nature. In this part you will find ancient history and culture as old as 3000 years and amazing nature. On this route you will find Axum, Lalibela, Gonder, Bahirdar and Simien Mountains. Four of them are registered under UNESCO World Heritage site.
In the Eastern part of the country: you will find one of the lowest and hottest point on earth with the oldest Lava Lake still boiling at Ertale: the Dallol and Denakil Depression. Again, in the Eastern part you will find the ancient walled Islamic city of Harar which is referred by Muslims as city of Saints and regard it to be world’s fourth-holiest city after Mecca, Medina and Jerusalem. Harar Jugol was inscribed as a UNESCO, World Heritage Site in 2006.
Great historians knew Ethiopia from The Bible; can you tell us some existing places with historical fact?
Ethiopia is one of the few greatest ancient kingdoms in the world. It is one of the few oldest nations with ancient civilizations in the World. Many historians refer Ethiopia’s history from the bible which has been more than 45 times. It is also mentioned in the Bible and Quran many times.
It has a great place in the major religions of the world. When we talk about Christianity it is the second oldest Christian country in the world next to Armenia. Some even argue, based on different historical facts including the bible, they say that Ethiopia was Christian before Armenia too. As you can see Ethiopia was Christian before Rome and the rest of Europe was Christian and when the colonizers came to Africa under the name of Christening Ethiopia, there was an ancient Christian tradition deep rooted here which they never expected. This also gave us strength to fight against invaders. Christianity was not introduced to Ethiopia the way it was in the rest of Africa.
When we talk about Islam Ethiopia is considered “the heaven of the first migration or Hijra”. In 622 CE, some of the Prophet Muhammad’s followers, given the persecution they were subjected to in the city of Mecca, undertook their migration or journey to Ethiopia, where, there was a King who “did not wrong anyone”. Ethiopia was known as a land where its King Negus – or Al-Najashi – was a person in whose hands religious rights were respected and whose land was ruled with justice. The migration to Ethiopia that has laid down the foundations on which Islam was built, was the first migration in the history of Islam. Ethiopia is therefore a land that means freedom of expression and protection.
What would you advise the African leaders?
I will tell them to give more attention to tourism. Tourism is one of the most important and one of the fastest growing economic sectors in the world. It contributes greatly for the development of a country’s economy in generating huge amount of foreign currency and creating jobs. This is what the numbers tell us. According to the WTO report of 2018 tourism
Travel & Tourism investment in 2017 was USD: 882.4bn, or 4.5% of total investment. Employment: TOTAL CONTRIBUTION from the industry, was 9.9% of total employment (313,221,000 jobs). This is expected to rise significantly in the following years. Africa is not getting the benefits it should from tourism as enough attention has not been given to tourism. With little investments it can generate a lot greater than manufacturing, mining, food processing and other sectors.
We gain all these benefits while keeping our culture, protecting our nature and environment and with little investments. They need to give it more focus as an economy sector and it should be one of their economic priority. OAU should also give it a lot attention as a priority economic sector and it should lead under commission by itself than being tacked under transport commission.
Amazing memories are unforgettable; can u share with us most amazing memory?
I can’t forget my time trekking on the flats in one of the lowest and hottest point on earth and my walk up to the oldest lava lake still bubbling. We had this walk on the lava and we reach at the tip of the caldera around midnight. It was such an incredible feeling to walk on the lava, see the bubbling lake which has been in a such a way for more than 200 years and camp under the stars was amazing.
I cannot also forget my first visit to the most amazing UNESCO World Heritage site where I walked with the Gelada Baboon enjoying the breathtaking scenery on the chase pieces of the gods. This place is also called the Roof of Africa. As we may know Ethiopia possesses about 2/3 of the African Mountains. There are so many wonderful memories with tour operators and tourism leaders around the world but to mention few.
African ethnic groups and tribes have customs and traditions that are unique to their culture. What do you like about African Culture?
The first thing I like about these different cultures and tradition is that, they are unique and diverse traditions which you cannot find anywhere else, but Africa. Different tribes have their own culture and traditions which they have practiced for hundreds of years sometimes thousands of years. They have their own way of looking at the world, their own culture, belief, way of life. It is so interesting to visit the different tribes, experience their cultures, attend their rituals and try their foods and learn from their life. We should all respect and work on preserving it. The world will learn a lot from it and once traveled to Africa their understanding and life changes forever.
What’s your secret?
Our secret to success is we passionately do what we do. We do not get tired to share how beautiful our country Ethiopia and our continent Africa is. We pay attention to little details. We provide a more personalized service to our clients. This is why we are where are we are now.
What do you value the most?
We value most our staff and our clients. Our staffs are our main assets. We work as a team as a family and we make sure we support each other doesn’t matter what happens. It is vital to make sure they are also given the value they deserve. They are the key for our success.
We give high value to our clients and we appreciate the trust they put on us. We always want them to feel that by choosing to come with us they made the right decision. Because, now a days the biggest challenge is not where to go, but who to go with. Once they travel with us, they are more our friends than clients. We always want to make sure they return satisfied and then they will definitely be our ambassadors. The first-hand experience sharing is the best way of marketing.
In term tourism, Ethiopia is a force to be reckoned with in Africa with stable economy, how would you educate interested student and potential tourist to visit Ethiopia?
Ethiopia is one of the fastest growing economy in Africa and the world consecutively for the last ten years now. Tourism is playing its own role for the growing economy. In the minds of many, Ethiopia was not a country to cross their mind when it comes to holiday destination, but that is changing fast now. Ethiopia now is the fast-emerging tourism destination in the world. In the last few years it has been continuously voted by many travel medias as one of the top ten countries to visit in the world. I am sure this will continue to be for many more years.
Ethiopia has truly risen from its troubled past and crowned with the title as an African country with one of the fastest growing economies in the world. I am sure, as we have inspired many African brothers and sisters to get their freedom against colonialism, with the ongoing changes we can inspire our fellow Africans one more time in tourism and the economy.
Ethiopia indeed is an inexhaustible source of wonders for travelers- a sprawling country of ancient African civilization, colorful festivals, breath taking landscapes, diverse tribal culture and amazingly friendly people.
Dating back to the very beginnings of mankind, Ethiopia is old…old, beyond imagination. It is also the land of Queen of Sheba, a place of legendary rulers, fabulous kingdoms in ancient histories. Mother Nature was in a playful mood when she created Ethiopia, the result is a land that varies greatly from one region to the next. With more than 80 languages and some 200 dialects, each ethnic group, preserves its own unique customs and traditions.
African Development Magazine would like to partner for promotion and event coverage of tourism business, would you support this development?
We would be so happy to partner with African Development Magazine and work together to promote events and tourism business. We will support in all we can. I am sure we will create great partnerships in promoting Ethiopia’s hidden jewel to Africa and the world.
Thank you for sharing with ADM.