STORY BY Annie
Ethiopia`s tourist attractions are not at all known to the world, while the image of the country to the world is war, poverty, and famine. Tourism is one of the fastest growing sectors, it alleviates poverty and allows the community, particularly women, to improve our economic status. My country is one of the poorest in the world but it is changing rapidly and being part of that as a female travel entrepreneur encourages me immensely.
You are a travel entrepreneur. Tell us your personal story of how you came to be a travel entrepreneur. What inspired you?
I graduated from the Addis Ababa University in 1983 while Ethiopia was under the Socialist regime. At that time it was the Government/University that assigns you in any field that you intend to major, my choice was to study law but I was forced to learn Journalism. After graduation it was compulsory to draw a lottery on the institution you join and by sheer luck I was accepted by the Sole Tour Company. In 1991 the Military Socialist Government was overthrown and private ownership was allowed. In 1993 I resigned from the National Tour Operation and started establishing my own company where I was able to come up with Travel Ethiopia.
Initially I started the business from my bed room where I moved the service to quarter of my mother’s house and in May 1994 I owned a small office with in a compound of a Hotels known as Ghion Hotel. It wasn’t my choice to be in the tourism sector but once I was it was my passion, I love my job and enjoy it greatly.
What challenges do you face as a woman in Ethiopia?
Finance to access is one of the major issues that I face and this goes for all women in Ethiopia.
The main challenge I face is balancing work—family in general life balance. During the establishment of my company I used to spend most of my time at work and had it not been for my mother that gave me a hand at that time I would not be where I am today.
The nature of my sector involves entreating clients in the evening taking them out for dinner, at the end of their trip, due to their tight schedules meetings are mostly scheduled after working hours with tour leaders or guests. This is a great challenge for me as a woman. Most women value the time we have after work as we have a lot to do at home. My fellow male tour operators have the advantage of spending more time after office hours.
Lack of available advisers and mentors is the one of the major challenge for my professional growth particularly at the initial stage.
Briefly tell me in one or two sentences maximum about your business.
Travel Ethiopia is a private, eco-minded tour and safari operator established in 1994. Its vast experience allows Travel Ethiopia to introduce the traveler to the myriad facets of Ethiopia’s past and present.
How does your business empower women?
Travel Ethiopia is especially committed to contributing to women’s empowerment in Ethiopia. Travel Ethiopia became an example for others in the tourism sector in Ethiopia by being the first tour agency to hire permanent female guides. During my employment with the Government, women guides were not able to be productive, since the perception of the society was negative towards female guides. The profession itself accompanying foreigners was considered as sex workers and were facing enormous problems left and right, but after private ownership was allowed the growth of women entrepreneur changed the negative view.
Travel Ethiopia has created a sister company known as Village Ethiopia, where it has a lodge in a remote area of the Eastern part of the country, while it created an employment for a total of 25 local Afars, out of the eight are women, most of them have become independent and have reached a stage where they are not accepting polygamy marriage as the tribe follows the Muslim religion and negative traditional practices has been as well banned through the education we constantly provide.
Many of us associate Ethiopia with famine and hardship – what is the state of the country today?
Ethiopia is known to the outside world mainly as country of famine, war, poverty etc. This has changed a lot, as the country is one of the African leading countries that is growing economically at a very high rate. The private sector is very young, as private ownership only started in only 1991. The private sector is growing at a very high scale so is the population, currently has reached to a hundred million and the percentage of young people less than 30 years take the main share.
The role of media in disseminating destructive news has played a major role on the image of Ethiopia, while the country has many positive and unique aspects the world does not know. Ethiopia is the origin of Coffee and humankind. In addition to the amazing historical sites the country own.
What do you think are the highlights of your country – not to be missed?
Ethiopia is the leading country in Africa for registering over ten tangible and intangible heritages by UNESCO and many more heritages are on the pipeline to join the prestigious list. What makes Ethiopia different from the entire East African country is that it’s diversified attractions, nature, history, scenery, unique wild & birdlife, and the active volcano.
One of the most popular tourist attractions in Ethiopia, is feeding the hyena. At two different locations in the city you are able to feed the Hyenas every single night. The city of Harar is also extremely interesting being the 4th most holy city for Muslims; great museums, food etc.
Lalibela is a must see for the attractions in Ethiopia. This is a city designed and built to be the 2nd Jerusalem; many Ethiopians from the city still claim that fact. It is home to an extremely impressive array of churches that are carved out of stone including the famous St. Georges Cathedral. There is also a variety of monasteries in the region that you can visit.
Ethiopia has some unique ceremonies; can you tell us a little about those?
Ethiopia`s history goes back 3000 years. There are many colorful holidays and celebrations throughout the year. Every one of the parish churches and the monasteries of the Orthodox Tewahido Church all have at least one minor monthly and one major annual festival.
Meskel (The Finding of the True Cross) – Celebrated on September 27 (or September 28 during a leap year such as 2016). The eve, Sep 26, is celebrated at an open amphitheater (Meskel Square) in Addis Ababa with a huge bonfire and priests in splendid ceremonial attire.
Genna (Ethiopian Christmas) – Christmas in Ethiopia, like most other Christian holidays, is celebrated in its own unique way. The people wear a thin cotton wrap and gather in the churches to celebrate the birth of Christ with a beautiful ceremony throughout the night.
A Christmas celebration hardly imagined in Lalibela, the “Second Jerusalem,” with traditions unknown outside the ancient Ethiopian Orthodox Church.
Ethiopian Christmas is observed two weeks after European Christmas on January 7 with a colorful midnight mass on January 6.
Timket (Epiphany) – Celebrated on the 18th to 19th of January annually or the 20th January during a leap year. This involves a colorful procession of priests and followers singing and dancing. They carry the Tabots (replicas of the Holy Ark of the Covenant that sanctifies and sits on the altar of every Ethiopian Orthodox Church inside the Holy of Holies) from their sanctuaries amongst the celebrants. Observed on January 19, Timket is the most popular national holiday among Ethiopian Christians. The best venues for Timket are Addis Ababa, Gondar and Lalibela.
Fasika (Easter) – The Lenten fasting for fifty-five days before feasting on Fasika is the most popular prayer season in the Orthodox Tewahido Church. The attractions of this festival are the Good Friday service and the lively midnight mass on the eve, which adds to the exuberance of the holiday. The best venues for Fasika are Addis Ababa and Lalibela.
The question on many women’s mind when travelling in a third world country, is it safe to travel in Ethiopia, are there areas we should avoid?
Ethiopia in general is one of the safest countries in the world. Most of the neighboring countries faced terrorist attack while Ethiopia did not. Petty theft and mugging is common and on the rise. Take particular care when visiting crowded public places, at night. One needs to keep valuables like cameras and passports carefully. There is the risk of pick-pocketing. Taking guided tours is highly recommended and you need to follow the advice of the guide.
(Tip from the Travel Bra Team: Put your passport and credit card in your Travel Bra when you go shopping in the bazaar – don’t leave your passport in your bag – market pickpockets are very skilful !)
Can we buy alcohol? Do we need to wear a head cover? What do people eat?
Ethiopia as a whole particularly in most of the main cities night life is growing at high rate, alcoholic drinks are available 24/7, the only time tourists require code for dressing is while vising churches or mosques, this is where short skirts and long sleeves clothing is required. By the way Ethiopia is a Christian dominating country.
A little bit about Samrawit CEO of Travel Ethiopia
Samrawit Moges Beyene is an Ethiopian Tour Operator working and residing in Addis Abebe , Ethiopia. Samrawit had no tourism experience when she joined the sole government tour company in Ethiopia, the National Tour Operator (NTO) in 1983 during the socialist regime. When the socialist government was replaced by the current regime in 1991 and private ownership is allowed Samrawit founded her company along with her husband Thomas Mattanovich in 1994.
Find Travel Ethiopia: www.travelethiopia.com & on Facebook Travel Ethiopia & Samrawit Moges
We hope you enjoyed this interview – if you are a female travel entrepreneur and willing to offer mentoring to women travel entrepreneurs in Ethiopia, please contact us, or contact Samrawit through www.travelethiopia.com or on Facebook Travel Ethiopia & Samrawit Moges
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