ADDIS ABABA (HAN) April 11. 2016. Public Diplomacy & Regional Security News. BY: ADDISALEM MULAT. Many agree that the tourism sector is a vivacious and viable business which provides major economic development opportunities for many countries and means of improving the livelihoods of their citizens.
No exception for Ethiopia, as it is blessed with bountiful tourism resources with an assortment of wonderful historical, cultural, archaeological and natural tourist attractions. While we are on the subject, the focus of this writer is not to talk about the nitty-gritty of tourism but to make the pioneer of Ethiopian tourism industry, Hapteselassie Tafesse acquainted with the general public. Haptesilassie otherwise called ‘the inventor of Ethiopia tourism’ in those early times hostile to tourism. Exclusive of any hyperbole, he is the uncrowned king of the sector. This great figure, the polyglot, has passed through many ups and downs to take Ethiopian tourism industry to the next level of success at any price. What is more, he has been showered with various awards from different organizations for his distinguished achievements for the development of tourism service in Ethiopia and outstanding contributions to the preservation of Ethiopian history and culture. The Ethiopian Herald Guest page had shared Hapteselassie’s reflections on various issues. Excerpts:
Ato Hapteselassie, I would like to forward my sincere appreciation to you on behalf of The Ethiopian Herald for your willingness to give me this interview. First of all, would you please introduce yourself to our esteemed readers?
In the beginning, I do not know how to thank you for giving me this golden opportunity to pass my ideas to the general public. To return to your question, my name is Hapteselassie Tafesse. I was born here in Addis Ababa. At this moment in time, I am a father of three. To my amazement, I am 90 years old. I do not know why God has granted me such a long age. I am physically strong and do whatever I like and go wherever I yearn for. He can take me at whatever time He likes as I am His property. I would like to thank God in this regard. Devoid of any hyperbole, I have passed through many ups and downs to take Ethiopian tourism industry to an up-to-the-minute level of triumph. Moreover, I have contributed tremendously to my dearly loved country as my complete pleasure is throwing in my share to the growth of my beloved country. If I had done the whole lot rooted in my interest and plan from the very beginning, the Ethiopian tourism industry would have gotten billions of dollars year on year. Before I forget, I had excellent parents who tried all they could to make my bread buttered well. My father was the sole bread winner of the house while my mother is a housewife. The father served as a minister and as an ambassador. I have also played a part in countless development comings and goings. In spite of the fact that I have done a number of life-changing projects and other significant things to my much-loved country, I hate to death blowing my own horn. As my father was an ambassador, I have been to different parts of the world such as Greece, America, France and so forth. Everything considered, I have been to most part of the world. In this way, I lived in foreign countries for many years. By the way, I set in motion my primary school in Teferi Mekonnen School which was positioned in the heart of Sidist Kilo. Subsequently, I attended classes in different part of the world and at the end of the day I was able to have my first degree from America in Government Public Relations. The instant I returned to Ethiopia, I began working in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as the head of the press. My duties were entertaining visitors, journalists and all that.
How and when were you able to set in motion working in the Ministry of Tourism?
While I was working in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as the head of the press, Emperor Haile-Selassie invited me to his office to have small talk on the topic of a range of issues. In the middle of our talk, he told me that he had appointed me to organize Tourism in Ethiopia. I did not have the foggiest idea about tourism. I told the Emperor in black and white that I did not have any idea about the sector which enabled me to make an effort to organize tourism institution. Subsequently, the Emperor forced me to roll up my sleeves. He also warned me not to say I could not before I discovered the end result. In an unimpressed manner, there was no budget allocated for this purpose. I got hot under the collar when I heard the reality on the ground. When I was at a loss what to do, I went straight to the budget committee to take advice pertaining to the problem. I explained clearly to the ministry of the time everything required to organize tourism across the country. As the ministry was not interested from top to bottom in the idea I raised, he said, “Why should we spend in dribs and drabs our time by babying foreigners to come to our country? If they do not want to come here, they can stay behind in their own country. We do not have to beseech them.” He fully poured cold water on my attempt. I was gnashing my teeth for not a soul was able to give an ear to what I whispered. He thought the industry could be organized with my hands tied behind my back. After a long fight with my thoughts, I reached into a conclusion to open a duty free shop whatever the cost may be.
While we are on the subject, were you able to open the duty free shop fruitfully? We wonder if you share us your challenges, if any ?
Well, the thing was, I took the case straight to Emperor Haile-Selassie once again. After he thought for a moment or two, he invited the Ministry of Finance to take part in our dialogue. I thought our problem would be solved through dialogue within the shortest time possible. The Ministry of Finance found my proposal like a bitter pill to swallow. He said, “At this moment in time, we are not able to bring to a standstill smuggled goods on a national scale. But Hapteselassie would like to open a duty free shop on our head.” He was very much conservative and talked nineteen to the dozen. At that specific juncture, I did not know if I was standing on my head or my heels. I was considered as insane for coming up with the idea of opening a duty free shop.
By the same token, my idea was opening a duty free shop and organize tourism industry with the profits I got from the business. Finding money to run the business by itself was another stumbling block. When I was at a loss what to do, I went to a certain shop to borrow money using my father’s residential map as collateral. The shop owner went through the residential house plan seriously and said,” Ato Hapteselassie this residential map belongs to your father not you.” I explained the entire story unequivocally. After he had listened attentively the whole thing, the shop owner gave me 25,000 dollars exclusive of any collateral. At that specific juncture, I did not believe my eyes except rubbing them surprisingly. I felt as if a huge weight was off my body. I thanked him with all my heart and headed straight home. After a couple of days, I went out of the country to purchase Johnny Walker whisky for the duty free shop. As chance would have it, I bumped into somebody from Greece. He was the agent of Johnny Walker. As luck would have it, he gave me a container full of Johnny Walker without collateral on credit. Almost immediately, I put on the market all of them. I ordered again and got some profits.
At the end of the day, I went to President Girma W/Giorgis office to trouble him to give us free space for our purpose. He was the head of the then Civil Aviation. In next to no time, he gave me a beautiful place to sell our personal effects. Soon I hired a beautiful girl to run the business. She was a gifted saleswoman. All and sundry began using our duty free shop every now and then. This being the case, we were able to achieve the intended target in the blink of an eye. If the government of the time had not taken our profit, Ethiopian tourism would have moved to the highest level. As I was excellent at different languages, I was able to communicate with tourists who came from various parts of the world. I am excellent at different language except Amharic for the reason that I grew up in different parts of the world. I am still not good at Amharic language as it is incredibly easier said than done to understand. At the time I was in the Teferi Meknonnen School, I tried all I could to learn the language but for I communicate with others in different languages I was not able to master Amharic language effortlessly. To return to my point, I was forced to organize tourism without any budget. Can you imagine organizing something without a penny?
After you began running the duty free market in the Ethiopian Airlines compound, were you able to achieve success within the shortest time possible? What other activities did you bring into play to expand tourism industry across the country?
As a matter of fact, I was very busy thinking how to expand tourism industry in the left, right and centre of the country. Wherever you go in the different parts of the world, you cannot get a single country with thirteen months of sunshine by mistake. In point of fact, I did not even know for myself that Ethiopia possesses thirteen months of sunshine. When I learnt this fact from somebody, I made up my mind to do something by means of this God-given nature. Unsupplied with any hyperbole, by its very nature, the climate of Ethiopia is only one of its kind. In due course, I was able to design a poster entitled the thirteen months of sunshine. I have also produced a range of posters. For this reason, the number of visitors coming from different parts of the world to Ethiopia soldiered on with intensifying every so often. By the way, while I was explaining to the Emperor about the different posters I produced with a view to promoting Ethiopian tourism, he came across a picture of ascertain woman with unclothed breasts. It was an attention-grabbing picture. After the Emperor gazed at the picture, he asked me why I had taken the picture of the woman unsupplied with bra. I told him that tourists feel affection for this kind of picture which expresses the natural beauty of Ethiopia. Then he said, “I overheard that you are also crazy about breast very much more than tourists do.” To the best of my knowledge, the biggest wealth of Ethiopia is its people next to its suitable type of weather. Subsequent to the introduction of different posters, the number of tourists began flowing from time to time. On one occasion, one of the American presidents sent a certain group to visit Ethiopia. They visited Ethiopian agricultural products. They became infinitely happy in what they observed. At the end of the day, the president said, “Ethiopia is the richest country in the world. Ethiopia is the bread basket of Africa which can feed billions of people.” Our country is the cradle of human beings. Sorrowfully, we are not able to bring into play the God-given potential our country possesses. If people living in every part of the country had known that Ethiopia is the cradle of human beings, millions of people would have come to Ethiopia. Above and beyond, if we had erected a big monument in the region where Lucy was discovered, we would have seen a new change across the country.
How do you define the existing Ethiopian tourism industry at this point in time? What do you think should be done to take Ethiopian tourism industry to the next level of success?
I have the guts to say, much has not been done on the topic of tourism as expected. If the people of Ethiopian had worked hard, we would have reached to a new height of success in the present day. Success can be achieved by the sweat of our brow. If we know the secret of tourism industry, we can secure billions of dollars out of the sector without problem. Furthermore, as there are several embassies and organizations in the capital, it will be possible to create numerous job opportunities using different inventiveness. As far as the next question is concerned, change can only be registered through practice not by word of mouth. If the intended target is to expand tourism, we should be able to spend a large amount of money on the sector. Besides, the profit we get from duty free shop should be spent on the expansion of tourism across the country. Also, we need to work hand in glove with the general public if the intended target is to take the industry to the next level of attainment.
By the same token, we need to have in excess of 500 luxury hotels in every corner of the country. During Emperor Haile-Selassie regime, tourists were used to visit the palace and invited tea, coffee and sometimes lunch. There were more than ten palaces in different parts of the country. Currently, the capital is flooded with innumerable cars and thus it takes a long time to reach a very short distance. If you long to take tourists to their destination, you end up breaking your promise as a consequence of traffic congestion. Presently, we do not even have enough parking lots across the country. Despite the fact that it is impossible to live without a car, some mechanism which can wipe the problem from the face of the country once and for all should be designed. By the way, I have proposed something to the incumbent government which can lessen the problem straight away but I did not get immediate response from the concerned body. At the time I started working here in Addis Ababa, the number of inhabitants was not more than 16,000. The biggest centre was ‘Piazza.’ There were also finger counted hotels in the capital.
Could you share to our readers what you have proposed to the government?
Taking the flooding of Addis Ababa with various cars into account, I came up with something which can make the problem less burdensome. The thing was, I proposed to the government of Ethiopia underground metro to be constructed in the capital. By the way, it is like creating another Addis Ababa. It is very beautiful. If you go to different parts of the world, you can see many countries using underground metro on a regular basis. Whenever a good idea appears, the government should be able to put it into practice without delay. In this fashion, the intended target could be achieved with no trouble. The entire world love Ethiopia very much. To catch the attention of tourists, we need to keep away from impediments which pour cold water on their interest.
What do you do during your leisure time?
It is obvious that the way how we spend our leisure time varies from individual to individual. Something which gives pleasure to you may not please others. In the course of my leisure time, I create a number of projects which help create job opportunities. At this point in time, I do not need anything for me as the biggest capital on earth is being in good physical shape. I have been taking part in various projects centring on coffee. I have been also advertising the various historical heritages of Ethiopia by stamping on knives, forks, spoons and the rest in various shapes and forms. In our country there are more than 300 types of coffee. Coffee is Ethiopia’s gift to the world. Thanks to Ethiopia, today Coffee is the world’s largest industry and most popular drink consumed by billions of people. Coffee business amounts to 15.14 billion dollars annually. That does not include the billions of cups drunk daily around the world. I have almost labelled them based on their level and quality. If we put each packed coffee based on their level, quality and origin, we can easily put them on the market. All coffee is not the same. I am also making these things clearer to the general public by designing various projects.
Many say Ethiopian tourism is untapped. What is your reflection on this ?
Undoubtedly, Ethiopia possesses various untapped resources which have the capacity of creating countless job opportunities for our compatriots. For instance, how many of us know that Ethiopia possesses some 4,000 thermal spring water throughout the country. Several countries worldwide bring into play thermal-mineral water in the field of healthcare, recreation and so forth. If we make use of our resources positioned in every part of the country as it should be, we can augment the number of tourists coming to Ethiopia without doubt.
Millions of people in Europe take vacation. They go to different places based on their curiosity and choice. Furthermore, thousands of visitors or patients go to spa resorts or spa-towns now and again. They also squander two or so weeks in pleasurable surroundings taking baths, physiotherapy, hydrotherapy and electrotherapy. More often than not, hot springs positioned in the Rift Valley could be made use of as basic resources for recreational centres and tourist resorts. The number of spas can be popular through the quality of therapeutic elements and their heterogeneity depending on the chemicals compositions of the mineral waters and their output.