19 May 2018

Ethiopia: Local Tourism - Gateway to Sense of Patriotism, Empathy

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If there is a mechanism that helps low-cost service providers make profit, is cost-effective to local tourists and brings sustainable socio-economic benefits to people living in tourist areas, there is no reason that a positive mutual relationship cannot be built, writes Neftalem F. Hailemeskel (neftalemfikre@gmail.com), a certified digital marketer and owner of a digital marketing firm.

A relative of mine went on a vacation to the Omo Valley in Ethiopia for a week. He came back to Addis Abeba with stories of how the native people of the valley had customs and cultures that are truly unique. What struck me was the conversations he had with the people.

Beyond the staged ceremonial events and museums, it was the conversations he had with the elders and the youth that added depth and understanding of the culture that created a sense of empathy between himself and the people who live there.

But there was a catch to this romanticised moment. The whole trip cost about 30,000 Br. The tourism industry is only capable of catering to wealthy Ethiopians and non-nationals. Considering this is the group that can afford the high price tag, actors in the tourism industry have invested a lot of money in orienting this narrow focus.

Local tourism could be more than a sector in which revenue can be generated. It can help strengthen the connection between residents of different regions of the nation. It could help in creating empathy and understanding between people of the country, as well as serving as the building block of patriotism.

If there is a mechanism that can help low-cost service providers make profits, create convenient and cost-effective ways to attract local tourists and bring about sustainable socio-economic benefits to natives, there is no reason why positive mutual relationships cannot be built. Before reaching this level though, four significant concepts have to be considered: paradigm, volume, accreditation and empathy.

Paradigm is the perspective from which we view events. In the context of local tourism, the journey of tourism is divided into two principal scopes: vacation (leisure) and holiday (visiting religious sites). Within these two scopes are further divisions including couples, families, acquaintances and individuals - making up what is known as volume.

Accreditation is validation given by an authority, either a federal or regional office of tourism to ensure the quality of services provided to the tourists.

Finally, there is empathy, an in-depth relationship between individuals where all parties understand how the other feels and analyses events. Once we understand these four concepts, we can begin to truly understand if local tourism builds a feeling of patriotism and unity. There is one mechanism that can address this question - synergy.

Synergy is the creation of a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. It takes into account the fact that if we are able to connect different sets of independent variables, then we can create interdependent variables that can produce a sum more significant than those variables working independently.

Thus, building a feeling of patriotism and unity requires establishing a common set of values, while local tourism needs to create incentives for citizens to travel around their nation. However, these two independent variables can actually be connected through the value chain of paradigm, volume, accreditation and empathy.

Through paradigm analysis, we already know that majority of local tourist are working class or middle-class families usually from urban areas of Ethiopia. We also know that they can be travelling in groups, with family and friends, or solo.

The Ministry of Culture & Tourism (MoCT) must take the initiative to conduct basic research through questionnaires and data analysis of the needs and wants of these local tourists. It can then relate the findings to service providers to adapt and cater to the needs of one of the four groups and work on attracting their primary customers.

If a service provider, looking at the data provided, business plan, location and funds believe that it should target a family group, then it would invest more in family-orientated activities and establishments. This can be horse riding or stays in bungalows. They can then focus on how to reach such groups within urban areas. This can be on family-oriented assemblages such as religious gatherings, parks or schools.

By doing so, it is possible to increase the volume of customers while being economical in investing and marketing services.

To create trust between the customers and service providers, the authorities can certify service providers with an accreditation system that can fulfil the basic needs of local tourists. An accrediting agency can certify the facilities such as the centres and the security systems. The names of such establishments must be made readily available on the internet and also on lists that are made available to regional offices around the country. By doing as such, local tourists will be confident that their basic needs are being met through accreditation by a trustworthy source.

At this stage, the service provider has a safe stream of revenue from the high volume of local tourists that visit their establishments. It will give rise and awaken the domestic tourism and get people to spend more time on vacations as a result of affordable pricing. They will be able to spend more time in local establishments, souvenirs shops, coffee houses and public transport.

They will interact with the local population, strengthening their chances of developing relationships with the people of the area which through time and frequency of visits will create empathy for one another. It will improve the culture of travel in Ethiopia, bring about understandings between people, and awaken the feeling of patriotism and unity in the nation.

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