Sources indicate that tourism, unlike the other sectors, highly demands everyone, irrespective of his\her status in every aspect of life, to be its ambassador to bring the desired result. Obviously, the Media is one of the most influential tools in this regard. And this is not lost on the government body that oversee the sector.
Ministry of Culture and Tourism in collaboration with other stakeholders have been organizing trips for media practitioners to various parts of the country for the past 6 years. This year, the Ministry has organized its 6th media forum in June 2018 at Adigrat, Tigray, where the Media community has visited various tourist attraction sites and a community lodge.
Anaf community Lodge at woreda Ganta Afeshum, was one of the sites visited by the media society. It is an epitome of community-run successful small business that not only economically interlinks and benefits various members of the community, but also plays its own constructive role in promoting the tourism sector of the region.
Abraha Tsegay is the manager and shareholder of the community Lodge. He told The Ethiopian Herald that the community lodge was established in 2009 with 90 members. The numbers of the members has now reached 180, after the interest to become member quickly rose by learning the lodge's economic importance.
He said, so far, the members of the community lodge have taken out their dividend payment in three rounds. In the first round, the shareholders got 240 thousand Birr, then 50 thousand in the second round, and over 80 thousand Birr last year.
According to Abraham, Anaf community lodge has created jobs for 12 individuals - 4 cooks, 4 guides, a manager, a watchman and a cashier among others. "The tourists are very happy to spend their time here to see the wonderful nature and remarkable sceneries of our landscapes. The flow of the tourists is currently raising," he said. He said that 99% of the visitors who come to them are foreigners.
Having told this reporter that she is one of the shareholders of Anaf community lodge, Tsigab Kidanemariam, a cook, expressed that when tourists come, she makes 100 Birr in 24 hours away from her dividend as a member. Moreover, she is very hopeful that she would be more beneficiary through time as the flow of tourists is increasing.
Berhe Kalayou, a chairperson of Mulualem and Birhan guiding and travel agent Share Company whom this reporter approached him said that guiding is the business he is fully engaged for living.
He said that the number of tourists visiting the wonderful landscapes nearby the lodge are getting higher from time to time. Selling the nature and the society's traditional way of life are the main tourist attractions of Tigray Eastern zone, Berhe added. The spectacular landscapes of Gheralta, the monastery of Debre damo, the sacred rock hewn churches, the historical and archaeolog ical sites are the noteworthy attractions of the zone just to mention a few among many others.
Hagos Gebremariam, Lecturer at Adigrat University Department of Sociology presented a paper on 'The endowments of Eastern Zone of Tigray in tourism'. As to him, more than 85 of the rock hewn churches in Tigray are found in this zone. Moreover, Derih Ahmedin Nejashi (the tomb of Ahmedin Nejashi), known as the second Mecca is found in this zone. This sacred place, according to the instructor, is the place where the first followers of the Islamic religion started to worship in Ethiopia in 615 E.C for the first time. "This is a living testimony of the tolerance and mutual respect of various religions in Ethiopia since those times," Hagos indicated.
As for the instructor, the Eastern zone of Tigray is endowed with various eye catching spectacular chained mountains such as the Gheralta, Seheta, Adigrat, Asimba, Atsbi, Saesi'e Tsaeda emba mountains, among others, ranging from 1800 to 3500 Meters above sea level.
Meanwhile, Berhe said that the lodges in the zone are not yet promoted at the needed level. "The most saddening point in this regard is that foreign promoters such as lonely planet are promoting these lodges while nothing is done by the domestic media and other Ethiopian tour and travel companies; hence a lot remains to be done in this regard."
Further, he claimed that the political situation in the last few years has influenced the flow of tourists.
According to him, the other challenge facing anyone engaged in the sector is the fact that tourism is seasonal. "For instance, we can make good money from October to March, but then after it goes down till the end of September.
But, the very promising side here is that the sector is very opportunistic that we can operate side business with the money we generate from our main job," he noted before adding, "to be specific, my workmate, for instance, has bought a vehicle and four others have opened their own cafeteria all with the money they made and saved from guiding," he ascertained. Berhe expressed that the travel agency company he chairs has 6 members, and each member in average gets 60 thousand Birr per year.
Currently, there are 6 active community lodges in the Eastern zone of Tigray namely Shimbreyti, Chehat, Erar, Gahgot, Seheta and Anaf community lodges. These days, a tourist averagely spends 3.24 nights in these community lodges, and is expected to pay more than 1650 Birr a night, including all accommodations the community lodge offers. While 80 percent of that goes to the guides and the community, the rest 20 percent goes to the tour and travel company for its role in booking and promoting the community lodges. So far, 240 foreigners have visited the community tourism lodge in this fiscal year
"Lack of continuous training, provision of trekking shoes as we have to travel quite a long distance averagely 400 to 800 kilometers per day are the critical challenges of us," he noted.
Ato Dawit Hailu, Tigray Culture and Tourism Head told the forum that though it is true that Tigray is endowed with a wide range of tourist attractions, a lot still remains to be done to exploit these opportunities. "In this regard, we are working with two strategies - in one hand, we have created a platform that enables the private sector to develop this sector, and on the other hand, we are working to maximize the participation and ownership of the communities".
As to the organizers, the very objective of the establishment of the culture and tourism media forum is to wisely exploit the role of the media to contribute its share in the country's socioeconomic development by promoting the nation's culture and tourism.