‘How tax holiday, infrastructure devt can drive private sector to tourism’
The Ethiopian government recently shifted focus to tourism development following the COVID-19 global lockdown and disruption of air travel in 2020. About nine months later, new destinations opened to international tourists. Operations Director of Kuriftu Resorts, Yonaiel Belete, in this interview with WOLE OYEBADE, explained the role of Public Private Partnership (PPP) in seamless delivery of world-class destinations and in record time.
How has the COVID-19 outbreak impacted the tourism business, especially this location?
When COVID-19 pandemic broke out in the first quarter of 2020, it affected a major part of our business and we could only operate one to two per cent of our capacity for about eight months. We employed quite a lot of people. We have hundreds of workers in this facility and we have continued to construct the space in the last 16 years. As it is, we have about three hundred construction workers and a lot of people depend on our business as a company. By March of last year, we had very low business transactions, except for spa that had small capacity as people also come here for hair cuts. It was so tough for us.
But, thankfully, we were able to survive the plague. By the end of September, it was obvious that the entire world was tired. Nobody could contain anybody any longer, especially when it comes to hospitality and spending money. People could not travel as they used to, as a lot of restrictions were there globally. So, people decided they could spend their money internally. So, that is where we benefited as a company. We focused our facilities on domestic tourism and people can take their kids out for even one-day holiday. That is a great blessing to us in disguise. Within the period, we were able to add 61 more rooms to the resort.
What is the ratio of local and international patronage?
Before the pandemic outbreak, it used to be between 20:80 per cent for international and local, respectively, for all of our facilities. Now, we have a higher number of international tourists visiting. We are focusing more on the international market, and it is working with Ethiopian Airlines and the Ethiopian Holidays.
This is a lake area and a natural site. How does the management ensure security and safety for its clients in this facility?
I remember when my father was trying to build this place at the beginning, he received a lot of rejections from the government. They wondered why they should give him prime property on the high, to build a lake. He had to organise familiarisation trips for government officials to several countries. So, when they came back, they agreed that he could proceed. Since then, we have been able to represent our country in a more unique way.
Since we started construction in this facility years ago, there has not been any incident of snake bite recorded here. There are snakes in this habitat but they are not poisonous to humans. Inside the water itself, it is just only tilapia fish because the lake was created. You can’t even have catfish here. The crocodiles are in the Southern parts of Ethiopia and those ones are quite large and they are actually very cool tourists’’ attractions.
We have been expanding a lot, from 18 rooms, to 26, 50, 89 and now 140 rooms. What we do is that we regularly have meetings with our General Manager on the issue of security and we have been adding more security gadgets to further boost security in this facility. On access control, we are looking at many ways whereby we can boost the confidence of our clients and we are doing some Corporate Social Responsibilities (CSRs) with the local people. We also have regular meetings with the local government in this area in order to boost safety. We are lucky that we don’t have security issues in this area particularly.
How much support do you get from the government?
The government has put in a lot of emphasis on infrastructure development. Before now, there was no green space for people to walk around in Addis Ababa. Now, the capital is investing in more parks like Unity Park, Friendship Park, Museums and others. Also, the government is partnering with a lot of private investors to improve tourism and allocate more space for people that are willing to take the risk.
When COVID lockdown started and air travel was zero, the government called the private sector to a meeting on tourism promotion. Government sold tourism opportunities to the private sector, allotted hubs, provided the infrastructure and gave a six-months deadline for each investor to build its portion. Government did put in a lot of emphasis on infrastructure development. In Addis Ababa, before now, there was no green space for people to walk around them. That has changed. Private investors that are willing to improve tourism were allocated more space and tax holidays.
Right now, there are 10 locations with tax incentives. With that you don’t have to pay profit tax so that you can actually build your resorts. Ours (Kuriftu Resort Entoto) is actually one of them. In about nine months, we built it. I say that the government is really pushing for tourism growth and has really invested in three locations in the country. They are building more roads to get people there and also moving people to invest in lots of tourism activities.
Apart from this resort overlooking the lake, what other unique features do you have here?
This location is actually one of the seven created lakes. The lake is not meant for swimming, it is meant for car hiking and when you go hiking, you can see a lot of birds. It’s more like a natural scene and it is quieter here. We also have our spa facilities for massaging. People can come here to relax, especially couples who can use the spa facilities. We also have the cinema, but we are planning on upgrading it in the next month also so that we can have better sound systems and others. This particular facility is for people to have a more comfortable scene. They can watch movies at night. Obviously, everyone can watch movies on their smartphones, but the cinemas still have a very pleasurable experience.
In addition to that we have the water park, which is a big attraction to families especially for those who never had exposure to such a water park.
We are also planning to expand the park so that we can stay more competitive and add more to the needs of the customers. We have clients from the African Unions (AU), United Nations (UN) and a lot of the non-governmental organisations and others. We also have a wide range of restaurants here that take care of different types of dishes. We are also expanding the land areas and we intend to hold music concerts here. Music is a big culture and we intend to collaborate with a lot of people all over Africa and the world.