We are preparing to be powerhouse for inter-African travel, tourism – Belete
As Ethiopia opens up its country for travel and tourism after the lockdown, one destination that has continued to put the country on the travel map is the Kuriftu resort, a destination for health, beauty, and relaxation. YONAIEL BELETE, Operations Director, Kuriftu Resorts, in this interview with IFEOMA OKEKE, speaks on how the resort is helping grow travels and fast becoming the biggest and most popular boutique lodging chain in Ethiopia.
Could you take us through your journey at Kuriftu Resorts, Ethiopia?
I have been working in this company for six years as the Operations Director, but I have been working here six years before that. So, I have been here from the very beginning when we had 18 rooms, but you can see there is a lot of growth. In fact, we just inaugurated an additional 61 rooms and another 131 beds to this property so that we can accommodate more people because we are gearing up to become a powerhouse especially in inter-African travels and tourism. Obviously, we have not always been a very strong contender, but we have always shown a very strong promise.
Now, we are trying to raise the bar, by investing our ideas and finances in areas within our country so that we can develop because there are a lot of incentives to grow within this country, especially from the tourism angle, it depends on who wants to be the risk-takers. Being the first entry into the market is always the scary part. We have many beautiful locations, but unfortunately, people are afraid to take the risk in terms of investment to create destinations.
Destination is regarded as natural here, but you have to bring infrastructure and investments. Presently, we have about 12 business units and a few of them, we have to bring in expertise from abroad, but most of them, we do it ourselves.
What are the prospective markets of locating this business in this place and what is your projection of tourism and travel growth in Ethiopia?
Let’s look at the projection right now; this particular place is built to mainly take care of the local market within our own country. This is also because Addis Ababa was not as attractive as it is right now as a tourism destination because not many people wanted to come here for a night. So, this location was actually made for people who live inside Ethiopia. Not that we should be limited to that, though, because now, Addis Ababa is investing in more parks like Unity Park, Friendship Park, Museums and others.
So, with these packages, I see a lot of people combining it with our locations. We are not limited in terms of scope because we have to take care of people’s needs in terms of events and others. With the proper guidelines and if people are comfortable, I think there is a lot of potentials for tourism to grow especially in Addis Ababa and a lot of cities that are close to it. But, as I have said earlier, taking the risk and investing in this form of a business will take sometimes because of the risk.
What unique features do you have here?
This location is actually one of the seven created lakes. The lake is not actually 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’s 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. So, 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.
What impact does the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic have on your services and what stage of recovery are you?
When the 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 percent of our capacities for about eight months. By March of last year, we had very low business transactions, except for spa that had low capacity as people also come here for haircuts. It was so tough for us.
But, thankfully, we were able to survive the plague and by September, which is Ethiopian’s New Year when the entire team came back. By the end of September, even when everyone was trying to adapt to the Covid-19 regulations, 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 because of a lot of restrictions 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 as I mentioned earlier.
How much cooperation do you have with other companies?
My father is a part of the Board of Tourism for Ethiopia and he also has close ties with the Ethiopian Tourism Organisation as well. But, because of our current situation as a country now, there has not been much result achieved, but for the future, the plan is to collaborate with others, especially international organisations like Akwaaba African Travel Market.
How much contribution is the Ethiopian Government doing to enhance travel and tourism as a whole in this country and what areas do you think the government needs to do more in the sector?
What I am seeing is that the government has put in a lot of emphasis on infrastructure development, Addis Ababa in particular. Before now, there was no green space for people to walk around. Also, the government is partnering with a lot of private investors to improve tourism and allocate more space for people who are willing to take the risk to develop infrastructure. 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 is one of them.
What is your impression about social media in promoting tourism in Ethiopia?
Social media-wise, we tend to collaborate with media influencers, especially the African ones because we think this is very key in developing our brand. There was a Nigerian social media influencer that came to our location about four months ago and recorded a lot of activities. Also, we have a Ghanaians here today who we invited to come to Ethiopia for the same purpose because we are trying to reach out to a lot of social media influencers to attract more clients to us. We hope that others can do the same.
How much tourism do the local people explore in Ethiopia?
Currently, we have a big surge, especially among the younger generation; those between the ages of 20 to 30 years old. People now use social media, especially Telegram groups for discussions. People are using more roads these days to get to some locations and they are also using Ethiopian Airlines to get to far destinations. But, I also think it depends on the private organisations to ensure that they have more accommodation for these people to go to these locations.
You can see them go to some locations for a day for hiking because there is no accommodation. So, this shows there is a lot of potentials and if we can add some accommodations, it can attract a lot of the older generation because they want something that is safer, cooler, more accommodating and reliable. I think that is the grey area in the gap that I am seeing right now.
Q: With the proper guidelines and if people are comfortable, I think there is a lot of potentials for tourism to grow especially in Addis Ababa and a lot of cities that are close to it