Ethiopia: Ruralisation funds Urbanisation
Ethiopia has leveraged its age-old traditions and charm to generate modern-day economic prosperity
The ability to remain current and relevant in an ever-changing world is a challenge that all companies, countries, and even individuals, struggle to achieve. But as one of the oldest hosts of human life on the planet, Ethiopia thrives as a visitor destination as a result of its historical aesthetics and charm.
Located in the so-called Horn of Africa to the east, it is the most populous landlocked country in the world and the second most populated country on the continent; situated in a - literally - scorching cauldron of culture, tradition, religion and - progressively - business.
The mountainous terrain and vast landscapes aren’t what you’d ordinarily associate with the notion of urban infrastructure; each of its cities - including the capital, Addis Ababa - sprawled across undulating, picturesque backdrops. However, as an age-old inhabited land trying to turn its hand to modern infrastructural evolution, the overall balance serves up a treat for fortunate travellers.
On the tourism side, the appeal comes from the former untouched, natural elements that best typify the country. However, for the growing business travel segment, the organic aesthetics are increasingly becoming an added bonus to the economic opportunities that await.
And it’s certainly not as if the country is abandoning its roots in order to promote urbanisation. Rather, Ethiopia is optimising its reputation for agricultural prevalence to bridge the gap between the country and the rest of the world.
Facts and figures
Area: 1.1 million square kilometres
Population (2016): 102.4 million
GDP (2017): $195.8 billion
Currency: Birr (ETB)
Time zone: UTC+3
Dialling code: +251
Internet TLD: .et
Climate: Tropical monsoon
The business end
Chief among its exports remains the produce that Ethiopia is most famous for. As the birthplace of the coffee bean, the country still produces more coffee than any other nation on the continent; a continent that is renowned for its prowess in the sector.
Broadening the analysis further, agriculture actually accounts for as much as 85 percent of the entire labour force, and while - inevitably - much of these operations are conducted by SMEs and small-scale farmers, there is a greater economic significance that derives from its success.
Purely by having such an influential international export, the country’s GDP achieves sustainability which, in turn, has a positive knock-on effect on the wider economy and the overall development of infrastructure outside of the agricultural domain.
Especially in more urbanised areas, and Addis Ababa above all, the urban districts that now exist are comparable to any cities you would find in the west or in South Africa, facilitating an ever-expanding swathe of visitors entering the country for business purposes.
Natural agriculture and energy resources have driven the country’s international appeal so much, in fact, that Ethiopia has had to introduce one of the continent’s most expansive and recognised airlines in order to cement this connection with the rest of the world.
Ethiopian Airlines is a familiar presence in London, New York, Paris and any other major economic heavyweight you’d care to think of and, complemented by its equally extensive domestic network, it is the perfect indictment of how far Ethiopia has come on the global stage.
Out and About
When looking at the country from a business travel perspective, Ethiopian Airlines’ significance shines through even more prominently. While the country does inevitably have appeal as a tourist destination, the majority of visitors entering the country each year do so with tourist landmarks as a bonus in mind, rather than as the primary objective.
Instead, business is often the reason for travel in the first place, and the major cities have responded in kind by creating a concerted - albeit authentic - offering across areas of hospitality, cuisine, leisure and transport.
For those with plenty of time on their hands, the natural aspects are still the most spectacular feature of Ethiopia however. Its mountains, jungles, rivers, caves and UNESCO World Heritage Sites may be a far cry from the boardroom but are not as far geographically as you might think.
Addis Ababa itself is situated on the cusp of such natural settings while urbanisation to the north and south are similarly engulfed by pursuits that can quickly take you off the beaten track.
In the north, Axum, Lalibela, Bahir Da and Gondar edge you closer to the stunning Simien Mountains, while in the South, Shashemane, Wondo Genet, Awasa, Araba Minch and Jinka are just a stone’s throw from indigenous Ethiopian tribal villages.
Once again capitalising on its own make-up, some of Ethiopia’s leading businesses to keep in mind prior to your visit, include tour operators. Air Tour Kenya, FKLM Tours, Habesha Tours & Travel, Grand East Africa Eco Tour, Travel Ethiopia and Elmi Tours are just a select few - and the cream of the crop - on hand to guide you off the streets, and into the wilderness.
If a restaurant, bar and five-star accommodation are preferable to a barbecue, campfire and tent, then not to worry, there are plenty of those too.
Predominantly staying true to its local traditions once again, cuisine embraces a mixture of meat, vegetables and spices and the national dish, Injera, is a must try!
Peak city life is saved for the country’s urban accommodation though. As the aforementioned deluge of international visitors continue to grace the country’s shores, a host of market-leading hotel chains are responding with an offering up there with the best in Africa.
The Ramada Hotel, Luxury Collection Addis, Reliance Apartment, Zeist Lodge, Abay Minch Lodge and Sidama Lodge give just the briefest glimpse of the diversity that now exists from a hospitality point of view in the country; ensuring that luxury, comfort, leisure, pleasure and business are all embraced within a locally-sensitive setting.
“Ethiopia's excellent network of national parks, UNESCO World Heritage Sites and other tourist attractions can be explored [and] a varied selection of exciting destinations awaits the visitor to Ethiopia.” - Ethiopian Tourism Organization
The sky truly is the limit for one of sub-Saharan Africa’s most prestigious, successful and luxurious tour operators. Forget the traditional notion of strolling into a jungle or hiking up a mountain; Tropic Air Kenya’s 25 years of private flight and helicopter journeys have facilitated some of the most breathtaking, unique views seen the world over, to a segment of the global population who could have only previously dreamed of such wonder.
The Company’s high performance aircraft don’t just enable a view, but an experience. Largely bespoke to each customer’s wishes, and with a presence throughout the region, obscured landmarks such as those that exist in Ethiopia have never been more accessible. Officially ‘connecting Africa’, what Tropic Air actually and consequently does is connect you to Africa; and with its remit of services expanding on a yearly basis, the Company continues to affirm its position as one of the most recognisable and sought-after air charter and helicopter companies in Africa.
Promoted as a ‘friend to the environment’ and covering Djibouti, Kenya, Seychelles, Somaliland, Tanzania and Zanzibar - as well as Ethiopia - FKLM tours has evolved into one of the most reputable tour operators on the continent. Catering for city tours, Halal tours, luxury tours, short, long, inbound, outbound and specialised tours; the business’s variety is its key differentiator, offering flights, transfers, transport, travel planning and even hot air balloon rides as part of its wide portfolio.
A wholly-Ethiopian entity, Habesha Tours & Travel optimises its local knowledge of some of the country’s most hidden and picturesque spots, and takes you directly to them. From the Danakil Depressions - the hottest spot in the world - to the Blue Nile River, to Lalibela, Gondar, Harar and the Simien Mountains; Habesha is a turnkey checklist of the nation’s must sees.
A name synonymous with luxury around the world, Ramada is one of the leading global hotel chains to capitalise on the rise of Ethiopia and its capital city. “Combining contemporary elegance with modern comfort” the hotel is inevitably suitable for leisure, but is absolutely perfect for business. Its outstanding business centre, high-speed Wi-Fi and central location befits the brand name it comes with, and the clientele it continues to attract.
Equally prominent, recognisable and business-conducive is Addis Ababa’s Luxury Collection Sheraton Hotel. Situated within walking distance of the National Museum, UN Conference Centre, the UNECA HQ - and only 15 minutes from Bole International Airport - Sheraton’s offering once again blends comfort with elegance to culminate in a business traveller’s ultimate base-camp.
Completing the line-up of leading brand names in the hospitality division is Reliance Hotel Apartment; once again situated in the capital, Addis Ababa. Treating each customer as “more than just a guest”, the Hotel’s sophisticated facilities, functional boardroom, business desk and fitness centre gears it up perfectly for the business travel clientele and once again offers close proximity to the rest of the city’s defining features.
Now one of the world’s most recognisable and familiar airline brands, Ethiopian Airlines has separated itself from much of the African pack when it comes to international air travel and global networking. Complemented by an equally thorough and extensive domestic route network, the airline is a Star Alliance Member and symbolises much more than just a mode of transport. Realising its motto, ‘the new spirit of Africa’, Ethiopian Airlines remains a primary enabler of the country’s escalating economic influence on the global stage.
Food & Drink
Art & Culture
As of 2016, Ethiopia boasted more than 60 airports around the country, largely thanks to the growth of Ethiopian Airlines. Chief among them though, and highly likely to be your target destination when arriving in the country, is Bole International Airport.
Both the airline and the airport are initiatives driven by the Ethiopian Government and as such have proved integral to the overall growth of the country’s tourism and business travel segments; and by proxy, its economy.
Bole International Airport then offers connections to each of the 60 regional hubs, as well as to the rest of the world. Specifically in Africa, it is continentally significant in connecting to the majority of all capital cities. So much is this the case in fact, that passengers on their way to other East African nations can enjoy a week stopover in Ethiopia at no additional cost; epitomising the centricity and influence of the country and its foremost transport asset.
Once in the country, moving from place to place can become a little more complicated, but the country is once again replying accordingly via extensive improvements to its rail and road networks.
The likelihood is that the majority of your work will remain in Addis Ababa anyway, in which case your feet or the intra-bus services will suit just fine. But if your stay truly is a nationwide one, then the country’s railways and aforementioned flight connections are more than apt.
Back in Addis Ababa though, should your stay be medium-long-term, then the car may be the best way to go. Buses are comprehensive and cheap but are also slow and often wait until they are full, rather than adhering rigidly to timetables.
And with a car, you can always go that extra mile to explore the less urbanised areas too!
“The Simien Mountains National Park in Northern Ethiopia is an exotic setting with unique wildlife and breath-taking views on a landscape shaped by nature and traditional agriculture. The natural beauties of this region have always filled visitors from Ethiopia and abroad with awe. The traditional lifestyle of the rural population and their survival in a rather harsh climate... makes for the most striking impressions a visitor will have when trekking in the Park and its surrounding rural area.” - Simien Mountains National Park
“I have always questioned God’s existence, but in the northern Ethiopian town of Lalibela, I was presented with fairly substantial evidence. Officially Christian since 330AD, Ethiopia claims to be the oldest Christian country in the world. And despite being ravaged by poverty, faith has remained strong over the centuries; Lalibela’s medieval rock-hewn churches are clear proof of that.” - BBC
“With 368 alleys squeezed into just one sq km, the old walled city of Harar in eastern Ethiopia is a colourful maze that begs exploration. Its thick, five-metre-high walls were erected in the 16th century as a defensive response to the neighbouring Christian Ethiopian Empire, but today Muslims and Christians share the city in peace.” - Al Jazeera
“From kings and churches to emperors and castles: another not-to-be-missed stop on Ethiopia's Historic Route is what has been called the 'Camelot' of Africa: Gondar. Nestled in the foothills of the Simien Mountains in north¬western Ethiopia, Gondar... rose to prominence after Ethiopia went through a long period without a fixed capital, [and] emerged in the seventeenth century as the country's largest settlement.” - EthioVisit.com
“Bubbling volcanoes light up the night sky, sulphurous mounds of yellow contort into other-worldly shapes, and mirages of camels cross lakes of salt. Lying 100m and more below sea level, the Danakil Depression is about the hottest and most inhospitable place on earth. In fact it’s so surreal that it doesn’t feel like part of earth at all.” - Lonely Planet
Rock-Hewn Churches of Tigray
“While the rock-hewn churches of Lalibela are the most dramatic buildings, the cliff churches of Tigray show the most dramatic landscapes and the longest Christian tradition. Unknown to the world outside, these churches were first described by the British explorer Ivy Pearce as ‘the greatest of the historical-cultural heritages of the Ethiopian people’.” - National Parks Safaris Ethiopia