Destination report: Ethiopia

The Africa Hotel Investment Forum (AHIF) recently announced it was moving its 2014 event to Addis Ababa. The organisation said the move was prompted by a “surge in interest from sponsors”, leading to a need for a bigger space. It now will be held at the Sheraton on September 29-October 1.

This move is interesting, as it reflects growth in the country’s nascent MICE activities. The African Union Commission is also based in Addis, in the striking, 100m-tall AU Conference Centre complex (pictured top), built and funded by the Chinese.

The United Nations Conference Centre has 1,200sqm of exhibition space, plus up to 20 meeting spaces, including auditoria for up to 800 delegates. International hotels with meetings facilities include Sheraton, Radisson Blu, Hilton and Intercontinental, plus there is a range of independent or locally branded properties. Marriott has two properties in the pipeline for Addis Ababa – a 104-unit Executive Apartments slated to open in 2015, and a 209-room Courtyard planned for 2016.

A growth in summits and conferences taking place in Ethiopia has prompted Ethiopian Airlines’ in-house tour operator, Ethiopian Holidays, to develop MICE services alongside its leisure products. The tour operator can capitalise on its leisure portfolio for MICE venues – such as the smart, well-appointed Haile Resort, owned by legendary Olympic gold medallist runner Haile Gebrselassie, and overlooking the spectacular Rift Valley lake Hawassa.

Other venues meeting international standards include the Kuriftu group’s Diplomat restaurant in Addis, its luxury lakeside spa resort at Debre-Zeit, 45km south of town, and in Ziway, Kuriftu’s excellent Wine House and Restaurant – in partnership with the nearby wine estate run by leading French vintner Castel.

The tour operator can also take advantage of Ethiopia’s world-class attractions. It boasts nine UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and national parks in diverse landscapes that range from dusty Rift Valley plains, to lush rainforests teeming with wildlife, to dramatic ‘Afro-alpine’ mountain peaks soaring to more than 4,500m.

Memorable destinations include the luxurious Bale Mountain Lodge eco-resort. With just eight guest rooms and cottages, it is hidden in the pristine cloud forests of the Bale Mountain National Park, and immersed in spectacular wildlife. 

The only factor that restricts adding these attractions to MICE itineraries is distance and infrastructure: Ethiopia is a big country, and drives can be long and slow – however Ethiopian Airlines has an internal network of 18 destinations, so domestic air links can be an option.

If MICE activity is likely to reflect the wider business environment, then expect to see it grow in Ethiopia: GDP growth rate was 9.7 per cent in 2013, and there’s a lot of infrastructure investment both by government and foreign investors, particularly from China and India. Projects include major road-building schemes and a national rail network.  

Ethiopian Airlines says this upward economic trajectory – in the country and more widely on the African continent  – is driving its own ambitious plans: Its ‘Vision 2025’ strategy, which it launched in 2010, aims for growth that will see $10 billion revenue and $1 billion profit by 2025.

Is it likely to achieve this? Well, IATA’s latest World Air Transport Statistics (WATS) report, for 2013, ranks Ethiopian as Africa’s largest carrier by revenue – over $2.3bn – and profit. The Star Alliance member took delivery of its seventh B787 Dreamliner in May, and says revenue has grown more than 530 per cent in a decade. So it’s probably fair to say, anything is possible.

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