Has Solomon Tadesse paid the price for the decline of Ethiopian tourism?

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Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn recently dismissed his chief “tourism man” and party loyalist, Solomon Tadesse, a refined ex-diplomat with impeccable English who once enjoyed the prime minister’s confidence. His firing follows a string of recent dismissals and demotions of political heavyweights whose association with the regime dated back decades. Though there was no official reason given for his dismissal, some in the power circle blamed Solomon for his expensive shopping trips he made to many European capitals and other cities around the world often accompanied by his wife, Shashu Habtu, a teacher at Civil Service College and who once led the government supported Network Ethiopian for Development in Seattle. Solomon reportedly defended the travels saying they were all related to work and promotional tours in the wake of the country’s domestic political turmoil. Solomon indeed had a fondness for elegant clothes, suits, posh watches, and bouncy conversation with the rich, diplomats and expats.
A chief executive officer of the Ethiopian Tourism Organization (ETO) since 2014, Solomon has been chosen by Hailemarim to oversee the effort to promote the country’s tourist destinations and to restore the country’s bad image in the western media. As a man who lived in the US for 42 years, he said he knew “how the media functions over there. I think it blinded many potential businesses or even individuals from the Western countries as the media was telling just one story of Africa for a long period of time,” he once said in an interview. Last year after a wave of anti-government protests in Oromia and Amahra regions, and the government’s move in declaring state of emergency, Solomon found himself in delicate task of assuring western embassies and tour operators everything would be all right. Not everyone had heard his message, the number of foreign tourists visiting the country has fallen by half. The inflow of European tourists fell dramatically due to travel restrictions and sales of travel packages.
Solomon Tadesse and his wife, Shashu Habtu (Solomon Tadesse and his wife, Shashu Habtu)
One version had it that Solomon was fired because the reputation and credibility of ETO had “suffered substantial damage” on failing to show the value of the sponsorship from Ethiopian Airlines. Well-places sources told Ethiopia Observer that Solomon’s firing came few weeks after he was criticized for “extremely careless gestures” in his handling of sponsorship profits. According to the sources, from the very start, the national air career sponsored ETO for many of its trade fairs and exhibitions held in Europe, Asia and US, making 50 percent discount for bookings of tour operators embraced by ETO and free-of-charge transport for certain staff members. However, problem raised when the Ethiopian Airlines requested ETO to provide it with information on how the partnership was doing and what tangible results came out. The ETO officials never compiled such a report and Solomon was reproached by the government officials. This, the sources suspect, might have rendered him unfit for the position.
Solomon once said that the legacy he wanted to leave was this new organization. “First of all, it was an honor and a privilege to be asked to lead this organization as it was created. I had to start it from ground zero and there was no precedent before that. I want this organization to have the most advanced, current system that will be systematically and continuously improving day after day,” he once said. Finally, it became nothing more than a wish,
that was never transformed into reality. The regime is now betting on another seasoned technocrat, Yohannes Tilahun, former CEO at General Electric-Ethiopia and the Director for Strategy, Technology Office at the Ethiopian Investment Commission who replaced Solomon. Yohanne’s 15 years of experience on Wall Street in the United States, with expertise in business management, corporate strategy, finance would surely help, but tourism, unfortunately, is fragile, the country’s political instability and the state of emergency could still have a severe, devastating effect on the industry.

Arefayné Fantahun
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