Being the General Manager of one of the luxurious and beautiful hotels in Africa, could you give us a brief historical background, about the Sheraton Addis project? What was the vision of the principal investor during the construction of the hotel?
Sheraton was always interested to come to Ethiopia. It is the biggest project in Africa. Unfortunately, the political situation was not conducive. In the contrary, now investors have started to come back. Among them, there is Sheik Mohammed Al Amoudi who decided to construct a luxurious hotel, and went to look for a hotel company with an experience of big luxury. As you know, the company was called ITT Sheraton, but now it is named Starwood Hotel. This company represents many groups, like Westin, WHotel, Sheraton, Four Points, Caesar's Palace, and the Luxury Collection which includes 55 hotels. We were the 53rd of the Luxury collection. Addis Ababa is the diplomatic capital city of Africa, because the E.C.A., O.A.U, and many embassies are established here. We can then see Ethiopia as a diplomatic, and a cultural center. Besides, it is the only country in Africa that can provide historical and natural tourism combined together. If you go to the North, you can find the historical part, and if you go to the south you will find the natural part. It is a country that deserves to be discovered. However, the international community has a bad perception of the country, from some crisis that have occurred many years before. This country has enormous possibilities, concerning human, material and mineral resources.
I am not the "Spokeperson" of Sheik Al Amoudi. However, I know him enough to say, he has a profound attachment for the country. He believes in Africa, particularly in Ethiopia. He always says that while everybody was interested in investing in Asia, he was investing in Africa. People are frequently asking why a hotel of such class is built in a country like Ethiopia, but the question is simple: 'why not'. Taking into consideration, that the country is a diplomatic center, the size of the population, there was not a hotel of such class in the country, that the E.C.A engaged itself to construct a modern conference center, and that the owner was ready to invest enough to construct Sheraton Addis. Now, we have a hotel with very high technologies that corresponds to the world highest standards .
What is the total investment of Sheraton?
The investment of Sheraton will be finished after 5-6 years. Today, we are working on the phase one. The second phase will be built nearby, and will be consisting of a fitness center of 15 000 square meter (in Europe the biggest is around 13000 square meter), a swimming pool, personal villas, tennis court, entertainment center with the IMAX, etc.
A year after the inauguration of Sheraton, what are the financial results, compared with the market reply?
A year after the inauguration, it's too early to make a financial balance , but I can say that the results were satisfactory. Ulrike Braun is responsible for the Sheraton Addis, and for all the other Sheraton hotels found in the Sub-Saharan sector. We have invested enormously in marketing, fairs, etc. and the response was very good. We are now seeing some big intensive conferences held in Addis Ababa, which have never occurred before, just because the facilities were not provided. Moreover, Ethiopian Airlines is making strong promotional activities, there are other airlines that are coming in, and an infrastructure is being undertaken.
Ethiopian Airlines has inaugurated its flight to Washington and New York. What have been the results with regard to Sheraton Addis?
That is still on the beginning. But the idea of Ethiopian Airlines is very good, because there are many Ethiopians who are living in the states and coming back in their native country to get married, to visit some friends, to establish some businesses, and to invest in the country.
What has been the impact of the Ethio-Eritrean conflict on the hotel?
Whether we want it or not, there is always an impact when things like this happen. Unfortunately, people from outside do not have a notion of distance. They just see that there is a war in Ethiopia that includes the capital city as well, while Addis Ababa is still in peace. People are now coming back, and the conferences that were postponed will be held at the end of this year. There are also large number of businesspersons that are coming in.
You mentioned that Ethiopia has the privilege of having a historic and a nature based tourism, but Kenya with its only nature based tourism is performing better. In your opinion, what should be done to make a better promotion of Ethiopia to the external world?
I am not a specialist of the East Africa. I have always been in the West Africa, like in Nigeria, Gabon, and Benin. However, I was told that Kenya was doing its assignment on the tourism sector, while Ethiopia was in the Marxist and Leninist regime, closed to the international world. This had been a very good opportunity for Kenya. We have now to refurbish the hotels found in the historic and nature routes. Some of the main roads are under construction, and other will be maintained next year. The tourists should not expect to get all the facilities found in Europe, but they need to have enough comfort concerning their security and proper hygiene.
In this case don't you think private investment is required?
Yes, private investment is very needed, and I can tell you that private investment is coming in.
Does Sheik Mohammed Al Amoudin has any plans to invest in the tourism sector outside Addis Ababa?
Absolutely. We have already two sites outside Addis Ababa. One is found in Arba Minch, and another one in Debre Zeit. I know that Sheik Mohammed is very interested in the development of the North and the South. People coming to participate in conferences, or for other business can travel around, and visit the country. Ethiopian Airlines has also a promotional fare that is $ 795 to travel wherever in Africa via Addis Ababa.
As a more global question, how do you see Sheraton Addis in the coming five years?
We will have not enough rooms. We will enlarge our construction. We will add some restaurants, and leisure centers for businessmen and for the young . We will also have in addition some appartments, rooms, commercial center, and for offices.
We also came to interview you as a businessperson. Could you then give us a brief professional background about yourself and how you came to work in Sheraton Addis?
I have worked for Sheraton for about 22 years. I was getting prepared to leave Africa, and go to London to fill a post, when I received a call from my employer. He told me that I was needed in Ethiopia. At first I was not happy about it, because I was biased by people who did not know the country. I had six hours to give my answer. I finally accepted the position, after checking with some friends from Europe, as it was difficult to get some literature about Ethiopia at that time. I can now assure you, that I do not regret at all my answer.
What was your biggest satisfaction, since you are the General Manager of Sheraton Addis?
My biggest satisfaction is to work here, and to manage such kind of hotel. I am also happy to work with a personnel that is very receptive, alert, eager to learn, and hard working. After two or three years, I think that the majority of the staff will be capable to work in Europe in any big hotel. By then, they will grasp all the technology, and methods of a hotel.
As a final issue, what will be your final message to our readers?
I will say to your readers: " do not trust the statistics, do not believe all what you hear, just come and see for yourself ". It is true that some patience is needed, because the authorities need some time to open the country for the international world after so many years. So far, I frankly think that Ethiopia is on its right track of development.