An in-depth interview with Samrawit Moges of Travel Ethiopia
By Erin O'Connor | Wed Jul 28 2021
For more pictures from Travel Ethiopia, download our recentImpact Report, and read an abbreviated version of the following story called “Seizing Open Opportunities Despite Closed Borders” on page 19 of the report.
In January of 2020, Samrawit Moges had a thriving tourism business with 25 years of experience and 60 staff. A female business owner and visionary for gender equality, 40% of Moges’ employees are women, and her company was the first in Ethiopia to hire and train female tour guides.
In late 2019, she completed RENEW’s Exec’s Program and received an investment from the IAN Women’s Fund, just in time for the global travel and tourism industry to be shuttered. “The hospitality industry has been hit harder than many other sectors,” Moges explained, reflecting on a year of closed borders, grounded airlines and very few inbound tourists.
While travel restrictions to Ethiopia have begun to ease, Ethiopian tourism faces a double struggle of security concerns for travelers on top of the health issues that the industry must overcome. Yet, Moges is committed to standing her ground. Her vision is to continue to diversify her business and open new opportunities that will allow her to weather any future storms she and her employees may come against. “I see a bright future because our mentality has changed for the better,” she says. “We’ve already seen improvement from 2020 into 2021; 2022 will be a great year!”
Here’s what Samrawit had to say during a recent conversation.
First, can you tell me how you experienced the pandemic? As we all know, most sectors have been hit by the pandemic and bombed in terms of finance. The hospitality industry is among them, and I am one of them being a tour operator in Ethiopia.
We had rented our vehicles to the Ministry of Health to transport their doctors and medicine. The payment is low and slow coming but it’s helping us. We are paying salaries still, and we had two big opportunities in March and April 2021. 2020, we were supposed to have clients coming but it didn't happen. One of the issues we are facing is a double hit as a result of the issues of security on top of the health issues that other countries are facing.
Did you have to close your business? Did it affect your employees and income? We didn't have any intention to close the company. The main issue here for businesses can be rent which we didn't face. I used to go to the office 6 days a week before, but now the marketing and sales team are working from home where we installed internet for them. We also provided transport for anyone that came to the office. We didn't have to close our business.
How did you adapt to your new way of working? Did you have to change your business model? Yes, I had taken The Exec’s Program at RENEW, and we were trying to implement things when COVID hit. Since my two other managers took the training with me, we worked to completely adopt the whole training which was very effective. We have implemented standard operating procedures, position agreements and an annual management plan. The only thing that the pandemic restricted us from getting done was forming a board.
We sent out promotions and video clips which we disseminated to all our clients, and it showed a coffee ceremony and said: we are going to meet again, stay safe. These shows are still working and active despite the issues we faced.
Are you familiar with the phrase “Standing Ground”? What does it mean to you as an entrepreneur? I started this business in 1994 in my bedroom when I lived with my mother. When I opened my office, I thought it was the path for me. I believe in starting small and growing big. My fellow Rotarian had given me his first client. The package they purchased was hyena watching in Harar, and while they were watching this spectacle, a hand grenade was thrown, and my guide died. All people said it was a bad omen for my business. But since tourism is my passion, I had to move on from this. I bought insurance for the very small team I had at that time. There were challenges with the family too, but this made me even stronger afterward. I couldn't give up. It’s all in the mind. If I had stopped, I would have given up this business.
One needs to be courageous in what they are doing when faced with struggles. This kept me going and never giving up. I realized nothing could stop me.
What was the hardest part of the pandemic for your business? One hard thing was understanding the issue when the pandemic hit. Panic doesn't help anyone. People must know how to tackle a problem. Optimism is one of the best things for the human mind. We stayed home for weeks and thought about “what will I do with my business?”. So, I sat and started reading about it. And of course, Matt and Laura provided a ZOOM call on how to survive during a crisis. I then followed many podcasts which helped me to know about COVID and how to work through it.
As you look forward, further into 2021, and beyond the COVID-19 pandemic, what dreams and visions do you now have for your business growth? We always face a problem getting a booking in the Semien area and the demand is very high. I was planning for our own lodge in that area. Even if I invest in this lodge, I need a partner to help me in managing it. I want to take Travel Ethiopia to the highest place. I would like to bring an expat to manage this business and work on taking it to another level.
Disclaimer: This blog is provided as a recounting of the IAN’s and RENEW’s interactions with Travel Ethiopia and the happenings at Travel Ethiopia. This blog is not intended as performance data related to the IAN’s investment in Travel Ethiopia. Information about Travel Ethiopia pertains only to Travel Ethiopia and is not indicative of other companies in the IAN’s portfolio or the performance of investments in them. Any discussion of the performance of Travel Ethiopia or its social impact is no guarantee that such performance or impact will be realized by other IAN portfolio companies or other investments managed by RENEW, now or in the future.
Renew Capital is an Africa-focused impact investment firm that backs innovative companies with high-growth potential. Renew Capital manages investments made on behalf of the Renew Capital Angels, a global network of angel investors, foundations and family offices who seek financial returns and sustainable social impact. For the latest on investing in Africa, subscribe and follow us at our social links below.