Catherine Heaney, one of the founding Directors of DHR Communications, spent a week in Ethiopia last month as part of her voluntary involvement in the Irish business-to-business charity, Connect Ethiopia.
Catherine has been a Board member of Connect Ethiopia for almost three years. The charity was founded in 2005 by leading entrepreneur Brody Sweeney and well-known solicitor Philip Lee. It aims to promote the economic development of Ethiopia through building links between business communities in Ireland and in Ethiopia.
In April, Catherine – along with 12 other representatives of Connect Ethiopia – travelled to the ancient North Ethiopian village of Lalibela, which is famed for its 11th and 12th Century rock-hewn churches and is a UNESCO World Heritage site. All members of this delegation are leading figures in Ireland’s hospitality, marketing and tourism sectors. During their time in Lalibela, they delivered an intensive training programme to local service-providers and worked to build the ‘StayLalibela’ brand, which aims to increase the number of tourists visiting the village each year.
In addition to Catherine, other members of the delegation to Lalibela included Michelin-starred chef Kevin Thornton; well-known Kerry hotelier Francis Brennan; and Connect Ethiopia founders, Brody Sweeney and Philip Lee. All of the Irish people involved in the trip gave freely of their skills and services.
As part of their work in Lalibela, the Irish delegation developed a range of new tourism products, including a cookery school, a half-day farm visit and a walking tour. Catherine worked closely with the Lalibela Guides Association during her stay, providing advice on writing website content; designing a tourist trek; and marketing their services better.
Over 80 people from Lalibela’s tourism sector completed the four-day intensive training programme delivered by the Irish delegation in April. The purpose of the trip was to enhance the skills of key personnel in Lalibela’s hospitality sector, so that the village can take advantage of a growing tourism market in Ethiopia and develop sustainable tourism products.
“While Lalibela plays host to lots of day-trippers who come to visit the churches, what we are aiming to do is ensure people extend their visit and remain in the village for a longer period of time,” Catherine says. “Our aim is not only to encourage more people to visit Lalibela, but also to increase the average number of nights that tourists spend there from one to three.
“Thanks to our work in April, visitors to Lalibela can now enjoy a range of activities as well as visiting the spectacular churches. With StayLalibela, we hope to create a more sustainable and profitable tourism industry in Lalibela, which will be of real benefit to the local economy. Our measurable objective will be to help double the number of foreign visitors to Lalibela from 28,000 in 2009 to 56,000 in three years’ time.”
StayLalibela was officially launched in Dublin earlier this week, and the launch achieved high levels of media coverage in the national press. You can keep up-to-date on the progress of StayLalibela by checking out the website on a regular basis and / or following StayLalibela on Facebook.