DHR Managing Director, Catherine Heaney spent a week in the North Ethiopian heritage town Lalibela this month as part of her voluntary involvement in the Irish business-to-business charity, Connect Ethiopia. Connect Ethiopia aims to help improve hotel, catering and entertainment offerings at the much visited city. The charity was founded in 2005 by leading entrepreneur Brody Sweeney and well-known solicitor Philip Lee.
Catherine travelled with a 13 strong voluntary delegation of leading figures from Ireland’s hospitality, marketing and craft sectors to Lalibela at the beginning of November. The delegation included Michelin star chef Kevin Thornton (of Thornton’s), Francis Brennan, Kenmare Park Hotel manager and TV presenter of At Your Service; and entrepreneur Brody Sweeney. All of the Irish people involved in the trip gave freely of their skills and services.
Lalibela is famed for its 11th and 12th Century rock-hewn churches and is a UNESCO World Heritage site. During the delegations’ time in Lalibela, they delivered an intensive training programme to 80 local service-providers and worked to build the ‘StayLalibela’ brand, which aims to increase the number of tourists visiting the village each year.
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.. 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 Hotel Association during her stay, providing advice on writing website content and marketing their services better.
“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 November, 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.”