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Ethiopia’s Themed Restaurants as Cultural Ambassadors for Culinary Diplomacy and Recipes for the Tourism Economy.


In the year 2012, the world registered about 1.035 billion or 1,035 million tourists.  Subsequently, Africa’s share was about 52 million tourists.  As past records showed (2011), Morocco and South Africa registered about 9.3 & 8.3 million tourists, respectively, while Ethiopia picked up about 523 thousand tourists. [1] Tourism, as a whole, is a service based industry.  It has strict criteria that adhere to factors, ranging from good business environment to safety and security.  In order to get a fair share from the industry, Ethiopia has to promote its immense natural resources, and incorporate them into an exclusively service based industry.

 In the Travel & Tourist competitiveness Index, Ethiopia ranked 118th out of 141countries. [2] However, remarkably it excelled past some big countries, in many variables.  Against all odds, most African countries depend on their natural resources, typically on ecotourism.  South Africa and Namibia are good examples; they are gifted by their natural resources and also have well-established hotels and extensive beach resorts.  Some North African countries like Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, and Algeria methodically competed, due to their geographical advantages and their proximity to Europe.  Some East African countries also get their market shares through Safari lodges, and have good connections to the international tour and travel agency networks.  Creativity is more than just being different; Rwanda, one of the landlocked East African countries, added a new recipe to its tourist economy by advertising coffee tourism.  Brazil, also one of the major coffee producers in the world, attracted tourists through farm cafes, with its premium coffee beans.  Coffee has been the economic backbone of Ethiopia for centuries.  As Ethiopia is the home and origin of coffee plant, it could find new ways to make its own fortune by adding new recipes for coffee, and many other types of entities, distinctive to Ethiopia.  This may help to change it from an exclusively commodity based economy to a specialty and service based industry.

To be part of the emerging tourist economy, Ethiopia could also enlist itself into “The Specialty Revolution”.  In any case, Ethiopia should look ways to improve its services from the record that stationed her 17th in the region.  For this reason, it has to add many new recipes and learn from others how to compete differently other than the crowded African ecotourism market.  In addition, it can make aggressive moves and attempt to secure its market share on the multi-criteria based “World Tour & Travel Index”.  Of course, focus has to be made to the tourist industry’s demands such as, good business environment, safety and security, efficient tourist human resource management, competitive prices, well-organized air and ground transport system, and selection of the finest natural and cultural touristic attractions.

At present, some Sub-Saharan African countries use media to promote their tourist industries.  Countries like Kenya, injected about $50million dollars in 2015, to promote tourism and marketing, targeting Europe, America, Asia, & Africa. [3] In spite of these facts, what are the points to improve and be competitive in this business environment that suits Ethiopia best?  In this regard, considerable attention has to be given to Cultural Diplomacy, to restore Ethiopia’s inadequately portrayed images, by using its popular and delicious ethnic-based cuisine.  Ethnic based restaurants are considered the second most influential public agents of foreign cultures for positive influences. [4] Of course, many countries in the world portray their cultures in diversified ways.  Cultural centers like the Indian, Jewish, and Turkish and the festivities like the German, Irish, and many others in the western world play significant roles in depicting cultures and promoting tourism.  The bottom line being, all countries endorse their traditions as their Cultural Ambassadors to their respective countries.

The Ethiopian Tourist Industry at a Glance:

Ethiopia has innumerable cultural resources to present to the world.  Beyond doubt, its tourist resources, are indispensable to its spiking number of youth population, in addition to supporting the dominantly agro based economy.  This old-new industry, could be inclusive of the wider reach of the general public, ranging from artisans to street vendors, and from hoteliers to travel & tour guide agencies.  As it is a multi-faceted commerce, all can benefit from this smokeless industry.  However, there are many aspects that the country needs to deal with, one example being, the tourism sector challenges.  READ: The Ethiopian Herald: Ethiopia Tourism Sector Challenges http://allafrica.com/stories/201509072225.htm

By and large, Ethiopia’s tourism industry is at its youthful stage, yet it still injects a considerable amount of foreign currency into the economy.  To maximize this potential, it has to be supported by new ideas and ideals, from countries with numerous experiences, in the industry.  Evidently, International advertisement is very costly.  In the Ethiopian set of circumstances, the convenience of e-commerce is at its infancy. The establishment of major car rental companies is crucial.  Automobile associations are also desired, for problem solving, in the tourist transport sector.  Manufacturers of outdoor industry and All-In-One tourist outlet retail stores have to be expanded.  Major highways & rail systems make tourist travel safer, faster, and efficient.  Addressing all these factors is a formidable process, and through time achievable.  On the other hand, for the day to day activities, launching a coordinated strategy on the multi-course route is crucial, and can lead to the desired goal quickly.  As the guest Columnist Ben Murray Bruce, once explained, how select nations shifted their economy away from resources to services said, “by opening up borders to the world, the UAE’s economy has more than doubled, and though it is an oil-rich nation, over 30 percent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) comes from the aviation industry, between 10-12 % comes from the tourists industry.  This is a total of over $180 billion per annum.”  He deliberated culture would make it easier to win the hearts and minds of tourists. 

READ: http://www.thisdaylive.com/articles/of-ethiopian-airlines-cut-off-marks-and-patriotism/219618/.

From the Ethiopian perspective, the cooperation between Mexico and Ethiopia, in the tourist sector, is very encouraging.  Mexico, a “Historical Friend of Ethiopia” with similar Gastronomy, pledged to share its experience in the tourist industry.  During the fiscal year 2014, Mexico’s tourism revenue reached about 16bn dollars.  The new emerging economies like Ethiopia could learn a lot from Mexico, Thailand, and many other model countries.  Looking forward, what types of tourists is Ethiopia excepting to accommodate? Adventurers: Those who seek new experiences, make their own travel decision, don’t need to be pampered, and who tend to use credit card for vacation; Worriers: those who become  anxious with travel; Dreamers: Just plain in love with travel; Economizers: those having a low sense of adventure and look for value above all; Indulgers: those who like to be pampered and are willing to pay for a high level of services when they travel, and who tend to be better off financially, and Travelers: who may be travelling or visiting a location [5], or a home country ( like the Ethiopian diaspora ) for leisure or business.  With the economy growing, Ethiopia may accommodate all the five categories; however, it can easily oblige the Adventurers, Dreamers, & Travelers (The Ethiopian Diaspora estimated in millions spends a sizeable amount of money in remittance backing the export earnings).  Read :< http://www.nation.co.ke/business/Kenya-and-Ethiopia-remittance-inflows-rise/-/996/2938838/-/14mogmk/-/index.html>.  They travel throughout the world for leisure, and could be tapped as Traveler Tourists.  READ: Ethiopian Tourists http://www.ethiopianreporter.com/index.php/other-sections/social-affairs/social/item/11176-ኢትዮጵያውያን.

In addition, seasonal guests, from the neighboring countries, like “The Djibouti Republic” travel to Ethiopia in significant numbers, annually, and choose the high altitude, mild Ethiopian weather during their hot summer periods.  These groups, who are culturally fit in, as well, are also Tourist Travelers, seeking vacation and leisure.  Ethiopia, on the brink of getting a new electric passenger rail transport system, to & from The Djibouti Republic, should embrace to host a sizable influx of these types of tourists to major cities like Dire Dawa, Debrezeit, & even the capital Addis Ababa.  If the country, skillfully manages to accommodate these two Traveler groups alone, it can easily come up, in good standing, with other African countries in tourist records & income revenues.  Some of the points to be concerned may include, the need for suitable accommodations such as, quality guest houses and cheaper rental cars.  Most tourists from these Traveler categories seek lodgings for extended stays that surpass the regular excursion periods.  However, hotels in Ethiopia are considered very expensive by some African and Asian standards [6].  In this regard, the hotel Industry associations and chambers of commerce should determinedly work together to ease high prices, and sustain a constant flow of a variety of tourists, focusing on the basic theory of economics, “Turn Over”.  Otherwise, the quality, availability, expenses, and services that travelers receive from the tourist businesses they patronize affect the overall visitor’s experience, in the country’s future tourism industry.

Case study:  Culinary Diplomacy a recipe for tourist attraction, how it works & it is about tourism

Ethiopia can use its “Themed Restaurants”, as Cultural Ambassadors, for soft power to attract tourists.  Many countries around the globe used this recipe to generate large numbers of tourists, adopting it as their Cultural Ambassadors to exhibit positive images of their country.  As a new ideal for Ethiopia, themed restaurants can serve as “agents” for the tourism economy.  Culinary Diplomacy is part of Cultural Diplomacy that can assist in understanding the nation.  It is a way of conducting international relations without anticipating anything in return, in the way that traditional diplomacy expects.  It plants the seeds of ideals, ideas, people to people contact, and increases commerce. [7] Themed restaurants can come up with small daily advertisements and general information guide.  They can also provide important tips on information for excursion selections along with newsletters, “On What Is New”, in touch with potential clients in the most inexpensive way.  It has the potential to demonstrate Ethiopia’s national power; it can create a favorable climate to call attention to its prestige in the world wide arena. 

It aids to garner sustainable economics and multiculturalism; and, it provides employment opportunities for the youthful population.  Countries like Ireland, the Philippines, and Canada have made significant investments for tourism development, and have seen results with visitors, as a profitable by product of food tourism and product development.  Likewise, Ethiopia has some of the best spicy foods, as does Thailand and Mexico.  In Thailand, the government promoted Thai Food, as an ambassador by training Thai Chefs, and opening restaurants throughout the world.  Thai cooks also benefited from soft loans.  There were about 5,500 Thai restaurants around the world in 2002, as part of an ambitious plan called “Global Thai”.  The Thai government boosted this numbers to more than 10,000, in 2013.  This helped to introduce Thai food and persuade more people to visit Thailand, and strengthened relations with other countries. [8] Ethiopia can learn a lot from this strategy, as there are many similarities between these two countries.

In the United States, likewise, The State Department, which promotes American relations overseas, has long understood that culture plays a powerful role in diplomacy.  They said, “We have Art Diplomacy, Sports Diplomacy, and perhaps most compellingly Culinary Diplomacy”. [10] The National Geography once on its publication stated, “You can make connections around a dinner table you can’t make around a conference table, and the power of food brings cultures together.” [11] Indeed, Ethiopia pioneered Culinary Diplomacy over a century ago, in 1907, when the country’s first government hotel was founded by Empress Tayitu, in the Capital Addis Ababa. [12] It served as a diplomatic tool to create companionship, at the dinner table, and helped to promote businesses.  This influence, built up over a century ago harnessed elements of Ethiopian culture, created commerce, restored diplomacy, and sustained mutual understanding of different nations, for good will, which has to be invigorated and multiplied once again.


In the Travel & Tourism competitiveness Index, which is the measure of factors that make it attractive to developing business, Ethiopia achieved well, in many aspects, as compared to a number of countries?  However, it still needs to work hard in many areas.  The country, has not fully exploited its tremendous tourism opportunities, and exclusive historical sites.  Few of the shortcomings apparently seen are in E-Commerce, expensive hotel room accommodations, and limited numbers of guesthouses, which are important to launch tourism.  Ethiopia should also foster links with the Industry partners, knowledge partners, and media partners.  On the other hand, tourism promotions are expensive; so far, media often depict foreign cultures in a stereotypical manner.  In view of that, ethnic-based restaurants are considered the second most influential public agents of foreign cultures to attract tourists.  Official government sponsored Culinary Diplomacy programs have been established in many countries; such as, in Thailand, South Korea, Malaysia, Peru, & the United States.  “Global Thailand” increased Thai restaurants around the world.  It was a cultural, diplomatic, and economic program, where each Thai Restaurant turned out to be unofficial embassy for Thailand.  In this regard, learning from others success is considered following their innovation pathway.  And to be successful, Ethiopia has to find countries that have already paid the price to learn the things that Ethiopia need to learn to achieve its goals.  As Jeff Bezos founder and CEO of Amazon Co. once said, “We watch our competitors, learn from them, see what they are doing for customers, and replicate those things as much as we can.”  Therefore, “Global Ethiopia” should be “Brand Ethiopia” for diplomatic, cultural, and economic programs.  Ethiopia’s Themed Restaurants can be used as opportunities in the pathway for development. 

The test of Ethiopian cuisine could be used to build stronger bonds between Ethiopia and the rest of the world; it is good for Ethiopia’s business, it brands the country’s good image around the world, & it increases International presence.  Culinary tourism, at large, is considered a smart power philosophy and a person to person diplomatic tool.  It can send a positive message of the nation’s diverse cultural offering to the world.  It also promotes its landscapes, wildlife, culture and diversification.  Alternatively, it becomes an export income source, and brings superb foreign revenue in, to support the local economy.  For that reason, campaigns should be made to potential business areas around the globe, through the soft power of Ethiopia’s restaurants.  The Ethiopian restaurant business locally and abroad should be encouraged in similar way to “Global Thailand.”  “Global Ethiopia” should be the motto, in the comprehensive national roadmap for tourism.  “Global Ethiopia”, should be dealt, with the involvement of tourism researchers, practitioners, policymakers, national and international consultants, and other industry players, within and outside the country, for the expansion of stronger tourism sector in the country.


[1] Tourism Market trends UNWTO. < http://mkt.unwto.org/barometer>.

[2] World Tours & Travel, 2015.


[3] The East African. < http://www.theeastafrican.co.ke/news/Kenya-to-launch--50m-global-tourism-campaign-/-/2558/2852650/-/


(4) No Rules, Just Right’ or is it? The Role of Themed Restaurants as Cultural Ambassadors. By Natalie T. Wood < http://thr.sagepub.com/content/7/3-4/242.short>.

[5] Seth, Pran Nath. Successful Tourism Management. Tourism Practices, pp.158. <https://books.google.com/books?id=Vs4GM5e0c8C&pg=PA21&dq=tourism++prosperous+how&hl=en&sa



[6] Addis Fortune: Ethiopia New Survey Shows Addis Ababa Hotels Expensive. <http://allafrica.com/stories/201509071484.html>.

[7] Culinary Diplomacy connecting individuals, leaders, and nations through food

DIPNOTE U.S. Department of State Official Blog.< http://blogs.state.gov/stories/2012/09/30/culinary-diplomacy-connecting-individuals-leaders-and-nations-


[8] The Economist: Thailand’s Gastro-Diplomacy. < http://www.economist.com/node/999687>.

[9] State Department mixes it Up with Culinary Outreach

: DIPLOMATIC POUCH:< http://washdiplomat.com/DPouch/2013/April1/story1chefs.html>.

[10] Diplomatic Culinary Partnership Initiative-Food Politics.

< http://www.foodpolitics.com/wp-content/uploads/Diplomatic-Culinary-Partnership-Initiative-One-Pager.pdf>.

[11] National Geographic: The Plate, Culinary Diplomacy is on American Menu < http://theplate.nationalgeographic.com/2015/04/25/culinary-diplomacy-is-on-americas-menu/>.

[12] Pankhurst, Richard. The Ethiopians: A History (people of Africa) pp.199, 2001.

The writer recently contributed an article, on The Ground-Water Potential of the North African Region and the Nile Issue....., where he expressed his opinions from an academic point of view.  In this piece of writing however, his views originate from extensive travels in different parts of the world, for leisure and educational trips.  He assumes his comments may help to promote new insights in the Ethiopian Trousm Sector, and is fully confident that the literary opinions of others will elevate the Ethiopian set of circumstances.  He can be reached at: watuwad@gmail.com