With one of the biggest airlines in Africa and a host of international hotel brands with a presence in the capital, Ethiopia remains a serious African business travel destination, despite its political challenges.
Despite largely avoiding colonisation, Ethiopia has had a turbulent history of monarchy, socialism and bloody coups, and its economy remains relatively under-developed. Agriculture accounts for nearly half of total GDP, as well as 85% of employment. While most financial industries are restricted to domestic investors, there has been significant foreign investment in textiles, manufacturing and commercial agriculture. According to African Economic Outlook, Ethiopia will remain among the fastest growing non-oil producing economies in Africa during 2013.
Business Travel Activity
It’s been a big year for Ethiopian Airlines, starting with the news towards the end of 2011 that it had become a Star Alliance member. However, that news was arguably overshadowed by the arrival of the airline’s first Boeing 787 Dreamliner in August. Ethiopian Airlines became the first airline in the world, outside Japan, to receive this technologically-advanced aircraft. That was followed up by the news that the airline was due to start using the Dreamliner in Johannesburg from 14 December. ‘Cloud Nine’ or Business Class on the aircraft is equipped with sleeper seats, while the Economy Class has reclining seats with more legroom and a spacious cabin. The aircraft has on-demand audio and video services, with 15.4-inch screens and 85 channels in Business Class, whilst Economy Class has 8.9-inch screens and 80 different channels. Ethiopian Airlines also added an online passenger web check-in service in May. Further afield, Etihad Airways announced that it had added Addis Ababa to its network. On the hotel front, the most significant development was the opening of Carlson Rezidor’s new property, the Radisson Blu Hotel Addis Ababa. It’s situated in the heart of the Ethiopian capital, at the entrance to the Main Conference Centre for Africa, the United Nations Conference Centre. It features 204 rooms and 16 suites.
Addis Ababa is Ethiopia’s largest city and the country’s commercial and political heart. Bole International Airport is the most important gateway to the country, and is served by a range of international airlines. International flights depart from Terminal 2, while domestic leave from Terminal 1. Taxis are plentiful at the airport, and are your best bet for getting into the city. Remember to negotiate and agree a fare upfront. Major hotels can also arrange pre-booked airport shuttles.
“Three month tourist visas on arrival for SA passport holders cost 20 dollars,” says Chris Schuitmaker, Manager: Regional Business & Partner Management Africa for HRG Rennies. “Business Class and Sheba Miles lounges are in Terminal 2, plus restaurants and duty free shops, although there isn’t a huge selection. The Obelisk Lounge is also available, but you have to pay to enter. If it’s a night flight, you should arrive at the airport at least three hours before departure, as a lot of flights depart in the evening.”
As the diplomatic centre of Africa, Addis Ababa unsurprisingly offers a selection of high-quality hotels and a number of international chains have properties here. The Addis Regency Hotel, Sheraton Addis, and Radisson Blu are some of the most popular choices for business travellers. “The Jupiter International Hotel is your best option for accommodation near the airport, offering modern facilities and free Wi-Fi,” says iAfrica.com travel editor, Richard Holmes. “Ask for a room facing away from the street, which can get noisy at night.”
“The Sheraton I would rate as 5-star plus,” says Schuitmaker. “The Hilton has been around since the 1960s – it’s branded 5-star, but it’s an old hotel that has only undergone facelifts. The Radisson Blu is the newest 5-star hotel in the city, whilst there’s also an InterContinental which is no relation to the international hotel brand. It ranks itself as 5-star, but I would put it as 3.5 stars. Along with the Jupiter, the Harmony is close to airport as well as the nightlife and restaurants are in the area.”
“The best hotel in town, and the place to see and be seen, is the Sheraton,” says Trevor Ward, MD of W Hospitality Group. “The Hilton has seen better days, but has a good bar where the expatriates hang out. Radisson Blu have recently opened, close to the Hilton, but the facilities are quite limited.”
Except for nationals of Kenya and Djibouti, all visitors to Ethiopia require a visa. Citizens of over 35 countries can obtain a 30-day tourist visa on arrival, with fees ranging from US$20-70. For further information, visit ethiopianembassy.org.
Due to decades of state-owned telecommunications monopoly, Internet speeds and penetration in Ethiopia lag far behind most of its East African neighbours. However, major hotels in the capital will usually offer Wi-Fi, and Internet cafés are easily found. Mobile 3G access is only available in Addis Ababa.
If you have an afternoon free, spend it at the excellent National Museum of Ethiopia, where you’ll find one of the world’s most important paleontological finds – the fossilized skeleton of Dinkinesh, or Lucy, found in the region in the 1970s. Also, the colourful and chaotic ‘merkato’ is best for a taste of local life, but watch out for pickpockets.
Most business travellers restrict their visit to Addis Ababa, where no specific inoculations are required. If you plan on visiting sub-tropical lowlands, malaria prophylaxis are recommended and travellers in rural areas should consider vaccination against hepatitis A, typhoid and polio.
Food choices run mainly Italian/Continental, but there are several Indian and Chinese restaurants, one Thai, a couple of Korean, and one French,” says Schuitmaker. “Nightlife is plentiful, with quite a few venues with live music – most notable in this category would be Jazz Amba in the heart of Piassa inside Taitu Hotel. For transfers within the city, best to use hotel-arranged transportation. Most hotels have Wi-Fi, whilst pre-paid sim cards are available in most places, including hotels. Roaming works with only some international providers, but it’s expensive and unreliable.”
Capital: Addis Ababa
Population: 91 million
Time zone: GMT +3
Plugs: Two-pin round socket
Dialling code: +251
Language: English, as well as local languages such as Oromigna, Amharic and Somaligna
Currency: Ethiopian birr. Exchange rate: US$1=ETB18.2
Brussels Airlines – brusselsairlines.com
EGYPTAIR – egyptair.com
Emirates – emirates.com
Etihad – etihadairways.com
Ethiopian Airlines – flyethiopian.com
Kenya Airways – kenya-airways.com
KLM – klm.com
Lufthansa – lufthansa.com
SAA – flysaa.com
Turkish Airlines – turkishairlines.com
Addis Regency – addisregencyhotel.com
Hilton – hilton.com
Hotel Siyonat – hotelsiyonat.com
InterContinental – intercontinentaladdis.com.et
Jupiter – jupiterinternationalhotel.com
Radisson Blu – radissonblu.com
Sheraton – sheratonaddis.com
Taitu – taituhotel.com