Mulu Eco-lodge: Pioneering Unique Trend in Ethiopia

By AklileTsige /ABN/

Responsible tourism can be a driver of sustainabledevelopment and the preservation of natural and cultural heritage, but if unplanned and poorly managed it can be socially, economically and culturally disruptive and cause damage and degradation to sensitive ecosystems, landscapes, monuments and communities.

Indigenous and local knowledge and cultural traditions can contribute to climate resilience.There is widespread recognition that indigenousand local populations have unique and valuablelocal knowledge, traditions and cultural practicesthat can contribute to effective managementstrategies in the face of rapid climatic change.

Very recently an Ethiopian young entrepreneur and a German environmentally-minded woman unexpectedly met in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa and came up with an idea of establishing eco-lodge at the birth place of the former. The couple had the opportunity to introduce and promote their uniquely designed eco-lodge at the 6th.Africa Hotel Show and Hospitality Show held at the Millennium Hall in Addis Ababa a month or so ago.ABN Editor-in-Chief AklileTsigespeaks to the newlywed couple behind the realization of their childhood dream.

The Tale of Two Dreams

Abiy Alem, an Ethiopian visionary was born at a small rural village called Ta’eme kebele in West Gojam Zone of the Amhara Regional State. After having studied only for a year at his birth place, he has moved to the nation’s capital, Addis Ababa with his brothers, joining Lazarist Catholic Mission School until he has completed 10th grade.

He then joined School of Tomorrow where he had completed his secondary education. The hard-working Abiy has successfully passed his matriculation and got the opportunity to join Mekelle University, and received his BSc degree in Computer Science in 2011.

Valerie Seitz, born and grew up in Munich, Germany, and went to schools there. After having completed her education, she has made attempts to realize her dream of visiting Africa by applying to an organization to do a volunteerism work. She then joined a non-governmental organization working on environmental protection in Addis Ababa. But Valerie was not very happy working in this NGO due to various reasons.

Two dreamers, a German and an Ethiopianmet few years ago in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa when both Valerie and Abiy were living at the residential area called “Gotera Condominium”.

“I was living in Gotera condos with some other volunteers. Abiy also had a room there. So we met there and started talking and strengthening our relations; we’ve understood that we had a common dream of engaging in eco-tourism. So we’ve decided to establish an eco-lodge.” says Valerie.

Abiy who earned first degree from Mekelle University was not happy in his life though he tried to do various businesses with his friends. He kept simply on chasing his childhood dream. He had to join a hotel and tourism school where he has got his diploma in tour and travel; he has also received Foundation in Tourism and Travel /IATA/ correspondence diploma from Canada so that he could gain more insight into eco lodge and ecotourism.

Equipped with relevant knowledge and skills, Abiy realized the fact that he was only on thethresholdofthe intended business. There had to be feasibility study and community conversations for reliable implementation of the long-awaiting project.

Abel explained, “I did more research on ecotourism which helped me develop a better understanding of the concept. So I had to do something, to start a project as I believe eco-lodge has a good potential. Finally I have designed a small proposal .’’

Abiy was not doing things alone, his soul mate; Valerie as usual was supporting him tirelessly, romantically andenergetically to achieve their common dream from the onset.

“We’ve spent nearly three years to get into the project. So we decided to go to the countryside where Abiy was born. We have travelled several times to Ta’eme to undertake research in the area,’’ Vallerie recalled.

Now the remaining task was to go through the monotonous, intolerable bureaucratic process of getting business license from regional and local authorities; this may be the last chapter to make a dream come true.

“For me it was really amazing because

farmers in Germany are conservative,

not open for new things; it was

completely opposite here.”

“Before contacting both regional and local authorities, I had to talk to my family about our plan; we were also in the community discussing the issue, gathering different information on support and cooperation we might get.” said Abiy, adding, “I went to Bahirdar where the regional Culture and Tourism Bureau is situated, then to the zone, West Gojam zone. Fortunately, I’ve got the investment license very quickly within three hours.”

Nevertheless, the going got tough as moving to the lowest administration level. Here at the woreda the dream team had encountered rigorous hurdles which took them nearly eleven months to leap over the bureaucracy.

Interestingly enough, the local farmers played a pivotal role in the project implementation, working closely with Abiy and Valerie. They were pushing them to start the project as quickly as possible. This, in deed, attributes to the unforgettable and good deeds of Abiy’s father who has undertaken various socio-economic development activities in the locality.

Apart from his father’s social contribution to the local community, Abiy was also doing some kind of social responsiveness. “Whenever I went to the village with my clients or visitors, I used to take books to students, and facilitate medical treatment access to the most disadvantaged members of the community.” Abiy noted.

“For me it was really amazing because farmers in Germany are conservative, not open for new things; it was completely opposite here.” Valerie appreciated the local farmers.

Taking credits for those deeds, farmers and other community members became one of the most important pillars to kick off the project, to make a dream come true, and eventually lay the anchor. The foundation to erect the uniquely designed Mulu Ecolodge has now become a reality.

Concept of Eco Lodge

Many people are curious about what is meant by the word “ecolodge”. The word came into being in the 1990’s and was coined to describe a type of lodge that was distinguished from others by the way it was either constructed or operated, or both. Since then there have been many different notions and strongly defended opinions of what constitutes the right to use the “eco” word.

The ecotourism concept is to operate the enterprise of tourism so that a fair share of the monetary benefits sticks in the local host community while reducing the environmental impact and provide the visitor with an enhanced nature based experience. Ecotourism is strongly linked to conservation and interpretation of the natural world, so it is distinguished from the more general concept of sustainable tourism. “Ecolodges” then are the lodging of choice for people wanting to experience nature and support ecotourism.

Many countries and regions have embarked on creating certifiable green or sustainable tourism standards, but only recently has there been any collective agreement on an international basis. This certification standard has been applied generally to all accommodation facilities in order to raise the level of environmental and social responsibility and so there is still a gap in defining and classifying an eco-lodge as opposed to simply a “green hotel”.  I have set out our criteria and have also categorized and described different types of ecolodges.

In general the types of attributes listed below are the major ones we can witness in an Eco lodge:

  • It is located in a natural area, or in a rural area within a short distance to a natural area, and is not significantly impacted by a townsite, noise, traffic, smog or pollution.
  • It is small, usually less than 30 rooms.
    It employs systems that protect the environment from pollution and degradation. ( Also see Green Hotels below)
  • It often employs energy saving tactics and possibly renewable energy technology.
  • It employs, or has access to, interpretive nature guides who are either trained in biology or have significant local knowledge of the habitat.
  • It provides books, posters, maps, photographs, orientation talks or other ways to inform guests and visitors about the biology of the area.
  • It helps train and employs local people at fair wages.
  • It helps inform guests, staff and visitors on the importance and value of a healthy ecosystem and describes how to best enjoy the area without impacting it.
  • It contributes to the local economy and helps demonstrate that ecotourism is a more sustainable long term way to earn income than destroying or altering habitats for short term gains.

According to various literatures, there are many variations in the types of ecolodges in terms of their purpose, history and expression of ecological values. This is a description of types of ecolodges that I have come up with.

These are usually designed and built as ecolodges and have well trained staff and professional guides used to dealing with guests from all backgrounds. They are located in pristine natural locations, often of significant ecological importance, and have strong programs of conservation.

They have ethical employment practices and contribute to the local economy. They are also using best technologies to reduce energy and handle waste. Model Ecolodges are distinctive in these ways, as opposed to rural or community based ecolodges which have a slightly different purposes.

Throughout the world there have been several experiments involving communities in tourism projects where the “community” has built lodging facilities, developed tours and offers other hospitality services. Some have been funded by NGO’s, some with international development funds and other sources of non-conventional financing. Some are rural projects using farm stays; some are village stays using local homes. Buildings  are adapted or could be purpose built structures. All these projects serve to provide income for small communities seeking a more sustainable means to living.

In general, these are very simple, grassroots types of programs and they can be very emotionally satisfying for visitors from the “developed world”. But many argue that the quality and reliability of service is sometimes inconsistent for many reasons. It can be more “real life” as experienced by the local people every day.

Kicking off

Located in the Amhara Regional State in Choke Mountains, The Mulu Eco lodge  takes an hour by plane from Addis Ababa to Bahir Dar, then 3hours’drive to a small town called Dembecha which is 205 km away from the region’s capital, Bahir Dar. Another option: about 7 hours drive on a beautiful road that stretches 380 km to Dembecha from Addis.  From Dembecha town one has to travel 1 and half hour on dirt road and pebbles to the Eco lodge. There you go now to enjoy an environmentally friendly eco lodge-Mulu Eco Lodge.

Opened in 2018, the lodge was createdin honor of Abiy’s mother, Mulu, which is to mean in Amharic language full, complete or everything.Establishing partnership with the villagers who are very involved was the best strategy Abiy and Valerie have designed for the efficient and reliable implementation and sustainability of this pioneer business.

“The Mulu Eco lodge is not only the ideal place to rest and walk while admiring the landscape, but also to meet local communities. Indeed, very quickly, visitors will be part of the family”

What makes the construction of this lodge different is that all the construction inputs are organic, and have been exploited and produced from the local sources by the farmers. The greenery landscape coupled with the varieties of indigenous plant species surrounding the lodge is so breathtaking and marvelous.

Their goal is to enable villagers to improve their living conditions and they hope to build a school for the village children in the coming years. They already have the support of a small German NGO called Enat Ethiopia.

The Mulu Eco lodge is not only the ideal place to rest and walk while admiring the landscape, but also to meet local communities. Indeed, very quickly, visitors will be part of the family. For example, the tukul for cooking is open to the outside and allows visitors to participate in the preparation of meals of traditional cuisine based on injera (large pancake made of teff, local cereal). The tukul for the common room dining room not only welcomes travelers but is also a meeting place for locals. Immersion with local communities is at its maximum.

The Mulu Eco lodge is made up of several traditional round huts otherwise known as tukuls, built of dried soil with a thatched roof, scattered over a huge field. The tukuls for travelers are very spacious and some are decorated in a very original way with multicolored pieces of glass, which gives them, from the inside, a light a little magical. Moreover everything is thought to protect and respect the environment (permaculture, compost, beehive for the production of honey, solar electricity, and dry toilets).

Trekking in the surrounding mountains, horseback riding, participation in local ceremonies, observation of flora and fauna (birds, monkeys), visit of village houses, school, and participation in local daily activities like work in fields, cooking, and crafts are the most enjoyable activities carried out by the local community.

“For a lot of people it’s a unique experience. They can stay there in the country side with the highland farmers; real traditional Ethiopian life. I think it’s a very unique experience.” Valerie explains.

This community-based tourism activity, Mulu Eco Lodge appears to be different; it facilitates ways to help farmers form their own associations and come with feasible project ideas that aim to solve their socio-economic problems like food shortage and electric power.

Mulu Eco Lodge wants visitors to experience one of the most beautiful and undiscovered parts of Ethiopia: the Choke Mountains. Anyone who plans on travelling along the famous northern route can take a detour and visit the site located at over 3,000 meters altitude at the source of the Blue Nile! Mulu Eco Lodge philosophy: Culture, nature and society form a natural unity. This cozy Eco lodge is a community center full of genuine activities where guests and locals get together.

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