Ethiopian Business Review

Decorating Restaurants, Night Clubs with Local Materials: A Cash Cow Business for Carpenters, A Showcase of Nation’s Diversity, Boosts Tourism Featured

On a hot Thursday afternoon, May 22, 2014, Assefa Mandefro, 60, a carpenter who builds traditional houses and decorates them using local materials, was busy completing a traditional restaurant and night club in the Gerji area of Addis Ababa. He rushes and gives orders shouting at his associates to meet his schedule of finishing the project and make it ready by the end of June.

From the outside the structure looks like a big store, but after entering, you witness a huge traditional restaurant which features different items that give a traditional aesthetic. The smell of the materials used for the construction and decoration -- the bamboo, other plants and animal skins -- are still fresh. 

A few years ago Assefa only seldom got requests for these kinds of projects. Now he has several projects at a time worth of hundreds of thousands of Birr. With the familiarization of constructing and decorating restaurants, coffee houses, night clubs and even offices using local materials, he now maintains a robust business.  

“I am engaged in several projects of constructing and decorating restaurants and night clubs all over the country” he told EBR. For the time being he is undertaking three similar projects located at different sites, two in Addis Ababa and one in Arba Minch, 500Kms south of Addis Ababa in the Gamo Gofa Zone of the Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples Region. “I have more than 30 employees in these different sites,” he adds. Furthermore, he continues to get requests to work on new projects.

Traditional restaurants and night clubs too witness the boom in business, according to observers. Tenkir Teni runs a famous traditional restaurant and night club called Totot, constructed and furnished using local materials and he says that his business is popular among residents. “People want to relax in traditional places enjoying the food and drink served traditionally, but most of all, [for] the traditional look of the house, furniture and different cultural music and dances,” he told EBR.  

The music and cultural entertainment in houses decorated with traditional materials and furnished with local furniture are particularly popular among foreigners and tourists. In several of the traditional houses in Addis Ababa it is very difficult to find a seat at night, a tourist guide told EBR. Tourists usually prefer the traditional places to modern ones since they have modern establishments in abundance back home, he added. 

Tenkir says that business at Totot has been increasing gradually. “In our Six years of operation, we have been witnessing an incremental growth in the number of our customers. For example, in the first year of our operations, the maximum number of customers that we would serve was not more than 50, but nowadays, especially in the dry season, we could have more than 300 customers a day,” says Tenkir.  

A Ugandan tourist, who prefers traditional places to hotels, enjoys seeing the different Ethiopian cultures on display in one place . “I love the food, especially the raw meat (kitfo) and most of the traditional shows and songs,” he told EBR. “The traditional shows and songs remind me of my own tribe back at home.” 

Business owner note that the use of locally-produced goods and traditional designs for construction and decoration is very useful in promoting the country’s cultural values, both for Ethiopians and foreigners. 

Consequently, this brings more tourists and strengthens the business. The owner of Totot, Tenkir Teni, says that his business is receiving moral and financial support from the government for promoting the country’s culture. “Last September Totot received ETB400,000 from the Ministry of Culture and Tourism,” Tenkir told EBR. 

Although inputs for the construction of these traditional leisure venues are relatively cheaper than modern construction goods, the construction costs are more expensive. For example, the construction of a traditional restaurant and night club project around Imperial Hotel requires a ETB3 million investment. Assefa, the decorator, signed ETB140,000 deal to do the decoration work of the house. He has used local materials, worth a total of ETB200,000, for construction and decoration.

“We brought the Bamboos from Arba Minch along with professionals who have made bamboo art work,” he said. “We have also used a lot of animals’ skin to cover and decorate the ceiling and walls.” 

The owners of the restaurant, which is expected to host more than 500 customers at a time, are currently buying traditional household items. 

Experts believe that it is good to use local designs and materials in order to promote the country’s architectural knowledge and save foreign currency that could be otherwise spent for buying construction inputs from abroad. 

Fasil Georgis, is a lecturer at the Ethiopian Institute of Architecture, Building Construction and City Development at Addis Ababa University. He says that using traditional construction materials and designs have a great advantage, even though they can be relatively expensive and difficult to get. “When you use the local inputs like bamboo and animal skin, you can get them on the market for cheaper price, but getting professionals or artists, who can do the decorating job is costly,” he says. “Again when you use the modern inputs like cement and reinforcement bars, they need a lot of money, but you can easily get professionals who can do this modern construction for a relatively cheaper price.”     

Fasil was asked about upgrading traditional Ethiopian construction designs and teaching it to young Ethiopian architecture students. “It is difficult to struggle with this globalization influence that is being poured through the media. The younger generation is highly inclined to know foreign architectural knowledge rather than the local one,” he says.

Ethiopia, a nation often described a mosaic of people and various tourist sites, has long been criticised for not utilizing its tourism resources efficiently. The sector’s contribution to GDP is insignificant compared to the 10Pct contribution in neighbouring Kenya.

Developing tourist sites, including restaurants and clubs, across the country is one important step the country needs to take in its bid to develop the sector. Construction and decoration of traditional restaurants and night clubs using local resources is a growing trend. But it will take more than that for the country to create a more robust tourism sector. 

Experts say that promoting the food, drinks and culture of the people are important steps in helping the tourism sector grow. This makes it easier for tourists to learn more about the country and possibly pique their interest to visit again.

2nd Year . July 2014 . No.16

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