The Addis Abeba Hotel Owners Association has elected a new chairperson, the second person to lead the 176-member lobby group in eight years.

Aster Solomon, the owner of Mosaic Hotel, has been elected to lead the lobby group after serving as a board member for two and a half years. She took the helm from Binyam Bisrat, co-founder of Jupiter International Hotel.

Members had urged Binyam to run for what would be his fifth term in office.

"He's been working selflessly for over eight years," said Amha Bekelle, general manager of the Association.

Among Binyam's most notable achievements was his role in persuading officials at the central bank to approve around six billion Birr in soft loans to the hospitality industry last year. The loans were disbursed in two rounds (June and December 2020), and beneficiaries were required to use the funds to cover payroll and operational expenses.

Binyam is content with his Association work but declined to accept nomination for "personal reasons".

Aster is one of the founding shareholders of Enat Bank, where she served as a director for two years. She is also a co-founder of Information Systems Services, a pioneer in Ethiopia's geographic information systems (GIS).

The businesswoman was one of the eight nominees during an election held at the Addis Abeba Hilton on September 4, during the Association's 12th general assembly. She has won 66 of the 91 votes, running against challengers such as Melaku Sima, human resources director of the Hilton Hotel.

Aster has come to the limelight when the hospitality industry is going through trying times. International travel has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, leading to a sharp decline in occupancy rates, which fell to as low as two percent. Conference travellers, the main source of revenues to hotels in the capital, had almost dried up, causing property owners to ponder how to cover operating costs such as payrolls.

"The hospitality industry has yet to recover," said Aster. "It needs more attention."

Aster plans to double down on business and conference tourism to help the industry get back on its feet. Despite the initial shock from the pandemic, which cost hoteliers as much as 35 million dollars a month, things have been improving lately, with occupancy rates sliding back up to as high as 50pc.

Amha has poised the newly-elected chairperson to deserve the office, praising her wealth of experience in the industry.

Founded 24 years ago, the Association was first operating under the name of the Ethiopian Hotels & Restaurants Employers Association before changing its appellation nine years ago.

Under Aster's leadership, the Association, representing members employing more than 20,000, aims to make major changes, starting with membership fees, Amha disclosed to Fortune.

Hotels pay dues based on their room capacity. The smallest, having at least 10 rooms, pay 8,400 Br in an annual membership fee, while the largest members with more than 200 rooms pay close to double.

"We're planning to resume and support promotional magazines and publications to proceed to bring conference tourism to Ethiopia in collaboration with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and others," Amha told Fortune.

PUBLISHED ON Sep 10,2021 [ VOL 22 , NO 1115]

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