Visitors receiving blessings from elders during Mesqel holiday trip organised by Bored Cellphone Addis Abeba.

Fikresilassie Tsegaye, 34, is an architect by profession, who has seen his favourite holiday pastime grow into a lucrative side hustle over the past couple of years.

He organises trips to different parts of the country, compelled by the authentic experience during his trip to celebrate Epiphany in Gonder, Amhara Regional State.

"I wanted others to feel what I experienced," Fikresilassie told Fortune.

What started as a moment of inspiration has now grown to become a frequent escape from the capital's noise with a journey to the green fields of Gurage Zone in the pipeline for the Mesqel holiday; which is emphatically celebrated in the locale with residents dispersed across the country rushing to the embrace of the family back home.

Fikresilassie, known for founding the popular social media trend Bored Cellphone Addis Abeba, posts his trip plans through his rich online presence of 126,000 members with interested adventurers contacting him for details.

Huddled in Coaster bus, groups of about 20 are set for the five-hour drive to Mesqan Wereda under Buttajira Town Administration after paying 6,000 Br for a package that includes food, travel and lodging at a traditional home in the rural villages.

"The networking and camaraderie built is the true value," said Fikresilassie.

The three-day stay entails a menu of home-cooked specialities of Gurage culture such as Kitfo (minced meat), Zemamojat and Ayib (mix of kale and cottage cheese) and Bulla (porridge made of false banana).

Ceremonial ox slaughter follows a blessing from elders with festivities reaching a fever pitch as a large campfire accompanied by dancing and local alcoholic spirits takes hold of the night, imprinting an indelible memory on visitors.

Despite interest growing over the years, the organiser claims to net around 10,000 Br in profit.

"It's more of a hobby than a business," he told Fortune.

Holidays are changing their celebratory manner, giving ground to a budding industry of domestic tourism with urbanites flocking into regional states to get a taste of cultural cuisines and a whiff of fresh air.

While overlooked as a lucrative business, domestic tourism is an industry that was valued at around 61 billion Br last year with 970,000 tourists, according to data from the Ministry of Tourism.

Tariku Negash, communication head of the Ministry of Tourism, said these informal trips are not recognised or supported by them. He indicated there is no compiled data on the extent of these holiday travellers who use social media to gauge if their safety situation is assessed by the Ministry.

"But we protect the international tourists through our scouts," said Tariku.

The cold shoulder from the Ministry does little to discourage enthusiastic adventurers looking to make the trip this year.

The 33-year-old Faskiaw Kassahun is going on his fifth trip to Gurage this year, after catching onto the Bored Cellphone Facebook page. He has been a long-standing member since its beginning five years ago and ventured on the pilot trip which he now looks forward to every year.

He observes that every trip with different people offers a unique experience.

"The experience is beyond description," said Fasikaw.

Fasikaw has become enamoured with the traditional cuisine, dancing and fresh air more than the prices have climbed from 3,000 Br to 6,000 Br through the years.

The digital curator with monthly earnings that hover around 40,000 Br believes the price increments go in line with the general inflation and is eagerly awaiting the dancing around the campfire and the organic butter-infused delicacies that await him this year.

"You drink the Kitfo not eat it," he told Fortune in a sensational tone.

A report by the Harvard Business Review indicates that some businessmen used the pandemic to develop existing trends into lucrative sources of income such as food delivery services, telemedicine companies and at-home exercise instructors.

While the pandemic destroyed several businesses that relied on face-to-face instruction, it gave rise to entrepreneurs like Meron Teferi, who took up the opportunity to enter into new ventures.

In her mid-20s, Meron has picked on the trend of hiking business in the wake of movement restrictions imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic two and half years ago.

"A cord has struck within," she said.

She founded Seleme Hiking a few months after graduating as a tour operator to give respite to people locked into their homes by organising trips to Wenchi, Zeway, Ensaro and Debre Libanos areas.

"It has evolved into a community," Meron told Fortune.

The bi-weekly trips a few hundred kilometres from the capital transform into grander adventures during holidays.

She ventured into the festivity last year organising a Mesqel trip to Arba Minch Town in the Southern part of the country, which received encouraging compliments from travellers.

Prices for the package increase as the holiday approaches for the four-holiday trips during the year to Dalol Depression in the Afar region, Chebera Churchura Park in the southern region and Bale Mountains in the Oromia region.

She nets around 15,000 Br in profit from each hiking trip. However, the trips which entail booking huts, making sure food and refreshments are available, and hotel accommodations for customers who seek privacy all for prices ranging between 14,000-16,000 Br prove to be more costly for Meron.

"I usually break even during the holiday trips," she said.

While the business has yet to receive a nod from the Trade Bureau for a license, this year, she is planning a trip with 15 people to Agena town in Gurage Zone and Arba Minch.

Meron recognises the rising threat of security issues in the country. She has people from several posts who constantly check on the road and update her ahead of time before reaching specific destinations.

"I receive constant updates from across the country," she said.

Veterans of the tourism industry acknowledge the vast untapped potential of local tourism, praising the recent wave of maverick entrepreneurs.

Three decades in the tourism sector have allowed tour operator Yohannes Assefa to recognise a customer base eager to look out into the country.

"They have the opportunity to plan ahead as opposed to tour companies operating spontaneously," said Yohannes.

He applauded the communal housing arrangements provided by the organisers, as they cut costs and created a sense of culture. Yohannes notes an intricate link between security and tourism, which he expects will impact the burgeoning domestic tourism industry if it does not improve.

PUBLISHED ON Sep 23,2023 [ VOL 24 , NO 1221]

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