Souvenir shops are one of the businesses that are highly dependent on local and international tourists. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the tourism industry is suffering; local gift shops and craftsmen and women are among the most affected by the pandemic. 

“The situation that we are facing is dire because there are no customers buying souvenirs right now. As you know, most of our customers are tourists. Some local customers have international connections, usually expats and diaspora. They buy our goods to send abroad, says Teka Getu, the owner of a souvenir shop in front of Churchill hotel.

Before the pandemic, a wide range of individuals supplied us with hand made goods every Saturday. Though most of them are from Kecheni Medhanialem, we had makers from various parts of the city, even some from regional states.

Now, in the middle of the COVID-19pandemic, we haven’t bought much for the last five months. The makers are facing severe hardship. Even in normal situations, they lived paycheck to paycheck. They never could afford to wait for extended periods of time for us to pay them.

For rent, I pay ETB 5000 per month. It is a government-owned store. Due to the pandemic, rent was halved in support of small businesses. We have been paying ETB 2500 per month for the last two months. We don’t know what will come next. We are facing difficult and uncertain times. The pandemic forced bans on travel. There are no tourists coming in. We have lost a lot in these five months.

There are a variety of gifts and traditional products, which range from ETB 50 to ETB 1000. In peak seasons, with lots of tourists, we raised prices by a sixth. If the price of a single gift is ETB 250 we sell it for ETB 300. Monthly, we earned around ETB 15,000 in revenue, before rent, taxes, and utilities.
We founded the shop with a starting capital of ETB 30,000 and now we are at ETB 50,000 total capital. Before the pandemic, we reported ETB 3000 to ETB 5000 in revenue per month. Now, we are at 0 income.”

According to Jemal Beyire, the owner of Mursela Gallery located beside the Tracon tower, the main customers are tourists and visiting diaspora. The local customers often buy these products to send to their families living abroad. “The sector is suffering badly due to the ban on travel. Our business is heavily dependent on the movement of tourists. Before the novel coronavirus, our revenue ranged from ETB 50,000 to 80,000 per quarter. Now our income is almost zero. In May we only made ETB 5000. We were expecting a lot of revenue from Ethiopian New Year, Christmas, and Easter. We didn’t get anything close to our projections.

For rent, we pay ETB 38,000 per month. We benefited from the 50pc rent relief for a couple of months until it got canceled. We buy our goods from micro and small enterprises. Our suppliers sell us souvenirs with prices ranging from ETB 8 to ETB 4000. We sell them for ETB 15 up to ETB 6000.
We have been stuck for the past five months. There is no business at all. We are only performing at 5pc from the total capacity. It’s a family run shop . We are not getting our monthly salary, but we are paying for utilities and other fees. The pandemic hit us hard. “

Abigiya Derbew is the owner of a traditional dress shop. He also sells various traditional crafts. His shop is behind the headquarter of the post office “I am not really doing business. I want to be here and open the shop, rather than stay home. I’m at least keeping the clothes from getting damaged by rats.”

“Before opening this shop, I was working in Dubai. I had a shop there five years ago but came here to work on traditional clothes and open a gift shop. Most of my customers were foreigners but some of them are local.
My revenue was ETB 500 per day but now my income is zero. I pay ETB 21,390 per quarter, we get the traditional clothes from weavers around Shiromeda. They are also suffering due to the chaos in the sector. I sell traditional clothes and crafts, their prices range from ETB 20 to ETB 800.
The souvenir and traditional gifts shop is an important part of the tourism and hospitality sector, so we want the government to focus on this sector like hotels and tour operators.”

Experts say the sector plays a significant role in international relations. It introduces Ethiopia’s culture and traditions to would-be tourists, long before they reach their destination. The government should give souvenir shops special attention.

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