This summer, Jember Limited’s General Manager Guy Levene and the Ethiopia Wildlife Conservation Authority’s (EWCA) Director General Dr. Kifle Argaw signed a concession agreement for the construction of an eco-lodge in the Bale Mountains National Park (BMNP). This momentous occasion – only the third concession agreement ever signed by EWCA -represented the culmination of several years of work for Solimar International within the USAID-funded Ethiopian Sustainable Tourism Alliance (ESTA) project.
The process began in mid-2009, when Solimar began conducting extensive market research and visits to numerous Ethiopian destinations to determine which site was most promising for eco-lodge investment. The clear winner was the 850-square mile BMNP, which contains stunning Afro-Alpine landscapes and numerous endemic mammal and bird species. Despite its great potential, tourism numbers to the park had been low due to difficult access and a lack of quality accommodations. Although a paved road from Addis Ababa was under construction (it has recently been completed), it was clear that efforts to develop tourism that could incorporate local communities would have limited impact until the destination had an anchor property.
Once the destination was chosen, Solimar’s goal was then to attract an investor who shared our values in terms of environmental conservation and community participation. To be able to make a strong case to potential investors, we undertook a feasibility analysis and created both a detailed business plan and investment prospectus. We disseminated this information to select investors and presented at various tourism and business conferences in the U.S. and Ethiopia.
After pursuing several strong leads, we ultimately decided to endorse the UK-based private investment group led by Guy Levene because of its strong commitment to building a high-quality lodge that will have minimal impact on the environment and bring significant benefits to neighboring communities. The endorsement was followed by support that included facilitation of an Environmental Impact Assessment and assistance through the concession negotiation process.
The groundbreaking for Bale Mountain Lodge took place in November. The eco-lodge, to be built in a stunning location within the Harena Forest, will have a total of 15 units including several tree-houses. Among several innovative approaches that Jember will take to reduce its footprint will be a hybrid micro-hydro and solar energy system. Jember’s initial investment for the lodge will be $1.2 million. The lodge is slated to soft open this spring, and be fully functional by October 2013.