By Zachary Moses
Recently I was asked to serve with the Young Professionals Advisory Group of the NTA (formerly called the National Tour Association), and HE Travel CEO Phil Sheldon was appointed to the Small Business Advisory Task Force. Our company is currently the only gay tour operator that is a member of the NTA. Earlier this month we met with the other members of our groups near Washington DC.
The mission of the Young Professionals advisory group is to bring fresh new ideas to the NTA, to help the organization to grow larger and to expand its influence on the international travel scene. It was an honor to be asked to serve in such a prestigious position.
When we attend national conferences, we are often invited to visit nearby attractions so that local tourism organizations can show us what the region offers our clients. Below is a photo of Phil (on the right) and me at Mount Vernon, George Washington’s estate .
Later during the conference, our NTA group was invited to attend a special dinner at the Ethiopian Embassy in Washington DC. (Here we are outside the Embassy).
We met Ambassador Girma Biru, who showed us wonderful hospitality and introduced us to the many wonders of Ethiopian Tourism, a land often written off as being a troubled region where everyone is poor and starving. During a delicious traditional meal, the Ambassador put to rest some outdated stereotypes that cause harm to the Ethiopian image.
We were served stewed and curried meats and vegetables with a sourdough flatbread called injera, made from teff, the smallest grain in the world. The gravies and meats are customarily eaten with torn pieces of flavorful injera instead of utensils.
The people we met at the Embassy were warm and friendly. Some of them had flown in from Ethiopia just to meet our NTA group, and the images they showed us were amazing. Did you know that the oldest known human ancestor was found in Ethiopia? Or that Ethiopia is the final resting place of the Ark of the Covenant? It is also home to the largest monolithic obelisks in the world.
In Lalibela, there are 11 temples hewn in the reddish-pink volcanic scoria rock. Each is unique in style, and they are among the largest monolithic structures in the world! In another part of the country they even have active volcanoes that look like the gates of hell, surrounded by boiling salty seas.
We have a wonderful evening enjoying the hospitality of the Ethiopian Embassy, which included sipping Ethiopian coffee that had been roasted right in front of us over coals (a fire hazard?), and speaking with their several professional tour operators. I now have my newest idea for an HE Travel adventure tour: Return to Ethiopia: the Birthplace of Humanity.
After the conference, I met my brother who lives in DC and took him to an Ethiopian restaurant so that he could experience this wonderfully different cuisine. He loved it and vowed to introduce it to everyone he knows.
We then made our way to the Jefferson Memorial, where the cherry blossoms were in full bloom and said to be at their peak … and inside we found one of the greatest minds of all time.
Thomas Jefferson … Frozen in Carbonite.