Ethiopia. Boosting tourism in the “Land of origins”

The country is determined to expand tourism revenues threefold by 2020. But despite its unique heritage, the objective is challenging, owing to a number of factors including drought and insecurity in some areas and around the country.

Ethiopia is ambitioning to transform its tourism sector and increase threefold its share to the GDP (4.5 percent in 2014) by 2020, which is the last year of the second phase of the governments five-year Growth Transformation Plan. In order to achieve this goal, the Ethiopian Tourism Organization (ETO) expects to increase the number of entries from 785,000 in 2015 to 2.2 million in 2020 and obtain a revenue of over US $ 6 billion per annum. The plan is to make Ethiopia one of the top five destinations in Africa.
In order to do that, the ETO has launched a promotion campaign of Ethiopia as “the land of origins”, as cradle of humanity, source of the Blue Nile and origin of coffee. The aim is to promote Ethiopia as a multipurpose tourist destination, offering a unique combination of archaeological sites, wildlife areas and mountain trekking opportunities. Access to the country is improving fast.

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Ethiopian Airlines is expanding simultaneously its fleet from 76 currently to 120 aircrafts by 2025 in order to increase the annual number of passengers from 6.4 to 17.8 million and the number of international destinations from 92 to 120.
The government is particularly encouraged in its endeavour to develop tourism as one of the pillars of the country’s fast growing economy with a ten percent GDP growth for more than a decade, after Ethiopia was named in 2015 as the “Best Tourism Destination” by representatives of the 28 European Council on Tourism and Trade (ECTT) members states. A positive sign is that a number of large hotel groups such as Pullman, Wyndham, Marriott, Crowne Plaza, Best Western, Ramada and Golden Tulip are developing projects in the country.

Severe drought 

Several bottlenecks and challenges need however to be addressed. One of them is the infrastructures. Ethiopia’s Minister of Culture and Tourism, Aisha Mohammed Mussa, says that “power infrastructure is our top priority so as to support this growing economy and we are doing well in this regard.”. Indeed, during the dry season, the levels are so low in the reservoirs of the country’s hydropower dams that power cuts are happening almost daily all over Abyssinia.

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The government is trying to improve the situation, as showed the inauguration of four turbines of the ten turbines of the 1,870 MW Gilgel Gibe 3 dam on the Omo river by mid-February and the planned inauguration by the end of the year of the two first turbines of the Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (out of a total of sixteen) which is expected to become orperational by 2020.  Yet, climate is not the only problem. Indeed, the main cause of the power cuts, says Ethiopian Electro Power’s CEO, Azeb Asnake is that the distribution networks are old and saturated. Yet, accordingly, China Electric Power Equipment and Technology Company is busy trying to improve the situation.

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Some tourists feel somehow disturbed by the fact Ethiopia is trying to boost tourism in a context of a difficult food security challenge, which has been particularly acute this year, owing to the severe drought caused by the El Niño phenomenon. Here and there, tourists find themselves travelling through areas such as Lalibela, the host of the World Heritage monolithic churches, in the Ethiopian highlands, where food distributions take place, which is not surprising since over 10 million people are in need in addition to 8 million people who are being supported by the government safety nets. But against this background, tourism is providing an important contribution to poverty alleviation with around one million jobs in 2015 and up to three million by 2020. The consequences of the drought are also dramatic for the wildlife, writes the Addis daily, The Reporter. Accordingly, “the once abundant animal population of the Rift Valley region appears dwindling by the day as the drought quickly turns hundreds of thousands of acres of grassland into desert”. The long-horned Oryx cannot survive without grass. And the situation raises also concern in the Simien mountains, the roof of Africa, the  habitat of the legendary Gelada baboon, surrounded by food insecure areas.

Addis Bole international airport

Another important bottleneck is the saturation of traffic at Addis Bole international airport, where passengers may queue for hours before boarding planes to international destinations. The airport was originally designed for an annual traffic of 6 million passengers but at the moment, it handles about seven and the existing airport expansion to a capacity of 22 million passengers will only take place in 2018. The inauguration of the new international airport with a capacity of 120 million passengers which will be built at some 70 km from Addis Abeba is only scheduled for 2022.

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Tour operators also explain that the lack of trained hotel staff, of multilingual guides and professional drivers are among the other challenges they have to face.
Generally speaking however, security is tight and the situation is under control, which is quite remarkable in a country which is surrounded by a number of hotspots with significant jihadist presence, such as Somalia and Yemen, beside chronic instability in South Sudan and inside Ethiopia in the Ogaden region. But recently, a new challenge has emerged with the recent unrest in the Oromia region, which surrounds the capital, Addis Ababa. As a result, The UK, the US and Norway extended since late 2015 travel warnings to their citizens and stress the worsening security condition in relation to the protests in Oromia, against the expansion plans of the Great Addis. The UK cautions since February 20, against all but essential travels to the Ziway Wereda and Adami Tulu areas of the Oromia Region. The visits to the city of Shashemane, home of the rasta community but also of Arsi Negele and Seraro weredas is not recommended either. Meanwhile, the US embassy has fully prohibited its citizens from travel on the Shashemene-Modjo corridor.

François Misser


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