Ethiopia is aiming to become one of Africa’s top five tourist destinations
Ethiopia can be one of the five leading countries for tourist destinations in Africa, if it properly implements its Sustainable Tourism Master Plan by 2020, according to Dr. Ray Muntida, Advisor to the IGAD Sustainable Tourism Master Plan. Currently tourism in Ethiopia generates about US2.9 billion dollars for the economy annually, close to a million jobs and about 4.5% of GDP. The Government has made it clear it wants to increase the number of tourists during the Second Growth and Transformation Plan (2015/16 – 2019/20) significantly.
In August last year, the Ministry of Culture and Tourism announced ambitious plans to triple foreign visitors to more than 2.5 million by 2020 to become Africa’s top tourist destination by same year. Last financial year, 770,000 tourists visited Ethiopia and provided US$2.9 million in revenue. The Ministry hopes to increase the number of tourists to one million and the revenue to well over US$3billion by end of this Ethiopian budget year.
Among the moves taken over the last year or two to revitalize and expand the tourism sector’s infrastructure development have been the ‘Sustainable Tourism Development Project’ and the creation of a Sustainable Tourism Master Plan (STMP), as well as the setting up of the newly established ‘Ethiopian Tourism Organization (ETO), and then the creation of a high-level Tourism Transformation Council (TTC) chaired by Prime Minister Hailemariam Dessalegn. These along with a number of other initiatives and actions make it clear the sector is breaking out of its past inaction and the Government is taking the tourism sector seriously as a means of generating revenue for the nation. It had the aim of encouraging the sector to become one of the frontline activities in working to eradicate poverty.
Both numbers and revenue for the first quarter of this budget year showed an increase over the previous year, according to the Ministry of Culture and Tourism. With the infrastructure of the sector starting to transform itself this has helped to create a good impression for the outside world and international media outlets and tourism publications. A number of tourism guides have begun to list Ethiopia as a place to visit. Such widely acclaimed publications as Rough Guides and Lonely Planet rated Ethiopia last year as one of the most impressive tourist destinations. International organizations including the United Nations World Tourism Organization also has praised the country’s efforts to upgrade the infrastructure and noted the untapped cultural and natural resources that are to be seen in Ethiopia.
Last week, Al Jazeera said in a piece entitled “Tourism and Natural Treasures to pull Ethiopia out of poverty” noted that “Key tourism factors such as easy and fast growing air access, personal safety and local hospitality, rapid economic growth and, above all, fascinating discoveries to be made, bode very well for rapid tourism growth”. Much of this is already a reality in Ethiopia and there is a real focus developing on infrastructure and tourist destinations development. In these efforts, which Al Jazeera refers to as supporting factors for Ethiopia’s tourism sector development, it suggests is the greatest strength for tourism in Ethiopia. The country, it says, still has so many diverse cultures, landscapes and wildlife areas that can be developed for tourist itineraries. It notes the Simien and Bale Mountains national parks; the forests of the South; the Sof Omar Caves; the Danakil Desert location where Lucy was found, lending weight to Ethiopia's claim to be the cradle of humanity.
Last year, among the growing recognition of its tourist potential and development,Ethiopia was also selected as “Best Tourism Destination” by the representatives of the 28 countries on the General Assembly of the European Council on Tourism and Trade (ECTT) . This Council evaluated a list of 31 candidates for the title of World Best Tourist Destination for 2015, and chose Ethiopia. This is one of the highest honors for achievements in tourism and is offered to countries that comply with the principles of the United Nations Tourism Division, UNESCO and ECTT on fair and ethical tourism, safety standards and preservation of historic and cultural sites and destinations. The ECTT President, Professor Dr. Anton Caragea, said that “the Government of Ethiopia is recognizing the importance of tourism as a key facilitator for the country development and international promotion, creating exemplary structures like its Tourism Transformation Council, investing in infrastructure and capacity building, creating a special team under the Prime Minister’s leadership for destination promotion and management and protecting the cultural, natural and historical patrimony of the country.” He noted that the community-based, social-oriented tourism, promoted by Prime Minister Hailemariam, as a perfect way of sharing revenue, growing income and supporting marginal and rural community development. Professor Caragea concluded by adding that “Ethiopia is from today a perfect, safe and outstanding place to visit, the county’s gates are opened and all world tourism experts have expressed their confidence in the potential and future of tourism in Ethiopia.”
The report on the presentation of the award gave reasons for awarding the World Best Tourist Destination for 2015 Prize to Ethiopia. These were: “The excellent preservation of humanity landmarks such as: ruins of the city of Aksum- the heart of ancient Ethiopia, FasilGhebbi- the residence of the Ethiopian emperors during the 16th and 17th century, HararJugol- 82 mosques, 102 shrines, and unique interior design in the townhouses, Lalibela- holy site encompassing eleven medieval stone carved churches from the 13th century, Konso Cultural Landscape (containing 55 kilometers of stonewalled terraces and fortified settlements), Lower Valley of the Awash-where humanity made his first steps and where was found the Eve of all mankind- the Lucy fossils, the Lower Valley of the Omo also containing fragments pertaining to early humanity development and the fossils of Homo Gracilis.” It also noted that all these were recognized as being of world significance and registered as UNESCO World heritage monuments.
The report goes on to state that “the rich cultural and historical legacy of Ethiopia is not confined to the previous presented list, and new prominent landmarks such as the Sheik Hussein, religious, cultural and historical site; Melka Kunture, a Paleolithic site in the upper Awash Valley; the Gedeo Cultural and Natural Landscape; the Bale Mountains National Park; Sof Omar Cave, the longest cave in Ethiopia at 15.1 kilometers long and the longest system of caves in Africa, and sacred for Islam and for the local Oromo population were added.” It also noted that to fully grasp the potential of Ethiopia’s natural parks and reservations we must look at the potential of Simien National Park garnering mountain peaks, deep valleys, and sharp precipices dropping about 1,500 m. It said all these regions and national parks were a model of achieving ecological and green tourism that should be recognized throughout the world. It referred to Ethiopia as a perfect center for safari and adventure tourism, offering large areas suitable for this special kind of tourism. It had the necessary infrastructure to welcome the adventure seeker, as well as providing safety and peace, making the country, one of the world’s top adventure destinations.