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Bringing sustainable tourism into the heart of Africa

Article - June 1, 2012
Considered the ‘Cradle of Humanity’, Ethiopia offers a truly cultural and historical experience of Africa. The Ministry of Culture and Tourism is aiming to increase drastically the number of tourists now that the infrastructure is ready to welcome visitors to the land of nine UNESCO World Heritage sites

Ethiopia’s sustained economic growth saw it recording year-on-year economic growth of 10% between 2003 and 2008. It is now forecasted to be the world’s third fastest growing economy after China and India up to 2016. Its tourism sector has not achieved growth like this and its potential as a highly frequented destination is still very much yet to be met.

Tadelech Dalacho, State Minister of Culture and Tourism of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia (FDRE), is keen to make sure that tourism’s share of Ethiopia’s GDP sees growth in the coming years and that Ethiopia creates for itself a brand as a destination for tourists looking to explore even further into the heart of Africa.

The State Minister’s targets are ambitious and keenly connected to the promotion of Ethiopia’s unique heritage. She hopes to draw a tourist volume of 1 million to 1.85 million by the end of 2012. This compares with 515,000 in 2011 and 500,00 in 2010.

“We aim to be one of the top five tourist-receiving countries in Africa by the year 2020,” states Ms Dalacho, her target involving the development of all tourism enabling sectors in the country, namely transportation and visitor services. She notes “the backlog in infrastructure has been the main reason why Ethiopia has not been recognised as a tourist-receiving country.”

The development of this infrastructure is being matched by the efforts of Ms Dalacho’s ministry to project a message worldwide of what Ethiopia has to offer. “Ethiopia has huge tourism resources. It offers a combination of different touristic products, be they natural, historical, archaeological, scientific...making it unique within the continent,” she says.

Considered by some as the ‘Cradle of Humanity’, it is the site of the discovery of some of the very oldest human remains. Ms Dalacho comments: “Ethiopia attracts a wide range of people, from researchers to archaeologists, to regular people interested in knowing more about mankind’s beginnings.”

She also underlines the global importance of Ethiopia's attractions and the country's keenness to open them up to visitors: “UNESCO has registered nine World Heritage sites in Ethiopia. Because the significance of these sites goes beyond the borders of Ethiopia, we have collaborative programmes with a number of regional tourism bureaus, local governments, and communities.”

This differentiation of Ethiopia as a cultural attraction will form the basis of much of the future marketing campaigns. “We have identified tourist-generating countries, most of which are European and American destinations, and emerging market tourist-generating countries such as China, Russia and India,” says the Minister. These markets will be targeted by participation in annual global tourism trade fairs, which are held in the nine main source markets, these being Germany, Italy, France, Spain, Russia, Japan, China, the US and the UK.

“We work with tour operators, hoteliers, and Ethiopian Airlines,” she says. “Through the support of our embassies abroad, we invite travel writers, journalists, industry professionals to travel here as a group... Finally, there is a plan to establish a Tourism Board, an independent body focused on marketing and promotions.”

The Ministry of Culture and Tourism is keen to develop a tourism industry that is sustainable and ensures the preservation of the UNESCO World Heritage sites while simultaneously enabling their access to growing numbers of visitors. Ms Dalacho underlines sustainability as the cornerstone of tourism policy, affirming that her ministry is “working with the communities at the grassroots level...the goal being to make them understand the value of the attractions they have.”

The Ethiopian Tourist Development Policy was developed in 2010. This was necessary in order to ensure funding from the World Bank. The policy will focus on developing three destinations: Addis Ababa, Lalibela and Aksum. These areas are planned to set the standard for Ethiopian tourism.

The State Minister is keen to spread the message that “Ethiopia is ripe for tourism investment. Hoteliers, tour companies, training institutes, and the like are welcome to participate in these projects. We have sound investment policies and attractive incentive packages”.

For anyone considering a visit, she leaves them with this message: “Ethiopia is a place to love. All it takes is a visit. Its friendly people and scenic landscapes are sure to make your stay both memorable and enjoyable.”