Ethiopia launches revamp of flagging tourism industry

Ethiopia launches revamp of flagging tourism industry

"The she comes!" shrieked the older white lady, her finger excitedly pointed towards the blue sky.

Her younger male companion quickly snatched up the binoculars on the table and zeroed in on the drone about to land.

The time was about 4:20 pm, and the two were seated at the terrace of the Bekele Molla Hotel in Arba Minch, southern Ethiopia.

According to a tourist guide in Arba Minch, since the Washington Post newspaper reported the presence of a United States drone base in Ethiopia in October 2011, tourists have flocked to the city hoping for a sighting as they take in other attractions.

The Ethiopian government has not denied the report.

Located 505 kilometres south of the capital Addis Ababa, Arba Minch is already one of the Horn of African country's top tourist designations of Ethiopia.

Every year tourists arrive from across the world to see the famous "crocodile market" in Lake Chamo, together with sampling dances from various tribes.

The area is also rich in wild animals ranging from lions and baboons to endemic birds around the lakes and in the nearby Nech Sar National Park.

Yet, with nine UNESCO World Heritage Sites and referred as "the origin of mankind" due to its million-year-old fossils, Ethiopia’s tourism sector has performed way beyond its neighbours.

Underexploited

Last year Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda generated $1.7 billion, $1.2 billion and $800 million respectively, while Ethiopia earned only $461 million from its industry.

A recent study, the "Economic Growth and Tourism Sector in Ethiopia", underscores that the country has underexploited its rich tourism potential.

The report identified lack of skilled human resource, poor infrastructure, lacklustre marketing, a weak financial system and poor government support for the underperformance.

To arrest this, the country of 85 million in September 2010 launched a new tourism development policy that also encourages the active participation of the private sector.

The country has also set target of generating $3 billion revenue per annum from the sector from 2015 as stated in its national Growth and Transformation Plan (GTP) launched three years ago. This plan outlines a target of creating three million new job opportunities, of which 1.8 million or 60 per cent would come from tourism.

The number of tourists that are expected to visit is projected at one million by the end of 2015, double the 500,000 visitors who have arrived in the country since the launch of the GTP.

New strategy

According to the plan, Ethiopia should have become one of the five major tourist destinations on the continent by 2012. Current statistics show that the country is ranked the 19th most preferred tourist destination in Africa.

On July 30, the Ethiopian Wildlife Conservation Authority launched its new marketing strategy aiming to triple the current annual tourism revenue.

The new strategy categorises the country's national parks into premium and non-premium, increasing the entrance fees.

Currently, admission to all Ethiopian parks is around $5 for visiting tourists, $3 for expatriates, $1 for Ethiopians and about half a dollar for Ethiopian students.

Now the authority plans to charge foreign tourists from $13 to 16 for premium parks and from $6.5 to $8 for the rest.

"Compared to neighbouring Kenya and Tanzania, the entrance fee to Ethiopian parks is still too low," said Binyam Admassu, the Tourism Development Technical Advisor, noting that entrance fees to national parks in Kenya and Tanzania amounted to between $35 and $65.

In addition, The Ministry of Culture and Tourism of Ethiopia is set to construct a unique museum dedicated to displaying archaeological findings such as Lucy, Selam and other remains of early hominid specimens.

More income

The ministry has already secured 4,500 square meters of land in the centre of Addis Ababa near the National Museum. In addition to boosting income by attracting more tourists, the 10-million euro museum will play an important role in promoting tourism.

"The museum shall become first in its kind that only collects the fossilised remains of archaeological finds of the remains of early hominids," said Mr Amin Abdulkadir, the country's Minister of Culture and Tourism.

Among the 14 kinds of human origin specimen, 12 of them are found in Ethiopia. Different researchers agree that these evidence makes Ethiopia the cradle of mankind.

Ethiopia’s archaeological findings include the world famous "Lucy", the partial skeleton of a specimen of Australopithecus afarensis and the recently discovered fossil Selam, a three-year-old girl who died 3.3 million years ago.

Lucy, known as "Dinknesh" in Ethiopia and dated at 3.2 million years, in May completed her five-year tour of the United States, earning $1.5 million from the 300,000 people who saw her.

The question is now how effectively the country will implement all its new policies, strategies and projects to benefit from its rich natural and cultural resources.

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