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 Ramping up tourism in Ethiopia


During the past few years tourism in the world as a whole has undergone a huge set back due to most significantly the COVID pandemic. Conflicts here and there are also another factor. The economic challenges many countries have faced are also another one. Countries which had a substantial reliance on tourism for their economy suffered a lot, particularly in the less developed countries. There is no doubt that Ethiopia is also among those victims.

We have always heard the saying that Ethiopia is a country of immense potential referring to the untouched attractive sites and historical artifacts, and a lot of cultural assets that would just make tourists very happy and rewarded for their visit. Speaking of the potential of tourism in Ethiopia implies in a way that a lot remains to be done in this area, or not enough has been done in the sector, at best. There have been recent awakenings in the tourism sector in Ethiopia also because the government is an active contributor to this phenomenon. In this respect the Ministry of Tourism needs to be commended.

The government of Abiy Ahmed can be very much appreciated for this reawakening because it seems to have well understood and appreciated the vast riches of the country that would fascinate tourists from all walks of life from all corners of the world. The premier himself has been heard many times stating that so and so country has much less history and treasures both natural and artificial than Ethiopia and yet they have done a wonderful job to sell what they have in a wonderful package and managed to attract so many tourists and earn a lot of foreign currency. It has all depended on how to present what we have and prepare the right grounds for tourists to make them feel at home during their stay here. Many say the climate of Ethiopia itself is so beautiful that anyone who comes from extreme climatic conditions would enjoy the moderate and well ventilated conditions of Ethiopia.

There are no doubts that the Ministry of Tourism does have full awareness on this potential and there are many citizens who know how to appreciate the riches of Ethiopia in terms of attracting tourists. But not all citizens know their country very well and not many have visited the various historical and geographical sites of the country while some do not even realize the potential the country is endowed with.

That is why we have seen in recent days particularly during the just ended World Cup in Qatar we saw lots of publicity on ETV on the various riches of Ethiopia and Tourism Ethiopia inviting people to visit their country know their country and the peoples of the country with all the various cultures and mores. In the spots we have seen footage of beautiful sites of the country and people of various ethnic backgrounds with their traditional costumes and some may have wondered ‘do we have all these wonders?’

Hence we can easily assert that tourism in Ethiopia does have a huge potential and we need to do much more to invite tourists to our land and show them what sort of hospitality are we capable of according them. While Ethiopia was trying hard to advance this potential to new lengths, the Covid pandemic did inflict a huge blow to the burgeoning industry. Hotels and tour agencies, transport agencies, shops of souvenirs and others directly or indirectly related to the tourism industry suffered a huge loss.

When the COVID began to die down then come the conflict in the north and the various negative propaganda that was disseminated against Ethiopia by various media, both mainstream and social, also contributing to the crisis in the sector. Foreigners never go to countries where there are rumors of conflicts and instability let alone when they are even advised by some media sources not to step their feet in Ethiopia. This did a huge damage both to the image of the country but also to the economy.

No tourist wants to risk their life to visit a country and if there is little reliable information that would ascertain to these tourists that most of the talk in the media is unsubstantiated and done only with malice, they would still hesitate from flying to Ethiopia. This of course does not mean that there were not some who had tangible information and did not change their plans of coming to Ethiopia for a visit. This was also further encouraged by thousands of diaspora who came back to their country notwithstanding the negative stories that continued to come out on Ethiopia from outside sources.

In the past few months however after the conflict in the north has been sealed with a cessation of hostilities and activities have been run as usual with people who have been getting rehabilitated and returned to their home towns and efforts for reconstruction are taking place rapidly, there has been a huge return of tourists to Ethiopia. The past few weeks have been particularly very valuable in tourism terms. Many Ethiopian diaspora came back home to celebrate the Christmas holidays with their families and the fact that now there is an atmosphere of peace in the country has encouraged also foreign tourists to flock to Ethiopia.

Ethiopians themselves have been moving in the country to celebrate Christmas at Lalibela where traditionally hundreds of thousands used to celebrate it warmly in a fervent religious atmosphere. The past three years this was not possible but this year it has been celebrated with the maximum warmth and beauty. Thousands of people traveled from the adjacent and far off localities to observe the religious rites of Christmas in Lalibela.

Then came Epiphany or Timket, the baptism of Jesus Christ. This is among the most famous and best celebrated religious and cultural holidays that is a part of Ethiopian reality, Ethiopian culture. It was in fact inscribed as one of the World natural heritages at UNESCO’s registry and is now a relic for all humanity.

Millions of Ethiopians accompany their ‘tabots’ or replicas of the ark of the covenant from their churches out to a place where they pass the night and in the morning carry out all religious rites before baptizing everyone who attends the Timket ceremony. People are in their best possible clothes and accompany the ‘tabots’ with religious hymns and even traditional songs of every ethnic group present and past two or three days in celebration. When you look at the crowd you would be induced to believe that no one stays at home when the processions go to and from the places where the ‘tabots’ pass the nights.

You see newly born infants on the back of their mothers, kids of all ages and adults as well as the elderly who all celebrate Timket together. Tourists are simply breath taken by the number of people rejoicing together in a festive and religious mood and thank their Lord together. They are attracted by the wonderful religious clothing the clergy and the young chanters dress making moves and chants all together creating an inspiring and harmonious atmosphere. That was why every tourist asked about their impression said they were deeply impressed by what they saw and never did they ever experience such a spectacle before. We heard them invite other tourists to come to Ethiopia and not to miss such a celebration.

The past few days hence saw a significant increase in the number of tourists coming to Ethiopia and the huge special spectacle was held in Gondar at the King Fasilides Swimming Pool where Timket was conducted. Many dived into the pool to get baptized while others watched the show in sheer delight and fascination. This season is particularly very important for Gondar and environs because it is an area very famous for the celebration of Timket in a very colorful manner. We saw so many foreign tourists in this area and many were vowing that they would return other years as well to take part in such wonderful chants and ceremonious celebrations.

Tourism Ethiopia knows that there are other similar celebrations carried out in the open such as ‘Irrecha’ (a thanks giving ceremony by the Oromo ethnic group) which is celebrated at the beginning of every Ethiopian year and there is the ‘Demera’ and ‘Meskel’ (the finding of the true cross) which is celebrated in the same month both of which are UNESCO registered world heritages. ‘Fiche Chambala’ is another similar celebration carried out at the beginning of the year for the Sidama ethnic group in the South. All these celebrations that happen in the open in the presence of hundreds of thousands of people create an atmosphere of peace and joy and a deep religious belief that people are devoted to.

These are historical treasures of Ethiopia that one does not find in other localities and that is why many tourists admire them and vow to come and attend whenever they can. Ethiopia’s attractions for tourists are immense but what we need to do is make them publicized to the maximum while at the same time prepare adequate infrastructure and transportation and hotel accommodations of the highest standards so that tourists do really feel at home when they come here.

This will be the homework of every Ethiopian particularly those with the financial means to contribute to the industry and Ethiopians in diaspora who need to inform others what kind of country we have. We must continue with the momentum of the past weeks so that the number of tourists continues to grow by leaps and bounds. Indeed there is no doubt that Ethiopia has a vast tourism potential to exploit sooner than later.

The Ethiopian Herald January 26/2023

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