December 6, 2005
US tourists speak out
State-run news organisations are often criticised for spending too much of their time reporting the views of prime ministers and other senior politicians. With that in mind, it is good to see the Ethiopian News Agency (ENA) extending its range with another group of interview subjects - anonymous American tourists.
This story appeared on most of Ethiopia's state-controlled websites last week before being re-printed word-for-word by China's ever-friendly news service Xinhua yesterday.
US tourists willing to promote Ethiopian tourism - Xinhua Dec 5
Several US tourists, who recently visited sites in northern Ethiopia, on Saturday pledged to promote the attractions in Ethiopia among the people in their country.
Expressing readiness to attract more tourists to Ethiopia, the US tourists also indicated the need for Ethiopia to add on the tourism infrastructure and improve tourist facilities in order to draw increased benefits from its remarkable attractions.
The US tourists said they would lure fellow citizens to come to Ethiopia, which they said have a lot to offer for international tourists.
They said they wanted to come again to Ethiopia by organizing tourists' groups to explore the country's numerous attractions.
There is something almost poignant about the headline and intro which basically say – look, this is news, several American tourists are prepared to say something nice about Ethiopia's tourist attractions. (It reminds me of a front page story printed in the now defunct Addis Tribune earlier this year - Ethiopian Cardiac Specialist Performs Successful Operation - look, this is news, he performed a successful operation.)
Back on November 20, ENA found another anonymous group of US tourists willing to say something positive to its reporters. Remarkably, they had very similar views to the December 5 lot.
Tourists Speak of Prevailing Peace in Ethiopia to Visit Historical Sites - The Ethiopian Herald Nov 20
US tourists who travelled recently to the various historical and scenic spots in Ethiopia said there is a reliable peace and stability to visit tourist attractions in Ethiopia...
The tourists said when they return home, they would publicize Ethiopia as a hub of ancient Christianity and encourage various people to visit and explore the various age-old assets the country is endowed with.
The tourist, nonetheless, complained about poor infrastructure facilities, like roads in some areas as well as receptions at some hotels.
You can be as cynical as you like about the ENA's transparent attempt to plant some upbeat stories about Ethiopian tourism with the above articles. But these pieces underline a real and growing anxiety about a severe drop-off in Ethiopia's tourism revenues following the outbreaks of violence in June and November.
Tourism operators lost tens of thousands of dollars worth of business just from the trips that were cancelled in early November. In the days after the violence, flights were coming into Addis Ababa airport with just a handful of passengers. The report of a tourist bus being stoned in Bahir Dar (a report which was later denied) was particularly damaging. The decision by the UK government to change its travel advice on Ethiopia to essential trips only can't have made things easier. (That advice has now been 'relaxed' to extreme vigilance.)
The tragic thing is that the ENA government hack was spot on when he wrote:
The total number of international tourist arrivals in Ethiopia, although growing, is by no means commensurate with the potentials of the country's attractions. The present constraints to growth are identified largely as shortage of tourist facilities and limited promotion.
It is without a doubt that Ethiopia will one day have a tourism industry to rival anything in Egypt or Kenya. Just look at the above photo of the view at Mequat Mariam Community Tourism Camp run by TESFA (Tourism in Ethiopia for Sustainable Future Alternatives). That is just a day's walk from Lalibela, the eighth wonder of the world, and a day's drive from Bahir Dar - the pace that all those bearded Victorian explorers spent their lives trying to find - the source of the Blue Nile.
In the meantime, these few friendly US tourists are going to have to do an awful lot of luring and promoting over the next few months to attract anywhere near enough visitors to be "commensurate with the potentials of the country's attractions".
Posted by aheavens at December 6, 2005 7:42 AM