Can Ethiopia Become A Tourist-Driven Economy?

Written by Kevin Mwanza

In February, Ethiopia received the  highest accolade in the tourism sector by being named the World’s Best Tourism Destination by the European council on Tourism and Trade.

The East African nation, with some outstanding nature sceneries and a strong ancient culture, beat other countries like Thailand, Spain and Italy.

The coffee producing country currently get about 750,000 tourists per year, a more than 12 percent increase from what it used to get a decade ago. The country’s fertile national parks, 3,000 year-old archeological history and nine UNESCO world heritage sites are a big attraction for these tourists.

The Ethiopian government now wants to triple this number to more that 2.5 million each year by 2020, making tourism the leading sector in the one of Africa’s fastest growing economies, Reuters reported.

“This sector will generate foreign direct investment and foreign currency and create job opportunities, as well as contribute to image-building,” Ethiopia’s Culture and Tourism Minister Amin Abdulkadir told Reuters.

Tourism, which earned the country $2.9 billion in the 2014/15 fiscal year according to government data, contributes about 4.5 percent of the country’s GDP and generates about a million jobs According to the World Bank.

Ethiopia plans to boost revenue from the sector to over $3.5 billion in the current fiscal year, which will be bigger than its more tourist established neighbors Kenya and Tanzania.

Landlocked Ethiopia does not have any beaches to promote like the other two, but its cultural wealth like its 13th century underground churches of Lalibela, hewn from solid rock and the hill castles of Gondar are its big selling point.

The country has in recent years embarked on massive infrastructure spending that saw Africa’s first light train cutting though the sprawling city of Addis Ababa launched in September.

“What Ethiopia offers to tourists, different from Kenya and Tanzania, is history and culture,” Tony Hickey, an Irish tour operator who first arrived in Ethiopia in 1973, told the Daily Mail.