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Promoting Ethiopia, Sustaining the Tourism Transformation

Sahle Taye


Ethiopia’s tourism profile has been growing in the past years as it is observed in the international media coverage and reports. The progress is an outcome and a confirmation of the extensive works aggressively promoting Ethiopia to fully exploit the potential of the tourism sector, as can be observed in the rigorous effort and dramatic changes of the last 24 years.

Since 1991, the Government of Ethiopia worked to remove constraints relating to visa and customs regulations, with a view to facilitate growth in Ethiopia’s tourism, in addition to tax and customs incentives to encourage investments in hotel and tour services. The Government has embarked on a number of measures to preserve and develop tourist sites throughout the country and to increase revenue earnings from the tourist sector.

As researches indicate, it was only in mid-1960s that tourism was taken as a potential area of economic growth. However, following the ascendance of the Dergue regime to power, the sector declined.

From 1974 for two decades the Ethiopian tourism industry suffered from the adverse effects of a prolonged civil war, recurrent drought and famine, strained government relations with tourist generating countries, and restrictions on entry and free movement of tourists during the military government from 1974 to 1991. During this period, apart from periodic upgrades of the infrastructure (such as airports and roads), there has been little investment and successive governments have largely overlooked the sector.

The sector, in general, the cultural and natural attractions, and human resources that form the basis of the tourism product, in particular, have been completely neglected. Linkages to international tourism networks, both for marketing and research purposes, have also been neglected. Lack of coordination between stakeholders and the government resulted in poor infrastructure development and under developed tourist sites as well as a shortage of skilled workers in the sector.

Generally, there was lack of marketing and promotional strategy as well as low awareness of tourism by local communities. In addition, the limited share of tourism earnings reaching the local community is affecting the sustainability of the sector and is having a negative impact on the contribution of tourism towards poverty alleviation.

During the seventeen years that the Derg was in power, tourism declined drastically because of the adverse conditions created by war, recurrent draught, strained political and diplomatic relations with tourist generating countries, restrictions in entry into and travel within the country. In the years 1989 to 1992, records show that the country received on average 80,246 tourists and 23.2 million U.S. dollars annually. The average annual growth rates during those years were 2.1 percent for arrivals and 6.1 percent for receipts.

The basic measures taken after Year 1991 in order to realize the country’s economic and social development have created favorable conditions for the nation’s tourism development as well. Because the government believed that tourism has the power and capacity to assist in the effort to eliminate poverty and accelerate development sustainably, tourism has been included as one of the means of implementing the country’s plan for accelerated and sustainable development to end poverty.

The Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia’s constitution Article 91 sub article 2 states that Government and all Ethiopian citizens shall have the duty to protect the country’s natural endowment, historical sites and objects. Besides, under article 41 sub article 9 points out that the State has the responsibility to protect and preserve historical and cultural legacies and to contribute to the promotion of arts and sports.

Building on that the Environmental Policy of Ethiopia mentioned the following regarding Cultural and Natural Heritage

Ř  To promote the perception of heritage conservation as part of, and integrated with, Ethiopia's general social and economic development;

Ř  To recognize that the country's heritage conservation should not be seen as the responsibility of government alone and to encourage communities to play a leading role in assessing and nominating places or items of heritage significance and in conserving them;

Ř  To promote a sustainable heritage conservation and management program that seek to understand all the elements of the system, their interrelationships and the ways in which each contributes to social and economic development; and

Ř  To ensure that the environment of heritage sites is so managed as to protect the landscape, the monuments, and the artifacts or the fossils as the case may be.

Similarly, the Tourism policy of Ethiopia issued by the Council of Ministers in August, 2009 gives due attention to:

·        Guiding the sector in a broad based development framework,

·        Developing the existing and new tourism attractions and products,

·        Expanding the infrastructure and tourist services that are vital for the growth of the sector,

·        Ensuring that the country benefits from the sector by being sufficiently competitive in the international tourism market, and

·        Solving the serious limitations in capacity which is apparent in the industry.

Again, the Cultural Policy of Ethiopia endorsed by the Council of Ministers in October, 1997 emphasizes on: the heritage history, fine arts, handicrafts and folk art (tales, proverbs, popular poetry, dance, songs, etc.,) of the nations, nationalities and peoples of Ethiopia are collected, registered, analyzed and preserved from any form of adulteration, and that these are given equal recognition and right to develop.

The following are among the objectives of this policy.

·        To enable the languages, heritage history, handicraft, fine arts, oral literature, traditional lore, beliefs and other cultural features of the various nations, nationalities and peoples of Ethiopia to receive equal recognition and respect; to preserve and conserve these and pass them over to future generations;

·        To create conducive conditions to carry out scientific research on the languages, heritage history, handicrafts, fine arts, oral literature, traditional lore, beliefs and other cultural features, which as they are constitute the identity of the peoples of the various nations and nationalities; to ensure the prosperity of these cultural elements and to enhance their role in development;

·        To ensure that all citizens can freely, equally and democratically participate in all cultural activities and to enable them to benefit from the sector; To enable cultural establishments to play a significant role in the country’s program to bring in peace, development and democracy;

In terms of legislative framework, the Environmental Impact Assessment (Proclamation No. 299/2002) is notable. This Proclamation aims primarily at making the EIA mandatory for categories of projects specified under a directive issued by the Ministry of Environment and Forest (MEF), formerly called EPA. The law specifies the projects and activities that will require an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). The proponent of the project must prepare the EIA following the format specified in the legislation. The MEF will then review the EIA and either approve the project (with or without conditions) or reject it. The Proclamation requires, among other things:

·        Specified categories of projects to be subjected to an EIA and receive an authorization from the MEF or the relevant regional environmental agency prior to commencing implementation of the project. 

·        Licensing agencies to ensure that the requisite authorization has been duly received prior to issuing an investment permit, a trade or operating license or a work permit to a business organization. 

·        The MEF or the relevant regional environmental agencies may issue an exemption from carrying out an EIA in projects supposed to have an insignificant environmental impact. 

·        A licensing agency may suspend or cancel a license that has already been issued where the MEF or the relevant regional environmental agency suspends or cancels environmental authorization. 

To put this Proclamation into effect the MEF issued guideline Documents, which provide details of the EIA process and its requirements. Projects situated in an environmentally sensitive areas such as land prone to erosion; desertification; areas of historic or archaeological interest; important landscape; religiously important area, etc. will fall under category 1 irrespective of the nature of the project.

According to this guideline all project proponents and executing bodies (agencies) in the country should operate in close cooperation with the MEF to ensure that proper mitigating measures are designed and implemented, especially for projects with an adverse effect on the environment. This in effect means that an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) should be prepared by project proponents and be examined, commented and approved by the MEF.

The other one is the Research and Conservation of Cultural Heritage Proclamation (RCCH) enacted by the House of Peoples’ Representatives to provide the legal manners in which individuals, organizations and other concerned government organs would operate in their activities regarding cultural heritage in Ethiopia.

Accordingly, Proclamation No. 209/2000 has defined the term “museum” in Article 3, Sub-Article 12 as: “’Museum’ means a non-profitable organization which collects, preserves and repairs Cultural Heritage renders service to the public by preparing and organizing collections for their use in research, study, education and entertainment.”

In line with these, the Ministry of Culture and Tourism under proclamation number 471/2005 is empowered to consolidate the fragmented activities and ensure coordination of efforts being made by government, the private sector, communities at the tourism destinations and civic organizations, and to create a conducive environment for these entities to be able to discharge their respective responsibilities appropriately

The Urban Planning Proclamation (Proclamation No. 574/2008) instructs that unplanned urban centers needs to be regulated and guided by sound and visionary urban plans. Therefore, all unplanned perspectives and issues including tourism and heritages of urban centers should be compatible with sound and comprehensive plans.

Under proclamation No. 691/2010, the Ministry of Culture and Tourism is given the power to ensure that the country's tourist attractions are identified, properly developed and organized, tourist facilities are expanded, and that local communities share the benefits derived from tourism ,facilitate the studying and preservation of the country's natural heritages and the development and utilization of them as tourist attractions; ensure the proper management of wildlife conservation areas designated to be administered by the government. 

According to the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) data, Ethiopia registered an average annual growth in international tourist arrivals of 5.6 percent for the period 1990-2000, and 15.4 percent during the period 2000-2005.

The sector further expanded, the second half of the last decade with the implementation of the PASDEP (The Plan for Accelerated and Sustained Development to end Poverty), from 2005 to -2010, and the consecutive double-digit growth.

In the four years from 2005 to 2008, average annual tourist arrivals were 324,664, while average annual revenue was 167 million dollars. Reports of the sector show annual growth rates of 21 percent for tourist arrivals and 19.5 percent for revenue for those four consecutive years.

However, in 2010, while Sub-Saharan Africa’s tourism market share is only 3.2 percent of global international arrivals, Ethiopia’s share within Africa’s share is a minuscule  1  percent,  with  close  competitors  such  as  Kenya  and  Tanzania  claiming  4  percent  and  2 percent of the same share respectively. By contrast, South Africa has a 32 percent share. Despite this minimal market share, nonetheless, the annual average growth rate of tourism arrivals to Ethiopia was higher than Sub-Saharan Africa’s average.

Therefore, the  Government  of  Ethiopia  prioritized  tourism  development  in  its  Growth and Transformation Plan (GTP)  and tourism policy to optimize the existing tourism resources as a driving force of economic  growth  for  the  whole  country.

In  light  of  all  these,  the  government  planned  to  make  Ethiopia one of the top ten tourist destinations in Africa by the year 2020 with an emphasis  on maximizing the poverty reducing impacts of tourism and to change the international  image and positioning of the country. The sector should be planned in a comprehensive way to foster the contribution of tourism on the general   economic development of the country.  The Tourism Commission was upgraded to the Ministry of Culture and Tourism (MoCT) in 2005. MoCT has, at the same time, the responsibility for cultural issues, which were taken  care  of  by  the  Ministry  of  Youth  and  Sports  previously.

Two new entities, the Tourism Transformation Council and the Ethiopian Tourism Organization, have been launched with the objective of transforming the industry and based on the necessity to coordinate the activities of various stakeholders in the industry. In particular, the Tourism Transformation Council, was established with the mandate to raise the standards of the industry to a higher level.

The Council is drawn from members of various institutions as well as prominent personalities. In addition, tourist infrastructures in various national parks are being upgraded and renovation work on roads linking the parks with major roads and lodges is being carried out. Other measures include the protection of animals from illegal hunting in sanctuaries and parks, as well as the conservation of heritage sites. In a bid to satisfy international standards, as well as provide world-class services for leisure and travelers, Ethiopia is investing in the modernization and expansion of major infrastructures.

As a result, the  stock  of  hotels in Ethiopia has  increased  sharply  over  the  last  few  years.  While  tourist accommodation is  available  as  the  major  attraction,  improvement  as  well  as  new  construction  is taking  place.

Overall, the sector have seen major progress, under the PASDEP, the GTP, and the three main national policies of the sector: the  Cultural  Policy  (1995),  the  Wildlife  Development  Conservation  and  Utilization  Policy  and  Strategy (2004), and the Tourism Development Policy, adopted by the Council of Ministers in August 2009.

The Inbound  Tourist  Arrivals  in  Ethiopia  continued  to  grow  from  76,844  in  1989,  to 115,000 in 1999, 184,078 in 2004, 427,286 in 2009 and reaching 523,438 in 2011. The  total  number  of  hotel  rooms  and  beds  of  all  hotel  establishments  in  Ethiopia  was 19,025  and  24,083,  respectively  in  2011.  A  total of  37  investors  have  taken  investment  permit  in Addis  Ababa  alone  to  construct  hotels  with  star  ratings  in  2012/13.

Recent data show that the sector's progress under the GTP. In 2012, 52.3 million tourists visited Africa, out of which only 596,341 reached Ethiopia. In the first half of this Ethiopian budget year, 2013-2014, the Ministry of Culture and Tourism reported that the number of tourists showed an increase of 36% over the same period of the previous year.

The achievements of the sector are multifaceted. Ethiopia tourism sector is becoming an important player both at home and abroad.

Domestically, the sector have created 783,638 jobs over the last four years of the GTP period achieving more than 90% of the plan. As the Ministry of Culture and Tourism underlined, the massive expansion of standard hotels, cafeterias, restaurants, souvenir gift shops, recreation centers, socio- economic service at tourist attraction sites had catalyzed for the creation of job opportunities coupled with the skill upgrade training provided to 1.5 million people working in the tourism sector and in 110 professions of tourism sector.

This is merely the beginning. A transformational expansion of the sector is expected. The prospect of Ethiopian Tourism is brighter and promising, as several international institutions attested.

Last year, the renowned Madrid based strategy consulting firm, Bloom Consulting, which specialized in country branding and business strategy, ranked Ethiopia among the top ten in Africa. Bloom Consulting's report described Ethiopia among "the notable trendy new tourist destinations which climbed significantly in the ranking."

As the report explains the economic performance of a country’s tourism sector is a key variable and the most important aspect in measuring that country's sector. Especially, the average of total annual tourism receipts of international tourists within a country and also average accumulated growth of total annual tourism receipts of international tourists within a country. The progress is an outcome of a sustained lengthy and holistic efforts of the government and the stakeholders of the sector.

The progress is to be sustained in the Second Growth and Transformation Plan. As the plan states, the direction will be:

Aggressively promote Ethiopia to fully exploit the potential of the sector. Conserve and, work towards improving two wild life conservation parks and natural tourist attraction sites to be registered as world heritages, set-up and organize one folklore museum that represent the nation and nationalities of Ethiopia, increase tourist inflow significantly and thereby increase revenue generated, increase the number of certified and standardized tourism service providing institutions, increase the number of hotels that have international brand are the main targets of culture and tourism sector development.

The implementation strategies are, work in coordinated and integrated manner with stakeholders, through Tourism Transformation Council generate more information about the sector by enhancing awareness through educational institutions and mass media, support and follow-up educational institutions and research centers to provide the skilled manpower required by sector.

This is a national venture all Ethiopians and friends of Ethiopia should pitch in.

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