Support needed for sustainability in Ethiopia

Will Davison

The geographically and culturally diverse country of Ethiopia in Africa’s horn is rec­ognised as a rewarding tourist destination for those looking for more than beaches and safaris. But while the government eyes up the potential revenue, more needs to be done to improve the experience and give the sector a boost.

“The ruling party has never taken it seri­ously,” says Tony Hickey, the manager of the well-established Ethiopian Quadrants tours in the capital, Addis Ababa. The gov­ernment has invested resources in other strategic areas of the economy, such as leather and floriculture, but little has been done to improve infrastructure and serv­ices for tourists, Hickey believes.

Without better planning and administra­tion, it will be hard for the country to move concertedly in the direction of sustainable tourism, operators maintain. The industry has been battling the tax authority over a VAT directive and arguing over duty-free privileges to import vehicles, says Hickey.

Currently, the vast majority of visitors engage in classic tours that take them to visit attractions like the obelisks of the ancient Axumite civilisation, or the mag­nificent churches of Lalibela carved out of rock in the 12th and 13th centuries. In the south near the Kenyan border, tours to the South Omo offer visitors the chance to mingle with tribes like the lip-plate insert­ing Mursi.

Partly through neglect, one of the main destinations, Axum, doesn’t yet have an international-standard hotel, Hickey says, explaining the deficiencies.

One operator that has made a successful venture into sustainable tourism is Mark Chapman, who heads Tesfa Tours. The op­eration has evolved from a charity in 2003 called Tourism in Ethiopia for Sustain­able Future Alternatives, which was run with donor support. The current model is a network of communities organised into cooperatives that host visitors during over­night stops on treks. The guides have set up their own businesses, while Tesfa Tours now does the marketing and booking as a private company.

“Tesfa developed the concept of a net­work of community-run tourism enterpris­es that would allow tourists to trek across the remarkable landscape, getting closer to the real culture of the Ethiopian highlands, and at the same time put precious money into the local communities for whom farm­ing is becoming ever more precarious a livelihood,” Chapman says.

Another area of promise is Community Conservation Areas (CCAs), several of which have been established by the Ethio­pian Sustainable Tourism Alliance in part­nership with the US Agency for Interna­tional Development. The framework is for local communities to be supported in con­servation and eco-tourism development. Such schemes are of particular importance in the Ethiopian highlands, which has suf­fered environmental degradation due to in­tensive land use over the millennia.

A CCA has been proposed in the deep south of the country in Mursiland, home to the Mursi people. With the pressures of commercial agriculture – particularly state-run sugar plantations under construc­tion – and two national parks, the conser­vation area could prove a lifeline for the Mursi, if it allows them to continue their traditional lifestyles while benefiting from well-managed tourism. However, for it to succeed, it will need not only the permis­sion but also the active support of the gov­ernment in Addis Ababa.

About the author:

Will Davison is a news correspondent for Bloomberg


Post a comment

Leave a comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Amnesty International