The recent peace agreement between the federal government and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) signals a revamp in the tourism sector and a glimmer of hope in the rise of tourists, according to tourism stakeholders.
Officials stated that the northern Ethiopian war, combined with the advent of the COVID-19 epidemic, had a huge impact on Ethiopia’s tourism business, costing it billions of dollars. The two-year conflict had a significant impact on the flow of tourists, with many tour operators losing their jobs due to being dependent on the flow of tourists.
While the last three years have been disastrous and have had a significant impact on the sector, Ashenafi Kassa, President of the Ethiopian Tour Guides Association, stated in an interview with The Reporter that the recent agreement has brought some optimism.
“The number of tourists has increased in the last two months, and the number of queries about future trips demonstrates a positive change in Ethiopia’s tourism industry,” Ashenafi said.
Despite the cheerful atmosphere and positive expectation of an increase in the influx of international tourists, he highlighted his concern about the lack of efficient and effective service delivery in the sector, both by the government and the private sector. He also discussed issues with Ethiopian Airlines, such as long lines, difficulties with immigration and customs, and a lack of experienced hotel management.
Mulugeta Ababu, a guide and tour operator for Exclusive Ethiopia, is unsure if these seasonal visitor flows—which saw a slight increase between Christmas and the Ethiopian Epiphany—were influenced by the peace accord.
“It is a bit hard to say that there is an increase in the flow of tourists,” Mulugeta said, adding that he does not see much change following the peace agreement. Many embassies that reside in Ethiopia, including those of the US and Canada, have still imposed travel restrictions on some areas of Ethiopia, according to Mulugeta.
He says that the government needs to consult with embassies and consulates, as well as use any mechanisms available to lift the ban and reintroduce Ethiopian tourism.
“I had an appointment with a group of Canadian tourists this month to host them as their tour operators, and they had already planned to visit Ethiopia. I had finalized both the hotel reservation and their entire itinerary, but sadly, while they were getting ready to fly, they heard that there was still a restriction from the Canadian government not to fly to Ethiopia,” Mulugeta said.
Susan Aitchison, a retired teacher who left the United Kingdom for Ethiopia in 2007, started to run a famous restaurant in Lailibela named Ben Abeba. She left town for the UK in March 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic struck along with the war in northern Ethiopia, and as a result, the restaurant was shut down.
After three years, when she returned from the UK in late December 2022, she found that some of her kitchen equipment had been damaged and looted by the rebels. But now she seems to be enjoying the fruits of the peace deal, which seems to be attracting tourists from abroad.
Aitchison says that she had high hopes for a booming tourism sector when she first opened the restaurant. But now the loss is huge because of the war. Adding that the Christmas holiday has attracted hundreds of local pilgrimages to Lalibela, she said that she was “hopeful that this peace deal will be implemented.”
She also told The Reporter that she has seen people from other countries in her restaurant since she came back from the UK three years ago.
In the last few years, the tourism sector has been significantly affected, and the flow of tourists to Ethiopia is nearly zero, as the state minister for tourism, Sileshi Girma, stated in an interview with The Reporter. In order to save the industry and its professionals, he says that the government has been holding several meetings, trainings, and workshops to keep them from leaving the sector by telling them that the tourism industry is resilient and can recover easily.
An increase in tourist traffic has recently been observed, both on air and land, with the land transport occurring primarily in Moyale and along the Sudan border, Sileshi stated.