Tuesday, May 21, 2024
NewsTourism faces existential crisis

Tourism faces existential crisis

Ongoing Amhara conflict hammers sector reeling from two-year war in North Ethiopia

The declaration of a state of emergency in Amhara has sent shockwaves through some of Ethiopia’s most iconic tourist attractions, leaving once bustling destinations deserted as the security situation takes its toll on the travel industry.

From Lalibela’s famous rock-hewn churches to the monasteries of Lake Tana, places boasting untold cultural and natural marvels now sit eerily quiet as visitors stay away due to fears over the conflict. The decree, aimed at curbing instability, has had the side effect of deterring tourists when the sector needs them most.

Where crowds of travelers once roamed exploring legendary sites, an unsettling silence now hangs in the air. Local guides stand idle with no customers in sight, souvenir shops stare out at empty streets, and the normally lively restaurants see hardly a soul, according to market players.

“It’s like a ghost town,” said one Lalibela hotel manager, who asked to remain anonymous. “We’ve gone from fully booked to fully empty practically overnight.”

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The economic fallout is catastrophic for areas heavily reliant on tourism dollars. With visitor numbers declining sharply, many tourism businesses face an uncertain future as bookings disappear and bills continue to pile up.

“If it goes on much longer, some companies won’t survive,” warned Henok Tsegaye, a former head of Ethiopia’s tour operator association.

The downturn comes just as tourism in the region was starting to recover after over two years of conflict in northern Ethiopia. Following the signing of the Pretoria Agreement last November which ended fighting, visitor numbers had begun rising again in recent months as travel warnings were lifted.

Hotel bookings, tours, and flights were all surging as iconic destinations like Lalibela slowly came back to life. But this new state of emergency has abruptly halted the resurgence, dashing hopes of a full tourism rebound and dealing the industry another heavy blow after the struggles of war, observers said.

A hotel manager from Lalibela, who requested anonymity to protect his identity and the hotel he manages, stated that the state of emergency has significantly impacted their business. He said that his hotel was previously a popular destination for visitors and guides in Lalibela, but is now left without active customers to serve.

The latest state of emergency is not an omen of an impending slump across Ethiopia’s entire tourism industry. The COVID-19 pandemic had a huge influence on business, and the ensuing civil war further exacerbated existing struggles within the sector.

Te country has lost approximately 70 percent of tourism revenue due to both the COVID-19 pandemic and outbreak of conflict in northern regions. The two-year long civil war in northern Ethiopia, particularly in Tigray, has considerably impacted the country’s overall tourism industry.

Reports estimate that combined, the COVID-19 pandemic and violence in Tigray cost Ethiopia’s tourism industry two billion dollars yearly over the last two years in lost revenue.

Following the conflict in the Amhara region and announcement of a state of emergency, several countries issued stern travel warnings advising their citizens not to visit areas affected by violence or unrest. This decline in visitors has damaged Ethiopia’s reputation as a stable tourist destination worldwide, according to Henok.

“This negative perception of certain regions could have long-lasting consequences for the entire tourism industry,” he explained worriedly. “Even once security improves, it may take considerable time and effort to regain global travelers’ trust and confidence fully.”

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