Any tourist planning a trip has to consider much about the place they plan to visit. Accommodations, food, and weather are a few examples of this. With the growth of technology and tourism infrastructure, tourists today have more agencies in planning and executing their trips than ever before.
Online platforms and services mean booking a plane ticket or a hotel room takes just a couple of minutes. There is also no shortage of information on any particular destination’s climate, cuisine, and culture, making it easy to plan a trip.
One aspect of tourism that has not evolved equally everywhere, however, is transportation.
Japan’s famously efficient and dependable public transportation systems, for example, are at the same time a relief for tourists and a means of encouraging tourism by cutting down travel times and opening up new destinations for visitors.
A tourist wanting to travel from the ultra-modern streets of Tokyo to a more cultural destination like Kyoto has several options for transport – most of them affordable and efficient. However, almost no one will pass up the opportunity to ride one of Japan’s famed bullet trains.
The 475 kilometers between Tokyo and Kyoto (both huge tourist attractions) are a cakewalk for the Nozomi bullet train, which can travel at speeds up to 300 km/h. The trip takes two hours and seven minutes, stopping three times for about two minutes at each stop.
There are no queues, no waiting time, no check-in process, no security checks, and, needless to say, no delays.
A tourist would pay around 14,000 Japanese Yen, or roughly USD 100, for the two-hour ride into Japan’s old capital. Anyone who happens to miss their train will have little to worry about, as there are close to 120 departures on this route every day.
What the city of Kyoto offers tourists is very similar to the attractions in northern Ethiopia in that the city is home to many historical sites – religious and otherwise. Despite the similarities, things could not be more different in terms of the options for transport to and in-between the popular tourist sites.
Of course, it would be an injustice to compare the Ethiopian tourism economy to that of Japan, who ranked first in the 2021 Travel and Tourism Index published by the World Economic Forum, placing ahead of popular tour destinations such as Italy, Spain, and the US. Ethiopia is nowhere near the top of that index.
Still, a good look at Japanese tourism infrastructure can provide a benchmark and inspiration for future projects in Ethiopia aimed at making it easier for tourists to get around the country.
Thousands of tourists crowd the entrances of every popular tourist site in the city every single day. Kyoto, Japan’s ancient city boasts the highest concentration of UNESCO World Heritage sites.
There are no less than 17 world heritage sites in Kyoto, including more than a dozen Buddhist temples, three Shinto shrines, and Nijo-jo Castle. Transportation to and in-between these sites is simple, cheap, and efficient, as there are options such as the double-decker hop-on hop-off sightseeing buses.
The Kinkakuji Temple (also known as the Golden Pavilion Temple) is among the most popular tourist destinations in Kyoto. The three-storey building sits elegantly in the middle of a pond, with its top two floors covered extensively in gold leaf. The Temple was erected in the 14th century, and later renovated in 1955.
It is only one of 1,600 Buddhist temples in Kyoto. The city, which served as Japan’s capital until the Imperial Court moved to Tokyo in 1868, is also home to hundreds of Shinto shrines.
Fushimi Inari Taisha is chief among these shrines, and serves as the hub for a network of close to 30,000 Inari shrines throughout Japan dedicated to the god of rice and sake.
The path leading to the mountaintop temple is lined by countless orange-tinted torii gates, which are the symbol of Shintoism, one of Japan’s biggest religions.
It is not very far from there to Uji Bridge, where the thousand-year-old Byodoin Temple resides. The famous Uji Bridge is thought to have been built by a Buddhist monk from Nara in the seventh century.
These are just a few examples of the countless historical sites open to tourists in Kyoto. Other, more contemporary tourist destinations in the city include the 131-meter Kyoto Tower, which offers tourists a 360-degree view of the city and the mountains that encircle it.
Kyoto and Tokyo are far from the only Japanese cities popular with tourists. Some 45 km south of Kyoto lies the city of Nara, which served as the capital of Japan for several decades in the eighth century.
Nara lures huge numbers of visitors each year with many historical and religious monuments of its own. Wild deer roam Nara Park, one of Japan’s oldest parks, and tourists get a chance to feed the animals by hand.
Through the park lie the enormous gates to the Todaiji Temple – among the most famous landmarks in Japan. Built in the middle of the eighth century, the temple contains a one-of-a-kind Buddha statue measuring an astonishing 15 meters in height and weighing in at over 500 tons.
These are just a few of the awe-inspiring destinations on offer in Japan, but tourists who are hungry for more can quite easily reach any other sites they have in mind via the dependable, affordable and efficient transportation systems.
The same cannot be said about Ethiopia.
Bahir Dar, the seat of the Amhara regional administration, is usually the first stop on the itinerary for a one or two-week tour of the Ethiopian north.
The distance to Bahir Dar from the main port of entry to Ethiopia, the capital Addis Ababa, is roughly the same as the distance between Tokyo and Kyoto.
Should the tourists prefer to drive to Bahir Dar, it will take no less than 10 hours – possibly longer if there are stops at sites such as the Portuguese Bridge along the way.
Flying would save some time, as the trip takes less than an hour. However, the check-in and check-out processes at airports, security checks, and baggage could easily see the flight take up as much as half a day from the tourist’s precious schedule.
Once in Bahir Dar, tourists are able to visit nearby attractions such as Lake Tana (and its numerous island monasteries) as well as Tis Abay (Blue Nile Falls). Other popular destinations in the north, such as Lalibela or Axum, would require a connecting flight or long drives, sometimes on difficult roads, to reach.
Of course, the violent conflicts that have gripped the country’s north in recent years have seriously affected tourism in the area. Paired with COVID-19, the last few years have been rough for Ethiopian tourism, not only in the north, but across the country.
Still, it seems the tides are turning. Ethiopia generated USD 2.6 billion from tourism in 2021. It is far from the USD 3.5 billion earned in 2018, but an improvement on the performance registered in 2020.
Nonetheless, it is clear that Ethiopian tourism has a long, long way to go compared to the likes of Japan.
Close to 20 million tourists visited Japan in the first 10 months of this year. Japan served 31.8 million tourists in 2019, on the eve of the pandemic. In 2020, the figures crashed to 4.1 million, worsening to just a quarter of a million in 2021, and 3.8 million in 2022.
Most tourists visiting Japan hail from fellow Asian countries, particularly South Korea, Taiwan, and China.
Tourism income for Japan in 2019 was 11.3 trillion Japanese Yen, or close to USD 50 billion. The latest data for 2021 shows it went down to 3.4 trillion Yen, owing it to the influence of the COVID-19 pandemic. Tourism’s contribution to the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) was two percent in 2019 and 0.6 percent in 2021.
In 2021, over six million of the 126 million Japanese citizens made their living directly from tourism. Tokyo leads as the main tourist destination. Osaka follows with 40 percent, Chiba with 39 percent and Kyoto with 30 percent. However, Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto take the leading stage as the major foreign overnight visitor destinations.