According to the Ethiopian Tourism Organization, the government has decided in 2013 that tourism could generate jobs, income and wealth just like any other economic sector.

By Joe Yogerst (CNN) |

In the late 1950s, Ethiopian Airlines launched an advertising campaign in the Western media that touted the ancient kingdom as Africa’s “newest travel adventure.”

More than half a century later, the huge East African nation has yet to live up to that lofty billing. But it might not be much longer.

The sights, the scenery, the culture are already there. Ethiopian’s ancient orthodox Christianity has endowed the nation with thousands of churches and monasteries, some of them enshrined as UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

A succession of empire and kingdoms added medieval forts, palaces and tombs like the Gondar citadel and the towering stone stele of Axum.

From Lake Tana and the Blue Nile to the red-rock Gheralta Mountains, the arid Danakil Desert and the lush Omo Valley, the landscapes are astounding and incredibly varied. Ethiopia’s wildlife riches are also diverse, from typical African savannah animals in the south to unique indigenous creatures like the gelada baboon and Ethiopian wolf.

The missing ingredient has always been infrastructure — the kind of hotels, restaurants and service that tourism rivals like Kenya and South Africa mastered decades ago.

A turning point by the Ethiopian Tourism Organization

“Tourism was on the back burner for a long time,” says Solomon Tadesse, CEO of the Ethiopian  Tourism Organization (ETO). “The country was going through major changes and the government’s priorities were health, education, communication.”

Not to mention drought, famine and revolution.

“There were fundamental reasons why tourism infrastructure was not in place.”

According to Solomon, the government finally decided in 2013 that tourism could generate jobs, income and wealth just like any other economic sector.

A tourism transformation council was established to provide direction to the industry and the ETO was created to handle marketing, promotion and product development.

The tourism push coincided with a massive upsurge in foreign investment from China, India, Turkey and other nations that boosted GDP to annual growth rates of around 10%.

With the Ethiopian economy going like gangbusters, tourism is slowly but surely moving toward the great expectations generated more than half a century ago.
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