Ethiopia, Abyssinia, land of Habesha, is a country mentioned 40 times in the Bible for its hospitality. Starting with the time of Prophet Mohammad, the Koran tells us that the early Muslims flew to Ethiopia to escape persecution.
Today people of all races, religions, Colours and ethnic backgrounds are welcome to this land of hospitality. And a tourist paradise unparalleled for what it offers the potential client of all creed and nationality Perched at 3,260m (10,696 ft) above sea level, the Simien Lodge is the highest hotel in Africa. Ethiopia, where Africa’s oldest civilization began, where an ancient language, still clings–to remote mountain monasteries–or 800-year-old shrines, hewed from the bare rock, Africa’s most rugged plateau, drops to its deepest desert, is a glittering garland of rift-valley lakes and ends in the finest, riverine forests.
It was built in 2007 by a British entrepreneur who had an eye for a dramatic view and was not put off by the challenge of building in Ethiopia’s rugged and isolated Simien Mountains.
The man in question, Nick Crane, first came to Ethiopia to help during its 1974 drought.
Now the 62-year-old is at the forefront of promoting a positive side to this unique and still misunderstood country.
When not in Ethiopia, Mr Crane spends much of his time visiting travel companies across Europe to highlight the nation’s scenery and wildlife, and rich cultural and historic sites. “Previously some tour operators would not touch Ethiopia with a barge pole,” he says. “But now that is changing.”
Ethiopia’s tourism industry has long lagged behind other African nations. Ethiopia by contrast received just 523,000, putting it in 17th place across the continent. But visitor numbers to Ethiopia are now growing by 10 per cent each year, according to the Ethiopian Ministry of Culture and Tourism.
It adds the income the country’s tourism sector receives is growing by 20 per cent per annum, as the tourists who do visit are spending more. Greg Dorey, the UK’s ambassador to Ethiopia, says the nation’s tourism potential “is certainly huge” and the Ethiopian government has expressed its intention to make the country one of the best visitor destinations in Africa. There is even talk in Ethiopia of how tourism’s contribution to the nation’s foreign currency earnings could eventually overtake coffee, which has long been number one. Yet to boost tourism numbers, Mr. Dorey says Ethiopia has to increase investment.
Continuing to build infrastructure that meets the expectations of foreigners is key to maintaining this trend “as there is a limit to how much people are willing to rough it”, Mr Dorey says. At Mr Crane’s Simien Lodge, while the exterior of the building was designed to look like a group of traditional Ethiopian huts, the interior is clean and modern. This helps attract wealthier tourists, and he wants other hoteliers to follow his example.
Across the whole of the Simien Mountains National Park Mr Crane says that the number of annual tourists has increased from 5,000 in 2007 to 24,000 last year. He adds that a high proportion of the newer visitors are Americans and Europeans aged over 50, people who have – and are happy to spend – money. These members of the so-called baby boomer generation typically spend about 2,500 USD (1,600 pounds) per person while on holiday in Ethiopia, significantly more than the young backpackers the country has traditionally attracted.
Yet other than Simien Lodge there are currently only two other hotels inside Ethiopia’s 15 national parks. One of these two facilities, in the Bale Mountains National Park, was opened this year by another British entrepreneur. This might lead one to ask whether the Ethiopian government should be taking the lead here rather than enterprising British expats. Yet Mr. Dorey says: “Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn is gripping the situation by chairing a high-level committee to tackle the country’s tourism hurdles.”
At the same time, however, the ambassador notes that many in government who lack international exposure still don’t appreciate the potentially transformative economic role of tourism, and the contribution it could make to alleviating poverty.
Read more at: The Ethiopian Herald