Delighted to be asked by Richard Parry to help open the Hara Langano Eco-Lodge formally today. It’s not just a holiday destination, but a significant contribution to the local community. And an important contribution to national wealth.
Tourism generates an enormous 11% of world GDP, a higher share of world trade than cars or oil. It’s one of the top five exports for over 80% of countries and the principal export for a third of developing countries, particularly the smaller ones. Tourism is an important means of poverty reduction in developing countries, opening up new market opportunities and encouraging employment and infrastructure development of much wider benefit to the community.
Ethiopia should be well placed to benefit much more from tourism-driven growth. It has historical, cultural, ecological and geographical features that should be the envy of many. Not to mention traditional Ethiopian hospitality, which is rightly famed. But the massive Ethiopian tourism potential has not yet been achieved and the contribution of this sector to GDP still languishes at under 5%.
The aim of the Government’s Growth and Transformation Plan, “to make Ethiopia one of the best tourist destinations in Africa”, is a very credible goal. But not enough has yet been done to achieve this in practice. Tourism hasn’t been identified as a serious development strategy like agriculture or manufacturing and given the priority it deserves. It is not seen as Ethiopia’s way of messaging the world, and of promoting its unique brand, but it could be just that. It needs professional management and high-level direction, so it’s great that the Prime Minister has been gripping the issue.
That’s not to say that a huge increase in the number of tourists coming here would be entirely a good thing, especially outside the capital. Given the fragility of Ethiopia’s historical sites and ecosystems, it seems that low volume – high value tourism should be the preferred model. The focus needs to be on tourists who will come and spend a lot on high quality services and who are so impressed by their experience that they want to come back. Some will be businesspeople, who are so inspired that they will want to put their money here for the longer term.
Unfortunately even the pioneers seeking to establish good quality lodges outside Addis for such tourists are hamstrung by problems such as masses of bureaucratic red tape – whereas what is needed is structured support and incentives for those seeking to help boost Ethiopian tourism. In the meantime it’s amazing anyone is prepared to invest in this sector, but it seems some foreign investors have a genuine love of the country and want to help it do well. That’s not a resource to be squandered.
So hats off to pioneers like Richard. We wish him and other such investors in the tourism sector well.