Despite the diversity and uniqueness of Ethiopia, the country’s image was darkened by the continued civil war and famine during the previous dictatorship, the Dergue, that began in 1974 and lasted until 1991. Ethiopian tourism had started in the 1960s, however declined again greatly during the later 1970s and the 1980s.
A regime of terror, torture, imprisonment and executions preceded by a severe bout of famine attracted international media and affected not only the tourism sector in particular but the economy in general. It’s never easy to forget those tragic images still existing in the minds of many. However, recovery began in the 1990s with the downfall of the Dergue regime. Since then, Ethiopia has in a decade and a half metamorphosed to achieve double-digit economic growth, quadrupled its GDP per capita, increased life expectancy by 12 years and reduced poverty by half.
The incumbent government has embarked on a program of economic reform, including privatization of state enterprises and rationalization of government regulations, which attracted much needed foreign investment for the different economic sectors of the country, including tourism. Having identified major constraints relating to visa, customs and banking regulations, the government has taken liberalizing steps, instrumental to facilitate tourism and trade. Today, Ethiopia is one of the fastest growing nations in tourism and is building up its image with a 10% annual tourist flow increase.
A lot of reasons could be attributed to this continued growth. Definitely security comes first. There are ongoing conflicts in many African countries, surprisingly, Ethiopia has remained stable and peaceful for the last 15 years, turning the country slowly again into a preferred destination. The progress made in other sectors of the economy has also contributed to the overall advancement of the tourism sector.
Ethiopia’s infrastructure spending, as a percentage of the GDP, is the highest in Africa and the stock of hotel rooms has increased sharply over the last few years. While quality accommodation is now available at the major attraction sites, improvement and new construction continues to take place at enormous speed throughout the country. Finally, in June 2015, the General Assembly of the European Council on Tourism and Trade elected Ethiopia as the world’s best tourist destination for 2015!