An air of uncertainty pervades Gonder, a town in Amhara Regional State. Once celebrated for its vibrant festivals and ancient castles, the town is now scuffling with an economic downshift. The Grand Goha Hotel, metaphoric of these struggles, finds only half of its 82 rooms occupied during peak seasons like the Epiphany. Its managers reminisce about better times when additional tents were necessary to accommodate the overflow of guests. The downturn has not only affected occupancy rates but also strained the hotel’s finances, making it difficult to cover basic expenses and meet tax obligations. The decline in tourism is a broader reflection of the economic upheaval in the region. The Amhara Tourism Bureau, which previously enjoyed substantial annual revenues, now faces a significant downturn. The financial crisis is partly attributed to the ongoing armed conflict in various parts of the region, which has raised safety concerns among potential visitors and reduced travel plans. The tourism sector, vital to the region’s economy, particularly between August and February, has experienced a dramatic decline in visitors’ number. The ambitious target of attracting 84,000 international visitors seems increasingly unattainable, with numbers falling drastically compared to previous years.

Industry professionals strongly point to the link between peace and tourism. They identified low-level promotion, poor leadership, and instability as major impediments to the sector’s growth. They urge considerable investments in developing new destinations alone, which is insufficient, and call for stability and skilled professionals in the field. Like Gonder, Addis Abeba, once thrived on conferences and meetings, has also faced technological and service delivery gaps. Hospitality consultants say there is potential for focusing on meetings, incentives, conferences, and exhibitions (MICE) tourism. Yet, competition from other African countries like Rwanda and Kenya, actively working on business tourism, has shifted the dynamics. Ethiopian Airlines, a key player in supporting tourism, has turned its focus to its own establishment, the Skylight Hotel. The shift has affected several hotels in Addis Abeba, leading to a decline in business. The airline’s strategy to accommodate transit passengers in its hotel at competitive rates has had repercussions for other hotels in the city. The industry disclosed that about 10 hotels have either shut down or transformed into other businesses.

Experts believe tourism is critical in generating foreign currency and sustaining livelihoods at various levels, from grassroots to hotels and tour operators. However, scepticism about the reported increase in tourist flow and revenue is prevalent, especially considering the instability in the northern part of the country. The Ethiopian Tour Operators Association (ETOA) and the Ministry of Tourism face limitations in collecting accurate data on domestic and international travellers. Despite initiatives like “Back-to-Origins” to attract the diaspora community and efforts to rate the country’s hotels, the tourism sector continues to confront significant hurdles, further exacerbated by travel alerts and the ongoing conflict. SEE THE FULL STORY ON PAGE 2.

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PUBLISHED ON Jan 27,2024 [ VOL 24 , NO 1239]

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