With high-altitude mountain biking, running trails and underground caverns, Ethiopia is aiming to highlight its natural attractions to target adventure travelers in the coming years – more specifically, Millennial adventurers. Solomon Tadesse, CEO of the Ethiopian Tourism Organization (ETO), spoke about the destination’s evolution into a tourist destination at a media event in New York attended by Travel Agent earlier this week. New York was the second city in a trio of stops for the Ethiopia Tourism Organization event, including Los Angeles and Toronto. This was the first time the ETO had conducted an event of this nature in North America.
At the event, the ETO held an hour-long media briefing followed by a similar briefing for the travel trade. Afterwards, there was a two-hour workshop where travel trade were able to meet one-on-one with Ethiopian suppliers. There were 21 suppliers in total across the three cities and 108 members of the travel trade, including both operators and agents.
In 2013, the Ethiopian government established the Transformation Council, Tadasse said, "and with that they said, 'ok, tourism needs to be an industry that can support our economic development.'"
In collaboration with the Transformation Council, the ETO has spent the past few years promoting the destination and taking steps to improve the image of Ethiopia before the rest of the world.
Four years later, named one of the Top Ten BEST IN TRAVEL destinations for 2017 by Lonely Planet, Ethiopia’s evolving infrastructure has turned the country into a desirable destination for travelers, Tadesse said. The coming year will see the creation of new road networks and airline links making the country more accessible than ever before and paving the way for new and returning travelers. Ethiopian Airlines, one of Africa's leading carriers, recently signed a codeshare agreement with South African Airways. The agreement is anticipated to further enhance the cooperation among the two carriers and offer a range of additional destinations for customers to travel to.
In regards to the market Ethiopia hopes to attract, Tadesse said, “out of a hundred million people, 70 percent [of the population] is under 30 years old." Because of that, Tadesse said there is a major drive to get Millennials to Ethiopia. But how exactly does the ETO plan to do that? Tadesse said that Ethiopia has a number of events and attractions that specifically cater to adventure travelers and Millennials alike, but that the majority of people just don't know about them. "They have different programs every weekend for three days, four days.. There is a lot for that group of people here," said Tadesse.
- The Great Ethiopian Run: The event in Addis Ababa was started by gold medalist Haile Gebrselassie and now draws 40,000 worldwide participants annually. Ethiopia's landscape offers various trail running routes and high altitude training opportunities.
- Gheralta: The Gheralta mountain range houses 1,000-year-old cave churches. To see the churches, visitors must hike through canyons, free climb rock walls, and skirt around several cliffs.
- Sof Omar System: The Sof Omar System is a 9.4 mile long underground cave network. Tadesse said, "Ethiopia is working to develop the caves into a tourist attraction." Ideally, the underground caverns could be used for a collection of water sports in an off-the-beaten-path location.
- Simien Mountains National Park: Hike to the peak of Ras Dashen - at 4,543 meters, it's the 4th highest peak in Africa.
In the future, Tadesse said the ETO and Transformation Council plan to continue fostering the tourism sector and further develop the country as a tourist destination.