Ethiopia’s tourism revenue jumped 20.7 percent in 2015 to a record high of $3.5 billion from $2.9 billion in the previous fiscal year lifted by increased number of foreign tourists visiting the East African nation, data from the Ministry of Culture and Tourism showed.
The country’s revenue was more than what it more tourist established neighbors, Kenya and Tanzania, earned last year combined. The two east African neighbors cumulatively earned $2.77 billion.
Kenya’s revenue from its tourism sector dropped about 3 percent in 2015 to $837 million as visitors numbers continued a four year drop due to increased insecurity caused by frequent al Shabaab militants attacks, Reuters reported.
In Tanzania, a reduction in number of visitors last year also saw a fall in foreign exchange earnings from tourism to $1.93 billion, from $2 billion in 2014, The Exchange reported.
The number of visitors to Ethiopia increased by 136,000 to 910,000 in 2015, an estimated 88,000 foreign tourists per month, as the country hosted a number of high profile international business conferences and exhibitions, Ethiosport reported.
Ethiopia, home to nine UNESCO World Heritage sites, wants to become one of the top five tourist destination in Africa by tripling the number of foreign tourists visiting the country to 2.5 million in 2020.
This will make tourism making the leading sector in one of Africa’s fastest growing economies. It had targeted to raise $3.5 billion from the sector this fiscal year.
On average visitors to the country have rose by 12 percent annually over the last decade as the country economic growth picked up and the government introduced incentives to attract investors into the sector.
Ethiopians living in abroad have built more than 200 luxury hotels in the country making it easier for the country to market itself as a upmarket tourist destination.
Tourism contributes about 4.5 percent of the country’s GDP and generates about a million jobs according to the World Bank.
Landlocked Ethiopia does not have any beaches to promote like the other two, but its cultural wealth like its 13th century underground churches of Lalibela, hewn from solid rock and the hill castles of Gondar are its big selling point.
It’s also grown more and more popular for travelers as it’s a safer and affordable destination.
The country has in recent years embarked on massive infrastructure spending that saw Africa’s first light train cutting though the sprawling city of Addis Ababa launched in September.
“What Ethiopia offers to tourists, different from Kenya and Tanzania, is history and culture,” Tony Hickey, an Irish tour operator who first arrived in Ethiopia in 1973, told the Daily Mail.