A city unlocking its tourism potential
Tourism in Bahir Dar is on the rise. This is, in part, due to the natural beauty of the city and its cultural and historical treasures. As a result, the tourist flow and revenue generated has been increasing. In the past five years alone, the number of tourists has risen more than fourfold – from 37,166 in the 2009/10 fiscal year to 149,266 in the 2014/15 fiscal year. The jump has been good for the city, as it collected ETB332.8 million in tourism revenue in the just-ended fiscal year. Five years ago, the sector generated only ETB55.85million. The growing trend both in the number of tourists and revenue also means that businesses are flocking to Bahir Dar, to seize the city’s burgeoning reputation as a site of national sporting events and international conferences. EBR’s Fasika Tadesse visited Bahir Dar to learn more about the ascent of its tourism industry and about the hurdles the city has to overcome before it realises its full potential.
Bahir Dar is well known for its wide, clean avenues lined with palm trees and a variety of colourful flowers. But increasingly, it’s becoming known as a city that hosts large conferences and sporting events.
Of course, Bahir Dar has long been a city that is regarded for its notable tourist attractions, which include Lake Tana, Ethiopia’s largest lake and the principal reservoir of the Nile; the Blue Nile Falls; ancient monasteries that lie on Lake Tana; and what many believe to have been the holding place of the Ark of the Covenant for centuries.
These are some of the tourist attractions that have made Bahir Dar one of the most visited places in Ethiopia. Recently-built additions, like the new Bahir Dar Stadium, with the capacity to accommodate 50,000 spectators, is also playing a major part to attract tourists in the city.
For two consecutive Sundays in June 2015, the city and the new stadium hosted two football matches, in which the Ethiopian male national football team (the Waliyas) played against the Seychelles and Kenyan national football teams, both of which ended victorious for the Waliyas. Both games had more than 100,000 spectators each who came from Bahir Dar as well from other towns and cities throughout the country.
Ayalnew Alamrew, 41, owns a bricks manufacturing factory in Debre Marqos, a city located 250 kilometres from Bahir Dar. He was one of the local tourists who visited the city for the purpose of watching the football match between Ethiopia and the Seychelles on Sunday, June 21, 2015.
In addition to attending the match, he also visited the various sites of the city: “Before the match started, I went to Lake Tana to enjoy the gift of nature,” he said, when EBR spoke with him at Newand Hotel, which is located close to the new stadium.
Others echo Ayalnew’s sentiments about the benefits of visiting Bahir Dar. “Beyond the tourist attraction sites, the city is preferable, as it is an international city [because it has] a beach, lower [cost of] living, good weather, and is less crowed on the roads, unlike many cities in the country,” says Habtemariam Tsigabu, who is an Ethiopian visitor from Melbourne, Australia.
Habtemariam has stayed in Addis Ababa, Dire Dawa, Bahir Dar and Hawassa during his first visit since his emigration from his hometown of Finote Selam, a town close to Bahir Dar, in 2003. But he says he has been enjoying his visit to Bahir Dar during this trip. This is his second visit to Ethiopia since 2012. He plans to stay for two months and spent a week of his vacation in Bahir Dar.
Habtemariam’s decision to visit Bahir Dar is shared by thousands of tourists – and the trend seems to be growing. During the 2009/10 fiscal year a total of 37,166 local and foreign tourists visited the city, which helped the city to generate total revenue of ETB55.85 million. Four years later, a total of 149,266 tourists – more than four times that of the 2009/10 fiscal year – arrived to the city, generating total revenue of ETB281.5 million in 2013/14. In the just-ended fiscal year, 269,489 tourists visited the city and the revenue increased to ETB332.8 million.
This exponential growth in the number of tourists visiting Bahir Dar also means businesses have opportunities to thrive. To ease the stay of tourists, there are six tour and travel agencies that are privately owned and three that are owned by associations. In addition, two car rental companies are also operating in the city.
In addition to tourist services, the hospitality industry in the city is also on the rise. There are 22 star-level hotels, which is the same amount as Gondar and Lalibela, two other cities that are known tourist attractions in the Amhara Regional State.
Local officials say that the reason why Bahir Dar is gaining popularity is due, in large part, to promotion efforts that showcase the city’s attractions. “The local media and the promotion that was made by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism (MoCT) are the main reasons for the surge of local tourist to the city,” argues Mulualem Ayana, head of Culture and Cultural Sites Preservation at the Bahir Dar Culture and Tourism Office. “In addition, the Office has been working aggressively on promotional items that can demonstrate the city’s tourism potential by publishing different brochures, pamphlets, and by organising photo exhibitions.”
Such efforts seem to be paying off because data obtained from the City Administration indicates that in the past five years, Bahir Dar has managed to increase the tourist flow and revenue by fourfold and sixfold, respectively.
In addition to the availability of religious, historical and tourist attractions, an emerging form of tourism – conference tourism – is also growing in the city.
Because it’s the seat of the Amhara Regional State government, Bahir Dar hosts several meetings of state agencies. Among the conferences that have been held in Bahir Dar, the Tana High Level Forum is perhaps the most prominent. In fact, during the 4th round of the Forum, held in April 2015, a little more than 200 individuals, including sitting and former heads of state, ministers and senior government officials participated from across Africa. Furthermore, in January 2014, the city hosted the 24th Ordinary Session of the Executive Council of the African Union, a meeting of African foreign ministers, was held for the first time in the city.
Bahir Dar is hosting an increasing number of visitors who come to attend meetings. Of the 149,266 tourists that came to the city during the 2013/24 fiscal year, 35,925 came to participate in the meeting, accounting for 24Pct of the total. On the other hand, the majority, 79,537, arrived to visit cultural sites, while 14,680 went for religious tours and 8,669 for watching sport events.
During the same period, the revenue contribution of tourists who visited cultural sites reached ETB71.4 million, while ETB1.98 million, 2.2 million and ETB2.6 million were gained from conference tourists, religious tourists and sport tourists, respectively, according to the State’s Culture, Tourism and Park Development Bureau.
Despite the progress registered, Bahir Dar seems to be primarily attracting local visitors. Data obtained from the City’s Culture of Tourism Office reveals that of the total tourists in the just-ended fiscal year, 62Pct were local, while foreigners account for the balance.
This percentage becomes even more meagre when compared to the number of foreign tourists who visited Ethiopia. For instance, only 41,146 foreign tourists visited Bahir Dar during the 2013/14 fiscal year, while a total of 724,000 foreign tourists arrived to Ethiopia during the same period, according to the MoCT. This means that only 5.7Pct of all foreign tourists who came to Ethiopia visited Bahir Dar.
Some foreign tourists believe this low percentage has to do with lack of infrastructure in the city. “The road to Blue Nile Falls… is terrible, [which is] a major problem while visiting Bahir Dar,” said Emily Laurence, a tourist from the United States who visited the city with her Ethiopian husband for three days. She also says the large amount of informal tour guides is bothersome and confusing for tourists, especially since they may be aggressively trying to get the attention of tourists at various sites. They may not have all the details about a particular site, which may further confuse tourists looking to learn about significant tourist attractions.
Emily was visiting Bahir Dar for the second time after she came in 2013. She and her husband, who is originally from Bahir Dar, planned to visit Lake Tana and the monasteries as well as Blue Nile Falls. But she was frustrated when thinking about the road.
The frustration of tourists is also shared by the city’s officials: “We repeatedly [discussed] the road, as it is causing several accidents and becoming a source of dissatisfaction for tourists,” says Mulualem. “But we are told from the city administration [that] the road is under the national road network and can only be maintained by the Ethiopian Road Authority (ERA), which still [has not given] us a response.”
Samson Wondimu, communications director of the ERA, admits that the road has problems. He says the Authority is planning to upgrade it by this fiscal year.
What’s more, the number of foreign tourists that visited the city declined from 45,731 in 2012/13 to 41,146 during in 2013/14 fiscal year, further diminishing their presence in the city vis-à-vis local tourists.
Industry insiders say that the declining number of foreign tourists in Bahir Dar is attributable to the overall looming security threats across sub-Saharan Africa. “The reasons for the decline of international tourists are due to problems in neighbouring countries such as Kenya and Somalia, which are under the pressure of terrorist attacks. In addition to that, the outbreak of Ebola Virus in West Africa was a significant cause for the decline of foreign tourists [to Africa as a whole],” said Mulualem.
Still, even with all these challenges, the sector contributes significant revenue to the Amhara Regional State. During 2013/14, the State obtained ETB1.28 billion from 6.58 million tourists. Lalibela comes in first, with a revenue contribution of ETB303.8 million from 397,544 tourists. Bahir Dar is next, collecting ETB281.5 million from 149,266 tourists. Gondar follows, having generated ETB170.9 million from 109,798 tourists.
In an effort to make the city one of the major destinations of the country, the logistics sector has done its part to contribute. Ethiopian Airlines flies to Bahir Dar five times a day and will soon start its sixth flight at night. In addition to this, Trans National Airways, part of MIDROC Ethiopia Technology Group, has two flights a week. Intercity bus also carries tourist to the city, Selam Bus, Sky Bus, Post Bus and Limalimo Bus operate daily between Addis Ababa and Bahir Dar. EBR
3rd Year • August 16 – September 15 2015 • No. 30