March 25, 2012, Ashoka, Ethiopia – A horse handler trained by Counterpart partner agency ANCEDA shows off the horse he will use to guide tourists into the Lepis Community Conservation Area of Ashoka, Ethiopia. Training for horse handlers includes basic conservation skills as well as horse care and English language, all provided through the Counterpart-lead ESTA consortium. Photo by David Snyder.

By Jennifer O’Riordan

A new website is giving tourists from around the world a direct route to the many community tourism destinations, products and excursions that Ethiopia has to offer.

RootsOfEthiopia.com gives visitors an interactive experience, showing them nature hikes, horse riding tours, historic sites and craft shops, and linking them with tour operators so they can book travel there and then. Useful tips and information also introduce them to the country’s food, history and culture.

The website was launched in Addis Ababa at an event attended by the Minister of Culture and Tourism, tour operators, lodge owners and many key stakeholders in tourism development.

“We have nine World Heritage sites registered by UNESCO, making Ethiopia the leading nation on the continent in this regard,” said Tadelech Dalacho, Ethiopia’s Minister of Culture and Tourism, who attended the April 5 event.

Putting Ethiopia on the tourism map

“We are committed more than ever to leading the sector and contributing our part to bringing Ethiopia to its proper place on the tourism map,” Dalacho said.

RootsOfEthiopia.com positions the country as a top community tourism destination, informing and attracting potential tourists.

Community-led tourism not only provides more meaningful and authentic experiences for tourists but also provides alternative livelihoods for people who might otherwise struggle to earn an income and provide for their families.

Counterpart’s Ethiopian Sustainable Tourism Alliance partnered with the Ethiopian Ecotourism Association, which will take over the long-term management and updating of the website, to develop the site along with the Frankfurt Zoological Society and Tourism in Ethiopia for Sustainable Future Alternatives.

“Community-led tourism also creates a sense of pride among the people who get involved,” says Counterpart’s Country Director in Ethiopia, Bedilu Shegen. “This in turn encourages them to protect and conserve the natural resources that tourists come to see.”

“The biggest problem for these small-scale and often remote community tourism ventures is marketing,” Shegen said in his opening speech. “Booking levels and visits to these areas are low, and such communities have to rely on support from donors or go out of business.”

Online booking is the way forward

The Internet is claiming a dominant role in travel: The U.S. Travel Association noted that more than 105 million Americans used it to plan their travel in 2009, and almost 50 percent of Europeans made their travel arrangements online in 2010-2011. ITB World Travel Trends reports that the figures are rising.

The Ethiopia website makes its debut as the country is making other advances in tourism marketing. In March, National Geographic launched its MapGuide for the Southern and Central Rift Valley regions. The MapGuide – only the second of its kind to be produced in Africa – is designed to promote lesser-known destinations and attractions, including places where Counterpart’s Ethiopian Sustainable Tourism Alliance is helping communities to attract tourists.

The Ethiopian Sustainable Tourism Alliance is funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development and aims to enhance biodiversity conservation and economic development through sustainable tourism products, services and other opportunities throughout destination regions of Ethiopia.

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