A tourism makeover in Ethiopia is trying to draw in visitors with ancient history, cultural diversity and topography - consigning images of war and famine to the past. David Pollard reports.
Hunger, famine - two words that for 30 years have dominated perceptions of Ethiopia. Not so anymore, say its tourism leaders. They want to take you back to a time before recent decades of famine and communist purges - to a rich imperial past. That, along with the East African nation's dramatic landscape, a treasure trove, they say, for the curious visitor. Samrawit Moges is the founder and Managing Director of EthioTravel. Ethiopia is making headway, she says - but still faces hurdles. (SOUNDBITE) (English) SAMRAWIT MOGES, FOUNDER AND MANAGING DIRECTOR, ETHIOTRAVEL SAYING: "We have number of attractions that are recognised by UNESCO, but have we made any promotion on that? No! While Kenya has a number of tourist offices abroad, where they do their promotions abroad internationally, Ethiopia has none." One challenge in its bid to boost visitor numbers: just three major international chains run hotels in the capital, Addis Ababa. Operators say bureaucracy hinders plans for new hotels. Trained service workers are in short supply. Mulugeta Seid is the State Minister of Tourism and Culture. (SOUNDBITE) (English) MULUGETA SEID, STATE MINISTER OF TOURISM AND CULTURE SAYING: "Considering the volume of tourists that we are receiving, we are still far behind many major African Tourist destinations. The reason is that we started from a low base and we had we had some difficulties in between." In other ways, Addis Ababa is playing catch-up - and fast. In what its fans say is a turnaround from the starvation years and the "Red Terror" purges of the 1970s and 80s, construction's booming. A new metro's opening next year - the only one in sub-Saharan Africa - along with a new railway to Djibouti. Andrzej Zarzecki is a Polish tour guide who regularly brings in clients. (SOUNDBITE) (English) ANDRZEJ ZARZECKI, POLISH TOUR GUIDE SAYING: "This is a peaceful country. That is good for tourists. They want the tourist is when there is no war. Ethiopian people are very friendly without conflicts, with Muslims with Christians and without conflicts with the tourists. They are happy to visit the tourists, and people are happy to spend the time here." Ethiopia's goal is to raise tourist revenues from 2 billion in 2013 to 3 billion dollars next year. If successful, it could start challenging the regional heavyweights, Kenya and Tanzania, as one of east Africa's top tourist hotspots.