Xinhua — Han Guanming, an owner of Chinese online travel agency based in east China’s Hangzhou city, admits he was a little anxious when he first planned to visit Adi-Grat city, located in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray regional state, about 40km south of the Ethiopia-Eritrea border.
As part of his first ever visit to Ethiopia, Han was in Adi-Grat city to observe the Meskel festival, celebrated annually on Sept. 26-27, by adherents of Orthodox Christianity.
Speaking to Xinhua, Han said he first heard about Ethiopia and the Meskel festival through his wife, a Chinese university professor who teaches many international students including Ethiopians.
Through interaction with her students, the university professor had been able to know more about Ethiopia and its long civilization which she in turn informed her husband of Ethiopia’s rich historical heritage.
Han said he had made plans several months ago to visit several historical and religious sites in Ethiopia particularly in Tigray regional state, but was anxious about the plans as at the time, Ethiopia and Eritrea were still locked in a bitter two-decades-old enmity.
Ethiopia and Eritrea fought a bloody two year border war from 1998-2000, which left an estimated 70,000 people dead from both sides.
Although the war was ended through a December 2000 Algiers peace agreement, the two countries remained in a state of armed standoff along their 1,100 km border.
That hostility all changed when Ethiopia and Eritrea signed a peace declaration in July 2018, enabling the restoration of air services, phone lines and the re-opening of their common border.
“For Chinese tourists, a country’s peace and stability is very important. Peace lessens fears of foreign travel to a country, now that the two countries have made peace, I expect more and more Chinese tourists will be planning to travel to Ethiopia,” said Han.
“Tigray region and Ethiopia as a whole has a long history of civilization, with Chinese people increasingly travelling for business and leisure purposes to African countries, this increasing trend persuaded me to travel to Ethiopia as my first African destination.” he further said.
Han has been keeping himself busy during his stay in Ethiopia, first visiting a local wedding ceremony, then witnessing Ethiopia’s unique coffee drinking ceremony and also tasting Ethiopian traditional foods.
“I have also visited the Axum Obelisks, the Queen of Sheba residence and various other Ethiopian archaeological sites which reminded me of Chinese imperial history.” Han said.
However, Han isn’t restricting his interest in Ethiopia to himself, as he is already planning to organize a special visit program by Chinese tourists, where visitors are encouraged to participate in local festivals, observe rural Ethiopian life and engage in hiking and trekking trips.
For that purpose he has contacted the Tigray region tourism bureau and the Ethiopia Ministry of Culture and Tourism on ways to promote Ethiopia to Chinese tourists.
“I have seen a common feature of Ethiopian and Chinese people, their love of hard work and emphasis on family values and culture, this I believe will make the country an ideal destination for Chinese tourists.” said Han.
Han’s optimism is shared by Hadgu Wolday, owner of Ambassador Promotion and Event Company, an Ethiopian tour promotion firm specializing in package tours to foreign tourists.
“With the Ethiopia-Eritrea border now open, there are plans to attract tourists from other parts of east Africa and even from far-flung nations such as the U.S. and China to visit monasteries, Islamic shrines and pre-historic cultural sites that dot the border regions of the two countries,” he said.
Wolday hopes that the increasing numbers of Chinese tourists to Ethiopia will add an economic boost to the ongoing reconciliation process between Ethiopia and Eritrea, whose border regions have in the past been hard hit by the two decades of hostilities.
Chinese tourist arrivals currently only trail behind those from the US and the UK, with a much wider potential for growth and development.
That growing trend is what is encouraging Tan Jian, Chinese ambassador to Ethiopia, to engage in tourism related cooperation with the east African country.
“China is already Ethiopia’s largest trading partner, we see a lot of potential to partner in the culture and tourism sector between the two nations.” Tan recently told Xinhua.
Tan said that with Chinese nationals currently being the largest tourist group in the world and one which tends to spend heavily in destination countries, the potential for Ethiopia to benefit more from the Chinese market is exponential.