I started this post several weeks ago and never really got the chance to finish it off. I spent the better part of April in Bahir Dar on work related trip. My trip was not meant to be prolonged but as work progressed, I realized I will not have much time to spend with my sister who came to visit me in Ethiopia for 10 days. So trying to kill 2 birds with one stone, I told her and my cousin to book tickets to Bahir Dar and then we would travel to a Axum and Lalibella for their sake.
Our trip however was mired in confrontations with deceptive clerks, tour guides and shuttle servicemen. Initially, I brushed off these incidences as isolated events limited to a few individuals and it would be too brash of me to generalize. But as we moved from city to city, it seemed that these problems were everywhere. A few months back I wrote about our trip to Bale Mountains and how our guide, despite being nothing but a placeholder in the car, had the audacity to school us on what his services entailed and that many “foreigners” have given him high praises. Again, I kept on trying to give many the benefit of the doubt but it really became increasingly frustrating when trying to enjoy the city/attraction and having to deal with all these incidents. It really does put a damper on the trip. These incidences ran the gambit from double charging for shuttle services, exuberant prices for tour guides, pressure to utilize unnecessary transport and inclusion of tariffs that already included in the agreed upon price.
As Ethiopia’s tourism industry begins to take shape it seems that everyone is trying to cash in, as a result there is a great deal of collusion, misinformation and to some extent out-right bullying to use services that are otherwise unnecessary. It becomes even more infuriating when you know the actual costs. I’m not one for confrontations but when at my wit’s end towards the end of the trip, we engaged in a very candid discussion with a local tour guide to get a better sense of why these mistrustful activities are taking place at a massive scale. He tried to equate these prices with attraction in Europe and try to defend how tourism is helping his local community. In reality only him and a handful of those working in the tourism industry in these respective towns are benefiting, the rest of the community is merely side acts for tourists to gauk at and take numerous pictures.
Ethiopia’s tourism industry is gaining traction but acts such as those I mentioned, where there is complete lack of transparency and accountability can seriously tarnish the image of Ethiopia as a tourist destination. As we traveled along we met several other travelers who shared similar frustrating experiences. What resonated from all their conversations is the lack of outlet to air out one’s grievances as a result, despite remembering the remarkable sites and the generosity of the community, most leave with a bitter after taste.