Tales of a travel addict
MY DREAM that Africa would be as popular a destination for Irish tourists as the Canaries came a little closer with the announcement that Ethiopian Airlines is to operate its Boeing Dreamliner on the London to Addis Ababa route. It’s the most technologically advanced commercial aircraft in the world, and Ethiopian is the first airline outside of Japan to get one.
They’ll have 10 by December, which means wider seats and a quieter flight on an airline that is marvellously inexpensive.Suddenly, whole swathes of Eastern and central Africa become cheaper to get to, especially when combined with the network of internal flights operated by Kenya Airlines, which is almost as reasonably priced.
I’ve written in these pages about community-based tourism projects in Ethiopia, Uganda, Tanzania and Mozambique, all of which offer unforgettable experiences in beautiful areas for approximately €35 per day for food, guiding and accommodation costs.
However, the idea of holidaying in Africa, in a non-safari setting, is still unusual. Readers tend to email me on their return, particularly when they’ve been to a particular place in Ethiopia of which I wrote in 2009: “I may have inadvertently unearthed the perfect holiday: affordable, unforgettable and in one of the most awesome, exotic and unexplored parts of the world. This is a trip that will enrich your life and that you will likely look back on from your deathbed with a smile. Forgive my effusiveness, but this is something special – a holiday in an undiscovered region that is entirely safe and utterly sensational, and will directly and tangibly benefit some of the poorest people on earth. What’s more, it costs only a fraction of normal holidays and is suitable for everyone, from adventure-nuts, to honeymooners, to families, large or small.”
Community Tourism has the potential to be one of the greatest catalysts for improvement in Africa today; allowing enterprising communities in remote areas establish sustainable businesses which act as bridges between the developed world and Africa.
There are community tourism projects throughout Africa, established in conjunction with NGOs, foreign governments, safari businesses and even our Government, but the problem is getting the message out to tourists.
The projects that interest me are those that are genuinely enjoyable for tourists. I do not want to be steered through mud villages to watch grain-grinding or goat-gelding, or to share awkward cups of tea with surly chiefs. I want to trek to the most stunning areas in the locality with local guides and to share ideas with locals in an unforced manner. I want the food, accommodation and sanitation to be somewhat steered towards Western sensibilities. By that I mean more hot showers and less dining on sheep intestines.
In west Africa, Ghana has emerged as a pioneer of community-based ecotourism, with tourist huts and lodges scattered in wetland sanctuaries, highland jungles, national park forests and on the beach. Its success has inspired similar projects in Togo, Benin, Burkina Faso and the Ivory Coast.
There is no doubt that enlightened tourism practises have the potential to assist African countries in meeting the Millennium Development Goals by conserving natural areas, alleviating poverty, empowering women, enhancing education, and improving the health of local communities. What’s more, such projects can offer us the best and cheapest holiday we’ve ever had. It’s a win-win situation. All it requires is for us to dare to step aboard the Dreamliner.