Eritrea war hinders travel from ATA

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia -- The Africa Travel Association's annual congress here wound up the same day the Ethiopian government stepped up its border war against its northern neighbor Eritrea.

Also on that day, the government canceled all domestic passenger air service north of the capital here, thus scuttling sightseeing excursions for a few dozen delegates who had planned post-meeting trips.

The latest crisis in the 2-year-old border war was a blow to the most popular tourist towns that line the so-called Historic Route to the north of Addis Ababa -- Lalibela, Gondar and Bahr Dar.

(The fourth of these towns and the most ancient of the former capitals, Axum, is the northernmost and had already been closed to visitors due to the fighting.)

One Ethiopian Airlines reservationist said he had been told flights were canceled for "a couple of months."

Lalibela -- noted for its 13 below-ground-level, rock-hewn churches from the 12th century -- is a town of 12,000 that depends heavily on tourism. One day after air service was halted, only four tourists were spotted at the town's major churches.

Ethiopian Airlines -- which carried the bulk of ATA delegates to their meeting -- was so booked up that delegates whose trips were canceled could not leave until the date of their scheduled departures.

Delegates generally occupied themselves during the waiting period with local sightseeing trips.

The delegates were in Addis Ababa and its environs when thousands of Ethiopians, angry over efforts by the U.S. and U.K. to bring a quick cease-fire in the border fight, demonstrated in the capital.

The delegates said they were largely unaffected by the demonstration, except to note that streets were jammed,and it was difficult for their tour buses to get around.

Some ATA members were undaunted by the current events, viewing the interruption of certain sightseeing activities as a temporary roadblock.

Judith Brown Leigh, from EduCul Concepts & Travel in New York, said she was still planning a trip for a group of clergy, to occur either in the coming winter or next spring.

David Saunders, chief executive officer at Venue International Professionals, Washington, said he brought a group to Ethiopia just before the ATA conference and is continuing with plans for a business group to Ethiopia this fall and for a group of clergy to visit during Orthodox Christmas.

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