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
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
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
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
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.