Africa is rarely on the list of travel destinations of most Filipinos. Unfortunately, there is a large dearth of knowledge on and understanding of the continent, and what little ideas they have are culled from reports of tribal wars and deadly epidemics such as ebola. While many Filipinos can’t even distinguish the countries in the large continent, Africa can be diverse in its landscapes and peoples and offers a wide range of possibilities and unique experiences for the adventurous.
Also, one of the main reasons why Africa is not a to-go place is because it is not easily accessible. But that is changing as Ethiopian Airlines just recently inaugurated its direct flight from the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, to Manila. And in a few months, Filipino travelers may list Africa as a destination, particularly the ancient and fascinating country of Ethiopia in the northeastern part of the continent.
Ethiopian Airlines arrived at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) Terminal 1 on July 9 in its inaugural flight. Ethiopian Airlines chief executive officer Tewolde Gebremariam also flew in the country to introduce Ethiopia as well as promote the airlines, which is said to be one of the largest and fastest growing airlines Africa and in the world. It has a sizable pan-African passenger and cargo network, operating a fleet that includes the Boeing 787, Boeing 777-300ER, Boeing 777-200LR, Boeing 777-200 Freighter and Bombardier Q-400 with double cabin.
Government-owned Ethiopian Airlines currently serves more than 85 international destinations—51 in Africa, 10 in Europe, 23 in the Mideast and Asia and four in the Americas including the United States—and the Philippines is its 91st destination. The Manila-Addis Ababa flights operate three times a week, suing the Boeing 767-300 aircraft, which has 24 seats in the Business Class or “Cloud Nine” and 211 seats in the Economy Class. Flights depart Ethiopia every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday at 12:40 a.m. with a stopover at Bangkok, Thailand, before arriving in Manila at 6:45 p.m. Flights back to Addis Ababa depart at 10 p.m. and arrive at 6:30 a.m. the following day.
Gebremariam said, “We are very happy to start this historic flight to the capital of the Philippines. Manila will be our strategic point of access to the Southeast Asian neighboring countries by availing excellent connectivity options. Our flights to Manila will also greatly contribute to the strengthening of trade, investment and tourism ties between the booming African continent and the highly developed, innovative and business-friendly states of Asia.”
He is optimistic that the new flight will open a direct trade and cultural gateway not only between the Philippines and Ethiopia but between Southeast Asia and Africa as well.
“The Philippines is a fast growing economy. We cannot choose any better hub in Southeast Asia better than the Philippines,” shared Gebremariam.
Aside from considering the Philippines “an important market,” he also noted its sizable population of 100 million people, fast growing economy, and having one of the largest diaspora populations in the world, including Africa in choosing the country. He also said that Ethiopian Airlines can offer Filipinos good service, a young fleet and good connectivity. Additionally, Solomon Bekele, Ethiopian Airlines’ country manager for the Philippines, mentioned other advantages include competitive fares, safety and reliability, wider network to Africa, and seamless connections to many African and Middle Eastern cities.
With this new connection, both officials hope that it will spur tourism between the two countries. While seemingly worlds apart, Gebremariam believes we share several similarities.
“As we come to the Philippines, we come to understand that we have so many similarities as a people and as a country,” he said, particularly noting a gross domestic product growth of more than six percent, a rising middle class population, and promising tourism.
Since the Philippines is a predominantly Christian nation, he thinks that Filipinos will take interest in Ethiopia since it is “the origin of Christianity” and it is “mentioned 37 times in the Bible.” In fact, Ethiopia is one of the first regions in the world to accept Christianity as state religion. Bekele informed that presently Ethiopia’s population 63 percent Christian and 34 percent Muslim, while the remaining practice traditional religions and animism. Gebremariam mentioned old church and monasteries in his country, particularly the famous rock-hewn churches of the town of Lalibela, many of which are Unesco World Heritage sites. Notable among the churches of the Ethiopian Orthodox Christian-dominated town are the House of the Savior of the World, which houses the Lalibela Cross and is considered the largest monolithic church in the world; the House of Miriam, considered the oldest among them; and the Church of Saint George, considered to be one of the finest examples of rock-cut architecture and the most preserved among them.
The city of Axum, one of the oldest continuously inhabited places in Africa, is home to important archaeological sites and UNESCO World Heritage sites including thousand-year-old stelae; the Cathedrals of Saint Mary of Zion, believed to once house the Ark of the Covenant; the Ezana Stone; King Bazen’s Tomb; and the Lioness of Gobedra rock art.
Ancient Islamic places and structures also exist in this landlocked country in the Horn of Africa, where coffee and coffee-drinking originated and where Lucy, the oldest humanoid fossil, was discovered. With astounding and ancient relics, Ethiopia proves to be fabled and mystical, a sure lure for the adventurous traveler. Additionally, interesting cuisines and wildlife parks make Africa’s oldest independent country irresistibly enticing. Ethiopia is awaiting discovery by Filipino travelers, who have a more profound sense of wonder and adventure, and it is now made accessible with the new Ethiopian Airline flight.