Tourism earns Uganda about $1.5b yet the World Bank’s assessment of the country’s full potential is in the excess of $12b annually. Prosper magazine’s Dorothy Nakaweesi explores the opportunities that Ugandans can explore to earn from this industry.
Despite the minimal budget (Shs17b) allocation towards the tourism industry, lately government’s body language towards this industry is moving in a positive direction.
This enthusiasm is gradually spreading across without a known national brand. People in government currently have tourism promotion at the centre of their discussions wherever they go.
To take this further, Ministry of Tourism through the Uganda Tourism Board (UTB) has embarked on some ambitious marketing campaigns – both local and international – to promote tourism.
Locally, four aggressive campaign drives namely Twende Uganda, Destination Uganda Campaign, Pearl of Africa Tourism Campaign and enhance Tulambule Drive are on-going. At the same time, a new campaign pitched last week and dubbed “Breathtaking Uganda”, is going to use digital media including social media, to woo more Ugandans into being tourists in their country.
At the international level, UTB has contracted four market destination representatives –public relations and marketing companies to sell destination Uganda in the traditional markets and emerging source markets.
PHG –Canada, North America and China, KPRN-German, Austria and Switzerland and Kamageo-UK and Ireland while Aviareps is for the Gulf States and Japan.
All this is aimed at increasing the numbers of tourists from the current 1.6 million to 4 million visitors by December 2020. The World Tourism Organisation ranked Uganda third among the world’s top 10 most promising tourism destinations amidst a number of global endorsements for destination Uganda.
The impact of these campaigns has started paying off for domestic tourism and outbound travelers.
From CNN and Netgeo giving a nod to some of Uganda’s National parks to winning a Gold award for best exhibitor at the just-concluded Ndaba Trade Fair in South Africa cements these efforts. All these are most likely to spur the numbers of inbound tourists.
Speaking to Prosper Magazine at the sidelines of a training of tour operators on the requirements of Chinese travelers, Ms Catherine Mei, Travel sales director –China PHG Consulting, said: “Chinese outbound travelers have started showing interest and asking questions about Uganda’s culture and wildlife.”
These ambitious targets beg the question: is Uganda’s private sector ready to handle?
Mr Amos Wekesa who has invested in safaris, accommodation and water services sharing his insights on the opportunities, said: “Government taking on tourism is a very prudent thing to do. Reason is, we cannot compete in sectors like agriculture, minerals.”
Secondly, Wekesa adds that the fastest way to balance Uganda’s trade as a country is through tourism. In February 2019, Uganda recorded a trade deficit of $308m (Shs1.1 trillion).
“If Uganda attracts the 4 million tourists coming as per the government’s five-year plan, this means that the country will need more investments right from the airport,” Mr Wekesa shared.
Experts say the opportunities that should be exploited to make Uganda ready are quite a number.
Attracting tourists to spend more money in Uganda goes beyond taking them to see gorillas and other wild animals. It should be a different ball-game.
As they travel to these places, they have at least an hour or two to experience our culture. Just like when you travel to Japan, USA or France, you don’t want to return without a Japanese souvenir.
Similarly, this should be emulated by Ugandans, like telling stories about Uganda’s culture which have not been written or told.
Mr John Ssempebwa, the proprietor of Ssemagulu Cultural Museum and former deputy CEO of UTB, said: “The opportunities are many but the first challenge Ugandans must understand is trading in services.”
He shares that at Ssemagulu Museum, they spent four years reading about the Buganda Culture. After understanding it, they put up monuments and art paints collected which are being showcased.
“Because of this, collections on a good day go beyond Shs1 million ($266) from people who visit our museum. They also walk away with knowledge about the Buganda culture,” he shares.
UTB’s new chief executive officer Lilly Ajarova said: “Buganda, Tooro and Bunyoro are well-organised and classical Kingdoms. If we work together with them, we shall be able to offer a perfect product for the Chinese market.”
Giving his views on promoting cultural tourism, the Katikkiro of Buganda, Mr Charles Peter Mayiga, said Cultural tourism is possibly second to the safaris in attracting tourists to Uganda.
“In Buganda, the traditional cuisines; the traditional music and dance; clans ancestral homes (obutaka) and numerous features at the Kabaka’s events; the sites like tombs - showcase the heritage of the Baganda which is of immense interest to tourists from China and other places,” Katikkiro shared.
He urged UTB to partner with the Buganda Heritage and Tourism Board (BHTB) to lead them to the numerous tourist sites.
Buganda Kingdom has 54 clans, each with a headquarter and rich stories dating back hundreds of years.
“Such information from the clans should be documented and each headquarter turned into a cultural village. The same message should be done by the other Kingdoms such as Tooro, Bunyoro and Busoga. This is what will attract the Chinese,” Mr Ssempebwa added.
In this stride, the European Union is financing the preservation of cultural buildings in Buganda, Busoga and Toro as a pilot.
Uganda is endowed and rich in food which is organically grown. But there are nearly no places specifically meant to showcase these foods from the way they are grown, prepared and served.
“We have years of history of producing local beers and food; these are the opportunities that need to be promoted. Wildlife tourism is declining because people have seen it all and now countries such as China are setting up big animal zoos to exhibit the actual animals we have,” Ssempebwa shares.
Look at a mere street snack - the Rolex (combining an omelette and vegetables wrapped in a chapatti), a popular delicacy tourists enjoy.
Besides this, most tribes in Uganda have their own specialty dish or delicacies which are organic - talk about Nsenene (Grasshoppers), Eshabwe (Ankole Appetiser), Malakwanga (A vegetable from Northern Uganda), Apata (Millet Bread from Eastern Uganda), Ajon (a local brew enjoyed in Eastern, Northern Uganda) and not forgetting Malewa - dried preserved bamboo shoots enjoyed in Mbale all these should be promoted.
Lake Victoria is not only Africa’s largest lake by area, the world’s largest tropical lake, but also the world’s second largest fresh water lake by surface area after Lake Superior in North America. It’s a potential that has not been exploited.
UTB’s Ajarova said water transport tourism is going to be a priority resource as government seeks to build on the gains so far reached.
Speaking during the launch of the MV Vanessa boat in March, Ajarova said water bodies in Uganda, especially Lake Victoria were under-utilised in terms of tourism.
“This is the beginning of utilising Lake Victoria and other water bodies for the benefit of Ugandans and the international community,” she said.
MV Vanessa – a luxury boat with capacity to sit 54 passengers – is seeking to tap into the current void in the water transport tourism potential in Uganda.
The boat, according to online sources, costs between $200,000 (Shs741m) and $350,000 (Shs1.2b).
Mr Maxime Van Pee, the Nyanza Evergreen Waterways director, said the investment was informed by the tourism potential in water transport, saying the boat will start with scheduled routines on water frontiers in Jinja and Entebbe.
Uganda’s National Parks all combined currently do offer about 2,000 rooms.
According to Amos Wekesa who owns several accommodation facilities in the different national parks under the brand name Uganda Lodges, Uganda needs more investment in this area to handle the numbers that are predicted to increase.
“Kenya’s Masai Maraa is a smaller park compared to Uganda’s Murchison Falls but they have got more than 5,000 rooms. This is more than Uganda’s combined 2,000 rooms in all its national parks,” He shared.
This is not because there is no land for developing but few private sector players have showed interest.
Besides this, most tribes in Uganda have their own specialty dish or delicacies which are organic - talk about Nsenene (Grasshoppers), Eshabwe (Ankole Appetiser), Malakwanga (A vegetable from Northern Uganda), Apata (Millet Bread from Eastern Uganda), Ajon (a local brew enjoyed in Eastern, Northern Uganda) and not forgetting Malewa a dried preserved bamboo shoots enjoyed in Mbale all these should be promoted.