Uganda as a tourist destination has not met its targets in the tourism sector, at least not to half of its potential so all eyes are directed at Uganda Tourism Board (UTB), the government agency in charge of marketing the nation's tourism and travel offerings to make this happen. Two weeks ago, Godfrey Kiwanda, the state minister of tourism, announced the appointment of Lilly Ajarova as new Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of UTB. She has been the Executive Director Chimpanzee Trust, a global Conservation initiative that manages Ngamba Island, an African model Chimpanzee Sanctuary, located on Lake Victoria, Africa's biggest fresh water body.
New post, old challenges At the helm of the marketing agency, she finds plateful of challenges including lack of an effective marketing strategy, poor branding, and a bruised relationship with the private sector caused by factors like UTB's failure to spend money allocated to it and returning it to government coffers among others.
"If government is going to give us Shs30b, why should we fail to spend that when we have so much to do?" Ajarova wonders out loud. The incoming CEO's strategy is to identify key priorities and split them in short and long term and then focus on a work plan. One of her immediate plans is to strengthen the coordination of the different stakeholders with the appreciation that tourism is supposed to be a private sector driven industry.
"Marketing is not the same anymore. We need to go by the trends. Digital marketing is the way to go. You cannot afford not to have a website and social media handles, at least the major ones; Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and that is where information is and where it is shared," she argues.
Ajarova adds that there has to be a measure on return of investment in many of the strategies, and activities that the agency embarks on. "If we are going for expos, what returns are we getting?" she asks. Talking of expos, Ajarova reveals that the Pearl of Africa Tourism Expo which was slated to take place in February was cancelled because of the general restructuring at UTB which has interfered with the planning. "We need to start doing things properly. International players and media should have already been informed by now.
This first year is going to be tough for us in the beginning, especially with events that are going to be happening during the first half of the year because we were not part of the planning last year," she says.
One of the things Ajarova plans to tackle is branding saying it is long overdue. "Beyond use of Ugandan flag colours and emblem, there should be a branding manual to guide their use for uniformity and consistence. Look at the airport. When you get in, you don't get a feel of what is in the country. We are going to work on that," she points out. Ajarova is also aware of the bickering that has hurt the credibility of UTB.
"I was once a member of the UTB and the first thing I asked to look at was the strategic plan and requested to meet with the management team. The one question I asked them was whether each one of them had seen the strategic plan. Three of them had seen it and only one person had read through it. The three did not believe in it," she recounts.
She adds that it is not right to run an organisation without team members understanding and believing in a strategic plan as a common goal they are all working towards. Ajarova who has inherited a fairly new team is keen on kicking off her leadership journey by inculcating a culture of upholding values. "One of our core value is integrity. We have to live to it," she adds.
She explains that unlike the past where people were never evaluated for their performance, she believes in systems where people are accountable, and in this case, to Uganda, on whose behalf they are marketing the country's tourism potential.
"So, staff are going to be evaluated on their performance and it is not at the end of their contracts. It is regular performance appraisal not to find fault with anyone but to detect where your weaknesses are and so that management is be able to help you build your capacity to get to do what is expected of you," she explains.
Asked as to why she thinks she will be able to make any positive changes to the sector, Ajarova replies: "Tourism is something I am passionate about. I have served in the sector for 20 years."
WHAT TOURISM STAKEHOLDERS WANT THE NEW CEO TO PRIORITISE. . .
Richard Kawere, technical director of Uganda Tourism Association (UTA)
I would like the new CEO to prioritise brand identity. We have 'My Uganda, Your Uganda', 'Gifted by Nature', 'Pearl of Africa'. The tourism act of 2008 gives UTB mandate to brand Uganda. UTB needs to regulate the private sector. In its absence, many quarks have come to cheat national and international clients. I have a list of complainants. UTB should come in to save the day.
I would like to see campaigns aimed at getting Ugandans to participate in domestic tourism. I would also like her to prioritise provision of accurate and timely statistics to quantify reports. UTB can work with the sector to get the statistics and collaborate on more projects. Ajarova has been in the sector for a long time and I am sure she can take on the challenges and realise fruits.
Samuel Mugisha, Director Bic Tours Limited
Lilly Ajarova is a seasoned tourism enthusiast, a conservationist and who has run tourism as a business; Ngamba Chimpanzee Sanctuary. Her practical experience in sustainable tourism business models will be a very big plus at the helm of UTB. She will need to create a cohesive team that is accountable and result oriented. I would like the new team to give period reports; the statistics department needs to be proactive.
The private sector needs quarterly and annual tourism statistics to gauge progress and help refine strategy. The CEO should immediately work on the website of UTB and have a clear annual tourism marketing calendar for international, regional and domestic tourism expos and events that is generated with the key associations. The private sector for example should be asked to identify expos to participate in not UTB to choose the expos they want to participate in as is the case now. The domestic tourism expos should be handled by the private sector facilitated to be effective.
Daudi Migereko, chairman Board, Uganda Tourism Board (UTB)
The new team is taking up leadership at a time when Uganda's image and visibility globally are good. The sector is also enjoying a lot of good will and support from the leadership of the country and general public. We therefore expect the team to take advantage of this to step up promotion and marketing efforts in-order to further grow the number of tourists visiting the country and accruing revenue.
Secondly, we would like the team to come up with strategies for attracting investment to the sector to support new products, establish new facilities and supportive infrastructure to ensure that Uganda remains competitive globally and offers products which are affordable for the range of both local and foreign tourists.We would like the new team to also mainstream the marketing of Uganda as the best destination for meetings and conferences (MICE tourism). This is one of the best ways in which we can take advantage of the country's peace and stability.
Besides, as we promote and market MICE the other products i.e. mountain gorillas, game parks, source of River Nile, mountain climbing adventure, etc will automatically become part of an acceptable program for a conference tourist. The conference tourists, provided they are given a life time experience, will become our ambassadors.
David Gonahasa- Director, Roundbob Travel Company
I hope Ajarova is able to focus on the foundations of tourism marketing and product development, there is a lot of untapped potential that would imply not only increased spending per tourist, but increase tourist inflows. Focus on growing domestic tourism; it is a sure way to increase industry sustainability.
Lastly, take more interest in technology as a channel to grow tourism numbers. It is already happening; from a product development perspective, it would be great to see more development of day trips and activities this may be in the form of city tours, cultural tours which would work very well for the MICE market. It would be great to see how UTB can harness the Uganda Martyrs, birding and other opportunities available for Ugandan tourism.
Samuel Mwandha, Executive Director, Uganda Wildlife Authority
I am not sure Uganda Tourism Board (UTB) needs fixing but I would like her to work with others as a team to market Uganda; be organised as team Uganda for all tourism fairs; branding; improving quality and standards.
AJAROVA AT A GLANCE
Ajarova was born in Nebbi to an Italian father and an Alur mother. Before leading the chimpanzee sanctuary, she was the Tourism Product Development Manager at the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) where among others, she fronted primate tracking. She holds a bachelor's degree in social sciences from Makerere University, a post graduate diploma in hotel and tourism management from the International Institute of Tourism and Management, Austria.
She holds a master's degree in business administration from Maastricht School of Management and Eastern and Southern African Management Institute. She is a graduate of Rural Tourism Development and Strategic Marketing for Tourism from Institute For Quality in Tourism Education of The World Tourism Organisation (WTO).