Tourism is now making news every other day in one form or the other. Officially the biggest foreign exchange earner for Uganda in 2013 (over US$1.2b), the sector has overtaken traditional exports like coffee, fish and tea underpinning its significance and impact.

As a dynamic tourism firm, here we review the progress of Uganda’s tourism industry in 2014 and focus on what 2015 will look like.

Being a unique export that is paid for and enjoyed from the source country, Uganda finds itself in a unique position because of the blessings of nature bestowed upon it yet to be exploited.

But good signs started to show for the first time in 2014 after years of under performance when a new team at the Uganda Tourism Board (UTB) was put in place. The chief executive, Stephen Asiimwe and his deputy John Ssempebwa backed by the energetic board led by James Tumusiime and Amos Wekesa heading the marketing committee have brought in new energy. To start with, the UTB team has lined up deals with three destination marketing companies in Germany, USA and England that will be tasked with marketing Uganda’s diversity to these high-end markets.

Also, the Association of Uganda Tour Operators (AUTO) got a new leadership team headed by seasoned tour operator, Barbara Adoso. A lot of products were launched which indicates the need to diversify the market going forward to create new and unique attractions for the country. Key among the products was Kampala By Night (https://www.safarisuganda.com/kampala-nightlife/) which provides a structured itinerary for visitors to enjoy and savour Kampala’s rich nightlife, a city which is now East Africa’s entertainment capital.

We also saw renewed efforts in promoting domestic tourism. For decades, our people have thronged neighboring countries for holidays leaving the beauty and allure of Uganda unexplored. This has been partly because of lack of information. But in 2014, we saw a new drive to promote domestic tourism and this can only improve.

Still in 2014, the Africa Travel Association (ATA) World Congress was held in the lakeside Speke Resort Munyonyo in Kampala. It was a resounding success graced by the presence of a US senator and major operators from the United States of America and across Africa. It is already bearing fruits with the arrival of a U.S. model who has climbed the snow-capped Rwenzori Mountain – the third highest peak in Africa.

Trainings and formalizing the tourism service industry was taken a notch higher in 2014. From bird guides, operators, drivers, the industry leadership is trying to add professionalism through trainings. The Uganda Tourism Association (UTA), the umbrella body of the private sector is leading this drive.

2015- Getting value from the blessings

Despite the Africa tourism industry being battered by the Ebola pandemic, we expect the arrival numbers and earnings to rise in Uganda. Sparked in 2014, domestic tourism will slowly emerge as an anchor of the industry to hedge the local industry in times of global uncertainties like the Ebola epidemic.

Because of more scrutiny and interest, we expect the Ministry of Tourism and the UgandaWildlife Authority to clean up the mess around conservation and infrastructure. Too many elephants are dying as poaching has not been stamped out. Too many roads in the parks are broken and leaving us uncompetitive in terms of time taken to access the diverse products.

And following the above, we expect the number of people reaching the national parks to rise driven by more positive publicity.

At Experience Africa, we can only hope that the industry speaks the same language, unites and forges forward. Disunity and shortsightedness has sometimes shortchanged us. Pulling in the same direction will help the industry maximize its true value. One expert has said that as it stands currently, Uganda has exploited the tourism sector at a mere 20%.

Uganda is preparing the ground to market the country as birding destination in Africa for bird watchers.
Boasting the largest number and diversity of bird species in Africa – 1,065 on last count, the birds are spread across the country in forests, swamps, savannah grasslands, marshes and along water ways.

A tourist here on a birding safari will view birds from the moment they alight from their flight in Entebbe to Kidepo Valley National Park, Bwindi Impenetrable National Park to Queen Elizabeth National Park, Mabamba Shoebill swamp, Murchison Falls National Park etc.

What is curious though is that Uganda – a potential birders’ Mecca, has barely marketed birding to the major source markets like the US, Britain and Australia.
Last week, a group of 53 bird guides were passed out by the Uganda Tourism Board CEO, Mr. Stephen Asiimwe to bring the number of professional bird guides in the country to 130. Of the 53 who attended the training in Kibale Forest National Park, 13 were women. Asiimwe reminded the guides to stay disciplined and professional when guiding tourists who visit to view the birds.
He said bad hospitality due to factors like indiscipline and a lack of professionalism leads to negative referrals given that more than 50 percent of tourists who come to Ugandan are a result of referrals.

According to Asiimwe, birding is a goldmine and assured the guides that they stand to make a lot of money. He said UTB is set to market Uganda as a birding destination as little attention has been paid to the activity because of a lack of professional birding guides.
The two-week birding training was sponsored by the Uganda Tourism Board, United Nations Development Fund and conducted by the Uganda Safari Guides Association.
Latest data from the Bank of Uganda has showed that tourism fetched Uganda US$1.4 billion in forex earnings, up from $1.1 billion last year. As it is, tourism has overtaken the traditional exports of coffee and fish as the biggest foreign exchange earner.

Timothy Kintu Magambo, one of the graduates said that over the two weeks, they learnt about ornithology, which is the study of birds.
“We have learnt various skills of birding ecology. The various habitats, flight actions, feeding habits, species, how to bird on foot, in a car, using a boat and at night,” said Magambo.

The guides learnt about the origin, evolution and ecology in birding, behaviour of birds, birds that are nearing extinction, parasitic birds and migratory birds.
He said they were educated on how birds do co-exist with abiotic and biotic ways, various characteristics of birds, nesting behavior, how birds interdepend on one another, presentation and communication skills and paying attention to bird details and observation skills. Magambo however pointed out that they lack birding equipment’s ranging from binoculars, field guide books, wish lists and pointers.

Herbert Byaruhanga, the president of Uganda Safari Guides Association said they received over 85 applicants for the course but could only take a given number. He advised that Uganda must go into specific tourism product marketing with birding as one of them.
He said the level of education in birding has increased what with over 130 well trained professional bird guides today.

Taking advantage of space afforded to them by the demise of Air Uganda, FastJet, which is emerging as Africa’s low cost airline out of its hub in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, is launching flights between Dar es Salaam and Entebbe.

And you will not believe the price – US$50 or Ush140,000 for a one way ticket before Government taxes. Government taxes in this case will be responsible for that price going up but it must be said that Fastjet’s offer is out of this world.

Government taxes are not clear for an easy computation but for a return ticket, the tax component for a return ticket between Entebbe and Dar es Salaam and vise versa today stand at between $150-$200. Entebbe will be fastjet’s fourth international destination and the new route will be the only direct air link between the two African capitals. Anyone travelling to Dar es Salaam today from Uganda by air uses Kenya Airways or Rwandair meaning they stop-over in either Nairobi or Kigali.

Precision Air was the only airline that offered Ugandans and indeed anyone wanting to travel to Dar es Salaam, a direct flight until they suspended operations into Entebbe for unclear reasons.
According to a statement from fastjet, tickets for the new route went on sale yesterday with fares starting from US$50 one-way, excluding airport and government taxes.
Flights are planned to start on 16 September, and will operate on Tuesdays and Thursdays for the first weeks of September, increasing to four flights a week from 29 September.
fastjet says that since Air Uganda ceased flying, the fares offered by other carriers for flights in and out of the country have risen steadily.

The Chief executive and interim chairman Ed Winter said: “We believe the launch of this route, the only direct air link between Uganda and Tanzania, will stimulate new business and tourism traffic in Uganda. “fastjet is delighted with this opportunity to enter the Ugandan market and the support it has received from the Ugandan government and authorities. We very much look forward to commencing flights and hope this is the beginning of a wider fastjet network from Entebbe.”

There is no doubt the move by fastjet should benefit Uganda’s expanding tourism sector as visitors will be able to easily connect between Tanzania and Uganda to be able to go and see the famed Mountain Gorillas in Bwindi not to mention the other variety Uganda offers as a destination. The entry of fastjet brings into sharper focus the need for the revival of Uganda Airlines if tourism is to grow and Uganda can recapture its lure as a top tourist destination.

Imagine a Uganda Airlines whose number one deliverable is to attract tourists to the country with ticket pricing to specific destinations attractive to the frequent travelers.

Gorilla Trekking is the most popular adventure activities to do while in Uganda. Most safaris in Uganda feature gorilla trekking as one of the things to do while on holiday in Uganda. Gorillas are found in two Ugandan national parks; Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and Mgahinga National Park. There are several habitutaed gorilla groups that can be visited by tourists though many still remain unhabituated with Bwindi Forest and Mgahinga National Park.

PLANNING FOR A GORILLA TREKKING TRIP

During the actual gorilla tracking exercise,there are various regulations and guidelines that are that ought to be followed for the smooth running of this exercise and to record an everlasting experience of a life time.After an early morning briefing,clients are allocated to the various gorilla groups and each group goes to track a given gorilla family beginning from where they were the previous day.Though the whole exercise of gorilla tracking takes between 2-5 hours,after coming across these primates going through their daily chores of playing,feeding their young ones and others relaxing and jumping from one branch to another,tourists are allowed a maximum of one hour to stay with them.Take their best shots of pictures having switched off their flashes not to scare away these primates some thing that can as well make them to charge.

GORILLA TRACKING PACKING LIST

There are various things that any body going to track gorillas should not do without and the following are the most prominent ones;

  • Long trousers and pants that will insulate you from stinging nettles and should be strong enough to withstand occasional pulls from thorns.
  • Long sleeved shirts/T-shirts for protection from various body harming tendrils.
  • Gloves
  • Hiking boots ideal for climbing hills and mountains.
  • Warm cardigans to keep off coldness.
  • Long sleeved rain coat since the weather is un predictable and it can rain any time.
  • Water proof container for your camera for purposes of insulation.
  • Head gear if you really desire it.
  • Enough films for your camera.
  • Sun glasses which will help you to protect your eyes from the penetrating sun rays and drops of water from the tree leaves.
  •  Camera and extra lenses
  • Binoculars

So, you’re taking a trip to Uganda … Congratulations! You are about to embark on an exciting lifetime adventure filled with beauty and wonder. Many travelers find some few challenges  to travel in Africa, given that it is still exotic and wild. Here are the most essential things that you should not forget to pack for your safari in Africa.

Clothes for Women

  • 4 t-shirts
  • 2 long sleeve shirts
  • 1 sweatshirt/fleece
  • 1 pair of comfortable shorts
  • 2 pairs of cotton trousers/pants
  • 1 cotton wrap (great to wear during the afternoon siesta, buy locally if you can)
  • 2 pairs of socks
  • 4 pairs cotton underwear (you can wash and dry overnight)
  • 3 sports bras (VERY bumpy roads)
  • Very thin waterproof raincoat if traveling during the wet season
  • Sunglasses (for the dust as well as bright sun)
  • Flannel pajama pants for the chilly nights
  • Hat with chin strap (to avoid it blowing off your head and into the bush)
  • Swimsuit
  • Lightweight, durable, waterproof shoes
  • Flip flops or sandals for around camp, (or to wear in the shower)

Clothes for Men

  • 4 t-shirts
  • 2 long sleeve shirts
  • 1 sweatshirt/fleece
  • 1 pair of comfortable shorts
  • 2 pairs of cotton trousers/pants
  • 3 pairs of socks
  • 4 Pairs Underwear (you can wash and dry overnight)
  • Flannel pajama pants for the chilly nights
  • Very thin waterproof raincoat if traveling during the wet season
  • Sunglasses (for the dust as well as bright sun)
  • Hat with chin strap (to avoid it blowing off your head and into the bush)
  • Swimsuit
  • Lightweight, durable, waterproof shoes
  • Flip flops or sandals for around camp, (or to wear in the shower)

Toiletries/First Aid
Every camp or lodge will have a basic first aid kit on hand, and most safari vehicles will too (especially those operated by higher end camps). But it’s handy to bring your own small supply of hand gel, band aids, aspirin etc…

  • Malarial prophylactics
  • Sunscreen (Factor 30 or above)
  • Antihistamine (for bug bites/stings and allergic reactions)
  • Aspirin/Motrin/Tylenol for pain/headaches
  • Mosquito Repellant
  • 3 one gallon ziplock bags (to keep things like your camera dry or free of dust and your dirty clothes separate)
  • Tampons/Pads for women (panty-liners are a must since you’ll be drip drying after peeing in the bush on game drives!)
  • Antiseptic gel (handy for washing your hands when there’s no water around)
  • Anti-diarrheal medication
  • Band aids with antiseptic cream
  • Personal toiletries in small travel size, shampoo, soap, toothpaste, toothbrush, deodorant etc
  • Prescription medications
  • Spare glasses if you wear contacts (because it’s often too dusty to wear them comfortably)

Gadgets and Gizmos

  • Converter plug to fit local sockets so you can recharge your phone, camera battery, i-Pad
  • Small Flashlight (when walking to and from your room at night, and to use inside your tent)
  • Camera (with zoom lenses and tripod if you’re serious, but remember the weight restrictions for flights)
  • Extra memory card for your camera (you’ll take more video and photos than you ever thought possible)
  • Binoculars (high end camps should have a spare pair in the safari vehicles for you to use)
  • Spare batteries and/or battery charger (always check to see what the camp has, or safari vehicle)
  • I-Pad or similar device for your books, to store your photos, alarm clock, and sound recording (fun if you have a lot of wildlife around your camp/lodge at night, it gets loud!)
  • Cell phone with local plan (optional, but handy to connect with family/friends back home. Most camps will not have wi-fi, but will have a cell phone connection)

Pack For a Purpose
At Experience Africa, we work with several local non governmental organizations and local community projects. If you have some space in your bag, you can bring any school supplies, medical supplies, clothing or other light objects that can be given to the local community projects.

When planning a camping safari in Uganda, it is important to understand that some basic items help you make it through an ordinary day and others you must use in case of extraordinary circumstances that catch you by surprise. Here are the essential list of things that you need to have a fantastic camping trip in Uganda;

Compass

If you don’t know where you are, you can’t tell where you’re going. A compass is a basic need for every camper, so that means every camper in your group needs his own. A compass in the hand of the group from which you get separated does you, the lost member, absolutely no good.

Map

Many cell phones are equipped with GPS technology, and there are dedicated handheld GPS devices. However, neither of those are any good if the power supply runs out or if the signal fails to reach it for one reason or another. The best advice is to equip yourself with a GPS device and a map, but definitely make sure you take a highly detailed and updated map of the camping area with you. A map with a scale of at least 1:100,000 provides the necessary view of detailed land features that help you determine where you are.

Flashlight

Rains come and campfires go out, and the last thing you want is to be left alone in the dark. Every member of the party should be equipped with a small handheld flashlight, but make sure to bring a couple of larger lanterns that can be used to illuminate larger areas and scare off unwanted nocturnal animals who may come looking to take your food.

Swiss Army Knife

A Swiss army knife is one basic camping need that many people nowadays don’t think about, but it can be a lifesaver. Not only do you get the requisite knife that you need for everything from gutting a fish to tying off your tent, but the knife also may include a fork, spoon, tweezers, scissors and saw.

Food and Drink

If you want hot food, make sure you bring a fire starter or a book of matches. Metal plates are durable and easily cleaned. Plastic cups are lighter than metal cups, but melt if placed too close to the fire. Bring some bottled water, because if you do find a freshwater supply, it may be contaminated with bacteria. Although the romance of drinking from a fresh stream remains intact, the reality is that in most cases bottled water is probably safer to drink.

Visas

For most nationals, visas can be obtained upon arrival in Uganda at the at the Entebbe airport. Currently the visa fee is US$50. Please note that if you obtain the visa on arrival at the airport, payment should be made in US$ cash banknotes and the immigration officers do not accept credit cards or travellers’ cheques, so you will need to have the exact amount in cash. The visa is valid for three months.

 

  • Valid passport
  • One other picture identification (e.g. driver’s licence)
  • Photocopy of passport page to carry in wallet
  • Air tickets