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 ( 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.

With its ten national parks, Uganda is gifted by nature and really has a lot of individual attractions in each of the protected areas. Managed by the Uganda Wildlife Authority, national parks offer safaris in traditional savannah settings as well as dense rain forests, boat rides, mountain climbing at Mt. Elgon and the Rwenzoris as well as the Virungas.

Uganda is unrivalled in the field of bird watching and more than 1000 different species have been located within Uganda. Furthermore, Uganda is home to the majority of the endangered mountain gorillas and chimpanzees as well as 11 other primate species.

The Kidepo Valley National park, remotely situated in the country’s north east, has been nominated as Africa’s Leading National Park 2013 by the World travel awards. This nomination is a great honour for UWA as well as us as a tour operator working in that region. Now it is us as Instinct Safaris to continue and increase our positive involvement with local communities in the region. Supporting schools with much needed equipment and offering vocational training as in Bwindi under the Kora Project is our goal.

Kidepo Valley National park is situated in Kaabong District. The park can be reached from Kampala after approximately 520 kilometres. Therefore, it is convenient to stop by at Mt. Elgon and the Sipi Falls on the way to Kidepo. The northern boundary of the park runs along the border with South Sudan and abuts against the Kidepo Game Reserve.

The park consists of the two major valley systems of both the Kidepo and Narus Rivers.
Kanangarok is a tepid hot spring in the extreme north of the Park which can also be visited. This spring is the most permanent source of water in the park.

These two valleys vary in their vegetation and fauna because of different levels of rainfall. The Narus Valley and Kidepo Valley are home to 86 mammal species including lion, cheetah, leopard, bat-eared fox, and giraffes. Roughly 500 bird species can be found. Breathtaking scenery with endemic flora guarantees an unforgettable safari experience.