Uganda Tourism is Thriving

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 (http://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%.

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