I would like to call on industry stakeholders especially Uganda Tourism Board (UTB) and Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) spearheaded by the Ministry of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities to cut celebrations of the president’s visit and put on lobbying shoes to demand substantial funding in 2016/17 for the industry that has potential of driving Uganda out of both economic and employment challenges.
By Abiaz Rwamwiri
President Museveni has taken off time from his busy schedules to visit two National Parks (Semliki and Queen Elizabeth National Parks).
This was during his peace mission in Rwenzururu and Budibugyo where the two sub-tribes of Bamba and Bakonjo have been in engaged in tribal wars that have claimed lives of more than 40 people.
Social media platforms have been filled with photos of the president in Semliki enjoying the Sempuya hot springs and the in Queen Elizabeth National Park where he took a boat cruise on the amazing Kazinga Channel.
The president's Facebook page was update with a couple of wildlife photos and himself on the boat, the president went ahead to write on his wall that "I took a boat ride this morning along the beautiful Kazinga Channel that connects Lakes Edward and George, getting the opportunity to see lots of animals and birds. The peace and stability ushered in by the NRM Government has seen the tourism sector grow steadily. In 2014, tourism contributed to 9.9% of our GDP or Shs6.4 trillion, up from 7.9% (Shs5.6 trillion) in 2013. The government is committed to offering more support to the tourism sector to ensure it grows in leaps and bounds."
I must mention that the president paid for his entrance fees at least in Semliki (Uganda Wildlife Authority published photos of his payment receipt on their social media).
This kind of gesture was greeted with applauses especially from tourism fraternity, calling on other government officials and Ugandans in general to follow the president's example and visit our beautiful parks as a way of raising money for wildlife conservation.
The president's visit to national parks and his comments that the government is committed to offering more support to tourism is highly commendable and welcome. I however would like to call on industry stakeholders especially Uganda Tourism Board (UTB) and Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) spearheaded by the Ministry of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities to cut celebrations of the president's visit and put on lobbying shoes to demand substantial funding in 2016/17 for the industry that has potential of driving Uganda out of both economic and employment challenges.
It is true the government recently started prioritizing tourism sector as evidenced by creating an independent ministry and giving more funding to UTB. However, this is not close to what needs to be done.
For example, even when the government in 2015 increased UTB's marketing budget from Ugsh 5bn to 11bn, this is a drop in the ocean as our neighbours in Kenya allocated KSh 5.2bn (equivalent of Ugsh 167.3 at the current exchange rate of 32.17). Kenya's domestic tourism is highly developed and this enabled her industry to survive when international tourists kept away due to insecurity concerns in 2013/14. Our neighbours also have invested heavily in tourism infrastructure; hotels and roads which gives them attractive.
Uganda has a comparative advantage when it comes to visitor expectations. Apart from diversity of wildlife (mountain gorillas, chimpanzees a rich bird list), tourist are increasingly looking for less traveled and unique destinations. According to United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), tourists are interested in discovering new places, this gives Uganda unbeatable advantage.
I was in Kidepo in February and exciting as it is, you find yourself as the only tourist in the middle of Africa's only standing pristine wilderness. The question is, "how will tourists know about Uganda?" much of information available online (google) carry the negativity of our past, from brutality of Idi Amin to diseases that all long gone; such push away the would-be interest visitors who already biased by unfair reporting of my international media houses.
It is a common saying that "if we can't tell our story, someone else will" and this unfortunately has put us in a disadvantaged position. It is important to note that it is not only Uganda that receives negative reporting from international reporting.
Most, if not all international media houses focus on Africa for negative stories; wars, diseases, famine, corruption, poor governance among others but what our neighbours are doing is to counter such negativity with aggressive marketing and telling their own stories.
Marketing a destination is not cheap, it cannot be achieved by just Ugsh 11bn; it has to be a deliberate effort to reach key Asian, European and American markets and this calls for substantial amount of money, millions of dollars! The returns from tourism investment are unbelievable and shocking! Every tourist that visit Uganda spends a minimum of USD2000! I have argued before that an increase of 100,000 tourism visitors would generate $200,000,000 of direct revenue to Uganda.
The average multiplier for tourism spending is 1.5 x direct spending. Therefore the true economic impact of increased tourism would be $180,000,000 for a $5,000,000 investment. This would increase our foreign exchange earnings and save a shilling, thus increasing our trading competition.
Every tourist that visits Uganda is handled by a minimum of 30 people from the booking agent, the immigrations officer, flight attendant, safari guide, hotel reception for the park ranger. There is no any other industry that is capable of solving our employment challenges like the tourism service.
According to African Development Bank report - Africa Tourism Monitor 2013, travel and tourism generated 8.2 million jobs directly in 2012 in Africa. This includes employment by hotels, travel agents, airlines and other passenger transportation services (excluding commuter services). It also includes, for example, the activities of the restaurant and leisure industries, which is directly supported by tourists.
We need to deliberately position ourselves to take a lion's share of tourists interested in African destination. Whereas countries like America, China have political representatives in each of their embassies, we should attach a tourism marketing specialist in every of our high commissions in Europe, Asia, America and across Africa.
I always wonder what political interests Uganda has in a Scandinavian country! Whereas it is important to have diplomatic relations and presence, our interests should be defined and business, especially tourism is our key business we can beat anyone at.
We must appoint diplomatic representatives who promote this interest selfishly and I would like to applaud the significant work done by our High Commissioner in South Africa Amb. Julius Peter Moto who actively uses his Facebook page to promote Uganda.
The writer is a tourism development worker.