Uganda’s accommodation sector is highly-priced and should be tilted towards developing family-size accommodation in the form of residences (self-catering for families) and rural-inns; youth camps and student hostels with incentives, etc.
By Emmanuel Viga
Uganda has had a heavy dependence on international tourists for the promotion of her industry. A report by Uganda Bureau of Statistics (UBOS 2019) estimates that the country received 1.8 million international tourists in 2018 which was up from 1.4 million in the year 2017 with a very meagre percentage of domestic travellers.
Most of the marketing campaigns target foreign travellers at the expense of domestic tourism promotion. The implication of this high level of dependence on foreign arrivals is that there is an imminent loss of revenue and livelihoods in the face of global uncertainty because of COVID-19.
The COVID-19 pandemic has prompted all destinations worldwide to introduce restrictions on travel — (Uganda imposed restriction on March 19). These restrictions have caused a 22% fall in international tourist arrivals during the first quarter of 2020 (UNWTO May 2020).
I do not want to be a pessimist, but I must say that this trend will continue or even get worse as the style of handling the pandemic globally has not advanced beyond restriction imposition — social distancing which literally translates into restricted travel, aggregation and clustering of people which features are akin to tourism as it is socially experienced. Therefore, International travel is expected to drop drastically with booking cancellations and deferring demand for travel.
A mean forecast by United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) May 2020 report estimates that the COVID-19 pandemic could lead to an annual decline of between 60% and 80% international tourist arrivals when compared with 2019 figures.
Uganda's reliance on international tourists has to be substituted with domestic travellers to minimise any possible adverse impacts that we shall experience from the industry - lost jobs, income, collapse of businesses etc.
I anticipate that domestic travel will grow in the short-term (for the greater part of 2020) as countries will start relaxing restrictions on domestic travel compared to cross border journeys.
Uganda that has had less emphasis on domestic travellers should "turn the table around" and take a holistic approach to examine the characteristics, motivators, demand and supply-side aspects of domestic tourism and all energies and resources should be directed towards this cause as it will be the remaining vital link if we are to sustain the tourism industry in the face of this global calamity.
Domestic tourism demand in Uganda without ranking would include students, business community, families, youths, religious organizations, staff of NGOs, and parties and wedding events etc.
In contrast to international travellers, domestic tourists seek unique products that offer opportunity for relaxation; their visits are often characterized with repeats; the transport system is predominately land-based; and they seek the best price-quality ratio, or often the lowest possible price in all segments of the tourism value chain: accommodation, food services, tourism activities, shopping, etc. Understanding these characteristics becomes very core to me in ensuring that we move forward in packaging Uganda as a destination for domestic tourism.
Therefore, Uganda needs to expand her domestic tourism demand: Ministry of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities (MTWA) and Uganda Tourism Board (UTB) should spearhead this through "boosting" the purchasing power of families with modest incomes through holiday vouchers — this approach has worked well for Italy, France, and China; we need to develop structures for tourism activity organisation and promotion at the district/regional level — strengthen the mandate of district tourism officers; Uganda's accommodation sector is highly-priced and should be tilted towards developing family-size accommodation in the form of residences (self-catering for families) and rural-inns; youth camps and student hostels with incentives, etc.