Lately there have been many thoughts about what has been and what is going on at Uganda Tourism Board and the tourism sector generally. The innuendo and petty thinking exhibited by some of our friends has lately left me with no option but to share my thoughts as thus.

As a tourism “foot soldier” with some knowledge of what is going on, allow me start by saying that the challenges at Uganda Tourism Board have not only been structural over the years but hereditary. Uganda Tourism Board has had different Boards of Trustees over seeing different Management ranging from the time of Mr. Nakishero, Mr. Bahinguza (RIP), Mr. Cuthbert Baguma and currently Mr. Stephen Asiimwe.

During the previous years’ the tourism sector has had different Ministers and all these in one way or another had some of their relatives, children all dumped at UTB, some obviously with not the right qualifications and if they had some qualifications were not competent to serve. So some these people have been at UTB for so long and had developed some kind of self-entitlement and began thinking they own the institution hence creating clichés and groups against their superiors.

I have read on some forums some people claiming UTB is returning about 7 billion shillings back to the treasury. This is not new just to UTB but is happening to many government of Uganda Ministries’ and Agencies created as a result of a problematic and not so clear PPDA structure. If my memory serves me right, at one time UNRA returned about one (1) trillion back to the treasury.

This however is not meant to exonerate anyone but to add some common sense and logic to it. If I remember well, UTB was allocated about 11.5billion for financial year 2017/2018 and this is meant to cover Office rent, wages, marketing and promotion, quality assurance among others. So if one says that UTB is sending back 7 billion shillings, is he or she then trying to insinuate that UTB spent about 4.5 billion shillings for office rent, wages, promotion and other activities?

This is logic we need to see through than taking in what we read from some forums. I would say, money would rather go back to the treasury than be stolen by the known “mafia gangs”. In the latest budget allocations, UTB has been given about 17 billion shillings to run its activities for financial year 2018/2019, my assumption is that Ministry of Finance in its wisdom was aware of the PPDA challenge hence in added what was not used to this financial year.

My friend Amos Wekesa has made some interesting observations about some at UTB when he said that “if one asked simple questions like how many national parks are there in Uganda? How many tourism rooms are available in Uganda and how many lodges are coming up? Questions like what are our comparative advantages as a country? If you asked about how many of them if they have visited more 3 national parks etc. You would be shocked”. This to an extent is true as I have previously used one simple example of when I asked the Deputy CEO Uganda Tourism Board Mr. John Ssempebwa if he knew Ngamba Chimpanzee Island or if he had visited the area and he consented that he had not.

Obviously that is just one example. I then asked him how he as Deputy CEO can market what he doesn’t know. That said, it’s wrong to say that all at UTB don’t know what they are meant to do, on the contrary, there are some good brains at UTB and you can only understand this when you engage them.

That said the issue of or about product knowledge or lack of it cuts across even to many tour operators and those in the Ministry overseeing the sector.

That said, I would wish to respectfully disagree with my friend Amos about the road map. Most of these Agencies have road maps but the challenges at hand arise many a time from interference from many circles their internal issues notwithstanding. For example my brother Amos Wekesa was on the previous Board of Trustees at UTB and he chaired the marketing Committee, I remember raising some of the issues with him and the team. How come these are just coming to light?

Also I have said before, tourism promotion and marketing is not like selling tomatoes or beer, here we are looking at both intangible and tangible products that to an extent involve speculation. I have observed that there has been a challenge reconciling those in accounts visa vi those in marketing, sales and promotion at UTB.

One wants to market and promote, while the other wants proper accountability of funds in line with the quota allocations from Ministry of finance which has become a point of contention and has slowed down work. That said, in my opinion for the current circumstances where we have witnessed increased backstabbing from within UTB, I blame it on the previous Board of Trustees where my brother Amos Wekesa was also a member.

When that Board took the decision to advertise for the position of CEO among other vacancies that were available then, three (3) persons applied for the top job of CEO. This job was eventually taken by the current CEO Dr Stephen Asiimwe. Then the other two were reluctantly given other slots at UTB top management. Naturally this created many problems for the institution as more clichés arose and under mining each other was a daily thing.

In my opinion I must say Stephen Asiimwe has done well in areas of resource mobilization for the institution because at the time he joined, UTB was being allocated less than 2billion shillings or thereabout. We are now at 17billion shillings which is credit to him and support of the private sector more particularly tour operators and hoteliers like Hajji Kibirige of Hotel Africana and Dr Sudhir Ruparelia who have lobbied at various fora for the increase of the tourism budget.

So long as we stop these clichés and support the current efforts of the Board of Trustees we shall be able to move, however I think it would be best to have Stephen confirmed at the top then get give a good team to work with. This is however not to exonerate him, there could be those with issues which many a time they have failed to bring out other than lamentations.

For example am aware of those who attack personalities at UTB because either they had private proposals or initiatives which UTB refused to finance since they were not in their plans. And when UTB does that, they have taken personal vendetta. There are also those who have been with candidates whom they want to push for the CEO job at UTB, a case in point some have been pushing to “import” someone called Malac and others other individuals. So one can clearly see intrigue.

My brother Amos Wekesa talks of a clear strategy, and he remembers clearly Iam one of those who has made noise about this and luckily one was worked on recently and is waiting to be shared with the sector prior to the launch.
On employing the right people, I agree with Amos Wekesa but need to be mindful of the issues I have highlighted above.

We can have the right hard ware and soft ware but so long as the intrigue and clichés are still there we can’t go far. For example going forward we need to review and see who goes on these Boards of Trustees. We need people who understand the sector but more so who make decisions based on logic and common sense and not emotions and short temper.

What I must however be thankful for the current Board of Trustees is the stance they have taken to have the jobs advertised effective next week

In my conclusion, I hope the new team meets the stakeholders of the sector, and agree on how the 17billion shillings are to be spent for financial year 2018/2019. This in the end will enable us all collectively take the praise and where we have gone short we all take the blame. Additionally, I hope the new team irrespective of who it will be gives online marketing first priority and not to act impulsively ie that because Rwanda got a deal with Arsenal then we must also have one with Liverpool. That would be the shaddiest deal. Let’s spend our little more online where we can have far reaching results to the benefit of all

Geoffrey Baluku
Email: tourismintelligence@gmail.com

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