The Pearl of Africa Tourism Expo (POATE 2018) is taking place at Sheraton Kampala Hotel from 23rd to 25th February. We caught up with Uganda Tourism Board’s CEO, Stephen Asiimwe, and here is what we heard from him about the biggest tourism expo in the country.

1. What’s going on behind the scenes ahead of this year’s POATE in Kampala this Friday?

Right now there are lots of movements, especially among domestic participants coming from various parts of the country to Kampala. The event will be at Jubilee Park commonly known as Sheraton Gardens. There is a group of hoisted buyers and media, moving around the country to different tourist attractions. On Friday, POATE 2018 is opening, till Sunday.

2. What would be the most exciting things about this year’s expo?

We have pushed POATE to three days, from Friday to Sunday. We want a lot of walk-ins. We want Ugandans to fall in love with travel. We want them to see for themselves what the country has to offer. Between Friday and Sunday, we have all people to come and see for themselves what Uganda is all about. We will have a food court for Ugandan dishes, dance troupes, talks for the tour and travel sector, hoisted buyers will network with tour companies, and of course, we are bringing the most popular tourism place, the zoo, to Sheraton. Come and see lions, cheetahs, chimpanzees, birds, etc. We shall also have UWA buses to take people around to tour the city…certainly, Kampala’s night life is there for all to experience the entertainment capital of East Africa.

3. Tell us about the hoisted buyers; why are they important?

Hoisted buyers is a technical word for the industry. They are agents, a bridge between the markets and destinations. We have flown several from US, Europe, South Africa. They have different interests, but influence choices of different travelers. Fortunately, we have everything in Uganda, we are microsm of any tourism product one might desire – save the desert.

4. What is the main objective of POATE?

Because of time and resources, we have not come big on international people. However, we are focusing on domestic tourism. We want Ugandans to rediscover Uganda. We are working with the local media, and local stakeholders to showcase Uganda in what we called Rediscover the pearl. There is a lot of hope that Ugandans are starting to spend on our tourism packages. Last Christmas for example, we reported the highest number of domestic drives into hotels, and tourist attractions places such as national parks and islands. There are more family outings and the experiences get referrals. That is a good sign. There is a change of attitudes towards our tourism by locals. Many are realizing they don’t have to sleep in the parks or, find budget accommodations which suit their pockets.

5. Any special personalities gracing this year’s event?

None. It is deliberate. We want Ugandans to be the special personalities at POATE. If there is any special group we want, it is Ugandans. We are interesting Ugandans to fall in love and visit their country. We also want local investors to put their monies into tourism. Our own investors are doing superb; See BMK, Sudhir Ruparelia, the Madhvani, Patrick Bitature and others…their marketing efforts compliment ours.

6. How many people do you expect this year?

Our target is 5,000 people.

7. Anything POATE learnt from the previous events?

Every hoisted buyer coming here, leaves with a good impression of Uganda. This market has been undiscovered for long. And now, the word tourism has become a buzz word, thanks to initiatives like POATE.

8. What would you emphasize for anyone attending this year’s tourism expo?

Entrance is free. 23 to 25 February at Kampala Sheraton’s Jubilee Park. The program runs from 8am to 7pm. Everything is there; food court, kids play area, name it.

Interview by Mike Ssegawa