SUMMARY AND BACKGROUND TO TOURISM IN UGANDA
In the 1960’s Uganda was the main tourism destination in Eastern Africa and Tourism became one of the country’s main economic sectors. However, the period of turmoil in the 1970’s and 80’s saw the wildlife hunted to virtual extinction in all the national parks, tourism infrastructure vandalized and looted and as a result Uganda lost its position as the number one to neighbouring countries like Kenya who consolidated their position and enforced the safari brand that to date they are known world over for – safari!
In the mid eighties the current government took over power and started the long arduous and painful process of restoring peace, the economy which has evidently moved in a crawling manner though tourism now seems to have a flicker of hope and optimism.
Tourism; Uganda’s second highest foreign exchange earner raked in over US$600m last year. Globally, tourism generates about 10% of total world GDP and employs over 10% of the global workforce.
Uganda has been said to be a blank page because very little is known of Uganda out there and so there is need for the government to mobilize the stake holders and create a conducive environment for them to formulate synergies between each other as well as the
Private Public Partnerships.
Also a clear definition of the Uganda Tourism Product needs to be made then strategies should be devised to promote it to the key source markets of United Kingdom, United States of America, Germany and the wider Europe.
The tourism sector continues to be a strong and growing contributor to the national economy, investment, both direct foreign as well as domestic, and employment, particularly in rural areas where few other jobs are available, but also in urban centres. It contributes nearly 26% of Uganda’s total exports earnings. The hospitality sub sector alone employs country-wide an estimated 59,000 people with the related transport sector accounting for another 17,000 jobs. This totals over 75,000 employees or 17% of the total employed workforce.
Secondary and tertiary employment in other sectors providing support services and supplies to the tourism sector add further to this share. Investment in the tourism sector over last year saw a number of new hotels in Jinja, Entebbe and Kampala being both opened and under construction, plus additional safari and lodging facilities up-country being introduced.
In the strategic plan for Uganda 2004 – 2008, a lot of talk was made on Uganda’s potential and it seems to be the case that this word has always been used in the vaguest of ways especially when there is no specific manner to describe an activity in detail. However, there is no doubt that tourism in Uganda is on the rise as indicated by available statistics from Uganda Bureau of Statistics (UBOS) from 1996 to 2010.
Tourism compared to other export sectors is unique in that consumption takes place in Uganda resulting in a higher added value within the country.
Expenditure of the tourists gives rise to six major economic impacts that include the Gross National Product (GNP); foreign exchequer earnings and the Balance of Payment; Employment; government revenue; regional distribution of income and investment.
As a result tourism plays a key role in the enhancement of the economic and social well being of Uganda and its people through foreign exchange earnings, the creation of jobs and consumption of Ugandan goods and services. At the same time a successful tourism industry contributes to the preservation of Uganda’s physical and aesthetic environment thus preserving the culture and unique heritage.
Uganda boasts of one of the largest variety of natural resources on the African continent which range from fresh water bodies like lakes and rivers, Loft Mountains, forests, numerous flora and fauna found in our protected areas.
Distinctively, Uganda as a tourist destination has a variety of game stock that habit that un spoilt lush and green beauty which is endowed with numerous outstanding attractions based on its lakes, rivers, forests and ecology, ice capped mountains of the Rwenzori.
Uganda continues to outshine other East Africa countries with its vast range of bird species and most of all it is the home to over 50% of the world remaining mountain gorillas at Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park. Africa review recently also noted Uganda’s tourism growth is the fastest growing in Africa.
WHAT IS AT STAKE – REGARDING TOURISM IN UGANDA
Tourism has not developed as expected despite the country’s potential and tourism attractions. The strength of Uganda’s Tourism industry is in its un spoilt wilderness attractions such the Mountain Gorillas, the rich cultures and special combination of nature and culture.
In the past Uganda’s tourism sector has had challenges related to insecurity in some parts of the country, however this has been solved and Uganda is now generally a peaceful destination though there remains the biggest challenge of improving Uganda’s image internationally.
To date many Ugandans get surprised by the questions they are asked when they are attending exhibitions or international meetings. The people out there still think of Uganda as the country of Idi Amin; to many people dying of HIV Aids, war; corruption etc.
Rarely will they start with the land of the river Nile or the land of the Mountain Gorillas what about the Pearl of Africa as Winston Churchill christened it.
The above scenario just serves to show that Uganda has not rolled out its PR machinery and this is at stake for Uganda – improving its image.
Rwanda recognizes that they don’t have much by way of tourism but they acknowledge that their strength lies in their ability to creatively market so they are capitalizing on it.
At the beginning of 2008, Kenya was thrown into a tumultuous time for nearly three months and this disrupted Kenya’s Tourism industry to an extent that there were reported up to 91% cancellations and this affected tourist arrivals as well as the Kenyan economy.
However, the Kenya PR machinery was at work providing updates on the situation and this provided a counter effect on all the media reports that tended to concentrate on only the negative things about the prevailing situation at the time.
After the civil unrest ended the Political machinery set to work to make promotions on the country, road shows and familiarization trips were sponsored for the big agents in UK and USA. More funds were allocated to the marketing budget so as to revamp the efforts of promoting the destination. This had a great effect of quick starting the recovery of Kenya’s Tourism and economy.
Uganda has usually not responded whenever we have had negative publicity about whatever is happening here.
It has been said that nothing on the planet is new. Everything has always existed before but it is just redressed and then re packaged as if it is new!
Uganda needs to turn to the drawing table and make comparative studies to review the strategies adopted by Uganda in the 1960,s and modify them to position itself in the international Tourism market now. Uganda is competing against new destinations and new products so it is relevant that the products Uganda puts out are of quality and typically unique to Uganda.
According to the Balance of Payment Statistics by Bank of Uganda in the year 2001, Tourism made up 105 million US Dollars ahead of coffee with USD107 million. Again several reports continue showing that Tourism has become the number one non traditional foreign exchange earner in Uganda.
The World Tourism Organization reports a global growth in Tourism and it actually the fastest growing sector of most economies. For the case of the 2001 statistics that were based on only domestic tourism and business visitors to the National Parks without the leisure traveler featuring however the 2007 statistics based on leisure travelers as well.
In Uganda Tourism had a growth rate of 21% from 1995 – 2010 with exception of the year 2009 when the world experienced a credit crunch.
Tourism promotion and marketing has been very limited because of insufficient fund allocation and I think also because of not only personnel but also the different priorities for the government of Uganda.
Uganda has always relied on hand outs from donors even though now it is positioning itself to be self reliant as per 2010 / 2011 budget.
About a year ago, tourism was only mentioned as having boomed with no real statistics provided about its performance and then just next to it was the reports on a 15% growth for export of services. Now is the time to change focus and use Tourism which has the potential to bring in Forex.
With appropriate personnel / marketing; tourism may once again become the leading country wide economic sector with even stronger economic impact than Agriculture and industry in respect of foreign earnings.
The potential has already been demonstrated when a few years ago government formulated the ten year tourism master plan and the private sector responded positively by investing in and putting up new facilities in various locations in Uganda. This has continued to be the case but a number of problems still plague the sector and have inhibited its development.
Certain of these problems have been drastic and caused many facilities to go into liquidation consequently preventing tourism from realizing its potential.
However, there is optimism in the sector now and we begin to see tourism development and investment by the private sector who have gained confidence in the sector’s abilities. Stake holders see the opportunity to accomplish what they would not have accomplished fifteen years ago.
WHAT PRODUCTS DOES UGANDA HAVE?
Among the numerous products we have mentioned that Uganda has we can break them down specifically as follows:
1) In the Albertine Rift which will include Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, Mgahinga Gorilla National Park, Kisoro, Queen Elizabeth National Park, Kibale Forest, Rwenzori Mountains, Lake Bunyonyi, Semliki etc this region is the largest and most popular tourism region of Uganda therefore it may be broken down into other sub regions to allow it to be better explored.
Existing Activities: include bird watching, game drives, water based activities on Kazinga Channel, Chimpanzee tracking, gorilla trekking, fishing on Lakes George and Edward, salt mines, community groups, the pygmies etc.
2) Murchison Falls National Park which constitutes the northern circuit and this park has always been renown for the traditional game drives, launch trip, primate walks at Kaniyo Pabidi, birding on the Royal Mile in Budongo, Top of Murchison Falls,fishing as well as the delta cruises.
The rhino sanctuary has also added to the product. Murchison Falls National Park is the largest park and has the potential to offer the best safari experiences to the tourists and even the high end traveler who does not wish to spend a lot of time driving can me accommodated via small charter crafts if only the existing two airstrips can get enlarged and if possible tarmac them to allow for medium size jets to land there.
3) Kibale Forest National Park – Here we get chimpanzee walks, the primate habituation experience, night walks, Bigodi Swamp walk, Crater Lakes, Tour of Tea estates etc.
WHAT PRODUCTS DOES UGANDA WISH TO SELL?
Niche Tourism; so as to become the niche market for adventure activities, bird watching, culture and community tourism, mountain hiking and climbing, water sport, wellness centres in Semliki, house boats, boat rides, Kampala as a conference and meeting city.
Increased average stay within Uganda to heighten the tourism dollar spent per client, night game drives, bush camps, canopy tours, balloon safaris, bush dinners and sun downers, cruises on the Lake Victoria as well as River Nile in both Jinja and the delta area of Murchison Falls National Park, wellness centres at hot springs of Semliki, boat rides on lake Albert.
WHAT IS NEEDED TO IMPROVE UGANDA TOURISM
Interest information and resource centre, restaurants, house boats, boat rides, additional walks, toilets along the circuits.
Balukus Guide www.balukusguide.com in partnership with Trek East Africa Safaris http://www.trekeastafricasafaris.com have a project proposal on sanitation facilities along the tourist circuits. However, due to the capital intensive nature of the project and yet it has no direct benefit to Balukus Guide/Trek East Africa Safaris, we are seeking funding from government, NGO’s that can fund this on a purely commercial basis.
Training of community guides, organized community groups that can provide equipment for rental to tourists who wish to partake of an activity in the area, home stay experiences, development of marketing materials, maps, build good roads, improve condition of airstrips/ airfields and introduce cheaper scheduled flights to the park areas so as to shorten the long driving distances to our parks.
There is also need to reinstate the national carrier for Uganda to provide direct flights, convenient and affordable travel fares from source markets and up grade Kasese airfield to international airport status and implement the decision to enable tourists arrive there directly.
Improve visibility by putting signage on the roads, position tourist police along the road side to allow tourists to report any misbehavior by tour operators like those leaving them on the road side stranded.
Night game drives in all parks plus bush camping and more circuits in the Murchison Falls National Park and Queen Elizabeth National Park areas.
Simplify merchant (Visa & Master cards) banking to increase the tourist spend. Reduce the risk of losing cash and the inconvenience of carrying large wards of money.
There is also need for additional access points on the Rwenzori. Additional activities and a business development plan for Rwenzori.
POLICY GUIDELINES/ACTION STEPS TO ACHIEVE THE TOURISM NEEDS
Education & Training
- Training of existing and new tour guides as well as hospitality staff.
- Encourage the local media andNGO’sto become partners in the tourism awareness process at all levels of society in Uganda.
• Promote the involvement of the private sector in the provision of training.
- Encourage capacity building among the previously neglected small andmedium tourism enterprisesand emerging entrepreneurs.
Safety & Security
- Provide adequate information to visitors that will help improve theirsafetyand security. In line with this, a section for Tourism Police under Uganda Police should be created (has been created) However, it needs facilitation.
This will help not only in effective prosecution for cases where tourists are involved but will also build confidence of / among the tourists.
- Emphasize the development of products that offer good potential for development take for instancecultural forms of tourism,cruise tourism, sports tourism, conference and incentive travel.
- Diversify the UgandanTourism productand not over market / over develop the tourism attractions.
- Consider the review of the currentroad signageso as to ensure maximum customer satisfaction.
- Maintain andupgrade existing roadsin order to improve accessibility and mobility through areas like Rukungiri – Kihihi road; Ishasha road; the road to Buhoma from Kihihi; the road to Ruhijja from Kabale; the road from Muko in Kabale to Nshongi and Nkuringo; the road to Bundibugyo; the Kyenjojo – Masindi road and some access roads/tracks in Murchison Falls and Queen Elizabeth National Parks.
- Conduct an agent review of the governments financial contribution to tourism as well as the process of determining such contribution.
- Establish a dedicatedtourism development fundto provide funds for tourism enterprises and local community activities not catered for by existing state financing agencies.
Such a fund should be subject to regular auditing and scrutiny.
- Considertraining airport taxis operatorsand other disadvantaged transport operators in order to enhance their services and allow them to play an important role in Uganda’s tourism industry.
- Investors that come up with products that help to diversify the tourism product take for instancecruise boatson Lake Victoria should be supported and encouraged.
- Consider investments that will result in the transfer of skills andtechnology to Ugandans.
- Joint ventureswith local partners and local communities.
- Representation on theUWA (this has been achieved as the Association of Uganda Tour Operators has a representative now). However, at the UTB & Export Promotion Boards the tour operators lack representation.
There is need to urgently /seriously consider adding a Tour Operator to the Boards of Uganda Wildlife Authority, Uganda Tourism Board, Uganda Wildlife Education Centre, Uganda Investment Authority and Uganda Export Promotion Boards as has always been the norm.
A word of caution though, it is important that the tour operators choose members from their membership associations from whom one person will be chosen by the Minister to the respective Boards.
The issue of hand picking Board members like what happened to the suspended UWA Board and the current UTB Board is the reason we continue to see chaos in the sector.
Marketing & Promotion
To compete with other destinations, the private sector MUST be supported by significant government spending in marketing the country. This is not happening in Uganda.
Other East African neighbors including Kenya, Tanzania and Rwanda spend significantly more on promoting themselves as a tourism destination and consequently boast far higher tourist earnings. Kenya’s tourism marketing budget for the 2011/2012 financial year has been set at Kenya Sh1.4 billion as compared Uganda’s Sh 600 million.
Uganda has an incredible tourism product but the world will not find out about us without a serious Government of Uganda commitment to promote Uganda.
- Currently Uganda has to many sectors / government departments doing the same thing in the name of promoting/marketing tourism. Among these areUganda Wildlife Education Centre, Uganda Export Promotion Board,Uganda Wildlife Authority, Uganda Tourism Board etc.
This continues to pose a danger of diluting the marketing and promotional efforts at the international level with the consequent wastage of valuable resources.
International marketing should be the responsibility of Uganda Tourism Board though marketing and promotion plans need to be developed jointly not only with the afore mentioned but also with the private sector such the tour operators, hoteliers and local communities.
- Foster the development ofcommunity based tourism products.
- Encourage both new and existing suppliers of tourism products to provide facilities for the disabled.
- Adopt a consumer sensitive pricing strategy there by ensuring that value for money becomes a major draw card.
- More resources should be devoted to the marketing and promotion of tourism particularly on the international front where percapita incomeis greatest.
- Establish mechanisms to monitor the effectiveness of promotion expenditures.
- Encourage initiatives by tourism sector organizations/departments such as Uganda Wildlife Authority, Uganda Wildlife Education Centre, Uganda Export Promotion Board, Uganda Investment Authority andUganda Tourism Boardso as to make national tourism information more widely available through the development of a generic brochure as well as a national tourism portal.
The successful development of any tourism destination is dependent on reliable and in many cases affordable air transportation. Uganda is un fortunate not to have its own national carrier. This makes Uganda rely on other commercial airlines whose main objectives are to maximize profit and manage yield. If we are to get more tourists coming to Uganda, it is important that we not only get our own national carrier but also to build strategic alliances with other global players.
Uganda is still considered by some to be a risky place to visit. The first question prospective clients always ask is, “is it safe? We all know that Uganda is safe but the link with Amin days is still in some people’s minds and it only takes the smallest piece of negative news from Uganda to make them think it is a dangerous place. The recent World Cup match bombings in Kampala, post election violence, walk to work, women with sauce pans, endless riots, soldiers on Kampala streets have reinforced that.
In line with the themes adopted by Uganda such as poverty alleviation and prosperity for all, I wish to say that Governmant of Uganda needs to expeditiously avail resources to market this country internationally. Subsequently, I would like to specifically request Government to cause the following actions to be undertaken.
Government needs to help management at Uganda Tourism Board in re structuring and bringing on board young, energetic and computer literate personnel. Trends are changing meaning our marketing personnel should be able to market thru different avenues like social media in addition to the known marketing platforms.
I urge Government to help Tourism Uganda access the relevant funds to market Uganda internationally.
I wish to also state that the Tourism Act which was passed in April 2008 needs to be implemented and I believe with the new Tourism Ministerial portfolio, Uganda can achieve the required revenue to allow furtherance of Uganda’s marketing plans and also enable the achievement of professionalism.
I wish to propose that tourism becomes/ continues to be zero rated for VAT especially for our safari cars in order to make Uganda’s already beautiful product become competitive in the East Africa Region price wise.
As a business person, I understand that every investment should be placed on a good return on investment however, the circumstances under which the agreements with some Lodge owners were signed in Kidepo Valley, Queen Elizabeth and Murchison Falls National Parks; and for Bwindi regarding Gorilla Permit sales no longer exist and, therefore, there is enough reason now to have these contracts reviewed and appropriate contracts that are reflective of the current circumstances be signed with Marasa and the Uganda Safari Company.
I propose that these contracts be reviewed and the exclusion zones in both Queen Elizabeth and Murchison Falls National Parks be reduced to allow more accommodation to be built within the national parks.
I propose that these parks are controlled from selfish investors who look at the financial benefits and not the growth of tourism; and the present and future demand of accommodation in the National Parks of Uganda.
Uganda Wildlife Authority should also advertise more concessions for more investors so that more tourists can visit these beautiful parks. Once there is competition, the rates will also go down.
Lastly, allow me note that tourist demands are constantly changing as demand for new destinations and products are increasing. Having been trying to advance from recession into recovery, the recent walk to work, women with sauce pans, traders sit down, taxi operators strike and the falling shilling are bound to change the tide. This is not to say that the conditions in the country are ok. The aforementioned call for the government to re think its approach and listen to voices of reason as there is enough justification for the demonstrations.
It is thus critical for both Uganda Tourism to stay attuned to the trends shaping consumer sentiment and decision making. How confident are consumers about the coming year? What trends are common across the markets and where do travelers differ?