By Mike Ssegawa
I don’t remember the last time Ugandans debated the country’s tourism potential as passionately as this ending week.
Before I go in detail about State Minister for tourism and his rolex promotion, I have a story.
I was in Hong Kong recently and was told of the attitude of people in Hong Kong about tourists. Every citizen knows it’s their duty to give visitors a wonderful stay while in one of the most developed islands in the world.
A taxi driver picked a visitor from the airport to the hotel. He was following his GPS for directions which made him use the longer route. The clock at the journey end said 11 dollars. But the taxi driver took nine dollars. Reason. He told the guest he had used the longer route. “If I used the other route, it should have been nine. Thank you.” The guest
Since 2005, I have followed developments in the tourism industry. Tourism was a subject left to tourism officials and tour operators.
Even when the biggest conference tourism event, Chogm2007, was in town, most people didn’t see an opportunity to show off the country. Many saw the event with political lenses.
All along, tour operators I talked to decried uncooperative politicians that give bad press to Uganda through street battles. No one seemed to care that conflict stories turn away tourists!
The good thing is, tourism promoters laboured to sell the country’s attractions in the hard times, even when money to promote the country in various markets was little.
I agree with critics of Kiwanda on the fact that Uganda has a lot to sell to the world. But I disagree with them on disparaging the rolex festival on account that it can’t fetch us any tourists.
Kiwanda is godsend to tourism btw. Few ministers show enthusiasm for their job like Kiwanda. May be Frank Tumwebaze in ICT.
As soon as Kiwanda was appointed state Tourism minister, he set off to familiarize himself with the sector. I might be wrong, but, it’s possible Kiwanda had not visited a single national park by the time he was appointed minister.
But Kiwanda loves his job. He has been on his feet since his appointment. He has been at Uganda Tourism Board, Uganda Wildlife Authority, and Uganda Wildlife Education Centre. He has met key stakeholders in the tourism industry, say, the Civil Aviation authority who take care of the airports that receive the tourists, he has met tour operators, supported the Uganda International Cultural Fair, and now, he is throwing his weight behind the Rolex festival.
Kiwanda is not stopping. We should join him in running.
Uganda Tourism is so behind neighboring Kenya and Tanzania in development and global popularity. However, many people will tell you, Uganda is the most beautiful country on earth. The weather. Diverse cultures. Rich history. Food. Snow peaks. Fresh water lakes. Water falls. Gorillas. Almost all animals, birds, flora and fauna you want to see in the wild are here.
Kiwanda and his noble boss Ephraim Kamuntu, are people, as a tourism observer, to inject the right dose of energy into the industry.
The discussion on the rolex is a closed affair for those in the know about the role of food in tourism. When tourists come to Uganda, apart from matooke and kalo, we have a rolex on the menu to look forward to. Forget the simplistic arguments that no one leaves Europe to come to eat kikomando. When tourists come to Uganda, certainly they eat food.
Kiwanda, is on course. I am sure he will promote conference tourism like Kigali, and sports tourism like England, etc. We just need to give him and the tourism players the platform and our backing. They are on track.
Remember, more tourists means more forex. More forex in our economy means economic growth and stability. It means jobs. It means consumption. It means revenue for the government. It means a lot.
Let’s not be naysayers. Let’s get behind the Kiwandas in tourism. I know he’s not alone.