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By Isaac Sebakijje | Government Assistance To Re-Awaken The Giant In Uganda’s Tourism Sector

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Posted September 25, 2013 by Ugandan Diaspora News Team in Tourism ~ 4,609 views

     

TOURISM

Given Uganda’s diversity of nature, cultures, tradition, people’s hospitality and global accolades, what the country earns today from tourism is a drop in the bucket. We are indeed fortunate to live in a country that is by any measure a world class destination just waiting to be uncovered. Given the spectrum of jobs that tourism can create across professional and skill levels, there is no better time to focus on this industry along with Uganda’s vision 2040. The industry has the potential capacity to promote economic development in rural communities where literacy and formal education may be low. It can provide employment to thousands of youth and women in the country. It is reported that fifty percent of those employed in tourism sector globally are young people.

Incidentally, Uganda has the youngest population in the world where 77% of the population is under the age of 30. The World Bank reports indicate that Uganda needs to create at least two million jobs every two years for the next ten years to absorb the bulging youth labour force. Although it will be the private sector that will significantly develop tourism in Uganda, the government must level the ground for stakeholders in four major ways.

First, the return of relative political stability and peace is a pre-requisite to givingUganda’s tourism sector optimism to once again reclaim regional superiority lost during the past civil turmoil. Underdevelopment of this sector in Uganda can be traced back to the country’s past insecurity followed by seemingly deliberate neglect. Now, Uganda must be seen to be a messenger of peace and a proponent of conflict resolution in order to improve its image internationally. Neighbouring countries like Kenya and Tanzania that have enjoyed relative peace over the years have surpassed Uganda in attracting large numbers of visitors. Even Rwanda with only three parks is strategically doing better.

Secondly, infrastructure underdevelopment and communication bottlenecks must not be a deterrent to tourism growth. If this is not addressed, even with prevalence of political stability, Uganda cannot expect to attract optimum number of visitors. It is by no coincidence that the leadership of the East African Community and COMESA has identified the development of roads, energy, air and rail transport as important pillars that will boost the economic prospects in the region. The collaborative and partnership approach between member states will add speed, efficiency and investor confidence to the process.

In a statement released in August 2013, Maria Kiwanuka, the Ugandan finance minister announced that all oil profits would be channeled to the construction and improvement of infrastructure. The minister of trade, industry and cooperatives, Amelia Kyambadde who doubles as Chairman of the COMESA Council of Ministers, is also a vocal advocate of financing infrastructure development. The tourism sector will be greatly enhanced by these plans.

Thirdly, the government must move concurrently to finance the Ministry of Tourism in a mode that compares to other member states of the East African Community. The ministry must not be hampered by lack of funding. In my conversation with ministry’s permanent secretary Patrick Mugoya at his office and subsequent phone calls, he talked about how the ministry’s plans are stalled by financial constraints. He is now focused on working with the minister and the new board to explore additional external funding sources. The latest $25 million grant by the World Bank, is a result of such efforts. At this stage, it would be counterproductive to raise money through higher taxes and new levies on hospitality and tourism products and services.

With adequate funding in place, Uganda Tourist Board (UTB), the tourism marketing arm of the government, will not be forced to improvise on its duties. Working together with other key stakeholders, UTB should be able to embrace technology to brand Uganda as the authentic Pearl of Africa at all road shows and world tourism events. UTB can fully capitalize on raving reviews by trusted publications such as National Geographic and utilize the impressive accolades bestowed on the country as a tourist destination. It is claimed that no other country in Africa is as bio-diverse as Uganda.

Lonely Planet’s choice of Uganda as the top number one Africa travel destination in 2012 proves the point. Lonely Planet is the world’s most read travel guide book and the largest online travel information source. Uganda missions such as embassies around the world must participate in the tourism promotion campaign. Several times, I have met with my friend Amos Wekesa, owner of Great Lakes Safaris and talked about tourism. He proposes appointing tourism attaches at Uganda embassies. It’s a good idea because global exposure is a vital part of public relations that ensures visibility, supports brand marketing and fends off negative publicity. Today, thanks to the local tour operators like Great Lakes Safaris who have struggled against all odds to give the industry a reasonably positive visibility.

Fourth, Uganda government must review regulations and policies relating to tourism. The way the government designs regulatory policies determines the ease or difficulty for those who are looking to invest money and other resources in tourism. This includes regulations pertaining to conservation of natural resources and reduction of noise pollution around tourist hot spots. It is encouraging to note that United Nations Development Programme is currently supporting Uganda government’s efforts to do exactly that. This is being done alongside the new Tourism Master Plan in order to enhance the performance and growth of the sector.These exercises, which will include training of the key officials in the tourism ministry, are expected to be completed before the end of 2013.

The unification of East Africa by 2015 will have far reaching impact on the tourism sector. The region is already being promoted as a single tourist destination.Economies will merge as people and goods move freely between member states using ID cards. During the month of August 2013, leaders of the five East African Community nations agreed on the single tourist visa for the region. Service policies, standards and wildlife conservation will be harmonized. Therefore, Uganda cannot lag behind any further. It must be well represented within the Tourism and Wildlife Department of the EAC Secretariat. Those who speak and act on behalf of Uganda at this and indeed any official level must be professional recruits, not simply technocrats, who understand the heartbeat of this industry.

A multi-stakeholder platform of the government and donor agencies, lending institutions, private organizations and professional associations within the industry must work mutually to uplift the training and professional standards in the industry. Without this, the country’s economy and its people will not fully benefit from Uganda’s tourism experience. Given Uganda’s diverse range of academic programmes and quality of national graduates, it is senseless to rely on foreign managers for the sector who usually name their price and paid in hard foreign currencies. The industry should be importing foreign currency, not exporting it On January 21st, 2013, I was fortunate to join a delegation of Uganda officials and businessmen in Kenya led by the Acting Director of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities Mrs. Grace Mbabazi Aulo.

This official delegation from the Ministry of Tourism was on an official familiarization visit to Kenya Utalii College in Nairobi. Utalii College is premier hospitality and tourism school in East Africa. The goal was for the Ministry of Tourism to benchmark the best training practices for Uganda. The ministry plans to upgrade the tourism school in Jinja to international acceptable standards. The day long official reception and facility tour of Utalii College was facilitated by the school principal Dr. Kenneth Ombongi and his expert staff. It was an eye opener and a chance to learn and see firsthand what it takes to emulate the enormous success of Utalii College.

Eventually, the Uganda private sector will be the ultimate trendsetter for education and training in tourism standards. However, it is encouraging to see that the ministry is taking this professional deficit seriously. It is reported that the government will use part of the $25 million World Bank grant to upgrade the underfunded Ugandan National Hotel and Tourism Training Institute in Jinja. Also, in April this year, the government represented by the Minister of Tourism Hon. Maria Mutagamba approved Uganda’s skill development project launched by Serena Hotels Group. The project will train additional staff and students from key training institutions. During the event which was attended by high profile industry stakeholders, the minister stated that shortage of skilled and efficient human capital posed a serious threat to the future of Uganda’s competitiveness. She referred to Serena’s project as a wind of change blowing through the tourism sector in Uganda.

The nation must identify some skilled practitioners in the industry and engage them to impart their knowledge and competence to this effort. Existing vocational schools must be provided with business incentives. By doing that, the country can enhance the natural friendliness and hospitality of its people with professionalism that equates with the new dynamic job market demands.During the recent NRM Victory celebrations, President Yoweri Museveni stated that our newly discovered oil is a finite resource. He went on to say that the oil will be exhausted and finished after some decades but that our fisheries and tourism will linger on if we do not mismanage them. It is encouraging when the country’s leader exhibits renewed vigour when he refers to the tourism industry.

It obvious that the government is finally taking notice. Tourism needs to be constantly groomed. Hopefully this and future governments will help nurture the industry to ensure competitiveness, growth and sustainability. This is the way tourism has been developed all around the world and the only way Uganda’s tourism giant will be re-awakened.

The writer is an experienced hotelier and tourism professional and Founder of Impactafrica Trade & Investments. Email: impactafricati@gmail.com


About the Author

Ugandan Diaspora News Team

Ugandan Diaspora News Online is an independent, non political news portal primarily aimed at serving Ugandans who work and reside outside Uganda. Our aim is to be a one stop shop for everything Ugandan and the celebration of our Ugandan heritage.

10 Comments


  1.  

    Appointment of Tourism representatives at embassies globally is key.I have found disappointing information at some o Ugandan embassies




  2.  
    Lule Godfrey Ssemwanga

    Thanks for this posting and it is well researched we appreciate. I am for Marketing and Publicity. yes marketing the country as a better destination and this can be fragmented to suit the needs of the clients or you the tourists.
    The Tourism ambassadors can be integrated in the PR or promotion plan, the same goes for the the Beauty Queens…although we need to think better about the ultimate goal and also follow through the budgets that are attached for these project. some times they end up in the hands of a few individuals stomachs.
    In recent days I have been thinking of having Animals as Ambassadors of Good will.and also as tools of Marketing. Look at the Chimps like Zakayo at teh Zoo or Natasha at the Chimpanzee Sanctuary and Wildlife Conservation trust/ Ngamba Island. These can be used to promote products, themes and events. the images when taken or animations when captured can make great sense to the new ” GREEN ” Markets yet being Cautious of the Environment hence conservation and more tourism for our children tomorrow………….




  3.  

    Great to hear about tourism ex poser in uganda, i have also joined the industry and welcoming you and waiting for your cooperation to develop tourism in uganda.




  4.  

    for more information about my tourism company log in to; https://mbarosafaris.shutterfly.com/
    thanks, com one come all




  5.  

    Mr. Okumu, the more professionals we have in this industry the better. It will attract more completion and raise the service standards to the desired level. Welcome to the industry because it is now at the ground level. I will contact you soon to explore common grounds for future cooperation




  6.  

    Beautiful article, well written. True reflection of the giant that tourism is. I am in this industry and very thankful for the opportunities it offers especially to youth employment.




  7.  

    Very outstanding article, with very good information.





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