Tourists make the journey all year and from all over the world to visit Uganda. And truthfully, in Uganda the most amazing places can be found just under your nose. Whether it’s the spectacular Itanda Falls in Jinja or the 7000-hectare home to healthy rhinos in Ziwa or the Murchison Falls National Park or many other parks and game reserves, water falls, forests, lakes, rivers, islands, hot springs, mountains, and rolling hills, cultural and religious sites -Uganda is a tourism marvel.
It is not surprising that tourism is the leading foreign exchange earner despite its little tapped potential. Scratch our thin economics surface and you will see it. In 2017 for example, tourism generated US$ 1.453bn and contributed UGX 6.8 trillion to Uganda’s GDP (7.8% of GDP). In comparison, the second highest contributor to our coffers were remittances from Ugandans working abroad of about $1.2bn.
In fact, the country understands or at least our small conclave of decision makers understand that tourism can be a key primary growth sector with great potential to boost and accelerate Uganda’s transformation agenda. It is recognized as key to our vision 2040 and in our National Development Plan.
So, all seems rosy, at least from the look of things- except the rosy look, although worth the focus, would be misplaced focus. Agreed, the tourism sector is not at core a crisis; but its idly basking on the edge of its true potential because of persistent problems.
Again, it’s a call to our conclave of decision makers to focus on growing the sector, as opposed to basking in the present. Here are a few takeaways to grow the sector;
Aggressive Tourism Marketing and Promotion.
Take Uganda to the World- virtually. Use appropriate technology and social media platforms for marketing the tourism sector. The virtual content should feature the best of Uganda’s national parks, waterfalls, forests, lakes, rivers, mountains, cultural sites and heritage. Virtually taking Uganda to the world first will physically bring the world to Uganda first.
Further, Uganda might benefit from increased marketing funds which will address weak market segmentation and target destination marketing. In 2017, only USD 1.2m was released to Uganda Tourism Board for marketing while our neighbors and competitors spent USD 35m (Kenya), USD 17m (Tanzania) and USD 5m (Rwanda). We need to spend more on marketing if we are to attract more.
Prioritize Tourism Financing.
There is serious underfunding of the tourism sector’s core activities compared to the sector’s contribution to GDP as well as the major competing countries like Kenya, Tanzania and Rwanda. Tourism is the biggest contributor to Uganda’s GDP and yet it does not receive funding that is commensurate to its contribution. As a result, the sector is not growing to its true potential due to financial limitations.
Co-ordination, Governance and Leadership.
We need to adequately decentralize tourism management and development to all regions across the country while reducing the responsibilities dispersed across many government departments and agencies. This will reduce he overlap, underutilization of resources and inefficiencies currently faced by the sector.
We also need a coherent vision and specific goals that can be transmitted through all the sector’s governance structures so as to anchor all the stakeholders in the sector to a common end.
Focus on Training of Human Resource and Private Sector Development.
Currently there is a limited level of tourism skills throughout the value chain, that is at the managerial, technical, operational levels. At the same time the private sector has inadequate institutional and human resource capacity to spur the growth of the sector to its potential. This is because there is no coordinated skills development training for the existing work force both in government and the private sector. We need coordinated training and skilling to boost the capacity of our human resource. In this way we shall reduce the current problems of unprofessionalism, poor customer care, racism, language barrier and other inefficiencies in service delivery.
Continue to Improve Destination Access and Infrastructure.
We primarily rely on road as a means of transport for both the tourism and other sectors of the economy. We are also well known for owning stomach churning, sometimes impassable roads across the country. These poor road networks can be a danger to lives and discouraging for tourists, especially because most of them are from countries with seamless transport systems. This therefore puts us at a huge disadvantage. We need to, in as far as is reasonably practicable, to improve our transport systems. Urgent attention is needed for roads like Nakapiripiriti through Pian upe, Kisoro- Nkuringo and Kabale- Lake Bunyonyi.
We also need to improve accommodation facilities. Hotels and other guest houses still grapple with water shortages, electricity and internet. This can be very frustrating to even the most understanding tourist.
As I conclude, Uganda’s tourism industry has the capacity to achieve its true potential. To do that, we need to set our sights on re-assessing its funding priorities, implementing an aggressive and coordinated marketing strategy, developing capacity along the entire value chain and improving infrastructure and technology. Our first duty as citizens is to convoke the conclave’s minds to focus on these issues. Let’s hope the white smoke emerges.