By Aloysious Kasoma
The coming of India Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Uganda was a blessing to Uganda’s tourism sector, Jean Byamugisha (JB) (in featured photo), the Chief Executive Officer of Uganda Hotel Owner’s Association (UHOA) revealed in an interview with Business Focus (BF) on Wednesday.
UHOA is one of the oldest private sector associations in tourism, with over 500 members.
Some of the founding members of UHOA are of Indian – Ugandans citizens like Karim Hirji, Sudhir Ruparelia, the Jaffers of Fairway Hotels and the Madhivanis among others.
They also happen to be the most active and some of the biggest investors in the hospitality industry which has over 4,000 players with about 100 so far classified. A good number of general managers of Ugandan hotels are also of Indian descent.
Below are the excerpts of the interview;
BF: Indian PM was in Uganda recently. What does his visit mean to the hospitality industry?
JB: Before his coming, we didn’t know much about him other than the normal news we see on TV, what he stood for or the causes he supported.
During the course of his visit, we understood why he is so loved and held in high esteem back home in India.
We also learnt how passionate he is about tourism when he promised to have the Mahatma Gandhi Memorial built at the Source of River Nile in Jinja. This is one of the most exciting opportunities as well as the construction of the Convention Center in Entebbe that awaits the tourism industry.
BF: How influential will India be in Uganda’s tourism sector going forward?
JB: India has one of the biggest populations in the world which stands at 1.324bn people according to the 2016 World Bank records. This is an opportunity Uganda tourism players must tap into.
India Premier Modi is going to build the Mahatma Gandhi Center at the
Source of the Nile, there is also a talk of him to construct a conference center in Entebbe and also gave some money for tourism projects.
It is also worth mentioning that the Indian community is one of the top world renowned travelers across the world and Uganda is blessed to have them as one of the citizens of Uganda.
India is now one of the big markets that Uganda and the rest of the world is looking at in terms of destination because they’re one of the new super powers that have emerged under the BRICs.
We’re now looking as tapping into those previously unknown markets,
India, China. Imagine a country of a population of over a billion people with a wider middle class and you can afford to attract at least 1% or 0.5% to Uganda; you will get a lot of revenue.
It is a huge market for us especially when you look at US where we concentrate most of our market efforts, but we get less than 50,000 visitors every year.
Once there’s a political will from two leaders, we just need to package our tourism sector and the rest will be upheld. We are very grateful that Uganda Tourism Board (UTB) recognized India as a leisure market. It started last year when UTB went to India to market Uganda and they had an exhibition.
BF: What major challenges is Uganda’s hospitality industry facing?
JB: The challenges are very many; we have a very complicated tax regime and this is something we have been lobbying on the different forums including the Presidential Investors Round Table and our association. This of course discourages investors especially if you have neighbors like Rwanda who are extremely aggressive.
We need to claim our heritage, many countries claim the Source Of The
Nile, but Uganda must stand up and claim what belongs to it other than keeping quiet.
Marketing remains a key challenge. The budget has been a bit low for some time, being able to reach some markets isn’t easy. You need materials and marketing tools; for instance, to market Uganda in India and China, you need to translate materials in the language they understand, you need to be able to understand the cultures, you need to appeal to both the middle class and the low middle class which wants to travel, but can’t afford a five star hotel but can afford a three star one.
We also have a problem of accessibility, but thanks to the likes of Fly
Emirates you can be able to take a flight direct from India to Uganda, but the time you take to reach is long. That’s why we have been lobbying for the return of the Uganda Airlines so that for those key markets, it’s very easy and convenient if you only have to take one flight if only you are going for holiday. That’s why people have been opting for Europe because of convenience. But if you have to go through another destination and wait and then drive for 8hrs to Bwindi before you come here, it becomes extremely expensive.
BF: What makes you think revival of Uganda Airlines will boost Uganda’s tourism? How necessary is it for Uganda’s tourism?
JB: With the revival of Uganda airlines, we are hoping accessibility into Uganda will be opened up and will be able to find an easy route. Not having an airline has made us an expensive destination because for instance, Kenya Airways has direct flights outside Africa but the flight from Kenya to Entebbe is almost the cost of a ticket to Europe.
When we have our own airline, we can subsidize the prices because we have more tourism products than our East African neighbors.
FB: What are UHOA’s future plans?
JB: We are privileged that India as part of our community has a chain of activities and cultural attachment in Uganda especially in worshipping, cultural festivals, yoga among others. This calls for development of synergies like building a chain of hotels, worship centres to encourage more Indians to come here because some people go to India to perform these activities.
We also want a convention centre as early as yesterday outside Kampala both for convenience and traffic jam management.
Uganda – India at Glance
On July 24th-26th, 2018 , Uganda hosted India’s most respected personality Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his visit has come with come a lot of packages to think about on the tourism table.
Economically as per Bank of Uganda July 2018 Data, India’s exports to Uganda as per Calendar year 2017, were worth $599.04 (2.1Trillion) from $293.87 million (shs505.Billion) in 2007.
Meanwhile Uganda’s exports to India increased from $3.21million (Shs.5Billion) in 2007 to $43.69 million (Shs159Billion) in 2017.
Uganda and India bondage interestingly has become strong since their return following a dreadful history when they were expelled by the regime of Field Marshal Iddi Amin Dada between 1971 -1979.
Recently, Uganda Tourism Board (UTB) announced strategies to grow Uganda’s tourism revenue from US$1.4bn to US$2.7bn (Shs9.8 trillion) by 2020.
Uganda is reported to have earned over US$1.4bn which is 10% of the Gross Domestic Product last year.