Uganda has for many years been ranked as a top tourist destination in the world.
However, tourism numbers have remained relatively low, implying that the East African nation is yet to fully utilize this opportunity to cash in on its God-given resources and endowments.
In an exclusive interview with Business Focus at his Luzira based office on February 22, 2017, Amos Wekesa, a tourism guru and CEO at Great Lakes Safaris, says being ranked a top tourist destination doesn’t mean much for Uganda if the opportunity isn’t used.
“We have the source of the Nile; we didn’t construct it. We did nothing to have the best average weather in the world, we have primates and other fauna and flora you can’t find elsewhere. We didn’t create them. They are God given, but we are not utilizing this opportunity,” Wekesa said on Wednesday, adding: “The rankings mean that if we use these opportunities we can be the best tourist destination in the world. But what is our purpose; we are preoccupied by negativity; we don’t know what is good as a people.”
Wekesa, who is quite knowledgeable about the tourism industry not only in Uganda, but the world at large, suggests the following practical ways to grow Uganda’s tourism sector.
Today, Uganda’s international arrivals is at paltry 1.5 million.
Organize Tourism Entities
Wekesa says there are many government entities fighting each other and they include; Uganda Tourism Board, Uganda Wildlife Authority and Uganda Wildlife Education Centre (UWEC).
While they are all promoting tourism, at one point one entity thinks it’s bigger, stronger and more superior to the others.
“I think we need a tourism authority with strong leadership to foster tourism,” he says, adding: “The authority should have targets and work towards achieving them. For example, the authority could draw plans on how to increase international arrivals from the current 1.5m to say 4m.”
Wekesa says there should be a bigger budget for marketing Uganda than the current one.
Currently, Uganda has hired three PR firms; one in the US, a German based firm and another in the UK who bring in a lot of media coverage. Comparatively, Kenya has 18 PR firms.
We can at least increase PR firms to five. UK is beginning to write about Uganda positively,” he says, adding that Kenya’s major four airports attract 8.8m arrivals annually.
“Remember there are Ugandans who go to Kenya through Malaba. We need to do more marketing; Kenya spends US$80m in marketing the country yet Uganda spends US$1.5m. Kenya has runners who do much in marketing their country,” he reveals, adding that Uganda must become serious because Uganda has been a top tourist destination since 1971, but tourists remain few.
He says top jobs in the hospitality industry are taken up by Kenyans because they are more schooled and trained in the hospitality area compared with their Ugandan counterparts.
“We need to train Ugandans to compete globally. We don’t have a hospitality training school. We need one with international standards,” he says.
Uganda is losing natural forest cover and wild life at a faster rate. This, according to Wekesa, threatens Uganda’s tourism future.
National Carrier and Improvement of Domestic Freight
According to Wekesa, it’s still expensive to fly domestically, something that is hampering tourism growth.
“We need a conducive national carrier; a national carrier isn’t about business, it’s good for a land locked country like Uganda,” he says, adding that tourism will play a big role in propelling Uganda to a middle income status and strengthening the Shilling,