Ugandan Tourism Sector to Ride New Wave of Growth

Uganda is home to the largest number of primates including the mountain gorilla, which is among the rare animal species on earth. It is the source of the mighty River Nile which offers the best white-water rafting in the world.

It has the highest mountain range in Africa-The Rwenzori Mountains/Mountains of the Moon. It has wonderful water falls, a beautiful scenery and one of the richest variety of bird species in the world… to mention but a few.

Despite being gifted by nature, Uganda is least visited compared to her counterparts in the East African region because little is known about this beautiful country.

For many years, the inability to properly market Uganda as a destination of choice given its heritage, wildlife and the beautiful scenery which are increasingly becoming a lucrative source of foreign exchange icome for many countries, has been blamed on limited funds.

The government allocated Shs8.2 billion ($3.45 million) in the 2011/2012 budget for tourism, a figure that has been maintained for the past three financial years.

This amount has to be shared between the tourism directorate which takes the lion’s share of the money and the Uganda Tourism Board (UTB), a body responsible for marketing the country, which takes only Shs2.1 billion ($900,000).

The tourism ministry was recently separated from that of Trade and Industry into a full ministry and there were hopes that the budget dedicated to marketing and promotional activities would be increased.

“We anticipated that since the government had shown commitment to the sector by giving it a ministry, funding would also come in plenty,” Dr Andrew Seguya, the acting executive director Uganda Wildlife Authority says.

Players in the industry have continuously blamed the government for contributing to the slow growth of the sector, saying that the country has lost its competitive edge to countries like Kenya, Tanzania and Rwanda.

According to the Travel & Tourism Competitiveness 2011 Report released by the World Economic Forum, Rwanda emerged as the most preferred destination in the East Africa region. It was followed by Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Burundi in that order.

Rwanda, Kenya and Tanzania have invested heavily in intensive marketing of their countries’ images, development of innovative tourism products and infrastructure such as roads, hotels, restaurants and education to position themselves as destinations of choice.

For instance, Kenya spends an average of Shs23 billion ($10 million) in marketing and promotional activities annually and the sector is among the country’s leading foreign exchange earner. Tanzania spends Shs19.1 billion ($8 million), Shs11.9 billion ($5 million) for Rwanda while Uganda spends only Shs837.7 million ($350,000).

South Africa, Egypt and Tunisia that receive the highest numbers of tourists on the continent spend $100, $48 million and $23 million respectively on marketing annually.

Statistics indicate that tourism is one of the fastest growing sectors in Uganda, and is the second foreign exchange earner. In 2009, the sector fetched the country Shs1.3 trillion ($572 million), indicating a 7.4 per cent contribution to Gross Domestic Product. In 2010 the sector brought in Uganda’s coffers Shs1.5 trillion ($660 million).

To be at par with its counterparts in the EAC, Uganda needs to market and promote itself in strategic source markets to create visibility and showcase its tourism products in international trade fares.

Dr Seguya said that Uganda needs at least $30 million annually to broaden awareness of the country as an attractive and quality holiday destination in key source markets such as Germany, United States of America, the United Kingdom and the East Asian countries.

Germany, United States of America, the United Kingdom, China and France are the top five big spenders in tourism and promoting Uganda as a destination of choice in these countries would make a big difference to Uganda’s tourism sector.

Uganda’s biggest tourist arrivals are from Africa.

“This is one of the many sectors with untapped potential yet the most under looked in the country, there is little to show compared to what our neighbours in Kenya and Tanzania have to offer,” Mr Amos Wekesa, the president of Uganda Tourism Association explains.

Uganda Tourism Board executive director, Mr Cuthbert Baguma Balinda, said that the board will have to think creatively and invest the limited funds in areas where quick wins can be made.

However, to bridge the funding gap and fully utilise the limited funds, players in the sector have been urged harness the power of social networking tools as a branding and destination marketing strategy.

Mr Damian Cook, executive officer e-Tourism Frontiers states that using social media such as Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, Myspace and Youtube among others will enable Uganda reach a wider audience faster, using fewer resources.

“As more of the world continues to embrace the internet in new and diverse ways, this is an obvious medium Uganda needs to fully utilise to promote the country as a preferred tourism destination,” Mr Cook says.

“The internet, through social sites such as Facebook, enables the conveyance of moving and still images, as well as words and this provides a great opportunity for people across the world to know your tourist attractions.”

Social media has become a popular tool for people communicate and keep in touch with friends and family.

With social media or online marketing, the search for tourism destinations, bookings and payments are all done online in a faster and convenient way.

Mr Cook, however, advises that to tap the full benefits of social media marketing, players in the industry should devote at least 25 per cent of money, human resource and time to online management and marketing of tourism.

South Africa and Morocco have harnessed the power of social networks as a marketing platform, leading to tremendous growth in the sector.

The chairman Association of Uganda Tour Operators, Mr Bonifence Byamukama, notes that social media will enable the country to use fewer resources to market Uganda as a destination of choice on the continent.

The sector targets about 1 million arrivals this year but Mr Byamukama, is optimistic that if social media advertising kicks off, they anticipate receiving at least 1.5 million tourists within a period of two years.

The tourism sector has potential of being the country’s biggest employer both directly and indirectly along value chain such as hotels, transport, tour guides and crafts people among others but all this has been limited due to the slow growth of the sector. In 2009, the sector employed over 38,000 people directly.