SOURCE:New Vision

Funding to the tourism sector has reduced over the last three years, yet the sector could be Uganda’s leading forex earner. David Mugabe investigates where Uganda is going wrong.

Uganda is sitting on a gold mine. It is not gold, it is not even the confirmed 3.5 billion barrels of crude oil. It is tourism. The numbers  affirm and tell an even better story. Tourism earnings jumped by 22% in 2011 with the country raking in $832 million, up from $662 million  in 2010.

This is almost double the $449 million that the country earned from coffee, Uganda’s top foeign exchange earner for decades. For three years  now, Uganda has been at the helm of global acclaim and recognition for its abundant tourism blessings.

Known as the Pearl of Africa, Uganda has 30% of the continent’s biodiversity. But something is wrong with this picture. With all the  blessing very little has been done to monetise the opportunities. It is puzzling that for years no progressive marketing budget exists.  Top  Ministry of Finance officials usually explain this away saying investing in infrastructure is enough support to the industry.

A few incidental events in recent history like the sporting exploits of Stephen Kiprotich (double gold medallist in the Olympic marathon and World Athletics marathon) and positive mentions by the National Geographic, CNN and Lonely Planet have seen the country sometimes referred to as a blank slate thrust in the global spotlight.

Tourism has one of the largest impacts on the economy, with a single dollar spend resulting  into foreign exchange earnings, employment, tax and direct investment.

Tourism attractions

The way Rwanda advertises mountain gorillas, one cannot realise that majority of them are in Uganda

Uganda has 30% of Africa’s biodiversity. Places such as Kidepo National Park are just being wholesomely discovered.

“That alone is a wealth  that no country can compete with in Africa. People are getting more interested in nature-based tourism because many countries have destroyed  their nature,” says seasoned tourism investor and promoter Amos Wekesa. Uganda is endowed uniquely with some attractions only found here.

These include the Source of the River Nile, habitat to more than half of the surviving mountain gorillas and the snow-capped Rwenzori Mountain.

There are 23 national parks and game reserves (10 national parks and 13 game reserves). These include the Queen Elizabeth, Bwindi  Impenetrable, Kibaale, Murchison Falls and Kidepo National Parks, which are supporting six other national game reserves.

A tourist who has visited the much promoted Kruger National Park in South Africa and then Queen Elizabeth in Uganda will be amazed with the  ease with which they come across the big five (lion, buffalo, elephant, leopard) in Uganda compared to the kilometres one treks before they chance on one in South Africa.

Tourism value chain and GDP

To measure the impact of tourism on people and GDP (explained as a measure of the total sum of all the economic activities in a country) analysts refer to the value chain of people and activities and the trickle-down effect. The unique attribute for tourism is that if $100m  enters the country, no three people can conspire to keep the money among themselves.

In the case of oil, three people can decide to hang onto it and the rest will not benefit. For every 10 tourists, one permanent job is created, according to the United Nations global tourism agency. In the less developed countries, one tourism employee supports about seven people, another indication of its great impact. When a tour agent receives bookings money, he shares it with the different service  providers.

It is estimated that four people travelling from London to Uganda will spend not less than $16,000 on ground handling at Entebbe Airport and  $50 on a cab to Kampala (benefiting both the driver and fuel station).

Tourism is a unique export that the consumers find in the country  of origin. Related sectors serving the industry, such as transport, create over 100,000 jobs. Almost 26% of Uganda’s overall export earnings are from tourism.

Regional comparison

Uganda spends only $330,000 to market its tourism

Kenya spends over $23m annually in marketing its tourism and this budget is set to go up by almost 50%. Because of well-targeted marketing, Kilimanjaro Airport hosts about four million arrivals a year (more than what Ugandan hosts overall). Kenya has 29 national parks and about 2.4 million guests visit them, while in Uganda, only about 60,000 visit the parks.

For community tourism, the Karamoja Manyattas, Mabira Forest and Budongo, which are good spots for canopy walks, are yet to be exploited to compete with the Masai lifestyle currently raking in millions of dollars.


Broken but quickly improving road network. The other is the lack of a grading system for hotels, which leaves little room for choice for the sophisticated traveller. Also, a lack of a functional modern training facility for the tour and travel industry has hampered investor  nterest. There is also lack of basic maps and proper signage.

What is the biggest missing link?

The biggest missing link is lack of marketing of the tourism abundance. “Unfortunately we have not positioned ourselves well,” says Wekesa.

A Kenyan editor with the Standard newspaper recounted recently the days when Uhuru Kenyatta (now Kenyan president) was a senior official in the Kenyan tourism sector.

Kenyatta left nothing to chance in ensuring there is a wholesome marketing package so much so that a whole group of media from Kenya would  accompany the marketing team to top tourism exhibitions such as the World Tourism Market in London. In these meetings, tourism Kenya  officials would have a marketing budget surplus, but year on, the arrival figures continue to swell.

Uganda receives about 300,000 guests annually visiting national parks and game reserves, of which 80,000 are foreigners. The figures would be bigger, according to analysts, if there is marketing and investment in the line facilities. “We have not marketed adventure tourism,  which is where the money really is,” said Wekesa.

Local tourism

An exodus of tourists from USA, Spain, Asia and South Africa are destined to  Kidepo Valley National Park in northeastern Uganda.

Until recent undertakings by the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA), the promotion of local tourism has been wanting with packages mainly  focused to foreign travellers.

Tony Ofungi, a private tour operator, acknowledges that even private tour operators have not focused on creating domestic tourism handlers.

Wekesa advises that the value chain must also be well studied by the Government. “Between Entebbe and Kampala, there is nowhere to stop and buy crafts for instance, yet when people travel, their ability to spend is much higher.”


Kidepo Valley National Park:

After hours by road from Kampala, a tourist is surprised by the variety of animals, birds, reptiles and a panoramic wilderness. It is the  closest one can get of what nature was 100 years ago.

An exodus of tourists from USA, Spain, Asia and South Africa are destined to  Kidepo Valley National Park in northeastern Uganda.

“I am not surprised Kidepo was voted one of Africa’s leading national parks by the World Travel Award,” said the US ambassador to Uganda, Scot Dilisi. “My wife and I have been there twice in the short time I have been in Uganda and I would not mind going back.

A gem in the wilderness…….

The Ik tribe up on Mount Morungole treat you to their acapela, ballet and sell you artifacts

Asked what new attraction is in Kidepo, a long-term serving ranger, Phillip Akoromwe says: “The park skies are filled with birds in flight.” There is also the Ik tribe up on Mount Morungole. They treat you to their acapela, ballet and sell you artifacts.”

Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) marketing manager Ingrid Nyankabwa says there are services for all classes of guests. “There is an airstrip  for guests who would like to have a bird’s view of Kidepo. There is Apoka Lodge for high end travellers and the UWA banda for the budget  guest.”

MPs call for more funding

MPs have expressed concern about the low funding of the tourism sector, although it is one of the leading foreign exchange earners for Uganda.

A report by the parliamentary committee on tourism said the sector is one of the primary growth drivers of the economy as defined in the National Development Plan, but little money is allocated to it.

“Over the last three years the budget of the Uganda Tourism Board was cut from sh2.05b in 2011/12 to sh1.42b in 2012/13 to sh1.4b in 2013/14. Compared to other countries in the East African Community in the marketing and promotion of tourism, Kenya spends $17m, Tanzania $10m and Rwanda $5m, while Uganda spends only $330,000,” noted Flavia Kabahenda, the chairperson of the committee.

Kabahenda was presenting a committee report on the ministerial policy statements and budget estimates for the financial year 2013/14 for the Ministry of Tourism, Trade and Industry.

The committee recommended that the Government makes a deliberate effort to market Uganda internationally by reviving the Uganda Airlines, branding missions abroad, securing airtime and space on international media and developing sports to compete internationally.

The Speaker of Parliament, Rebecca Kadaga, said: “We are sliding in this sector, yet it has the capacity to turn around the economic fortunes of this country. Yes, tourism can fuel this country’s economy. We need to find ways of funding this sector better.”

Kevina Taka, the tourism shadow minister, said it is a pity that the sector responsible for providing 10% of new jobs in the last financial year can have its budget slashed instead of increasing it.

“We cannot compete with our neighbours who have a better marketing strategies for their tourism sectors on account of better funding,” Taka said.

Rubirizi MP Cadet Benjamin said the way Rwanda advertises mountain gorillas in its foreign missions, one cannot realise that majority of the animals are in Uganda.

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