Pearl Hoareau Kakooza is the eternal optimist who sees opportunities where others see impossibilities. In 1987, Kakooza was shot. At that time, she was a teacher of English and Religious Education at St Joseph’s Nsambya. On her recovery Kakooza decided to embark on a fresh career journey, writes Edgar R. Batte
She is the president of Uganda Tourism Association (UTA), chairperson of The Uganda Association of Travel Agents (TUGATA) as well as Seychelles Tourism Ambassador in Uganda.
She is managing director (MD) of Uganda Travel Bureau 2004 Ltd (UTB2004 Ltd) and general manager (GM) of FCM Travel Solution (Uganda), positions she has held since 2008 and 2006, respectively.
She attributes her colourful career to honesty, a willingness to learn and executing roles she has been entrusted with excellently. She says, “It is important to have a sense of integrity in what you do. In the short run, people may not see it but in the long run, they will. It will earn you many points and accolades than you have ever imagined.”
“You deal with people and manage people and bring out the best in them. I always encourage and find training opportunities for my team with airlines and hotels because I believe that by improving a person, you get better output from them,” she adds.
Kakooza’s journey into the tourism industry began when she was headhunted by The Express Travel Group, a travel services company that has been inbusiness since 1955.
At the time, she was approached by the Kenyan owned company, she was working with Crown Agency, a British company where she served as a procurement manager.
She served at Express as general manager. Within the three years she worked there, she prides herself in enabling the company move from number five to second best travel agency in Uganda.
When she was hired, she learnt everything she could about the travel business and did more than her job description entailed. She looked into and improved processes, systems and employees to achieve growth.
The company handled the American Express charge card and Orient Bank as an agent in Uganda. The bank must have been impressed with her work because when she moved on from Express Travel Group, it was to Orient Bank.
Making a U-turn
In 2006, she retraced her career path back into tourism as general manager of Uganda Travel Bureau, one of the country’s oldest travel management companies, having been established in 1971.
Uganda Travel Bureau handles inland tours safaris to places like game parks and national parks. Kakooza says whereas these are efforts directed at getting Ugandans to travel within the motherland, a lot more needs to be done by the Uganda Tourism Board (UTB), the parastatal in charge of marketing Uganda as a tourism destination to Ugandans and foreigners.
She thus explains, “Early this year, Uganda Tourism Board had Pearl of Africa Tourism Expo and we need to do a lot more to boost domestic tourism. Remember when Kenya got terrorism attacks, they started looking for tourist numbers from within.
“It is important because after I have visited my home tourism sites, I am inclined to invite my family, friends to also visit. It is a challenge UTB has taken on and wants to pursue.”
She points out that Ugandans travel during the festive season, between December and January but argues that there is something to learn from Magical Kenya because many Kenyans come here and enjoy our night life.
“They say it is something they really like. We need to market such products locally and within the region,” UTA’s president adds. UTA is the private sector voice of tourism professionals who are crucial to running the tourism agenda in Uganda and beyond.
Using her charms
In her capacity, Kakooza says she uses a lot of diplomacy to get stakeholders to appreciate the broader picture in the tourism industry, particularly with male counterparts whose egoistical excesses might otherwise cost the industry.
“There are certain differences among our male counterparts, and a lot of knocking of heads. As a woman you come in to calm down and advocate for things that will benefit the tourism industry by putting egos asides. I am good at arbitrating,” she explains.
At the moment, she is one of the people working behind the scenes to sort out issues affecting tour agents.
Plans for future
The travel industry is faced with an anti-travel agent challenge, a directive that was issued where the ministry wants all tickets issued directly with the airlines.
“It is difficult to implement, so at the moment, under Tugata, we are discussing with government and different stakeholders on how best to have the directive rescinded.
I hope it can be done sooner than later. The way the directive stands actually threatens the very existence of the travel agent professional. They want to remove us from the tourism travel chain,” she elaborates.