Tuesday August 26 2014

Improve our transport system to boost tourism

By Editorial

Parliament Speaker Rebecca Kadaga has made an important appeal to the government: Revamp the air transport in Jinja Town to promote tourism and boost growth of the former industrial town. Jinja, as Kadaga rightly notes, is endowed with significant tourism sites such as the Source of the Nile – the longest river in the world – but it has not attracted huge numbers of international tourists.

Kadaga has been consistent in leading the campaign to use the tourism potential in Busoga sub-region for development. Programmes like the Busoga Cultural Tourism Initiative which President Museveni launched last year will, through activities like the Kagulu Hill Climbing Challenge, promote the sector.

To attract more tourists to Jinja, the Speaker says an airstrip is necessary. This is true not just for Jinja but the entire country, particularly towns with tourism sites. And it does not have to be only an airstrip. As the executive director of Uganda Media Centre Ofwono Opondo says, “Although air transport is good to move tourists quickly, what we need is connectivity by road...”

Both Kadaga and Opondo’s argument relay the same message – improving the transport system to ease movement of tourists. The broader call, however, should include wider infrastructure development.

Government should, therefore, channel more investment to make the thriving tourism industry even better. The number of tourists visiting Uganda has been steadily growing. A report released last year puts the number of tourists who visited Uganda in 2012 at 1.2 million.

The findings of the study carried out by the Ministry of Tourism in partnership with the World Bank and Department for International Development, shows a progressive development. For instance, Uganda registered 946,000 tourists in 2010, 1.1 million in 2011 and 1.2 million in 2012. This is an opportunity to explore more avenues to grow the sector.

Marketing our tourism potential, including through social media, has played a crucial role in its development. As the World Bank report aptly noted, we should attract more tourists through strong marketing. But more important, we must improve our transport system to ease movement of the tourists we attract across the country easily.

Our tourism potential is vast. In 2012, Lonely Planet listed Uganda the best country to visit, and named one of the best travel destinations in the world by the National Geographic. Similarly, Birdlife International, a global programme on conservation and protection of birds and their habitats, declared Uganda a preferred bird watching destination 2013/14.

These accolades, together with strong marketing, can and should promote our tourism sector. This cannot happen unless we heed Kadaga’s call: Build an efficient road, water and air transport system.