For the last two weeks, Uganda’s tourism offerings have been widely covered by local media as part of the activities preceding the Pearl of Africa Tourism Expo (POATE). The country’s rich offerings in flora, fauna and heritage sites is a fact universally acknowledged. Likewise is the contribution of the tourism sector to Uganda’s GDP which currently stands at 10 per cent and employs more than one million people.
According to Steven Asiimwe, the chief executive office of Uganda Tourism Board, the body charged with marketing Uganda among others, the sector brought in up to $1.3 billion in 2015 which was three times more than total coffee exports in the same period. Tourism earner figures are high, just like the potential of the offerings. Ironically, though the sector continues to be among the least funded with this year’s budget allocations standing at Shs184.137b, much to the frustration of the different industry players. We can’t simply keep recording the figures and not taking action and giving tourism its deserved place on the coffers.
It is no wonder, therefore, that UTB has anchored the POATE on the theme “Tourism is everybody’s business”. Since February 7, Uganda has been host to about 80 hosted buyers who have traversed different parts of the country sampling Uganda’s offerings. Today begins the three-day finale (February 17- 19) at Sheraton Kampala Hotel gardens where hoteliers, tour and travel companies, among other service providers, are showcasing their services to the wider public. With free entrance, this should attract a huge number of participants.
Having these closer to the public provides an opportunity to discover the different offerings and costs attached, a thing that should boast interest. However, with such a theme, domestic tourism needed to have taken a front seat as during the off peak seasons the industry will benefit a lot from locals.
UTB needs to also focus on marketing tourism locally. Activism for tourism by everybody as per the theme, maybe the recipe needed to lift the sector out of the bottom of the budget.
Besides simply encouraging visits, documentation of experiences shouldn’t be left to private initiatives. Domestic tourism can actually be a powerful tool to market tourism out of Uganda and this way, indeed, allow multitudes to take ownership of this gem handed to Uganda by nature.
Your first noble duty in the next three days should be to visit the expo and know that your role, however small, counts in pushing forward the tourism agenda.