Thursday December 5 2013

Inland tourism: Why you need to be part of it

Uganda is home to different bird

Uganda is home to different bird species. Photo by Edgar R. Batte 

By Edgar R. Batte

When you think of holidays, your mind will easily go to places like Mombasa, Zanzibar, South Africa, but rarely any where on the local scene. This why local tourism players are saying that unless Ugandans start going on holiday at home there will be no reason for them to market inland facilities to the rest of the world.

The call was echoed by the Uganda Tourism Board (UTB)’s executive director, Cuthbert Baguma at the launch of a new campaign dubbed Holidays at Home Campaign, a private initiative to inspire and re-ignite domestic tourism.
“We do not have reason to market ourselves to the world if we, as Ugandans, cannot appreciate the enormous beauty that we are endowed with. There is no reason for you to go to luxurious destinations like Mombasa when you can travel less, spend less and have quality and more luxurious stay in facilities here,” Baguma, whose board is charged with marketing Uganda’s tourism potential, stated.

All set
The drive to promote domestic tourism was officially flagged off at the RainForest Lodge where, winners of a competition will have complementary accommodation for two nights in December.

RainForest Lodge is a luxurious upmarket lodge located in the midst of Mabira rain forest with beautiful amenities like a swimming pool, sauna, nature walks, restaurant, bar and all in a peaceful and quiet ambience.
The Holiday at Home initiative is an idea by The Pearl Guide Uganda, a local social and travel magazine, and developers of the new Uganda Guide App, Uganda’s first tourism application. They are running the campaign in partnership with Geolodges Africa.

“We should start engaging locals right from schools to visit these places through initiatives like competitions to attract Ugandans to visit our facilities,” Zaid Alam, founder of the now 20-year-old Geolodges Africa said.

The problem
Over time, the slow growth of domestic tourism in Uganda has been attributed to the fact that Ugandans find accommodation and transport to tourist sites expensive.

Accommodation in national parks, for example, remains expensive compared to regional prices. This, some argue, is due to monopoly concessions signed by government with private hotel investors in the parks.

As a result, there has been slow growth in accommodation in the parks, making it unaffordable for Ugandans to visit. But that is something that the management of Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) is already looking into.

UWA’s representative Stephen Masaba said the Authority is already offering incentives to local tourists.
On top of giving the winner an all-expenses paid trip to a selected national park, starting January 2014, Ugandans visiting national parks will do so at discounted rates.

This comes at the time when the Christmas season is only a few days away, a time to get away and explore what lies beyond dusty towns and the city.
“There are many roads that lead home. This time do not only go to the village, you can take your loved ones to the national park,” Vivian Lyazi, the Public Relations Officer of Ministry of Tourism, urged locals. The Holidays at Home Campaign is meant to inspire locals to take inland trips as opposed to opting for the more popular neighbouring destinations.

What it is
The Holidays at Home Campaign under the tagline; “Now that the world is rediscovering Uganda, how about us?” poses a serious question to citizens.
Herbert Byaruhanga, president of Uganda Tourism Association says the industry has suffered several setbacks.

He says: “There is no marketing strategy, and lack of business public relations. Our embassies are political positions.”
But not to be deterred by this setback, The Pearl Guide’s Philip Kalibwani says they will effectively utilise Uganda’s large and booming social media base of over 2.1 million people across Facebook and Twitter, to market the campaign.”

Uganda’s domestic tourism is still creating headaches for concerned stakeholders. Challenges are rooted in the perception that tourists have to be foreigners who are the only people able to afford our perceptively “expensive” packages.

The local financially-able middle class is largely unaware of the various scenic holiday gems and activities the country harbours.

“Strategic emphasis and targeting of this demographic through social media, the web and the more traditional media will yield gainful returns and it is with this rationale that The Pearl Guide is coming out to emphasise its local targeting,” Kalibwani further argued.

For most Ugandans, tourism is still viewed as an industry that is tailored for foreign visitors who come in with foreign currencies to spend. The kind who come on holiday, stay in five star hotels and expensive lodges, eat in expensive restaurants and buy keepsakes to take home. But the reality is, the earlier we all step out of that mindset, the better.