In 2004, Farouk Busuulwa was a fresh graduate. Like many, he was eager to work which meant burning some rubber as he moved from one office to another in search of a job.
He was unsuccessful in his search. He had driving skills thanks to a sister who had prompted him to get a licence too so that he could assist to drop and pick her children from school.
“During the time, there were not many driver guides who could explain themselves in fair English. I was fluent in the language so it was easy for me to penetrate the tourism industry. I had a small car in which I would take clients from Sheraton Kampala Hotel to the airport, in Entebbe,” Busuulwa recollects.
He did errands to Jinja town too. He managed to make a start using Sheraton Hotel as his focal point because a friend worked within the five-star hotel and connected him to clients.
One day, a client checked into the hotel and requested for a tour operator who could take him on a 13-day excursion around Uganda. He wanted to track mountain gorillas in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, a place Busuulwa had never been to.
He is born and bred in Kampala and he hadn’t gotten a chance to travel to that part of the country. He was given the opportunity to drive the tourist but frankly, he was a tourist too.
“Luckily, the gentleman I was driving, was interested in the stories I told. My training as a social science graduate was in African politics. He kept asking questions in line with politics. Today, I don’t talk about politics while on safari,” he adds.
With the trip to Bwindi, a business opportunity was at hand. His client had adopted two Congolese refugees who lived in Nakivale Refugee Settlement in Isingiro District, so he asked to be driven there first and then to the lady who had received them in Kabale.
“We left Kabale at 4:30pm to Buhoma. I didn’t know the driving distance but my client had a map. We arrived there at around midnight. Imagine I had never driven past Masaka but there I was on a very rough road from Kabale, for about five hours. That was 2005,” he narrates.
They had to track the prized primates in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park, where they could instantly acquire permits. The itinerary read Queen Elizabeth National Park as the next destination.
On getting there, Busuulwa found a notice of an imminent training for safari guides. His client asked him if he was interested in undertaking the training and he answered in the affirmative.
He supported him. After the 13-day expedition, he sat back and realised Fernando Rodriguez had not only given him his first business trip but had helped him cut his teeth in tourism business. The training set him on course to do safari driving, with different companies, between 2005 and 2010. He worked for Merit Vacations where he learnt that tourism business has curves, times when a company would be busy and then the low business moments. He moved on to work with Abacus African Vacations, Pinnacle then Wig Worm.
“I never felt ready to run a company. I had a dream that at some point I would go solo. I met clients, one of them a personal friend to Hillary Clinton. She is called Patricia Harley. They came for the first time and booked with us and then returned.”
On their third trip they asked Busuulwa if he knew why they kept booking to travel with him. The world was not too small for them to keep returning to the Pearl of Africa.
They were encouraging him because they felt he had what it took to make it in life by going solo. He had not told them that he had registered a company. He had registered Active Vacation Safaris.
He had registered and kept it. When he opened up to them about it, they had reservations about the name. It would not fly if he wanted business from the American market so on one of the evenings, over dinner, they suggested ‘Adventure’ so he had to make plans to register it. “I managed to make some money, did some savings and bought some safari cars and put up a shelter for my family. Starting a company is not so easy in Uganda if you are not financially strong. It was hard to make profits in the first and second year. Customers will only trust you if you have developed infrastructure; safari cars, an office,” he explains.
With three cars, he registered Adventure Vacation Safaris, in 2010. He went on to start marketing it online. His American clients who had now become friends, went on to use their expedition pictures and information to build a website.
While on safari, he received a call terminating his services from the company he worked for at the time. His website was up and running, and he was a competitor. Things drastically changed.
“I was the busiest person before the website started running but when I lost my job, I would spend up to three months without a call for business,” he adds.
He spent the time on a computer putting himself together and looking for business, sharing new products with potential clients in and outside Uganda. He would hire out the cars and used the profit he made to go out to attend travel and trade exhibitions.
He has attended the World Travel Market in London since 2010, and the ITB in Berlin and New York Travel Show because all world sellers attend them and are eager to make connection from different parts of the world.
Today, he goes to show face and maintain partners. Over the years, the tour operator has learnt that making one client happy is better than making money from many to whom he will provide an average service.
He hates going short of what he promises as a businessman in the tourism sector. He is keen on giving his whole on safari with the appreciation that guiding is a package.
“If you take customers on a safari and happen to know a bit of everything they need, and in detail, they enjoy their excursion. Having not been a tourism scholar, I knew my weaknesses and researched. When I am in the jungle, you might think you are with a PhD scholar,” he further explains.
He has 16 committed customers but it is real work that involves safaris, sundowners, bush dinners and breakfasts. He has good guide books like ‘Beat about the Bush’, ‘The Ranger in my Back Pack’.
Three things tick the boxes, the Mountain gorillas whose permit goes for $600 which is cheaper compared to Rwanda’s which is at $1,500. “Ugandan are warm and it rubs off. Number three is the scenery. I would embed weather as well. Uganda is different. The rainfall amount. It is generally green. In business tourism, it is still virgin. In other places, it is so commercialised,” the safari guide lists some of the unique tourism offerings in the Pearl of Africa.
Eighty per cent of his clients are from Germany. He has a working relationship with agents there. Some of the challenges sector players face is receiving money in advance and spending it ahead of excursion.
Competition is rife. He is secretary of Association of Uganda Operators (AUTO), with a registration of 300 members. There are a thousand more unregistered ones who are outside the regulation parameters.
Farouk Busuulwa hates going short of what he promises as a businessman in the tourism sector. He is keen on giving his whole on safari with the appreciation that guiding is a package.
Tips for starting a tour business
The tourism business in Uganda is one of the fast-rising ventures in the country. It has provided business/work opportunities for a lot of people in select locations and is a proven source of income for entrepreneurs and investors.
“The more knowledgeable someone is, the better for them. It is good to save because if you don’t save, you cannot run a company. You need to have some solid income. When you start operation, you need to engage in some aggressive marketing,” Farouk Busuulwa advises.
He says that as a tour operator or businessman, you will need to showcase. This will involve you going to for local, regional and international exhibitions so you will need to have a travel, accommodation and stipend budget.
“You will need at least $3,000 for every exhibition unless it is within East Africa. That is why it is very important to save money. You will need to work hard. It is 6pm, I am heading out for a meeting and when I go, everyone will leave but I will be in office, at home. As a proprietor, you work harder than your employees. If not, you are gone,” he further tips on succeeding in tourism business.
He says dedication to work comes with the vision one has for their business. Whereas he distributes roles, he says that once in a while, he will surprise his employees and clients by showing up on safaris for abrupt checks.
“You need to be ready to come out at 3am and surprise clients. There are times when we have 10 trips running and I find a central point where I can meet at least even groups. You realise that when they go home they talk about it. Can you imagine the managing director came to meet us during safari?”
On fleet management, he says that it is important to know about garage works. Otherwise, you are likely to lose money to mechanics who will take advantage of your ignorance.
Some of the business opportunities of the tourism business in Uganda and many other places around the world are:
After settling travel plans, the next thing on a tourist’s mind is where to live for the duration of his or her stay in the country. Two main concerns regarding accommodation are safety and comfort ability.
This demand creates an opening for people in the real estate and hospitality industry such as hotels, bed and breakfasts, motels, rental apartments, and homes.
Revenues are generated by either renting out homes or setting up an agency with connections to hotels and landlords.
A transportation business is an excellent way to earn money in the tourism enterprise. Tourists are almost always on the move. They need transport services to take them from place to place while giving them interesting and exciting informative titbits about the locale.
Transportation services include bus shuttles, ride sharing, car rental, chauffeur services, water-based vehicles and air-based transport. In most cases, this business includes the use of tour guides who give out information on matters of history and culture of the area.
A tour guiding business involves giving tours to persons interested in visiting famous places, showing them various historical sites, fun spots, and/or attractions. Tour guides provide an exciting learning experience for these visitors by sharing their knowledge of culture, lifestyle trends and history of a specific location.
Food is an essential part of the human culture. Also, food keeps the body active while travelling and sightseeing. Hence, food services are valuable in the tourism industry.
Most tourists relish tasting or trying out the local treats as a part of their adventure. There are establishments such as restaurants, fast-foods, bars, and shops which serve a variety of meals to tourists. Some offer local delicacies to give these visitors something different and unique while others provide meals that are familiar.
Establishing a food business in a tourist-prone area is a good way to generate income from tourists.
Whether the trip is for business or vacation, every tourist wants a place to unwind and enjoy themselves.
That’s the reason businesses that offer entertaining, relaxation, and fun activities are very successful.
Bars, nightclubs, amusement parks, dancehalls, spas, and lounges are all profitable business ventures in this expanding industry.
Professional photography and videography is a lucrative tourism-related business. Anyone with one or both skills can generate a lot of income by capturing tourists’ significant moments during their tours.
However, smartphones can easily substitute a photographer. So your skill and image quality must be novel.
All that’s required to start up a small-scale translation business is a mastery of two or more foreign and local languages.
Translation services are especially needed by business tourists who pay more than any other types of tourist.
A translation agency is a time-intensive but profitable long-term business. Managing a translation company entails a formal administrative structure and recruiting employees with different language skills.
A charming shop that stocks and sells items like locally made gifts, crafts, jewellery, and accessories is a money maker in the tourism business.
Most tourists love souvenirs, and so, open up an attractive store with unique, creative and interesting mementos that tourists can take back to their home country.