After posting about Uganda’s tourism being on fire a while ago, I realised I need to shed more light on how tourism marketing and number growth happens. A lot of people were attributing our gorilla tourism growth in gorilla trekking to the rise in price of Rwanda gorilla permits. The gorilla permits in Rwanda have been more expensive than Uganda’s for many years but why was Uganda having less than 50 per cent throughout the year? Uganda even reduced its permits to $450 (about Shs1.6m) during a low season.
I write this from an experienced point of view since I have presence in Kibale National Park (Primate Lodge Kibale), Budongo Forest (Budongo Eco Lodge ), Queen Elizabeth (Simba Safari Camp Ltd) and also marketing experiences across the world.
It has been very hard for anybody to sell Uganda because people who are the final consumers of tourism had not been persuaded through logical marketing for many years. As businesses, we have been travelling across the world to convince wholesalers about Uganda, the destination. Yes, they tried convincing a few of their clients, though it was an uphill task.
The wholesalers are big companies based in countries we get paying tourists from. The companies sell hundreds of destinations and they follow the desires of the paying tourists, and in the West, travellers have established long term relationships with these wholesalers. They will approach a DMC (Destination Management Company) and sign contracts if they feel you meet their clients’ needs and they will require to know, through writing, the quality of your services.
The wholesalers will mainly send clients to countries that have put in efforts in marketing themselves, for example Kenya has about 18 PR firms across the world whose job is simply talking about how beautiful Kenya is, including here in Uganda. You hear Kenya campaigns on radios, you read about them in our newspapers and they transport, accommodate our locals across Kenya every year and these people share their experiences either on social media or in the mainstream media.
Uganda in May 2016, hired three PR firms in the US, Germany and UK and these firms have been bringing the press to Uganda in big numbers. It is the final consumer who reads about Uganda and then approaches their agents for Uganda as a destination. Of course the PR firms needed to work on low hanging fruits which have been mainly Bwindi, Kibale and Queen Elizabeth national parks, but primate national parks have limitations in numbers and it is scientific only eight people are allowed to trek each gorilla family per day, one hour each group.
Uganda has less than 35,000 gorilla permits (in Egypt they can receive over 800,000 tourists in a month) for a whole year, the reason we should change our strategy in the next round of marketing.Uganda should use the Nile as a flagship product followed by Lake Victoria because if the two get developed for tourism purposes, they can handle bigger numbers.
The other focus should be to tell the world that anybody can come to Uganda, see no gorillas but still enjoy. Uganda is also a very important birding destination and this should be emphasised. I also think that we should use a gorilla permit as a bait and those that want to trek gorillas should visit at least two other national parks so that the clients spend more time in the country.
Ugandans must also be told how they can position themselves. Research by Makerere University Business School revealed that if a tourist comes to Uganda with $1,000 to spend, they only spend $400 because we have not positioned our products well.
I know we love faith as a people but a little faith plus real hardwork is better than a lot of faith while caught up in laziness.......
The writer is an investment expert
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