“Ignoring research sets back Ugandan - Chinese tourism”

A Chinese works in the Good African Coffee factory in Uganda. Uganda’s coffee is one of the products that creates an opportunity for Ugandans to market their country in China. PHOTO BY RACHEL MABALA

What you need to know:

Sandra Rwese is the proprietor of Gulu and Hirst Company which bridges the gap between Ugandan tourism and China. The tourism consultancy company based in Uganda specialises in Chinese tourism markets, helping tour and hospitality operators reach these markets. She shared with Daily Monitor’s Dorothy Nakaweesi on how Uganda can look out to China as a source of tourists.

What is your judgment of the tourism industry in Uganda in relation to China?
My research indicates that China tourism has not been a priority source of tourism until two years ago. Uganda’s source of tourists was mainly Europe and US. However, with the recession biting and the migrant crisis in Europe, this is really eating into the traditional tourism source’s incomes and potential.
Now Asia is considered the next destination and for that matter, China is the leading source of tourists market because of its speedy development and spending power that has seen this Asian nation take over the US according to research data. China is the key market that Uganda and East Africa should look out for.

Why China?
China is a mass market and we are talking about tour groups of 40 to 200 tourists per trip.
Secondly the population of youth (20–34 years) earns at least 30 per cent of China’s GDP. This is equivalent to $330 billion (Shs1 trillion) income, a key demographic for travellers.
Thirdly, Chinese are looking for new and unique destinations. They have travelled to US, European Union and Dubai and are now looking for other places that are attractive and I believe we can take advantage of that.
Chinese are also good at cuisine. Uganda’s abundance of fresh foods is a key attraction. They spend 40 per cent on food which we should market. They should specifically come for a coffee if we target them.

How can Uganda and East Africa position themselves to attract Chinese tourists?
First, we should brand ourselves as China friendly. Right now, most of the tourism promoters’ websites are in English, French and Spanish. We do not have sites in Chinese yet this will attract many of them to research about Uganda.
Secondly, do our services match a specific travel agency? Are they registered? What are their packages? We have to have people who speak Chinese, and package the country. This can be worked on through training, and having a more Asian centric digital appreciation.
This means moving away from marketing on Facebook and Twitter and go into their social media services such as Webo, Ichuna, LV Mama where we can sell Uganda as friendly to China.

What challenges have hindered Ugandans from exploiting the Chinese tourism market?
Attitude and speed at which companies are transforming is taking a lot of time. This is something which should have been done 10 years ago like Singapore, Thailand, Australia did. We are instead still chasing the traditional source. Nobody is hiring researchers. Your marketer can not tell you so much but if you hire researchers who can dig deeper and give you statistics looking at mitigation, threats, how much time you have and the budget you need are still lacking. Ignoring professional researchers in tourism is a challenge and this has hindered many to exploit this market.

What are the basics for one to start?
Evaluation; know whether your tourism matches with the market. Then, web development and redesigning should be done and designed in Chinese search engines like Baidu.com. Look to recruit a staff member who will be your face. There are many locals who have had studies in China; they know some Chinese language and the market.

According to your experience, do the Chinese know Uganda and East Africa as a tourism destination?
They are interested in new experiences apart from traditional places like Europe. Already, those who are living here have started interesting those back home to come and invest here. They are demystifying Africa and feeling comfortable here.
We took too long to exploit this market and issue scholarship to train Ugandans to do this. Chinese coming to Africa are state-funded and issued loans to start. They are fast in whatever they do and are learning local languages. They will cinquer our market if we don’t do it. Already in Kenya, Kilifi has been developed with luxury homes. Ugandans should hurry up! The Kilifi homes are state-funded at 5 per cent and repayments are negotiated.