According to the World Tourism and Travel Council report for 2014/15, Uganda’s tourism and travel growth prospects are expected to reach 10 per cent per annum in the medium term up from 5-6 per cent this year.
These are reassuring statistics that provide stakeholders in the tourism sector a basis to mobilise particularly local capital for investment, create backward and forward linkages within the economy.
In the same report, direct contribution of tourism to Uganda’s gross domestic product (GDP) is set to jump from 4.3 per cent in 2014 to 8.4 per cent in 2015.
This contribution comprises all industries that deal directly with tourists, such hotels, travel agents, airlines and other passenger transport services, as well as the activities of restaurant and leisure industries.
Additionally, the industry is estimated to add more than 100,000 direct and indirect jobs and more than Shs2.762 trillion.
However, despite the promising numbers, Uganda’s tourism industry needs to reflect on some key specifics in the short term, which among them include low domestic tourism. Despite a growing middle class, figures for domestic tourism are at a low 21.7 per cent compared to 78.3 per cent for visitor exports in 2014 and with projected short term and long term estimates only expanding sluggishly.
A key fundamental challenge in this aspect remains the inability of the tourism sector to tap into the adventurous Ugandan middle class fatigued by the Entebbe beach boredom and regular visits to the bar.
In my own estimate, two thirds of Ugandan professionals have never taken a leisure trip to an upcountry location or a national park and this is mainly due to the lack of information, given the burgeoning age of social media.
The existing multimillion dollar campaigns are carried out on international media channels, exhibitions in mainly European and Asian capitals and their intent, form or messaging negates the potential of our middle class. You would be hard pressed today to find readily available information on exciting adventures, packages, rates and other material in this regard.
Therefore, in the medium and long term, the industry needs to reprioritise their marketing to include and target this growing middle class through directed advertising on social media, television and other mediums.
Additionally, to attract a somewhat undecided middle-class, government needs to further embark on policies and strategies that incentivise such travel such as cut-price rates for locals, tax rebates for local tour companies that encourage local tourists, reduction of local service tax for upcountry hotels and lodges among others.
Thus, it is vital that government and key stakeholders within the tourism sector, start a debate on stimulating domestic tourism and come up with appropriate avenues to spur potential in a largely untapped market.
Tourism has the potential to generate the backward and forward linkages this economy desperately needs.
Samuel Kasirye is a tourism enthusiast based in Dar el Salam, Tanzania. Email: Kasirye10@yahoo.com.