What you need to know:
There have been a number of efforts geared towards promoting tourism in Uganda. Amos Wekesa, the chairperson of the Presidential Investors Round Table committee on tourism, which seeks to grow the sector in Uganda spoke to Dorothy Nakaweesi about the committee’s plans, perspectives and projections for the industry.
What is the role of the presidential investors’ round table committee on tourism?
It seeks to redirect the future of tourism by making recommendations to government, among them, improving infrastructures, growing the country’s human resources, marketing and adjusting taxation policies to fit market demands.
Which are some of your priority areas?
For the moment we are focusing on tourism marketing to grow our numbers. We are not doing well in this area compared to our neighbours. Taxation and human resources development are also part of our focus points. We need to train and equip people with skills so that we can present them with opportunities that are within and beyond Uganda. Also, on the list is infrastructure development which we are pushing through different government agencies.
How can Uganda position itself to become the leading tourism destination in East Africa and later alone Africa?
First, there is need for reorganisation of the industry. We need to bring all decision making to one point. Currently, there are so many power centres including ministry of Tourism, Uganda Tourism Board, Association of Uganda Tour Operators, Uganda Wildlife Authority and the Uganda Museum. We need to focus at how decision affecting all these entities can be brought at a single point but having positive effects to the industry as a whole.
How are the numbers reading currently?
The numbers are not good at all compared to our neighbours. On average, we get 70,000 foreign visitors in our national parks compared to Kenya’s 2.4 million and Tanzania’s 760,000 annually. Amid all this, there is a lot of negative reporting in this region. Today is Ebola and the other day is terror threats. All these push away visitors considering the global economy is not doing well. Similar trends are also visible in our airport arrivals. In 2013, Jomo Kenyatta International airport had 6.5 million arrivals compared to Kilimanjaro International Airport, which had 4 million. Entebbe International Airport had a distant 1.3 million arrivals, which does not compare well with our neighbours.
What is preventing Uganda from growing its numbers?
We have failed to build a working strategy as a country. But apart from that, we have too many power centres all relying on a very tiny marketing budget. In Kenya government, on average spends $50m (Shs183b) on tourism campaigns annually.
How should Ugandans get involved in marketing tourism?
First, as players, we need to grow tourist numbers internally through a well thought out education system that focuses on our country. If the young generation understands their country, then there will be tremendous potential in becoming visitors to our several tourism sites because that way they will understand them better.
You have travelled widely. What lessons have you learnt that can be adopted to promote the tourism industry here?
Other countries have done well in integrating sectors into tourism. Look at sports in other countries it is a serious contributor to some countries, tourism revenues. Countries in Europe are able to determine people’s interests and they make them revenue earners. As Uganda, we have a great deal to offer but we have not capitalised on our strengths to get revenue from such sectors. We need to consolidate the current benefits under a single authority but also look at how we can make new inroads. All sectors of the economy should find a way of supporting tourism because they, in a way, benefit directly or indirectly.