After a 20-year absence, Miss Tourism Uganda pageant is back on the Uganda tourism calendar. The very first pageants in the late 1980s were something to reckon with; tourism awareness, traditional ‘swag’ and splendour were in abundance.
But the event became a loosely-organised contest in the early 2000s before a one Rafic Peeradina came in to try and revive it, about eight years ago. It wasn’t easy for Rafic and company, according to Mr Richard Ssebaduka, who worked with Rafic on the project.
“There was no direct connection between the tourism industry players and Miss Tourism Uganda pageant,” Ssebaduka said. “And to make matters worse, that was the time when the image of beauty pageants in Uganda was tainted as a result of relentless controversies and therefore funding wasn’t easy to come by. No corporate company wanted to put in money and the ministry only contributed a letter of blessing.”
The lack of full backing from key tourism players and a vague sense of direction only meant one result – dead end! It is no surprise that the last time Uganda held Miss Tourism was six years ago under Rafic.
Ms May Amongi, the title holder, told an audience at her crowning that she had her heart set on tourism promotion in Uganda but in the end, it seemed like all she did was wear a tiara and disappear. She is, however, quick to defend herself. “My reign was difficult, to say the least,” she told Saturday Monitor this week. “Even the organisers didn’t know what to do with me after the pageant; I lost contact with them and I knew no one in tourism so I was practically stranded.”
Amongi needed grooming to become a true ambassador of Uganda’s tourism but the tourism fraternity, who would help shape her attitude, virtually knew nothing about her. It would not be a surprise if a quarter of those who attended Amongi’s crowning in Munyonyo in 2007 do not even remember her name or face.
The then 3rd year BA student at Makerere University beat 21 other contestants and exclaimed, “Oh my God, I can’t believe this,” and then she went on to promise that she would involve herself in conservation work.
But as it turned out, Amongi only collected her prizes which included a Toyota Starlet, Shs3m, return ticket to Cyprus, wardrobe and Kabira Country Club membership and later represented Uganda at the Miss Tourism International in Malaysia where she won a medal for Miss Personality in the boot camp. She is even said to have never been to a game park.
Whatever happened to her main pledge and the core purpose of the pageant –to promote tourism in the country, who can blame her for not making effort in an industry where very little has been done in terms of branding, promoting and marketing Uganda as a tourist destination.
Today, the dark tunnel has started to show some flickers and hopes are high that the tourism industry is headed for the limelight. But analysts say the process will be a battle; a battle for a bigger marketing budget, good publicity and standardisation.
However, the best weapon in the tourism industry’s arsenal today seems to be the minister herself and it is clear Dr Maria Mutagamba wants to awaken the sleeping giant called Uganda’s tourism by trying her hands at every option imaginable.
Currently, she is busy pushing the envelope of Miss Tourism Uganda 2013, a pageant which has even attracted the attention of members of Parliament. She is at the forefront, reviving the pageant which she believes will promote Uganda tourism domestically and internationally by showcasing the Pearl of Africa’s diverse and rich tourism potential (flora, fauna, culture, history, food etc) and increase public-private sector participation/funding in tourism.
The overall pageant winner will represent Uganda at Miss Tourism World 2013 Finale in Malaysia come December 31. Miss Tourism World plays host to more than 50 international beauty queens from around the world. The pageant aims at enhancing the tourism development, the friendship among different countries, and international culture exchange.
Dr Mutagamba says, “Miss Tourism Uganda is by far, the most extensive pageantry effort in promoting Uganda’s tourism industry.” And with a meagre tourism marketing budget every year, there is need for Uganda to instead turn to talent - people like Stephen Kiprotich and beauty queens, for that matter, to enhance the image of this beautiful yet beaten country.
Uganda is believed to be the most nature-endowed country in Africa, offering every bit of what Africa has to collectively offer; like Lonely Planet said, Uganda is Africa condensed!
As the struggle to let the world know about what one of Britain’s most iconic men in the history, Sir Churchill endorsed as the Pearl of Africa continues, Miss Tourism Uganda presents an opportunity to enable us reveal to the world our many beautiful facets, from the bustling city of Kampala to the idyllic upcountry towns, fantastic weather, hospitable folks, breath-taking landscapes, abundant wildlife and the sun-kissed beaches. Add that to the country’s unique melting pot of cultures, and what Uganda has to present becomes an endless list.
Uganda has some of the best experiences to offer in Africa when it comes to leisure and adventure tourism and yet that section attracts very few tourists. Miss Tourism, being a blend of lifestyle and culture, the organisers believe that it will help stimulate the interest of young Ugandans in what their motherland has got to offer, hence helping the cause of domestic tourism. But like most pageants, the organisers have to be on their guard to avoid the aftermath controversies that can easily bury even the most prospective projects.
The chairperson Miss Tourism Uganda Pageants, Ms Irene Zikusooka, is however positive that the organising committee will be professional and transparent. They have managed to borrow the skills of fashion guru Santa Anzo to groom the beauties in cat-walking and fashioning.
The committee has members from the ministry and Uganda Tourism Board (UTB), who will help to guide the pageant participants in their respective disciplines. Several industry players have also pledged their full support and it seems like the pageant has finally come back home to people who understand the industry.
The contest is open to all unmarried Ugandan women, aged between 18 and 29 with a minimum of A-level education and with a height of at least 5 feet 6 inches.
Auditions are done and the girls will enter boot camp next week. The chosen 15 will be presented to the public during a fundraising dinner on September 6 before they are taken back to the boot camp where only 10 will be chosen to contest in the finale slated for October 5 in Kampala.
The winner will be groomed into a speaker who will represent the country at Miss Tourism World. The Miss Tourism International finale is a New Year’s Eve event that began in 1994 in Malaysia and has been held there every year, except in 2006 when it was moved to Guangzhou, China.
The only African to have won the crown was South Africa’s Angela Beck in 2003. The contest has set its mark in more than 76 countries today and Uganda, known as one of the best tourist destinations in the world, aims to send a participant every year.