Yesterday, the world celebrated the United Nations World Tourism Day. The theme for this year’s celebration, “One Billion Tourists, One Billion Opportunities”, is aimed at fostering awareness among the international community of the importance of tourism and its social, cultural, political and economic value.
Currently, tourism is the top foreign exchange earner in Uganda according to the World Travel and Tourism Council. This contribution is, however, largely from nature-based tourism. The foreign exchange earnings could double or triple if other dimensions of tourism such as cultural/heritage tourism, religious tourism, agro-tourism and sports tourism were explored.
Uganda is endowed with a rich cultural diversity, which, despite its potential to sustain the tourism industry, is largely underdeveloped. Most visitors to Uganda sadly miss out on our culture and traditions. Yet, cultural tourism promotes inter-cultural exchange between visitors and Ugandans.
Through cultural tourism, communities are encouraged to identify and promote both social and economic values of their heritage. Intangible cultural heritage elements such as empaako naming ceremonies among the Basongora in Kasese, the skill of making barkcloth in Buganda and the cultural practices of the Ik in Kaabong District, among others, have been inscribed on to the World Heritage List in the past 10 years under the 2003 Unesco Convention on the Safeguarding of Intangible Heritage.
Agro tourism is relatively new and it encourages visitors to experience agricultural life at first hand. Agro-tourism is gathering strong support from small communities as rural people have realised the benefits of sustainable development brought about by similar forms of nature travel. With agro-tourism, visitors have the opportunity to stay and work in the agricultural fields alongside farmers. In Greece, agro-tourism has become an integral part of the tourism industry.
Religious tourism, commonly referred to as faith tourism where people go for pilgrimage, missionary, or leisure purposes is another example. In Uganda, Namugongo Martyrs’ Shrine is where pilgrims from across the world converge yearly to celebrate Uganda Martyrs’ Day on June 3. This offers potential for growth in the sector.
Sports tourism is also worth promoting, given the growing interest in sports. It already contributes 14 per cent of overall travel and tourism receipts and this is set to grow. Countries such as South Africa and Brazil, which have hosted major sporting events, sport tourism supported the strengthening of national heritage, identity, and community spirit as local people joined together to promote their culture.
The Cross – Cultural Foundation of Uganda