The International Community of Banyakigezi (ICOB), will gather in East Rutherford, New Jersey, USA on August 1, 2019 for their Seventeenth Annual Convention. This year’s theme: ‘Innovation-Driven Tourism,’ will build on the ideas and strategies that were generated at last year’s convention in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. (Details of the New Jersey Convention are posted on www.abanyakigezi.net).
The focus of the New Jersey Convention will be to showcase Uganda as a priority tourist destination and present and promote the case for sustainable tourism, within the framework of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, especially SDG 8.9. This states that by 2030, member states “will devise and implement policies to promote sustainable tourism that creates jobs and promotes local culture and products”.
The ICOB 2019 Convention organisers, led by Sarah Sebikari-Rukunda of New Jersey, are putting together a programme that they hope will change the delegates’ lives and attitudes. First, we plan to showcase Uganda as a priority tourist destination and to create an opportunity for Ugandan tourism operators and entrepreneurs to promote their businesses and network with their American counterparts.
Second, we plan to explore tourism beyond national parks and animal tracking. No doubt our country’s national parks are highly worthy attractions for the connoisseur of wildlife tourism and photography. However, Uganda’s wildlife offering is not unique. Botswana, Kenya, South Africa and Tanzania, for example, are equally endowed and will satisfy the vast majority of international tourists seeking a memorable African experience. We do not even have a monopoly on our famous mountain gorillas. Rwanda offers an excellent alternative to the tourist who wants that once-in-a-lifetime encounter with our nearest primate relatives.
So, we shall ask the question: “Why should a tourist choose Uganda over other worthy destinations?” Part of the answer will likely emerge from a shift of focus to opportunities in film tourism, sports tourism, culinary tourism, history tourism and exploitation of our rich canon of traditional music, dance and the daily lives of people all over the country.
Interestingly, the vast majority of tourists who come to Canada and the USA do not do so to engage with animals. They come to feed their eyes and other senses on these countries’ rich human history and man-made development, in addition to savouring the stunning beauty of this continent’s varied landscape. Likewise, Ugandan tourism promoters need to think out of the traditional box and offer the world the full package of what makes our beautiful country a goldmine of opportunities for a tourist with discriminating tastes.
Third, we hope to learn about tourism promotion and management in the information age, mindful of the stiff competition that Uganda faces from equally beautiful neighbours like Kenya, Rwanda and Tanzania. Our view is that Uganda must employ cutting age technologies and communication strategies to be competitive, not only on the regional level, but globally.
We shall make the case that every aspect of the life and economy of our country is the foundation for profitable and sustainable tourism. To that end, we hope to engage in conversations with policy makers, investors and citizens about the opportunities for improvement that invite our collective attention in order to realise our country’s enormous tourism potential.
One area of interest is the need to tap the Ugandan Diaspora as a major source of tourist clients. Whereas thousands of Diaspora Ugandans regularly visit their homeland, anecdotal evidence suggests that most restrict their visits to Kampala and their home areas in the countryside. Time constraints may be one reason for this. However, a lack of awareness of the beautiful landscape, people and rich cultures beyond their local horizons may be the main problem.
I know people who have never even toured their home districts, let alone different parts of our country.
It is our hope that a large number of people in the Ugandan tourism industry will join us in New Jersey. We were honoured to interact and learn from a few who travelled to Vancouver, Canada last year. We will be very delighted to receive representatives of the Uganda Government, the Uganda Tourism Board, the Uganda Wildlife Authority and tourism investors and operators who wish to partner with ICOB to promote our national agenda. The opportunity to engage with American counterparts will be worth the cost.
ICOB is engaging in this endeavour in fulfillment of the organisation’s founding agenda, which includes giving back to our homeland. We recognise that Kigezi cannot develop in isolation from the rest of the country. That is why we are actively pushing Uganda’s tourism agenda, fully aware that the best strategy for offering the international tourist the best bang-for-his-buck is to ensure a wide menu that will tickle all his senses.
What better way to get a Canadian or American to enjoy, in one package, a visit to West Nile, Karamoja, Bugisu, Mubende, Kabarole and Kigezi before he moves on to Rwanda? What better way than to offer him the great experience of glimpsing the story and lives of people living in authentic African-Ugandan communities?
As an organisation, ICOB is determined to do, free of charge, what international public relations companies are paid millions of dollars by the government to do for Uganda’s tourism. It is the least we can do for a country that prepared very many ICOB members for great opportunities that we have enjoyed all over the world.