A number of people in Gulu will know who you are talking about when you mention Josephine Gillian P’ Ochen’s name owing to the fruit salad she sells to different offices.
Ochen says after searching for jobs as a fresh graduate to no avail, she started a small business making fruit salad and delivering it to different offices within Gulu. However, due to her resilience, the business became successful and with time gave birth to Tour De North Safaris and Watmon House of Food, which offers cultural experiences and wilderness safaris, among others.
Donning a kitenge African print dress, Ochen quickly extends her hand for a hand shake as she welcomes me to her office for an interview. The 35-year-old mother of one wanted to become a lawyer but her father’s choice for Makerere University as the only dream University saw her register to study Tourism and Hospitality, a choice she does not regret.
“After my A-Level exams, I wanted to become a lawyer but my father advised me against it and instead told me to apply for a tourism course. I was hurt by his choice mostly because it is not what I wanted to do but now I think he chose what was best for me. I do not regret it anymore,” Ochen says. Now the holder of a Bachelors in Tourism and Hospitality from Makerere University began her fruit salad business in 2010, two years after graduating from the university.
“After graduation, I first worked with Gulu Regional Referral Hospital as a counsellor for six months. I left the job because I needed a more challenging opportunity and opted to work at Churchill Courts Hotel in Gulu. Here, after accomplishing what I wanted in six months, I quit. Basically, I worked more and creatively within a challenging environment, the reason I kept looking for other opportunities,” she says.
According to Ochen, after some research, she landed on a research opportunity with Royal Kennedy University in Canada and this enabled her to save enough money to start her fruit salad business.
“If you make good use of your brain amid fashioned challenges, you will not fail to come up with a solution to many situations in life,” Ochen says, adding that to get the customers’ attention, she would neatly pack jackfruit and other fruits in small containers and sell it at Shs1,500 from office to office.
“I would reach out to 15 offices and would make Shs50,000 to Shs100,000 daily,” she says.
She adds: “Those who did not know how much I was able to make daily would call me names simply because I was a graduate selling fruit salad to make ends meet.”
Ochen recounts going for a one-week refresher training on tourism in Kampala in 2014 to gain back her vigour and connection as the key to her dream job.
“Mental investment is one tremendous and rich thing to do before embarking on any investment even if you are an expert at the business and going back for refresher course was the only thing I could do having saved some money,” she says.
She says on the eve of training, a mentor wanted somebody to take some tourists on a journey to northern Uganda and since she hailed from there and knew the area well, she was given the opportunity.
“I took up the challenge and asked to volunteer instead of being paid. I wanted to win their trust so that I could be their first call for future jobs,” she says.
Ochen’s first tour to Kidepo Valley National Park as a volunteer tour guide set the stride that gave her a career that is both demanding and rewarding. She makes a minimum net profit of Shs5m annually since 2014 depending on the number of trips organised.
“Tourism is a lucrative business if you play your cards well and think towards growing the network of tourists steadily but it can also lead to losses if you are not committed,” she states.
Ochen says the four years she has spent working in the Tourism industry have been a blessing as the company has registered networks and connections both national and international, something she did not expect.
“I am at the forefront of activism for local Tourism in Northern Uganda. This, to me, is my greatest achievement although a number of people tend to measure their achievements using material things,’’ she says.
She adds that she has been able to buy 10 hectares of land one kilometre from Aruu Falls and this land is now under development. “We are constructing and will be launching by the end of this year. I strongly believe it will be the richest garden with diversified tree species such as Shea nuts and flowers, camping sites and will surely be a dream honeymoon destination for many,” she says.
Ochen says weather remains the greatest challenge in the Tourism industry given the fact that most tourist sites in Uganda have poor road networks which makes it hard for tour companies to drive their clients to different destinations.
She adds that amid stiff competition from other well-established tour companies that have been in the business for more than 20 years, adoration for adventure among Ugandans to promote local tourism has been one of the challenges.
“We often reduce charges for Ugandans to lure them into embracing local tourism and be in a position to know their surrounding but they still do not come,” she says. Adding that being a mother has also made it difficult for her to effectively to manage her family and business with ease since the tourism business involves a lot of movement and spending very little time at home.
Her magic tricks
Josephine Gillian P’ Ochen’s says: “Sell value instead of the product. Even before the clients sets eyes on the product or your service, give an enticing pictorial of the products or service.”
She adds that tourism is not a tangible business and thus calls for dedication towards creating memories to lure someone to come back next time because few people look at adventure as knowledge base investment. Therefore, creating positive memories is key.