Why Uganda needs to take advantage of its diplomatic ties

Saturday May 12 2018

Tourists windowshop Ugandan-made  items during

Tourists windowshop Ugandan-made items during the Uganda-French Friendship Week. PHOTO BY EDGAR R BATTE  

By Edgar R. Batte

“I really believe that tourism in Uganda can be expanded. It is largely untapped. You do not know what you have. You have gold in your fingers (as we say, in French). It means you have a lot of potential in the tourism sector,” Her Excellency Stephanie Rivoal, ambassador of France to Uganda, observed.
She made the remarks in March during the second edition of the French-Uganda Friendship week that fosters diplomatic ties between the two countries through a series of activities that include fashion, military, music, tourism, travel and environment.
Tourism drew special interest as Rivoal hosted fellow ambassadors, diplomats, stakeholders in the tourism sector of Uganda and France as well as Uganda’s Minister of Tourism Ephraim Kamuntu.
He implored guests to explore Uganda and tell about its magnificent tourism potential.
This was during a cocktail party at her residence, where tourism and environment were topics of interest and discussion.
To her, the opportunities for the two countries to collaborate and leverage from each other’s tourism potential, are limitless.
“France has been doing tourism and attracting tourists for many years and we currently attract more than 84 million tourists a year, so we can share experiences with Uganda and one way is on how Uganda can attract more tourists,” she explained.
Julius Peter Moto, the High Commissioner of Uganda in London argues that Uganda’s tourism sector is a goldmine, which explains why investment in the sector has risen continually.
According to figures provided by World Travel and Tourism, investment in the tourism sector in Uganda rose from Shs200b in 2000 to Shs1,180b by last year.
“This was triggered by the increasing number of international visitors to Uganda. To date, there have been private capital in-flows to construct tourist facilities and consequently the number of deluxe travel hotels mushroomed in all the six major national parks of Uganda,” Moto explains.

Moto adds, “With hundreds of hotels and lodges established, more than 650,000 jobs have been created and sustained. There are more than 120 classified hotels in Uganda, budget lodges and sites for camping, so all international travellers to Uganda can feel at home away from home.”
With the prospects looking positive, Rivoal argues that marketing Uganda as a tourist destination is crucial in attracting tourists and made a pledge to support Uganda Tourism Board (UTB) in this regard.
UTB is the official marketing body for the country as a tourist destination that is richly endowed with the world’s best weather, nature, wildlife, landscapes, diverse cultures, the prized mountain gorillas, chimpanzees, the mighty River Nile, Lake Victoria and more.
“It is my first time in Africa and Uganda clears my cliché vision of Africa as a very dry place. I have been amazed seeing so much green and vegetation. The landscapes are amazing, so is the wildlife. It was the first time I saw wild animals physically. The local people in the places we have visited have been really welcoming,” Jane Roussel, a writer with Women’s Journal website, says.
Roussel was one of 12 journalists, bloggers and photographers from France and Belgium who attended the event, explored Uganda and promised to share their experiences through stories, photographs and other online platforms to tell audiences in their home countries and beyond about the marvel that is the Pearl of Africa.
Belgian blogger Melissa Monaco says, “Uganda is not well known even if there is a flight that connects it to Belgium. I am glad to have come. I am completely amazed by the beautiful landscapes, the wild animals in Murchison Falls National Park, the chimpanzees in Budongo, elephants in Queen Elizabeth National Park and mountain gorillas in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest.”
She adds, “I cannot wait to share on my blog about to visit Uganda in order to experience some unique tourism products from the usual; beautiful nature, great people.”
According to Richard Kawere, the chief executive officer, Uganda Tourism Association, such events increase Uganda’s presence in the countries in question.
“If such engagements continue, at the end of the day, we will see an increase of tourists from French-speaking countries who can choose Uganda as a tourist destination. If we continue highlighting our tourism potential as a country, we can at least attract the middle-income earners from these countries. At the moment, we receive less than 40,000 French-speaking people in the country so we need to tap and increase our marketing presence there,” Kawere implores.

Prof Kamuntu says Uganda has started engaging in foreign missions more strongly to have its tourism potential promoted in the respective countries.
Kazuaki Kameda, Ambassador of Japan to Uganda, revealed that he is in constant communication with some tour operators such as Samuel Mugisha, the director of Bic Tours Limited, who speaks Japanese.
“I recently visited Lake Mburo National Park. I was impressed that he keeps time, keeps me informed about the status of arrangements in advance like a Japanese tour operator. Uganda has a crucial role in Japanese tourism market and Mugisha is now a bridge between Japan and Uganda,” he says.
There is some more promotional leverage coming from Japan YouTube star Pikotaro, real name Kazuhito Kosaka on appointment by the Ugandan government as a tourism ambassador to help boost the number of Japanese travellers to the Pearl of Africa.
Pikotaro, popular for his viral hit song Pen-Pineapple-Apple-Pen, met President Yoweri Museveni, and the President told him about Uganda’s rich culinary offerings and beautiful weather, so he will be marketing from an experiential point of view.
He said as ambassador, he will compose a song to promote tourism to Uganda. The Japanese star also commended the friendliness of Ugandans, something the Tourism minister keeps re-echoing.
“Ugandans are really friendly, especially to foreigners. We attend and compete in most exhibitions. We have recently returned from ITB Berlin, the World’s Leading Travel exhibition. We are doing extremely well. My message is if you have a friend like we have one in France and other countries, tourism is one of the most dynamic sectors globally and domestically. It is a leading foreign exchange earner right now. Out of 11 Ugandans employed, one of them is in a position related to tourism. Tourism breaks barriers and brings people closer,” Prof Kamuntu adds.
Last week, the minister led a contingent of tourism players to Africa’s biggest tourism event, Travel Indaba2018 Fair.

Government efforts
The government took a decision in 2012 to promote the country’s trade and tourism portfolio through foreign missions abroad.
UTB’s Chief Executive Officer, Stephen Asiimwe pledged to work closely with the Uganda Embassy in Berlin, Germany to attract tourists to Uganda. Germany is the second highest provider of tourists from Europe to Uganda.
According to information shared by the embassy, Asiimwe made this pledge while making a presentation about Uganda to the staff of the embassy, a day after the end of ITB Berlin 2018. The presentation, dubbed “Destination Uganda”, covered a number of important areas that will equip the staff of the embassy with the necessary skills required to market Uganda’s tourism potential as well as that of other East African states.
“Tourism is Uganda’s number one foreign exchange earner, contributing about 10 per cent of the country’s GDP and 23 per cent of her exports. It is also one of biggest employers in the country,” an article shared by the embassy, reads in part. The embassy staff on their part pledged to work towards promoting Uganda as an attractive and sustainable tourist destination.
Tourism stakeholders too are playing their role. A story carried by Wild Whispers Africa, an East African safaris & tour operator company, states that Uganda recently took on the task of promoting its tourism in Scandinavian countries by sending a delegation of 20 people from the tourism industry to participate in a week-long expo and road show.
The group had influential personalities in the tourism industry, Tourism and business director for Uganda Wildlife Authority Raymond Engena, SN Brussels’ marketing manager Suzanne Otheino, among other tour operators.
According to Moto, an airline service for Uganda is poised to add value to the travel industry in the country, given its significance to the economy.
“United Kingdom and Ireland are one of the major sources of high spending tourist markets for Uganda with more than 100 visas cleared per day by Uganda High Commission in London. Although there are no direct flights from London to Entebbe, the tourists’ number has been increasing over the years from UK,” he said.
In an article carried on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs website, Uganda’s Ambassador to France, His Excellency Richard Nduhuura encourages tourists to visit Uganda. He met the Spanish Secretary of State for Tourism Matilde Pastora Asian Gonzalez in Madrid, Spain and discussed matters of mutual interest to both countries.
“The Paris Mission believes that cooperation with Spain ministry of Tourism is key to boosting Uganda’s tourism. Uganda should therefore encourage Pastora to visit Uganda and would request that Uganda’s Ministry of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities welcomes the Spanish Minister to Uganda. Uganda should consider arranging to have an MOU with Spain in tourism promotion,” the article reads in part.

Way forward
As Uganda makes progressive steps to leveraging on diplomatic relationships, it is critical that conservation efforts are intensified.
Innovation will also go a long way to make Uganda more attractive, as Professor Stephen Gwotcho, a professional artist with a keen interest in wildlife and culture opines.
“I have travelled and when you go to some of these foreign countries, there is not much to see. I think we should innovate. For example, in Switzerland tourists do skiing but in Uganda, we have sunshine throughout the year which favours tourism, so we could create something around our friendly weather,” he says.
Rivoal believes that countering negative stories and press is also critical. “Tour operators and marketers in the tourism sector need to work around the clock to kick out tales of Idi Amin and his tyranny which portrays Uganda negatively, and instead show the world its beautiful side.”