“Five-star facilities should not offer three-star services”

Tourists enjoy sunset views at Pakuba Lodge in Murchison Falls National Park . PHOTOS/EDGAR R.BATTE

What you need to know:

  • For the years she has been in the tourism business, Civy Tumusiime swears by the Japanese management style, which capitalises on retaining employees, a seniority wage system and social cohesion.

“What many people do not say about family businesses is that you learn on-the-go. While you are bound to make many mistakes, someone is willing to hold your hand and correct you,” says Civy Tumusiime, director of Acacia Safaris and Pakuba Lodge in Murchison Falls National Park.

In terms of tourism and travel, it has taken Tumusiime time to understand the service industry, the engine that runs successful business entities in Uganda.

She explains that the success of a tourism business depends majorly on location and the kind of service one offers. 

“This industry requires a lot of trust and loyalty. It is a very small, close knit industry. It is important to know who your clients are, understand them and tailor unique products for them,” she says. 

Japanese management style
Tumusiime observes that staff are at the heart of delivering the service and experience to clients.

For the years she has operated a tourism business, she says she employs the Japanese management style, which capitalises on retaining employees for a lifetime, a seniority wage system and social cohesion. 

“I did finance and management at master’s level, and one of the things that we studied was how the Japanese manage their businesses. They emphasise treating employees as family as a management style. 

Employees are every business’s greatest asset and it is in best interest of an employer to listen to them, to pay attention to their welfare and most importantly, treat them like they are family,” she explains.

Tumusiime is quick to note that despite the kind treatment, there are boundaries that employees should not cross.

“If I treat you with respect, I expect it in return. I am responsible for the social, emotional and financial welfare of my employees and because of that, I have retained employees for eight to 10 years,” she adds. 

Facility versus service 
To make business sense in the tourism sector, Tumusiime explains that it takes a whole eco-system of investment of energies, time, and money to market a tourism business through agents, shows, expos and public relations firms. 

“In the hospitality industry, the quality of service offered is critical. You cannot have five-star facility and offer two or three-star service. An investment in a good facility must be accompanied by unrivalled service. If I walk into your facility, am I treasured? Are you giving me more comfort than what I get at home?” she wonders.  

Tumusiime is a former chairperson of Association of Tour Operators (AUTO), a tourism trade association that represents the interests of the country’s experienced and professional tour operators. 

The tour operators’ mandate is woo and increase the number of tourists in Uganda and their contribution to the economy cannot be underestimated.

“There is power in association and when we come together, we become a stronger voice,” she adds. 

She says during her tenure, she lobbied for tourists to get preferential treatment at the airport and worked with immigration to streamline the visa process for tourists to receive their visas in the 24-hour window.

600 licensed tour operators
Currently, there are about 600 tour operators licensed by Uganda Tourism Board (UTB).

Tumusiime observes that there are many opportunities in the tourism industry for potential investors; from setting up lodges, tours and travel transportation and logistics and product development. 

“There are areas that have not been optimally exploited. I want to see more Ugandans invest in tourism,” the tour operator and second generation family business manager, adds. 

In order to make headway in the tourism industry, Tusiime says building networks and synergies such as agents to collaborate with in foreign markets would go a long way to market domestic companies. 

“Hire agents, work out terms of reference and set targets to be met annually. The expos and trade shows are a game of chance. If you invest Shs80m, how much are you getting back in return?” she observes. 

According to Tumusiime, the hospitality industry is one where one puts people before self.

Tourists snacking away in the wild in Pakuba.  PHOTOS/COURTSEY 

She says she is lucky to have grown up around parents who are in the hospitality industry and recounts visiting national parks as a little girl, which sparked her interest in wildlife and nature. 

Parents can promote tourism
Tumusiime urges parents to take children out of Kampala and get them to explore the beauty of their country.

From a business perspective, Tumusiime says her parents have been her mentors and over the years, she has witnessed effort, hard work and consistency they put into their tourism business.  

“I have learnt that success takes time, effort, resilience and consistency. I have also been told not to cut corners in business. Every time I travel, I pick a new experience and experiment with it back home,” she expounds.

Top leaders marketing Uganda
On her wish list is to see the government invest more in marketing Uganda as a tourism destination.

“Marketing requires intentionality. It is not enough to say we have an agency or body. I would like to see the president take the lead in selling Uganda because if we had him on board, we would go places,” she says.  

According to Tumusiime, the tourism industry has been neglected for a long time, it is slowly being pushed by private sector players. “The government policies on the tourism industry have a huge impact,” says Tumusiime.

Besides policies and leaders taking a leading role in marketing destination Uganda, Tumusiime says there is need to develop new products, such as hot springs, bungee jumping, skydiving for a better experience for tourists.

“If we have decided that Jinja will be Uganda’s adventure capital, can we have more than one adventure activity in Jinja? The powers that be in this country need to push tourism to great leaps and bounds.”

Currently, there are about 600 tour operators licenced by Uganda Tourism Board (UTB).

Tumusiime observes that there are many opportunities in the tourism industry for potential investors; from setting up lodges, tours and travel transportation and logistics and product development.