How Explore Uganda came to light

The Ugandan delegation led by Martin Bahinduka Mugarra, Minister of State of Tourism (3rd left) and Lilly Ajarova,UTB chief executive officer (2nd left), Eric Mununuzi, creative director TBWA\Uganda  with the three gold awards at the ITFFA in South Africa. PHOTO/INTERNATIONAL TOURISM FILM  FESTIVAL AFRICA

What you need to know:

Explore Uganda Destination film made a grand mark on the global tourism scene after scooping three awards at the International Tourism Film Festival Africa (ITFFA). Uganda won gold emerging Grand Prix Winner Tourism Destination-Africa 2022.

With a deep, hoarse voice, Jaffar Remo Amin ushers people into the Pearl of Africa. The teaser begins: “Every waking day is a reminder, just how beautiful this, our land truly is!”

The Explore Uganda destination film has won recognition on the global tourism scene after scooping three awards at the International Tourism Film Festival Africa (ITFFA) in Cape Town, South Africa.

Uganda won gold emerging Grand Prix Winner Tourism Destination-Africa 2022 beating Zambia, South Africa and Zimbabwe. Uganda also edged out Greece in the Tourism Destinations Country- Internationally category and bagged the third Gold in Tourist Destination Country-in Africa.  “The total entries were 315 from 55 countries around the world and only 22 winners. A lot of these submissions came from European countries such as Spain and Portugal because of their big budgets. Every time I looked at the nominees on the screens, I wondered whether Uganda could walk away with anything.”

“There was disbelief that our production was out of Africa. Nonetheless, the win was eye-opening on the talent we have in this country,” recounts Eric Mununuzi, the creative director TBWA\Uganda, who attended the award ceremony.

Museveni unveiled Explore Uganda campaign in January. PHOTO/NET

The birth of  Explore Uganda

The client-agency relationship between Uganda Tourism Board and TBWA\Uganda, an international advertising agency associated with disruptive ideas began in 2019, and creating a destination brand for Uganda was part of the relationship timeline.

TBWA went through the motions of global best practices for brand development which included research. “What do Ugandans and the international community feel about Uganda? The survey and SWOT analysis took about six months. The inputs from the brand survey put forth strategic thinking. The brand was about the identity, logo, tone of voice, among others,” Mununuzi explains.

He points out the numerous attempts that had been made such as Gifted by Nature, Pearl of Africa and several variations of different campaigns.

According to Mununuzi, Uganda lacked a solid brand for various reasons. “There were concerns surrounding deviation from the Pearl of Africa. The President asked us to speak to it and make it work,” Mununuzi explains.

Giving meaning to the pearl

The creative director explains that other than what Sir Winston Churchill wrote in his 1908 book, My African Journey, about his trip to Uganda, the Pearl of Africa was inconceivable.

Some critics have argued that the statesman’s visit to Uganda in 1907 was a natural resources and raw materials survey, rather than a journey to marvel at her beauty. 

“Pearl of Africa has been misused; for instance, there is a hotel, tomato sauce, and Rolex stand, known as Pearl of Africa. We could not veer away from the Pearl of Africa, but we needed to give it meaning, and make Ugandans own it again,” says Mununuzi.

Communication strategy

Once the survey was completed, the team had another uphill task. The brand needed a communication strategy to generate the right message in the right place, for the right audience.

“This was about ownership of this destination. Every single person of the 45 million Ugandans had to own this brand.  We needed to appreciate the fact that a huge proportion of the population does not travel. We also did not want to suggest that you need to travel to love your country, we needed to find a way for Ugandans to own it in order to sell it,’’ he says.

To achieve this, we consulted travellers and people who love their country,” he adds.

Three gold awards that Uganda won at the International Tourism Film Festival Africa (ITFFA) South Africa. PHOTO/ERIC NTALUMBWA

The making of  Explore Uganda

UTB wanted Ugandans to tell their story. It is no surprise that the filming crew, cast, sound engineers and any other person on this project were Ugandan. TBWA was mandated to conceptualise the brand and bring it to life.

Owing to limited time, the agency did not cast the net wide in selecting the film production team. LoukOut Films was entrusted with the task and had to gain a mastery of the language, dream and thinking that TBWA had created on behalf of UTB.

After a series of brainstorming sessions, the shooting was done in eight days last year, allowing enough time for post-production, since every stage required approval.

The magical touch of Loukman Ali, the director of the production of Explore Uganda cannot go unnoticed. He is known for quality productions such as Sixteen Rounds and the Girl in the Yellow Jumper, which made its Netflix debut and  became the first Ugandan film on the global streaming service.

Social researcher, Douglas Lugumya, based in Entebbe is fascinated by the uniqueness of the film. “Unlike the films I have watched about Uganda that present attractions, Explore Uganda presents an experience and the everyday things that we take for granted. It gives a fresh perspective,” he adds.

Product design

The story unfolds with birds leading us on a flight over hills and mountains in the stunning landscape of Kigezi, in the southwestern of Uganda. It gives the thrill of meeting the gentle giants-the Mountain Gorillas. The teaser presented in English is entirely motion.

The duration of the video is 120 seconds guided by a narrator. “Suggestions such as coffee were left out because we could not have everything in the clip,” says Mununuzi.

He further explains that capturing views of sunsets in Uganda characterised by an equatorial climate presented some challenges with unpredictable weather.

Despite the relationship with casting agencies, the production team found the right talent through street casting. “We selected residents at the filming locations to gain authenticity in dressing.

We paid them to make indigenous meals and captured their everyday life. The idea was to capture raw things that make people feel connected to Uganda,” he adds. 

Sound design

And this is one of the unique ideas that the global filming community appreciated. One of the things that gets overlooked in film production is sound design.

Andrew Ahuurra of Quad-A Records, an audio production company in Kampala, tactfully used music and sound to draw viewers closer to the story and elicit passion for the Pearl of Africa. 

Ahuurra was asked to borrow inspiration from Hans Zimmer, a legendary soundtrack composer of notable films such as Pirates of the Caribbean, Gladiator, The Dark Knight, and The Lion King.

Narration

“Every waking day is a reminder of just how beautiful this, our land is truly is. The Kind of beauty that you can only find here in the lush green all around us and the wondrous sights within.

 It is what you feel in the gentle caress of a tropical wind from the mountain tops and the glow in your heart from a warm welcome. It is in the distinct aroma of our cooking to the taste of food that takes you on a journey in the sound of homecoming and the sound of mother earth.

In the magnificence, we find on our travels and the exciting moments we experience. Ours is the kind of beauty that comes in all things; big and small.

We have to awaken our senses and truly enjoy what is uniquely ours. Explore Uganda, the Pearl of Africa.”

Evaluation

Jonathan Benaiah, a cinematography critic and tourism stakeholder describes the teaser as a breath of fresh air. “I am awarding it eight out of 10. The storyline and the sound score are rich and Loukman has proven that he is a star in film production. His cuts and edits, and the general colour grade are commendable,” she says.

He notes that the director’s cut on Loukman’s channel had some interesting scenes that the client asked to be edited out but would have made a nice showcase. 

Tracing back the time when UTB premiered Discover Uganda in 2016, Benaiah lauds UTB for the great strides made in Explore Uganda. He advances his sentiments about the Rwenzori Mountains movie premiered by UTB at Ekyooto Ha Mpango in Fort Portal.  “We need to deliberately use persons that are tried and tested in the film space. A lot of high-quality content we consume has a cinematic element to it. The documentary-style is phasing out and we need to be innovative,’’ he says.

Loukman Ali, the director of the production of Explore Uganda Destination.  PHOTO/NET

The jury

The jurors at ITFFA comprised of award-winning producers, directors, media personalities, marketing managers and executive producers, including Professor John Driendoks of Film sciences, and Toelene Van Der Merwe, among others.

The jury of 26 persons comprised 11 women and 15 men. The International Committee of Tourism Film Festivals (CIFFT), a top-level benchmarking platform that brings together the world’s best tourism film festivals from four continents, currently ranks Explore Uganda in the fourth position.

Uniqueness and authenticity

 The general secretary of CIFFT, Hugo Marcos, remarked: “Explore Uganda was one of the most rated films in the competition. It highlighted the uniqueness, authenticity and variety of Uganda’s beauty and inspired the jury and the film viewers to visit Uganda now.”

CIFFT is closely associated with United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO), European Travel Commission (ETC), Caribbean Tourism Organisation (CTO), and Centro America Tourism Association (CATA).

Rethink marketing

Over the years, UTB has made some promotional items to boost tourism in Uganda. It turns out, however, that written content is less exciting compared to the audio-visual material.

Amos Wekesa, the proprietor of Great Lakes Safaris and Uganda Lodges says the concept of the new brand is a fantastic idea and deserves to win awards. He is quick to note that the challenge is in transforming the concept into reality.

“We need aggressive marketing and public relations strategies backed by resources,” Wekesa says.

 He adds that the film should be shared on local television channels, accommodation and recreation facilities, among tour operators, and thereafter distributed to airlines, Entebbe Airport, embassies and source markets.

The chief executive officer of UTA, Richard Kawere, says one generic video clip is inadequate. He says embarking on product-based films such as birding, culture, adventure and religious tourism will go a long way in boosting tourism. 

Opportunities

Abel Muhereza Kyamutetera, a seasoned marketing specialist argues that every consumption decision starts with awareness. “It is a great attempt at trying to get the world to visit Uganda in the post-Covid-19 times,” he says.

Kyamutetera says the film should be taken to the world to watch it.  From his experience, awards and festivals of this magnitude give the film ‘legs and wings’ to travel. “This is a moment for Explore Uganda to trend organically in places where it is not understood,” he adds.

Government’s take

Lilly Ajarova, UTB chief executive officer, noted that the awards will serve as motivation for the tourism sector. “We shall leverage the recognition to maintain high standards for sustainability. We continue with our efforts in positioning Uganda as a destination of choice in Africa and internationally.”

Amidst celebrations and tourism recognition received by Uganda in recent years at numerous tourism expos such as Indaba and through Trip Advisor, what remains to be seen are more tourists- both local and international visiting Uganda and a booming tourism sector.

The idea

The client-agency relationship between Uganda Tourism Board and TBWA\Uganda, an international advertising agency associated with disruptive ideas began in 2019, to create a destination brand for Uganda.

Brand development included research. “What do Ugandans and the international community feel about Uganda? The survey and SWOT analysis took about six months. The input from the brand survey put forth strategic thinking. The brand was about the identity, logo, among others,” Eric Mununuzi explains.

According to Mununuzi, Uganda lacked a solid brand for various reasons. “There were concerns surrounding the Pearl of Africa brand.” Mununuzi explains.

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