Kenyan tour operators thrilled by Uganda’s tourist attractions

A buffalo basks in dirty water in Queen Elizabeth National Park
PHOTO | EDGAR R. BATTE

What you need to know:

  • Fourteen tour operators from Kenya were on a seven-day familiarisation trip to Uganda. The intraregional travel initiative is part of a recovery strategy to boost tourism post pandemic. This visibility will facilitate Kenyans to make itineraries for tourists.

“The culture experience at Ndere Centre is something I never knew existed. Whenever clients asked us about trekking, we immediately thought of Rwanda.

This has been eye-opening for me. I want to explore more. I am leaving this place with new ideas because now I understand Uganda’s tourism products better,” Lilian Thom of Dream Kenya Safaris says.

Thom was one of the 14 tour operators from Kenya, who visited Uganda on a familiarisation trip which left many bewildered by the beauty of the country. They were accompanied by 16 Kenya government officials and the media.

Picturesque sceneries of sprawling hills, contours and valleys, long stretches of greenery, warm-hearted people, a variety of organic foods and fruits, top notch hospitality facilities, culturally rich diversity, religious heritage, healthy and vibrant mountain gorillas and chimpanzees are some of the attractions that mesmerised the team.

“I had never thought of selling Uganda. When we package tourism products, we do not seem to include Uganda anywhere. The most fascinating site for me was Uganda Martyrs Shrine in Namugongo. I never knew existed and that was a good experience,” Thom adds.

The shrine is one of the largest Christian pilgrimage destinations in Africa dedicated to the 22 Uganda Martyrs and saints who were beatified by Pope Benedict XV in 1920 and canonised by Pope Paul VI on October 18, 1964.


Expanding product line

Nelson Mburugu, the vice chair Kenya Association of Tour Operators (KATO), said there is an urgent need to expand the product line to incoporate unique tourism features from Uganda and Kenya.

“What Kenya is selling is different from what Uganda is selling. We are flying back with new experiences of the beautiful greenery, the mountain gorillas and chimpanzees and how the tourists can find their way around in terms of transport,” he says.

During the seven-day familiarisation trip, guests were taken to the Uganda Equator, Igongo Cultural Centre and Country Hotel, Tooro Kingdom, where they toured the Karuzika Palace, Lake Mburo National Park, Kibaale National Park and Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park.

 “We want to continue designing the travel itineraries for Uganda, basing on budget and starting with a minimum of a five-day safari to two weeks,” remarked Abraham Guyo, the chief executive officer of Last Minute Limited.

He added: “I have observed that while Ebola news has circulated everywhere, we have not seen any incident and it appears the government control measures are containing it.” Prior to this visit, Catherine Odongo of African Quest Safaris, did not know about the travel destination. “I relied on information from an agent in order to make an itinerary for my client. But when I got here, the first thing that struck me was the scenery, Kibaale and Lake Mburo national parks. They are beautiful sites.”

Odongo says the cultural night at Ndere Centre should be named a national treasure. She particularly loved the entertainment, the services offered and the dancers.

She says she is surprised to read stories about hunger in Uganda because at every corner she turned, there was food and fruit to enjoy. “My appeal to Kenyans is that a nature lover, an eco-tourist, a luxury tourist and an adventurer will find something nice to indulge in when they visit Uganda.”

 Odongo says her previous visits to Uganda saw her stopping in Kampala. “The real beauty lies in the countryside. I wondered why I have never watched videos about Uganda tourist attractions,” she expounds.


Recovery strategy

The idea of the intraregional travel initiative, is part of a recovery strategy to boost tourism arrivals post pandemic. Uganda is targeting to increase its visibility in Kenya, with tourism stakeholders, who have experienced the Ugandan attractions to facilitate them to comfortably make travel and tourism itineraries for their local and international tourists with ease.

The familiarisation trip was preceded by a two-day conference and travel exhibition, organised by the Consulate General of the Republic of Uganda in Mombasa, Paul Mukumbya, on how Kenyan and Ugandan tour operators and stakeholders would market each other. “We are choosing to complement rather than compete with each other. Whereas Kenyan Coast is famous for the beaches, Uganda has unique tourism products such as the mountain gorillas, the chimpanzees, adventure tourism on river Nile, the Kampala Night Life and other products,” Mukumbya, who heads the consulate that constitutes the coastal counties, said.

He adds, “We had the conference on the 20th in Mombasa, after which the Uganda delegation of tour operators and hotel owners went on a tour of the coast, touring Mombasa, Malindi in Watamu and Diani.”

The consulate also organised a farm trip for selected tour operators and other selected partners from the coast to Uganda to avoid a situation where people promote products they have not experienced.

 “There is a tour operator who has been coordinating a trip for a team from the UK. She had googled and read that the distance from Entebbe Airport to Kampala City was five minutes. She was shocked to find out that the journey takes almost an hour. We want to avoid googling products.” Mukumbya adds.

A 2017 Expat Insider survey published by BBC, described Uganda as the friendliest country globally, following a survey conducted among expatriates globally. Kenya is a key tourism market source for Uganda. It registered 136, 981 tourists from the United States and 80, 067 from Uganda as its source market.

Overall, Kenya recorded around 870, 500 international visitor arrivals that year, according to Statista, a leading provider of market and consumer data company.

Uganda Tourism Board (UTB) chief administrative officer, Lilly Ajarova implores Kenyan guests to visit and explore the unique tourism offerings and create tailored itineraries for travellers back home.

“Uganda is a highlight’s reel of all that is rare and beautiful in Africa ranging from the diverse culture to the savannah grasslands, picturesque landscapes dotted by snow-capped Rwenzori Mountains and biodiversity across the country,” she adds.


Utility

Uganda is home to 459 sought-after Mountain Gorillas, the world’s recorded biggest number. Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and Mgahinga National Park are their home.

Prized chimpanzees, totalling 5, 072 are in Kibale National Park, Kalinzu Forest and Ngamba Island Chimpanzee sanctuary, where rescued apes find a home.

River Nile hosts boat popular leisure and sightseeing cruises such as the one along the 34-kilometre Kazinga Channel, during which tourists get to see hippos, the Nile crocodiles, bird species, elephants, buffaloes and more.

Adventurers enjoy whitewater rafting, kayaking, bungee jumping and more. The Nile shares water with Lake Victoria, Africa’s largest fresh water body and one of 165 lakes in the country. 

You are invited to take a guided nature walk in Uganda’s 506 Central Forest reserves, where you will appreciate more than 1,000 bird species.

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