Ugandan adventure junkies take a plunge into one of rapids along the mighty River Nile during a white water rafting expedition. Photo /EDGAR R. BATTE.

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Top executives tasked to promote domestic travel

What you need to know:

Incentive travel is the reward element of an incentive recognition or loyalty programme, which takes the form of an all-expenses-paid trip with scheduled events and activities. Experiential rewards such as trip offers boost staff morale. 

On a recent flight from Dubai, Civy Tumusiime was astonished to find 50 employees of the National Social Security Fund (NSSF) returning from a teambuilding session.
As an active member in Uganda’s tourism sector, he interested them in the beautiful local attractions. Chatting by a fireplace in Murchison Falls National Park, this did not ring a bell. 
“They did not understand me,” observes Tumusiime, the chairperson of the Association of Tour Operators (Auto), during a meeting hosted for chief executive officers (CEOs). 

None-monetary rewards
The meeting was to harness domestic tourism as an alternative tool for motivating employees through reward perks such as paid holidays. This they say will strengthen corporate synergies and improve productivity at the workplace.
“Employees need non-monetary incentives because we have discovered that when you give someone cash, in most cases, they use it to clear bills. But experiential rewards such as trip offers are memorable. This is one way to boost employees’ morale to work,” says Miriam Magada, managing director of Go Uganda Safaris.

Incentive travel is the reward element of an incentive recognition or loyalty programme, which takes the form of an all-expenses-paid trip with scheduled events and activities. According to a 2020 Covid-19 Impact Economic Study carried out by the Ministry of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities towards recovery from the impact of Covid-19 on the tourism sector, the pandemic triggered many Ugandans to visit their country, especially those who were unable to travel for tourism in foreign countries.
The Permanent Secretary of the Tourism Ministry, Doreen Katusiime, noted that there is a paradigm shift and Ugandans are beginning to appreciate local attractions. 

Birders dine at the terrace of Elephant Plains Lodge. Photo /EDGAR R. BATTE.

Corporate policies to boost tourism 
Many young people have embraced group travels. “We need to embrace our country as corporates and mainstream this in our policies. Let us be the change that we want to see,” said Dr Elly Karuhanga, a seasoned private sector investor and the chairperson of the Private Sector Foundation Uganda.
Katusiime argues that all countries that have been successful in driving their tourism numbers, started with domestic tourism and that is why a successful domestic tourism campaign needs to be designed. 
 “Many have been travelling to Dubai, South Africa, and Nairobi. It is time to bring the workshops, meeting, conferences and trainings in Uganda’s tourist destinations,” she adds.

From the study by the tourism ministry, between August 2020 and March 2021, domestic tourists tripled from 21,914 bookings to 62,268 over the same period. 
For ease of transport, Pearl Hoareau Kakooza, president of Uganda Tourism Association (UTA) called upon authorities to fast-track domestic flights by the national flier-Uganda Airlines to different locations and tourist destinations in the country.

Fast-track domestic flights 
UTA is the umbrella organisation for tourism trade associations in Uganda; Association of Uganda Tour Operators, Uganda Safari Guides Association, Uganda Hotel Owners Association, The Uganda Association of Travel Agents, National Arts and Cultural Crafts Association of Uganda, Association of Uganda Women in Tourism Trade, Uganda Community Tourism Association and Hotel General Managers Association of Uganda.
“Domestic flights will, by extension, make it attractive for the local and international travellers to travel within Uganda. This is something Uganda Airlines needs to improve,” she argued, adding that neighbouring Kenya has done a good job to promote meetings, incentives, conferences, and exhibitions tourism internally.
 

Uganda Tourism Board staff and locals marvel at the beauty of Sipi Falls in Kapchorwa. Photo /EDGAR R. BATTE.


For example, during the lockdown, they did not have to rely on foreign tourists, but promoted travel among Kenyans. Katusiime concurs with Kakooza and adds that internal flights would ease the promotion of tourism among tourists who come to the country, have a short time, money to spend but would not like to be on the road for long hours.
“We are working with the Ministry of Works and other relevant entities to boost our domestic transport network,” she added. Uganda is a self-marketing beauty, thanks to its weather, rich wildlife and culture, abundant birdlife, friendly people and more.

And many of the stakeholders believe in what they preach. A few months ago, when he felt tired, Sam Mwandha, executive director of Uganda Wildlife Authority, asked for leave and went out and spent a weekend in Murchison Falls.
“I enjoyed myself there. When I came back, I was fresher to handle the pressure that comes with my work. So, as a company, if you are looking to energise your staff, visit our tourist destinations in Uganda; national parks and reserves,” he added.

Local travellers in Queen Elizabeth National Park near Lake Bunyampaka. Photo /EDGAR R. BATTE.

Fees 
Entrance to the parks currently stands at Shs20,000 per person per day. If you are travelling as a group, UWA offers discounted packages. To make group travel affordable, it hires out its buses at Shs800,000.
A client fuels and caters for their professional driver. The government agency manages 10 national parks, 12 wildlife reserves, 13 wildlife sanctuaries and five community wildlife management areas.

It runs a 10-room facility in Lake Mburo National Park, each at Shs130,000. That’s in addition to a 40-bed capacity education centre under shared accommodation arrangement. 
This is meant for schools in Queen Elizabeth National Park. UWA has a facility with over 30 beds for between Shs40,000 and Shs70,000. There is a full house with three bedrooms at Shs500,000 which can accommodate up to seven people.
In Murchison Falls National Park, UWA is developing a facility. So far, it has six rooms, each at Shs100,000. Kidepo Valley National Park has 35 beds at Shs100,000 and cheaper.

Most national parks have private accommodation within or outside but close to them. A Ugandan spends Shs250,000 to access Bwindi Impenetrable forest and National Park, the home of the sought-after Mountain Gorilla. A nature walk in the park will leave you only Shs20, 000 less. 
While on incentivised trips, Francis Kisirinya, the acting executive director of Private Sector Foundation Uganda, implored Ugandans to capture moments and share them on their social media platforms as a way of popularising and promoting them.
This he says will interest more travellers to visit them and ultimately contribute to the recovery of the sector, which has been badly hit and affected by Covid-19.

Wall hangings 
Auto’s chairperson appealed to Ugandans to consider counting portraits of tourist attractions such as the prized mountain gorilla, wall hangings in their offices and homes.
Abdul Kibuuka’s two cents on making incentivised travel a feasible undertaking, shared the perspective of the new and changing world of the working environment.
 The human resource manager of Tullow Oil said remote work is going to be the trend for the foreseeable future. “How are HR practitioners and CEOs going to ensure employees stay engaged, keep a corporate entity working and build ethics and culture where everybody is sitting in their room back at home working on their laptop or computer?” he wondered. 

Bring people together
 He added that what is going to happen, is that office space will not matter anymore. “Where am I going to put the money I am saving? Where am I going to put the money saved from utilities because people are working from home? Covid-19 and its impact on the world of work, has come with some advantages, some in real saving of costs but it is going to come with some serious challenges at organisational level, for HR practitioners,” he added. 
Kibuuka said the real opportunity in incentive travel lies, not just in offering people trips and some time out in the park, but purposefully designing and using the opportunity to bring people together, physically at a time when organisations are so physically disjointed because of remote working.

Make it a quarterly budget item
“Incentive travel thus becomes necessary to be included on your quarterly budget. You will need to take your teams out once every quarter, Kibuuka further argued.
“In recent times, the domestic market has become a key focus in our promotional efforts. Successful world tourism destinations are characterised by a strong domestic market. 
This is an existing market that is less prone to seasonal fluctuations or basing travel decisions on the international media and foreign advisory note ratings of the destination,” Katusiime further observes.

Tourism is our business
And as Kakooza notes, tourism is everybody’s business because the revenue from it trickles down to many people. Uganda Tourism Association’s breakfast meeting of the country’s leading chief executives is part of an ongoing rejuvenation drive dubbed the Covid-19 Economic Recovery and Resilience Response Programme  (CERRRP Project) aimed at supporting the revival of tourism and hospitality enterprises.

Covid-19 impact

The 2020 Covid-19 Impact Economic Study further revealed that at least one million tourist arrivals were lost, seven in every 10 jobs in the sector were lost and eight in every 10 hotel businesses registered business cancellations. 

Additionally, 448, 996 hotel rooms were cancelled between March and July 2020 and nine in every 10 tour companies registered cancellations. The overall average job loss in the sector was more than 74 percent.

Lilly Ajarova, Uganda Tourism Board’s CEO, acknowledged that whereas there has been a serious impact, especially resulting from Covid-19, the agency will continuously undertake market research to find out what potential tourists want and align activities, work plan and strategies domestically and internationally.
“Today, we are also launching a period of subsidised trips around Uganda for Ugandans, booked through Ugandan professional tour operators,” said Richard Kawere the chief executive of the tourism association.

And as Magada adds, morale is key in retaining people and when you reward people, they appreciate that you care for and love them and are not seen as mere machines that work for them.

In return, productivity is higher and targets are met, which ultimately drives profits of a company. In the broader context, the employer pays taxes, a contribution to the national coffers that drive economic development, if corruption does not bite its way into the domestic pie. 

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