To a stranger, Cyril Kojo comes off as a free-spirited, friendly person, an avant-garde. He is not the type that follows rules, especially if they are meant to corner him into doing things a certain way.
Deep, insightful conversations and elite banter move him. He is the brain behind Tulambule Uganda Group, an online platform and interaction space on Facebook that brings together like-minded people who are passionate about travel and tourism.
“I call Tulambule Uganda Group a mall for travellers. What we do is to offer space for members to share their travel experiences, a chance to plan a trip on their own by seeking recommendations and it is a one-stop centre for tour operators across the country,” he explains.
A one-stop centre for tourists
Tulambule is anchored on the idea of connecting travellers to places and experiences while also giving a chance for people in the travel and tourism business to market their products and services.
For a photographer or anyone who appreciates art, the platform is an ideal space to pick an idea or two as members share photos of the destinations they have visited, stories and reviews of lodges, hotels and campsites.
The group brings together diverse spectrum of corporates whose goal is to change the notion that travel is a thing for foreigners (mzungu). Friends have been made and purposed connections started. The group brings together more than 25,000 members. Tulambule is a Luganda word to me ‘let’s travel’.
A unique name?
“We have been told severally that foreigners may not understand what the group name is all about and our response has always been, if they are interested enough in what we do, they will find out the meaning of Tulambule. We travel and eat food in places whose names we cannot comprehend all the time,” a non-conventional Kojo explains.
When I ask him what tourism means to him, he asks me whether I have enough space for him to give me a satisfactory answer. “Tourism is all about people and everything else revolves around that. When you plan a trip, you are wondering whether people will be willing to go. When you construct a hotel or resort, at the back of your mind, you are hoping people will have a good experience. So for tourism to thrive, people must be at the centre of it all,” he says.
According to Kojo, tourism is a people business. He believes that no matter how grand anyone’s plans and strategies are, if they do not factor in people, the business is bound to fail or suffer great losses.
Travel business is about people
Kojo has not always been big on travelling but he has many friends to whom travelling is their holy grail of ‘doing this thing’ called life. It is from stories about their trips, the experiences and the photos shared that he picked interest in tourism.
“Travelling is fun and it makes people happy. In a way, travel offers unique experiences and brings out something about people’s personalities,” he explains.
Seeing photographs and hearing stories drew him closer to travelling and he has not looked back. “Whatever I do - be it writing or cooking, I immerse myself into it deeply. This is also true for the kind of books I read or the genre of music I listen to,” he says.
And because tourism is about people, right from their culture and to the food they eat, there is some kind of connection you get. To him, these are stories which each one of us needs to know and tell others about.
Kojo says some stories are hidden and if people do not become deliberate about telling them, other generations are going to grow up with bits of their history missing. And this is what motivates Kojo about tourism.Being able to do all that while having fun at it is the ultimate goal. People are top on his list of things that fascinate him about destination Uganda.
“This country has the most amazing human being. They are very welcoming and friendly. Then, there is food. When you are served with Luwombo-it is not just food on your plate. You are being served a people’s culture. You are being told a story of how each meal is prepared. And the beautiful sceneries make Uganda a top destination,” he explains.
Kojo holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Information Technology (IT) from Makerere University. His career took a twist because deep down he has always wanted to write. So working with machines was not going to cut it out for him. According to him, machines require following too many instructions, yet he thrives best when he is allowed to break a few rules.
His career path has always been in advertising, majorly focusing on digital marketing. He has worked with Blu Flamingo, Scanad Uganda and Firework Advertising.
A digital marketer
He is currently a freelance digital marketing consultant. “The advertising industry prepares you for anything. That is why it has not been hard for me to settle comfortably in tourism marketing,” he expounds.
Kojo says there are many destinations people have not been to in Uganda and one of his dreams is to see more people adapting to the culture of travelling.
“The more people travel and explore different destinations, the more we shall appreciate how gifted Uganda is,” Kojo says.
The initial target was get to 5,000 members. Today, the group has quadrup
led the membership. What is on your wish list for the platform? I ask.
“We want to sell Uganda not just to the outside world but to Ugandans too. We shall be pursuing lots of partnerships with brands and various stakeholders in the tourism industry,” Kojo talks about future plans.
Core on his agenda is sustainable tourism development. Whatever his team plans, it has local communities in mind.
In an age where people are creating content online and earning from it, Kojo observes that every second that passes on the internet, there are millions of people searching for information.
Much needed information
It is information about a product or service based on their diverse interests that millions of people are searching for.
“The good news with online buiness, specifically social media is that it has democratised marketing and each business, however big or small, has a chance to exist and market its product or service.”
He adds: “You can open your Luwombo stall and market it on social media just like the proprietor of a Five-star hotel. Online marketing connects potential consumers to sellers at an affordable rate and this is what everyone in the tourism business needs to take advantage of.”
Leveraging online marketing
Kojo says it is this connection that many businesses which started before the Internet era never enjoyed. In the realms of opportunities, Covid-19 had disrupted life as we know it, and tourism was not spared.
“When Covid-19 hit the country, many companies cut on their marketing budgets and we were all affected. For tourism business, the effect was intense because out of five people you meet, four where affected when tourism, as an industry, stalled,” he further observes.
Effects of Covid-19 on tourism
When you stop people from moving, the effects on an industry that depends on movement are unimaginable. The effects will be felt for a long time, but Kojo says the pandemic presented invaluable lessons that will steer the recovery phases in the industry.
“We still wake up each morning and show up. The case in point is how domestic tourism in Uganda has really become a thing, thanks to the pandemic. The new normal presents many uncertainties, for example, most interventions being piloted are new to everyone,” he argues.
Trust, agility and risk-taking
Kojo contends that trust is going to play a big role in the future of tourism, coupled with agility, especially for businessowners.
He adds that the comfort zone does not exist anymore, especially for those who want to thrive in the tourism industry. It is going to be about risking and trying out new things, Kojo projects the new normal.
When he is not doing tourism, he is part of a group called ‘Drink, Talk and Learn’. He wishes to see more Ugandans travel as families.
What others say about Kojo’s efforts
Tinah Katushabe- Owner Ihambe Resort
Kojo is a personal friend. Very intentional, a go-getter, blunt and brutally honest, most of which gets him in some trouble sometimes. But he is the kind that says what some of us would not put out there.
Tulambule has since become a safe place to interact and share the love Ugandans have for their country. A platform every Ugandan should be on.
Immaculate Kemigisha Wampamba- Tour Operator, Terrace Uganda Safaris
By starting Tulambule, Kojo gave many people an opportunity to share stories about Uganda through sharing pictures and videos of the country’s tourist destination.
Tour operators have had the opportunity to showcase our packages and client base is growing steadily. Tulambule is the best thing to have happened to our domestic tourism.