During the month of October 2021, I took a road trip to Tanzania and I got a chance to visit several Tanzanian National Parks. While there, I was surprised by the huge number of tourists that flock to Tanzania’s tourist attractions. The parks, waterfalls and mountains are all busy with tourists and of course, I started to wonder why Uganda was failing to attract such numbers of tourists, yet our country has so much to offer and hence the potential to get more visitors.
Uganda is a sleeping giant with countless natural attractions, lush green country sides, diverse cultures, landscapes, snow covered Rwenzori Mountain peak, beautiful lakes and dotted islands in addition to the gorillas and the usual African Big Five safaris that always leave the few international tourists wondering why they didn’t know anything of the sort existed in Uganda.
Uganda is believed to have more than 50 percent of the remaining mountain gorillas in Bwindi impenetrable forest and Mgahinga Gorilla national parks but it’s funny that most people outside of the country don’t even know that there are mountain gorillas in The Pearl of Africa. I recently visited Kenya’s Diani beach and I happened to meet a tour operator, who didn’t know that Uganda even had gorillas, as strange as it seems; and by the way, he is one of the best in the area of Diani beach, according to TripAdvisor rankings.
When it comes to mountain gorilla trekking, the world quickly looks at Rwanda and we all know trekking permits there don’t come cheap: they come at a cost of 1,500$, compared to Uganda’s 700$.
Take a look at bird watching for example; Uganda is home to 10.2 percent of all bird species in the world. American tourists spend $4.1billion a year on bird watching tours. Now imagine 10 percent of these tourists knew about Uganda as a birding safari destination and booked tours to Uganda that means as a country, we would make $410 million out of the birds we have. Remember we don’t feed or treat these birds; basically don’t cost us anything, yet we could heavily profit from them if we did our homework better.
Uganda is like a beautifully dressed woman, wearing nice jewelries and make-up but locked in her room… Meaning no one sees or appreciates how endowed she is. Anyone who has visited Uganda will tell you that this country is a sleeping tourism giant, having everything to make is a preferred holiday destination. It is maybe small, but surely has everything the African continent has best to offer.
With all what we have, I believe we could fully optimize it and reap the tourism dollars… something that might be part of the solution to the youth unemployment. With an increase in tourists in Uganda, I see endless opportunities for many (young) people like me, employed as safari guides, chefs in lodges, porters on our mountains, interpreters, mechanics maintaining safari cars, craft makers, etc. Maybe this would help to save young people from going to Arab countries, where many of them claim to be treated as slaves.
In my opinion, we lack serious marketing and sensitization campaigns - something our neighbors have mastered, explaining why Uganda has remained overshadowed by countries like Rwanda, Kenya and Tanzania. Different tourist companies have tried to market on their own but trust me, it can’t work well if the government is not seriously involved. The government should increase on the budget that’s given to Uganda Tourism Board (UTB) to enable them sell exhibit Uganda as a preferred holiday destination. We need to know that this business of tourism is built on awareness and serious/aggressive marketing to tell the world: "hey! You can come spend your holidays here"; and that Uganda is not all about gorillas and chimpanzees. If we sit back and relax, other countries advertising and signing deals with international football teams will beat our sector's revenue - yet we are so much gifted by nature.
The author, Samuel Colin Walugembe, is the founder and director Laba Africa Expeditions