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10 things you didn’t know about Miss Tourism

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Miss Tourism beauty pageants 2023/2024 in Lake Mburo National Park. PHOTO/ COURTESY/MISS TOURISM UGANDA.

The process to find this year’s Miss Tourism kicked off on March 13 with the launch of activities. As is tradition, on that day, sponsors and partners were announced, terms and conditions of eligibility were named and the different ways to register were proclaimed.

The launch opened doors for beautiful girls from across the country to pick up forms from the 12 regional offices or go online to register to participate in the pageants. The game, as they say, was on. 

On May 11, the Teso regional pageant was the first to take place in Soroti City in eastern Uganda, setting the ball rolling for 11 other regional pageants. The Kigezi regional pageant took place yesterday (June 15) in Kabale Town, leaving Busoga, Buganda, Tooro, eastern(border districts), Karamoja, West Nile, Rwenzori, northern (Lango and Acholi) and Ankole. 

Over the next three months, these regional pageants will produce the crème de la crème contestants who will participate in the national pageant on a yet-to-be announced date in September, in Kampala. 

Miss Tourism has been here for a while, but because it has always kept a low profile, many interesting facts have flown over most people’s heads. Below are 10 interesting facts you probably did not know about the nationwide pageant. 

1. Started by Maria Mutagamba
Miss Tourism Uganda was re-launched in 2013 by the Late Maria Mutagamba,  then the Minister of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities, in a bid to promote local tourism while promoting the girl-child. She believed in several philosophies including: i.) ‘Tourism is everyone’s business’ and; ii.) ‘Train a girl, you train the world’.

She had a vision of seeing young women develop the love for their country so they could be agents of change in their communities through tourism. It is this focus on communities that led to the formation of regional pageants across the country as an organic way of reaching the grassroots, ensuring young women from every part of the country would be able to participate and learn about the tourism potential in their regions.

2. Throwing light on obscure tourism sites
In the same way that John Speke made Lake Nalubaale known to the world, the Miss Tourism pageant was the first national entity to put a large spotlight on Aruu Falls in Pader in 2020. While taking the regional contestants around the region’s tourism potential, Miss Tourism introduced the world to Aruu Falls by publishing pictures of the girls standing in front of the falls, creating a sudden rush to the area. Prior to this spotlight, Aruu Falls were Pader’s best-kept secret, enjoyed mostly by the locals. That changed in 2020. 

In the same way, Miss Tourism also introduced the country’s smallest church to the public. Bethel Church on Biku Hill in Nebbi seats a maximum of two congregants. This was in 2018. 

Many of these obscure tourism sites with huge potential have been discovered and popularised through the contestants who are tasked to find potential tourist attractions in their villages.

This approach has also led to the discovery, or promotion of little-known, unexplored museums such as Semagulu Museum and the currency museum in collaboration with Bank of Uganda, among others.

3. Creating the rolex festival/food tourism 
You have probably heard of the rolex festival, haven’t you? It is a one-day festival celebrating Uganda’s most popular street snack. Miss Tourism Uganda is the entity behind the rise and growth of the rolex festival a few years ago. 

It originated from Miss Tourism boot camp by Miss Tourism Busoga Queen Enid Mirembe in 2017, with support from the Ministry of Tourism. It has now become an annual and internationally recognised event. “In Uganda, we don’t WEAR Rolexes, we EAT them” catchphrase. In fact, Raymond Kahuma, capitalised on that and made the rolex and Uganda even more famous by making the largest rolex on the Guinness World Records.    

4. First ever queen who won award on the international stage
The very first Miss Tourism queen was Miss Barbara Nakitto from Buganda Region, who won Miss Friendship slot for her verve at Miss Tourism International in Malaysia.

5. Most success at international pageants 
The first time a Ugandan has made it to the top three in an international pageant was a Miss Tourism Uganda Queen Sheila Kirabo (fondly known as The Giraffe Queen), a great honour for the country. She was the Second Runner-up in Miss Tourism International/Metropolitan.

She is not the only one who has won internationally. Nakitto won Miss Friendship at Miss Tourism International in Malaysia and Miss Sydney Nabulya won Miss Talent at Miss Tourism International, 2023. Uganda was the only African country recognised at this pageant.

6. Connecting to African America
MTU has successfully attracted investors such as Across the Nations International Ministries (ACTNIM), a Christian organisation that seeks to connect Black America to Africa through tourism, who have consistently for five years supported MTU to take Miss Tourism queens to the US to talk to African Americans about Africa and encourage them to #exploreUganda. February 2022, 2023, 2024 MTU Queen Sonia Komugisha represented at the Black Wall Street. Here, Miss Tourism helped market Uganda’s bark cloth, which happens to be one of the oldest fabrics in the world. They also showcased the Ankole cow, a peculiar bovine endemic to Uganda and the region. This has created an interest in black America to visit Uganda.

7. Twenty beauty queens –cum – tour operators
With the training and exposure to tourism, the Miss Tourism queens have returned to their regions over the years to develop tourism businesses.

First Runner-Up Miss Tourism Karamoja 2023/2024. PHOTO/COURTESY of MISS TOURISM UGANDA.

At least 20 tour companies have had their beginnings from Miss Tourism Uganda, as former tourism queens are the owners of those businesses. These include Ice Tours by Queen Challa, and Marion Uganda Safaris for Queen Marion from Buganda. 

8. Promoting domestic tourism
Before Miss Tourism Uganda relaunched in 2013, the focus in the tourism industry had been on international tourists. With the advent of the new Miss Tourism, Ugandans started taking note of beautiful sites around them because the contestants actively sought out those sites and publicised them for tourism purposes.  

9. Planted a million trees 
Miss Tourism Uganda believes in the conservation of nature and carries out conservation activities all year-round including recycling plastic and tree planting all over Uganda.
 Over the last eight years, more than a million trees have so far been planted across the country. Plans are underway to plant two million trees in collaboration with National Forest Authority (NFA) and Dr Patrick Ogwang of Covidex Foundation. 

MTU has in the past also organised the Conservation Run with Uganda Wildlife Authority, fundraised for Uganda Wildlife Education Centre (UWEC) animals, more so during Covid-19 pandemic, as well as promoted their products such as “Road Safety Campaign” and “Let the Pearl Shine Campaign” which created awareness on proper rubbish disposal.

10. Franchise agreements
MTU introduced a Cluster head system, where each region, through a franchise agreement, had a cluster head to organise and promote tourism, as well as Miss Tourism activities on behalf of MTU. This has caused regional pride and encouraged communities to come together and develop their regions. 

Currently, there are development WhatsApp groups such as West Nile Tourism Development group that also includes Members of Parliament in the promotion of tourism. This system of clusters has pushed and promoted tourism at the grassroots.
Objectives

  • To showcase the beauty of our country through pageantry to Uganda and the rest of the world.
  • To create a platform where the youth in Uganda can acquire knowledge about tourism as one of the major sources of revenue for the country.
  • To nurture the youth to grow with confidence, goal setting, public speaking, communication skills and self-discipline.
  • To promote and encourage inter-cultural exchange among the youth through using the Miss Tourism platform.
  • To help build and create a sustainable tourism sector.