How Uganda can earn more from tourism

A gorilla cuddles and its infant at Bwindi National Park. Uganda Tourism Board wants international tourists to fly directly to tourism sites. PHOTO/FILE

What you need to know:

The issue: Tourism

Our view: These sites are national treasures that should be accorded protection. For the country to earn more from tourism, it should also invest more in infrastructure.

Uganda is referred to as the Pearl of Africa, and rightly so. The country is blessed with beautiful landscapes and an impressive array of wild animals. Tourists from all over the world come to the country to partake in these wonderful and irresistible gifts from Mother Nature. Tourism is a leading foreign exchange earner for the country.According to the Uganda Tourism Board (UTB), in 2019 a total of 1,542,620 foreign tourists visited Uganda. The country earned $1.6 billion (Shs 5.93 trillion) from these visitors. In the same year, UTB says 1,559,147 people were employed in the tourism sector.

However, coronavirus disease outbreak in 2020 lead to implementation of lockdown measures to curb spread of the ailment. These measures restricted peoples’ movements, hence hindering tourism. Following the lifting of the lockdown, the tourism sector has steadily recovered. However, the sector is still impeded by several challenges that should be urgently resolved to enable the country benefit fully from it.

Currently, the sector over relies on wildlife and landscapes, giving little attention to cultural tourism. This is a section of the sector that can increase the country’s earnings if fully exploited.

There are 56 tribes in Uganda, each with its own unique culture; language, songs, dances, rituals, foods and attire. Government should invest in organising and training local communities to participate in cultural tourism.

This will earn government much-needed foreign exchange and also improve the livelihoods of these communities. Uganda has several cultural, religious and historical sites such as the Kasubi Tombs and Uganda Martyrs Shrine. If these sites are well-marketed, the number of tourists visiting them will increase. More effort should be made to preserve these sites. Unfortunate incidents such as the destruction of Fort Lugard and Kasubi Tombs should not be allowed to happen again. These sites are national treasures that should be accorded protection. For the country to earn more from tourism, it should also invest more in infrastructure. Currently, the country has only one international airport, which is located in Entebbe.

This compels tourists to land at Entebbe before continuing with their journey to other parts of the country that they want to visit. The government should consider constructing international airports in each of the regions of the country to enable foreign tourists land as close as possible to the sites they want to visit. Many roads across the country are also in a deplorable state. Water transport sector in the country is also wanting, with many boats on our lakes and rivers a danger to travellers. The situation is worsened by the fact that some operators of the vessels violate rules such as ensuring that those on the boats have lifejackets. These transport challenges should be urgently resolved.

The Ugandan citizens are a vastly untapped tourism market. Many Ugandans have never visited any tourism sites in the country. A concerted effort should be made to increase the number of locals visiting tourism sites. This can be done through advertising these sites and also offering the chance to visit these sites at subsidised prices.

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