What you need to know:
- Tourism and hospitality sector players say the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) and G77 + China summits present an opportunity to market Uganda to the outside world and boost tourism.
Kampala Serena Hotel, a luxury five-star facility, sits serenely within the heart of Kampala City, sandwiched between the Crested Crane Towers on the east; Parliament, the twin towers housing the offices of the President and the Prime Minister and Finance ministry headquarters in the south; Grand Imperial Hotel on the west; and the plush Nakasero neighbourhood in the north.
About 200 metres west is the imposing Sheraton Kampala hotel, another five-Star facility overlooking State House, Nakasero on the northern side and the clear view of the city across from its top most floors, giving you a refreshing atmosphere.
The two are part of the six hotels, all rated five-star, which will host the heads of state and delegations coming for the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) and G77 + China summits which start on January 15 and end on January 23 at the Commonwealth Convention Centre in Munyonyo.
Others are Mestil Hotel, Commonwealth Resort Munyonyo, Skyz Hotel Naguru and Serena Lake Victoria Resort and Spa on the shores of Lake Victoria. Several other hotels have also been accredited to accommodate other categories of guests, including ministers, diplomats and business executives among others.
For more than two years, the Uganda hospitality and tourism sector has been preparing to host more than 120 heads of state and more than 1,700 others at the forthcoming NAM/G77+China summits, the biggest global events the country has ever hosted.
To the tourism and hospitality sector, this is a big statement to showcase the country as one of the biggest destinations for meetings, incentives conferences and events, which globally every country is craving to host.
Both the hoteliers and tourism sector players in unison said: “We are on top of this and ready to give a lifetime treat to our esteemed clients during their stay here. We hope they will not only stop at the events venue but also tour the beautiful pristine pearl of Africa.”
Mr Herbert Byaruhanga, the president of Uganda Tourism Association, said the tourism sector has trained more than 900 guides ready to offer a lifetime experience to the visitors who will want to venture beyond the gates of the hotels and visit the parks and other tourism hotspots in the country.
“From the technical point of view, we have over 900 trained and certified guides. They were assessed and given licenses. So that puts us in a very, very good position that we have capacity to manage any interests. And these are with interest in all areas. We have a number of good hotels as far as rated by the tourism board. We have all activities, every tourist activity,” he said.
He said Uganda is very rich in tourist attractions and guests will not be disappointed when they venture out to tour the country.
All is set
In the same spirit, Mr Jean Byamugisha, the executive director of the apex body of hotels, the Uganda Hotel Owners Association, said all is set for the summits.
“In terms of preparedness, the hotels are ready because for us, we heard about NAM a long time ago, so the Ministry of Tourism in partnership with the Hotel Owners Association and the Uganda Tourism Board have already visited, assessed the readiness of the hotels. Those which needed improvement were told what to improve and the final assessments showed that we are actually ready,” she said.
“I think ever since CHOGM (Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting), where we’ve got a boost in the number of hotels. Hotels have been steadily growing since then. So we don’t panic anymore when we have a conference of the magnitude of NAM and G77 coming into the country because we know in terms of beds, in terms of conference facilities, in terms of even logistics, now even the airport is done. We are always ready and very capable to handle these kinds of events. So in terms of hospitality, I can confidently say that we are ready,” she added.
During an onsite visit to Kampala Serena Hotel, the place was a beehive of activities with guests checking in and out every few minutes. At the reservation office, calls kept coming through to make bookings for both summits, with different government officials booking accommodations for heads of state and their entourage.
Ms Allen Ampaire, the country sales and marketing manager, said the hotel has always been ready for events and when the Uganda Tourism Board visited them for assessment, they found everything was in order.
“As Kampala Serena Hotel, we have everything in place. We’ve been working and preparing for this meeting for quite a while now. I think the Ministry of Tourism started inspecting hotels, including ours in September last year. There were some set standards that they were looking for and ensuring that all of us as hotels that they are picking to accommodate these dignitaries have. And I’m glad to say that Kampala Serena passed and Lake Victoria Serena Golf Resort and Spa equally passed, and we will be accommodating some of the high-end dignitaries,” she said.
In addition to hosting guests, Kampala Serena Hotel will also host the three-day East African Business Expo, which will attract investors from across the region and the different parts of the world.
She said the hotel has always been ready both in terms of human resources and the facilities. She said additional refresher trainings have been conducted for the staff across the board to enhance their performance during high volumes of guests and events.
“We train throughout. Training has been re-emphasized. Our standards have been, re-inculcated into our staff’s minds. So each department was tasked to retrain and explain the importance of this meeting and what it means because it’s not only for Serena, it’s not only for the state, it’s for the whole of Uganda,” she said.
She said it is not only about laying the beds correctly, but having a personal experience which attracts guests to the hotels and, therefore, extra attention has been paid to ensure that the guests have the best experience when they come so that they go and spread the message outside.
“If we give them a great experience, tomorrow they will come to visit without G77 or NAM taking place. So it’s not only making the bed correctly, because that we do every day. Now it is us giving that extra attention and giving that guest the hospitality that Ugandans are known for, that when they are leaving, it’s not only Kampala Serena, but we would want them to say, my God, Uganda is a beautiful country,” she said.
“You know, we have beautiful parks, we have beautiful lakes, rivers and everything and we would want them to explore that. Not only the natural resources but if you look at our cuisine we have a very diverse cuisine that is all organic and we would really want our guests to try and test part of our cuisines. So when they come in, it’s not just a beautiful bed, a beautiful hotel, a beautiful environment that they are looking at. We are also going to entice them to try out our food because of the food that we have is totally unique. It’s organic, you know, and we want them to know what Uganda is all about,” she added.
Across the other side, Sheraton Kampala is equally a beehive of activities as the summit draws nearer. Jean Philippe Bittencourt, the general manager, said the hotel has put everything in place to give the guests an experience they will want to feel again after the conference.
“As a pillar in the hospitality industry, Sheraton Kampala Hotel is utterly ready to host distinguished guests attending the NAM and G77 + China summits. Sheraton Kampala is compliant with Marriott’s global and national operating industry standards, which is no surprise as to why the hotel has been selected by the organising committee, as one of the hotels equipped with sufficient facilities and the capacity to host guests of such prestigious gatherings,” he said.
With 233 accommodation rooms, six dining outlets, tailored meeting spaces, and recreational amenities, Bittencourt said the hotel’s facilities and services have been refined to allow guests to unwind in renovated stylish rooms and suites, views of the city, and exceptional dining experiences.
“The hotel boasts of spaces where travelers and locals can work, meet, and relax while exploring all that Kampala has to offer. With over 55 years’ experience in hosting dignitaries and delegates from all over the world, Sheraton Kampala is undoubtedly prepared to host the summits’ guests providing unique tailored services to have guests immersed in the Ugandan hospitality and cultural experience through aspects of food, art and entertainment throughout both summits,” he said.
Ms Joselyne Ngiine, the public relations and marketing consultant at Sheraton Kampala Hotel, said besides bolstering Uganda’s diplomatic prowess, hosting summits of such magnitude and prestige presents transformative opportunities for global exposure which is a key aspect to the growth of tourism and hospitality industry.
“The exposure gained from hosting such influential gatherings globally catapults the country’s economic opportunities with hospitality being one of the industries that stands to benefit the most. There are multifaceted benefits spanning across the value chain of beneficiaries in the hospitality industry including; food suppliers, service staff, contractors, to mention but a few. Hosting prestigious summits such as the 19th NAM and G77+ China, prompts capacity building and significant investments in the industry which triggers the multiplier effect,” she said.
She said for Uganda to remain competitive in hosting meetings, conferences and events, the hospitality sector through the industry governing and managing bodies should continue to enforce standards of operations to ensure unmatched quality in service delivery to match global standards, adding that “Industry players in all capacities ought to collaborate and comply with the set standards, in addition to investing in innovations and capacity building to prepare for even bigger opportunities as a MICE (Meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions) destination.”
“The hotel’s longstanding existence and experience have not deterred us from evolving with the times. Besides re-branding the corporate identity, Sheraton Kampala boosts of renovated rooms and outlet spaces to fit the ever-evolving dynamics of the sector. As Marriott International’s most global brand, the Sheraton brand is globally positioned and identified as the World’s gathering place with the community at the heart of our business operations. Our event spaces and services offered bring people together from all over the world for community and productivity. Sheraton Kampala Hotel’s prime location in the heart of Kampala, and the varied amenities offered allow for convenience on all fronts,” she said.
Uganda as a destination
The Uganda Tourism Board (UTB), a government agency charged with marketing the country, has for some time been engaging in targeted marketing Uganda not only as a tourism destination, but also as destination for meetings, incentives, conferences and events.
In an earlier interview, Ms Lilly Ajarova, the chief executive officer of UTB, said with some of the new investments happening, Uganda is posed to be a major player in organising events of a global nature. Currently, the country is sixth in Africa as a MICE destination.
“Also to say, you know, we have been talking more about the leisure tourism. In our strategy, you know, we are also making investments and positioning and marketing Uganda also as a business tourism destination. There is investment being put in the infrastructure as well. We know what is going on with the convention centre, which is being built at Munoño to expand our capacity in hosting big meetings,” she said.
She said UTB has established the Uganda Convention Bureau as a department tasked to bid for international conferences, meetings, and conventions that are happening so that they can happen here in Uganda.
“And also we are trying to build the capacity of the private sector because we need to have professional conference organisers, the suppliers, and conference equipment. We are creating awareness about these investment opportunities so that we can be able to expand and position ourselves as a business tourism destination as well,” she said.