How Uganda can improve its tourism

KAMPALA- Uganda should turn to the drawing board and make comparative studies to review strategies that were adopted in the 1960's, modify them for better positioning in the international tourism market now.
The country is competing against new destinations and new products a call for exhibition of quality and unique marketing.
Interest information and resource centre, modern stop-over points, restaurants, house boats, boat rides, additional walks and toilets along the circuits must be major priorities.
Training of community guides, organizing community groups to provide equipment that can be rented to tourists who may wish to take part in an activity in the area, home stay experiences and development of marketing materials.
The development of key maps, construction of good roads, improvement in the condition of airstrips and airfields and introduction of cheaper scheduled flights to the national park areas so as to shorten the long driving distances should also be considered by tourism sector holders.
There is also need to reinstate the national carrier for Uganda to provide direct flights, convenient and affordable travel fares from source markets and up grade Kasese, Jinja and Arua airfields to international airport status and implement the decision to enable tourists arrive there directly.
The image can as well be boosted by putting tourism signage on the roads to improve visibility, position tourist police at key road sites to allow tourists to report any misbehavior by tour operators like those that usually leave them on the road side stranded.
Night game drives in all parks, bush camping and more circuits in the Murchison Falls National Park and Queen Elizabeth National Park areas should as well be put in place, to support the growing numbers.
Simplification of merchant like Visa and Master cards banking to increase the tourist expenditures and reduce the risk of losing cash and the inconvenience of carrying large wards of money.
According to Mr. Geoffrey Baluku of balukusguide .com and the general secretary of the Association of Uganda Tour Operators (AUTO), there is also a need for additional access points, activities and a business development plan for the Rwenzori Mountains as well.
"Training of existing and new tour guides as well as hospitality staff. Encouraging the local media and NGO's to become partners in the tourism awareness process at all levels, promotion of the involvement of the private sector in the provision of training, are key other areas that need adequate attention," notes Baluku.
He adds that the government can as well encourage capacity building among the previously neglected small and medium tourism enterprises and emerging entrepreneurs.
To the safety and security part of tourists, Baluku suggests that the provision of adequate information to visitors that will help improve their safety and security, in line with a section for Tourism Police under the Uganda Police Force should be created and given facilitation like an office and vehicle.
"This will help not only in effective prosecution for cases where tourists are involved but will also build confidence of and among the tourists," he stresses.
To improve the country's tourism image, there is need for product development through emphasizing the development of products that offer good potential for development take like cultural forms of tourism, cruise tourism, sports tourism, conference and incentive travel. There is a need to diversify the Ugandan Tourism product and not over market or over develop the tourism attractions.
Baluku explains that an agent review of the government's financial contribution to tourism should be conducted as well as the process of determining such contribution.
"A dedicated tourism development fund should be established to provide funds for tourism enterprises and local community activities not catered for by existing state financing agencies. Such a fund should be subject to regular auditing and scrutiny," he emphasizes.
He contends that training airport taxis operators and other disadvantaged transport operators should be considered in order to enhance their services and allow them to play an important role in Uganda's tourism industry. "Investors that come up with products that helps to diversify the tourism product like cruise boats on Lake Victoria should be supported and encouraged.
Baluku insists that to compete with other destinations, the private sector must be supported by significant government spending in marketing the country. "This is not happening in Uganda."
East African neighbors including Kenya, Tanzania and Rwanda spend significantly more on promoting themselves as a tourism destination and consequently boost far higher tourist earnings.
Kenya's tourism marketing budget for the 2011/2012 financial year has been set at Kenya Sh1.4 billion as compared Uganda's Ush600 million (about $300,000).
Uganda has an incredible tourism product but the world will not find out about us without a serious GOU commitment to promote Uganda.
Currently the country has too many sectors (government departments) doing the same job in the name of promoting/marketing tourism. Among these are Uganda Wildlife Education Centre (UWEC), Uganda Export Promotion Board (UEPB), Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) and the Uganda Tourism Board. This continues to pose a danger of diluting the marketing and promotional efforts at the international level with the consequent wastage of valuable resources.
International marketing should be the responsibility of the Uganda Tourism Board though marketing and promotion plans can be developed jointly not only with the afore mentioned but also with the private sector such as the tour operators, hoteliers and local communities.

Cobati launches Nubian village in Bombo

KAMPALA, UGANDA - Last month saw the launch by another community tourism initiative by COBATI, the Community Based Tourism Initiative founded by Maria Baryamujura.
The Nubian villages, over 30 of them are located in the Bombo area outside Kampala en route from the highway to the north of the country, better known for the location of the army headquarters than for the Nubian villages, in fact, something Maria's project aims to radically alter.
Four of these villages are now directly linked to the project, which was financially supported by the MTN Foundation Uganda, benefitting over 80 group members who in turn support over 600 family members through their work with COBATI.
Maria's intention was to link the community with the tourism fraternity by creating a model Nubian village where the unique crafts produced by the women in the community are displayed and offered to tourists for sale and also show visitors how village life unfolds day in and day out, how food is being prepared and served, and allow tourists to sample some of the dishes.
Home-stay experiences are also possible to let tourists get a hands-on and close-up experience of how life in rural Africa really is.
Folklore displays and performances are part of the organized showings for visitors who come for either a home stay or for a shorter visit, a feature reportedly much enjoyed by the visitors.
Story telling, henna painting, and hair braiding is also on offer, and in particular female tourist visitors are regularly taking advantage of getting their hair done or having their hands, feet, and arms painted.
On sale are woven mats and baskets of various shapes and forms and colours displayed at a 'cultural centre' and proceeds are used for the development of a local school and to give the women a regular cash flow to support their families.

Low sales at Third Buganda Tourism exhibition

Kampala, Uganda- Sounds of traditional drumming and whistling welcomed you to Lubiri, the Buganda  king's palace in Kampala. People respond in droves,  joy and expectation written on their faces.
It was time for the Third Annual Buganda Tourism expo.
The theme for this year's expo was to increase people's knowledge about the cultural diversity and common heritage in the country.
The expo, aimed at selling Uganda's tourism, was also meant to earn some money for traders who paid for stalls where the week long show was held.
Many turned up but few spent some money.
"This year's expo was not as profitable as last year's," said Ms Brenda Nakacwa, who exhibited African wear and crafts, "Many people are around but few are buying"
She blamed the low sales to the increased food and fuel prices which are a priority for many since crafts are luxuries.
The annual event which was officially opened by the Minister of Finance and Economic Planning, Ms  Maria KIwanuka attracted many corporate companies like the telecommunications, Uganda Wildlife Authority, and agricultural products firms among others.
Each stall went at between Shs100, 000($40) and Ug shs500, 000($200).
The attractions exhibited include wild life such as lions, ostriches, monkeys, python and cultural paraphernalia since the expo was organized by the Buganda kingdom, a cultural entity.
Some companies were successful.
 "The expo has helped us to increase publicity for our recently launched Posta buses since we have interacted with many people, exchanged ideas with them which is good for ruling out misconceptions that people could be having about Posta Uganda," said Michael Ekojot , a marketing officer of Posta Uganda.
Mr. Musa Matovu,  who exhibited agro- processing machinery saw some benefits "People have managed to come and appreciate a variety of our products. This I believe has boosted our image abroad as a rich tourism center," he said.
"Such events expose students to new things.  Some watch such big snakes like the python in the movies but now they have seen them physically," commented Paul Otim a guide at Uganda wild life education centre.
Buganda King Ronald Mutebi , while closing the expo,  encouraged people to preserve their cultural heritage since such items not only generate income through the tourism industry but also strengthen African cultures.
"All Ugandans must take the initiative to protect these sites so that we don't experience the same tragedy that happened at Kasubi. These items are not only important for the Baganda but for the whole Uganda," he said.
The Kasubi tombs, a world heritage site, was one of the biggest tourist centers in Uganda but it was set a blaze on  March 16, 2010 by unknown persons and a lot of items were destroyed.

UWA increases park charges

KAMPALA, UGANDA- Uganda's wildlife conservation and management body, the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) last week announced increases in the fees charged to enter national parks with effect from July 1.
The body attributed their increases to the weakening Uganda Shilling against the Dollar, increase in fuel prices and the cost of living which is going up.Mid last week, the Dollar traded at between Ush2,710 and Ush2,745 before it slowed down at the closing of the week because the Bank of Uganda intervened in the market by selling more dollars into the market.

Western Uganda gets new tourist stop-over

KAMPALA, UGANDA - Uganda lacks decent stop-over points to support the tourism industry, said Makerere University tourism don Richard Drama.
The absence leads to many tourists ending up as short stay visitors. He added that most tourists have to drive directly to national parks to see animals and then, back to their respective countries for lack of desent stop overs. Drama notes that if the issue of decent stop-over points is not addressed, it might ruin the tourism sector in Uganda.
"For example from Kampala to Kabale, there is no decent stop-over point, yet the road has the most tourists' attractions for the country."
The setting up of the Igongo Cultural Centre and Museum at Biharwe, on the outskirts of Mbarara Town, will provide a new trend for tourists plying the South-Western Uganda route.
Set up six months ago, Igongo Cultural Centre is strategically located and designed to provide services of a modern stop-over point. The cultural centre has a museum, which depicts all the south western cultures, a recreation centre, a restaurant and a hotel under construction.
It is established on a two-acreage piece of land, which was once a palace of a legendary King in the 17th century about 14km from Kampala City. It is an ideal place for short stop-over dinners and for those with more time for evening family relaxation.  
"The main attraction to the centre is the museum of south-western cultures and norms. It showcases ancient and modern history of the region and cultures of the Banyankole and Bakiga," indicates Ms Lydia Kananura, a former teacher now the general manager of the cultural centre.
According to Drama, a modern stop-over point should have a modern restaurant, a supermarket, an entertainment place, information centre, lounges, accommodation facilities, clean toilets and bathrooms and car rental services.  
He stresses that an up to date stop-over point must as well have banking and foreign exchange services, postal and internet services, tea and coffee shops. Though Igongo Cultural Centre has not set up all the requirements for a modern stop-over point, the museum can keep visitors busy as they head to other spots.
Moving around the museum, one sees a variety of different cultures, family settings, communities , clans, totems, the two former kings of Ankole Kingdom, their prime ministers and other nuemerous cultural attractions .
Mr. Moses Kashure the museum curator says 10 clans of the Kigezi Empire and 112 sub clans are displayed inside the museum. The museum also has 4 clans and 145 sub-clans of the Ankole Kingdom on show.
The cultural centre has partnered with Mbarara University of Science and Technology for students to carry out research from the site. The community surrounding the cultural centre has also started benefiting from the new project by selling milk, art and crafts to the centre.  
The centre also has a cultural troupe that entertains visitors on a daily basis.
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