Uganda recently joined the rest of the world to mark World Tourism Day.
While others may ponder on the significance of such a day in the context of this country economically, malady http://citrusresearch.org/wp-admin/includes/edit-tag-messages.php the figures seem to explain it all almost every year.
Amos Wekesa is the CEO, http://dan-caragea.ro/wp-content/plugins/jetpack/json-endpoints/class.wpcom-json-api-taxonomy-endpoint.php Great Lakes Safaris, board member of Uganda Tourism Board (UTB) and one of the faces that represent this endowed tourism sector in Uganda whose contribution goes beyond measure.
He has made it part of him to sell Uganda with each opportunity availed to him.
I asked Wekesa why tourism is very important for Uganda even when it is perceived by some that our priorities as a country should rather dwell on sectors like agriculture, energy, health education and the like.
“Uganda needs a proper source of foreign exchange. That’s important and we have put a lot of emphasis in areas that don’t have the same ability in bringing in this Forex,” he says to me.
Wekesa proceeds to expound on this argument drawing from the current state of commerce and why our priorities are wrong.
“Over 82 percent of our manufactured needs are imported (clothes, phones). We are not manufacturing much as a country. When you are importing much, you need a lot of forex to buy almost everything leaving very little inflow since whatever you buy is expensive”
While all other sectors require huge significant investment before they start yielding returns for the country, Wekesa observes that this isn’t the case for tourism.
“Tourism even without proper investment remains our major earner. Last year, it brought in USD 1.4b while remittances brought in USD 931M which is over USD 500M over and above. Tourism almost combined our traditional exports like coffee and cotton on which we relied for a while,” he reveals.
Uganda’s comparative advantage
Our location is strategic, he says. Kampala is 4 hours to Cairo, 4hrs to Johannesburg, 1 and a half to Mombasa and Democratic Republic of Congo which makes Uganda the heart of Africa.
Wekesa in fact submitted that while reference is made to Kenya as Africa’s tourism hub, the only advantage they have against us is the national carrier.
“If we had a carrier, we would be far beyond. Those are things that make the sector.”
He also further pays tribute to Uganda’s diverse attractions that can’t be compared with any in the region.
“No country competes with our diversity; we have the source of the longest river, weather, rafting, waterfalls, the Nile, the most portion of bird species, mountain gorillas, and diverse cultures. All this taken for granted as is the case, we outcompete everyone else.”
Egypt used to earn about USD 7b from tourism yet much of this was attributed to the Nile River. “How much more would we earn from the Nile?” asks Wekesa.
“We need to do something about creating jobs for young people. According to The World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), every 10 tourists create one permanent job. And our population demographics are worrying since the young make up the majority”.
In his opinion, priority should be job creation because if people are poor with nothing to lose, it becomes dangerous
What is Ondaba?
“The ‘Ondaba’ campaign is basically about self-respect. Ugandans still lack self-respect. We have celebrated all the negatives about this country and made no credit to how beautiful and gifted our country is,” says Wekesa.
He further observes that there’s no way foreigners will celebrate Uganda unless its nationals celebrate it.
“We can’t wake up every morning undermining our country. Irrespective of our differences; there must a project called Uganda which is bigger than we the people. We need a critical mass that proudly speaks about Uganda not judging it based on everyday sentiments of politics and family disagreements. Reality is; Uganda is the most beautiful country.”
‘Ondaba’ which is loosely translated as ‘do you see me?’ gives Ugandans an opportunity to showcase Uganda.
Wekesa says Ugandans can use social media to promote the rolex (a popular delicacy of chapatti with fried eggs and vegetables), our Katogo and other aspects that define Uganda.
He has made it a habit to wear a t-shirt labelled ‘Uganda’ each time he’s travelling abroad. This is his personal way of selling Uganda since it raises curiosity.
“Imagine if every Ugandan did that. Americans and English have mastered the art of bragging about their countries and while they attract opportunity, all we do is attracting aid.”
Asked about the response to this campaign especially on social media, Wekesa says; “It’s growing and the response is good. We see reaction even beyond Uganda. During the match between Fiji and Uganda Cranes, 150 Ugandan fans dressed in Ugandan t-shirts, if this happened at every Ugandan event abroad, results would be astonishing.”
As you read this, Wekesa together with media personalities with a big following on social media are visiting Queen Elizabeth national park in Western Uganda as part of the ‘Ondaba’ campaign.
NTV’s Flavia Tumusiime, Daily Monitor’s Roger Mugisha, Denzel Mwiyeretsi from Urban TV and CEO Magazine’s Muhereza Kyamuteera will publicize their experiences to help sell Uganda as a tour destination.
The withdraw of British Airways and absence of a national carrier
Wekesa emphasizes that the tourism sector is struggling majorly due to lack of strategy.
“Once we’ve positioned Uganda as a country of opportunity, at the end of the day, it will attract the bigger players,” says Wekesa, adding, “Marketing Uganda doesn’t only benefit individuals like tour operators but airlines, food suppliers and everybody.”
“Kenyans can’t allow KQ to fail. It controls 7 percent of the flower industry in the world; 34 percent of flower market in European Union countries. A national carrier should be an enabler as opposed to a business,” he adds.
“Statistics show that in 2013, Entebbe Airport registered 1.3 million arrivals; Jomo Kenyatta International Airport had 6.5 million. Kenya has 4 major airports. Even Mombasa had bigger numbers than Entebbe airport. Entebbe doesn’t even get 30percent of arrivals that come through Nairobi. So we should be going back to the drawing table.”
Wekesa alludes to Rwanda which is soon outshining Uganda because they ordered new Boeings which will be flying to Frankfurt and London next year.
“Problem is with the average Ugandan. Leaders follow what the masses want. If Ugandans demand to have a national carrier, the government will feel the need but if we maintain non-issue debates, we’ll get nothing.”
Is UTB doing enough to market Uganda?
UTB has the potential but there’s a bigger problem of so many power centers (Uganda Tourism Board, Ministry of Tourism, Uganda Wildlife Authority, UWEC) and there’s a lot of power struggles.
Tourism must be consolidated, given same power as UNRA, KCCA, URA. If that’s done, there’s no way we’ll not get Shs 10b for tourism each year.
Lessons from Rwanda
Uganda has a lot to learn from Rwanda’s commitment. He attributes part of the sector’s struggles to less accountability and failure of Uganda to grasp the whole idea of marketing.
“We have never hired any firm to do PR for Uganda like Rwanda has done. Rwandan government controls the amount of information that goes into international media as opposed to Uganda.”
Wekesa posits that Ugandans must be cautious of the information they portray about Uganda because if the country earns more, it’s us who benefit.
“Rwanda doesn’t have even have 5 percent of what we have but what matters is what you do with what we have. They have 3 national parks only,” he reveals.
On tapping into Faith based tourism
Wekesa admits that not much has been done to exploit Martyrs’ Day. He ponders on why Ugandans should always sit and wait to begin marketing the event in June.
“We market it late. These are no longer Martyrs of just Uganda but Africa as a whole. Why should we have 1 million people ascend on Kampala only one month in the whole year?” he asks.
He further notes that Uganda needs to target faith based countries like Nigeria, Italy, South America to tap into their market.
FC Barcelona players’ forthcoming visit to Uganda
I asked him about his recent visit to Spain on a mission to market Uganda. In September, Amos together with sports journalist Mark Namanya and IT expert Joseph Opiyo made a trip to Barcelona on the advice of Luis Garcia to explore the possibilities of hosting FC Barcelona legends.
“There are a lot of opportunities for Uganda. Next month we are hosting Edgar Davids, Johan Cruyff and Dutch TV agreed to come and cover our wildlife and national parks. Andres Iniesta promised to visit very soon with his wife and kids as well as Fernando Torres.”
“In December, the Barca soccer legends will come to play Uganda Cranes. When Messi visited Gabon, the country paid USD 3.5M to host him. Lionel Messi has 80 million followers on Facebook and 15 million on twitter. If he came here and toured, everyone else would want to come here.”
Wekesa said the mayor of Tenerrif; a Spanish island is coming with 20 people.
“He’ll be taking all our national basketball team next year and 5 young kids to play in their academy there. All these are the benefits that came with our trip,” he reveals.
He emphasizes that what Uganda needs is the consistency of maintaining positive image.
“Messi didn’t say he was coming but all the Barcelona team got the best video of Uganda. Cruyff is like the father of Europe is coming so there’s much chance he’ll influence the rest once he visits.”
The Spanish TV and Barcelona TV are also coming to film the beauty of Uganda. These media reach out to 100 million viewers across the world.
How should Uganda prepare for this?
“Uganda must prepare for the aftermath once the numbers flock in. As long as our political atmosphere doesn’t disappoint us. If there’s bad news coming out of Uganda, it scares us and it’s a big blow to the industry. Tourism and insecurity can’t coexist,” he warns ahead of the 2016 general elections.
There’s need, he says, to improve the human resource to enable Ugandans compete favourably across the region. “We are glad that infrastructure has been worked on.”
Benefits of East African integration
Wekesa acknowledges that integration has yielded some positive results, among them; a single visa and free roaming.
“We are competing. Kenya recently launched a $50m campaign, while Ugandans went to Milan to take pictures. Kenyan’s strategy was different; they took their runners and struck deals. We must up our game because nobody will let you in on their game.”
Newly appointed Saints Fc head coach George ‘Best’ Nsimbe started his tenure at the club with a 1-0 loss away to Maroons FC at Luzira.
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“In the real sense this game was 50-50, it would have easily ended in a stalemate, were it not for our discipline at the back.”
The Saints returned with a better strategy piling immense pressure on their opponents with Alex Kitatta sending two successive thunderous shots but Sylvester Okello was on point to block before Malyamungu rescued the situation.
The visitors pulled off Kitatta for Kyambadde and Ssekajugo paving way for Odong. The change nearly yielded fifteen minutes to the end when they combined swift telepathic passes, releasing Sam Matovu whose brilliant low short range cross was intercepted by Ssali Musa who stretched to his limits – denying the earlier duo an easy sitter with Malyamungu off position.
“They got their chance and used it well. We got ours and wasted and that is the difference,” coach Nsimbe said after the loss.