TOURISM: Are the firms hired to boost sector delivering results?
Kampala, Uganda | JULIUS BUSINGE | Godfrey Kiwanda is a Ugandan politician, junior minister for tourism and speaks passionately about Uganda’s tourism sector.
On January 16, he told The Independent that he is among the government officials spearheading the government’s move to hire more public relations firms to market Uganda abroad this year.
The new firms that are yet to be disclosed will market the country’s tourism potential in China, Japan and the Middle East.
“It is part of our bigger marketing strategy this year,” he said, “We have the potential; what we need is to make people know world over about it.”
The new firms will join three other PR firms that were hired in 2016 to market the country’s tourism potential in the United Kingdom and Ireland, USA and German, each at a fee of US$500,000 per annum. The three firms are PHG Consulting headquartered in USA, Kamageo of UK and KPRN of German.
The PR firms are expected to raise the profile of Uganda as a preferred destination, increase inbound numbers to Uganda and promote investment opportunities in Uganda’s tourism sector. The firms are also expected to help clear the negative perception about Uganda so as to attract more investors in the tourism sector, generate more tax revenue and employment opportunities to the local population.
The new strategy, however, has received mixed reactions from sector experts; with some saying it is a waste of resources while others say it is a good marketing strategy. A section of the stakeholders in support of the plan, however, say it must be transparent to achieve its objective.
Herbert Byaruhanga, the vice president for Uganda Tourism Association (UTA), who has worked in the sector for 20 years, told The Independent on Jan.17 that it is a good strategy because “we are not visible, not known.”
He said that China being one of the leading economies in the world, its people needs to know about Uganda through such marketing strategy.
He, however, said Uganda Tourism Board (UTB) needs to conduct a thorough research to determine the tastes and preferences of the people within those new markets for it to be able to achieve tangible results.
“It is not a matter of just hiring the firms and putting them there,” he said adding, “more needs to be done in terms of collecting actual data regarding tourist arrivals from the markets where the PR firms are going to work.”
He said the neighbouring Kenya shares the number of tourist arrivals monthly in order to plan ahead.
Everest Kayondo, the chairman of the Association of Uganda Tour Operators and the proprietor of Ever Based Tour and Travel Company told The Independent on Jan.17 that the hiring of PR firms should be treated as part of the bigger marketing strategy for Uganda’s tourism.
“Hiring marketing firms alone is not a solution,” he said, adding that more funding is required for the sector to grow. Currently the sector gets around 0.1% of the national budget and contributes 10% to the national Gross Domestic Product.
Kayondo said more efforts should be geared towards training of tour guides in tourism and related work for the sector to grow faster.
He added that government must quickly expedite plans to have the national carrier to complement marketing that is being done by the PR firms.The airline, according to government, is expected to start operations in June this year.
No specific statistics
The new development comes even as the government is unable to ascertain the financial returns or the number of tourists that the earlier PR firms were able to persuade to travel into the country.
However, Kiwanda, said the increasing number of tourists visiting the country per year is partly attributed to the work of the PR firms.
Latest data from Civil Aviation Authority shows that the total number of arrivals at the Entebbe International Airport increased by 199,703 visitors to 1.8million in 2018 compared with the previous year.
Of the total arrivals at Entebbe, 60% of arrivals are normally tourists, according to the executives at the Authority.
Speaking separately at a Uganda Tourism Board media briefing held at Golden Tulip Hotel in Kampala on Jan.15, Kiwanda said the country recorded more visitors to the National Parks in 2018, the highest over the last seven years.
He said that visits to Uganda’s national parks increased by 14% to 325,345 visitors in 2018, up from 285,671 recorded in the previous year owed to increased domestic marketing campaigns such as Tulambule campaigns.
“Overall the sector demonstrated an upward curve in visitor numbers with Ngamba Chimpanzee sanctuary registering an increased growth from 3421 visitors in 2016 to 4526 in 2018,” he said.
Kiwanda said the target for 2019 is to add at least one million tourists to the estimated two million tourists that visited Uganda in 2018.