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Surge in tourism revenues

A German–speaking media team gets debriefed at the UWA offices in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park after returning from a gorilla tracking adventure. COURTESY PHOTO

Sustained marketing in America, Germany and the United Kingdom boosts tourist numbers but questions on validity of figures persist

Kampala, Uganda | RONALD MUSOKE | Uganda has registered a surge in tourist numbers over the last one year, with many of the visitors coming in from key source markets of the USA, United Kingdom, India and Germany.

Data from the Uganda Tourism Board (UTB), the national tourism marketing agency, shows that the country recorded a 1.5% growth in international tourist arrivals to 1.32million in the 2016/17 financial year.

In the most coveted high-end market, the U.S.A is said to have remained the top contributor to visitor arrivals to Uganda with 57,959 visitors, followed by the United Kingdom (39,539), India (30,210), China (19,175) and Germany (10,586).

In Africa, Rwanda contributed the biggest visitor arrivals with 362,865 visitors, followed by Kenya (352,817), DR Congo (90,148), Tanzania (86,091) and Sudan (35,353). Of all the total arrivals during the year, 18% visited for purposes of leisure, recreation and holiday, 22% visited for business and professional conferences, 38% visited friends and relatives and 22% visited for other reasons such as transit, education and medical.

As a result, tourism remained the country’s leading foreign exchange earner bringing in US$1.4bn (about Shs 5.1trillion) last year compared with US$1.35bn in the previous year. This is almost three times the tourism revenue Uganda earned a decade ago (US$ 498.3m).

However, Kenya, which has a more robust tourism sector in the region besides Tanzania, recorded US$1.2bn in earnings compared with US$989 million in the previous year as a result of a 9.8% growth in international tourist arrivals to 1.4million.

Similarly, Tanzania recorded US$2.2bn, up from US$2.1bn during the same period under review. This followed the growth in tourism arrivals from 1.28million in 2016 to 1.3 in 2017.

Executives in the sector who spoke to The Independent linked the sudden interest in Uganda as a top tourism destination to the recent recruitment of three marketing firms that have been selling Uganda in Europe and North America.

The three firms hired by Uganda in 2016 include PHG Consulting for North America, Kamageo for the UK and Ireland market and KPRN for the German-speaking markets of Germany, Austria and Switzerland.

Vincent Mugaba, the UTB publicist noted that as a result of the PR firms’ marketing of Uganda in the last one year, at least 133 operators in the UK now offer Uganda as a top tourist destination. That is a rise of 33%.

Mugaba said there also appears to have been a consistent media campaign by the UK media. Besides Uganda featuring extensively on ITV breakfast TV and national newspapers, online platforms, YouTube, OK magazine, AOL, MSN, the UK top travel media house Rough Guides declared Uganda a top destination to visit in Africa in 2017, a credit which was picked up by other media across the Atlantic with the CNN also rating Uganda highly.

Also, tour operators and travel media were invited to Uganda and taken around tourist attractions to enable them get a firsthand impression of the country, a set-up that saw a spike in the number of tourism campaigns abroad.

While reading the national budget for the FY 2018/19 on June 14 in Kampala, Matia Kasaija, the Minister of Finance, Planning and Economic Development said the procurement of the “market destination representation” firms is yielding substantial results.

Going forward, Kasaija said the government expects to rake in twice as much (US $2.7bn) every year by 2020 from the sector riding on the hope that the tourist arrivals will have hit four million.

Tourism experts say Uganda stands out as a top tourist destination thanks to its stock of natural attractions that a tourist can enjoy in the country’s 10 national parks, 12 wildlife reserves and other sanctuaries. The country, for instance, has more than 50% of the world’s remaining population of Mountain gorillas, over 1,060 bird species, constituting 11% of the global population of bird species.

Uganda also has the Source of River Nile, the longest river in the world, Lake Victoria, the largest fresh water lake in Africa and Mountain Rwenzori— the renowned mountains of the moon— which is also the only mountain in the world with a snow cap astride the equator.

But officials in the sector say it is the Mountain gorilla that remains Uganda’s cash cow since many tourists are fascinated by these endangered primates.

Bashir Hangi, the Communications Officer of the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) told The Independent on June18 that they have noticed that foreign tourists have shown more interest in Ugandan gorilla permits over the last one year.

“If you are looking at getting a gorilla permit (right now), the fact is, you may not get one until September,” he said. A single Ugandan gorilla permit costs about US$600.

Amos Wekesa, the executive director of Great Lakes Safaris, one of the leading local tourist agencies told The Independent that the overbooking of Uganda’s gorilla permits bodes well for Uganda’s tourism sector. He attributes this to marketing tourism abroad, especially in the UK.

He said in Kibaale National Park, in western Uganda, for instance, where he owns a lodge, it is impossible to get accommodation this whole year.

“People say it is because Rwanda recently increased its gorilla permit prices to US$ 1500 but Rwanda’s gorilla permits have always been more expensive than Uganda’s,” he said.

“Rwanda’s gorilla permits were at US$750 when Uganda’s were at US$400 but Uganda never had the demand.”

But despite the recent gains in the sector, Wekesa says Uganda should not relax. He says it is high time the government emphasized promotion of Uganda’s other unique attractions.

“We have less than 38,000 gorilla permits in a year but a serious country cannot be content with 38, 000,” he said.

“Now we should be marketing attractions like Mountain Rwenzori and Elgon which can take tens of thousands of visitors, Kidepo, Murchison Falls, Lake Victoria and River Nile.” He said the world should know that the Nile begins in Uganda and that Lake Victoria is in Uganda.

A 2013 World Bank report titled “Harnessing Tourism for Improved Growth and Livelihoods,” categorizes Uganda as being on the verge of tourism success, but at the same time cautions the country against complacency if it is to move into the select group of sub-Saharan countries like Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa, Mauritius and Namibia that have deepened their tourism sector.

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