Kelley Mac Tavish is the Executive Director Pearl of Africa, Tours and travel Limited. She spoke to The Independent’s Patricia Akankwatsa about the state of Uganda’s tourism opportunities.
First, can you briefly describe your company?
I opened a tour company in Uganda in 1999 called Pearl of Africa, Tours and travel Limited. Our intention is to help market the entire country, all the hotels and tourism potentials to the local and international visitors.
What is your management style as the executive director?
My management approach is more like what (the 35th president of the United States) John Kennedy had. I surround myself with the best and brightest people and let them do what they do. This is a business where you can’t do everything. I cannot be the driver, the one to answer emails, buy tickets, go to a tradeshow and deliver a speech. I hope my staff likes how I handle things and many of them have worked for me for years. I would also like to know what my employee is going to do so that we set parameters. So, we often have meetings and discuss what we going to do, and of course as ED, I would have the right to have a final say. However, I often let things happen to see if their way is right. I also believe in consultation.
What is your assessment of Uganda’s tourism sector?
Uganda’s tourism industry has recorded tremendous improvement over the last 20 years. Back in 1999 when I had just started this business, most of the visitors to Uganda were backpackers, overland trucks, and some few middle class tourists. Most of the lodges in the country were not refurbished and so is online marketing. Now, there’s a lot of effort coming in from different players to promote the industry. Some are coming from the government, private sector, and others from strong individuals within the industry to try and promote the industry like our counterparts in Kenya, Tanzania and Rwanda.
In your view, is the government doing enough to promote the tourism sector?
When you ask whether the government has done enough or not, this in my opinion, is not a fair question. Government has very many things to do and tourism is one of that. Have they done all I want them to do? No. However, they have given us an opportunity to get started and grow to the next step. I think every Ugandan has a responsibility to promote tourism.
What challenges (if any) have you faced or are you facing in the tourism business?
The number one issue that Uganda has been trying to recover from over the last 20 years is to guarantee security. I think the government has done a great job in maintaining security. The recent incidences (of tourist kidnap) has shown as that something we consider to be a non issue can become an international issue, and really be turned out of proportion. The kidnapping was a very sad thing but I can assure you that Uganda is a very safe country to visit. I have been all around the country and I have never felt threatened. From a private sector side, many individual companies are unable to access credit.
What do you think can be done to address these issues?
It is always good for government and private sector to work together and map out directions that work not just from a theoretical, political-sociological point of view. We have a long way to go as a country. We must tell the government when we are not happy, comfortable or when we think they are not doing enough.