Vincent Mugaba, the publicist for the Uganda Tourism Board (UTB), says a tourist is, in fact, anyone who travels from their home to another place for at least 24 hours but not exceeding a year.
Mugaba told The Independent that although most Ugandans think a typical tourist is one who visits a national park, even people who travel for other reasons; including visiting relatives, business, education, and health, are tourists.
“In tourism, there are different reasons for travel, and these range from leisure and recreation, business, religion, visiting friends and relatives, attending meetings, incentives, conferences and events (MICE),” Mugaba says.
Dr. Akankwasah Barirega, the commissioner for wildlife conservation in the Ministry of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities told The Independent on March 12 that Uganda adopted this definition from the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) and put it in Section II of the Uganda Tourism Act, 2008. In other words, tourist is the same as visitor to Uganda.
Using this definition, it is perhaps not surprising that close to 70% of Uganda’s tourist arrivals are, in fact not Europeans, Americans, Chinese, or Asians. They are Kenyan, Rwandan, Tanzanian, South Sudanese, Congolese and Burundian visitors. Only 15% come from the United Kingdom, the United States of America, South Africa and India according to the 2016/17 annual tourism sector performance report. Kenya and Rwanda, contributed more than 50% of the tourist arrivals to Uganda.
Surprisingly, however, the Uganda Tourism Board (UTB); which is the national tourism marketing agency, appears to base on the numbers of tourists from neighbouring countries to lobby for resources and concentrate its efforts on Europe.
Since January this year, for example, UTB has held promotional events in Vakantiebeurs in the Netherlands, the FITUR in Spain, the International Mediterranean Tourism Market (IMTM) in Israel and the ITB Berlin in Germany.
In 2017, UTB officials alongside the private players attended at least 15 tourism expos in the UK, Spain, Germany, Finland, China (twice), Japan, India and the United Arab Emirates (Dubai), Canada and the USA. Among our neighbours they went to Rwanda and Kenya, and farther afield to South Africa and Nigeria.
It is possibly because of this that some sector players, such as Albert Kunihira, the Chief Executive Officer of Pearl of Africa Vacations; disapprove of Uganda’s definition of who a tourist is.
“A tourist should be somebody who travels with the first and main objective being tourism,” he told The Independent on March 12, “To define somebody visiting a friend or a relative as a tourist is a bit defective,” he said.
Kunihira says there are thousands of Congolese, Rwandans and Burundians, for example, who have lived in Uganda as refugees and have since gone back but since they left friends or relatives in Uganda, they keep coming back, thanks to the strong attachment they have for Uganda.
“These people often return to Uganda to see friends and associates and I would not call them tourists.” Similarly, Kunihira says, he knows many Kenyans who come to Uganda, lease land and are doing farming here because land in Uganda is cheaper.
“I wouldn’t call these people tourists although they could have registered at the border entry point as tourists,” he says, “That definition is far too defective.”
“I have also travelled to Kenya so many times every year to purposely do business and visit my daughter who studies there and although I sleep in a hotel, I have never visited any tourist site and I do not think the Kenya Tourism Board should ever register me as a tourist.”
Walter Wandera, the director of Walter’s Tours runs the Kampala BodaBoda City Tours. He too thinks the people who normally come to visit relatives and friends do not spend to the level of those who come for leisure and holidays.
Wandera finds that definition quite inadequate because some of the people who are visiting relatives or friends sometimes do not spend anything.