Uganda tourism is falling short


Loopholes have appeared in Uganda’s marketing strategy of the tourism industry with questions being asked about the impact of expensive campaigns such as the last and perhaps most publicized “Friend A Gorilla.”

While much of the blame was passed onto government’s drab support towards the industry during a stakeholders’ workshop last week, the private players were also criticized for their lousy services.

Revelations at the workshop show that foreign tourists are disappointed by what is offered within Uganda’s tourism industry, from such simple services like Internet connection lacking in hotel rooms to the pricey internal aviation industry.

Participants also heard that a rescue mission to get to any tourists stuck at the Margherita peak on Mountain Rwenzori could take up to five days at the very least, a period that stretches far beyond many people’s patience.

Ismail Ssekandi, chairman of Uganda Hotel Owners Association, said he recently found himself in a hot spot after some tourists suspended plans to stay in his hotel because there were no Internet services. “No amount of pleading could change their minds,” he said.

Uganda’s internal aviation industry remains docile with tourists forced to spend heavily on charter planes to get to some areas. That is different from countries like Kenya and South Africa, which have a much more developed local aviation industry.

Amos Wekesa, president of Uganda Tourism Association and MD Great Lakes Safaris, cited poor marketing strategies, poor infrastructure, and lack of political support as the major setbacks in developing the tourism sector.

He said that although Uganda is blessed with some of the most breathtaking sites in Africa, and that tourism creates more jobs than many other sectors, the little political support accorded to the sectors has seen Uganda play catch-up to counterparts like Kenya.

“How come that with all our natural endowments, other African countries like our neighboring Kenya are doing far better than us in brand imaging?” Wekesa asked.

The answer to that, some players say, is down to the low funds towards the industry and an ineffective marketing campaign.

Ssekandi explained that Kenya works with a US$23 million (Shs 48bn) budget annually towards brand imaging while the Uganda Tourism Board, the government’s tourism marketing arm, operates on a budget of Shs 2bn.

He added: “At an international tourism forum, I was marketing Uganda using literature while my Kenyan brothers were giving out CDs. In this e-marketing era, nobody is attracted to the boring literature.”

Other players like Fideus Kanyamunyu, based in Kisoro, criticized the highly publicized “Friend a Gorilla” campaign, which attracted both local and international stars.

“I still don’t know how to friend a gorilla. Many Ugandans think friending a gorilla is a Washington concept,” he said of a campaign, which was also launched in the United Kingdom.

Nelson Ggagawala, the State Minister for Trade, said government does not have the best answers for all the problems in the tourism industry. He called on the private sector to take charge of the industry.

“We are your servants,” he said, adding, “Tell us what’s working, and we will make changes accordingly.”