UGANDA (eTN) – Tourism stakeholders are not holding their breath, and neither is the Uganda Tourist Board (UTB), when asked about the forthcoming annual budget speech soon expected to be read to the newly-constituted parliament.
Ministers are being sworn in today at the State House in Entebbe, making the appointments by President Museveni legal and final, albeit not some 6 who were thrown out by the parliamentary vetting committee over a range of issues concerning academic qualifications, as well as ethical concerns.
The swearing in of Prof. Ephraim Kamuntu as Minister of Tourism will fulfill at least in part the demands made by tourism stakeholders over many years, but it is only one step in to the right direction to give the tourism industry their rightful place in the cabinet and across the national economy and its driving institutions.
No change is expected in the amount of funds set aside for the tourism sector, and from the available budget, a new stand-alone ministry has to be created first now that the split from trade and industry has finally become reality. Yet, budget allocations leaked to this correspondent for the Uganda Tourist Board confirm the worst fears, that in spite of evidence submitted to the powers that be about how added funding has catapulted the Kenyan and Rwandan tourism sectors sky high in their performances, this does not seem to sink into the heads of finance ministry bureaucrats who still thinK “tourism happens,” which of course it does not, as no sector of the economy just “happens.”
A billion Kenya shilling budget for the Kenya Tourist Board (KTB) last year and a lot more for flanking measures like recapitalizing the Kenya Tourist Development Corporation – something Uganda sorely lacks – have made an impact around the world in terms of marketing abilities for KTB and the record year 2010. Kenya is well enroute to turn 2011 into another record breaker, and this should make it clear for all to see that the more you put into the sector and facilitate global marketing in existing, emerging, and new markets, the better the sector performs overall with all the positive fallout, added jobs on the fast track, added investments in both FDI and domestic, added foreign exchange earnings, and added visibility in a global marketplace, which generally helps the destination to overcome the gutter press suggestions in recent weeks that “The Pearl of Africa” had descended into chaos and is ruled by a dictatorship, which are, of course, utter lies by propagandists.
Uganda has a tourism potential hardly touched and is unique in many ways even considering the immense biodiversity and tourism opportunities East Africa as a whole offers to visitors.
The country’s lakes and rivers, mountains and forests, birdlife and wildlife, cultures and heritage are all winners in their own rights, but until UTB gets the funds to tell the world and show the world by being present at as many tourism trade shows across the globe as possible, strike alliances with airlines and for twin-center holidays with complementary destinations like the Seychelles and create and maintain a state-of-the-art and proactive presence on the web, this is not about to happen. Presently, the Uganda Tourist Board barely makes ends meet to pay for recurrent expenditures leaving little left for promotions and almost nothing for product research and development, which could spur an entire new branch of opportunities for investments and new jobs in the country.
Still my message to my erstwhile colleagues is not to despair and try again and harder to reach the powers that be with facts and figures, demonstrating how our neighbors are cleaning up “our plates,” because they invest a whole lot more into their tourism future than we do here in Uganda. Talk to the new Minister of Finance, who comes with a wealth of experience from the private sector, and tell her what needs to be done and what the returns will be from such an investment – and 2012/13 might be an entirely different story then.