Kampala — Six months after the additional budget boost to the tourism sector, there is evidence that the money is being well spent. In the June 2009 budget, finance minister Syda Bumba provided an additional sh2b for tourism promotion and development.

Now information emerging from Tourism Uganda, the lead agency charged with promotion of tourism, attest that Uganda, for the first time, stood out at the World Travel Market held in London last month. The World Travel Market is the biggest exhibition showpiece for the English-speaking tourism market worldwide.

“When you have the resources, you change things. It is my hope that we will hit the one million arrival figure by 2012,” said Edwin Muzahura, the Tourism Uganda spokesman, who attended the London exhibition. In 2008, there were about 850,000 arrivals. Tourism arrivals have grown at an average of 10% annually.

For the first time, Uganda was also able to take along a group of dancers, who entertained and captured the whole array of Uganda’s traditional dances and cultures. Sources can confirm that the dancers together with other promotional activities, drew the crowd to Uganda’s stall.

“Before, we (Tourism Uganda) felt so shy standing next to our neighbours in East Africa. This time, Tanzania came and congratulated us,” said Muzahura.

The most visible outcome of the promotional schemes is the influx of interests in the Friend-a-Gorilla campaign that attraction attention at the just concluded World Travel Market in London.

In London, visitors to the now expanded Uganda stall were able to immediately sign onto the Friend-a-Gorilla campaign that has been a massive success.

Close to 20,000 visitors have reportedly signed onto the Friend-a-Gorilla website, each contributing $1.

That means the initiative has already reaped close to $20,000 in just a few months. But experts say the interest and the value that will emanate from actual tourists visiting Uganda is more than the $1 sign-on fee.

The other is the number of inquiries coming in from tourists and tour operators from outside Uganda. Muzahura says there is almost a clog in the online number of inquiries.

“I hope we can sustain it because that means we now have to make budgetary considerations as well,” said Muzahura.

In London, there were also pre-event ceremonies in which foreign media were involved.

Next year, there are several annual selling and marketing opportunities in Berlin, Italy and Spain that Uganda is gearing to exploit after years of under-promotion largely attributed to under-funding.

Early this week, Jason Biggs (the American Pie star) and a couple of Hollywood stars, who call themselves “LA friends of the Uganda Wildlife Authority”, convened in Los Angeles and Washington to raise awareness and funds for the endangered Mountain Gorilla.

An online invite sent through Tourism Uganda (UTB) for the American event said the event themed “A rumble in the concrete jungle” was expected to draw hundreds of people.

Reports also indicate that Tourism Uganda is in discussions with world television channel National Geographic to discuss options for a promotional campaign.

UTB also planned to use the gathering in Washington to meet the Zoo Society so that gorilla awareness is combined with tourism promotion and also meet tour operators in key markets.

Photos taken from Uganda during the Friend-a-Gorilla campaign in Uganda by celebrity photographer Tertius Bune, were to be exhibited and sold at the event to benefit conservation in Uganda.

The American Pie star is among the Hollywood film stars, who toured the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park earlier this year to raise awareness and funds for mountain gorillas.

Uganda harbours more than half of the remaining population of this primate.

The success of the Friend-a-Gorilla initiative has added credence to the argument that organisations do not have to always wait for government money, but should be more creative and think outside the box to sustain their campaign. But government funding remains critical as evidenced from countries like South Africa, Kenya and Tanzania. because promotional agencies can only do so much.