After writing an opinion explaining how Uganda’s tourism was catching wildfire, I realised I needed to shade more light on how tourism growth happens.
Many people were attributing our gorilla tourism growth in gorilla trekking to the hike of Rwanda gorilla permits. The gorilla permits in Rwanda have been more expensive than Uganda for many years but why was Uganda having less than 50 per cent throughout the year?
Uganda even reduced its gorilla permit cost to $450 (Shs1.6m) during a low season but still could not attract the necessary numbers, why? I write this from an experienced point of view since I have presence in Kibale National Park (Primate Lodge Kibale), Budongo Forest (Budongo Eco Lodge) and Queen Elizabeth (Simba Safari Camp Ltd) and also through marketing experiences across the world. It has been very hard for anybody to sell Uganda because people who are the final consumers of tourism services have not been persuaded through logical marketing.
As businesses we have been travelling across the world to convince whole sellers about Uganda. The wholesellers are big companies based in our source markets for example in Germany we can talk to Tui and Thomas Cook among others.
The companies sell hundreds of destinations and they follow the desires of the paying tourists and in the West, you will find that travelers have established long term relationships with these whole sellers. After securing clients, the whole sellers then approach a destination management company such as Great Lakes Safaris Ltd to sign contracts.
These guys deal only with quality. In detail, they look at quality of your vehicles, tour guides, accommodation and insurances. For example, Great Lakes Safaris insurance covers any trouble in excesses of $5m. The wholesalers will mainly send clients to countries that have put in efforts in marketing themselves.
For example, Kenya has about 18 PR firms across the world whose job is simply talking about how beautiful Kenya is. Uganda in May 2016 hired three PR firms in the US, Germany and UK and these firms have been bringing the press to Uganda in big numbers and those living in the UK for example can attest to this.
It is the final consumer who reads about Uganda and then approaches their agents for Uganda as a destination. Of course the PR firms needed to work on low hanging fruits which has been mainly Bwindi, Kibale and Queen Elizabeth National Park but primate national parks have limitations in numbers.
Uganda has less than 35,000 gorilla permits for a whole year the reason, we should change our strategy in the next round of marketing. Uganda should promote its tourism potential using the Nile as a flagship product followed by Lake Victoria because if the two get developed for tourism purposes, they can handle bigger numbers which will create opportunities for Uganda as a country.
The other focus should be to tell the world that anybody can come to Uganda see no gorillas but still enjoy the Pearl of Africa. Uganda is also a very important birding destination and this should be emphasized during the next round of marketing.
Uganda is still at the bottom in terms of tourism and therefore any growth sends shockwaves to the industry.
I also think that we should use a gorilla permit as a bait and those that want to trek Gorillas should visit at least two other national parks so that the clients spend more time in the country and hence more money to be earned by all the service providers.
Ugandans must also be told how they can position themselves because money will not just walk into their pockets.
Research by Makerere University Business School revealed that if a tourist comes to Uganda with $1,000 to spend, they only spend $400 because we haven’t positioned our products well.
I know we love faith as people but know that a little faith plus real hard work is better than a lot of faith caught up in laziness.
The writer is an investment expert.