I have been engaging leaders in tourism public offices for so many years about the value of producing timely and accurate data for tourism development purposes. For many years I have asked and will not stop asking for Uganda Wildlife Authority and Uganda Tourism Board to publicly give quarterly tourism statistics.
Am so glad that Uganda Tourism Board (UTB) is undergoing restructuring now by both the Board of UTB and the Ministry of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities (MTWA). I encourage all of us to be patient with both the Ministry of Tourism and UTB as they try to select the best possible candidates for the board. I hope that the people chosen will not only be able to listen but also desire to learn about how tourism works and this is because if you have never attracted a tourist into the country, you will never know how this whole process works. Its taken me over 20 years of continuous learning and practicing but I still feel there is still a lot for me to learn.
I think one of the toughest things to do in Uganda is to find suitable candidates for top slots in any tourism related entity. This includes private sector entities due to the limited pool of qualified, tested, exposed and experienced individuals in tourism. With tourism being a fairly new industry to the majority of Ugandans, we haven’t grown enough to have a large pool. If one compares Uganda to say Kenya, one will have to explain to educated people at Uganda Wildlife Authority, that to date tourists can’t handle our local, long drop toilets at the gates of national parks amongst many other things.
Anyway, one of the reasons why we keep saying Uganda has earned USD 1.4b from tourism every single year and quoting 1.4m as the number of tourists every year for the past 7years is because we don’t have proper/reliable data. This keeps those responsible for marketing Uganda lazy and yet they are meant to be under pressure, because Uganda needs those spending tourists to balance our import export deficits. A good performance in tourism could help Uganda reduce in the borrowing game we’re involved in now. In our national budget reading this year, the second most important item will be debt repayment and therefore, anything that has the potential to earn us money like tourism must be taken very seriously.
On Monday, Jan. 7th, 2019, the President of Kenya, Rais Uhuru Kenyatta alongside the Minister of Tourism Hon. Nagib Balala plus a big gathering of private sector players were launching and discussing Kenya’s tourism data of 2018 which I must say was a very professional job done. The report released captures properly international tourists arrivals, domestic tourism performance and the tourism receipts which is the same as money earned.
According to the report, Kenya had 2,029,206 international tourists arrivals in 2018 which earned them Kshs 157,386,151,000 and thats a 31.26% growth in one year (Kenya earned Kshs 119,900,000,000 in 2017). Domestic tourists who are Kenyans traveling within Kenya had 3,974,243 bed nights. In other words, Kenyans occupied that number of commercial beds as they travelled within Kenya in 2018. Can you imagine how much food was eaten? Can you imagine how many jobs were created?
On reading that report, I was most shocked about how many Ugandans actually went to Kenya as tourists and yes, I know Kenya has been doing lots of marketing here in Uganda but didn’t think the impact was as massive as seen in the report. Uganda was the 3rd most important source of tourists to Kenya after United States of America and Tanzania. 225,157 Americans visited Kenya in 2018, 212,216 Tanzanians and Ugandans were 204,082 and those don’t include guys who pick new cars from Mombasa (those guys spend money on food, accommodations and products as well). Others amongst the top 7 were UK, India, China, Germany in that order.
My hope is that guys at UTB read this report in depth to find out how they can refocus on Ugandan tourists but at the same time find out how we can attract similar numbers of Kenyan and Tanzanian tourists into Uganda. We can also discuss ways in which we can attract similar numbers from the US, UK, Germany, China etc. If Kenya can do it, we can as well.
When I sent this report to a few of my friends in tourism, the feeling was that Uganda was close to Kenya to which I said, no. We actually have better and more diverse tourism opportunities that need a more pro active marketing strategy but as of now, Uganda is very far behind Kenya. In Uganda, we look at all our arrivals as tourists and Kenya uses a very refined process in the capturing of data for tourism purposes. There are 2 indicators which can show us how a country is doing well; seen in either international trade or tourism and those are airport numbers and chains of branded hotels. Kenya for example has about 5 airports and Uganda has only one airport which handled about 1.62m passengers in 2018 with only 32 scheduled flights daily.
Kenya on the other hand had Jomo Kenyatta Airport handle over 7m passengers with 115 daily departures in 2017 and Moi International Airport handled close to 1.4m passengers with 33 daily departures. Uganda now has one 5 star international branded hotel, (Sheraton) plus a few regional brands like Protea and Serena Hotels. Kenya has 68 branded chains plus 20 more new brands building hotels now. They will have 88 chains of hotels in 2021.
The new team at Uganda Tourism Board may not have any experience in positioning of a country on an international stage but being able to listen and learn will help them help Uganda get to its desired position in tourism. One person I often engage with in tourism public offices is the Permanent Secretary, Doreen Katusiime. As much as we disagree on many things, she will always ask questions she isn’t familiar with and thats the attitude I encourage the new team at UTB to have. Of course, we don’t want them to simply listen and do nothing but we want action now and won’t stop pointing out areas of needed improvements.
The writer is an investment expert and proprietor of Great Lakes Safaris