By Paul Ndiho
Uganda is positioning itself as a tourist destination and organizations like the Africa Travel Association (ATA) are working hard to spread the word about places to visit in Uganda. Last month more than 600 delegates from all over the world gathered into the Ugandan capital, Kampala, for this year’s Africa Travel Association’s world congress.
The Ugandan government says tourism is now contributing close to 8% to the country’s GDP. The tourism industry has been growing steadily over the last couple years and more than a million tourists visit Uganda each year. The industry employs close to 600.000 employees and public records indicate the government earned about 1.4 billion dollars from tourism.
Speaking recently at the Africa Travel Association congress in Kampala, Ugandan president, Yoweri Kaguta Museveni pledged his full support for tourism and the assured the international community that east Africa is a safe destination.
“Peace is there in the core part of Africa where tourist’s circuits are most developed. We are also dealing with the easy of travel for example here in E. Africa we created a one visa for a number of countries… Uganda, Kenya and Rwanda where we said, please get one VISA and visit all the others countries.”
Edward Bergman, Africa Travel Association’s executive director, says the goal of the 39th congress was not only to promote tourism, but also to recognize the major contributions Uganda plays in maintaining peace and security in Africa.
“We have a lot of work to do with changing perceptions while also not being naïve to the dangers of Terrorism has in the world and the direct impact on tourism. As an industry we are united and we do not let the fears of terrorism or fears related to that stifle our passion for tourism.”
Uganda’s Minister of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities, noted that among other things, the government is promoting the country’s ten national parks, where visitors can view wild animals in their natural habitat.
“What we have here is almost everywhere, the animals are the same, the lions, elephants and all that but when you come here you find those elephants in their natural habitat and that is unique. And we have tried as much as possible to maintain that…
Amos Wakesa, a tourism guru and owner of several resorts and lodges, says Uganda has the potential to lead in tourism.
“Ugandan’s tourism is just growing. We haven’t even tapped even 5% of the tourism potential that we have. In terms of earnings Uganda last year earned 1.4 billion dollars from tourism without a lot of investment and we are hoping that tourism can bring in about 5-6 billion.
Despite the growth of the tourism in Uganda, the industry is facing a lot challenges, according to Herbart Byaruhanga, president of Uganda Tourists Association.
“The challenges of the sector are really beyond us, they are quite international. When a disease breaks out people cancel. And when they cancel, we can’t do business. We also have the international negative advisories they’ve become a very big challenge for the country.”
Other challenges include, Africans not traveling as tourists but as business travelers. Ikechi Uko, a Nigerian travel business consultant says for Africa’s tourism industry to realize its full potential, Africans need to start to travel within Africa.
“We need to have more Africans traveling within Africa and discover Africa and I’ll give you an example – When Nigerians started travelling to Ghana – They started investing in Ghana and some of the big investments in Ghana today come from Nigeria and the same thing can happy on the continent.”
Tourism analysts say hard to find activities, such as gorilla tracking, add to Uganda’s appeal. Visitors on safari can also enjoy cultural tours, game drives, boat rides, and hiking, as the country prides itself as having the best lands for exploring the real beauty of Africa.
Paul Ndiho is a Ugandan – American video journalist/ executive producer, Africa Innovations & Technology based in Washington D.C with interests in innovation, technology and entrepreneurship in Africa. He is passionate about mentorship and developing the next generation of Africa’s young leaders. Email:firstname.lastname@example.org, Facebook: Paul Ndiho and Twitter: @pndiho