13 January 2013

Uganda: Tourism Numbers Growing

Kampala — The Tourism sector is one of the fastest growing sectors that have contributed much to the growth of Uganda's economy in the year 2012.

It is attributed to the increased number of visitors/ tourists entering the country.

According to the ministry of tourism and Antiquities sector performing report for the financial year 2011/2012, it shows that tourism contribution to GDP earnings was at 9.0% for 2011 compared to 7.6% in 2010 while the contribution of tourism to foreign exchange increased from US$ 662m in 2010 to US$805m in 2011 representing growth of 21%.

The report adds Uganda received 1,151,000 visitor arrivals in the year 2011 representing an increase of 21.6% from 2010 (945,899) while park arrivals shot up from 190,000 in 2010 to 208,000 in 2011 representing growth of 9.4%.

Equally, Uganda Wildlife Education Centre (UWEC) also received 263,000 visitors.

The good performance of the sector is attributed to the improved marketing strategies which the ministry has developed aimed at selling the country's tourism sector outside the African Continent.

Mr. Alex Asiimwe the Acting Principal Policy Analyst for the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities told the East African Business Week that the ministry has improved on the marketing strategies through attending world tourism exhibitions, printing magazines and brochures that ended up in developed countries like in Europe. This he said it has improved the country's sector visibilities.

"The tourism sector is performing well despite the big challenges its facing this is attributed to the strong marketing strategies which the ministry developed.

"This has done good work for the sector and if we continue with it in the next financial years Uganda will prosper in the region," said Asiimwe.

According to the sector performing report for the ministry of Tourism Antiquities and Heritage for the financial year 2011/2012, it shows that20, 000 assorted promotional materials were distributed through missions and international exhibitions and to tour operators.

2000 flyers and stickers were distributed in the UK. 1000 flyers in Canada, 500 materials sent to the Ugandan High Commission in the UK. 1000 flyers and stickers were distributed in Japan and 500 were distributed domestically during World Tourism Day. 1000 maps, 1000 DVDs and 700 copies of destination Uganda during the World Travel Market were dished out.

Assimwe added that when the ministry became autonomous from the ministry of Trade, it has empowered them to have direct vote in the ministry of Finance and the sector can plan for its self although the funds are still very little finance their activities

He added that in the year 2012 the sector started getting some support from developing partners like the United Nations Development programme(UNDP) and this has helped them to fund some projects that has enabled the sector to develop and being recognized as one of the best destinations for the tourists in the whole world.

Uganda was recently voted as number one tourist destination for 2012 by Lonely Planet (the largest travel guide book and digital media publisher in the world).

Mt Rwenzori was voted among the top hiking places in Africa and among the top 15 hiking spots in the world. Virunga volcanoes in south-western Uganda, were voted "A must see place for 2012" among the 12 places one has to visit in their life time as the only remaining home and sanctuary of the endangered mountain gorillas in the world.

The same sector in the year registered high number of Mountain Gorillas according to the census survey conducted by the Uganda Wildlife Authority.

It found out that the population of Mountain Gorillas has gone up to 880 from the previous 400 in 2006.

Despite the fact that the sector is challenged with many obstacles, Asiimwe says that Government allocates limited funds to the sector and this cannot allow them to market the sector globally as compared to their counterparts in Rwanda.

The Policy Analyst explains that the ministry for the financial year received only Ushs10.8 billion (U$15.6m) instead of the Ushs36 billion (U$13,846,153million) budget which the ministry presented to parliament for approval.

According to him Ushs1.2billion (U$461538.4) is spent on wages, Ushs3.2 billion (U$1230769.2) pays for rent and office equipments whileUsh2billion (U$769231) is spent on motor vehicles maintenance and very little is allocated for the marketing sector.

"Uganda only allocates U$ 0.3million dollars for the marketing of the tourism sector. This is very small as compared to Rwanda which allocates U$5million dollars in marketing of its tourism sector that is why Uganda cannot compete with Rwanda, "he asserted.

Asiimwe observed that if the government does not increase on the resources it allocates to the tourism sector this may affect the sectors performance in the year 2013.

But other sector players in the industry also point out bad infrastructure as one of the major obstacle to the sector.

Mr. Herbert Byaruhanga the president of Uganda Safari and Guides Association (USAGA) told EABW that most roads that connect Kampala to most tourism sites are impassable.

According to him most roads in western parts of Uganda like Kisoro become impassable, which imposes a big challenge to the country and as tour companies "this exposes us to high loss of business to the neighboring countries that have good road net works."

"As tour operators our business are highly affected by the bad roads. The government should work on the roads if the sector is to progress in 2013," he advised.

Apart from roads, the tour guides also want government to construct more airports in other parts of the country such that tourists are not stressed with the long journeys especially when they use road transport.

Byaruhanga explained that Rwanda is receiving more visitors because their transport network is well developed.

In the same year the tourism sector also faced with the challenge of Ebola and Marburg outbreaks which affected the sector because it led to some visitor canceling their trips to Uganda.

It led many tour companies to make losses although government refuted reports that the outbreak did affect the sector.

Mr. Amos Wekesa the president of Uganda Tourism Association told the EABW that the timing of the outbreak occurred at the peak season for overseas visitors to Uganda in August.

"We were starting to get very busy, but the outbreak of Ebola and later Marburg destroyed the whole the opportunity," said Wekesa.

"It's our history that's letting us down. What are we known for? Idi Amin, disease, poverty, all negative things."

When asked to estimate the loss in terms of money, Wekesa noted that "We are talking about millions of dollars here, If the government does nothing in terms of damage control, a lot of jobs are going to be lost in the tourism sector, our government should also come up with early diagnosing mechanism to detect outbreak of diseases like Ebola."

Wekesa challenged government to open up strong training institutions for tour guides and hotel staff s in the country.

He notes that tour guides play big roles but currently the sector is full of incompetent guides which he said this affect the development of the sector and also gives high chances for the foreigners to dominate service delivery in the sector.

In the year 2013 the ministry of tourism through its various agencies like the Uganda Wildlife Authority should strive to see that illegal poaching is controlled.

The year 2012, was characterized with high incidences of illegal poaching especially killing Elephants for tusks.

Information from UWA shows that since 2011 the number of Elephants killed in parks doubled to 33, the majority of them from Murchison Falls National Park.

Elephants are killed by poachers who take the meat and tusks which are sold to other dealers for export.

A Kilogram of tusks on the international market goes for between U$800-U$1000 and pair of tusks from mature a mature elephant can weigh about 40kg.

Other sector players in the tourism sector advocate for the Government in 2013 to focus on developing community tourism instead of depending on nature tourism which currently dominates the tourism sector.

"Nature tourism is challenged with catastrophes like climatic change, fire outbreaks in most parks and also outbreak of wildlife diseases.

"If Uganda is to earn more from the sector then let the ministry diversify tourism sector to include community tourism "said John Bosco Isabirye a local tourist educator in Namutumba District Eastern Uganda.

He explained that although Uganda is endowered with many ethnic tribes with various cultural back grounds, the government has not put much emphasizes in exploiting such chances of promoting culture tourism.

Under community tourism, Uganda has got historical sites like Churches, Hot Spots like where the rebels killed many Ugandans in Northern Uganda.

"If all such places are marketed by the Government they can attract many tourists both locally and internationally."

James Musinguzi the executive director of the Uganda Wildlife Education Center told EABW that if Government wants nature tourism to keep on developing, it should implement clean energy programmes in the whole country.

He said that if local communities have access to cheap power, it will reduce the pressure on forests that have been cut down for charcoal burning.

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