Ugandans spend $66m annually on Kenya's tourism, Amos Wekesa, a board member of the Uganda Tourism Board, has said.
"It is unfortunate that we appreciate every thing foreign as far as tourism and purchases are concerned, yet it is our time now to appreciate our own local products," he said.
Speaking at a stakeholders dinner at the Imperial Resort Hotel in Entebbe, Wekesa said Uganda is the number one source market for Kenya's tourism, with over 33,000 Ugandan tourists going to Kenya and Mombassa and spending over $66m.
"It only makes sense if the same Ugandans go to Ugandan national parks and spend the same amount or if we get the same number of Kenyans coming to Ugandan parks, which is not happening," he said.
He observed that Ugandans are not even trying to invest in tourism. He said out of the 100,000 beds in East Africa, Uganda has only 15,000 rooms to serve its parks and game reserves.
Kenya has 85,000 and the rest are shared between Rwanda, Burundi and Tanzania.
Although Uganda is the second, Rwanda is picking up fast.
"When you compare our 10 national parks and13 game reserves, we have less than 15,000 rooms, yet Masai Mara National Park, which is 1,500sq kilometres, has over 7,000 beds. It means that one national park in Kenya has more rooms than what we have in all our national parks," he observed.
He noted that although this shows a big gap, it is an opportunity which Ugandans need to exploit to develop the sector.
Wekesa blamed this on lack of funds to market local tourism. Kenya allocates $23m, Tanzania $10m, Burundi $1.5m, Rwanda $5m while Uganda allocated about $560,000 to the Uganda Tourism Board in the current budget.
"Even small companies are marketing their businesses more than the entire country's budget for marketing tourism. At least out of the $830m tourism brings to Uganda, $1.5m should be invested back," he suggested.
Cuthbert Baguma, the executive director Uganda Tourism Board, revealed that the board is currently working towards unlocking the barriers to ensuring that Uganda harnesses the potential of tourism.
"We are working towards addressing infrastructure, improving the skills of our personnel to deliver quality services that are considered at the international standards and also embrace marketing and promotion of Ugandans regionally in order to allow them travel safely and ensure that they can do business in a competitive way," he explained.
Fred Omach, the state minister for finance, advised Ugandans to learn to be proud of their country with always having the theme of the "Uganda we desire".
"The International Bank Note Society has just declared Uganda's fifty thousand shilling note the third best in the world, just because it is designed with a gorilla. So we should be proud of our country and sell it internationally," he said.