21 March 2014

Uganda Looks Up to China, Middle East to Boost Tourism

Kampala — Uganda is shifting its concentration from the traditional tourism markets of Europe to China and the Middle East in a bid to boost its tourism revenue, a top government official said here on Tuesday.

Maria Mutagamba, minister of tourism, told Xinhua in an interview that China and the Middle East are increasingly becoming lucrative markets that need to be explored.

"In 2006, this was the manifesto undertaking. Government at that time realized that we need to enter the Chinese market and bring the Chinese to Uganda. This year we have gone out to actualize it," she said.

Working with the state-owned Makerere University, a team of Chinese volunteers are teaching the Chinese language in a bid to build the capacity of interested Ugandans to speak Chinese.

Mutagamba also said that learning the Chinese language will be introduced at the soon to be established tourism training institute in Jinja, eastern Uganda.

The government is also working with international airlines to start having direct flights from China to Uganda to facilitate connectivity. Already China Air is carrying out a feasibility study.

"We think with connectivity improved, visas being made easier, we should be able to attract Chinese," she said.

"We are also trying to cater for the rich Middle East, they really want to come here and spend their time in a good ambience. We are really looking at luxury tourism. These people enjoy sport hunting, water sports," she said.

To achieve these ambitions, the East African country is making major changes in its tourism sector in a bid to increase the country's competitiveness in the lucrative business.

Mutagamba said her ministry has developed a 10-year tourism master plan that will see the sector revolutionalized and bringing in more revenue. Uganda earns over 1.3 billion U.S. dollars in tourism revenues annually and over 1.4 million tourists arrive in the country in the same period.

"We have produced a master plan which we are submitting to Cabinet within a few weeks. Once it is approved, that will be our road map. How we want to move the next 10 years," she said.

She said her ministry is also undergoing a restructuring phase to make it more relevant to the changing needs of the industry. The minister recently appointed a new board at the Uganda Tourism Board, a government agency charged with marketing the sector.

In a bid to boost the country's tourism sector, the World Bank last year approved 25 million dollars out of the 100-million- dollar loan that will be used to boost the country's competitiveness.

"This time we are embarking on a massive marketing campaign and we want to make sure we broaden our clientele and our market. We are more than willing to go out into new markets like China, Middle East, Asia and America," the minister said.

She said 12 million dollars out of the 25 million dollars will be use to construct a state of the art tourism training institute.

"Within the next three years, we should have a modern three star hotel which is meant for training and producing employees that are able to meet the challenges of a demanding sector."

The government has also agreed to reduce the period and area of coverage of concessionaires in the country's national parks in a bid to open up the parks for construction of more accommodation facilities. Currently the country faces bed shortage in case there is an influx of tourists at the parks.

"Very soon we shall be invite investors to identify themselves with sites they want to develop," she said.

Mutagamba said as government develops the road infrastructure to the various tourist sites in the country, it is also looking at partnering with investors to help standardize and improve the airstrips spread all over the country.

"That is another business opportunity. Somebody can come in and run charter flights or even regular flights to Bwindi, Kidepo or other parks," she said.

Uganda boasts rich flora and fauna including the endangered mountain gorillas. - Xinhua

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