Kampala — Figures from the 7th Annual Tourism Sector Performance Report indicate that tourism continues to be a pillar of Uganda's economy, contributing nearly Shs7.3b to Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in the financial year 2015/2016. This translates into 9 per cent of the country's GDP. This was an increase from Shs6.3b in 2014/15 financial year.
Uganda Tourism Board (UTB) chief executive officer, Mr Stephen Asiimwe, attributed the growth to increased interest in Uganda's tourist destinations.
"Many people are coming for leisure but the rise is also a result of increased investments. The government has invested in infrastructure whereas private sector has put up more hotels," he said.
According to Mr Asiimwe, Gorilla tracking in Bwindi and Mgahinga National Park brings in the largest amount of money.
Speaking at the release of the report at an event organised on Thursday at Hotel Africana in Kampala, State minister for Tourism, Mr Godfrey Kiwanda, cited low funding as a major challenge of the sector and called on government to inject more money into tourism to propel growth of foreign exchange earnings.
Commenting on the budget, Mr Asiimwe noted that the sector received $1.3m (Shs4.5b) for marketing but borrowed more $1.5m (Shs5.2b) from World Bank. He added the money needed is 10 times more than what it is currently allocated in order to attract more visitors.
The sector budget has increased overtime with the approved government funding rising from Shs13.9b in financial year 2012/2013 to Shs31.5b in 2015/2016, accounting for 0.2 per cent of the National Budget last year.
This is the highest share the sector has ever received largely because of the one-off Shs5b fund allocated to the ministry of Tourism to rehabilitate Namugongo Martyrs Shrine.
Mr Kiwanda also said the ministry hopes for more leisure tourists more than ever because they tend to spend more money than other tourists.
Total tourist arrivals have grown from 1.15m in 2011 to 1.3m in 2015. Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan and Democratic Republic of Congo accounted for 71 per cent of 1.7m visitor arrivals in the country in 2015.
Prime minister Ruhakana Rugunda re-echoed government's commitment to facilitate the development of Entebbe International Airport into a regional hub by revamping Uganda Airlines.
"This will promote direct connectivity of the country to the major existing and upcoming markets for tourists to Uganda," he said.
The minister for Tourism, Mr Ephraim Kamuntu, said the sector has recorded a fair performance but can do more particularly by developing the domestic market in Uganda.
"We want Ugandans to get to know, tour their own country and be directly involved in tourism promotion. This is because in times of trouble, domestic tourism is the most reliable," he said.
According to the report, there was 1.7 per cent increase in total employment during 2015, with more than one million people benefiting directly and indirectly from the tourism sector.