In his opening remarks at Africa's travel exhibition-indaba, South African tourism minister, Derek Hanekom reiterated the need for Africa to tell her own stories and showcase her successes.
The premium continental travel and trade expo, which run between 2nd and 4th May 2019, attracted hosted buyers from more than 80 countries, distinguished guests and international stakeholders in the global travel industry.
This year's theme was 'Africa's stories, your success'. Uganda showcased her tradition with an architecturally telling stand, made of grass thatch at its pinnacle, an arch made of canvas with a display of Uganda in large, black font, visible from different points of the exhibition area.
Images of Uganda tourism products like gorillas, birds, wildlife, cultural exhibits were printed and presented at meeting booths. For creative display, organisers rewarded the Pearl of Africa with a gold award certification, under the Southern African Development and Community. It was presented to Uganda Tourism Board (UTB).
According to tourism minister, Professor Ephraim Kamuntu, Uganda's recognition in a competitive space such as Indaba, is a milestone courtesy of harmonised efforts by different stakeholders in the sector to market and promote Uganda as a preferred tourist destination.
"As evidenced by different rankings by global platforms, for example Lonely Planet, National Geographic, CNN, BBC, Uganda remains the preferred tourist destination with so much to offer. We have friendly people, beautiful weather, security and a number of natural endowments like the source of the Nile which connects to the Mediterranean Sea," the minister explains.
UTB Chief Executive Officer, Lilly Ajarova said that the win was well deserved considering the preparation that had been done for the exhibition stall to ensure it captured all tourism products from Uganda.
"This continent is teeming with stories and folklore, which are woven into all the products and experiences that are showcased here. Our continent is also our own market.
All countries in Africa have potential for domestic tourism growth. With this indisputable competitive and geographic advantage, we have the base of what the world's tourists are seeking," Hanekom clarifies.
The United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) predicts that 1.8 billion people will be travelling globally by 2030, and that Africa will increase its share from the current five to seven percent of all global arrivals.Countries are benchmarking travel expos like Indaba to improve their own.
Herman Olimi, a marketing officer at Uganda Tourism Board (UTB), the country's marketing agency for destination Uganda, says that Uganda needs to maintain its presence on the international scene through exhibitions. He says that the exposure both government and the private sector obtain should be a great avenue to learn and improve the tourism sector back home.
"One of the biggest lessons Uganda draws from Indaba is the need to plan and invest in thorough preparations, atleast nine months in advance," Olimi advises.
He adds that UTB is considering moving from Business to Business (B2B) to add walk-ins of nationals to network.
He however says this would call for more investment. "The organisation of the expo should not be left to UTB. Other stakeholders need to be come on board."
Morris Musungu, a first timer at Indaba of Uganda Safari Chapter says that there are a number of lessons Uganda can learn from Africa's travel expo.
"Indaba is a rich platform for interaction and networking with people from different countries and continents. There is no discrimination and everyone freely shares information. Learning and sharing lessons is key. We are tourism operators and we are curios to learn about our tourism products," Musungu explains.
To Ronald Tindyebwa, an assistant warden, Uganda Wildlife Authority, the organisation at Indaba was a great experience.
"Spending enough time planning and organising for an expo is one sure way to realise our goals. We should have a planning team in place. When we got here, (at Indaba), everything was set. We only put in our materials," Tindyebwa explains.
Visitors to the Uganda stand were shocked to see many visiting the stall, the number of gorillas, the country has and how they can acquire permits in order to travel to Uganda and explore.
"Our exhibition is unique and the arch at the stand shows that we are open for business 365 days with good nature, people and the beautiful landscape. We realised that as exhibitors, we had similar products.
As Uganda, we sell the big five plus two or three, and then the gorillas which other travel destinations do not have. We are proud of that. We are very unique as the Pearl of Africa," Bradford Ochieng, deputy Chief Executive Officer of Uganda Tourism Board (UTB).
South Africa's President, Cyril Ramaphosa, notes that as global citizens, we are only physically separated by borders.
He added that Uganda needs to push its marketing strategy to sell its rich tourism products to the world.
"It is Africa's status as the Mother Continent, as home to some of the oldest hominid fossils and some of the world's most unique biodiversity, that makes this continent a prime tourist destination," President Ramaphosa adds.
Destination Uganda is travel splendour with abundant wildlife that can be found in 10 national parks and reserves.
The pearl of Africa is home to 54 percent of the world's mountain gorilla which tourists can track in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park.
Different parts of the country are home to more than a th ousand bird species, a good fraction of the world's population.
In the days to Africa's Travel Indaba fete in South Africa, a number of tour operators were denied visas, sparking an uproar on social media platforms.
However, in his remarks at Africa's Travel Indaba at the ICC Durban on Saturday, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said his government was working towards reducing the unnecessary bureaucratic red tape that tourists face.
"If a tourist is held back by a lot of red tape, they immediately give up and go to another destination. We shall streamline our tourist visa regimes."
What they said
Nelson Mandela said, "It is in tourism that nature and humanity meet most equitably and profitably... . It also provides the resources for the conservation of our natural heritage. Furthermore, tourism is making an important and valuable contribution to South African economy."
Tourism contributes close to Shs1.5b, a considerable amount given that not much investment has been made in the sector, to realise a considerable percentage of its potential.
Its beauty is a self-selling proposition. To borrow the words of Winston Churchill, "For magnificence, for variety of form and colour, for profusion of brilliant life -- bird, insect, reptile, beast -- for vast scale -- Uganda is truly "the Pearl of Africa."