Uganda earned $1.6b (about Shs5.8 trillion) from tourism in the 2018/2019 financial year, making the sector the country's leading foreign currency earner for the fifth year in a row, a report shows.
According to the Annual Tourism Sector Performance Report for Financial Year 2018/2019, the revenue rose from $1.45b (Shs5.3 trillion) in the 2017 financial year. The report indicates that a number of tourists last year reached 1,505,669, up from 1,402,409 in 2017.
The report says the sector accounted for 7.7 per cent of the national GDP and 6.7 per cent of total national employment after creating 667,600 jobs.
Prof Ephraim Kamuntu, the minister for Tourism, while launching the report in Kampala on Wednesday, attributed the improved performance to better marketing strategies.
"The improved performance is attributed to more marketing, participation and understanding of tourism. No other industry in this country can yield such high levels of income to the economy," he said.
Prof Kamuntu said during the year under review, four domestic tourism promotion drives and 22 domestic events were supported. He also said 56 tour and travel companies were licensed while 2,066 accommodation facilities were registered. This was in addition to the about 300 tour companies, operators and guides that were registered.
Some repairs, according to the minister, were done on the Uganda Museum and the Ankole king's palace while a 20-year master plan was developed to guide investments on River Nile.
Prof Kamuntu said a tourism investment project proposal was developed for the Equator on six points of Lake Victoria Island, Kayabwe, Kikorongo, Kirura, Ssembabule and Kamwenge.
On the tourism infrastructure, he said eight of the 65 tourism roads mapped out in 2012 have been completed with a total length of 765km. More 15 roads with a total length of about 900kms are under construction, the minister said.
The report also indicates that visitors to national parks increased by 14 per cent (325,345 visitors) in 2018 compared to 2017. Visitors to the selected tourist sites last year were 581,616.
Prof Kamuntu said the sector will promote meetings, incentives, conferences and events (MICE) to tap into the other opportunities.
"We have added [efforts in] the promotion of MICE. This is because conferences are becoming major sources of tourism when people come for meetings," he said, citing the example of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (Chogm) Uganda hosted in 2007.
However, the ministry Permanent Secretary, Ms Doreen Katusiime, said the sector found it hard convincing the visitors to prolong their stay in the tourism sites. On average, visitors to national parks spend about seven days.
"While international visitors are increasing, enticing them to stay longer and even make repeat visits is still a challenge for the industry as the average length of stay has stagnated at seven days," Ms Katusiime said.
She said the sector is experiencing increasing pressure from the expanding human populations, illegal activities such as poaching or killing wild animals outside park boundaries, climate change as well as habitat destruction. "The tourism workforce of the future will also need to evolve in order to meet these expectations through embracing new technologies that lift productivity while facilitating and enhancing the visitor experience," Ms Katusiime said.
She said the sector players must do more to address the demands held by the current tourism market.