UTB Vice Chair - Susan Muhwezi

By Susan Muhwezi

Uganda Tourism Board (UTB), in conjunction with the mother ministry, the Ministry of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities will from 27th to 29th of April 2021 host the 5th Edition of the Pearl of Africa Tourism Expo (POATE) 2021.

The theme for this critical event on Uganda’s tourism calendar is running under the theme- “Restarting Tourism for Regional Economic Development.”

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Due to the ongoing Covid-19 related restrictions on travel and meetings, as well as the logistical challenges, again, associated with Covid-19 related safety precautions, as well as the necessity to ensure safety for all participants, POATE 2021 will exclusively be held online.

A specialised virtual meeting platform has been created to facilitate one-on-one meetings, directory listings, and virtual speed networking sessions as well as live conference sessions for domestic, regional and international tourism players. This is the first time; we are hosting a virtual session of this kind and magnitude.

Covid-19 restrictions aside, the virtual platform, by its very nature, shall allow us to host as many players- hosted buyers, tour and travel agencies, bloggers, journalists, hoteliers, academicians etc. The more, the merrier.

However, to ensure quality engagement, we have made sure that participants for POATE 2021 are vetted through a series of set of criteria that to ensure, increased lead generations and high-quality information exchanges.  We are working with our five Market Destination Representative firms (MDRs) in North America, Europe, the Far East and the Middle East to ensure the participation of especially premium hosted buyers.

We do anticipate having participants from all over the world, especially our key sources, as well as the emerging markets across the world and in Africa and of course our very own domestic players here.

As such and especially in light of the severe impact of Covid-19 on our industry, I must say, that I know not of any equal opportunity for our tourism industry to reboot and rebuild itself. I know not of any opportunity for us to reconnect with our old networks and create new ones as well.

I therefore would like to call upon all of you to take advantage of this opportunity, to go and make that life-changing deal.

That said, I must add that this POATE couldn’t have happened at any better time than this. Just last week, three key agreements in the oil and gas industry were signed, namely: theHost Government Agreement (HGA), the Tariff and Transportation Agreement (TTA) and the Shareholders Agreement (SHA) for the development of the East African Crude Oil Pipeline Project (EACOP). The conclusion of the agreements unlocks an estimated USD15 billion of investments into various phases of the oil gas development project. The government estimates that at least 28% of the USD 15 billion (equivalent to USD 4.2 Bn) investment during the development and construction will go to Ugandan companies through the provision of various goods, services and works. Another key benefit from the oil and gas sector is the employment of Ugandans. About 14,000 people will be directly employed by the companies, while about 45,000 people will be indirectly employed by the contractors. An additional 105,000 people will benefit from induced employment based on the utilisation of other services by the oil and gas sector.

On another front, in a bid to uplift and maintain the standard of our facilities, UTB is working with the Uganda Hotel Owners Association (UHOA) and other players in the hospitality industry to undertake a national grading and classification exercise for all tourism facilities in the country in line with new East African Community (EAC) standards.

The standards cover various segments such as Lodges, Motels, Restaurants, Guesthouses, Tented Camps, Town Hotels, and Vacation Hotels, Villas, Cottages and serviced apartments.

UTB also recently finalized the recruitment of Market Destination Representatives in key source markets such as the UK and Ireland, Germany, Austria and Switzerland as well as emerging markets of UAE, Japan and China.

This is a UTB prepares to unveil a national Destination Uganda brand upon which a series of marketing campaigns domestically, regionally and across the world, shall be built.

Back at home we also see signs of the economy improving and recently released statistics by the ministry show, monthly hotel room and bed space occupancy rates are recovering from an all-time low of 1.4% and 1.3% respectively in May 2020 at the height of the Covid-19 lockdowns and reached 24.8% and 26.7% in December 2020.  Though this is still some distance from the 62.1% and 57.8% recorded in December 2019, it is clear we are on a good path.  Figures from the Uganda Civil Aviation Authority (UCAA) show that internal arrivals for March 2021, have picked up from virtually zero in April 2020, to reach 32,958. This is almost 50% of pre-Covid-19 numbers- 77,403 recorded in January 2020.

Looking forward, the future can only be brighter.

The writer is the Vice-Chairperson of Uganda Tourism Board, President of the Uganda Hotel Owners Association (UHOA) and ‎Senior Presidential Advisor on AGOA & Trade.