Board Chairman, Mr Daudi Migereko

The much-anticipated 6th Edition of the Pearl of Africa Tourism Expo (POATE) 2021, closed last week amidst cautious hopes and optimism on recovery for an industry that employs nearly 700,000 Ugandans.

POATE is an annual Business-to-Business (B2B) and Business to Consumer (B2C) gathering that brings together Ugandan tourism players such as tour and travel agencies, hoteliers, airlines etc with mainly wholesale tourism companies (hosted buyers) from Uganda’s key markets from all over the world, for purposes of doing business.

POATE 2021, was the first-ever virtual expo in the region, with all-eyes in Uganda, to see how the industry, very much used to physical exhibitions, would respond to online tourism shows.

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The show, which ran between the 27th to 29th of April 2021 under the theme: “Restarting Tourism for Regional Economic Development”, attracted record numbers since the first POATE was held in 2014, signalling what could be a paradigm shift in expos, moving forward.

According to official statistics released by UTB, the expo attracted over 2014 participants that among others, included hosted buyers, exhibitors, local, regional, and international media, as well as individual trade visitors.

The virtual event had 438 exhibitors, 428 Hosted Buyers, 1,103 App downloads, 34,414 messages exchanged, 5,763 photos exchanged on the platform, 353 meetings and 980 individual trade visitors.

Speaking at the closing ceremony, at Sheraton Kampala Hotel, the Uganda Board Chairman, Mr Daudi Migereko applauded all stakeholders, who took the courage and faith, to participate in the first-ever digital POATE 2021.

“The great results from POATE are a testimony that in the coming days, we will each have to get out of our comfort zones, venture into the sometimes unknown, to accelerate our recovery. The road to recovery will be full of the unknown. As the government and the private sector, we need to keep supporting each other all the way,” he said.

Migereko, reiterated UTB’s commitment to consistently invest in domestic expos as well as in attending foreign expos- because, in his words, “consistency is the name of the game.”

“Yes, we will fail here and there, but we will get there. Even successful Tourism Expos like the ITB Berlin has perfected their game through consistency- since the first event was held in 1966,” he said.

Bradford Ochieng, the Uganda Tourism Board (UTB) said that the success achieved during POATE 2021 feeds into what is by and large an improving economic and tourism environment, reinforced by increased Covid-19 vaccine uptake.

“The IMF and the Africa Development Bank have both in their revised economic outlook projected faster recovery for the world and Africa respectively. The Bank of Uganda and Uganda Bureau of Statistics too- in their April Monetary Policy statement, also reported that Uganda’s economic recovery was stronger than was projected and that overall, Uganda’s economic growth is expected to reach 4.0-4.5 percent in FY2021/22,” Mr Ochieng said.

He said that the United Nations World Tourism Organisations (UNWTO) in their March 2021 outlook, projected a cautious recovery from a dampened first half of 2021 and subsequent growth in the second half of 2021 in arrivals.

Locally, Ochieng said that there were signs of slow but steady recovery, underlined by improving hotel occupancy numbers and international arrivals at, especially Entebbe International Airport.

He further said that over and above revitalizing POATE and putting in place other initiatives such as continued domestic tourism campaigns to encourage Ugandans to continue travelling their country as well as the SOPs for the safe reopening of the industry activated last year, UTB was also engaged in several other initiatives to prepare for and fast track sector recovery.

“Following delays by Covid-19 last year, we have embarked on a grading and classification exercise for our hotels, restaurants and other tourist facilities, in line with the East African Grading and Classification Criteria. This is one way to bring confidence in the services that we provide and in the long run, it will improve our competitiveness,” he said.

Speaking at the event, Peter Mwanja, the Chairman of the National Organising Committee, POATE 2021 hailed UTB for successfully organising and facilitating the private sector to attend, which he said was a stitch in time for the injured sector.

“To fully sponsor POATE 2021 at no cost to the exhibitors, at a time when the private sector is struggling to recover from the negative effects of Covid-19, is not something we  take for granted. POATE 2021 has given us a platform for to engage with hosted buyers and to make collaborations.”he said

He however implored the private sector to continue engaging and nurturing the business relationships that they had opened; especially that UTB was paying for and keeping the virtual expo platform for the next six months.

“We need to continuously engage many times, until the deal comes through,” Mwanja, himself a MICE expert in his own right, said.

“The success of POATE 2021 indicates that this annual event continues to sail smoothly. During the expo, the most frequently used words were reboot, reconnect and recover. As POATE comes to an end, we can say without exaggeration that it has been a meeting of great reconnections and rebooting. It is the sincere hope that Uganda’s tourism sector, which was most hit by the pandemic will bounce back stronger and better. We can now start planning for POATE 2022 in great spirits,” he said

Pearl Hoareau Kakooza, the President of the Uganda Tourism Association (UTA) a private sector tourism umbrella association with over 7,000 tourism professionals also commended UTB for leading the rest of the East African region to organise a virtual tourism expo.

“UTA wishes to thank Uganda Tourism Board, for working with the private sector to organise and successfully deliver the first virtual expo in East Africa. Our neighbours in Kenya, who we always like to imitate/ape, can surely learn something new from us this time,” she said.

“Uganda is open for tourism,” she said, adding: “Our tourists should look to a different destination than they were used to. They should take a leap of faith and come and Visit Uganda, the Pearl of Africa,” she said.

Albert Kasozi, the Marketing and Product Development Manager at the Buganda Heritage Tourism Board- the Buganda Kingdom’s cultural heritage preservation and tourism development arm, said the virtual expo made it very easy to organise and attend several meetings globally, all in three days.

“I want to thank UTB for the opportunity of inviting us to the first virtual POATE 2021.  I can confidently say, I was able to book more than 50 meetings in three days,” he said, adding that with the extended 6-months period on the platform, the Buganda Heritage Tourism Board would nurture these relationships into possible business deals.

“I am very happy that we have been given 6 more months to close these meetings. I am happy to hear that we have more time to continue engaging with the hosted buyers. I want to thank UTB for making this happen. It was an opportunity for us as Buganda to showcase our tourism sites to the whole world,” he told, guests at the closing dinner.

Dennis Ntege, the Director of Raft Uganda Adventures Limited, also hailed POATE 2021 for restarting the sector. “As a tour operator and member of AUTO, this virtual tourism expo has breathed life into an industry that we were all worried about,” he said.