By Daudi Migereko
The 21st of January 2022 marked a new beginning in the chapter of restarting and rebuilding what was previously a thriving tourism sector in Uganda. It shall be noted that before the pandemic unfolded globally in late 2019 and made landfall in Uganda in March 2020, Uganda’s tourism sector was on a positive and promising trajectory.
The unveiling of our new brand — Explore Uganda, The Pearl of Africa was among others an effort to revive tourism following the effects of the global pandemic. The unveiling function was presided over by His Excellency the President of Uganda; Yoweri K. Museveni. And as a followed action, this has been followed by tourism stakeholder organizations meeting chaired by Hon Tom Butime; Minister of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities aimed at having a harmonized message and approach to ensure optimal gain from our new brand. Indeed, several other interactions, at all levels, in the sector will be taking place to ensure buy-in and pursuance of the things that will make our brand stand out sustainably.
Uganda Tourism Board (UTB), working with both public and private sector stakeholders, supported growth in tourist arrivals from 844,000 in 2008/09 to 1,500,000 in 2018/19 a growth of over 78%, which is slightly above global growth rates of 63%. This translated into a 171% growth in tourism revenue earnings from USD590 million to US$1.6 billion in the same period. Growth in trust levels of destination Uganda translated into increased investments in the sector creating 667,600 jobs or 6.3% of the country’s formal employment. In total, the tourism sector accounted for 7.7% of Uganda’s GDP.
This growth, was on one part, driven by Uganda’s unique depth, range and variety of tourism assets — from the highest mountains to the deepest and or largest lakes to endless savannas, impenetrable forests, a warm people culture and everything in between.On the other hand, was a hard-working, innovative and resilient private sector that put in their all to create iconic experiences for our visitors, taking advantage of the peace and security theNRM government had established in the country.
Over the years, Uganda has grown a number of credible, capable and well-regulated tourism sector players across the entire tourism chain. These include tour operators, travel agents, safari guides, hoteliers and community tourism groups. It is these women and men of the private sector that work 24/7 to deliver unforgettable adventures of a lifetime that have now become synonymous with Destination Uganda. Thanks to them, today, it is no longer necessary to go through international middlemen to book an experience of a lifetime in Uganda.
We have also witnessed significant investments into creating a range of quality accommodation facilities with a mix of international hotel chains, regional brands as well as home-grown brands. They consist of a wide mix of luxury, mid-range, budget and value hotels, resorts, and safari lodges both in the urban areas and in the countryside where most of Uganda’s nature and wildlife tourism assets are located.
Some of the international and regional chains operating in Uganda include Serena (Aga Khan Network), Marriott International Inc (Sheraton Hotel and Protea brands); Hilton Worldwide (Hilton Garden Inn); Louvre Hotels Group (Golden Tulip Canaan brand); Latitude Hotels (Latitude 0˚ Degrees) and Onomo Hotels (Onomo Hotels Kampala),Marasa Africa, Mada Hotels and Volcanoes, to mention but a few. The Dubai Expo is also introducing new hotel brands and tourism networks on our market.
But perhaps much more important to us as UTB, we are delighted to report that about 75% of the hotel/hospitality establishments in the country are owned by private local investors. Today, there are several made-in-Uganda award-winning home-grown hospitality brands such as the Speke Hotels Group, Marasa Group, Uganda Lodges, Imperial Group; Hotel Africana, Mestil, Great Lakes Safaris, Wild Places Africa, Geo Lodges, Uganda Exclusive Camps & Lodges, Brovad and Crystal Safaris Group, SNH Group , to mention but a few.
Thanks to all the private sector players, Destination Uganda is emerging as a solid and most-preferred destination.
A 2019 Uganda Tourist Expenditure and Motivation Survey (TEMS) done by the Ministry of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities, found that 51% of the visitors were visiting Uganda, for the second time or more, and more than 6 in 10 (60 per cent) of visitors to Uganda reported they were most likely to return to Uganda. More than 8 in 10 visitors (80 percent) reported a high likelihood of recommending Uganda to their friends and family as a place to explore/ visit. More than 7 in 10 visitors (70 percent) were satisfied with the facilities and amenities provided by our service providers, indicating improved standards and quality of services.
Uganda has also won several accolades and recognitions such as the National Geographic Travelers Cool List for 2019; Fodor’s Travel, Annual Go List; New York Times Best Seller’s “1,000 Places to See Before You Die’’ and CNN ranked our Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and Kidepo National Park as some of the “the most beautiful places around the world.”
While we all agree that Uganda is one of the most beautiful and endowed countries; with a diverse range of everything rare, precious and beautiful in Africa, we are equally bothered that our market share is way below our potential.
From our extensive review and research, we discovered that one of the major challenges we faced as a destination, even before the pandemic, was the lack of a unified Destination Brand Identity. Indeed, the industry had been yearning for the same for quite a while.
Yes, we have all the attractions, a wide range of hospitality facilities and there are various efforts to build and improve the stock of tourism infrastructure and the supporting amenities, but if we do not, work together, to create clarity on what we stand for as a destination and then work consistently as a sector to shout this on top of every mountain and in every valley around the world, we can only get very far.
Our brand promise, straightforwardly tells the world that we are a destination worth more than simply a visit. That we are a destination that offers so much more; a destination worth exploring, delving deeper into to discover/ rediscover that range, depth and variety of everything rare and precious on the continent—An adventure of a lifetime!
The rebranding is not merely for its own sake- but rather it is core to UTB’s Post COVID 19 Business Recovery Plan 2020, itself part of the broader UTB Strategic Plan (FY 2020/21 – 2024/25). The plan seeks to “Sustainably Promote Uganda as a Competitive Tourism Destination for Inclusive Development” by “sustainably increasing the volume and value of tourism in Uganda.”
Under this plan, UTB is pursuing 5 major objectives, namely:
i) Increasing tourist arrivals
ii) Increasing investment and job creation in the tourism sector
iii) Increasing the competitiveness of the tourism destination
iv) Improving collection and access to tourism information
v) Improving internal efficiency and effectiveness
From the above objectives, UTB, expects, by 2024/25 to be working with all stakeholders to build and deliver to the market, tourism experiences that will help Uganda to:
a. Recover from the impact of the pandemic and reach the pre-pandemic levels of USD 1.45 billion and grow that further to USD 1.862 billion
b. Recover the contribution of tourism to total employment to pre-pandemic levels of 667,600 jobs (6.3% of total employment)
c. Increase inbound tourism revenues per visitor from USD1,036 to USD1,500
d. Grow the average number of international tourist arrivals from core markets of the U.S, Europe, Middle East, China and Japan to 225,300 tourists
e. Increase the proportion of leisure to total tourists from 20.1% to 30%
f. Increase the number of direct flight routes to Europe, Middle East and Asia to 30
This sits within the Third National Development Plan (NDP III) 2020/21 – 2024/25 goals to increase tourism contribution to GDP from 7.3% in 2020/21 to 8.5% by 2024/25 and increase the contribution of tourism to total employment from 6.3% to 8.5% in the same period.
I invite all our public and private stakeholders to embrace our new destination brand- Explore Uganda, the Pearl of Africa because its success will create shared prosperity across the board— both within our sector and beyond. During the Covid period, Ugandans have been able to demonstrate unprecedented love for domestic tourism. We need to push this love to greater heights. This will make it easier to market Destination Uganda to both domestic and foreign tourists.
Uganda Tourism Board (UTB), Promoting Tourism Together!
Daudi Migereko is the Chairman of the Uganda Tourism Board (UTB)