A lot was discussed at the just-concluded Africa Travel Association (ATA). However, there were two important lessons for Uganda.
First, was the idea of what Uganda’s flagship brand should be, and the other was whether the country needed an airline. From the discussions, it came out clearly that what would sell Uganda was not the wildlife the neighbouring countries of Kenya, Tanzania and Rwanda appear to have an edge over Uganda on that.
Instead, tourism experts from different countries aised Uganda to concentrate on three areas: the Uganda martyrs, the history around former President Idi Amin factor and Kampala’s nightlife.
“It is these three things that will connect with Africans,” said Ikechi Uko, the organizer of Akwaaba African Travel Market in Lagos, Nigeria.
“Africa should turn to Africa and develop packages that suit Africans. There is no African who hasn’t heard of Idi Amin. In the same way as Africans go to South Africa to see [Nelson] Mandela and the Apartheid, they will come here to see Amin. You should put up a museum and monuments for Amin.”
For the Uganda martyrs, tourism players project that if they are well marketed, they have the potential to turn Uganda into the number one sacred destination for the religious.
Every June 3, hundreds of pilgrims throng Namugongo to pay tribute to the Uganda martyrs who died between November 1885 and January 1887. While many more were executed across, Buganda and Busoga, those that died at Namugongo remain the face of the group, as their predicament was well documented by the French White Fathers, including Fr Simeon Lourdel (better known as Mapeera).
However, outside the Namugongo martyrs, Uganda has the only missionary and bishop who died for the church. Bishop James Hannington was killed on October 29, 1885 together with 48 of his helpers. Hannington was declared a martyr and saint in the Church of England by Resolution 79 of the Lambert conference of 1958, way back before the Namugongo martyrs were declared saints in 1964.
Eric Ntalo, the ATA youth chapter coordinator for Uganda, says the Uganda martyrs are the icing on the cake that can attract religious tourists. He says Uganda has the smallest church in the world, Bethel church, in Nebbi, which seats a maximum of three people.
The country has the second largest mosque on the continent, the Old Kampala mosque whose construction was financed by former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, and the biggest church in East Africa, Pastor Imelda Namutebi’s Liberty worship centre, a 15,000 seater. On top of that, Uganda has the only Bahai temple in Africa, and the black Jews (Abayudaya) in Mbale.
“Faith-based tourism is gaining momentum worldwide. There is a need to draw strategies for faith-based countries such as Italy, Israel, Morocco and Nigeria, among others,” Ntalo noted.
Uko said Nigeria has 30 million Catholics, while 60 per cent of Brazil’s 300 million people are Catholics.
“If Uganda can get attract a million people from Nigeria and a million from Brazil, plus other countries, it is enough to drive business here,” Uko said.
Tourism experts observed that Uganda can’t compete with countries such as South Africa, Kenya and Tanzania in game safaris because of the abundant numbers of wildlife that these countries are endowed with. Yet, even with the gorillas, where the country boasts of half the world’s mountain gorillas, Rwanda seems to have taken over this place as the gorilla country.
According to Uganda’s 201314 tourism sector annual performance report, while the visitor arrivals grew to 1,206,334 in 2013 from 1,196,000 in 2012, the number of visitors to national parks is still small, with only 213,949 in 2013, and 208,000 in 2012. The performance report further noted that of the total visitor arrivals, only 16 per cent came for leisure and holiday compared to 44 per cent who came to visit friends and relatives.
The Africa Tourism Monitor report released during the ATA conference revealed that the most popular African destinations for international travellers in 2013 were the North African countries of Morocco, Egypt and Tunisia, and not the countries in the sub-Saharan Africa which have wildlife. The report done by the African Development Bank (ADB), New York University – Africa House and ATA indicated that only South Africa and Zimbabwe in sub-Saharan Africa made it among the top destinations.
The World Tourism Organisation projects Africa international arrivals to rise to 134 million in 2030, an increase of 106 per cent from the 2013 level of 65 million arrivals.
The north has also attracted a number of bigger hotel chains, a sign it would get more visitors in the years ahead. Speaking about the “2014 chain hotel development in Africa”, Trevor Ward, the principal of W-Hospitality group, said most of the future intentions of hotel chains in Africa are in the north and west.
Apart from visitor arrivals, Estelle Verdier, the managing director of Jovago, an online booking website, noted that infrastructures such as “access to internet, good roads, electricity are very important in making choices of where to build hotels.”
Stuart Cook, the managing director of Protea hotels, in Uganda said: “Uganda is a big opportunity for us regardless of whether oil comes. This country is growing so fast with a young population.”
On whether Uganda needs an airline or not, the regional general manager of South African Airways, Aaron Munetsi, cautioned Uganda not to rush to burn its fingers by starting another airline. He said the return on investment on an airline is so minimal, with the best-performing airlines making between 2.3 to 2.5 per cent.
“If you don’t have resources to start an airline, it’s good for you to find like-minded countries [to partner with, such as Uganda buying into Kenya Airways],” he said.
Munetsi aised African countries to instead work jointly.
“All the big airlines in Africa: South African Airways, Ethiopian Airways, Kenya Airways don’t make half of what Brussels Airlines makes,” he said.
“All the airports combined can’t get the revenue of Dubai airport.”
This, according to Munetsi, is fuelled by unfair policies that make it so hard for African airlines to survive.
“African governments look at air travel as a luxury,” he noted, before adding: “Why should we have a local carrier charged the same price as the foreign carriers?”
He aised African countries without airlines to organise themselves and have one voice in the African Union to push for better policies. With the Nairobi – Entebbe route being the most expensive in the world, Munetsi attributed it to government’s conservative policies.
“Let them liberalise this route so that more players come on board,” Munetsi said.
“We also had a similar problem when we were trying to protect our airline. But when we liberalized, the cost of air travel went down.”
Source : The Observer