Tourism Association Congress showcases Uganda’s tourism opportunities available for everyone
Maria Mutagamba, the minister for tourism, wildlife and antiquities, was given a nice gift at the opening of the 39th Africa Travel Association (ATA) Congress, which was held in Kampala from Nov.12-14. The gift was made from cow horn. On reaching home, however, she found that her gift was kaput – broken. “I was disappointed,” she told The Independent on the sidelines of the event later.
It was indeed a rude reminder about the low standards in Uganda’s tourism industry, which Mutagamba admitted was a big hindrance to the country’s dream of reaping big from the industry. The tourism sector currently contributes $1.4 billion to GDP – higher than the contributions from most sectors in the country – but it could be a lot more if the industry put its house in order. At the Congress, local participants mentioned other challenges facing the sector, but the issue of standards stood out. The three-day Congress, held under the theme Tourism is a business for everybody, attracted over 300 delegates from around the world. Top on the agenda was to discuss various topics aimed at harnessing the potential of the sector in Uganda and beyond.
“Perception is a reality,” said Edward Bergman, the ATA executive director, adding that the association’s mission is to increase the number of tourists coming to and from within Africa. He said achieving this is possible as longer as everyone – the private sector, government, and the people, civil society work together.
Mutagamba said despite the daunting challenges that the sector faces there are opportunities that should attract everyone to the sector and Uganda at large. With support from donors, the issue of quality is key on the agenda, according to Mutagamba. The long-awaited $2 million project supported by the European Union aimed at establishing village craft centres is about to start. This is partly to deal with the problem of low quality products – like the one Mutagamba received – which are made locally for sale to tourists. Under the project, Ugandans involved in making products for tourists are to be trained. The project is expected to start next month or early next year with at least one group with trainees from over 40 districts across the country, according to Mutagamba. It will be implemented jointly by the tourism ministry and the trade and industry ministry.
The other measures, Mutagamba said, include hosting international conferences, which enables the country to showcase its tourism potential to the world. “That alone is good enough for us in terms of foreign exchange earnings,” she said, adding that many of the visitors can spend up to seven days or even more in Uganda – which means income to the country. Indeed, many of the delegates and journalists had a chance to travel to various tourist sites such as Murchison Falls National Park, Mt. Elgon, Bwindi National Park among others, as part of the Congress agenda.
It was generally agreed that opportunities abound for investment for both local and foreign investors Uganda especially in the areas of accommodation especially in the National Parks, transport [air, water, and road], entertainment, product development among others. Regional stability, public private partnerships, the conducive investment climate, infrastructure developments and the presence of many tourist attractions are supporting factors for the sector’s growth potential in Uganda.
Aridru Ajadera, the state minister for investment in the ministry of finance, planning and economic development, gave the key note address on last day of the Congress on Nov.14. He called for more public funding especially in promotion, marketing and aertising. “I think it is one sector where we need to concentrate as government since we are rich in flora, many bird species among other areas,” he said. Citing Botswana where he lived for ten years, he said because of the efforts the government there put in, the sector is now the second foreign exchange earner after diamonds. “Botswana does not even have half of what we have,” he said, adding that Uganda is even ahead of other countries in the East African region in terms of tourist attractions. Yet, Kenya is very aggressive when it comes to promoting tourism – spending about US$25 million in a year, while Rwanda spends $5 million. Uganda’s figures have not even touched the US$1million mark.
Stephen Asiimwe, the CEO of the Uganda Tourism Board, called on Ugandans to open their eyes to their country’s potential and the opportunities available in the sector. But even the foreign investors welcomed the event.
Abebe Angessa, the Ethiopian Airlines country manager for Uganda, said supporting tourism has a direct positive effect on any economy since the sector is connected to other sectors like agriculture, manufacturing, services and aviation among others. Angessa said aviation investors are set to benefit from the world tourism sector in the coming 20 years where they project tourist numbers traversing the world to have tripled. Indeed President Yoweri Museveni said at the opening of the Congress on Nov. 12 that tourism is in essence the opening of a window of opportunities into Uganda.
He said that at global level, the sector is one of the world’s most traded services with a high potential for a multiplier effect at the national level. It is estimated that over 880 million tourists worldwide generate $852 billion. Being one of the countries endowed with 18, 783 species of flora and fauna, Uganda stands a chance to benefit from these numbers. Tourist arrivals in Uganda have been on an upward trend going by the numbers for the recent years. In 2011 Uganda recorded 805, 000 arrivals, in 2012, the number went up to 980, 000 while in 2013 over 1.03 million arrivals were noted. In 2014, the country expects 1.4 million arrivals, according to Mutagamba. The opportunities are enormous.
Source : The Independent