The gorilla is a prized attraction between Uganda and Rwanda and fetches the two countries high foreign exchange. Tourists are fascinated by the primate for a fact that it is rare and because it has a high intellectual level.
Many players agree that whereas Rwanda might not be as gifted as Uganda, it has good focus marketing on her tourist treasures. The country has promoted gorillas through a major event, Kwita Izina, which attracts many local and foreign tourists.
The event was marked last weekend and some 24 baby gorillas, the highest number thus far, were named by distinguished individuals.
Last year, there were 18 gorillas named and among special guests who named the gorillas were John Sempebwa, deputy chief executive officer (CEO), Uganda Tourism Board (UTB) and Editor, Mail and Guardian Africa, Charles Onyango Obbo who underscored the importance of gorilla conservation.
Several international celebrities have been hosted at the event, including Don Cheadle, who starred in Hotel Rwanda. The clout created around the event has drawn world attention, thereby branding it an international event.
About Kwita Izina
Kwita Izina is inspired by the ancient Rwandan tradition of naming babies. First feted in 2005, the annual event has since become the country’s flagship event for the tourism industry.
It is hosted at the foot of Virunga Mountain range and park in Kinigi Sector, Musanze District which has commendably good hospitality facilities and a developed road network.
Locals turned up for the naming ceremony which plays a significant role in the on-going programme of monitoring each individual gorilla in their families and habitat and creating awareness of conservation efforts for the endangered mountain gorilla.
The theme for Kwita Izina 2015 is conserving now and for the future, of the gorilla.
A cash cow
It is important to understand and appreciate why the gorilla is a cash cow. Kelley MacTavish-Mungar, the executive director of Pearl of Africa Tours Travel Ltd, explains that it is for a fact that they are few in number. “Mountain gorillas are limited in the region. There are approximately 20 groups of gorillas that are habituated in mountains located along the borders of Uganda, Congo and Rwanda. Each of the families is allowed eight people visiting them per day. That allows 160 gorillas permits per day,” she explains.
The appreciation of the story of human evolution is another reason that attracts tourists to gorillas. John Ssempebwa, the deputy chief executive officer of UTB, explains that Uganda has the added advantage of being home to half of the gorilla population.
From an economic point of view, every time there is a limited commodity, the price and demand goes high. Ecologically, gorillas are protected in both Rwanda and Uganda.
In Rwanda for example, Kampala-based conservation enthusiast Dr Wolfgang Thome, observes that there have been community benefits. During the week-long Kwita Izina, there was launch of Bisate public library and computer lab for enhanced studies, health centres, water tanks and pipes.
“With such accomplishments can Rwanda stand tall among the other Eastern African countries, where as was the case in Tanzania in recent years, conservation has been overtaken by organised poaching of thousands of elephants with government doing little to stem the tides, Thome says.
“Thankfully, conservation in Rwanda is now engrained in the political and social fabric of the country, setting a shining example for her neighbours,” he explains.
MacTavish-Mungar observes that destruction of habitats of mountain gorillas by local communities that surround the forests is still a challenge.
“We must find ways to inform and protect. Part of the money earned through trekking should be used to support efforts to protect gorillas and to educate and work with communities to understand the economic benefit of tourism,” she adds.
Lessons for Uganda
Geoffrey Baluku, managing director of Trek East Africa Safaris, underscores the importance of initiatives and campaigns such as Kwita Izina that can attract locals from all classes.
He cites Uganda Martyrs’ Day which is faith-based, and calls on UTB to come up with more compelling ideas.
He applauded Rwanda Development Board (RDB) for a good strategy and a shared vision which is not the case in Uganda. He says one of Uganda’s undoing is a fragmented vision.
Rwanda enjoys an advantage of size and the fact that its national parks are hardly two hours’ drive from the capital which is not the case with Uganda where tourists have to drive for hours to get to the parks.
Ssempebwa observes that Rwanda is not as gifted as Uganda but uses the segmentation, targeting and positioning model of marketing that focuses on commercial effectiveness, selecting the most valuable segments for a business and then developing a marketing mix and product positioning strategy for each segment.
“They decide where to sell the little they have and they choose the markets that they want and then use focus marketing, Sempebwa says.
He adds, “They don’t advertise Rwanda on CNN. They bring journalists from different countries who have followers they are targeting. This time at Kwita Izina, there were journalists from 40 countries who were catered for at the expense of the State.
“I think this is a strategy worth coping,” Ssempebwa explains, adding that RDB has its principles right.”
Kelley MacTavish-Mungar, the executive director of Pearl of Africa Tours Travel Ltd observes that Rwanda has brought together the export promotion board, the wildlife authority and their tourist board under one umbrella- RDB, which is not the case in Uganda where all these are separate entities and somehow autonomous.
She also notes that the trade and tourism ministries are separated, something she buys into.
“I was not an advocate for that when that idea came up 20 years ago. I believe if you are going to have a strong government, it should be consolidated. So many of the core functions can be shared in smaller area and bring the cost down. That is a fundamental of business,” she further explains, emphasising that RDB allows sector players interact, hold each other accountable and can deliver results quickly.
The tourist entrepreneur also applauds Rwanda for positioning Kwita Izina as a premium event and thinks Uganda can do the same, at a different time of the year and be made more fabulous.
“We also have so many other things that we need to talk about because we have the beauty and majesty of Murchison Falls, and the phenomenal two-hour boat ride that you don’t get anywhere in the world, where you see fabulous animals and on top of the falls,” she says.
Kelley observes that Rwanda has a small population, with fewer infrastructure requirements and the fact that their gorilla trekking areas are closer to the city because their country size is relatively smaller.
Baluku advises that there is need for refresher training in strategy of Uganda’s marketing. “Marketing has its theories and best practices. People spend three years getting the qualification but one must be gifted with a unique gift of innovation which is lacking in our people. Our people need to understand brand equity metrics, segmentation, targeting and positioning,” he argues.
Ssempebwa roots for a unique gorilla experience that would include a cultural perspective, of tourists taking time off to appreciate the Batwa people, their norms and culture.
President of Uganda Tourism Association (UTA), Herbert Byaruhanga, says there is need to separate personal interests from national interests. “We should always be one when we are talking about Uganda. When we talk about national products, for example, gorillas, national parks, Mountain Rwenzori, we should always go together,” he suggests.
He adds, “But we also need to give priorities to specific items at a time. We do a lot of general product development and marketing. I think this is very wrong. Rwanda has little to offer as compared to Uganda but it is because of identity and commitment to national interests that makes Kwita Izina a big thing. We have a good marketing strategy. We just need to implement it using the right people.”
He observes that many people in charge of marketing and branding the country lack product knowledge. He suggests that it should become government policy that anybody who travels out of Uganda using government funds should brand him/herself in Uganda colours and speak about the country.
“Also it should be important that all those who attend tourism expos should have the product knowledge they are going to sell,” the UTA president advises.