Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Missing link in Uganda's tourism sector

My friend Geoffrey Baluku never tires to prompt me with ideas about Uganda's untapped tourism potential. Each time Geoffrey sees or writes an article about tourism he is kind enough to share it, and I think it is a very commendable act.

Uganda is, indeed, greatly endowed in tourism, and with fertile soils so we should be able to have enough to sustain or generate more wealth for ourselves. I will give the example of the Fort Portal Bundibugyo road whose tarmacking is almost complete. This road gives very fascinating views of the hills that form part of the Rwenzori block mountain. As you drive along this road, it's usually tempting to stop to catch a sight of the beautiful scenery of the Semliki valley and game reserve. The bubbling fountain from Isempaya (Sempaya) hot springs is a complete wonder. These are so good sights in a serene setting that one must see while in Uganda .

Tourist attractions in the country are numerous. Take an example of the much hyped gorilla tracking. Uganda's Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and Mgahinga Gorilla National Parks are said to be home to 50% of the world's gorillas. This should bring more dollars to the economy if more gorilla loving tourists visit these conservation areas.

However, many times I feel we do a lot of lamenting and engage in the blame game of what the government is not doing and what it should be doing. Granted! Government should be playing a bigger role in marketing the tourism industry e.g. in budget allocations given that last year the country earned at least $800million from tourism sector accounting for 4% of our GDP. There is evidence the revenue from tourism can be doubled or even quadrupled if more branding and marketing is done. But that's not a one-sided job. We all need to play our role in marketing Uganda.

So what's the missing link? We need to begin playing our role as citizens by telling everyone we meet about this tourism potential. Part of the money from tourism can end into your pockets if you liked. There is more to do in the area of marketing not only by government but even on the side of private players. Yes, someone will say marketing is quite expensive but you will not sell much if you have not told the buyers what you have for sale.

Maybe the starting point is to ask yourself: How are we networking with the media? Most people get their information from the media. Social media is doing the magic in changing governments, have we thought of it as a marketing strategy? 

Two years ago I had opportunity to visit two conservation areas in South Africa's Kwazulu Natal (Hluhluwe Imfolozi Park and St Lucia Wetland game reserve) and I couldn't help but marvel at the high level of organisation and marketing exhibited by these people. Those people invest a lot in making themselves visible and do a good work at branding even when their parks don't offer so much. Our group was given brochures, hampers with all one wants to know about the park. The hospitality was excellent.Marketing does the magic.

Before that trip to S. Africa I had been to Murchison Falls/Kabelega NP and early this year I was at Queen Elizabeth and Kibaale Forest NP and I genuinely believe we have a long way to go in terms of marketing and even accommodation. In Kwazulu Natal we spent the night at the Hiltop Resort and its beautiful comfortable bandas was enough to stop me complaining about the bumpy road.

The lesson for us in Uganda is the need to create more networks in the media who can really help fuel government and private tour operators' marketing efforts. Making use of social media will come in handy because it's cheaper yet very effective. Last night I was happy to see a story of Kidepo and I am looking forward to more of such stories. I wish players in the tourism sector make good allies with traditional and new media to help tell about the blank pages in Uganda's tourism beauty.


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