By David Muwonge
Tourism in Uganda has taken a back seat for a long time, earning and holding the label ‘neglected’ along the way. Although budgets are drafted annually, they always end up being debate topics with no activity to follow. This is beginning to change.
Uganda is blessed in abundance with natural resources that can be found scattered all over the country, everywhere you look. The Pearl of Africa is embodied with sandy beaches, scenic lakes, the historic River Nile, Rwenzori Mountains of the Moon, Lake Victoria, forests filled with globally rare primates, birds, savannahs filled with an abundance of wildlife and views to live for. It’s no surprise that every year the number of tourists visiting different sceneries is continuously on the rise. The country is once again becoming a popular destination recovering from decades of violence and political turmoil.
On Monday 16th May 2016, His Excellency Yoweri Kaguta Museveni endorsed and launched three Public Relations and Marketing Firms, namely PHG, Kamageo and KPRN Network. The three firms were tasked to represent Uganda’s interests in North America, the United Kingdom (UK), Ireland and German as lucrative but untapped tourism key source markets.
At a cost of approximately US$1.5million annually, the foreign based publicist firms will provide marketing, sales representation, and public relations services in the aforementioned markets. In a bid to popularize Uganda’s existing and upcoming tourism products and services such as religious tourism, it is hoped that the venture will bolster Uganda’s visibility and also attract more tourists – given the tourism industry’s total contribution (including wider effects from investment, the supply chain and induced income impacts) GDP of UGX7,270.5billion (seven billion two hundred seventy million Uganda Shillings) in 2015 (9.0% of GDP) that is projected to rise by 1.4% to UGX7,372billion (seven billion three hundred seventy two million Uganda Shillings) (8.6% of GDP) in 2016.
In November last year, the visit of His Holiness Pope Francis to Uganda played an important role in the recognition of the country as one of the religious tourism destinations in the world and also led to an upgrade of the Namugongo Martyrs shrines.
“In 2015, the direct contribution of Travel & Tourism to GDP was UGX2, 982.1bn (3.7% of GDP). This is forecast to rise by 0.7% to UGX3, 002.7bn in 2016,” says Stephen Asiimwe, Executive Director Uganda Tourism Board. He adds that this contribution reflects the economic activity generated by industries such as hotels, travel agents, airlines, entertainment, leisure, and transportation services.
Gone are the days when governments sat back hoping for a miraculous exodus of tourists to come their way. Especially after internalizing James 2:14-20
“What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”
States and their respective bodies have now turned their heads to overseas Public Relations and Lobbyist firms with prospects of providing an alternative strategy to continuously furnishing clientele and potential leads with products and services.
Over the years, many countries have adopted the same. For instance, in the year 2014, the government of Rwanda through its investment body – Rwanda Development Board courted the services of Solimar International, a Washington DC-based tourism firm and UK-based, Kamageo. To draw attention to the tourism potential of Rwanda in the UK, North America and central Europe beyond the famed mountain gorilla’s under the country’s “Remarkable Rwanda” flagship campaign.
In the wake of the Garissa terror attacks in north eastern Kenya, by the deadly Al-Shabaab extremist groups, a drastic drop in tourism numbers was registered. This prompted the Kenyan government through its Ministry of East African Affairs to seek the services of Grayling PR and events consulting company to promote the country’s tourism sector across the US, Europe, Middle East, Africa and Asia Pacific. It should be noted that the Kenyan government is having ongoing talks to launch a global tourism campaign worth Kenya Sh5.2 billion. The crusade will target the areas of Europe, America, Asia; China and India and Africa; Uganda, Nigeria, Ghana, South Africa, Tanzania and Ethiopia.
According to Uganda Tourism Board (UTB), Uganda’s representation in foreign countries has mainly been through trade exhibitions like the World Travel Market (WTM) London, Internationale Tourismus-Börse (ITB) Berlin and the just concluded Indaba, South Africa. However, it is too expensive to simply go for one Expo only to return after a year.
“Destination marketing is a very complicated thing. In Uganda, tourism is now our top export and quickly becoming a major employer. Globally, tourism is among the top businesses since most countries are fighting for a share of these visitor numbers. These agencies the President has commissioned will be our ears, eyes and mouthpieces in each of these markets,” says James Tumusiime, UTB Board Chairman.
Statistics from UTB indicate that tourism generated 464,500 jobs directly in 2015 (3.1% of total employment), while in the wider context including effects from investment, the supply chain and induced income impacts, it generated 1,173,000 jobs (7.8% of total employment).
Beyond the promotion, growth of tourism numbers and length of stay, the World Bank funded project under the stewardship of Competitiveness and Enterprise Development Project (CEDP), will also seek to build local tourism sector capacity to match that of their international counterparts. Kamageo, KPRN and PHG will also provide training to the Uganda tourism businesses.
The three PR firms, Kamageo, KPRN Network and PHG will thus step into the gap and represent Uganda at different forums and exhibitions globally. By putting their vast knowledge and specialties of the respective markets to great use, Uganda will be leveraged as a prime tourism destination.
Quoting H.E. Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, “Uganda is easy to market. We are an all year round destination with great weather, variety of tourism attractions including mountains with snow all through the year.”