By Titus Kakembo
“Uganda has tourism ore waiting to be dusted for it to shine.” These were the words of Uganda Tourism Board (UTB) chairman Daudi Migereko while meeting the new Minister of state for tourism, Martin Magarra. “Diversity of culture is an asset in the tourism industry that can attract thousands of visitors,” Migereko said.
There are the traditional weddings. The Baganda call it okwanjula and in Ankole they brand it okuhingira.” Migereko said the drama, feasting, dress and tradition is fodder for documentaries for international media houses like BBC, CNN, VOA and Aljazeera.
Adding that COVID-19 continues to be a learning opportunity for the industry whereby while traditional source markets are missing, Africa-to-Africa tourism can suffice. “This has been the case since March 2020 when the maiden lockdown was effected,” said Migereko.
“Without places to go, fatigued Ugandans discovered gems in their backyards.” Summing up that, besides Rolex going global there are traditional dishes like Oluwombo, Eshabwe and odi thatcan whet the appetite of any adventurous diner. Adding that, these are in addition to locally brewed wines and gins of repute.
The UTB CEO, Lilly Ajarova, told the minister that there are numerous projects that can boost the volume of tourism that are crippled by budgetary limitations. “The grading of hotels has since stalled midway and yet it is one of the parameters that attract tourists,” said Ajarova.
“We are supposed to do it annually if the service providers are to keep their standards up there.” The vice CEO Bradford Ochieng said besides existing global catering big names like Serena and Sheraton Hotel there is need to attract more service providers. “There are travellers who go to Kidepo Valley National Park because a certain hotel is there,” stressed Ochieng. “Our menu is still too small compared with what our competitors in the region are offering.”
Minister of state for tourism Martin Magarra has a photo moment with the UTB board of directors at the headquarters. Photo by Titus Kakembo
Magarra said so much has been achieved by his predecessor but a lot more can be done if Uganda is to position itself competitively globally. “We need to make destination Uganda more audible and visible,” said Magarra. “Let the search engines show Uganda when one wants to track gorillas, watch birds or have a community tour. Digital presence is the way to go when it comes too marketing.”
Adding that, mass tourism is likely to be replaced by thin options that have been little known. “We need to attract those who are veering away from traditional destinations,” stressed Magarra. “Most travelers are going to put more emphasis on pre-planning their trip. This implies relying on on-line communication. We need swift and transparent digital communication.”
Magarra summed up saying travelers now want assurance of their safety and flexibility. Asserting that, they have already turned to social media to reduce the communication distance between the service provider and the client. As tourism resurrects there are changes in travelers a majority of whom now trust the word of mouth or social media recommendations from family members, peers and followers. The main point of concern when booking hotels is cleanliness as they are very conscious of germs compared to before the prevalence of COVID-19 in March 2020.
“Most of them fear being quarantined as much as they fear being infected by the pandemic,” said Yogi Birigwa a member of the board of UTB directors. “We need to improve the accessibility of tourists attraction by air and marine to save time.”