By Evelyn Masaba
Uganda is a very beautiful country that anyone who travels to the country falls in love with it and its people. Over the years, the organisations in charge of tourism in the country have strived to push Uganda as one of the best tourist destinations in the world.
It would seem as such an easy job with a country that is blessed with almost everything that is worth paying for to see, yet it has been getting a little difficult when Uganda is competing with her neighbours for a bigger share of tourism revenue that comes in annually.
Uganda reportedly earned Shs7.3 billion from the tourism sector in the financial year 2015/2016, meaning the sector is performing well enough but has even more room to improve. The biggest destinations in the tourism sector, according to the Uganda Tourism Board, are doing well because of increased investments in the region.
At the start of the year, Uganda hired international Public Relations firms to work on marketing Uganda to the world, especially in Europe. Months down the road and Uganda hasn’t seen a huge increase in foreign visitors as expected when the PR deal was signed. According to sceptics, this was a wasted move by the concerned bodies and the funds would have been better used to improve domestic tourism. Basing on the logic that if Ugandans know what their country has to offer, it would be easy for them to market it beyond their own borders.
A number of years ago, there were several street ads by one of the organisations in charge of tourism in Uganda with information about mountain gorillas all over the streets of Kampala and Entebbe. It was quite interesting to find little tidbits about the mammals on every ad that educated you about them and where to find them in Uganda.
The increase in tourist numbers in Bwindi and Mgahinga National park must be easily attributed to the marketing the tourism sector engaged in to push gorilla trekking in these very locations. And the decrease thereof in the other regions should also be attributed to the same marginalised marketing strategies that have been undertaken for years; tourist activities that include bird watching and rafting in areas such as eastern and northern Uganda would be reaping big if they were well marketed the same way gorilla trekking was.
For a sector that received a budget of $1.3m, there is more that could have been used with the funds to shade light on all the other areas that could bring in revenue through tourism in Uganda.
The gorilla trekking idea is a good plan to go keep marketing Uganda as a destination, but the country cannot put its eggs in one basket. There is a lot more that the country has to offer, which can be easily elevated through good marketing strategies.
More than just mountain gorillas
Uganda doesn’t just have gorillas but a wide array of forests that are home to beautiful bird species, mountains so high one needs to dedicate a day or two to climb their peaks, and lakes deep enough to hold the history of nation. And with each attraction there is an engaging activity that will keep visitors coming back every year.
So how does a country with plenty make sure the rest of the world knows what it has? State Minister for Tourism Godfrey Kiwanda, has started his term in office by taking a step that every Ugandan should have taken a while back: showcasing Uganda through the Tulambule campaign.
Although not well executed, the campaign seems promising as it encourages Ugandans to tour the country whenever they get the chance. Yet, there is a lot more than planning, words and promises. Increased budgets do not build an economy or improve a sector, it is in execution and having willing partners ready to get down and dirty for the cause.
The sector needs to dig deeper into digital marketing, there are over five top digital marketing firms in Uganda that if well sourced, ideas from their copywriters can bring up campaigns that can create an impact.
Campaigns that give a fair share of locations in Uganda a chance to shine among the big five of the tourism sector, these being: gorilla trekking, mountain climbing, bird watching, rafting and wild game viewing. Focusing on only one dims light on the others, creating an imbalance in the sector when it comes to attractions.
Well executed domestic tourism campaigns such as the recently concluded Uganda Travel Month are another way to encourage tourism and easily market Uganda. Just a click on the #UgTravelMonth tag on social media will bring up a variety of pictures ranging from wild animals, white water rafting that document the experiences of all the people that were involved in the campaign.
These are Ugandans sharing their experiences with the rest of the world and these experiences are seen by millions of people who end up yearning to have the same experience.
There has to be an informal partnership or a correlation between the public and private sector when it comes to tourism. Whether the aim is to get profits out of it, there is need to attract clients before earning out of it and when the organisations in charge offer support to those trying to do their best in the private sector, there will be good results and the reverse is also important.
Albeit all the missed opportunities, Uganda is a gem and has strived to shine with an increased number of tourists over the years.