Tourism players from across Africa gathered at Speke Resort Munyonyo located approximately 20 kilometers southeast of Kampala City starting Feb.4-6 to discuss the industry’s future prospects.
This was the 5th Pearl of Africa Tourism Expo (POATE) organized by the tourism agency, Uganda Tourism Board (UTB) under the theme ‘promote intra-Africa tourism.’
The event that took place on the shores of Lake Victoria, attracted around 57 international hosted buyers, 140 domestic and regional tourism operators as well as international and domestic media.
The Expo was officially opened by Gen (Rtd.) Moses Ali, the first deputy prime minister and deputy leader of Government Business in Parliament, on behalf of President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni.
In his speech, President Museveni said POATE would go a long way in “expanding business opportunities in the tourism sector in Uganda and the entire East African region.”
Museveni added that Uganda has significantly invested in creating “peace and stability, good road networks, enough electricity supply, better telecommunications networks and internet” and these investments would enable Uganda’s tourism sector to be competitive.
Lilly Ajarova, the chief executive officer of Uganda Tourism Board (UTB) said Uganda has abundant tourism opportunities characterised by the richest tourism attraction portfolio, best value for money both for investors and tourists and therefore healthy returns on investment.
“We have the richest and most diverse range of human, natural, cultural, religious and historical attractions complemented by a warm tropical climate, warm people, great accommodations and great food,” she said.
200 tourism leaders
Ajarova, told the over 200 tourism business leaders from over 20 countries that Uganda has the highest concentration of attractions over a smaller geographical area which gives tourists a chance to see more for less.
“Africa has a big market of 1.2 billion people which we must exploit to our advantage by increasing intra-trade and intra-travel among us,” she said.
She also said that the healthy growth in visitor arrivals coupled with a vast array of tourism assets presented big returns on tourism investment and that the recent government investments in transport infrastructure had made the country more accessible both from the outside and inland.
She further explained that it is now easier to get into Uganda by air from virtually anywhere around the world. Data from Civil Aviation Authority shows that the country recorded 32,735 flights in the FY2018/19.
Industry followers told The Independent that with the revival of Uganda Airlines, there will be faster and more convenient direct routes especially from Africa in addition to travel opportunities aided by road and water infrastructure.
Ajarova said that Africa’s economic prospects were on the rise and that the continent was emerging as one of the fastest growing tourism markets after Asia and the Pacific with outbound traffic reaching 42 million in 2018.
“The theme mirrors our strategy to rebalance and segment our tourism portfolio into four key segments – existing overseas markets; emerging overseas markets; regional/African market and the domestic Ugandan market,” she said.
Tom Butime, the new Minister of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities spoke in line with Ajarova’s views.
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“We do offer, probably the best value for money per dollar spent and there is something for everyone-regardless of age, gender, budget and preferences.” he said.
Butime said that on top of healthy visitor numbers and the richest attractions portfolio on the continent, Uganda offered one of most abundant investment incentive regimes in the tourism sector.
He added that with a recorded 18,783 species of flora and fauna, Uganda ranks among the top most biodiversity rich countries globally.
Uganda is a host to over 50% of the world’s remaining population of mountain gorillas, 11% of the world’s recorded species of birds (which is 50% of Africa’s bird species richness), 8% of the global mammal diversity (which is 39% of Africa’s mammal richness), 19% of Africa’s amphibian species richness, 14% of Africa’s reptile species richness and 1,249 recorded species of butterflies.
“We do offer, probably the best value for money per dollar spent and there is something for everyone regardless of age, gender, budget, preferences,” Butime said.
The 2019 World Economic Forum, Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Index ranked Uganda as the No.1 most price competitive destination in the East African region and the 39th out of 140 countries in the world.
Private sector optimists
Private sector players including Gideon Badagawa, the executive director for Private Sector Foundation Uganda and Pearl Hoareau Kakooza, the president of Uganda Tourism Association (UTA) and Everest Kayondo, the proprietor of Everbased Tours and Travel Company were equally optimistic about POATE creating opportunities for them to grow and the economy in general.
They called upon government to invest more in industry capacity building, new product development, capital investments and facilitating access to affordable financing.
“Interest rates ranging from 18-25% from commercial banks are prohibitive for direct investment in the private sector. UTA members would wish to have access to affordable financing for this sector,” Kakooza said, adding that access to more affordable financing for the sector, “would translate into a broader tax base and by extension, more tax revenue.”
UTA is an umbrella organization that brings together all tourism trade Associations in Uganda that represent 7,000 tourism professionals.
Badagawa told The Independent that POATE is one avenue of selling Uganda to Ugandans and those abroad. He said that product development, building the image of the country, marketing and promotion and ensuring that we have security in the country were key to supporting growth of tourism.
Badagawa also said that UTB and the government needs to get “our local tourism proper” so that the local population can appreciate the potential of the tourism sector. He also said that more efforts should be put in selling medical, education and agro-tourism.
Kayondo, who is also the chairperson for Kampala City Traders Association said that part of the reasons Uganda was registering an increase in tourism numbers is having events like POATE.
“Tourism is a sector where the government can invest less but yield so much,” he told The Independent. He added that efforts should be geared towards promoting intra-Africa tourism in addition to other destinations.
Key facts and figures (source, UTB)
Forex earnings from the sector have grown by 22% over the last 5 years from $1.31 billion to $1.6 billion – an average growth of 4% per year
The sector in 2018, contributed Shs8.3trillion worth of GDP- equivalent of 7.7% of Uganda’s GDP
Tourism visitor numbers have grown from 1.3million five years ago to 1.6million as at end of 2019
The sector created 670,000 jobs in 2018 (6.7% of total employment) – 90% of these jobs are in the hospitality sector which employs 58% females and 77% youths (18-30 years)
The 2019 World Economic Forum, Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Index ranked Uganda as the No.1 most price competitive destination in the East African region and the 39th out of 140 countries in the world.