Lack of qualified personnel is hindering the growth of the tourism sector in the country despite the fact that Uganda is renowned for hosting a hospitable population.
Players in the tourism and hospitality industry say this is one of the reasons Uganda’s uniqueness has remained unknown to the world.
This came up during the 6th Pearl of Africa Tourism Expo (POATE2021), which is happening virtually because of the local and global restrictions resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic. More than 400 hosted buyers have attended the various sessions of the expo, according to the Uganda Tourism Board, UTB.
Four years ago, the government hired three public relations and marketing firms to market Uganda in America, Europe and Asia. While the project has been considered largely successful, the role cannot be left to foreign companies alone.
Babra Adoso Vanhelleputte, the Chief Executive Asyanut Ltd and owner Ruhija Gorilla Lodge, says the hospitable nature of Ugandans is a great resource and would help turnaround the industry especially for international conferences and exhibitions.
She says a virtual POATE2021 was a blessing in disguise because it showcased Uganda’s potential to leverage technology, but adds that even advancements in the health sector regarding how Covid-19 is being handled is a plus.
The General Manager of Sheraton Kampala Hotel, Jean-Philippe Bittencourt says Uganda’s culture alone, which includes traditional practices, the mode of agriculture regarding traditional crops, as well as the types and preparation of food, make it a very unique country. However, Bittencourt says these and many other aspects are not marketed because the human resource in the industry does not know how to.
This is the first tourism expo since the outbreak of Covid 19 in the country. The last POATE having been held in February 2020. This time around, the theme of the expo, “Restarting Tourism for Regional Economic Development” is a response to the pandemic and its effects on the industry and how businesses can rise out of it.
On the second day, Wednesday, 2,039 attendees were registered for the five sessions, while 132 business-to-business (B2B) meetings were held between local and international players. Evie Ndlovu, Africa and Middle East Representative for Planeterra, a not-for-profit company using community tourism to change lives says training is required at all levels of the value chain of tourism if the country is to get the benefits from the great resource.
She says they have been promoting community tourism in Uganda and that while the products by the communities are attractive; they are not tailored to specific markets. Ndlovu says their concentration is among women smallholder players who are challenged in many ways like low access to modern communication and marketing.
However, the sector players are worried about the effects of uncontrollable online communication channels, especially social media, which can be used to either build or damage the tourism industry. Peter Mwanja, the Chief Executive of Lasta events says while many businesses are now using the internet to do businesses, there are others who instead spread harmful and false information that has affected tourism, especially in the MICE (Meeting, Incentives, Conferences and Exhibitions) segment.
He says as international travel and international meetings remain curtailed, their option is to revert to products for the domestic tourism markets like targeting corporate organisations.