You come at a time when the marketing style is a bit distorted. Have you done some auditing?
We are known for wildlife. The great apes, mountain gorillas, the chimpanzees are our flagship species that sell us out there. We are at a point where we need to diversify our tourism products and the basics in terms of being known. We have three core markets that we are already known in such as United Kingdom, North America and Germany. But we need to build on the foundation that has already been set.
Uganda’s tourism is understood as national parks and game reserves. But is there more potential elsewhere?
Yes, there is a lot more we have to offer as Uganda. We already have faith-based tourism products such as Uganda Martyrs – a major product we should capitalise on. What is left is organising ourselves and penetrating the right markets such that we see tourists coming every day instead of waiting for June 3 – our major celebration day in a year. We should see more pilgrims coming.
The Bahai Temple in Kampala is the biggest in Africa. We are seeing a trend of people from different parts of the world coming to wed there; meaning there is something unique there.
We also have agro-tourism where we are engaging with different farmers. We launched coffee tourism in Kasese recently where there is a coffee house.
In sports, we launched golf tourism last year. Right now, we have leagues going on around the country in Mbale, Fort Portal among others. This is exposing every participant to the different tourist attractions. In each destination they visit, we are marking out the tourist attractions along the road for them to visit.
Culture is another product we need to package well. We have the Kasubi Tombs and other cultural sites that can be developed better. Some products are still in the process of being developed but can be used.
The night life in Kampala is another huge attraction. People fly from different cities such as Lagos and Nairobi to experience the night life over the weekend in Kampala. So, there is a lot more we have to offer in packaging and marketing it well.
In marketing destination Uganda, what brand name are you using? We have heard of Peal of Africa, Gifted by nature, but which is which?
Much as we have Pearl of Africa now, we did not go through the proper process.
We plan to have a big launch once we have a brand identification and items all defined so that every Ugandan, or anybody hoping to promote Uganda has one identity with a slogan presenting Uganda as a tourism destination.
I hope by the end of this year, we shall have that out of the way.
More than ever, tourism is receiving more funding. In your assessment, is the money going where it should go?
Yes, the budget has grown a little bit but it is still little compared to what we need to market the country.
We need money for product development. We need quality services that will attract both for domestic and international markets.
Trying to maintain standards is something we urgently need to address. But with the budget we have, we can’t cover all these areas.
We need to train people to professionally speak to tourists. A tourist has a choice to decide their destination. We need to wake up to the call to know that we are competing with the rest of the world if we want tourism to work for us. What we have is a drop in the ocean.
We need a lot more money to develop the products, get them to the standards that are required if we want to make money especially from international tourists.
You say you need more money. How much?
We have a budget of about Shs17 billion for each financial year. But what we need is 10 or 20 times more than that to do it right.
We would like tourism to be every Ugandan’s business. The tourism development master plan has divided the country into different regions. We are trying to use these regions to develop iconic products so that people visit Uganda with a package that allows them to travel the whole country. That way, they stay longer and pay more money.
The Source of the Nile, for instance, is one unique feature we haven’t developed. Look at the sign post where people enjoy taking photos just reading: ‘The Source of River Nile the longest river in the world.’ This is just a small sign. With the kind of facilities that we have around that place, it can be improved. But that requires a lot of investment in terms of building a bridge across the actual Source of the Nile in a manner that is actually secure. We need a range of restaurants, cultural shops and other services.
The Equator line across Uganda is another feature but it will take money to do it really well. We’ve just finished a study where we’ve marked the Equator points across the country, crossing 12 districts. If we are going to build monuments in 12 different districts, that will require a lot of investment which we can not leave to the private sector alone. It will require some kind of public private partnership.
If you have an Equator line crossing 12 districts, each of them can benefit from this.
Besides the monument itself, it can be packaged with whatever each district has. If well done, it calls for investment in hotels and other facilities that can provide experiences that tourists are looking for.
We are setting up ourselves right now to go online because digital marketing has also become the trend. We can’t just use the conventional way of marketing. But this requires huge investment in terms of having creative content that will keep the audience engaged with what we are saying.
One of our neighbouring countries is spending up to $5 million on their digital marketing. They have a team of 10 staff for a Tourism Board.
In terms of investment, more money is put in arcades and other investments. Where is the problem?
Lack of information. Ugandans need to be directed on where the investment opportunities are.
Wherever Uganda Airlines flies will promote Uganda. We are working with Uganda Airlines’ management to synchronise our marketing strategies to support one another.
South Africa, Kenya, Nigeria are our core markets in Africa.
By Dorothy Nakaweesi