Kampala. Government has in the last three financial years had deliberate plans to promote tourism.
This has been reflected in the budget allocations dedicated to marketing Uganda, which now stands at Shs17b up from a paltry Shs1.1b.
As expected Matia Kasaija, the Finance minister will this afternoon make deliberate increments to Uganda Tourism Board (UTB) to market Uganda.
To be exact Shs30b has been allocated in that regard.
However, amid all this increased allocations, revenues from tourism has stagnated at $1.4b (Shs5.3 trillion) with a low visitors’ number of just around 1.4 million.
This, according to Amos Wekesa, who has been engaged in the tourism sector for a long time, is bothersome and shows that government has not invested enough to exploit Uganda’s full tourism potential.
“Rwanda and Kenya have a proper strategy with heads of states involved. This is what Uganda needs to emulate,” he says, emphasising the need for more investment in marketing.
About two years ago, government through UTB hired three PR firms to market Uganda in the traditional source countries such as UK, US and Germany, among others at $2m (Shs7.6b).
The firms, which include PHG Consulting, Kamageo and KPRN, were hired under a $1.5m (Shs5.7b) contract with funding from the World Bank’s Competitiveness and Enterprises Development Project.
This, Wekesa says, was a brilliant idea that helped government to promote gorilla tourism but has been hampered by the absence of gorilla permits which are capped at only 45,000.
“You can’t limit the country to only that number,” he says.
Other people who have been closely watching the events in the sector, say UTB currently has an unspent budget that is in the excess of Shs2b.
However, Stephen Asiimwe, the UTB executive director, dismisses this as a baseless claim.
Idris Kisambira, founder of Uzuri Uganda Safaris, concurs with Wekesa, arguing that government should allocate more to UTB because it “has been able to do some work in terms of marketing”.
“Given the returns [from tourism] UTB still needs a bigger budget to compete with regional destinations,” he says. Government, he says, need to give UTB an opportunity to recruit the right people as well as stock its marketing department with the right numbers to deliver on their mandate.
This, he adds, demands that government continually allocates money in incremental volumes until when the country gets desired returns.
“With more funding, UTB will be able to find more creative ways to reach potential markets,” he says.
Therefore, going forward, experts argue government must continually support marketing the country at every opportunity.
Beyond this, government, according to Wekesa, must boost its PR function with a properly defined strategy, which can be reviewed after a period of time.
“Let’s increase on the marketing budget to at least $2m for each firm instead of the $500,000 they are currently getting,” he says.
Stepping up marketing
Combine efforts: According to Idris Kisambira, government must buttress the World Bank funding with its own money to step up marketing of tourism as well as ensuring continuity.
“Even small countries such as Malawi have these types of PR firms on rolling contracts that are renewed as and when they expire,” he says, emphasising that government cannot leave marketing of Uganda to the World Bank alone.
Such funding coupled with other marketing schemes such as reviving Uganda Airlines, according to Amos Wekesa, will boost Uganda tourism. Ventures, such as Uganda Airlines, Wekesa says, must be multi-dimensional with focus on key not only transport but also on tourism marketing. Other investments must also focus on reducing the cost of accommodation as well as pulling Ugandans into the sector in order to grow local tourism.
Government must also put priority on improving the roads sector, especially in regard to roads that connect to tourism cites.
Income from tourism
Currently, tourism contributes 10 per cent to the GDP and is one of Uganda’s top foreign exchange earner. Tourism earns in the excess of $1.4b (Shs5.1 trillion).
The sector is projected to double its income to about Shs10 trillion ($2.4 billion) at least by 2020.
However, this will only be possible with concerted efforts, especially in the area of marketing.