Government has revealed that the process of rebranding Uganda as a tourism destination has already commenced and will be completed by the end of 2019.
The Minister of Tourism, Prof Ephraim Kamuntu said this Wednesday while presenting the progress so far made on government’s 2016 pledges as part of the Manifesto Week.
The Minister said a consultant has already been procured to develop the Uganda destination brand which will be launched by the end of this year.
In marketing its tourism, Uganda has always used the ‘Pearl of Africa’ tagline which is derived from former British Prime Minister, Sir Winston Churchill’s impression of the natural beauty of the country.
However, some players in the sector say the tagline is not definitive enough of what Uganda has to offer in terms of attractions.
The chief executive of Uganda Tourism Board, Lilly Ajarova said that one of the proposed taglines is ‘Gifted by Nature’. She said that once the consultant has completed the process, there will be a gigantic launch of the new brand both locally and internationally.
“We shall use our international missions to have activations of the new brand. But locally, we shall also carry out activations in schools, hospitals, and using all other government agencies,” Ajarova said on Wednesday.
Regarding the progress made in other areas, the Minister said government has delivered on its commitment to increase marketing in order to enhance Uganda’s presence in existing tourism source markets.
“Government has provided funding for sustained engagement of Market Destination Representation (MDRs) firms in 2018/19 and market activations in target markets,” Prof Kamuntu said.
He said that six firms were deployed in core markets of U.K, Ireland, Canada, U.S, Switzerland, Australia and Germany as well as emerging markets of China, Japan and the Arab States.
As a result of this marketing effort, Kamuntu said, the number of leisure visitors from the American market has increased by 10 percent annually since 2016, on top of improving the image of Uganda in key markets. Visitation to national parks and other select tourism sites has also grown by 10 percent annually in the same period.
According to statistics provided by the Minister, tourist arrivals grew from 1.37 million in 2015/16 to 1.54 million in 2018, representing an 18 percent increase. In the same period, the foreign revenue generated by the sector grew by 19 percent from USD 1.37bn to USD 1.63bn.
The number of visitors going to natural cultural sites has risen by 18 percent while the average tourist expenditure has grown by 32 percent.
Kamuntu said that in 2018, the sector employed up to 628,000 people which is a 25 percent increase from 504,000 in 2015/16.
The issue of diversification of tourism products remains central to the debate on how to to fully harness the potential of Uganda’s tourism sector. For many years, the discussion has been on the need to develop other products beyond wildlife and nature, to cater for other visitors like Chinese who are less interested in culture and more pulled towards culture.
The Minister said a Batwa forest experience was launched in Nkuringo sector, Bwindi park, as a way of promoting cultural tourism, conservation and enhancing visitor experience.
A zip line and an information centre have been introduced at the Kisizi falls in Rukungiri district. Also, the trails, ladders and resting points in Mt Rwenzori park have been improved as well as introducing a new trail to improve the hikers’ experience.
A pre-feasibility study for the Mt Rwenzori cable car project was conducted and a sum of Shs 4bn is required for the feasibility study, he said.
Government has procured five buses and 3 modern tourist launch boats (Lake Mburo, Murchison falls and Kazinga channel). Kamuntu said the feasibility study for a canopy walk in Kibaale forest national park is planned for 2019/2020 financial year.
In the effort to turn the Source of the Nile (Jinja) into a world class tourism site, a masterplan and strategic environmental and social impact analysis has been developed and will be finalized in June this year. This will guide other developments such as: a 500 meter marine walk way, a state-of-the-art monument, modern gate, revenue collection office and 59 solar security lights.
Concerning water sport activities on Lake Victoria, guidelines have been developed and government has so far engaged potential investors on opportunities like establishment of water buses and ships, accommodation facilities, a tourist island among others. The introduction of the MV Vanessa, a new private vessel, a few months ago, is one of the immediate results.
The Minister said government has continued to support private investors in the sector, revealing that since 2016, 8 new concessions for the development of high end accommodation facilities have been awarded in Lake Mburo, Queen Elizabeth and Murchison falls parks.
Contract negotiations are ongoing for concessions with 9 other investors. This follows a conservation and investment conference held by President Museveni in October 2017, to identify suitable sites in protected areas for high end investments.
Kamuntu said “I’m very happy to announce that the national airline has been revived” which he said is in line with the manifesto pledge to revive Uganda Airlines to enable direct connectivity between the country and existing tourism markets.
Uganda has already acquired two Bombardier CRJ900 aircrafts with two others set to be delivered by July this year when the airline plans to commence commerical flights regionally. Two more aircrafts (Airbus A330s) are scheduled for delivery in December 2020 and January 2021.
“80 percent of Uganda’s tourists arrive by air and the more you have direct flights without connecting to wait in airports, the more tourists want to come to Uganda,” said the Minister.
The Minister however noted that funding remains a big challenge to the tourism sector with the sector’s budget gravitating between 0.1 percent to 0.3 percent of the national budget since 2016.
“That limits what these agencies can do,” he said.
He also said the challenge of multiple taxation suffered by the private tour operators is still a work in progress and is being handled through the Presidential Investors’ Round Table initiative.
The human-wildlife conflict also continues to be a problem which Prof Kamuntu attributed to the rapid human population growth which has exerted pressure on land.
“This is a structural challenge when you have an economy which is predominantly subsistence. For many of the households, their livelihood is dependant on land. The more population, the more pressure it is on land use more so when land is gazetted,” he said.