The Uganda tourism sector is the worst in the region due to underfunding by the Government, Amos Wekesa, the Uganda Tourism Association president, has said.
He said the sector is allocated a paltry 0.5% of the budget, although it is the country’s top foreign exchange earner.
“We need to market our country aggressively and consistently for tourists to come,” Wekesa said.
“If the Government invests $1m (about sh1.8b) in tourism for six years, it would make a big difference.” He said Uganda was among the top 10 richest countries in terms of biological wealth and earns between $300m and $400m from tourism annually.
The tourism sector employs over 70,000 people directly, while 300,000 more are employed indirectly in activities like selling handicrafts.
“If tourism was taken seriously, the country’s economy could do better,” Wekesa said.
In Europe, he said, intending tourists have to be informed several times about the destination and what it offers.
“They plan ahead and save money before coming,” he said.
He was speaking at the 13th anniversary of the Uganda Safari Guides Association (USAGA) at the Uganda National Museum in Kamwokya, Kampla.
He encouraged the guides to acquire skills and knowledge to promote the country as a tourist destination.
Wekesa said we are not benefitting from the sector because most of the visitors who come to Uganda spend little money.
“Countries that market in Europe, US and China get high spending tourists,” Wekesa said.
He said though Tanzania earns three times what Uganda earns, the two countries get the same number of tourists (estimated at 1 million).
He said East Africa gets only 1% of the total number of tourists coming from the United Kingdom and most of them go to Tanzania and Kenya.
He said tourism has the biggest trickle down effect in the economy and that Uganda, which has a bigger diversity and some of the most scenic parks should benefit more from tourism.
According to Wekesa about 300,000 people in Kenya benefit directly from tourism, while 1.5 million people benefit indirectly.
He gave another example of Costa Rica, which is only 20% the size of Uganda, but was earning over one billion US dollars from tourism in 2001.