Dissecting Uganda’s tourism problem: what is at stake?

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Tourism has not developed as expected despite the country’s potential and tourism attractions.

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Tourism has not developed as expected despite the country’s potential and tourism attractions. The strength of Uganda’s tourism industry is in its unspoiled wilderness attractions such as the Mountain Gorillas, the rich cultures, and special combination of nature and culture.

In the past, Uganda’s tourism sector has had challenges related to insecurity in some parts of the country, however, this has been solved and Uganda is now generally a peaceful destination though there remains the biggest challenge of improving Uganda’s image internationally.


To date, many Ugandans get surprised by the questions they are asked when they are attending exhibitions or international meetings. The people out there still think of Uganda as the country of Idi Amin; to many people, Uganda represents dying of HIV Aids, war, corruption, etc.

Rarely will they start with the “Land of the River Nile,” the “Land of the Mountain Gorillas,” or the “Pearl of Africa,” as Winston Churchill christened it.

The above scenario just serves to show that Uganda has not rolled out its PR machinery, and this is at stake for Uganda – improving its image.

In the case of Rwanda, it is a younger tourist destination, but it has now surpassed Uganda in as far as marketing Rwanda as the only place to see mountain gorillas in Africa.

Rwanda recognizes that they don’t have much by way of tourism, but they acknowledge that their strength lies in their ability to creatively market so they are capitalizing on it.

At the beginning of 2008, Kenya was thrown into a tumultuous time for nearly three months, and this disrupted Kenya’s tourism industry to an extent that there were reportedly up to 91% cancellations, and this affected tourist arrivals, as well as the Kenyan economy.

However, the Kenya PR machinery was at work providing updates on the situation, and this provided a counter effect on all the media reports that tended to concentrate on only the negative things about the prevailing situation at the time.
After the civil unrest ended, the political machinery set to work to make promotions on the country – road shows and familiarization trips were sponsored for the big agents in the UK and USA. More funds were allocated to the marketing budget so as to revamp the efforts of promoting the destination. This had a great effect of quick-starting the recovery of Kenya’s tourism and economy.

Uganda has usually not responded whenever it has had negative publicity about whatever is happening there.

It has been said that nothing on the planet is new. Everything has always existed before, but it is just redressed and then re packaged as if it is new!

Uganda needs to turn to the drawing table and make comparative studies to review the strategies adopted by Uganda in the 1960s and modify them to position itself in the international tourism market now. Uganda is competing against new destinations and new products, so it is relevant that the products Uganda puts out are of quality and typically unique to Uganda.

According to the Balance of Payment Statistics by Bank of Uganda in the year 2001, tourism made up US$105 million, ahead of coffee with US$107 million. Again, several reports continue showing that Tourism has become the number one non-traditional foreign exchange earner in Uganda.

The World Tourism Organization reports a global growth in tourism, and it actually the fastest-growing sector of most economies. For the case of the 2001 statistics, these were based on only domestic tourism and business visitors to the national parks, without the leisure traveler featuring, however, the 2007 statistics are based on leisure travelers as well.

In Uganda, tourism had a growth rate of 21% from 1995–2010, with exception of the year 2009 when the world experienced a credit crunch.
Tourism promotion and marketing has been very limited because of insufficient funding allocation and because of not only personnel but also the different priorities for the government of Uganda.

Uganda has always relied on handouts from donors even though now it is positioning itself to be self reliant as per the 2010/2011 budget.

About a year ago, tourism was only mentioned as having boomed with no real statistics provided about its performance and then just next to it was the reports on a 15% growth for export of services. Now is the time to change focus and use tourism, which has the potential to bring in Forex.

With appropriate personnel/marketing, tourism may once again become the leading country-wide economic sector with even stronger economic impact than agriculture and industry in respect of foreign earnings.

The potential has already been demonstrated when a few years ago government formulated the ten-year tourism master plan and the private sector responded positively by investing in and putting up new facilities in various locations in Uganda. This has continued to be the case, but a number of problems still plague the sector and have inhibited its development.

Certain of these problems have been drastic and caused many facilities to go into liquidation, consequently preventing tourism from realizing its potential.

However, there is optimism in the sector now as we begin to see tourism development and investment by the private sector, which has gained confidence in the sector’s abilities. Stakeholders see the opportunity to accomplish what they would not have accomplished fifteen years ago.

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About the author


Editor in chief is Linda Hohnholz.