Tourism in Uganda: Opportunities and Challenges

by Business Times
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Uganda, known as the “Pearl of Africa,” is a country that offers a wide range of tourist attractions, from its diverse wildlife and natural beauty to its rich cultural heritage.

The current Ugandan National Development Plan (NDPIII) aspires to make Uganda one of the top five tourism destinations in Africa by 2025, given the sector’s important role for economic growth and employment generation.

Until the COVID-19 crisis started, the sector had grown exponentially, with visitors arriving to the country increasing from 200,000 in 2000, to over 1.5 million in 2018. With the COVID-19 pandemic, the arrivals dropped to 156,000 in 2020, and the hospitality sector suffered great losses from 2019 to 2021.

Before that, the sector contributed 7.7% of GDP and earned USD 1.6 billion annually, twice as much as the forex income earning from the largest export, coffee.

According to Ministry of Tourism, the tourism and hospitality sector accounts for around 667,600 staff, with 90% employed in the hospitality sector; the sector contributes to about 6.7 % of the total national employment.

The spill-over effects on auxiliary services includes banking, manufacturing, telecommunication, utilities, trade, etc. The influx of tourists is also the main financier of the Uganda Wildlife Authority, in their efforts to preserve the natural treasures of Uganda.

The country’s tourism industry has been steadily growing in recent years, with an increasing number of tourists visiting the country to experience its unique offerings.

Uganda received about 814,508 international visitors in 2022, up 59% year-on-year, according to the Ministry of Tourism. The number of tourist arrivals fell 47.8 percent to 473,085 in 2021, compared to nearly 1.5 million pre-Covid-19, The Monitor newspaper reported, citing ministry data.

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Murchison falls

Tourism earnings reached nearly 2.7 trillion shillings ($712.6 million), representing 12.2% of total exports and 41.4% of service exports.

Accommodation, food and beverages, passenger transport and shopping took the largest share of inbound expenditure, which stood at a combined 68.8 percent share.

The report said international tourists stayed for an average of 7.6 nights in the country resulting in 6.5 million bed nights.  

Opportunities

Uganda has a diverse range of tourist attractions that can appeal to a broad spectrum of travelers. The country is home to several national parks, including the famous Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, which is home to the endangered mountain gorillas. Uganda is also home to several other primate species, including chimpanzees and baboons. In addition, the country has over 1,000 bird species, making it a popular destination for birdwatchers.

Uganda’s cultural heritage is also a significant tourist attraction. The country has over 50 different ethnic groups, each with its unique customs and traditions. Uganda is home to several UNESCO World Heritage Sites, including the Kasubi Tombs, which are the burial grounds of the Buganda kings, and the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, which is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.

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The government of Uganda has also made significant investments in the tourism industry in recent years. The Ministry of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities has been working to improve the infrastructure and facilities in national parks and other tourist destinations. The government has also been promoting tourism through marketing campaigns and partnerships with international travel agencies.

Uganda Tourism Board (UTB), in 2022 launched a new campaign to re-energize the promotion of this country as a preferred destination dubbed ‘Explore Uganda’. It is not the first such drive. We have had – Taking on the Pearl and Visit Uganda – among others.

If you use social media, however, you must have noticed a rise in the number of locals taking trips across the country in trips such as Vumbula among others. There is also an increase in number of tour and travel countries in the country. That only points to one thing – tourism is a viable business that many are willing to invest their capital in.

Challenges

Despite the opportunities, Uganda’s tourism industry still faces significant challenges. One of the most significant challenges is the high cost of travel to Uganda. The country’s airfares are relatively expensive, and the visa fees are also high, making it difficult for budget-conscious travelers to visit the country. Additionally, the cost of accommodation and transport within the country can be prohibitive for some travelers.

Another challenge is the lack of infrastructure and services in some tourist destinations. While the government has been investing in infrastructure, some national parks and other tourist sites still lack adequate facilities and services, such as lodges, restaurants, and transport options. This can make it difficult for tourists to access these areas and can impact the overall tourist experience.

The COVID-19 pandemic also had a significant impact on the tourism industry in Uganda, with many travel restrictions and safety measures in place to prevent the spread of the virus. The pandemic has led to the closure of several tourist destinations, and many travel agencies have been forced to suspend their operations.

In conclusion, Tourism is a crucial sector of the Ugandan economy, providing employment opportunities and driving economic growth. The country has significant potential for growth in the tourism industry, with its diverse range of attractions and growing government support.

However, addressing the challenges faced by the industry, such as high travel costs and inadequate infrastructure, will be critical to realizing this potential. With the right investments and policies, Uganda can continue to attract tourists and position itself as a leading tourism destination in Africa.

ALSO READ: How complacency puts Uganda’s tourism at risk

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