Uganda is one of the most biodiverse countries with over 18,000 flora and fauna species complemented by freshwater lakes, waterfalls and rivers. The country boasts of cultural and religious heritage attractions such as the Kasubi Royal Tombs (a UNESCO Heritage site) and the Namugongo Martyrs Shrine.
The Tourism Industry is Uganda’s top foreign exchange earner with USD 1.6 billion in the year 2019 and over 1.5 million international visitors recorded in the same year. A total of 814,508 foreign tourist arrivals were recorded in 2022.
The sector made a significant 113% jump in revenue in the financial year 2022/2023 signaling a steady recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. The sector employs 1,559,147 people translating to 14.7 percent according to the Uganda Tourism Development Programme Annual Performance Report of 2022/2023
The State Minister of Tourism, Wildlife, and Antiquities, Hon. Martin Mugarra Bahinduka while unveiling the 8th edition of the Pearl of Africa Tourism Expo (POATE) this month, emphasized the pivotal role of Uganda’s tourism sector in contributing to the country’s economic transformation, citing its potential for generating foreign exchange through tax and non-tax revenues.
“The tourism sector is recognized as a high-growth export sector capable of making a substantial contribution to the socio-economic development of the country if fully developed,” Mugarra stated.
Expanding the market
In a bid to expand the country’s tourism offerings beyond wildlife, leveraging Uganda’s diverse culture with over 56 ethnic groups, and precolonial and religious history to develop new tourism products such as cultural experiences, adventure tourism and historical tourism.
The Uganda Tourism Board (UTB) has over the years implemented strategic interventions to optimise the sector’s contribution to socio-economic development. These initiatives aim to ensure substantial growth in tourism arrivals from both core and emerging source markets.
UTB is also taking a multifaceted approach to market destination Uganda. Through exhibiting at regional and global fairs and organising local campaigns intended for domestic tourists. This has seen a rise in the number of tourist arrivals in the last two years.
Similarly, the Explore Uganda campaigns have resulted into an upward trajectory in local tourism, with a total of 839,000 domestic tourists recorded in the year 2022 up from 132,000 in 2021.
The board also recently hosted a group of incentive buyers on a familiarization trip to Uganda, focusing on increasing business events in the country. The group, comprising nine buyers from the USA, Europe, and Asian Pacific countries, engaged in a week-long exploration of Uganda’s offerings, from cultural heritage to wildlife.
The incentive buyers explored accommodation facilities, experienced cultural heritage in host communities, and enjoyed Uganda’s rich biodiversity in Queen Elizabeth National Park, including a boat cruise and gorilla tracking in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. A networking evening allowed them to connect with local tourism stakeholders, Meetings Incentives Conferences and Events (MICE) professionals, and government representatives, fostering partnerships for future business in the country.
UTB CEO, Lilly Ajarova underscores the need for private sector tourism players to create business linkages with incentive buyers, underlining UTB’s commitment to developing the MICE industry.
“The Board is committed to continuously develop MICE industry. We hope through these collaborations, we shall as a destination attract international conferences and business travelers to experience the beauty and diversity of Uganda. We need to recruit and grow the number of trade partners selling Uganda from the source markets. This is critical in creating awareness on Uganda as MICE destination,” she said.
Sustainable tourism practices can play a pivotal role in fostering economic growth by aligning environmental conservation with community development. One of the primary ways this synergy occurs is through the preservation of natural resources and ecosystems. This approach prioritises resident inclusion in decision-making, job creation, and cultural exchange, ensuring a more equitable distribution of economic benefits.
Sustainable tourism emphasizes responsible and low-impact travel, minimizing the negative effects on the environment. By safeguarding natural attractions, such as national parks, wildlife reserves, and cultural heritage sites, a destination can maintain its appeal over the long term. This preservation, in turn, supports the tourism industry by ensuring the longevity of the very attractions that draw visitors, contributing to sustained economic benefits for local communities and businesses.
“Responsible tourism involves empowering and engaging the community. Local communities are pivotal stakeholders in the tourism industry, and when tourism is managed sustainably, it can bring about positive social and economic changes,” explains tour operator, Saad Kitagenda.
“For example, the Batwa trail in Bwindi and Mgahinga National Parks would not be worthwhile without the Batwa themselves who guide the walk and share authentic stories and traditional dances,” he adds.
The Expo set to take place from May 23 to 25, 2024, at Speke Resort Munyonyo under the theme “Responsible Tourism,” aims to bring together industry stakeholders, both locally and globally, to create business opportunities, share knowledge, and elevate Uganda’s status as a preferred destination.
The structure of the event includes engaging Business to Business and Business to Consumer sessions, enlightening seminars led by national and international experts, exhibitions showcasing diverse tourism services and products, and prearranged meetings through a matchmaking portal. The expo will also host carefully selected suppliers from source markets, providing them with a firsthand experience of Uganda’s attractions to enhance their ability to market the country effectively.