Northern Uganda's Impact on Tourism
As many of us prepare to walk on Gulu Walk Day on 22nd October to remind people of Northern Uganda...
Janet Museveni said that all stakeholders in the tourism sector need to identify, portray and market the uniqueness of the country’s tourism potential and avoid being ‘copy cats’ of what already exists in other countries.
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First published: October 19, 2005
Uganda may possess a lot of tourism potentials but the number of tourists visiting the country still remains small. The country’s spectacular tourist sites are still not exploited and some largely unknown, with only 20 percent of the projected tourists visiting the sites. This is in spite of the government’s efforts to improve the sector as a way of increasing foreign exchange base for the country while also benefiting many Ugandans, whose products or services could be consumed by the tourists.
President Yoweri Museveni early last year guided a crew of an American cable channel, the Discovery Channel, as part of marketing the tourism sector of the country. In October, the President continued his campaign by telling about 300 delegates, including 75 delegates from America’s biggest tourism agencies that attended the 8th African Travel Association (ATA) symposium, that Uganda is one of the countries safe from international terrorist networks making it a haven for tourists.
It is true that wild life poaching and insecurity within the national parks and reserves have tainted Uganda’s image and tourism industry. The massacre of American tourists in Bwindi National Park some time back comes to mind. And the terrorism that struck Kenya and Tanzania did not help the industry. However, most of these horrible pages are being turned, giving hope to Uganda’s hotel owners, tours and travel operators, hand craft makers and the farmers-whose food is consumed by the visitors.
Although the President of Africa Tour Association (ATA) and Zambia’s Tourism, Environment and Natural Resources Minister, Patrick Kalifungwa says that Uganda is already a top tourism center in Africa, some people are saying that Ugandans can benefit more from the tourism sector than it currently doing. Dr. Gaynelle Henderson, the first vice President of the Africa Tour Association says that Uganda holds great tourist opportunities in the African continent, despite not having the sand beaches, which most tourists worldwide prefer. Henderson says that Uganda could even think about importing the sand, if it can improve the country’s tourism potential.
Janet Museveni, the wife to Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni said at the symposium that all stakeholders in the tourism sector need to identify, portray and market the uniqueness of the country’s tourism potential and avoid being ‘copy cats’ of what already exists in other countries. Janet Museveni said that Uganda’s challenge today is developing its tourist attractions and making the country a destination for tourists. The first lady also says that there is need to preserve and ensure that Uganda’s cultural, traditional and physical features remain natural for the benefit of the present and future generations. She says that apart from a lot of unique physical, social and recreational features that are not necessarily in other parts of the world, the country is also blessed with human features.
Kolker agrees. United States Ambassador to Uganda, Jimmy Kolker, said that Uganda would in addition to the wildlife and physical features benefit from the social and cultural aspects of the country’s people, which he says many tourists visiting Uganda are also interested in. Kolker says that Uganda offers genuinely unique wild life experiences which the country should take advantage of. He says that with the majority of the world’s surviving mountain gorillas being in Uganda, the country has unique tourist attractions that many people world over would want to see for themselves.
According to the 2000/2001-gorilla census, 50 percent of the 690 mountain gorillas in the world were found in Uganda. Also more than a half (1060) of all the bird species in Africa and chimpanzees (16 of the 22 species of primates in the world) live in Uganda.
The country also boasts of Mount Elgon (the world’s oldest dormant volcano, which first erupted 24 million years ago) and River Nile (the world’s longest river that gives life to over 300 million people and provides power to 15 countries), which begins from Uganda.
Kolker says that many visitors to Uganda have been overlooking the religious and cultural sites, including the Uganda Martyrs shrines and the Kasubi monuments (tombs) to the Buganda Kings. He also says that the Abayudaya near Mbale are one of the most isolated, but also most fascinating Jewish communities in the world which tourists have had interest in visiting.
Uganda Martyrs shrine at Namugongo
The Ambassador said that terrorism is not the greatest threat to American tourists to Uganda, and adds that the turmoil in northern Uganda could in fact be exploited to act as a source of tourism for the country.
“No visitor would ever forget the opportunity to hear first hand experiences in captivity of an abducted child, now returned and being rehabilitated in a center in Lira or Gulu,” Kolker says.
He reveals that unlike the usual talk that tourists fear terrorism, traffic accidents in the country has become one of the biggest hindrances to tourists (especially American tourists) visiting Uganda.
“We have been warning Americans that although it is always prudent to be alert to terrorism, the greatest threat to their security in is not terrorism but traffic accidents” he says, adding that traffic laws in Uganda are not adequately enforced and that many roads are in poor conditions.
Kolker also says that Uganda’s low level of technology advancement especially in the banking sector is limiting the number of American tourists visiting Uganda. He says that if financial institutions and organizations such as the Uganda Wildlife Authority were accepting credit cards, American tourists would spend a lot of time in the country and also spend a lot of money in Uganda.
He says that Americans tourists use credit cards and that they prefer traveling to places where the credit card facilities are widely used and that that is why Ugandan tourism operators and other stakeholders in the sector need to figure out a way to accept electronic payments.
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First published: October 19, 2005