Uganda’s ample opportunities to grow its Tourism industry

The year 2015 has started in high gear for the tourism industry in Uganda to grow and extend its wings in its expansive tourism market. The country is hosting one of the top American super models and TV host; Marlina Moreno on her tour to the Rwenzori and other tourism sites in Uganda which commenced on 17th of Jan this year.

Her tour is expected to yield into a documentary that will be aired to millions of Americans on her travel platforms like examiner.com, huffingtonpost.com, wheninmanila.com and her travel blog; brunetteabroad.com

This visit comes at an opportune time when Uganda is still dancing the tunes of its success as the a favorite tourism destination ahead of Spain after a successful online poll conducted by the one of the UK’s most popular newspaper the guardian whose website gets an average of over 2,937,070 browsers a day.

The poll was triggered by the President’s speech during the African Tourism Association (ATA) conference which the country hosted last year in November. During his speech, the president rated Uganda ahead of Spain in terms of what the two countries have to offer to tourists.

Upon his speech, the Guardian’s online version initiated a poll question of ‘where would you prefer to go on a holiday?’ Uganda or Spain?’. While answering this poll, 79% of the respondents preferred Uganda, highlighting its beauty, wildlife, scenery, culture, stunning landscape and the hospitality of its people to be the key factors.

Uganda’s tourism victory was a kick start in its new era of tourism road map. Soon after its victory over Spain, the country paid host to the big birding day as they celebrated its 11th anniversary. For the first time in history of this event, the country received 3 international birders.

Tim Appleton, the organizer of the world’s largest bird fair in the UK; Bill Thompson, the editor and co-publisher of Bird Watcher’s Digest, one of North America’s popular birding magazines, and Dominic Mitchell, the founder and managing editor of Europe’s leading monthly magazine; Bird Watch, visited the country and paid glowing tribute to Uganda’s nature.

Uganda’s glory continued to shine when it was ranked among the top 10 tourism destinations on the continent. According to the Madrid-based firm; Bloom Consulting’s 2014/15 Africa rankings released in December last year, Uganda was ranked 8th, with Kenya in the 4th place and Tanzania in the 5th while the list was topped by South Africa after displacing Egypt who had suffered insecurity. It goes without saying that among all these nations, Uganda has not reached its full potential in marketing and therefore only rides on natural beauty.

According to the communications officer, USAID Tourism for Biodiversity program, Abiaz Rwamwiri, Uganda still needs to carry a follow up in a bid to boost its image in the international market. The potential is still unexploited given the country’s natural endowment.

It should be noted that Uganda has always received several accolades but yet continues to register minimal growth in tourist arrivals. In 2011, Uganda was ranked number one tourism destination for 2012 in the world by the largest online travel magazine; the Lonely Planet while Mt Rwenzori was voted among the top 15 hiking places in the world and was the only mountain in Africa the list.

In 2012, the picture of the Ishasha tree-climbing lion was voted the best for 2011 by National Geographic. In the same year, National Geographic named Uganda among the world’s top 20 destinations for tourists in 2013 with Malawi as the only other African country on the list, and where Uganda was described as “Africa’s new frontier.”

CNN’s first list of Africa’s 10 best national parks in 2012 also favored Uganda, ranking Kidepo Valley national park third after renowned and well-marketed Maasai Mara (Kenya), and Botswana’s Central Kalahari game reserve. Another CNN list in 2012 put Uganda in the fourth position among the seven new places ready to be discovered.

Despite all this and more older accolades, the tourism industry remains crawling in its growth which Rwamwiri attributes to lack of follow up. He recalls the visit by the holly wood stars in 2009 during ‘Friend a gorilla’ campaign who had pledged to help in marketing Uganda but years after, the efforts disappeared in thin air because no one followed them up.

Uganda has all it takes to beat its competitors in the tourism market if only they could put the last spark on the already ‘fueled wood’. What the country now needs is vigorous marketing and publicity to make it known in the existing wide market. With the new commitment from government through Uganda Tourism Board and the development of the 5 year tourism master plan, there are hopes that the industry could yield more fruit in the near future.

If the country wakes up to these opportunities and gets resources in place as well as carry an comprehensive follow up of its important guests, the sky will be the only limit for its success in the tourism market.