Our sector contributes 9.2 percent to the GDP of Uganda and yet we are only getting 0.14 percent in budget allocation from the overall annual budget said the Minister for Tourism Prof. Ephraim Kamuntu earlier in the week when addressing tourism stakeholders in Kampala. He asked his government colleague in the Ministry of Finance to consider a sectors contribution to the national economy when making decisions how to fund the activities of that ministry, a demand which has been made for long but regularly brushed aside in support of other sectors. Notably the budget for the Ministry of Tourism is also not protected, i.e. it can be reduced and encroached upon when cash shortage arise elsewhere and in past years this has resulted often in even less money reaching the ministry and its subordinate bodies than the little it was initially projected to receive.
There is general agreement that the tourism sector, and in particular the Uganda Tourist Board and the national Hotel and Tourism Training Institute, are poorly funded causing them to underperform as a direct result of a lack of cash. Unlike in neighbouring Rwanda and Kenya, Uganda spends the proverbial peanuts in tourism marketing, and apart from a few high profile one off actions in past years, which had no lasting effect due to lack of follow up, marketing the destination is in urgent need of funds from government, but has been denied a fair share which could substantially boost the industry, re-invigorate it a have it finally live up to its huge potential in creating jobs, earning foreign exchange and attracting further much needed investments.
Yet, the Tourism Act, which provides for a funding mechanism through a levy, has not been fully operationalised as yet, while bickering continues within government over who would collect and administer such a levy. Tourism stakeholders are opposed to the funds going first into the governments usually empty pockets, as one stakeholder put aptly put it, and demand a format where payments go directly to a dedicated fund from which the industry can draw as per agreed entitlements, similar to the way Kenya has for years been collecting their catering levy.
Also lacking still are the implementations of key areas of the country’s tourism policy, once seen as a ground-breaking vision for the entire region but now gathering dust as the ministry would need to yield a range of functions to a revamped tourist board, something which did not go down well with several ministry bureaucrats rooted in the mind-set of the 70s command and control economy.
Meanwhile are Uganda’s neighbours reaping results of their aggressive marketing campaigns, as Kenya and Rwanda keep publishing updated arrival and income figures showing significant gains compared to previous record breaking years, while Uganda stands by, almost in awe, and wonders what has gone wrong in the Pearl of Africa.