The data are contained in a World Bank report which focused on a detailed analysis of Uganda’s tourism sector, and put tourism to 38 percent of the country’s exports (invisible) while contributing over 5.5 percent of the GDP.
A base survey undertaken last year also revealed that departing passengers, sampled at Entebbe International Airport, comprised about a third of all travelers coming to the Pearl of Africa for purposes of business, 20 percent falling into the category of VFR, aka Visiting Friends and Relatives – generally thought to explore with them the national parks and other attractions – 17 percent were described as leisure travelers, 5 percent came for religious purposes, for instance to attend the Martyrs’ Day celebrations or visit the Bahai Temple, the only one in Africa while a mere 2 percent came to visit for unspecified cultural purposes.
The survey also revealed incumbent challenges with infrastructure and transport as well as the quality of services encountered.
The information came into the public domain at a time when the tourism private sector is openly accusing the government of doing little more than paying lip service to the tourism industry, talking about plans and intentions but year after year failing to facilitate the Uganda Tourism Board, and the Ministry of Tourism, with sufficient funds to actually carry out their mandate in promoting the country abroad. Taxation measures like the introduction with little notice of 18 percent VAT on resort and lodge accommodation as well as on tourism services was also condemned in strong terms as ‘an irresponsible act aimed to punish tourism, driving companies to the brink of bankruptcy and complete failure by government to even begin to understand tourism and how tourism works’. Some sources, on condition of anonymity, went as far as describing certain initiatives and appointments as ‘complete and utter failures’ at the expense of strengthening the tourism board, while also letting fly vis a vis the bureaucrats in the ministry, in some cases described as ‘deadwood’.
Sentiments certainly were running high after the budget proposals were made, which left the Uganda Tourism Board with a proposed budget of only 250 million Shillings, which compares miserably with the rest of the region.
‘Tourism could to much better. The World Bank study is specific how much the country could benefit if every tourist would spend just one more night, or if we could attract just 100.000 more tourist visitors. But with the finances not there, we have really no facilitation from government. Whatever initiatives they talk about are either not matched by budgets or one off scenarios which are not helping the sector medium and long term. Remember the wasted CNN campaign – no follow up, or the Gifted by Nature campaign – big failure for lack of follow up after some individuals ate big and the industry at large starved’ ranted another source. Leading stakeholders have of late gone on public record over their frustrations with government not facilitating a sector which has the capacity to create much needed jobs, earns instant foreign exchange and can attract FDI and local investments alike.
Uganda was in 2012 named by Lonely Planet as their top ranked destination in the world and for 2013 has National Geographic put Uganda in their top ten destinations to visit, certainly a boost and helping to raise visibility and recognition but too little to create a new Brand Uganda without major financial commitments from government, used for a change in accordance with private sector needs and wishes and not to serve the fancies of a few with no other interest but for their fees, per diems and allowances. ‘Imagine how much further Uganda could be by now if only we were given the budgets we needed. When an MP on the committee says tourism should plan better, she too has no clue. We plan, we apply for funds, we follow the budget process and still, besides words we get literally nothing. Uganda by now could be topping earnings and numbers like it did in the 60’s but our leaders simply do not seem to get our message. Yes, tourism has done well but against all the odds. Give us the money we ask for and you will see how tourism will rocket and propel the country forward’ quipped another regular source. Quo vadis Uganda Tourism … such potential, so under explored and so under exploited.