The United States government, through their international development agency, USAID, has set aside some US$6 million to support conservation and tourism activities over the next 5 years in Uganda. This is commendable – stepping into the breach left by grotesquely insufficient budget allocation by government to the sector, in particular towards marketing the country and supporting vocational training in the sector through the orphaned Hotel and Tourism Training Institute in Jinja.
USAID in recent years has invested about US$30 million in conservation related projects across the country to promote biodiversity and protect or restore ecosystems thought to be of critical importance to nature and wildlife-based tourism.
The program however, must also be taken with a grain of salt, as the professed aim to promote more tourism to Uganda is often impacted by the US State Department’s anti-travel advisories, against Uganda and other countries in the region.
Uganda’s biodiversity is rivaled by few other countries across the globe and with daily international air connections by leading international airlines, has the capability to receive substantially more visitors, yet is poorly marketed abroad due to chronic lack of sufficient funding for the tourist board’s activities. It is, therefore, overall commendable that reportedly some of the funds now set aside will also be used in marketing support, mirroring similar efforts by the European Union (EU) some years ago.
The EU’s “Uganda Sustainable Tourism Development Program,” however, has almost entirely evaporated due to lack of follow up by the responsible ministry and government at large, as was highlighted in the final report and program analysis prepared for the EU by a team of consultants. Unless there is a major shift in emphasis towards supporting tourism and conservation with funds, and not just words, the country’s tourism potential may remain below par for some more time to come, benefitting our neighbors, where tourism has indeed been given the high economic priority status the industry so much deserves.