Africa Tourism review could have ranked Uganda’s tourism sector as the fastest growing in Africa, but experts believe the country is not doing much to march the hype.
“We have the potential to beat Kenya but our industry has gone to the dogs,” Benedict Ntale, leader of the Ugandan delegation at the recently concluded Magical Kenya Tourism Expo in Nairobi, said.
“We have more animal species but our policies are poor.”
Magical Kenya is a world renowned annual event held to showcase the best of Kenya’s tourism. This year’s fete attracted over 400 exhibitors and hosted thousands of guests. The Ugandan team was first taken on a week-long tour of Kenya’s national parks, zoos, hotels and beaches where they were treated to the best in game drives, rich wilderness and plush beaches and hotels.
“How do we expect to develop our tourism when national parks are being given away and government simply watches as people encroach on gazetted areas?” Ntale asked as the group toured the electric-fenced 767sq/km Aberdare national park.
Ol Pajeta Conservancy, a privately-owned zoo located in the northern district of Laikipia, was also a source of excitement. Here, Ugandans learnt that Kenya’s chimpanzee populace is steadily growing despite the country not naturally having the primates. But following Kenya’s strong conservancy policy, 50 chimps have been adopted from neighbouring countries.
The chimp sanctuary at Ol Pajeta alone fetches over $400m (about Shs 1bn) every year. Ugandans were also impressed with the level of organisation at the expo since Uganda has no know national tourism exhibition. South African tour operators complained of lack of ready information about Uganda.
“I had some clients who wanted to do gorilla trekking in Uganda but I could not send them there because I did not know the place,” said Analia Bello who runs the South Africa-based travel agency, Zar Travel.
“You (Ugandan Tourism Board) need to take advantage of the internet and such functions [the expo] to market your tourism,” Bello advised.
The Ugandan travel agents say government is not doing much to help the situation. In Kenya, the Kenya Association of Tour Operators (KATO) offers soft loans to their members.
“It is very expensive to operate a safari company and such loans would be a big boost,” Moses Kibirango, the MD Maranatha Travel & Tours company, said.
The tourism industry is Kenya’s leading generator of foreign exchange – it contributed over $97.9bn to this year’s GDP, up from 2011’s $73.7bn.