Tourism in Uganda offers new paths to economic transformation and job creation

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The Afrika Panthera Safaris team ready to explore new vistas. Photo: Violet Komuhendo
The Afrika Panthera Safaris team ready to explore new vistas. Photo: Violet Komuhendo

Uganda is one of the most biodiverse countries on the planet with millennia of history and thriving cultural traditions. But it remains an underrated tourist destination. From the royal trails across the kingdoms – Buganda, Tooro, Bunyoro-Kitara, and Busoga – to the UNESCO World Heritage site of the Kasubi Tombs, the art galleries in Kampala, and the Nyege Nyege music festival near Itanda Falls on the Nile, there is a world of activities that offer unique and memorable experiences. Developing these products and others could broaden Uganda’s appeal beyond gorilla trekking in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, which is currently the most popular attraction. Broadening the menu of tourism attractions and experiences in Uganda is critical to bringing in more tourists and increasing the potential earnings for Ugandan businesses and the private sector.

Similarly, for the hundreds of thousands of new job seekers in Uganda, tourism offers gainful employment and entrepreneurship  for guides, tour operators, hospitality workers, and marketing professionals, among many others. Tourism is also opening up new opportunities for women and youth and before the pandemic employed about 600,000 people in Uganda. While a significant proportion of tourism jobs were lost due to COVID-19, signs of recovery offer hope.

Violet Komuhendo of Afrika Panthera Safaris leads a group of women guides who come from the communities living near the Kibale National Park, the famed home of chimpanzees in Uganda. She told me that guiding in Uganda is still mostly done by men, but she is committed to supporting training for women guides in a male-dominated sector and wants to provide employment opportunities for them. For Violet to realize her ambitions, she needs help in accessing capacity building, financial support, and marketing opportunities.

Tourism in Uganda holds the key to increased job creation, increased foreign exchange earnings, enhanced domestic revenue mobilization, and a services-led economic transformation.  To realize its full potential, a multidimensional approach is needed to bring together stakeholders and offer targeted support.

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Violet’s team in a training session on wildlife photography. Photo: Violet Komuhendo
Violet’s team in a training session on wildlife photography. Photo: Violet Komuhendo

Growing Uganda’s global brand by leveraging digital platforms is essential. For many tourists, it is word-of-mouth through digital platforms like TripAdvisor and Viator which introduces them to new destinations, but few Ugandan firms are using these platforms to their full advantage.

Milca Akandinda, who leads a tour company in the Bigodi community near Kibale, is seeking to borrow money from a local bank to set up a permanent office. She owns land she has inherited from her father, which she offered as collateral. But the bank has not accepted it. She was told she would need a formal agreement from her father confirming that he had transferred the land to her. She then offered to sign that agreement with her father right then, but the bank told her doing that right before applying for the loan would be deemed “suspicious” by them. Milca’s proposal is in no way contrary to the law and required documentation of land ownership can be completed at any time prior to a loan application. Dynamic entrepreneurs like Milca are held back by the lack of widespread information about how people can formalize claims to their land.

What is clear to me from the experiences of these two women entrepreneurs, is that a lot more work is needed to improve tourism management to target support where it is likely to yield highest economic benefits for the tourism sector, including in product diversification, skills development, and access to finance, all in close collaboration with the private sector. Coordination between the center (Kampala) where decisions are made and the districts where most tourism activities take place is limited and uneven. The private sector is similarly organized across many associations. Some smaller and newer tourism enterprises report high barriers to joining such groups. At the policy level, there is no framework for managing crises emerging from pandemics, natural disasters or other global and domestic situations that have the potential to interrupt and slow down tourism in the country. The combined impact of COVID-19 and the Ebola outbreak demonstrates the urgency of developing such a framework and its relevance to broader areas of conservation and climate change adaptation and mitigation. Cross-sectoral issues, including land administration, need to be better addressed as well.

Better data collection, for example, on tourist profiles and emerging areas of growth in tourism, would address a lot of these challenges and allow for evidence-based policymaking. We are supporting the Ministry of Tourism, Wildlife, and Antiquities in the development of a Tourism Information Management System (TIMS) which would form the backbone of evidence-based policymaking in the sector under the ongoing Competitiveness and Enterprise Development Project (CEDP).

There is room to do much more to facilitate a robust, sustainable dialogue between the public and private sectors. This is essential to better target scarce public resources. Sector management, in the public and private spheres, needs to be professionalized. There is scope for scaling up public-private partnerships to maintain and build sites and attractions. Encouraging innovative new products −like heritage and cultural tourism, culinary tourism, agro-tourism in coffee and tea estates, and development of community tourism featuring Uganda’s diversity− offer viable avenues for growth and a brighter future for Uganda.

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Qursum Qasim

Private Sector Specialist

Join the Conversation

celia Verity Namyalo
May 15, 2023

Great article Qursum. Uganda indeed needs to see the small scale women entrepreneurs in the tourism sector especially the ones in the rural areas at the source of tourist attractions breaking out of the "stone" ceiling to rise into big time business moguls when an enabling environment is provided. Go for it Violet and Milca and all the others.

Gamusi Dalton Charles
June 23, 2023

I would love to get opportunities in this field I am just a third year student, find a way to persue in tourism sector.

Ssebaggala Ivan Lauren
May 15, 2023

This is real business, been to Sipi falls tour in eastern Uganda, only male guides , lets involve more ladies in the business. Uganda’s tourism industry is still vibrant. It needs players from marketing the so many tourist sites like Dolwe Islands , Sezibwa falls, etc that are historical but little known. Accommodation and transportation are all opportunities to tap in to aid tourism business boom.

Primo Behaisa
May 15, 2023

Tourism is nice

Bruce Tushabe
May 15, 2023

I love this and I agree. Tourism has a lot of potential to change many people's lives

Ajena Jafar
May 15, 2023

Thank you for this blog. It does capture the reality of what is occurring with Uganda's tourism.

Sadly, the youth in the sector are barely supported. The World Bank CEDP's funds are given only to established operators. The also focuses on your operators and accommodation providers only leaving out other players like transporters, guides, events organizers, content creators.

I run an initiative called the Tourism Promoters Club which unites all the players in one community. I can confirm that the only support given to youth initiatives came from the Agha Khan Foundation and Mastercard Foundation's Young Africa Works.

Young people need access to funds if their businesses are to flourish. We need funds to acquire equipment, buy vehicles, fund the development and marketing of our tech initiatives & events.

We have a community of more than 150 young tourism, travel and hospitality business owners.

Mitchelle Susan Lanyero
May 15, 2023

I'm interested, please tag me on the next episode or training. I love nature, I love wildlife, I love my country

Herbert
May 15, 2023

Excellent!Thank you for taking the time to visit areas of western Uganda and interacting with the business community. It is appreciated that you have shown an interest in listening to the challenges faced by local businesses. I wholeheartedly agree that we must diversify and offer more products to attract a greater number of tourists, thus creating more job opportunities.

Cultural heritage tourism, agrotourism, and adventure tourism are essential if we are to generate employment. However, we also need to focus on developing wildlife-related activities such as birding, butterfly and reptile watching, and photography, as they appeal to dedicated tourists who tend to stay longer in the country, thereby generating more income and employment opportunities.

It is crucial that we invest more effort in developing these activities to promote them to tourists. We must also ensure that we protect our wildlife and its habitats to enable tourists to enjoy these activities sustainably. This would not only benefit our economy, but it would also help in the conservation of our precious wildlife.

In conclusion, diversifying our tourism offerings and developing wildlife-related activities is the way to go if we want to create more jobs and generate more revenue. Thank you once again for taking the time to visit Western Uganda

LIlia Kamusiime
May 15, 2023

My name is Lilian. A female tourist guide. Ready to learn more from this great opportunity.

Francis Mugoga
June 23, 2023

Great piece.
Thanks for bringing this out.

martin mauchi
July 14, 2023

There is no doubt that there is great potential in uganda's tourism sector . we can even try to develop rural tourism which is lying dormant . for example when i look at the beautiful hills and land scape in places like kigezi and Bugisu as well as sebei sub regions, there is need to develop rural tourism . i offer myself to take peolple around the beautiful sceneries in Bududa

Akopan Julius Patrick
July 14, 2023

How can one get tourist attractions funds in Uganda

Michael Grant
September 28, 2023

Good work!

Sheylah
November 03, 2023

Amazing!

Mubiru Vicent
January 31, 2024

Fort Portal tourist city is city without tourist activities but it is a center where tourists pass to go tourist sites like Queen Elizabeth national park, Sempaya hot springs and Kibaale national park for chimpanzee tracking. in order to address this challenge, We have developed a concept note for transforming Fort Portal into a sustainable, gender friendly, green tourist city. We shall use 3 business models namely; Theory of change, Social innovation platform and Women friendly planning tool kit. We request your institution to participate with us in addressing this complex development challenge. We intend to support women and youth to boost the tourism industry as well as reducing the negative effects of climate change.