Uganda reaps less in the tourism sector than what would have otherwise been huge financial returns if the sector is well managed and revamped.
In this regard, the World Bank in its recent economic update for Uganda suggested that the country should make significant improvements in the sector, which is key to fast-track economic growth and an antidote to relentless borrowing which has engulfed the nation in a debt trap.
It should be noted that the sector is not adequately funded. In the recently approved UGX 52.74 trillion budget for FY 2023/24 which started on July 1st, the government allocated only UGX 249 billion for promoting the tourism sector.
On top of developing an integrated policy framework to clarify sectoral roles and responsibilities, the Bank called for heightened efficiency of government spending and the establishment of a formal collaboration mechanism across all tourism agencies and departments to advance common objectives efficiently.
The global financial institution says while wildlife and nature will continue to be essential elements of Uganda’s value proposition for tourists, a lot is still desired.
The Bank indicates that there is an urgent need to diversify and broaden the bundle of tourism products the country can offer as tourist segments seek more authentic experiences and will seek to interest themselves in new/unique products.
“It is here that Uganda is likely to be more competitive in the region where more advanced destinations like Kenya and Tanzania also prioritize nature-based tourism,” the Bank says adding that it is essential to maintain a consistent or increasing level of funding for a sector.
World Bank also urged the government to review existing agencies as well as strengthen links between national and local authorities, especially district-level tourism officers, vital for streamlining operations and ensuring effective utilization of resources
Besides, the Bank implored the government to invest heavily in regular data collection focused on developing consumer profiles, especially in the emerging tourism markets to inform policymaking.
It also calls for the government to review the effectiveness of hiring agencies abroad to assess the viability of their operations. For instance, the Bank noted that a significant amount of money is spent to hire market-destination representatives, but it is unclear whether these representatives are meeting their targets or how these targets are in tandem with challenges facing the country’s tourism sector.
The economic update also calls on players to adhere to the best practice principles for corporate governance by implementing transparent and robust selection criteria for board members of tourism agencies and ensuring private-sector representation.
“Board members should be appointed based on a mix of technical and strategic criteria…adequate accountability and transparency measures should be put in place to avoid conflicts of interest,” reads the update in part.
The update also recommends that there is a need to establish a public-private dialogue to strengthen collaboration on tourism policy development and implementation, besides setting up an independent secretariat to coordinate the suggested efforts.
Nevertheless, the Bank called upon authorities in Kampala to revamp the existing tourism sites. For instance, the financial institution says that despite being recognized as Uganda’s first Tourism City in 2022, Fort Portal, positioned strategically near three national parks, numerous under-the-radar crater lakes, and significant Tooro Kingdom heritage sites, still lacks crucial amenities such as a marked heritage trail or a public map of key attractions.
With the emerging interest in arts and cultural tourism by key source markets like US, UK, and Canada, the Bank says it is essential to capitalize on this interest by developing new products to engage tourists according, to the report.
The government also needs to undertake comprehensive, meticulously crafted advertising strategies and public relations campaigns to market what Uganda has to offer in the tourism sector, according to the update.
The Bank says Uganda needs to shift from the traditional marketing approach that focuses primarily on industry events to a more innovative approach such as new technologies and emerging travel-tech startups to grow the sector and contribute to the country’s economic growth.
It should be noted that little is known worldwide about Uganda’s impressive flora and fauna, and other tourist attractions like numerous water bodies, and cultural sites, waterfalls all of which can lure leisure goers to come to this East African landlocked country and have an unlimited experience. Uganda has instead focused on the traditional approach of marketing its tourism products, whose influence has waned over time.