The Ministry of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities is one of Uganda’s fast-rising ministries with figures to show that it contributed close to Shs7.3 billion to Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in the financial year 2015/2016. Tourism contributes 10 per cent of GDP, according to latest statistics from the tourism ministry.
“In our planning, as government, one of our primary sectors, and specifically sectors where the growth of the economy starts from say a York of an egg, include agriculture, manufacturing, oil and gas, tourism and Information communication technology. Tourism as a sector is shaping the future of nations,” Professor Ephraim Kamuntu, the tourism minister says.
He says government is paying special interest to tourism as a sector because of the multiplier effect it has on the economy. The tourism sector is largely run by private sector players complemented by government.
Uganda contracted three firms to promote her tourism abroad. The firms are PHG for North America, Kamageo for UK and Ireland, and KPRN for Germany, Austria and Switzerland. They were contracted by Uganda Tourism Board (UTB) and started their work in July last year.
UTB was well-represented at Indaba, Africa biggest travel expo where it exhibited its permit that go for US$600, a friendly price. Uganda is, by the way, home to the biggest population of Mountain Gorillas.
Mr Ntambiko observes that Uganda is a self-selling destination given its rich and diverse tourism potential, being home to approximately 50, 000 of the world’s 150, 000 primate population.
He says the country is a birders’ paradise with at least 1,060 bird species recorded and a snow-caped mountain among other attractions.
He adds: “This way, we target different markets and audiences as tourist do not to come for a little bit of everything but instead demand a package that focuses on their need and then have it complemented with other attractions and activities.”
Tour company operators say, with a streamlined sector, a lot more can be achieved observing that this will strengthen all agencies.
The infrastructure in the parks is also well maintained. Local tourists can use their small cars to visit Uganda’s attractions.
Prof Kamuntu says government is now reaching out to realize continental advantages tourism can offer Uganda, pointing out its relations with South Africa. The two countries have a Memorandum of Understanding aimed at mutually benefitting each other’s tourism sectors.
Need to conserve nature
Celebrations to mark the World Environment Day were held in Ibanda district last Monday with the theme; ‘Connecting People to Nature’.
To explain the meaning of theme, and its context to conservation efforts, Samuel Mugisha, Managing Director of Bic Tours Limited, says that when people appreciate the value of nature, they also understand why and how they contribute to its conservation.
For example, when communities around Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, in south-western Uganda, enjoy the benefits of gorilla tourism through direct employment by working in lodges and selling their products and produce as well as getting 10 percent income that goes to the community projects, they begin to value nature and therefore connect their co-existence.
“Tourism connects people to nature. Uganda’s tourism is abundantly endowed with natural biodiversity – from savannah plains, tropical rain forests, forested mountains, fresh water lakes, crater lakes and rivers. These natural resources provide a good habitat for a variety of wildlife in Uganda,” Mr Mugisha says.
And beyond the wildlife that calls jungle home, Mr Costantino Tessarin, the director of Destination Jungle, appreciates the role ecotourism and nature walks have played in saving forests under destruction in the past 15 years, showing that the trend of deforestation is different when tourism is introduced.
Mr Tessarin cites the example of Kanyo Pabidi eco-tourism site for chimpanzee trekking which was open by 2002 and is now a well appreciated activity by tourists and Budongo Forest. It is thus a bit more protected than others
Echuya Forest, where ecotourism was recently introduced, is considered a forest and has survived destruction. The need to focus on activities like nature walks, mountain climbing, boat riding, and excursion also points to ways through which nature can be conserved given the interest they draw towards human connection to nature.