Uganda sets eyes on domestic, regional markets for tourism post COVID-19
Tour operators, local destinations and tourism authorities in Uganda are turning a big chunk of their promotional artillery towards the local market to boost the sector after the country’s international tourist arrivals dropped drastically this year following several travel restrictions world over.
The move is part of the tourism sector recovery plan from the COVID-19 lockdown effects that have seen the country lose a large portion of its $1.6 billion annual earnings from the sector.
Several Safari lodges, hotels, destinations and tour operators across the country open up to the public this month at highly advertised subsidised fees and operating under strict health guidelines.
Mr Jonathan Benaiah the spokesperson of the Association of Uganda Tour Operators (AUTO) said that for long, tour operators have tried to interest Ugandans with touring the country to change the narrative of the activity being that of international guests.
“This effort is work in progress and we are seeing more local rates and packages. We will promote the local rates more during this period,” he said.
He added that further promotion of domestic tourism was necessary post COVID-19 since the average traveller will be cash strapped technically reducing visitor numbers from international source markets.
“For domestic tourism to make sense, we are going to need to partner with government and an understanding local customer base,” he added.
The Uganda Tourism Board (UTB), a government body partially mandated to promote the county’s tourism sector said that the move by the private sector is in line with its planned domestic tourism target and it will support it.
The UTB Chief Executive Officer Ms Lilly Ajarova said that the board is currently in talks with tour operators and other service providers to draft a plan for the local market.
“We have been engaging them so they can avail us with their rates and themes. UTB will help them advertise. Once we get these, we shall run campaigns to create awareness to the local population about the offers,” she said.
The country’s tourism sector has taken a huge blow from the prevailing global health crisis leading to financial losses for both government and the private sector since February this year and now puts employment of over 600,000 Ugandans on the line.
Uganda’s tourist arrivals grew by 7.4 percent from 1.402 million in 2017 to 1.505 million in 2018 and were expected to grow even more until the corona virus pandemic.
Now the country is looking inwards and to neighbours to fill the gap in its draft sector recovery plan part of it involving aggressive advertising at home and all over the continent.
The country has already spend millions of dollars in the past three years advertising its destinations in North America, Gulf States, European Union and Asia.
The sector remains the country’s largest foreign exchange earner raking in about 1.6 billion dollars in 2018.
“Internationally, marketing has to continue because if we don’t market, people will forget about us when they can travel again. So marketing has to continue. It is enhancing what we have been doing,” Ajarova said.
Domestic tourism has developed at a slow rate in Uganda mainly because of high prices charged and absolute unawareness.
Sector analysts however say that numbers of Ugandans touring the country have been growing until the pandemic.
Mr Stephen Asimwe the lead consultant at Primero Global consultants said that the local tourism sector’s increasing numbers were pushed by voluntary visits and rising investments in the tourism sector.
“It has been growing and the indicators are that more Ugandans have visited the National parks, zoo, Sipi falls among other sites,” Asimwe said adding, “Even when the numbers are not big, the local industry has grown in investments. We now have about 6 domestic flights operators and other things.”
He added that government needs to look into the idea of a stimulus package for tourism businesses.
On awareness, several youth led Ugandan travel groups have organised trips around the country mobilising on twitter and Facebook and throwing the pictures all over their timelines.
Authorities believe this has increased interest within some Ugandans to tour the country.
Travel group Take a break’s CEO Ms Lucky Agaba however said that initiatives such as theirs which target young people find it hard accessing many places they would fancy visiting because of high fees and expensive accommodation.
“We can only go to places near major towns from where we can get cheaper accommodation. So many young people who want to travel cannot afford the high prices in most of the destinations in the country,” Agaba said.
Ajarova believes that as the marketing and awareness campaigns continue, the private sector should take keen interest in investing in local destinations mainly for the budget tourists as “most of the places we have are high-end” with many of them designed for the foreign market.
“We are encouraging investment in the sectors by profiling particular destinations like the Equator, Rwenzori mountains and several others which then we ask potential investors to develop,” Ajarova said.
She added: “As we promote domestic tourism, do we have the facilities and products that satisfy the domestic market? Ugandans love adventure and we need to understand their interests and tailor them accordingly.”
Authorities last week launched new Standard Operating Procedures for the hospitality sector to ensure that both workers and guests are safe as the country starts to open up from its nearly three month lockdown.
“We are working to develop standard operation procedures for tour operators, destinations, restaurants and hotels. We have benched marked what other countries are doing too and the draft is ready,” Ajarova said.
The authorities will also do physical inspection of places that meet these standards and will be certified.