On Monday, Uganda joined the rest of the world to commemorate World Tourism Day celebrated under the theme “Tourism for Inclusive Growth”.
The theme is aimed at ensuring the sector draws in marginalized communities and empower them to benefit from decent jobs, cultural preservation and conservation.
This aligns with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that place emphasis on the participation of local communities in the tourism sector as key to enabling wealth redistribution and collective development.
“For decades, the tourism business was for a select few, educated, rich and well connected enough to inject big bucks into things like hefty registration and expensive tour vehicles,” Brian Namanya, founder of digital platform Tubayo, says about breaking into the tourism industry.
Namanya says that as the technology gap gets narrower, it is redistributing the business opportunities to startups as well as locals who can earn an income as tour guides in their community.
“The internet has removed barriers of entry from the industry. One no longer needs a physical office address but a profile on an app to meet their customers. A tour guide in the ghetto just needs a few internet bundles to reach their customer who wants a trip around Kampala,” he says.
In Northern Uganda, Loremi Tours is entirely redefining tourism, veering away from eco-tourism to indigenous culture.
Gloria Adyero, its founder, says the Tour and Travel Company seeks to develop livelihoods by encouraging the community to participate in tourists’ activities including hosting and sharing their culture with guests. So far, the company is making strides with community tourism among the Acholi people.
“We are now linking tourists to cultural experiences, where members of the community host visitors and allow them to participate in activities like shea butter or peanut butter processing,” Adyero says.
She believes that in creating value chains in tourism and experiences that are not alien and exclusive of host communities, tourism becomes beneficial, empowering and sustainable. It provides a livelihood for communities while reinforcing indigenous existence.
This year the World Tourism Day comes at a time when the sector is experiencing revenue losses, closures of businesses and loss of human resources or jobs. Sharing insights into the status of the sector, the Senior Public Relations Officer of the Uganda Tourism Board (UTB), Sandra Natukunda, says over a five-year period (2016-2020), the contribution to Gross Domestic Product (GDP) grew in the first three years from Shs6 trillion in 2016 to Shs8 trillion in 2018. It had a brief fall in the subsequent two years from Shs8 trillion in 2018 to Shs2 trillion in 2020.
Natukunda points out that with a contribution of 2.5 percent to the GDP in 2020, this has been the lowest contribution of the tourism sector to Uganda’s GDP in the last 10 years and the pandemic is to blame. In regards to encouraging sector recovery and inclusion, UTB is doing a few things.
Guided by the trends in 2020 that showed that the majority (99.8%) of tourists were Ugandan visitors, the sector has pivoted business to capitalize on domestic tourism. It has also innovated to entice international tourists to experience destination Uganda.
“Many tourism operators are running subsidized rates that are aimed to increase arrivals and stay in the facilities during the periods of relaxed restrictions. This will keep the revenue of tourism flowing into local communities and increase the amount of people benefiting from the value chain,” Natukunda says.
In addition to the above, they are also focusing on encouraging product diversification such as selling products online or expanding the range of products and experiences. Other key players are coming together to ensure that the sector survives and forges a new path in what has become a new reality.
Under Young Uganda Tour Operators (YUTO), a group of youth who own Small Medium-Sized Enterprises (SMEs) in tourism are combining efforts to address the various challenges they find in the Tourism and Hospitality sector. YUTO Operations Lead, Steven Mukalazi says while Uganda’s tourism is doing poorly at this point YUTO member companies are concentrating on boosting domestic tourism.
The strategy is to design tour packages that suit the local market in price and appeal. They are doing this through aggressive marketing on social media platforms and creating partnerships with Uganda Tourism Board. Mukalazi hopes that in encouraging domestic tourism, local communities that host tourists will be able to eke a living. The Innovation Village has been working along other stakeholders as well.
As an ecosystem that seeks to increase innovation through unlocking the potential of entrepreneurs in every sector, the belief is that investment facilitation and sector innovation can deliver a more inclusive and sustainable growth even in the areas with traditionally-marginalized communities.
Currently within its ecosystem are young entrepreneurs like Tubayo and Loremi Tours among others who are given the necessary support including networking and mentorship opportunities to disrupt the sector.
In March 2021, The Innovation Village organized an Agri-Tourism Expo in Mbarara to highlight opportunities that arise from merging Agriculture and Tourism. It further explored how farmers can fuse agriculture into tourism and be part of a long and lucrative value chain.