A team of market destination representatives from the Uganda Tourism Board led by Anthony Ochieng, met with select journalists in Lagos to promote and market Uganda to Nigerians as the next tourism destination in East Africa. Charles Ajunwa brings excerpts
Uganda is known as Africa’s pearl, can you tell us about your mission in Nigeria?
Uganda’s size is 241 kilometres square and the population is around 50 million. It’s also known as the Pearl of Africa because of its diverse natural endowment and beauty as described by various leaders like Winston Churchill.
Uganda tourism is steadily growing. It’s a destination which we must all start watching around. Some of Africa’s most sought-after species live in Uganda, like the Big Five, with a bonus of seeing mountain gorillas and chimpanzees.
Uganda also boasts of having the source of River Nile, the longest river in the world, home to the largest freshwater lake in Africa, you all know Lake Victoria. It has a diverse culture, amongst many other things, music festivals and many others.
Eleven per cent of the world’s bird species, including rarely seen birds like the shoebill, are found in Uganda. Uganda’s mice hub is slowly growing. It is now becoming a force to reckon with in terms of mice destination.
We’ve also got physical features like the Rwenzori Mountain, which is over 5,000 feet above sea level. It’s a very tough hiking destination. And tourism is also one of the major sectors that contributes enormously to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of Uganda.
Now why Uganda? There are so many things you can experience in Uganda. One of them is the nightlife. You can bar hop. There are various attractions you can visit in Kampala.
There are some festivals which have been conducted in Kampala, like Kampala Fashion Week, Afropolaza, etc.
Now, one of the things that we are targeting so much about this market is faith-based tourism. Under faith-based tourism, we are talking about the different denominations. And you know Uganda hosts the Namugongo Shrine. How many have heard of Namugongo Shrine? The Uganda Martyrs. From statistics, Catholics and Anglicans make the major religious stakeholders in Uganda.
In the past, we’ve also had pilgrims travelling to Uganda to experience the Uganda Martyrs celebration, which usually takes place on the 3rd of June. This year, we still do not have the statistics, but there was a sizable number of Ugandan Catholics who visited Namugongo on the 3rd of June.
It is a product that we really want to push in Nigeria, and we are requesting your support to market this product so that we can have more Nigerians visit Uganda. Not only on the 3rd of June, but also to sample other experiences within Uganda. Apart from the faith-based, we have things like adventure, wildlife, culture, cultural diversity, culinary tourism. Talking about the adventure capital of East Africa, in Uganda we have whitewater rafting, sports fishing, canoeing. From the statistics and research we’ve done, most Nigerians love entertainment tourism. They love shopping. Faith-based tourism, culture, food, that is gastronomy and culinary tourism; those are some of the products that we want to work closely with you to push the narrative to the Nigerian travellers.
So that they can be able to sample destination Uganda and learn more about the culture, learn more about adventure tourism, learn more about the gorillas. Those are some of the things.
Uganda also has so many lakes. So aqua tourism is also another product that we want to push and promote here in Nigeria to the Nigerian travellers. Other than that, we also have wildlife. There are many national parks in Uganda. Just to mention a few. Murchison Falls where River Nile passes through. We have Queen Elizabeth National Park where you’ll find the tree climbing lions. We have the Kidepo Valley National Park. Bwindi Impenetrable National Park where you’ll have the gorillas.
Lake Mburo National Park, a bird species, haven. Semliki National Park, MgaHinga Gorilla National Park and many others. Uganda is also known for filming. It’s a filming destination.
How many have watched the movie Black Panther? It was shot in Uganda. Tarzan, if you’re my age. Tarzan was shot in Uganda.
Uganda is very popular in filming. Even most recently, imirindi Yu Witeka visited Uganda and many other Hollywood stars have visited Uganda.
In terms of accessibilities, the biggest airport in Uganda is Entebbe. You all know where Entebbe is or you’ve heard about Entebbe. I’m told Entebbe is very popular in Nigeria for obvious reasons. But the main airlines, Kenya Airways, KLM, Rwanda, Dubai, Ethiopia, Qatar, Precision, Air Tanzania, all land in Entebbe.
So in terms of accessibility, 26 flights and more land in Entebbe. And Uganda also has its own airline called Uganda Airlines, the national carrier. There are plans for the national carrier to start landing here (Nigeria). So both governments are still in discussions. Hopefully, we are praying that probably this year that will happen.
Now in terms of trade associations, those are the associations, tourism associations. We have Association of Uganda Tour Operators, Uganda Tourism Association, Uganda Association of Travel Agents, Uganda Hotel Owners Association.
In the east, we have Kenya and Ethiopia. In the west, we have Nigeria. In the south, we have South Africa. In the north, we have Egypt. So Nigeria is a key source market for Uganda and therefore we cannot ignore it. So if we can get a third of the 200 million Nigerians visiting Uganda on a yearly basis, vis-a-vis Ugandans coming to visit Nigeria, it would be really, really good.
Uganda has the biggest population of gorillas. The tallest mountain in Africa is in Tanzania, second tallest in Kenya but the snoopy mountain on the Equator is in Uganda.
Dubai doubled whatever South Africans did in order to attract Nigerians to Dubai and they succeeded. For you to attract Nigerians to come to your country, what’s so special that will make any Nigerian to choose Uganda as his or her first point of call in East Africa?
From research Nigerians love entertainment tourism and Uganda is the hub of entertainment in East Africa because from Wednesday till Sunday, it’s party time. You can bar hop from one bar to the other, you can leave work on Friday, spend the entire entertainment weekend and go straight back to work on Monday. So, in terms of entertainment be it night clubs, be it social joints Uganda has it all and I believe that is what the Nigerian traveller needs.
Second, is culinary tourism and gastronomy. If you really want to touch the heart of a Nigerian, I’m talking from research, talk about good food, authentic food, organic food, you will find it all in Uganda.
Third, is religious tourism. Nigerians are known worldwide to be very religious. So faith-based tourism is one of the products that Uganda Tourism Board is going to promote and market in this source market Nigeria.
There’s also wildlife tourism, adventure tourism, aqua tourism, investment tourism amongst others. But the most important thing is fly to Uganda and experience entertainment life there – the capital city of entertainment is Kampala.
Uganda, Kenya and Nigeria are brothers and sisters together. When I look at the pattern of a Ugandan and a Nigerian, there’s not much difference. In the area of music, we are collaborating together with Nigeria.
Another thing is that in Uganda the weather is perfect, it’s such good weather that it’s not hot, it’s not cold, it’s just there. It gives you a good environment to enjoy yourself, to relax and have a peaceful stay in Uganda. When we say, Uganda is the Pearl of Africa, indeed it’s the Pearl of Africa.
What is the visa policy on arrival for Nigerians?
The visa policy is all the same in East Africa. You apply for online visa and it’s not a complex thing to do and within 24 hours you already have your visa given to you. You fly into Uganda and they stamp your visa and you are good to go. It’s only 50 dollars but when I was coming to Nigeria, they charged me quite a number of dollars. But in Uganda we are that friendly, we are that open that we want you to come and experience life.
In terms of GDP, what does your tourism sector contribute to the country’s economy?
Around eight per cent of the GPD pre-COVID. Probably COVID interfered with this but by 2024-26 it will go to 10 per cent GDP.
What about political stability?
Uganda is one of the safest countries to be and I can authoritatively say there is no war going on in Uganda, no conflicts in any part of Uganda. There’s security everywhere and in the last 10 years, there’s no report of killing of tourists in Uganda. So Uganda is safe and most stable in East Africa.
Is there collaboration between Ugandan movie producers and their Nigerian counterpart?
It’s a growing industry and we are capitalising on that to embrace film tourism. A lot of bush filming has been done and we are trying to bring up Uganda as a destination for film making. So collaboration is always open and we will relate this to the Uganda Tourism Board so that something tangible can come out of it.
What are your targets as market destination representatives for the Uganda Tourism Board?
As market destination representatives, we are marketing Uganda tourism in five source markets of Africa namely Nigeria, South Africa, Ethiopia, Kenya and Egypt. We market Uganda tourism into these source markets. We do roadshows, we do dinners and meetings like this with media personnel, tour operators, DMCs and with suppliers.
So we go into every single market and gather people together, make sure that we have a talkability about Uganda, selling Uganda tourism in these five source markets. Another thing we do as an MDR, is that we also liaise with embassies, and we work hand in hand with the High Commissions. We don’t just come in a country as us, but we come in a country to represent the Government of Uganda, Uganda Tourism Board and High Commission. We collaborate together and see what best we can do for a country like Nigeria. Mostly we work with them during independence days because in October, we have our independence day during that period of time. So, we want to see how best we can work with the High Commission of Nigeria to come up with something very good to market Uganda during that period and we want to see Nigerians come to Uganda and experience Uganda.
Apart from promoting Uganda, we are creating business between tour operators in Nigeria, tour operators in Uganda, tour operators in all these source markets and there is business that is being exchanged in these source markets. As part of our mandate, we create a database. So what we do with the database is every single month or every single week, when we have information we send out to this database. We have your contacts in our list, we send you information, newsletters at the end of every month so that you get equipped with what Uganda has to offer. You get equipped with what is happening in the tourism industry around the globe. Not only Uganda but in Africa. Also, one of the things we are supporting is inter-Africa tourism.