UGANDA (eTN) – President Yoweri Museveni used a meeting held at State House Entebbe earlier in the week to discuss his presidential tourism initiative to lay heavily into the strategy and mindset of the Uganda Tourism Board (UTB), which he accused of making mistakes, claiming it lacks seriousness and originality.
The United National Development Program (UNDP) has been searching for a consultant to help UTB develop a new outlook, marketing strategy, and policy for the coming years, due to start work by the end of April, but considering that tourism organizations in neighboring Kenya and Rwanda, and even as far as the Seychelles, came up with award-winning strategies in-house, it is a telling sign that the country’s President needs to spell out what has been an open secret in the corridors of the tourism industry in the country.
The President minced no words when he mocked UTB as the “Uganda Temporarily Board,” accusing them of “killing tourism” instead of promoting it.
In fairness though, and here several key stakeholders felt that all the facts should be looked upon in subsequent conversations and mails, it is government after all which has kept UTB on a hamstrung budget, barely enough to meet recurrent expenditure, with hardly enough money to attend a handful of tourism events abroad, unlike the country’s main competitors, which attend tourism trade shows, hold road shows, and cram events around the world.
It was also pointed out to this correspondent that neither the existing tourism policy nor the existing tourism law has been fully implemented, with special mention of the tourism levy, which was meant to help finance a re-organized UTB and allow it to effectively compete on level terms with its main competitors.
Said a regular source: “The tourism board had this coming for a while, because they are like a rudderless ship or a ship without a captain. But government is as much at fault. They appointed the tourist board chief, they appointed the board members, and they, the same government, starves the institution of money. They have been doing some one off events in the past and made a lot of fuss about it, but what is required is consistency. None of those past activities has seen any follow up, and the action, and the money spent, like a few years ago on a CNN campaign, just evaporated.
“You keep writing about Seychelles and how they have reversed the rot of a few years ago, and I can only go by what you wrote, but it seems they are doing a lot better by engaging with the media, with airlines, with the private sector, and they are succeeding. Kenya is also a good example, their KTB [Kenya Tourist Board] is everywhere something happens and so is Rwanda. If I compare ourselves with the biblical figures who got the talents to work with, we put our talents and opportunities into a dark corner instead of turning them in to profit. We have too many attractions, too many unique sights, the lake, the rivers, the mountains and all, and yet, the world looks on us like a gorilla destination only. Others have diversified; we have not lived up to our potential.
“The Lonely Planet made us the world’s top destination for 2012; this year it is the 50th anniversary of our independence, and where are we with the preparations? If anything happens, it seems to be a state secret, but we more suspect that little unique and creative is coming from it. UTB needs change, UTB needs money, the ministry needs money, but our government is big in lip service and very small in funding the sector.”
Harsh words from the President and a critical view from a key stakeholder who attended the meeting at State House, but echoed by a number of others since. Quo Vadis (where are you going) Uganda Tourism – time to own up, shape up, or ship out? Time will tell which way to go, but it has to happen fast as the October 9 Independence Day is now only just over 5 months away.