Uganda is one of the world’s 19 ‘mustsee’ tourist destinations in the next year 2019, according to a ranking by National Geographic Traveller (UK), a reputable international magazine. Uganda is placed 16th on the ‘Cool List 2019’ unveiled on Tuesday, which highlights top destinations chosen for their unique tourism attributes.
The ranking cites futuristic cityscapes and modernist architecture to pristine rainforest and rehabilitated wildlife among the major attractions. Four African countries (Eritrea, South Africa, Uganda and Zimbabwe) have made the list, highlighting the continent’s growing tourism potential. Setouchi city in Japan tops the destination list.
According to National Geographic’s citation, tourists who visit Uganda will be enchanted by mountain gorillas, and the timing is right since gorilla tracking permits will remain at $600 until mid2019. The lower rates make Uganda a preferred destination compared to Rwanda, which doubled the price of its gorilla tracking permits to $1,500 in 2017.
Uganda is home to over half of the world’s endangered mountain gorillas. An estimated 1,000 mountain gorillas are spread across national parks in Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and Mgahinga National Park are the two mountain gorilla sanctuaries in Uganda, while Virunga and Volcanoes national parks in Rwanda and Congo are the other sanctuaries respectively.
Tourism is Uganda’s leading foreign exchange earner, generating $1.43b (sh5.4 trillion) in 2017, followed by remittances from Ugandans working abroad at $1.2b (sh4.5 trillion). Uganda targets to increase earnings from tourism to $1.953b by 2020. Sam Mwandha, the executive director of Uganda Wildlife Authority, said the validation by National Geographic was an opportunity to attract more visitors, but also a challenge to provide a good service.
“We are working to improve the transport, customer care,lodging and other facilities across the value chain so that tourists have agood experience when they come here,” he said.
The endorsement comes amidst a push by the Government to aggressively market Uganda to the world through its missions abroad, international expos and private marketing firms. Earlier this year, the Government renewed contracts of three international public relations firms to promote Uganda as a tourist destination in China, Japan and the Gulf states.
The three firms are PHG Consulting for the North America market, Kamageo for the United Kingdom (UK) and Ireland; and KPRN for the Germanspeaking Europe. The three firms were initially paid $1.5m (sh5.6b) in 2016 to market Uganda in North America, UK, Ireland, Canada, USA, Germany, Austria and Switzerland.
Players expect growth
Amos Wekesa, who runs one of the largest tourist operations in Uganda — Great Lake Safaris — said the endorsement by National Geographic would drive tourist numbers. “Every country survives on endorsement. The endorsement means next year will be a good time for business. Occupancy rates have shot up from 25% to over 60%,” he disclosed.
Wekesa said potential revenues from gorilla tracking were huge and any campaign to draw tourists to Uganda would be a blessing to all players in the sector. Apart from primates, Uganda is unrivalled on the continent as a birdwatching destination with over 1,000 species of birds, many of them to be found nowhere else on the planet. Earlier this year, National Geographic explorer Alexander Braczkowski spent six months following a pride of tree-climbing lions before they were poisoned at Queen Elizabeth National Park.
The explorer started a GoFundMe page to raise money to start a fund to compensate villagers for loss of their livestock by predators, with hope that lions and villagers will better coexist. A citation by National Geographic praises Uganda for the steady growth of its gorilla population, describing it as one of Africa’s great conservation success stories. However, the prospect of oil exploration in the region, along with the influx of workers and heavy equipment for the work, are also feared to force the endangered primates away from their pristine sanctuaries.