Sunday, December 25, 2011

Interview: Ambassador Patrick Mugoya, the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Tourism Wildlife and Heritage

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The Promota: Uganda was selected the world’s tourist destination for the year 2012 by “Lonely planet”, an international publisher of the world’s largest travel guidebook and digital media. How is Uganda Travel Bureau (UTB) taking advantage of this accolade, internationally?
Ambassador Mugoya: Uganda Tourism Board has incorporated this recognition into the country’s short term and medium term marketing campaign through a number of initiatives including; the use of social media to market the various tourism destinations and products in Uganda; encouraging destination endorsement through familiarization trips by the leading tourism suppliers and celebrities coming to Uganda.
We have emphasized this strategy in all up-coming conferences such as the Inter-Parliamentary Union Assembly due to take place in April 2012 and major National events like, the upcoming 50th Independence Anniversary Celebrations of Uganda 2012. We are urging the highest levels of political and other structures to embrace it as part of the national promotion initiative.
PM: What are Uganda’s unique selling points? Have there been any new discoveries or projects taking place?
Ambassador Mugoya: The new projects taking place include, repositioning of the Tourism sector with the creation of a fully fledged Ministry and prioritization of the sector in the National Development Plan.
By regional and international comparison, Uganda is exceptionally endowed with unique and rich ecological and cultural resources; hence the historical brand as the “Pearl of Africa” stated by Sir Winston Churchill in 1908. Over 270 tourist attraction sites have so far been recorded including 10 National Parks and 13 Wildlife Reserves, 13 Wildlife Sanctuaries, 5 Community Wildlife Areas, 506 Central Forest Reserves and 191 Local Forest Reserves. All are characterized by mosaic of landscape inhabited by and comprising a unique diversity and richness of wildlife, cultures and way of life of indigenous peoples.
Uganda’s unique selling points include the following; Uganda hosts 54% of the world’s Mountain Gorillas; the Source of the River Nile, the second longest River in the world; more than 1,150 species of birds which equates to 11% of global bird species, and more than 4,500 plant species which makes Uganda an eco-tourism paradise. And Mountain Rwenzori, situated on the Equator, is a mountaineering wonder with permanent snow throughout the year.
Uganda is home to a large number of primates and 8% of the global mammal diversity including the big five; 19% of the Africa’s amphibian species richness and 14% of Africa’s reptile species richness. White water rafting, bungee jumping and sport fishing also offer unique experiences on the River Nile.
The country has unique and rich ecological and cultural resources, and is also well known for its wide cultural heritage and excellent hospitality.
PM: Considering the 350,000 Ugandans believed to be in the UK, do you have any plans to tap into this market?
Ambassador Mugoya: Uganda is very interested in the Ugandans in the Diaspora and sees them as Ambassadors for marketing Uganda abroad. Accordingly, UTB intends to identify new clusters in which Ugandans in the Diaspora can be mobilized and sensitized so as to encourage not only themselves, but also their friends, relatives and acquaintances to visit Uganda. This will be done in collaboration and coordination with the Uganda Missions abroad, as representatives in the source markets.
PM: Uganda earns over 650 million US Dollars from over 500,000 tourists annually. Why is it that very little is invested in promoting the industry compared to other regional markets?
Ambassador Mugoya: For sometime the focus of government was on investing in sectors that would enable the economy to recover, such as agriculture, infrastructure, industry, health, education and security, after the many years of upheaval prior to 1986. Since then, a lot has been achieved and the focus is now shifting to sectors likely to further catalyze the growth of the economy such as tourism.
PM: The tourism industry was growing during the most severe economic crisis of a generation, and it was said that the number of international tourists globaly in 2012 would break through the one billion barrier. What are you doing to ensure that tourism is sustained to maintain growth?
Ambassador Mugoya: Steps being undertaken to ensure that tourism is sustained to maintain growth include; the review of Uganda’s Tourism Master plan which expired in 2003, the development of a responsive tourism marketing strategy, focusing on international, regional and domestic tourism promotion and skills development to ensure quality service delivery.
The Ministry is also positioning itself to ensure protection and sustainable utilization of Uganda’s natural and cultural heritage resources, reviewing key issues that affect the overall destination competitiveness and carrying out product development through Public Private Partnerships. We have also embarked on the promotion of domestic tourism including the formation of Tourism clubs in schools.
PM: Ugandan Embassies have always been poorly branded and under-utilised when promoting Uganda. Are there any plans to change this in par with most African countries?
Ambassador Mugoya: Embassies are an important tool for destination promotion. When poorly branded and utilized, they become a weak link in the chain for Tourism promotion. We therefore intend to brand the Embassies, identify and train personnel in order to promote tourism in source markets. We shall also increase our support to the Embassies with the necessary marketing materials.
PM: Africa is leading the world in mobile commerce with the travel industry at the forefront of the movement, reveals the WTM Global Trends Report, released in early Nvember 2011 at World Travel Market. What plans have been set up by UTB to promote tourism via technology?
Ambassador Mugoya: UTB together with other strategic Tourism Partners intends to further leverage the power of technology in promoting Uganda as an attractive tourism destination through the development of a National tourism portal and a dedicated social media campaign.
PM: Were the Ministry of Tourism’s expectations realised at the WTM?
Ambassador Mugoya: The Ministry’s expectations were well met during the World Travel Market exhibition. The ministry participated at the highest level of representation. The delegation was led by Hon. Prof. Ephraim Kamuntu, Minister of Tourism Wildlife and Heritage and included private sector participants.
Overall, the attendance at the Uganda stand was encouraging gauging from the interactions with the participants. The delegation participated in a number of activities, including the Ministerial meeting that addressed the topic ‘How Tourism can prosper during times of uncertainty’. At the Regional Ministers meeting hosted by Hon. Ephraim Kamuntu, members discussed joint marketing activities of the East African Region; a networking cocktail for Uganda’s business partners at the Uganda stand, where a number of Uganda’s Tourism attractions were highlighted and the World Travel and Tourism Council meeting.
Uganda registered a substantial number of inquiries on the country’s products, while the private sector participants signed a number of contracts with international tour operators. The interest in Uganda’s stand reflected the big potential the country has. During his stay, Hon. Ephraim Kamuntu also gave a number of press interviews.
PM: What are the best opportunities to invest in tourism in Uganda and what incentives are in place?
Ambassador Mugoya: Uganda has a favorable investment climate with a one-stop investment centre, the Uganda Investment Authority. The areas for investment include among others, accommodation, tour, travel operations and charter flights, heritage parks, and entertainment centers, water transport, angling/ sport fishing, water rafting, game ranching, restaurants, tourism and hospitality training institutions.
PM: Normalcy is back in Northern Uganda. Are there any plans to rejuvenate the tourism industry in the region especially the cultural sites?
Ambassador Mugoya: There are plans to rejuvenate the Tourism Industry in the northern region. The documentation is ongoing of the tourism sites to be put in the database for future development. The preservation of four memorial sites in conjunction with the communities, has already commenced. A strategy to promote the northern slave trade route, covering Fort Patiko, Pabo, Wadelai, Dufile and Nimule is also ongoing. The Fort Patiko trail was launched in September 2011 as part of the activities to mark the World Tourism Day. Plans are also in advanced stages to develop the Tourism facilities at the Nyero Rock paintings in Eastern Uganda.

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