By Lilly Ajarova, CEO – Uganda Tourism Board
In my opening address at this year’s 5th Pearl of Africa Tourism Expo (POATE) held in February, under the theme- PromotingIntra-African Travel, I told stakeholders that for Uganda to have a sustainable tourism sector, there was a need for us to rethink our tourism market with more focus on Africa and Uganda. Fast forward, around March, a month after POATE, Covid-19 spread across the world. Overnight, the tourism sector and economies across the world came to a halt.
A number of discussions on how the sector will bounce back have been initiated at policy level through our Ministry, at Uganda Tourism Board, private sector and global organisations such as the United Nations World Travel Organisation; with whom we are working closely.
Globally, the tourism industry is among those industries that are being keenly looked at on how it will navigate through the Covid-19 pandemic. How well the sector bounces back means a lot to economies and individual livelihoods.
In the case of Uganda, tourism contributed 7.7% to the GDP in FY2018/2019 and has been the topmost forex earner for the last 5 years. The sector also contributes a total of over 670, 000 jobs to the economy, in addition to collectively protecting and conserving the country’s rich and natural resources.
While the discussions around post-Covid-19 recovery continues, there is a need to talk about what we shall be doing once we are back to the ‘new normal”. The disruption cannot allow us to go back to business as usual mode. His Excellency, the President, Yoweri Kaguta Museveni has guided that a lot will need to change in the country and that the disruption caused by COvid-19 presents an opportunity for import substitution.
Even for the tourism sector, there is a need to further refocus our business strategies, with a major focus on revitalizing domestic tourism as the global tourism industry recovers. More specifically, we shall need to look at product diversification, identifying new markets, bridging the skill gap, and marketing destination Uganda more than ever. Whatever we choose to do next should benefit a lot from the lessons this crisis has taught us – adaptation.
Tourism as a sector moving forward must look at inclusive growth; for example in the case of domestic tourism ensure that locals play key roles and benefit a lot from tourism activities in their community. Let’s also not forget that consumer confidence has been greatly impacted by the pandemic which means going forward people will be more aware and cautious about where they choose to travel to. For the sector, it’s time to prepare for a different type of consumer and be ready to meet the challenges they come with- the biggest challenge being regaining their confidence. We thank the president and the Ministry of Health for the national communication on the COVID-19 pandemic and its management as this plays a key role in traveler confidence going forward.
No one should expect the growth in numbers to happen instantaneously. It’s going to take concerted and deliberate effort to ensure domestic tourism numbers grow post- Covid-19 lockdown and the subsequent end of the pandemic. This is of course with the interventions mentioned earlier. Partnerships and collaborations across the public and private sectors will play a big role when it comes to supporting the post-recovery phase. Competition is healthy but if an opportunity for collaboration presents itself, we must grab it.
In conclusion, despite the challenges the industry faces now, it’s upon the players and stakeholders in the sector to keep reminding themselves of what the tourism sector is and has been for many years. This is a time to rise and be at the forefront of any efforts that will be put in place to ensure it recovers. Tourism needs us and we must show up. If we can’t do tourism for now, then let’s at least talk about tourism.