By Daudi Migereko, Chairman Uganda Tourism Board
The Uganda Tourism sector is set for better days following its participation at the Expo Dubai 2020. As you remember tourism has been one of the worst-hit sectors as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, however, this trajectory is set to change in light of the strategic marketing initiatives fronted by the Government and UTB set for Expo Dubai 2020. It is important to note that Uganda’s representation reached over 5 million potential tourists in the Gulf States and conversions will be made through travel inquiries and confirmed tourism bookings. At this Expo, Uganda has already signed investment MOUs of approximately US$ 1 billion; once actualized will also boost our tourism numbers. Coupled with this was the launch of Uganda Airlines on this route to ease and enhance travel arrangements to and from the Gulf states.
Uganda’s participation clearly presented an excellent way and opportunity to build our brand, establish and foster industry connections, learn more about the competitors, keep up to date with the emerging marketing trends in the tourism industry and establish Destination Uganda in this new market.
The government of Uganda made a decision to participate in this Dubai 2020 Expo. H.E. President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni met His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai at the Uganda pavilion on 3rd October 2021. His Excellency Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, Minister of Tolerance and Coexistence and Commissioner-General of Expo 2020 Dubai, was also in attendance and spoke about mutual partnership opportunities especially on cultural diversity, agriculture processing and tourism. Sheikh Nahyan extolled, Uganda’s “meaningful participation” under the theme “right place, right time” and said that this underscored Uganda as a “country of many opportunities, from its unparalleled natural beauty, endowed with diverse wildlife and landscapes, to its strategic investment opportunities across multiple sectors.”
On his part, President Museveni highlighted the many competitive opportunities Uganda has to offer in the areas of investment, trade and tourism. Uganda Export Promotion Board (UEPB) together with our Embassy in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have played the lead role in coordinating Uganda’s participation. UTB, other government agencies and the private sector benefitted out of the fact that none other than President Museveni of Uganda, accompanied by the Rt Hon Speaker of Parliament and senior Ministers graced the Dubai Expo by attending and actively participating in the same, in person. He marketed the country; Uganda’s touristic attractions and what Uganda has to offer.
Presidential Special Envoy- Rt. Hon Ruhakana Rugunda, Minister of Tourism, Hon Tom Butime, other Ministers and officials remained behind to drum up the President’s message and to address business meetings/ engagements arranged to promote and market Destination Uganda.
Our duty at UTB has been to take advantage of the opportunities opened up for us by H E the President and other leaders, do a follow-up and pursue new travel, investment and business opportunities as are being presented through this Expo. We are working closely with our mother Ministry in this regard.
Fortunately, UAE is one of the priority countries that Uganda has been targeting in terms of tourism, trade and investment. UAE and Dubai in particular is a meeting point of all world cultures and businesses. This makes it easy to market Destination Uganda, worldwide. Presently, UAE is Uganda’s leading trade partner in the Middle East with our export portfolio standing at US$ 1.5 billion. UAE is also ranked 3rd as a source of FDI to Uganda following China and India. There is always a positive nexus between Trade, Investment and Tourism. UTB, therefore, seeks to capitalize on this nexus as we participate in the Dubai expo and in our business projections. The importance of Uganda participating in the Dubai Expo and the opportunities it offers was very well documented in a 22 page supplementary in the Khaleej Times, the leading newspaper, with the highest readership in all 7 Gulf states. In Uganda, this important matter has been the subject of well-written articles by Amb. Zaake Kibedi, Ms Birungi Mugisha, Ms Olive Kigongo, Hon. Kafufu Balidawa, to mention but a few.
Uganda Tourism Board whose mandate is centred around the promotion and marketing of Uganda’s Tourism endowments and available investment opportunities set out to create tourism trade opportunities with over 130 high-end travel trade partners in Dubai and Abu Dhabi on the sidelines of the Expo. These trade opportunities were exploited within the framework of Roadshows. Roadshows are one of the best avenues that UTB uses to share knowledge, meet industry experts, build business relationships and of course, sell Uganda to the outside world. With this framework, the tour operators can showcase their products and services and meet prospective partners. At the Dubai Expo and the two Roadshows, UTB organized with the support of our Embassy and our Market Destination Representatives (MDR); Aviareps Middle East, it was possible to meet top buyers, exhibitors and provide a platform to the Ugandan delegation plenty of opportunities to network, learn and sell travel. The Ugandan delegation was mainly comprised of private sector members.
The two tourism Roadshows at the JW Marriot Marquis in downtown Dubai and Sofitel Corniche in Abu Dhabi greatly endeared the Pearl of Africa to the tourism in these countries and will enhance Uganda’s presence in the minds of travellers and investors in the Gulf Cooperation Council – GCC (i.e. United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Oman, Kuwait and Bahrain). Before the onset of COVID-pandemic, Uganda was receiving, on average, slightly over 13,000 tourists from the GCC countries.
The teams also met with decision-makers at the Emirates Group Holidays, Fly Dubai Holidays and made a courtesy call on DNATA, a leading tour operator that specializes in travel by royal families, corporate companies and expatriates from the UAE. These firms organize exquisite tour packages to over 120 destinations around the world and Uganda was added to these itineraries. Some of these firms are already involved in preparing for the planned visits of high ranking Royal, state and business groups that have since committed to coming to Uganda in response to the invitation extended to them by H E President Museveni. As a country and the tourism industry we should be prepared to tap into the Gulf States Migration and the associated media value that follows the high ranking royals and business magnets.
The leadership of the Uganda Hotel Owners Association (UHOA) and that of the Tour Operators (AUTO) fully participated. As part of the Tourism, Trade and Industry Forum at the Hyatt Regency Hotel – Dubai, the expo created enormous networking opportunities for tourism investment, hotel partnerships, supplies and laid a firm foundation for future investments by leading hotel chains and tour companies in Uganda. As a result, a world-class Emirates City with renowned hotel brands is planned in Uganda following the country’s participation at the expo.
We are optimistic that as the gates close to Dubai 2020 Expo in March 2022, a ripple effect will be registered by the tourism sector for a long period to come. UTB will continue to follow up on the business leads registered and generate more leads as part of the positive effects of participating in the Dubai 2020 Expo. We commend the leadership at the Ministry of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities, the team at UTB, UTA UHOA, AUTO and the private sector for the role played at the Expo as such helping to ensure faster recovery of Uganda’s tourism. Meantime, the limitations imposed on the industry by COVID-19 and the drive for digital or virtual marketing needs to be appreciated. Indeed, the organizers have taken note of the weaknesses and disappointments raised at the start of the Expo. We would like to assure Ugandans that corrective measures are being pursued to ensure optimal utilization of resources and maximization of returns from this Expo.
We take this opportunity to rally Ugandan decision-makers to avail resources to invest in making destination Uganda – the Pearl of Africa – attractive and competitive by international standards. From the Dubai Expo it became clear that The Equator, Source of the Nile, Bwindi, the Game Parks and Mt Rwenzori are going to attract many tourists. What is now needed are constructive meetings, engagements, statements and positive media coverage to ensure we do whatever it takes, for the country to ready ourselves, to benefit from the Dubai Expo in the immediate to long term. This is important; more so that we are soon receiving a high-powered delegation from UAE following the invitation of H E the President. Indeed, much more business and tourism delegations are likely to follow.