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It was all smiles for Uganda at the 2012 International Tourism Bourse held in Berlin in Germany, where it appeared among the winners for the first and was voted the third best exhibitor.
Uganda’s Minister of Tourism Wildlife and Heritage Prof Ephraim Kamuntu said Uganda has competed for the award since its inception more than a decade ago but without success.
“We emerged third this year in the African category behind Burundi and Morocco,” Prof Kamuntu said.
The award comes barely two months after Lonely Planets, the world’s largest travel guidebook and digital media publisher, and New York Times, nominated Uganda in December 2011 and January 2012, respectively as the best place to visit this year.
In October 2011, the Virunga volcanoes, shared with Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo were voted number one of the 20 must-see places this year in the National Geographic Traveller magazine; describing it as “Africa’s green and fiery heart.”
Burundi was voted the overall winner of the exhibition and the winner in the African category, trouncing Rwanda for the second time in a row. Rwanda had won the award four consecutive years.
Tourism Board executive director Cuthbert Baguma said the Ugandan team had enough promotional materials including web pages, procures, press conferences, and excellent engagements with visitors.
Uganda exhibited mainly flora and fauna found in its 10 national parks and 12 game reserves.
Countries that appeared among the top ten in the exhibition are Kenya (4), Tunisia (5), Rwanda (6), Egypt (7), Reunion (8), Ethiopia (9), and Gambia (10).
The best exhibitor’s award ranking was based on booth construction, information contents, service quality, friendliness and special effects.
But despite Uganda being considered a country of beauty, rich in resources and culture, it still lacks proper infrastructure and the economy to support large-scale marketing of its tourism sector.
While the rest of East African countries have huge budget allocations to market their tourism sectors, Uganda’s sector receives the lowest figure even as the East African Community plan to promote the tourism as single tourist destination.
Last year, for example, Uganda invested $300,000 in marketing its tourism and earned $650 million annually.
Kenya, on the hand invested Ksh1.4 billion ($16.6 million) in marketing and earned about $1.18 billion.
Tanzania invested $6.3 million on tourism promotion, the figure it had maintained for the past three years, and made $1.4 billion whereas Rwanda allocated about $5 million in marketing its tourism for the entire year and earned $251 million.
"Our budget is minimal. With a good budget, we could pay public relations agencies to market the sector locally and international, enhance branding through printing brochures in different languages and increase advertising in local and foreign media,” Mr Baguma said.
He said that with enough funding, the tourism body would organise familiarisation trips for tour operators, organise road shows and involve opinion leaders in promoting the sector.
Mr Baguma said Uganda needs at least $5 million to market the sector if it is to realise growth.
But marketing the country has not been without challenges. Recently, a video on the atrocities committed by Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army, aptly titled Kony 2012 and circulated by the US-based group Invisible Children went viral prompting several countries to issue travel advisories to their citizens against Uganda.
“Kony has been out of Uganda for years. The reaction we get from people outside is that he is still in Uganda; this is negative,” Prof Kamuntu said.
“Tourists could cancel their plans. The film is out of context.”
He said Kony and his fighters believed to be in Central African Republic are no longer a threat to Uganda and the government is currently laying strategies to reconstruct the image abroad through its embassies.
Travel advisories from foreign embassies have also put the sector in an awkward situation what with tourists restricted their nationals to specific tourism destinations due to the security threats especially from the Al Shabaab, which involved in twin bombings in Kampala in 2010.
The US, UK, Australia, and New Zealand have restricted the movement of their nationals in Uganda despite the establishment of a police unit dedicated to tourists last month.
Uganda borrowed $38 million from the World Bank for the Protected Areas Management and Sustainable Use Project to boost tourism in its national parks and game reserves between 2002 and 2008, but the funds were misused.
By ISAAC KHISA: The East African Newspaper
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