UTB seeks to leverage Missions abroad for Tourism growth

In Summary
  • Uganda has made significant progress in tourism development
  • Speke Resort and Convention Center has enhanced Uganda's tourism competitiveness
CEO Lilly Ajarova, Uganda Tourism Board
Image: Wasswa Deo

Uganda Tourism Board (UTB) is seeking to leverage the country's missions abroad to boost tourism growth, according to CEO Lilly Ajarova.

Ms. Ajarova was speaking at a four-day Joint Regional Economic and Commercial Diplomacy Retreat with heads of Uganda Missions stationed in neighboring countries to enhance economic growth and development. The ‘Ring States’, as they are referred to in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, include Rwanda, Tanzania, Kenya, DR Congo, Somalia, South Sudan, and Burundi. She called on Missions abroad to support Uganda's tourism efforts, particularly in branding, marketing, and attracting investors to the much sought-after Explore Uganda campaign.

“We are calling upon our missions abroad to support us in our tourism efforts, particularly in the areas of branding and marketing, as well as attracting investors to our Explore Uganda campaign. We have seen the success of this collaboration in the past, where our missions have brought potential investors to assess our country's offerings, and we hope that with their continued support, we will yield even more positive results,” said Ms. Ajarova.

Despite the challenges posed by COVID-19, the UTB boss said that Uganda has made significant progress in tourism development, rising from an unknown destination to become the 10th best destination on the continent for Meetings, Incentives, Conferences, and Exhibitions (MICE) in 2018. “The country currently ranks seventh and aims to become one of the top five destinations in Africa,” she said.

The recent addition of the Speke Resort and Convention Center has enhanced Uganda's competitiveness, allowing the country to host large conferences and attract more travelers. The UTB targets flexible travelers who are likely to extend their stay, spend more, and generate more economic and social benefits for Uganda,” Ms. Ajarova said.

Ajarova expressed confidence in the support of missions abroad, which she believes will help achieve Uganda's vision of becoming a top destination in Africa. "We count on our missions abroad to help us achieve this goal by identifying opportunities, lobbying for Uganda to host international meetings, and supporting our Explore Uganda destination brand," she said.

Ambassador Richard Kabonero, Head of Regional Economic Cooperation said the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is developing a new framework aimed at promoting economic growth through commercial diplomacy. The initiative he said seeks to guide Uganda's missions abroad in marketing and attracting investments to the country.

"The Ministry of Foreign Affairs decided to come up with a framework under which we can guide our missions abroad to market the country in three main areas: increasing our exports, attracting foreign direct investments, and attracting tourists," Amb. Kabonero explained.

The initial phase of the program will involve 10 missions and two consulates in areas with high potential for investment, such as ATM, agriculture, tourism, mineral development, and science and technology. "We need to measure results and then scale up to all other 37 missions that Uganda has abroad," Ambassador Kabonero noted.

Amb. Kabonero emphasized the importance of addressing non-tariff barriers, including standards, competition, and lack of compliance with regional trade protocols. "Our missions are charged with addressing those NTBs," he said. The ministry is also working to address tariff barriers, infrastructure challenges, and standards and certification issues to increase exports.

Regarding data and communications, Amb. Kabonero stressed the need for a regional data framework to improve data affordability and access to the sea cable. "We need to discuss data affordability and access to the sea cable. Most of our traffic to the sea goes through Kenya, but it's a bit of a risk. So, we need an alternative route," he explained. The initiative is seen as a significant step towards boosting Uganda's economic growth and promoting regional trade. "We look forward to a summit of heads of state to harmonize data rates, cross-border payment systems, and increase trade," Amb. Kabonero said.

Ms. Julianne Mweheire, Director of Industry Affairs and Content Development at the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC), noted that over the past two years, there has been a significant shift in data consumption trends, with an increasing number of users opting for video communication, leading to a substantial change in the way data is utilized. According to Mweheire, the cost of data has significantly decreased by 51% since 2019, with mobile operators reducing data prices.

The price per gigabyte of data in Uganda is relatively low compared to other East African countries, at $0.86 per GB, compared to $0.76 in Rwanda, $0.97 in Kenya, $1.53 in Tanzania, $4.00 in South Sudan, and $0.83 in South Africa. However, despite this progress, Mweheire noted that the penetration of digital devices remains low, with only 16 million smartphones in use, out of 35 million active SIM cards. She attributed this to high taxes on smartphones, which hinder their adoption.

Vincent Bagiire, Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, noted that the 40% tax on smartphones is counterproductive, as telecom companies generate more revenue from data usage than voice calls. He argued that reducing the tax would lead to increased smartphone penetration, resulting in higher tax revenues for the Uganda Revenue Authority. "We need to rethink the 40% tax on smartphones," Bagiire emphasized.

Other presenters in Day two of the workshop included Mr. Abel Kagumire, Commissioner for customs, Ms. Patricia Bageine Ejalu, Deputy Director, Standards at the Uganda National Bureau of Standards and Mr. Ben Kajuna, Director transport at the Ministry of Works and transport.