UTB tips Hotel and Accommodation owners on standards

By Edwin Muhumuza

Uganda Tourism Board (UTB) has embarked on a campaign to educate hotel owners on upholding services that are world class.

This is in a bid to boost the country’s competitiveness ahead of the reopening of the world for a post covid19 era.

According to Bradford Ochieng , the Deputy Chief Executive, UTB Ugandan hotels performed poorly in the last three global assessments on account of the lack of awareness on the importance of standards excellence.

However, prior to the resumption of the classification exercise, the world came to a standstill in 2020.

‘The last time the exercise was carried out was in 2017 and the next time should have been 2019 right at a time when the board was undergoing some restructuring.

However when they were due for the exercise in 2020, Covid-19 was declared a global pandemic and so it disrupted all such arrangements and was pushed to this year.’ Ochieng said.

Uganda as part of the East African Community partnership hopes to capitalise on the exercise as one way of harmonising standards within the region in comparison with other partner states.

The exercise is deemed important for international and local travellers, hotels owners and managers, and the entire industry collectively.

‘Coming from Covid19, it also offers an opportunity for owners and operators to rebrand in the tourism market as a sign of bouncing back to duty and a way to market destination Uganda and we are confident in our services.’ Ochieng noted.

In addition to the disruption concerns, Richard Kaweere, the Uganda Tourism Association Chief executive said that a gap of 2017 and 2021 Covid-19 inclusive was a huge one to be able to follow up on standards.

It also emerged that by 2017 there were over 6000 properties and that on average a team of assessors could spend two days on one facility owing to the fact that there are 14 assessors in the entire country.

UTB, Vice chairperson, Susan Muhwezi at the training said that they were in the process of training more assessors.

‘We have discussed the budget and by the end of two or three years we shall have enough assessors for all facilities in the entire country. What is also true is that this exercise takes time and we do it by region so it is important not to rush it. We want to ensure it is continuous.’

The proprietor of Eureka Hotel, Mark Kirya, one of the participants hailed the UTB training in saying that it would make Ugandan Hotels more competitive. ‘

In 2015, while still operating at half capacity, we were graded at 2- star and are hoping to move to 3- star level, Kirya said.

Akon concludes the Uganda trip as UTB pitches to the diaspora.

By Edwin Muhumuza

Renowned Senegalese American artist and businessman Akon, concluded a weeklong trip in Uganda where UTB held talks with him on leveraging his networks and celebrity status to tap into the wealthy celebrity North American travellers and African diaspora market.

Akon, whose real name is Aliaume Damala Badara Akon Thiam was in the country at the invitation of Ambassador Abbey Walusimbi, the Senior Presidential Advisor on Diaspora affairs to explore various investment opportunities in the country.

During his stay, UTB CEO Lilly Ajarova hosted Akon and his wife Rozina Negusei for a familiarization trip to Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and Queen Elizabeth National Park.

Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, the most visited national park, together with Mgahinga Gorilla National Park are famous for the Mountain Gorilla and host 53% of the World’s population of gorillas. Queen Elizabeth National Park is home to over 95 mammal Species and over 600 bird species.

Describing the gorilla tracking in a media interview, Akon and Rozina said it was rare, tough and beautiful at the same time.

“We had an amazing time—a beautiful experience. “It was amazing, I got an up-close and personal shot with the gorillas… you don’t see shots this close.”

At another media address in Kampala, Akon said: “I cannot believe what I have experienced while in Uganda, the kind of welcome I never knew Uganda had and I’m determined to expose how beautiful this country is to the rest of the world.”

Ajarova said that Akon’s visit follows another February 2021 meeting between Ajarova and Akon’s wife and entertainment entrepreneur, Rozina Negusei.

“One of the key opportunities discussed with Rozina then, and again with the couple was an opportunity for a huge potential for a back-to-Africa (in this case Uganda) International Music Festival,” she said, adding that they also discussed marine tourism- given Uganda’s abundance of water bodies, the redevelopment of the Equator—UTB has profiled up to 6 areas of investment as well as the construction of especially luxury accommodation facilities in and around 10 National Parks in addition to a favourable business environment such as government incentives, widely available and affordable labour, all, combine to make Uganda, one of the best places to visit and invest,” she said.

She also said that UTB hopes to leverage the multi-platinum selling singer, rapper, songwriter, record producer, entrepreneur, philanthropist, and actor’s celebrity and wealthy networks, first to create awareness about Uganda in the North American markets especially and subsequently influence investments inflows as well.

Ajarova said that the North American Market, constitutes only 9.3% of overall tourism numbers to Uganda, they, together with European and Oceania Australia, New Zealand) were largely leisure travelers that spend between 8 to 14 nights.

Nearly one-third of all leisure visitors were much more likely to stay in either Uganda’s Safari Lodge or Tourist campsites.

In an interview with Associated Press News, an American newswire, Akon said that Uganda was rich with potential and indeed confirmed that his company was interested in and would host an international music festival in Uganda.

“We do want to be able to invest in the local artists. One of the reasons for the festival is to expose the local artists here in Uganda because they play a big role in the East African music also hinted at and plans to build what he called an entertainment city in Uganda.

“That is on the list of things that we are doing. That is one of the reasons why we are doing the Akon Entertainment City here; because we want to be able to focus and showcase the entertainment all throughout East Africa,” he said.

Uganda Airlines, UTB partner in Branding Uganda

By Edwin Muhumuza

Uganda Airlines has committed to brand its offices in various cities and airports across the world with Brand Destination Uganda.

This is a bid to promote Uganda’s unrivaled tourism potential to the world through messages on some of the airline’s platforms and assets such as sales offices, aeroplanes, in flight magazines, in flight entertainment systems, online platforms- including website and social media sites.

The move follows an agreement with the Uganda Tourism Board (UTB) to reciprocate the gesture through its tourism promotional campaigns and platforms to present Uganda Airlines as the most convenient way to travel to Uganda in addition to empowering its staff with knowledge on Uganda as a tourist destination.

The deal will see both organizations commit to running joint marketing campaigns, sharing market and research data as well as jointly develop #VisitUganda tour and travel packages for special events and holiday to motivate passengers to fly Uganda Airlines.

Uganda Tourism Board’s CEO, Lilly Ajarova said the initiatives, are about increasing awareness about brand Destination Uganda in several key African source markets, also to ultimately lower further the cost- both in time and money of travelling to Uganda- whether it is for business or leisure.

“World over, airlines, especially national carriers offer a unique opportunity to deliver the very first experience of a destination- in this case, Destination Uganda. The food, the in flight information and entertainment as well as how well the staff across the entire airline chain are well informed about Destination Uganda, all combined are important in improving and influencing visitor perceptions in our favor,”Ajarova noted.

Here remarks came as UTB hosted staff of Uganda Airlines, on a 6-day tourism familiarization trip to South Western and Eastern Uganda.

The expedition saw the Uganda Airlines team experience the Equator, the Igongo Museum where they immersed themselves into the diverse and rich traditional history of the region including culture, food, dressing, music, housing and more.

At Bwindi, they experienced the adventuresome Gorilla tracking and went on to feed their curiosity at Queen Elizabeth National Park where they saw several wildlife species such as buffaloes, antelopes, lions, bush pigs and birds, among other wildlife species. They also relished the famous Kazinga Channel boat ride – the best opportunity to see the largest collection of animals in the Queen Elizabeth National Park.

Lenny Malasi, the Uganda Airlines, Kenya Sales Manager said that “Uganda is very attractive. This trip has opened up our eyes in terms of how we can showcase this attractiveness to Kenya, but also the entire world. This knowledge, we have gained, will further help us to position Uganda Airlines as a strategic tool in market Destination Uganda to the routes we fly to in Africa as well as the upcoming strategic routes to London, Mumbai, Guangzhou and Bangkok. These are very critical tourism markets,”

The Uganda Airlines team was drawn from the carrier’s offices in Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya- countries that are among the largest sources of visitor numbers to Uganda ahead of the much-awaited Uganda Airlines’ inter-continental operations to Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

Ms Ajarova said that the Uganda Airlines partnership is part of an ongoing strategy to work with both the private sector and other experts to develop innovative itineraries that optimize tourism value by encouraging longer stay and increasing expenditure along the value chain.

Uganda still has plenty of Lions – Butime

By Edwin Muhumuza

The Minister of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities, Rtd, Col. Tom Butime has said Uganda still has plenty of Lions in the Queen Elizabeth National Park.

This following a fact-finding meeting alongside other stakeholders, at Enjojo Lodge, to understand among others, circumstances surrounding the gruesome killing of 6 tree-climbing lions, on the 19th of March 2021.

Four men suspected to have been involved in the killings are currently in police custody in Kampala after a joint security operation of Uganda Wildlife Authority, Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF), and the Uganda Police, helped by the local community who identified the suspects.

The meeting also resolved to do more investigations into the circumstances surrounding the grisly killing to identify all the players involved amid emphasis that Wildlife poaching is a criminal offence.

The minister has assured all domestic and foreign tourists that despite the loss of the 6 lions, Uganda still had plenty of lions.

“Let this not discourage you from exploring our national parks that are also full of other animals aside from the lions like over 5000 elephants, 2000 buffalos, 800 giraffes, birds, and many more,” he said.

Mr. Sam Mwandha, the ED, UWA appreciated security agencies and local community members who collaborated with UWA rangers to have the suspects arrested but even called for a stronger mechanism to ensure the safety of both the animals and that of the livelihoods of the communities.

‘We know that they killed the lions, but what was behind it all? What are the linkages? Who are they working with? We need to get into that and that will continue to be worked on until we conclude,’ adding that there was a need to ensure that the revenue that UWA shares with the communities is appropriately used and that the communities benefit from the money.

According to Ssekandi Shafic, the Kanungu RDC, it had been established through confessions that the killers, who are residents in communities neighbouring the park, had been offered between UGX40,000 to UGX80,000 for each lion’s head by yet to-be known buyers.

Ms. Lilly Ajarova, the UTB CEO, reiterated the need by communities to conserve and protect the animals and other species that contribute to the Tourism Sector.

“As an agency philosophically driven by tourism sustainability, we are in a joint effort with the Ministry of Tourism, Wildlife, and Antiquities, Tourism Agencies, Local Leaders as well as the Tourism Police in getting to the bottom of the matter at hand and seek justice for the dead lions and curb the criminals of the offence who will be sentenced accordingly,” she said, adding that the death of the lions at this particular time when the tourism sector was reeling from the effects of COVID-19 was regrettable.

National grading and classification of tourist centers set – UTB

By Edwin Muhumuza

Uganda Tourism Board is set to conduct a grading and classification exercise for all Tourism Facilities in the Country in line with new East African Community (EAC) standards.

The exercise kicked off with a two-day refresher course for certified hotel assessors at Protea Hotel, Entebbe. The refresher course is to improve their skills ahead of the sensitive exercise that starts in May 2021, according to the Uganda Tourism Board, the facilitators of the exercise.

The chairperson Uganda Hotel owners Association and UTB Board Vice-Chair, Susan Muhwezi said most tourists, especially foreigners, value the stars of the hotel they are booking and they always look forward to experiencing the standards of the indicated star of a particular hotel.

She has also urged the assessors to be diligent in their work and to follow the set procedures and standards.

According to Lilly Ajarova, the CEO of UTB, there are 14 of them and the grading and classification system is that of the East African Community and that is the same that Uganda is following.

“The certified assessors need to be refreshed in their knowledge and skills of doing their assessment .This kick-starts the process of classifying and grading of the hospitality facilities in Uganda.” said Lilly.

Normally, the grading is done after every two years, the last time the activity was carried out was in 2017 and because of the pandemic the 2019/20 exercises was not done.

The exercise is to enable Uganda become more competitive within the region and to have our accommodation facilities certified means that we are keeping to the best practices, we have standards that we are following and this is a marketing tool for us as a destination.
After the training the Board will embark on an exercise to sensitize the public as well and then ensure the hotels are graded. In grading there are stars; 5-star, 4-star, 3 star among other grades.

“This will help travelers to decide on which facility they will stay in according to their set prices including motels, town hotels, lodges, Guesthouses, Restaurants, vacation hotels camping facilities ,villas, cottages and serviced apartments which differ in classification,” said Ajarova.

The head of Quality assurance at Uganda Tourism Board, Samora Machel Ssemakula noted that the classification exercise will be done regionally beginning with the central region, followed by the East, North and Southern parts of the country.

The East African Community standards criteria for the classification of hotels, restaurants and other tourist facilities were gazetted in 2009 to encourage and maintain quality standards in products and services being delivered to tourists in East Africa.

Since the release of the criteria, Uganda has been able to classify 121 accommodation facilities.

UTB And Germany Embassy Move To Strengthen Tourism

By Edwin Muhumuza

Uganda Tourism Board (UTB) is seeking to widen its reach in Europe, a major market for tourism with focus on increasing the number of tourists from Germany which happens to be the key source market.

Led by the Board Chairman Hon. Daudi Migereko and the German Ambassador to Uganda, His Excellence Mathias Schauer in Kampala, they discussed potential strategies that could be adapted by Uganda’s tourism industry in further strengthening ties with the German tourism source market.

The meeting is part of a series of activities leading up to the Annual Pearl of Africa Tourism Expo 2021 scheduled to take place in April from the 27th to 29th and the German speaking market is one of the target audience for the Virtual Expo set to run under the theme ‘Restarting Tourism for Regional Economic Development’

According to Migereko, Deutschland has supported the Uganda Tourism Industry in their bid to recover, rebuild, reconnect and reboot the Ugandan tourism sector after the negative effects from the Pandemic.

On his part Ambassador Schauer, emphasized that the environmental impact of tourism is something that most tourists pay a lot of attention to and advised that the tourism industry keep an eye on it especially with matters to do with cleanliness of the environment and sustainability of resources.

“Tourism I think is really a huge resource you have in this country and I am very happy to assist you in any way I can in tapping this resource,” Schauer, added.

For a while now, the German market has been and still is one of the three core markets of Uganda’s tourism closely followed by the UK, Ireland, and the North American market.

Lilly Ajarova, CEO, UTB said that for many years Uganda has invested in marketing itself in the German speaking market, adding that the steadily growing economy of Germany has seen people indulge more in travel, something that they are popularly recognized for.

‘UTB believes that the German Embassy, through its guidance, could be a window in attracting more German arrivals into the country. This should eventually contribute a great deal in the recovery of the industry from the strenuous effects of the global pandemic. ’Lilly remarked.

Also in attendance from UTB was Vice Chairperson, Ms. Susan Muhwezi, Board Director, Eddy Kirya, UTB Deputy CEO, Bradford Ochieng and UTB Marketing Manager, Claire Mugabi.

Susan Muhwezi, UTB Vice Chair emphasized the need to offer training to hotel employees seeing as service delivery is at the top of every travellers list further suggesting the formation of professional partnerships in the form of exchange programs between German and Ugandan hotel owners which would see both parties travelling in turns to either offer training or be trained.

In the same breath, Kirya, Board member of UTB mentioned that UTB is looking to strengthen its partnerships with the German Chamber of Commerce so as to gain leeway to tap into industries existing under this umbrella such as advertising and travel trade to help boost the market further.

Among the key actions points to effectively market Destination Uganda to the German Speaking Market, include; to create touristic information in the German language to cater to the German speaking market, Craft touristic newsletters for German expatriates living in Uganda, position direct flights between Uganda and Germany, form a calendar of activities around German national holidays to include and involve German expatriates in Uganda’s tourism, marketing Uganda as a preferred destination for Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Exhibitions (MICE), among others.

Schauer expressed keenness to further consult with both the Embassy and European Union pertaining to the discussion with UTB and the support of Uganda’s tourism sector.

During his tour to Lake Mburo, Murchison Falls, Kidepo National Park, and Kibale National Park, Schauer made the observation that Uganda happens to have the upper hand in service delivery, friendliness and openness as compared to other African countries. He also observed that there is hardly any language barrier in Uganda which is a plus for most international tourists. Schauer attempts to hike Mt. Rwenzori as part of his ongoing tour in the country.

More Irish tourists expected amid zero Covid-19 deaths in Uganda

By Edwin Muhumuza

The Embassy of Ireland has hailed the Uganda Tourism Board and pledged support in ensuring more Irish tourists visit the Pearl of Africa.

This was according to the second secretary to the embassy, Cormac Shine, during commemorations to mark St. Patricks Day with the symbolic lighting of the Kayabwe Equator Monument, in green.

The event marked the fourth year that Uganda has participated in the Global Greening initiative, that sees over 200 famous landmarks and iconic sites across the world go green every 17th March.

The global greening campaign is one that is now in its 11th year run by Tourism Ireland in conjunction with other embassies around the world.

‘We are now trying to promote Ireland on St. Patrick’s Day and showcase our own culture and also eager to work with our partners, the Uganda Tourism Board, a very valued partner of ours and we have been working with them for so many years now on the global greening campaign’, Said Cormac Shine.

This was the second time the Embassy was greening the equator having done the same with the Biharwe Eclipse monument in Mbarara City and the year before the Nile Bridge in Jinja.

‘I think the equator is a great symbol of the pearl of Africa and we are always glad to work with UTB to highlight Uganda’s Tourism Potential.’

The second secretary to the embassy said that they have a small but very active Irish community and up to 2020 there are about 260 Irish people resident in Uganda noting that even if the numbers are small they continue to grow upon realising the great variety of things they have to see in Uganda.

‘You have Kidepo in the north east, Bwindi in the Southwest, the Rwenzori Mountains, the savannah jungle and everything in between and I think it is an amazing landscape that the Irish people are discovering every year.’ Cormac said.

The chief executive officer of the Uganda Tourism Board (UTB) Lilly Ajarova said the equator is very significant in terms of the beautiful weather that Uganda offers and it is what gives the basis to the biodiversity Uganda is proud of.

‘Also very important is that the Irish embassy has worked closely with us for the last 11 years and we have a cooperation that has been going on directly with the embassy and through their membership to the EU. With the pandemic that we were faced with, we had the EU giving a grant of 6 million Euros to support the tourism sector.

We are very optimistic that as things are settling down with the pandemic we will be able to do more with Ireland as a market for us because last month in February 2021 we signed a new agency as a market destination representative in the UK to cover the UK and Ireland so that we are able to bring in more travelers from those markets.’ Lilly noted.

There have not been any covid19 deaths in Uganda for a month now according to official figures.

UTB in digital domestic tourism campaign

By Edwin Muhumuza

Uganda Tourism Board has launched an 8-week long digital campaign to promote domestic tourism dubbed ‘Take on the Pearl’.

Ever since the country was closed to visitors in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the sector has suffered immense revenue shortfalls and unemployment a trend that is anticipated to reflect in the national revenue purse.

Uganda is the number one tourism destination globally and has year after year held that spot and in a bid to maintain it, domestic tourism is key in jump starting the sector in addition to putting a spotlight on some of the country’s prized tourist attractions.

The Uganda Tourism Board CEO, Lilly Ajarova noted the opportunity presented by the COVID-19 pandemic is to look inwards and therefore travel the country and close the seasonality gap that has been created.

‘’the campaign aims to both create awareness and also educate Ugandans on the various tourist spots around the country; with emphasis on What? When? How? Who? And Where to Travel,” Ajarova said.

According to the World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) panel experts, domestic tourism will recover faster than international demand and will be a key driver for tourism recovery across destinations.

Additionally, the panel points to a start of the recovery of international demand mostly in 2021 noting that considerable challenges remain ahead, starting with the unknown duration of the pandemic and travel restrictions, in a context of global economic recession.

Speaking at the launch the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities, Mrs. Doreen Katusiime noted that the campaign will give Ugandans and opportunity to know their country.

The President of the Uganda Tourism Association, Pearl Horreau Kakooza said that the move is an indicator to the readiness of the tourism private sector to receive and serve Ugandans as they experience the country.

“Our fully trained Safari guides are available to show hidden gems of our beautiful Uganda. The hotels are now offering discounted accommodation; the tour operators are keen to advise Ugandans on where to visit as we start on the journey to “Take on The Pearl”, she said.

The take on the Pearl Digital Challenge will require participants to Post the contest photo on Visit Uganda social media pages every Friday, get people to respond with name of the place and the reasons why they want to go to that place, for a chance to win the trip.

Also People get their friends and family to come and like their comments, correct comment with highest likes by Tuesday of the following week is selected the week’s winner.

There will be 2 winners per week for 8 weeks and will be announced at the beginning of the week and shall take their trip over the weekend; Friday to Sunday.

According to UTB, What is more important to note is that UTB will not award the 2 winners but there will be a lot of giveaways, discounted accommodation and travel packages rates to enjoy in the course of the campaign.

“Known as the “Pearl of Africa,” Uganda is located in East Africa and offers some of the continent’s most diverse wildlife viewing, dramatic landscapes, and immersive cultural experiences and warm people and hospitality.

Uganda is home to more than half the world’s population of endangered mountain gorillas, and trekking to observe these gentle giants in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest is one of the world’s top bucket list travel activities.

Safari opportunities abound in savanna, forest, and wetland settings throughout 10 national parks, where visitors can come face to face with “The Big Five” – lion, leopard, rhino, elephant, and buffalo – as well as giraffe, zebra, chimpanzee, hippopotamus, crocodile, and more than half of all bird species found in Africa.

Among Uganda’s extraordinary natural attractions are the snow-capped Rwenzori Mountains; expansive Lake Victoria, which forms the source of the Nile River; and Murchison Falls National Park.

Uganda’s tourism sector set to thrive

By Edwin Muhumuza

“Uganda is really a safe destination because out of all the numbers tested, none has died and nearly almost all of them have been discharged.”

These were the remarks of Minister of State for Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities, Godfrey Kiwanda, while kicking off the inspection of hotels to ensure compliance of the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) put in place by his ministry.

The SOPs are meant to revive confidence in Uganda’s tourism that has badly been hit by the Corona Virus following the cancellation of flights and the shutdown of nations of the world.

“The hospitality business is ready for Ugandans as of now because we have not yet opened for the region, the continent and the rest of the world but Ugandans first of all should come and enjoy their hotels because they have been home long enough.” Kiwanda rallied.

Susan Muhwezi , the chairperson of the board is optimistic that this drive will kick start a sector that has been under lock down as well.

“Gyms, saunas, and the airport remain closed though but there is a move to ensure that there will be a stimulus package for the sector. ” Muhwezi said.

“Tourism cuts across the entire value chain, be it agriculture, industry and so as government focuses on reviving agriculture and industry, it should always bear in mind that we are the ones that buy those things ,among the largest employers, so we are the people that use ICT.’’ she added.

Most Hotels are still closed and those still open are experiencing lack of occupancy and the concern raised by some of them has been the cost of implementing the SOPs.

As The inspection exercise traverses the whole country, starting with Kampala City and Entebbe town this week, hotels are being urged to be prepared and not be found wanting.

UTB Deputy CEO, Bradford Ochieng, noted that the Board would continue to ensure quality assurance across all tourism facilities and ensuring implementation of the SOPs as a key strategy in the revitalization of the sector and ensuring safety and confidence of the visitors which has become a key decision making factor in travel, going forward.

Prior to the Pandemic, tourism was Uganda’s largest contributor to revenue but when the world shut down, including Uganda, the effect could clearly be seen and felt.

However with most parts of the world opening up, the tourism sector which was number one tourism earner will thrive again and once SOPs are followed Uganda will be promoted and tourists will flood the country as they have always done.

UTB to start profiling other key tourist attraction features

By Alice Lubwama

The Uganda Tourism Board has started profiling the different parts of the country, with key features that can be developed to attract tourists without them necessarily going to national parks.

While speaking during the breakfast meeting at parliament,the Executive Director Uganda Tourism Board Lily Ajarova said that if other attractions and infrastructure are developed the country will be able to expand the tourism offers and make it more sustainable hence reduce pressure on the nature resources.

Ajarova also pointed out the need for more incentives to address the challenges of accommodation in the country, in case of any big event in the country.

She also mentioned that the King of Tooro is expecting to host over 2000 international members of the royal families across the globe in September this year but is afraid that the recommended accommodation may not be enough for the visitors.

The first secretary head, sustainable development European Union, Nadia Cannata said that the union will continue to invest in green economy if there is political commitment from the Government.

She has also asked the legislators to follow up the implementation and enforcement of laws on conservation.