Ministry promoting unique tourism attractions

Hon. Ephraim Kamuntu, Minister of Tourism, Wildlife and Heritage
Hon. Ephraim Kamuntu, Minister of Tourism, Wildlife and Heritage

Hon. Ephraim Kamuntu served as Uganda’s Minister of Tourism, Wildlife and Heritage until he was appointed Minister of Water and Environment in August 2012. He brings a global perspective to his country’s mission to protect Uganda’s natural and cultural heritage.

European Times: What are the ministry’s main goals?

Ephraim Kamuntu: The main goal is to make the tourism sector the mainstay of Uganda’s economy by exploiting a variety of tourism products. These include diverse attractions: unspoiled nature, rich culture and heritage, eco-tourism appeal, the potential for faith-based tours, and MICE facilities, among others.

Tourism accounts for around 9.2% of Uganda’s GDP and employs around 8% of our total labour force, although it receives less than 1% of the national budget. We need to change the negative attitudes and mind-sets of the public about tourism. Tourism brings in foreign-exchange revenues of about €655 million (US$805 million), which Uganda critically needs. So, we are trying to inform and sensitise the Ugandan people about the importance of tourism so that they can be more aware of where their bread is buttered! We are currently repositioning the tourism sector so that it can become an engine for the transformation and sustained growth and development of Uganda’s economy.

European Times: What makes Uganda special?

Ephraim Kamuntu: As Sir Winston Churchill observed on his African journey in 1908, “Uganda is from end to end a beautiful garden where staple food of the people grows almost without labour. Does it not sound like a paradise on earth? It is the pearl of Africa.” This is as true today as it was in 1908. And indeed, Uganda is special. Located at the heart of the African continent and across both sides of the equator, the annual temperature over most of the country ranges between 18°C to 28°C, with Mount Rwenzori right on the equator with snow on its peak. This is a wonder!

In addition, Uganda is the source of the Nile, the longest river in the world and one of the rare rivers that flows north. It is also often cited by many as the lifeblood of North Africa and the Mediterranean region. Lake Victoria, also located in Uganda, is the second-largest fresh-water lake in the world.

Uganda is designated as an international biodiversity hotspot, combining the characteristics of East African savannah with wet African rainforests. Diverse fauna and flora flourish here, including species of large primates. Uganda is home to more than half of the world’s mountain gorillas, man’s closest relative. Uganda is also known as Africa’s friendliest country, largely because of its unique history of being a British protected territory rather than a colony.

In recent times, Uganda has received some tremendous accolades as one of the world’s top tourism destinations. Uganda was named top destination for 2012 by Lonely Planet, Virungas was ranked as one of 20 must-see places by National Geographic Traveller Magazine, Bwindi was ranked ‘Best African Birding Destination’ by Travel African Magazine, and the Rwenzori Mountains were ranked one of the world’s 15 best destinations for hikes by the National Geographic Society. These attractions and many more make Uganda special.

Uganda was one of the top tourism destinations in Africa in 1960, but years of instability caused the country’s tourism development to lag behind. As security conditions have stabilised over the past two decades, Uganda has seen a resurgence of tourism and the impact of tourism on the country’s development is destined to be significant.

European Times: What are some challenges the ministry has faced in developing the tourism sector?

Ephraim Kamuntu: One challenge is Uganda’s negative international image based on earlier years of instability and insecurity. As security conditions have improved since 1986, tourist arrivals have been increasing. We have already established a Tourism Police Unit specifically for the protection of international and domestic tourists and tourism attractions and facilities. We are launching an aggressive campaign in order to reposition Uganda, especially in key source markets.

Inadequate physical infrastructure is another challenge; roads are improving but some gaps still remain, while air transport is limited and electricity and ICT coverage, especially in remote tourism destinations, remain inadequate. The situation is being addressed.

Limited funding is also a problem because tourism promotion is costly. Uganda’s annual tourism marketing budget is currently around €245,000 (US$300,000), which is very low compared to Kenya’s, Tanzania’s and Rwanda’s. A lack of skilled human resources — particularly in tourism promotion and marketing, hotels and reservations, tours and travel, leisure and hospitality — is another hurdle. Efforts are currently being focused on skills development and on establishing relevant external partnership to build and develop human-resource capacities.

European Times: Why should international investors target Uganda’s tourism sector?

Ephraim Kamuntu: Uganda’s potential as a tourism destination is impressive and still relatively unexploited. All segments of Uganda’s tourism sector have significant potential: hospitality, products and services for tourists, transport, conservation, cultural heritage, faith-based tours, MICE: all these offer competitive advantages and excellent returns for investors.