After the recently concluded annual Pearl of Africa Tourism Expo (POATE), an interview caught our eyes. At the event organized by the Uganda Tourism Board (UTB), it was confirmed that at least 200 tourism business managers from nearly 30 countries from a whole four continents. This interview, a Question, and Answer for Daily Monitor’s Prosper Magazine by Justus Lyatuu, also published by the Daily Monitor had Mr. Alain St. Ange, the president of the African Tourism Board exploring Africa’s tourism industry.
What is the role of the African Tourism Board?
It was conceived to bring Africa together; we are 54 states currently competing with each other rather than complementing each other. Here, we have Uganda, Kenya, and Rwanda competing yet truly, they should be working for East Africa’s good.
When countries work as an East Africa bloc, they all benefit. But if they go separate ways, they are not working for Africa. So the African Tourism Board was formed to bring Africa together.
At African Tourism Board, we believe that if East Africa is working together, we can improve from the current 6 percent of intra-Africa travels and this will benefit Africa more.
Africa has a big market of over 1.2 billion people which we must exploit to our advantage by increasing intra-trade and intra-travel among us.
How would you rate the performance of Uganda’s tourism sector?
Uganda has unique selling points; it has the political will, something we rarely see in many countries.
Africans believe that to be a ‘tourist’, you have to travel out of Africa. How can we deal with that?
No one is a prophet in their own country, the first thing should be making people appreciate the fauna and flora in the country. As a citizen, you must see that people come from all over the world to see the good fauna and flora. Domestic tourism should be encouraged because people should spend the Ugandan currency here first. Therefore, understanding the country will help to promote tourism; it is the role of the industry players to change people’s minds.
Seychelles is one of the countries with a successful tourism record. How can Uganda borrow a leaf?
Seychelles has done it well; I was a director of tourism and minister of tourism.
The Ministry had political support from the government because tourism is our life; we protected what we have and developed an industry that suits the smallness of Seychelles.
We brought all the citizens on board and made them aware that tourism is our bloodline; that is what Uganda should do and all locals should be involved; not only big investors but small ones also. For instance, in Seychelles, we said a small hotel of 24 rooms should be left for local tourists. That encouraged local investors to make some money and that is what Uganda should do, make Ugandans part and parcel of the industry.
How do conflicts in the world affect tourism in Africa?
There is a saying, “When big countries sneeze, we catch cold,” because we are dependent on their visits. So when they have difficulties, we feel it. Now, let us find a way of doing intra-Africa tourism; this will make us self-reliant; we are 54 states with millions of people; that is a ready market.
Under-funding remains the biggest hitch in Uganda’s tourism industry. What can Uganda Tourism Board (UTB) do to become self-sustaining?
UTB will never be self-sustaining; the Board benefits from an income from the government. So UTB’s role is to bring the people and the percentage of the income from tourism should be given back to the board to continue the work; as long as it brings the tourists, it should be self-sustaining.
Has Africa fully exploited technology in its tourism marketing strategy? If not, how can this be achieved?
Marketing in Africa has taken a leap; today, technology has taken over fully, e-marketing, e-booking. So Uganda should be encouraged to sell through e-sales mediums so that they can benefit from technology.
How can East Africa market its tourism as a block since the features are almost the same?
The East African Community has made big strides in selling themselves; EAC has key assets that go beyond the borders so this should even make marketing easy. From that, we have seen things like EAC visa and other initiatives in a way that will help Africa sell themselves to the world as a block. EAC can use key personalities who have a following in the region so that marketing is made easy.
From the African perspective, what are the challenges in the tourism industry?
African states have different challenges; the bad news of one of the 54 states spreads faster than any good news and any bad news in one country is affects the 54 states for instance Ebola, so Africa must work together to rewrite its own narrative.
Africa cannot continue to let the world ride on its back, the world is writing what they want, and often looking at all the mishaps; all the mistakes and for everything else that is not good about Africa this is a challenge that needs combined efforts to fight.
The political will is there although it varies by country. I think in Uganda it is there but more importantly, we need the African Union to show the political will and it is this that tourism will be able to thrive on the continent.
We still have the visa issue, Uganda had made some progress on e-visa, also African airlines can work together to offer the best flights and reduce the waiting time.
What aggressive strategies do we need to market Uganda better?
First, increase visibility; compile unique selling points. We have things like the Equator, Source of the Nile, Lake Victoria, and the legacy of former President Idd Amin.
Idd Amin is one of the most talked-about Ugandans, there are many films on Amin but is Uganda benefitting from the films? We have to find a way and write that it’s an era that was there and nobody will change that; let us capitalize on that and get the money.
Africa has icons like Nelson Mandela, Idi Amin; things like Saba Saba, you have excellent wildlife; what you need to do is to develop the internal water transport system, specifically in Lake Victoria.
Make Uganda visible to the world. Uganda needs to increase her visibility by telling the world Uganda exists; in Uganda, the good news is not news. You need to rewrite your narrative and tell the world how good Uganda is and that there are investment opportunities.