Why Uganda Must Avoid Mistakes in order to Gain From its Attractions
About one month ago, H.E. Yoweri Museveni, the president of the Republic of Uganda hosted global tourism investors and operators to exhibit potential investment opportunities in Uganda’s magnificent national parks. During this exhibition tour operators, investors and donors were invited to assist develop protected areas in a way that catalyses the economic growth and generates revenue back to the management and conservation of national parks. Uganda is exceptionally one of the most diverse states in the world and features in the second position out of all the African states when it comes to abundant wildlife species. It offers refuge to over 50% of the rare and the most critically endangered mountain gorillas which represent about 480 of all the 900 that thrive in the entire world and this makes it one of the outstanding countries around the globe. These natural wonders in Uganda thrive in only Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park and the Mgahinga Gorilla National Park that are located in Southwestern part of the country. As well, it also protects a good number of chimpanzees that represent about 5000 and widely spread to most parts of the country, African lions, African elephants, Cape buffaloes, Leopards as well as over 1200 distinct bird species that represent about 11% of the all the world bird species. The presence of this natural gift offers the rare and exceptional tourism opportunities.
Amazingly, Murchison Falls National Park is one of the remarkable safari destinations of a kind. It is undoubtedly one of the destinations that allows visitors to sight lions and elephants in its spectacular savanna landscapes, Launch cruise towards the mighty River Nile and also pay visit to the world’s most powerful waterfalls and in a short drive, visit the chimpanzees in Budongo Forest. This is exceptionally extra-ordinary safari destinations as it allows a visitor to incorporate his or her safaris something rarely seen in other destinations.
Visitors can also string together a tourism circuit which includes a hike to the volcanic and snow capped peaks in the Rwenzori and over look the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), track chimpanzees in Kibale Forest National Park and later proceed to Bwindi or Mgahinga National Park to strike your imaginations with the rare mountain gorillas while they are in their natural habitat; something that the Lonely Planet terms Uganda as “basically the best of everything Africa has to offer.”
From Kidepo Valley National Park to Queen Elizabeth National Park to Tooro Semuliki Valley National Park, Uganda’s national parks are exceptionally of world class offering the rarest and endless opportunities. It has been sighted that tour operators and investors just look at the opportunity in Uganda and as Ugandans themselves; they raised many questions some of which include “how shall we differentiate ourselves as a nation in tourism development?” “How will we develop our national parks in a way that ensures their long term sustainability?” How shall we design tourism so as to maintain the uniqueness?” Tourism largely supports conservation but it must be well designed so as to ensure revenue that generated is utilized well to facilitate conservation and safaris don’t cause negative effects. Uganda has a clear option and it only need careful planning, zoning and design by the Government of Uganda.
In most national parks in Botswana for instance, visitors are interested in paying high cost because the state has established a niche market, high end wildlife based tourism product. In some areas in Kenya, visitors are currently paying less money per night compared to the last 10 years since the product has been cheapened by several lodges, vehicles and tourists which leaves a question to Uganda to rethink what type of tourist product do we need in the Uganda?
Some of Africa’s national park are over developed that wildlife sighting has turned to be competitive sport between vehicle operators jockeying to view certain species. Lions surrounded by over 20 cars, isn’t uncommon, never sustainable and never enjoyable for tourist. When you look at some of the Africa’s national parks, visitors wait in a traffic jam for over one hour in the morning at the gate to access the protected area because the product has not been properly designed. Such sites do not receive repeat visitors and in the age of Trip advisor and the rest of trip review portals, it discourages others from visiting such area.
It is from this note that Uganda must not make the similar mistake other states (destinations) have already made by not clearly envisioning the tourism product it wants. Government therefore needs to invest much of its time and resources in proper planning to ensure high quality tourism. In order for the country, attract some of the best tourism operators they will also require the same aspects.
The country should also create the right incentives by offering good infrastructure, easy access in the country, financial incentive for tour operators, who invest in national parks management and penalties for the operators who are not fulfilling contracts or endorsing to the high standards required in the country.
In conclusion, tourism generates about $1 billion to Uganda’s GDP which makes it the country’s second biggest export. In 2011, over a million tourists visited Uganda and safaris to the national parks have continued increasing. The revenue that is generated to the country can be invested towards increasing and boosting development in the destination but this needs a clear vision for the future of Uganda that comprises of smart development, solid conservation management, responsible investment and partners and the conservation of natural wonders. With our collective efforts, we shall make Uganda the most sought after destination in the world! Let us conserve for generation!