Innovation can enable equal participation in tourism sector

For decades, tourism businesses have been a preserve of foreign investors and Uganda’s wealthy upper class. Why? From accommodation services to transport services, the high costs of starting a business while investing in infrastructure and attractions have been a huge barrier to entry.

“At the start, the tourism business was for a select few, educated, rich and well connected enough to inject big bucks into things like hefty registration and expensive tour vehicles,” Brian Namanya, Founder of digital platform Tubayo says about breaking into the tourism industry.

Namanya says that as the technology gap gets narrower, it is redistributing the business opportunities to startups as well as locals who can earn an income as tour guides in their community.

“The internet has removed barriers of entry from the industry. One no longer needs a physical office address but a profile on an app to meet their customers. A tour guide in the ghetto just needs a few internet bundles to reach their customer who wants a trip around Kampala,” he says.

Up in Northern Uganda, Loremi Tours is entirely redefining tourism, veering away from eco-tourism to indigenous culture. 

Gloria Adyero, its founder, says the Tour and Travel Company seeks to develop livelihoods by encouraging the community to participate in tourists’ activities including hosting and sharing their culture with guests. So far, the company is making strides with community tourism among the Acholi people.

“We are now linking tourists to cultural experiences, where members of the community host visitors and allow them to participate in activities like shea butter or peanut butter processing,” Adyero says.

She believes that in creating value chains in tourism and experiences that are not alien and exclusive of host communities, tourism becomes beneficial, empowering and sustainable. It provides a livelihood for communities while reinforcing indigenous existence.

“In Northern Uganda where Shea Trees face the risk of extinction, it provides an incentive for the people to preserve and protect their environment,” Adyero says.

On September 27, Uganda will join the rest of the world to commemorate World Tourism Day under the theme “Tourism for Inclusive Growth”.  In this year’s theme, we are encouraged to ensure the sector draws in marginalized communities and empowers them to benefit from decent jobs, cultural preservation and conservation. This year’s theme aligns with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that place emphasis on the participation of local communities in the tourism sector as key to enabling wealth redistribution and collective development.

This day comes at a time when we are experiencing the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic that has lasted two years. The pandemic has led to the restriction of movement and gatherings to contain the spread of the virus. As a result, the sector is one of those taking a hard hit, leading to the loss of jobs and closure of businesses. 

Sharing insights into the status of the sector, the Senior Public Relations Officer of the Uganda Tourism Board (UTB), Sandra Natukunda, says over a five-year period (2016-2020), the contribution to Gross Domestic Product (GDP) grew in the first three years from Shs6 trillion in 2016 to Shs8 trillion in 2018. It had a brief fall in the subsequent two years from Shs8 trillion in 2018 to Shs2 trillion in 2020.  

Natukunda points out that with a contribution of 2.5 per cent to the GDP in 2020, this has been the lowest contribution of the tourism sector to Uganda’s GDP in the last 10 years and the pandemic is to blame.

In regards to encouraging sector recovery and inclusion, UTB is doing a few things. Guided by the  trends in 2020 that showed that the majority (99.8%) of tourists were Ugandan visitors, the sector has pivoted business to capitalize on domestic tourism. It has also innovated to entice international tourists to experience destination Uganda.  

“Many tourism operators are running subsidized rates that are aimed to increase arrivals and stay in the facilities during the periods of relaxed restrictions. This will keep the revenue of tourism flowing into local communities and increase the amount of people benefiting from the value chain.” Natukunda says. In addition to the above, they are also focusing on encouraging product diversification such as selling products online or expanding the range of products and experiences. 

Other key players are coming together to ensure that the sector survives and forges a new path in what has become a new reality. Under Young Uganda Tour Operators (YUTO), a group of youth who own Small Medium-Sized Enterprises (SMEs) in tourism are combining efforts to address the various challenges they find in the Tourism and Hospitality sector. 

YUTO Operations Lead, Steven Mukalazi says while Uganda’s tourism is doing poorly at this point YUTO member companies are concentrating on boosting domestic tourism. The strategy is to design tour packages that suit the local market in price and appeal. They are doing this through aggressive marketing on social media platforms and creating partnerships with Uganda Tourism Board. Mukalazi hopes that in encouraging domestic tourism, local communities that host tourists will be able to eke a living. 

The Innovation Village has been working along other stakeholders as well. As an ecosystem that seeks to increase innovation through unlocking the potential of entrepreneurs in every sector, the belief is that investment facilitation and sector innovation can deliver a more inclusive and sustainable growth even in the areas with traditionally-marginalised communities. 

Currently within its ecosystem are young entrepreneurs like Tubayo and Loremi Tours among others who are given the necessary support including networking and mentorship opportunities to disrupt the sector.

There are also previous efforts such as the Agri-Tourism Expo, which was held in March 2021, in Mbarara. The Expo organised by The Innovation Village Mbarara, highlighted opportunities that arise from merging of Agriculture and Tourism. At the expo, South Western Uganda, which has long had agriculture as a major economic activity further explored how it can fuse this with tourism and be part of a long and lucrative value chain.

As part of the celebrations on September 27, 2021, The Innovation Village will host a webinar to share insights into how different players can contribute towards the sector recovery. The discussion will expound on the benefits of attaining inclusive growth in the sector, expand access to tourism education and provide innovative ideas that support the sector recovery.

The interactive session will feature Mary Baryamujura, Founder of Community Based Initiative for Tourism in Uganda, Sandra Natukunda, Senior Public Relations Officer of UTB, Eliot Mugisha, YUTO Chairperson and Brian Namanya, Founder of Tubayo. To be a part of it, sign up via; World Tourism Day .

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