Critics punch holes in tourism master plan

A couple of days after the ministry of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities released the long-awaited 2014-2024 Tourism Development Master plan, a number of players have received the report with scepticism.

“There is a disconnection between the master plan, the ideas in [it] and what is on the ground and what is possible to do in Uganda right now,” says Kelley Mac Tavish-Mungar the executive director of Pearl of Africa Tours and Travels Ltd.

The master plan, according to Mungar, was put together by people who know very little about Uganda’s tourism sector.

“People who put it together did not talk to the private sector extensively… they bring a consultant from outside the country, he comes and talks to ten people for ten minutes and he runs away and he thinks he is an expert,” Mungar notes.

The United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) team, led by Roger Goodacre and Dr Harsh Varma, using financial support from government, UNWTO and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), formulated the master plan.

She said: “our friends at the [Uganda] Tourism Board and ministry do not share information with the private sector. They lied that they talked to the private sector as they were making the master plan.”

For a sector that has had no direction following the expiry of its development plan 21 years ago [in 1993], players had been waiting for the new 10-year plan with bated breath. Now, the plan might receive some resistance. Herbert Byaruhanga, the president of the Uganda Tourism Association, agrees with Mungar. He says the 300-page document is “too wide and does not concentrate on specific issues.”

“It mentions regional tourism clusters, but they don’t tell us how they are going to be managed,” he says, and adds: “These clusters are politically motivated and once those [politicians] lose their seats, the clusters will crumble.”

Uganda is gifted with many tourist attractions that sometimes it looks like the country does not know exactly which unique feature should be its main selling point. For example, the country is not sure whether to market itself as a primate capital, where the country boasts of over ten different primates among which are the sought-after chimpanzees and gorillas, or Africa’s bird sanctuary, where the country, which is the size of UK, boasts of over 1,058 bird species, which is 11 per cent of the global and 50 per cent of Africa’s bird species.

Others think it should be the Nile, with the source of Nile in Jinja recently named one of the seven wonders of Africa. The master plan does not come out to resolve this; it chooses to pick something from everything.

“This is what you reap when you choose not to engage stakeholders in your planning. The master plan doesn’t show us how government plans to position the country,” says Geoffrey Baluku of Trek East Africa safaris.

According to Vivian Lyazi, the ministry’s principal tourism officer, the master plan proposes a marketing strategy to be adopted in a phased approach to enable markets be approached in an effective and timely manner. Phase one will consolidate what the country has so far attained by focusing on the core markets that already come to Uganda and expanding the segments within these markets.

Phase two will involve expansion and diversification through consolidating the markets that were targeted in phase one and targeting new markets. The third phase will emphasise on year-on-year targeted marketing actions to include new markets that may not have been tapped or have not been successfully honoured.

The master plan also proposes to divide the country into Tourism Development Areas (TDAs) as a means to efficiently utilize the vast tourism resources and enhance the levels of planning and management across the country. But while it sounds like a nice idea, the way the country is clustered leaves a lot to be desired.

The clusters include: central TDA, which focuses on Kampala as the capital city and main tourism service hub, as well as Entebbe, Ssese islands and the Mabira forest. The south-western TDA covers Bwindi Impenetrable and Lake Mburo national parks.

The north-western TDA incorporates Murchison Falls national park as well as Bugungu and Karuma wildlife reserves and the northeast shoreline of Lake Albert. The western TDA covers the central area of Uganda, western frontier, and focuses on Queen Elizabeth, Mountain Rwenzori and Semliki national parks. It also incorporates the Kigezi, Kyambura, Katonga and Toro Semliki wildlife reserves.

The northeastern TDA covers the borders of South Sudan and Kenya and it embraces the Kidepo valley national park and extends southwards towards the Matheniko and Bokora wildlife reserves. The southeastern TDA centres on Jinja and extends to Mount Elgon national park, a section of Victoria Nile and Pian Upe wildlife reserve.

Within each TDA, the master plan proposes that a regional tourism hub be designated in one of the major towns and a regional tourist office be set up in each hub to guide the development of the TDA and assist local stakeholders in planning and implementation.

Once all this is done, the master plan forecasts an increase in foreign receipts of more than $1.4bn per annum, and the creation of more than 150,000 additional tourism jobs by 2024.

“The projection is based on a careful analysis of both internal and external environments of the country,” the master plan reads.

“Over the past decade, Uganda’s growth in international arrivals has been growing at an average of 20 per cent per annum, much higher than UNWTO’s 5.8 per cent growth rate for the East African region.”

Foreign receipts from tourist arrivals in 2012 amounted to $834m and by 2024 this figure is forecast to grow to $1.4bn, based on the average six per cent annual growth rate.


© 2016 Observer Media Ltd