May 19—Kelley MacTavish, well known in the industry for her enthusiasm in promoting Ugandan tourism, says business is not bad, but could be better if all concerned beat the welcoming drums even louder. As the Managing Director of Pearl of Africa Tours and Travel Limited, she is someone who has no qualms about speaking out when she sees there is something wrong, like the taxes that work against the interests of the industry. Currently Uganda’s earnings from tourism are slightly over a billion US dollars annually. Below are excerpts of what she told 256BN.
In your opinion, what is the state of tourism in Uganda today?
Answer: A lot better than it was five years ago, but it could get even better as Uganda wins accolades from tourism gurus like CNN, Lonely Planet and National Geographic. But it is not enough, because there is need for more to showcase what is on the menu of attractions. Marketing a destination goes beyond tourism fairs in Berlin or South Africa’s Indaba. Uganda Tourism Board (UTB) could do better. There is need to link hands with the private sector. For example, the famtrips (familiarization trips) held early this year, needed a post-mortem to perform better next year. Positive criticism is good for improvement.
Is government doing enough to boost visitor volumes?
It is doing something, but there is need for a lot more consistency like Rwanda and Kenya to have an impact. When gorillas are mentioned, the mind jumps to Rwanda. The challenge is for Uganda to beat their drum hard, especially now. Tell the world that the gorillas in Uganda are similar to those in Rwanda. The only difference being, cheaper tracking cost of $450-$600 compared to $1500 that is charged in Rwanda. Travelers need reminding that there will be no price change in Uganda, in the near future. Tourism is very sensitive when it comes to market price.
What can be done to have numbers edge perhaps above Rwanda, Kenya, Nigeria and Tanzania?
Exploit the existing opportunities to capacity. There is The Queen of Katwe movie. Then Olympaid Kipsiro, Kenzo (a popular musician) and Big Brother celebrity Gaetano. None has been used to drum up existence of Destination Uganda. Instead, South Africa and Kenya are exploiting their potential. Nigeria without the attractions Uganda has, is doing better, selling their destination using musicians and the movies shot there.
What do you have to say about Rwanda increasing their gorilla tracking rates?
It is time for Uganda to tell the world they are the alternative. And that the ones in Uganda are as gorilla as one can be. If they have been marketed as attractions once a week, then UTB must do it 57, 000 times! Rwanda has done a good job marketing the gorilla through social media, on board the national airline (Rwandair); you name it.
Do you have any comments about taxation in the tourism industry?
If we are to continue winning the price wars, the tax regime ought to be revamped especially for upcountry hotels. This is because from the moment a visitor sets foot in the country, they pay tax on everything consumed. This is never refunded as is done in other countries. This undermines the Uganda experience packaged with hospitality, lots of adventure, challenging mountains, water bodies and wildlife.