Stephen Asiimwe was recently appointed chief executive officer of Uganda Tourism Board (UTB), raising optimism that the tourism sector is about to get the attention it deserves.
Simon Musasizi asked Asiimwe about the future direction of UTB.
Given your background as a former journalist, what skills do you bring to UTB?
My skills as a journalist date back as early as the early 90s, specifically with my concentration on business, finance and economic reporting, which essentially looks at trade, tourism, investment, finance and agribusiness.
I was one of the pioneer journalists of Business Vision, which was dedicated to business reporting. So, I have a rich grasp of the economy, not only the current but even historical economic developments of the country.
Secondly, my being in the profession has exposed me to a lot of potential. I have travelled to all these national parks, and other countries [that] have good tourism products. With that wealth of knowledge, of understanding, appreciation [and] even analysis, along the way, I developed passion for tourism because I saw it has a great opportunity to transform the economy.
Thirdly, along my media career path, I also became a media manager and business owner. I was the first publisher of a regional business newspaper [The East African Business Week]. I became a marketer, manager, financial controller and human resource [manager].
So, I gained experience in managing people, resources and I also looked at where opportunities lay. I interacted with banks, insurance companies, and tourist institutions. So, even with just engaging in the business of selling my company, I could see that selling the country was the same as selling a product.
My career spans over 20 years, which has exposed me to a huge network of people. I am an international faculty with the Haggai Institute of Advanced Leadership based in the USA.
When the president decided to form PRESTO (President Initiative on Sustainable Tourism), Naava Nabagesera who headed the team, claimed UTB had failed to deliver on even simple things like mobilising the private sector to support tourism events like the Martyrs day.
In your own assessment, what do you think has been the problem for UTB’s poor performance?
On one hand, I wouldn’t throw out UTB’s performance. They have made some achievements along the years. However, they have also had challenges; challenges in the area of organization, financing, of being under a very big ministry – the ministry of Tourism, [Wildlife and Antiquities], which has a big portfolio.
When government was allocating resources, they had to be shared by all these three huge undertakings. Tourism is highly promotional; it requires a lot of money, time and personnel. Our neighbours like Tanzania and Kenya have personnel of over 250 staff.
They are huge institutions, with huge budgets. This is what UTB lacked. But there were also challenges of mandates. Along the way, they became weakened by those indigenous factors.
As a result of that precedence, some institutions came in to fill the gap like UWA [Uganda Wildlife Authority], the ministry and other auxiliary institutions like PRESTO, because it was obvious that the private sector was carrying the burden of marketing the country, and yet that is not their core function.
UWA seems to play much of your role. Do you think there is a duplication of roles here, and how do you intend to counter this?
That was there because largely there were gaps. There were attempts by different institutions to try and fill in those gaps. But when you try to fill in a gap where your core competency is not able, then you have a situation where you become ineffective.
And when you become ineffective, you become inefficient, and you also lose your core purpose/mandate. You lose both what you are trying to do and what you are meant to do. Now, we have come in and said that the 2008 Tourism Act clearly stipulates mandates.
UWA is supposed to handle conservation even though they have a marketing component, which is not bad. But in terms of the overall mandate of marketing UWA and any other products, that mandate is with UTB. The second one is the ministry role, which is oversight and policy.
Overtime, you will see an alignment of duties and mandates as stipulated in the Act. Obviously UWA has a budget but their core function is conservation. UTB has a new board, new management team, new focus and has a lot of goodwill following the results of the World Bank report, which came out strongly to say ‘you must do something to change the tourism sector’.
The sector brought in $1.1bn, which was 38 per cent of exports and 10 per cent of GDP, and yet they were spending 0.03 per cent on a sector that was bringing in that much. The cow that produces the milk was getting the least grass. So, what government is doing is to add more funding and let these resources find a capable team that can fulfil this mandate.
Government always speaks of adding resources to tourism. But these promises are never fulfilled.
I think this time they have. Last year’s budget was consumed and government brought in a supplementary budget of over Shs 1bn.
The previous budget was Shs 1.8bn, which is what some countries spend on a stand [at an exhibition]. Like a stand in Berlin, some countries spent three times that amount, on just one event and they do about 50 events a year. But that is okay because we are not all the same size.
Where we give credit to government is they have promised to increase our budget to over Shs 5bn ($2m) and now the World Bank has come in with more support of $25m, which is going to be shared between about four agencies. There are now many commitments coming in.
So, how do you intend to improve the marketing strategy for the country?
We have come up with a four-[point] marketing strategy. We are looking at regional tourism, attracting our neighbors. Last year alone, 50,000 Ugandans went to Kenya’s national parks, and yet it wasn’t reciprocal.
Apart from students, the actual number of Kenyans who came here for tourism were less than 1,000. Yet Kenya has the largest economy in the region. Then we are also looking at the African region: South Africa, Nigeria, etc and obviously the world market.
But most importantly, we will be focusing on domestic tourism. Uganda is a very rich country in terms of culture, natural resources and products. We have divided the country into a calendar event-led strategy. We are looking at key activities that make Uganda a unique destination.
What is Uganda’s special day?
What we have agreed is that we need to start with days that are unique with us. And the one that stands out most is the Martyrs day. It is the most unique because it is only in Uganda where you find martyrs dying for their faith and interestingly, these martyrs were Catholics, Protestants and Muslims.
So, it is one interesting event that cuts across all the big religions. But secondly, we have also found out along the way that there are things that set us aside from other countries. Uganda has the highest concentration of birds on the continent.
We are planning a day when we are going to have the Big Birding festival. That is going to be a signature event for us. We have 53 per cent of the world’s mountain gorillas. We have the equator crossing the country and we are one of the two countries at the equator with snow – the other is Ecuador.
We have the highest concentration of primates in the world in one forest called Kibale. So, Uganda is so unique; countries talk of the big five, we talk of the big fifty and more.
Where do you see UTB in the next five years?
I see UTB as a strong and vibrant promotional and marketing agency. One of our mandates is to inspect, register and license tourist facilities and services.
That has always been a controversial area…
It is a controversial area but it is like an injection. If you are to get well, you have to take some strong jab on your body. And it is good for the sector because people have set up ‘quack’ companies and calling themselves star-rated. ‘We are five-star facilities’ but with a one-star service.
So, by bringing in standards, we bring in value for money for both the investor but also the tourist because people are comparing us with the neighboring countries. If you are going to be competitive, you must give top services.
Young ambassadors for the culture of Uganda
They range in age from 13 to 21, and many are from among Uganda’s estimated 2.7 million orphans, casualties of civil war and AIDS. But when the 21 young performers of “The Spirit of Uganda” take the stage of Babson College’s Carling-Sorenson Theater on Sunday, audiences are likely to see them not as victims, but rather as radiant ambassadors for Ugandan culture.
The young dancers, drummers, and singers celebrate cultural traditions from more than 50 East African ethnic groups. In addition to traditional music and dances dating back centuries, they perform works that reflect contemporary Ugandan culture, including a duet in which a young boy of today tries to negotiate whether he can be good and cool at the same time, and the pop hit “Obangaina,” featuring the song’s original vocalist from the band Afrigo, guest artist Rachel Magoola.
A professional touring and training program, “The Spirit of Uganda” is a project of the Dallas-based nonprofit organization Empower African Children, which provides food, resources, and educational scholarships to 50 needy young Ugandans, from boarding school in Kampala through college, some attending in the United States. The program also trains them in the traditional art forms of Uganda’s rich culture. Peter Kasule, who was orphaned at the age of 13 and later became a scholarship recipient in the program, is now the artistic director of “The Spirit of Uganda” and serves as the show’s master of ceremonies. He spoke with the Globe last week by phone as the company traveled by bus from Miami to Massachusetts.
Q. This seems like a transformative opportunity for children from such dire circumstances. What were their lives like before they entered the program?
A. Education was not a possibility without Empower African Children. Some of them lost parents to AIDS, some are in horrible situations, from villages where their parents could not care for them. After elementary school, there was no hope for high school.
Q. You’ve said that art requires discipline, patience, love, and control. What are these young people learning besides performing skills?
A. Leaving Uganda and coming [on tour] to America is life-changing for every student. Their lives are broadened in the way they think, they get to meet different people in different capacities that open up their world. By the time we finish the tour, their minds have changed. Sometimes they go back and have in mind to become a teacher, doctor, or go into business. They go back and try to influence their communities and become leaders in their schools. They comprehend better in classes and understand more geography, history, how the Western world works. We travel with a teacher from their school and she gets on the microphone on the bus and talks about each state we pass, to put eyes to what they have in their minds.
Q. What happens after students graduate from the program?
A. As we prepare them for the show, we also prepare them for life back in Uganda. It’s important to help them rise to their full potential. We see who scores well academically, and some go to university, some go to vocational school. And when they graduate, the organization helps find them jobs, so they follow them through to independence.
Q. Can you talk about the importance of culture in Uganda?
A. Without culture, we do not have identity. Everyone is described by the region they come from, and every region has its own unique culture. The show represents all these cultures, which reflect our nation, how we are raised, how we learn. By maintaining culture in performance and teaching, we are preserving values. The culture is embedded within [the students] and they will never forget where they come from. Uganda is always home.
Q. Why are the arts so empowering, especially for kids?
A. Because it gives children a voice. They are usually in the background, never speak. The elders decide, children follow, everything is dictated to you. But they go onstage and that is their world and they can express themselves, see how useful they are and what they have to offer. They get to be creative. We never had that [growing up], but now students have been able to change their communities and the young generation is teaching the older generation, for positive change. We are creating leaders of tomorrow with freedom of expression and freedom of speech. To move the country ahead, we must move together.
Q. This program not only crosses borders, uniting performers from different regions, it connects old traditions with contemporary life. How does that work?
A. Some dance movements have been that way hundreds of years, but the songs keep changing. We are composing as we go along, see what’s happening at the moment and talk about it, express it. We encourage creativity. Some things in the show are composed by the performers. It really gives them energy when they are given the opportunity to showcase their talent. They feel their voices are being heard and appreciated, and it’s very empowering.
This is a family show everyone can enjoy. We are giving you a tour around Uganda with dancing, music, and narration. The performers come from poor situations, but our students are about joy and showing what you can do when given the opportunity, not about crying about what they don’t have but about showing the beauty of the culture. Students are writing their own history every time they go onstage.
Q. What do you hope people take away from the show?
A. I would like the audience to know that no matter what you have gone through, there is still a bright light ahead of you. If you look beyond where the eye can see, you will survive. Keep an open mind, because you create your own future. Karen Campbell can be reached at email@example.com.
Permits and Gorilla Tracking in 2014
We would like to bring to your attention the following new developments for 2014:
New rates for gorilla tracking permits in Uganda
- Uganda Wildlife Authority has officially confirmed its new rates for 2014-2015. Effective 1st January 2014 the fee of gorilla permits will increase from US$500 to US$600 per permit. Any gorilla permits secured before 2014 are still sold at US$500, regardless of the tracking date.
- The prices for gorilla tracking permits in Parc National des Volcans (Rwanda) remain at US$750 per permit.
Allocation of gorilla families in Bwindi National Park
It is no longer possible to purchase permits for a particular gorilla family in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, as we were able to do in the past. Instead, gorilla permits are issued per gorilla tracking area, which is similar to the system in Rwanda. The aim of Uganda Wildlife Authority is to assign gorilla groups on the day of tracking and in this way try to match the fitness levels to the location of the particular gorilla families – but no guarantees!
There are four gorilla tracking areas in Bwindi National Park:
- Buhoma area (3 gorilla groups)
- Ruhija area (2 gorilla groups)
- Nkuringo area (1 gorilla group)
- Rushaga area (5 gorilla groups)
Permits can be booked in combination with a tour to other National Parks, completely adapted to your wishes. But book early as competition is high!
KENYA AIRWAYS SIGNS NEW JOINT VENTURE DEAL WITH KLM / AIR FRANCE
Kenya Airways has strengthened their cooperation with KLM / Air France within East Africa, following the signing of a new and far more extensive joint venture agreement compared to the one presently in place.
The expanded joint venture will be a significant boost to the existing benefit-sharing model between the two carriers. This far reaching cooperation for both passenger and cargo business will allow KLM and Kenya Airways to jointly implement further commercial synergies, optimize networks and schedules to better jointly serve these markets and further enhance customer experience and travel options.
The expanded co-operation will be effective from January 1, 2014, and the two carriers will add four new routes to the present arrangement, increasing the total KLM – Kenya Airways joint venture flights to six routes.
The successful co-operation between KLM and Kenya Airways dates back to 1995. In 1997, they initiated a joint venture on the Amsterdam – Nairobi route, and in 2008 expanded the joint venture with the addition to flights between JKIA and Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris, France. Currently, Kenya Airways and KLM operate a daily service between Amsterdam and the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi. The three partner airlines, KQ, KLM and Air France jointly operate 19 weekly return flights between The Netherlands, France and Kenya.
From next year, the co-operation will be expanded through the addition of the London – Nairobi, Amsterdam –Entebbe / Kigali, Amsterdam – Lusaka and Harare and the Amsterdam-Kilimanjaro / Dar-es-Salam routes, the latter subject to pending regulatory approval. This will bring the total number of frequencies operated jointly by Kenya Airways and KLM / Air France to approximately 44 weekly flights with combined revenues exceeding US$500 million.
This enhanced co-operation is aimed at optimizing the longstanding relationship between the two airlines, with the ultimate objective of doubling the amount of frequencies between Europe and the East African continent.
Kenya Airways’ Group Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer Titus Naikuni on the occasion of signing the new deal said: ‘I am proud of the longstanding and successful partnership between KLM and Kenya Airways, both as shareholders, and also business partners. We saw a tremendous development of our route network particularly in the early years of the Joint Venture by focusing our attention through only limited hubs in Europe, allowing our expansion in Africa. This next phase consolidates our capability to serve our guests across the region and into Europe and beyond’.
In his response did KLM’s Chief Operating Officer, Pieter Elbers, who signed the agreement for KLM / Air France add: ‘We are proud of this next milestone in our co-operation with our long time strategic partner Kenya Airways. This long anticipated expansion of the joint venture will enable us to take our co-operation to a new level. Furthermore this new step will provide our passengers with a more extensive network in this important part of the world’.
The KLM / Air France Group currently operates to 42 destinations in Africa, besides holding a 26.73 percent stake in Kenya Airways. The number of KLM destinations on the African continent has grown over the years, reaching 15 different key cities. Together with Kenya Airways a total of 43 destinations are being served between Eastern Africa and Europe making it one of the most complete networks into Africa by any of the three global airlines alliances. Watch this space for breaking and regular news from the Eastern African aviation scene.
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You have to change or get left behind, Blair tells WTTC delegates
SEOUL (eTN) – The former prime minister of the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland, Tony Blair, delivered this year’s keynote address for the second regional summit by the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC), which is currently being held in the South Korean capital.
In his keynote speech, Mr. Blair said: “In the work that I do, I see how important tourism is in the way a country develops today. Important in its economy, important to its society, important in opening it up to the world and sharing different cultures and traditions. Important, of course, in jobs and opportunities. So, the more tourism, the better.”
According to the former UK prime minister, leadership today is a “tough business more than ever” because of the world’s three major characteristics—unpredictable, fast-changing and interdependent.
He said: “In my view, it is the connected people that win. The future belongs to the open-minded. In my country and many others, there is a very traditional divide between left and right. But, the key divide for me is between the open-minded and close-minded; between those who see globalization as an opportunity and those who see it as a threat; between those who are prepared to open up to other cultures and those who want to shut down on the face of it.”
In his view, “most of the conflicts that happen in the world today happen through the abuse of religion for political ends. And the need for people to cooperate and understand each other across the culture and faith divide has never been stronger. To do that, we need to know about each other. Because, it is ignorance that breeds fear and fear that breeds conflict. Knowledge opens our minds to others. That is why travel and tourism are not just important for enjoyment and for business. People visiting other countries and other cultures, gives the chance to explore… to cooperate and to understand each other better. “
To that end, Mr. Blair said the industry is not only good for commerce and prosperity; it can also help bring about “more peace, security and understanding.”
On a lighter note, the former British prime minister said he found it quite paradoxical to have gone into office as a popular person but with very little knowledge about the job, then exiting the job with a lot more knowledge but was lot less popularity.
NO BOARDS FOR KENYA TOURISM PARASTATALS AS LAW GOES FOR REVIEW
Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary in charge of tourism, Mrs. Phyllis Kandie, yesterday responded to mounting pressure over lack of board appointments for the tourism parastatals bodies formed under the most recent version of the Tourism Act, when she stated that the law had to be taken back to the national assembly for amendments as some sections were making their implementation well near impossible.
‘We took the Act for review. It has been difficult to implement it as it is. It’s critical we get it right’ she was quoted as having said when asked the question following the launch of the final countdown for the International Eco- and Sustainable Tourism Conference later this month in Nairobi.
Tourism stakeholders are clearly divided over this issue, with some in their feedback demanding that boards are appointed and appointees subjected to the current requirement of getting approval from the national assembly, while others in fact asked for the entire law to be re-written.
‘This might give the chance to review the tourism law in its entirety. Not just about those difficult sections about board member approvals which in many other sectors is not required. I personally find the entire law bad because it has created a number of bodies all of which need offices, staff, boards and so on. Yet, in many other African countries such functions are bundled under one roof. Look at Rwanda. They got RDB and tourism promotion and wildlife conservation is handled by one major department of RDB. Zimbabwe is another case, they have a tourism authority. Tanzania is toying with forming exactly that, a tourism authority which then handles contentious issues inhouse and not need more costly meetings and retreats to find more costly compromises.
We should use this chance to take a fresh look at things. Already the country is near breaking our back with taxes to pay for all those constitutional changes and new institutions when at the time not one side submitted a detailed cost for us all. Let us not have 6 or 7 or more tourism bodies but one active well facilitated authority with some semi autonomy where the private sector plays a key role and which then shapes our tourism future along our own agreed principles’ wrote a source over several emails last night, when exchanging views on this surely contentious issue. It is perhaps a time when KTF, KATO, KAHC, KATA, EcoTourism Kenya and other key stakeholders can and even should sit down, take stock, look at the cost involved and the effectiveness – and the downside of the potential squabbles and arguments over turf rights – of the current system and then decide to bring a united position to parliament.