Uganda: Gifted Country Needs a Publicity Push

The author, a UK resident, has been to Uganda.

The Pearl of Africa has many attributes, which make it the perfect holiday destination. Gone are the days when Uganda was associated with Idi Amin, HIV/AIDS and Joseph Kony. Indeed I myself have written numerous pieces about my love affair with Uganda and its many attractions. Upon my return to the UK, I have on countless occasions recommended Uganda as a place to visit and invest in; the response though positive has always been one of, ‘Yes I know of Uganda; I just hear more about Kenya and Tanzania as places to holiday in.’

So, are the relevant Ugandan authorities doing enough to promote the country as a tourist destination overseas? How should Uganda’s being brought into the spotlight by Lonely Planet be built on? Is enough being done to market and sell Ugandan made products overseas?

Train stations in London are plastered with posters of South African scenery, inviting people to visit the country. Around the city are advertising boards saying, ‘Incredible India’, ‘Morocco: the country that travels within you’, ‘Nigeria: There’s more beneath the surface’, and ‘Turkey welcomes you’, all aimed at potential visitors. However, missing are the tourism campaigns encouraging people to visit Uganda.

There are no posters with images of the sun-setting on Lake Victoria, no pictures of Bwindi’s mountain gorillas, no billboards informing people of the glistening Pearl of Africa. There are no media campaigns telling adventure seekers about white water rafting in Jinja, or targeting nature lovers through marketing the numerous national parks, or attracting lovers of luxury to the five-star Kampala Serena hotel.

The attractions of Uganda almost speak for themselves, meaning that any advertising need not be complicated. There is no need for gimmicks or celebrity endorsements; the gifts of nature speak for themselves. Perhaps lessons could be learnt from Rwanda, which after the horrors of genocide, has risen as a popular destination for tourists. There, the government created a tourism strategy focusing on all the country has to offer to potential visitors. They created a marketing strategy, which not only revamped the image of Rwanda as a destination for holiday-makers, but also as an attractive hotspot for international conferences and events.

In creating their tourism strategy, Rwanda looked at the tourism developments and campaigns of popular tourist destinations such as Kenya and Mauritius. The Rwanda government has embarked on a strong public relations campaign aimed at the UK and USA, and has designed a 10-year sustainable tourism master plan which has clear recommendations, suggestions and plans to welcome over two million tourists by 2020.

The emergence of Rwanda-made products has also been a by- product of the country’s marketing strategy. Walk into a well-known coffee chain in the UK and available to buy are coffees from Kenya, Tanzania, Ethiopia and Rwanda; yet there is no sign of Ugandan coffee. Similarly, there is no sign in mainstream stores of Ugandan honey; the green beans have a ‘Grown in Kenya’ sticker on them, and products from South Africa have ‘Proudly South African’ plastered on them. No such thing is present on the boxes of tea from Uganda which can be found in UK supermarkets.

Rwanda, Kenya and Tanzania invest large amounts in attracting tourism. For example, Kenya’s tourism marketing budget for 2011-2012 is approximately KShs 1.4bn, far more substantial than the UShs 600m which makes up the budget for Uganda. As a consequence, it is also evident that the more a country invests in attracting tourists, the bigger the economy gains.

The budget for tourism should be expanded, a new marketing strategy drawn up, and a focus on attracting visitors and promoting ‘made in Uganda’ products overseas given importance. Lonely Planet naming Uganda as the number one destination for 2012 should serve as a push for the government to strike while the iron is hot and to take the opportunity to market Uganda around the world through creative advertising campaigns.

In turn, all those that are attracted by the advertising will have the opportunity to live a piece of paradise.

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