The fifth edition of the Pearl of Africa Tourism Expo (POATE) opened up on a positive note by reaffirming Uganda’s position to welcome investors to grab opportunities into the country’s bustling tourism sector.
The expo that runs under the theme, ‘Promoting Intra-Africa Travel’ is intended to raise awareness about the untapped potential presented by emerging African travel markets.
This is a three days of business to business and business to customer engagements amongst key Ugandan and regional tourism players with selected tourism wholesalers from Africa and other overseas tourism markets.
It has attracted over 57 international hosted buyers, over 140 domestic and regional tourism operators as well as international and domestic media.
The Expo was officially opened by Gen (Rtd.) Moses Ali the First Deputy Prime Minister and Deputy leader of government business in Parliament, on behalf of President Museveni.
In a speech read for him by Moses Ali, Museveni applauded Uganda Tourism Board for organising the expo that he noted would go a long way in “expanding business opportunities in the tourism sector in Uganda and the entire East African region.”
Museveni told the delegates that Uganda has significantly invested in creating “peace and stability, good road networks, enough electricity supply, better telecommunications networks and internet” and these investments would enable Uganda’s tourism sector to be competitive.
“Without investment in this critical infrastructure, tourism cannot flourish, the government has restored Uganda Airlines to attract tourists to Uganda because the many planned direct routes to Uganda, tourists and business people alike will have faster and more affordable travel to Uganda, making us a competitive destination,” he said.
Museveni also commended UTB for the intra-African outlook saying that since the Ugandan government had “achieved commendable progress in addressing some of the strategic bottlenecks” which hindered Uganda’s prosperity, it was time to focus on intra-African business.
“Africa has a big market of 1.2 billion people which we must exploit to our advantage by increasing intra-trade and intra-travel among us. Endless opportunities: Rich attractions portfolio, value for money and high return on investment.”
Lilly Ajarova, the Chief Executive Officer of Uganda Tourism Board (UTB) told the delegates that Uganda was full of abundant tourism opportunities characterised by the richest tourism attractions portfolio, best value for money for investors and tourists alike and therefore healthy returns on investment.
“We have the richest and most diverse range of human, natural, cultural, religious and historical attractions complemented by a warm tropical climate, warm people, great accommodations and great food,” she said.
Ajarova, told the over 200 tourism business leaders from over 20 countries and 4 continents, that because Uganda has the “highest concentration of attractions over a smaller geographical area” where “tourists get to see more for less and there is something for everyone”, as a destination, Uganda offers the best value for money.”
She also said that the healthy growth in visitor arrivals coupled with a vast array of tourism assets presented big returns on tourism investment and that the recent government investments in transport infrastructure had made the country more accessible both from the outside and inland.
“It is now easier to get into Uganda by air from virtually anywhere around the world- 32,735 flights in and out of Uganda in the year 2018/19. With Uganda Airlines, there will be faster and more convenient direct routes, especially from Africa. Today, it is also easier to get around by air, road and water,” she said.
Explaining the theme of POATE2020 and the special focus on Africa, Ajarova said that Africa’s economic prospects were on the rise and that the continent was emerging as one of the fastest-growing tourism markets after Asia and the Pacific with outbound traffic reaching 42 million in 2018.
“The theme mirrors our strategy to rebalance and segment our tourism portfolio into 4 key segments, namely: existing overseas markets; emerging overseas markets; regional/African market and the domestic Ugandan market,” she said.
Addressing the hosted buyers on why they should prioritise selling Destination Uganda, Ajarova said: “Do not settle for a bouquet of attractions when Uganda can give you and your clients a garden of attractions and endless opportunities for your businesses!”
Col (Rtd.) Tom Butime, the new Minister of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities, called upon delegates to explore the immense potential presented by Destination Uganda.
“Numbers don’t lie,” he said he told the tourism operators; “We do offer, probably the best value for money per dollar spent and there is something for everyone- regardless of age, gender, budget and preferences.” he said.
Butime, said that on top of healthy visitor numbers and the richest attractions portfolio on the continent, Uganda offered one of most abundant investment incentive regimes in the tourism sector.
The opening ceremony of this year’s POATE was honoured by the presence of Kiwanda Godfrey Ssuubi, the Minister of State for Tourism and Antiquities, Rev Fr. Simon Lokodo, the Minister for Ethics & Integrity, Uganda Tourism Board Members, as well as several Members of Parliament, ambassadors and private sector players.
Pearl Hoareau Kakooza, the President, Uganda Tourism Association (UTA) called upon government to invest more in industry capacity building, new product development, capital investments and facilitating access to affordable financing.
“Interest rates ranging from 18-25% from commercial banks are prohibitive for direct investment in the private sector. UTA members would wish to have access to affordable financing for this sector,” she said, adding that access to more affordable financing for the sector, “would translate into a broader tax base and by extension, more tax revenue.”
UTA is an umbrella organization that brings together all tourism trade Associations in Uganda that represent 7,000 tourism professionals, comprising of tour operators, travel agents, accommodation facilities, tour guides, and community-based organizations and arts and crafts.
Alain St. Ange, the President of the Africa Tourism Board, lauded Uganda for creating peace and stability but also challenge the African continent to rise up and tell its own positive story.
“Uganda has something that few countries in Africa can talk about- stability, safety,” he said, emphasising that such positive stories need to be told about Africa.
“Africa must work together to rewrite its own narrative. It cannot continue to let the world to ride on the back of Africa, writing what they want, and often, looking at all the mishaps; all the mistakes and for everything else that is not good about Africa. Our successes are not written about. This is something that Africa must do for Africa,” he said.