• Tuesday, June 18, 2024
businessday logo

BusinessDay

We are ready to host Africa, global tourists, says Lilly Ajarova, UTB boss

20240505_204612_0000

If you want to understand why Uganda is nicknamed the Pearl of Africa, you need to visit to see for yourself.

From an enthralling wildlife hosting the ‘big five’, magnificent landscapes and mountains dotted with some of the highest peaks in Africa, historical monuments, pilgrimage sites, unique accommodation, abundant food, exciting culture and nightlife and most importantly, hospitable people, Uganda is an amazing destination to say the least.

With the above and more going for the East African country, its tourism board is extending invitations to more Africans and global visitors to come and explore the diverse value for money tourism offerings.

Truly, Lilly Ajarova, CEO, Uganda Tourism Board, (UTB), has never failed to invite African visitors to her country at every opportunity she gets.

In recent times, she has sustained the invitation, with the fact that such exchanges within the continent will grow African tourism, create more jobs and impact the Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

Focusing on Africa first, UTB has been engaging its five key source markets of Kenya, Egypt, Nigeria, Ethiopia and South Africa in strategic campaigns to woo more visitations from their respective countries.

As well, there have been many familiarisation trips to the country by trade partners and media from the five markets to enable them to explore and have firsthand knowledge of the offerings to market to their clients and countries.

This year alone, there have been over three of such trips. The most recent in April saw the gathering of trade partners from Nigeria, Kenya, Ethiopia and South Africa, who visited different regions of the country to explore and endorse the offerings for their respective markets.

The UTB also siezed the opportunity to further engage the trade partners, most of whom are first-time visitors.

According to the UTB boss during a meeting with the trade partners at Onomo Hotel in Kampala, Uganda is ready to host the world, starting with Africa.

“We need to explore the continent more because we are abundantly blessed and we also have so much that connect us as Africans,” she noted.

“We have started a mutual engagement with you all to work together to see how we can market Uganda to our key source markets, especially for the first-time visitors to pay repeat visits”.

Insisting that Africans have more to do with each other, the tourism boss noted that Uganda’s highest tourist arrivals is from Kenya.

“We have so much to offer Nigerians as well. I was in Lagos sometime and was hearing names like Kizito and Molumba and I asked if there were many Ugandans here. Those were Uganda martyrs names.

So, it is not about just bringing people, we have more to do with each other as Africans,” she said.

Reeling out some of the attractions, Ajarova said that there are lots of products and attractions across the country and many in the pipeline.

“We have many exciting national parks. As a conservationist, I can attest that they are more enthralling to visit. Mount Rwenzori has a series of 12 waterfalls, apart from being one of the tallest peaks in Africa. We have great golf experiences as each our golf courses has a story behind it and they are close to a national park.

“Our Namugongo Martyrs Shrine has become a rally point for pilgrimage, and of course, we have the source of River Nile at Jinja. We are the adventure that awaits you anytime,” she said.

Beyond the improved visitations, she noted that Uganda is an investment heaven, hence calling on other Africans to come and in invest, especially in the tourism sector.

“We have a number of undeveloped places in Uganda and we can work together as Africans to develop them because the foreigners here, particularly the Indians and Chinese, are choosy on where and what to invest in and somehow it gives them confidence.

“But I feel as Africans we should do more of these investments with Nigerians investing in Uganda, Ugandans investing in Nigeria, South Africans investing here and so on. We have enabling laws that guarantee safe investment and good returns on investment”.

Turning attention to Nigeria, Ajarova said that the most populous country in Africa means so much for Uganda tourism and investment.

Apart from the shopping experience, city tours, nightlife, cultural shows and youthful adventure activities, she thinks that pilgrimage will enthrall Nigerians and that Uganda Martyrs Shrine and Martyrs Day are wonderful products to sell to the Nigerian market.

“For team Nigeria, we can do more on the pilgrimage, planning ahead for the Martyrs Day in June. The Anglican Bishop of Nigeria is the one leading the Anglicans in this year’s Martyrs Day.

“I am making inquiry on how to get the Catholic Bishop in Nigeria to the event to handle the Catholic side of the martyrs celebrations. I look forward to both bishops co-hosting the ceremony that day”.

She is harping on pilgrimage because everyone year Uganda gets at least 100 Nigerians visiting for the Martyrs’ Day celebrations in June.

“They are unique because of their uniform and their flags make loud statements about them at Namugongo Martyrs’ Day at the shrine,” she said in excitement.

Most, importantly, Ajarova cleared all the grey areas, offering the trade partners no excuse not to sell Uganda with good results in their respective countries.

First, she acknowledged the huge impact of the Uganda Airlines on the country’s tourism arrivals, noting that air connections are now seamless from Entebe International Airport to most countries, especially the five key source markets.

She noted that the airline, alongside the ultramodern new wing at the airport, are part of the infrastructural development that are enabling tourism to grow in the country.

“We are also pushing with the city authorities to have infrastructure as they enhance visitors perception of our country and aid seamless experiences for them.

“The government on its part is undertaking many infrastructure projects and in the next 8 months to two years, a lot of changes will be in place to enhance our destination appeal and tourist experience here,” she explained.

With connection sorted with more flights by Uganda Airlines, the UTB boss also addressed other challenges faced by the trade partners in marketing Uganda in their respective countries.

On visa, she noted that UTB has written the Ugandan cabinet to demand for seamless visa processing for would-be visitors.

“At one point Uganda was among the top most accessible destinations in Africa since the removal of visa-on-arrival and made it online, it has affected us. But things are improving now,” she said.

As well, she noted that pricing is a big issue even at the domestic end.

“Visitors want value for money and seamless procedures. We are addressing it. UTB has the mandate by the law not only to market the country, but also to regulate the tourism sector.

We are coming strong and shutting down facilities that do not have the required minimum standard,” she assured.

In her conclusion, the UTB boos thanked the visitors for leaving their busy schedules to be on the trip, promising to offer them the needed support to ensure expected results from their respective markets, including creating a platform and webinar for regular update on tourism development in the ‘Pearl of Africa’.