The throb of an unanswered question has been on my mind for quite some time now. “How does one make sense of domestic tourism?”

It’s likely that most people at the mention of travel or tourism, think of distant, outlandish destinations with white-sandy coastlines, palm trees or snow-white terrain.

For a moment, I have been on this mission to explore emerging concepts like ecotourism or call it responsible tourism, the emerging notion of vacationers in search for cultural experiences, travel for Meetings Incentives Conference and Events (MICE), women-only-tours, and many other special interest travel packages that seem to attract a favorable share of the global tourism-interest-debate.

Along the way, I started to think about how these, and many other new kinds of travel have been inspired by the demand for newer experiences if destinations are to maintain the appeal or be worth visiting again and again.

This left me with this bingo-urge to find out what it would be like, five, ten, twenty years down the road, given the socioeconomic, environmental and political changes in what has always been a rapidly evolving sector, the tourism industry. It certainly will not be business as usual, that I know for sure.

Just the other day I was reading the World Travel and Tourism Council’s (WTTC) analysis on where the world’s tourism happens the most and an interesting revelation was that it happens closer to home, not so far from a traveler’s own home.

“That statement needs pretty much no interpretation. In plain English understanding, this means that the money spent by national citizens is a much more attractive source of tourism money than foreign visitors. There has been this opinion that promoting domestic tourism is a good shock absorber for times when international tourists defer travel to a particular destination because of reasons like wobbles in security or disease outbreaks. We cannot undermine the unique nature of international tourism in most destinations, with high peaks in demand and low seasons when the hotels and tourism sites are at their lowest levels of occupancy; domestic tourism can play a useful stabilizing role. In countries like Kenya, domestic tourism has been said to be a sustainable precursor to international tourism development and the argument has been that the domestic holidaymaker travels wider than the conventional foreign tourist, therefore, helping governments to open up new areas but also contribute to destination promotional efforts. The assumption is that when one travels around their country, they are also in search of national identity, and may then freely speak about this with chauvinism even when relocating to the diaspora for work.”

Yea I know that long statement sounds like an old tired line. Domestic tourism is important blah blah blah!

But let’s give this some thought…

The other day I was asked what the world’s most spoken language is. Like many of you, I thought English was the correct answer, but in the literal sense, English might not even be in the first 2 positions. Statistics reveal that it’s actually the Chinese and Spanish languages which fill those first two spaces.

You don’t get my point yet, do you?

There are a lot of people in China, actually about 20% percent of the world’s total population to be exact.

A large population has pushed some of them to travel around the world and spread their influence in different disciplines like business, technology, and industrialization as well as export their language to almost every corner of our globe. Does this explain why Chinese could be the world’s biggest language?

Bingo!

China’s thriving domestic tourism

Now it’s very evident that China’s huge population has made her big on many fronts, but if we return to the very gist of our discussion today, what amazes me even more, is its booming domestic tourism which has pushed its government to realign its tourism promotion efforts.

Ctrip, a Chinese provider of travel services; and the Chinese Tourism Academy (CTA), both report that Chinese tourists spent up to $115.29 billion on outbound travel in 2017.

Now on the flipside, China’s domestic tourism spending was a whopping $720 billion, representing growth of almost 16 percent compared to the year before.

Yes, it would be pretty obvious that Chinese (being the world’s largest population) would also form the biggest percentage of domestic tourists, but doesn’t that mammoth difference between its foreign and domestic tourism receipts trigger your faculties? I mean, isn’t a difference of $605 billion shocking?

Domestic tourism, a global perspective

The figures also hold true on the global table. Actually, in its research on the economic impact of tourism over the past 25 years or more, the WTTC also revealed that more than 7 of each 10 dollars spent on tourism are disbursed domestically.

This left me wondering why this concept, I mean the domestic tourism theory isn’t yet as well explored in most tourist destinations, including my own, in Uganda.

I know you’re thinking… You must be pondering around the fact that, maybe the Chinese have money and that Ugandans can’t spend as much as the Chinese do when compared to the foreign tourists Uganda receives. It’s this same argument most business owners will give you even in the low season as their empty rooms mold away.

We’ll come back to this in a moment.

I recently asked Ugandans why Ugandans don’t travel that much

About a week or so, ago, I ran a quick Social Media poll on Twitter and Facebook; with the intention to hear from the Ugandans themselves (both the tourists and people in the tourism trade) about why domestic tourism might be a little-known, or rather a slowly developing concept.

Some of your reactions were very intriguing…

 

 

 

Of course, tourism officials have on various fora mentioned that domestic tourism is a fast growing segment, but in the absence of reliable statistics to back up their declaration, my inquisitive mind can only ride on qualitative or rather visible attributes of a Ugandan vacationer, which are largely wrapped around the pursuit of exotic white-sandy coastlines, palm trees, and a flight out of Entebbe International Airport.

That seems to be the catch!

We think we know why we do not travel or why Ugandans do not travel. But what if we had it all wrong?

The discussion on social media showed so evidently that there are various barriers or reasons why Ugandans would not be as excited about a trip within Uganda as they would be for a trip for example to Zanzibar, Mombasa, Dubai or South Africa.

I, however, recognized that it’s not just about the white sand. I discovered that Ugandans are probably not looking for the exact things international tourists come to see, but would visit those same places if some slight creative twists were made.

Take the example of BPM. Oh my gosh! Ugandans love their BPM, actually, they literally go berserk at the thought of it. I don’t mean Beats Per Minute, I mean:

 

Bottle (Uganda is said to have the second highest number of drinkers in Africa. Alcohol drinkers to be exact)

People (Ugandans prefer to travel in groups. Family vacations and band-wagon trips sell much easier)

Music (Ugandans are happy people who like to party)

 

Sounds just like the formula!

How the tourism trade comes up with innovative packages tagged upon these attributes would be a fine place to start.

In that same social media conference, there were many other passionate submissions like the limited or lack of awareness about some of the available attractions and lodging options for different budgets (especially the lower budget options).

You guys also spoke of the low interest by tour operators to design packages for the domestic market guided by an understanding of their preferences, tastes and travel behavior; but also the perceived low-value for a holiday within one’s own country when compared to outbound travel; as well as the deterrent rates or fees charged to locals at some tourist sites and lodging spots.

Some other interesting discussions centered around the absence of a savings culture, very little disposable income and therefore propensity to travel, and the discrimination in form of service by some tourist sites, hotels, and some tour operators who prefer to serve foreign visitors (for various reasons)

to balance things around, I also had brief chats with some practitioners in the tourism business who attributed the slow development in this area (domestic tourism) to the absence of a “travel and saving culture” amongst the biggest percentage of the country’s citizens.

“Not many Ugandans make advance plans to travel and therefore there are barely any timely confirmations from their side. This makes them an extremely tough group of travelers for our company to handle, given the many pre-trip commitments that we must make with lodges, transport providers and tourism site managers”, one tour operator said.

Let’s get smart with domestic tourism.

Don’t easily jump to conclusions. So they say. But my quick conclusion is that there is a need for more innovative ways to market our tourist destinations and product offerings to entice our citizens to travel and experience the country that births them.

There is a need for deliberate efforts to study the domestic traveler and dedicated government investment in domestic tourism promotion. But on the flipside, Ugandans ought to develop a travel culture, which comes with planning, setting realistic expectations and understanding budgets limits.

I was reading about Hungary’s SZÉP card (pictured below) the other day and it had me thinking.

This card is a tax-free benefit which employers give their employees. It functions in a way that the employer puts a cash value on the employee’s card each month, and the cardholders can eventually use it to make purchases at businesses in the tourism industry.

One purpose of this card is to support and encourage local tourism among Hungarians.

Could it work in the corporate world in Uganda, even if the employer’s contributions were a lot less than in the western world? I think this would work as a good incentive for their teams to travel?

I have friends who tell me about how their companies give them shopping cards to buy stuff in the festive season.

How about if the contributions on the card were a shared contribution? How about more points were earned on each trip taken, and could be redeemed in the future?

I know some youthful friends who started travel clubs. They share well in advance a calendar of the year’s planned trips and allow Ugandans to make installment payments. It’s like a savings group, but one that rewards them with amazing experiences. Of course, you’ll say trust issues, but this model is working already.

We talked about BPM earlier and it’s got me thinking about the opportunity for people to invest in promoting holiday group tours or team building packages to corporates.

My curious mind has me thinking about whether it would make sense to hold monthly or bimonthly silent discos out of the main cities. I like that you’re thinking like me. Bottle, People, Music – B P M.

I am confident domestic tourism is worth a bet

Tourism is repeatedly proving to be a force for good, and domestic tourism has a special role in sustaining and developing the industry, given its many long-term economic benefits and its contribution to our social fabric in the way it strengthens communities, cultures and instills a sense of patriotism.

I’ll end in this overused yet still very important statement…

“The business community, destinations, and governments should plan for domestic tourism in their strategies, bearing in mind that their strategies for international tourism do not come at the cost of domestic tourism. But also domestic tourists must become more intentional tourists.”

I’m out!

Written by 

My old folks call me Jonathan Benaiah but I prefer to go by as “The Ugandan Tourist“. I love to travel, write, take photos (of nature mostly). Ask me my best kind of trips and I'll tell you that it's those moments which allow me enough time in the African bush.