By Jonathan Benaiah (The Ugandan Tourist)

Was October 2017 a blissful month in the history of Uganda’s tourism, the start of a new era headed towards the right direction?

Giant’s Club Investment Forum

On Friday last week, the 6th of October 201, the Giants Club staged Africa’s first conservation and Tourism Investment Forum in Uganda at the Lake Victoria Serena Resort Hotel, an event organized by Space for Giants, one of the world’s leading conservation non-governmental organizations dedicated to the protection of elephants, and their landscapes.

The forum attracted a finely selected and healthy list of high-net-worth investors from around the world. It was a unique opportunity to harness the financial muscle of the world’s leading conservation-compatible businesses, including hotel and lodge operators, to raise vital funds to support and protect Uganda’s wildlife.

In the name of attracting the rich boys to set up shop in the Pearl of Africa, the perceived Canaan of the African continent, Uganda made quite a number of presentations trying to respond to the investors query of “Why Uganda”. Highlights of the Pearl of Africa were discussed by Stephen Asiimwe, the Chief Executive Officer of Uganda Tourism Board; a presentation of investment opportunities in high-end accommodation facilities in some protected areas like Queen Elizabeth, Murchison Falls and Kidepo Valley National Park by Andrew Seguya, the Executive Director of Uganda Wildlife Authority; spiced up with a raft of investment incentives communicated in a discussion of panelists commanded by the Executive Director of Uganda Investment Authority, Jolly Kaguhangire.

The “goodest” news

The height of the day (for me) was the presidential speech by H.E. Yoweri Kaguta Museveni that confirmed the government’s continued commitment to tourism development as had been prior displayed when Mr. Museveni’s government selected tourism among the prime sectors to drive the country to middle-income status by 2020, also captured in the Uganda Vision 2040 and mapped out in the National Development Plan II 2015/16 – 2019/20.

But perhaps the cherry atop the icing on the cake for me was learning about the president’s edict to incentivize regional flights to Uganda’s national parks, through a news article by the media mogul… the Independent hereTourists will be able to fly directly into Uganda’s immaculate National Parks from within the region without necessarily needing to first clear with the immigration office at the country’s only international airport in Entebbe.

An aircraft lands at in Serengeti National Park, Tanzania

This move, if approved by the Ugandan Ministry of Internal Affairs and the country’s Civil Aviation Authority, would see tourists clearing immigration on arrival directly to the airfields in the national parks. This follows the enactment of a single-entry tourist visa for the three nations of Kenya, Uganda, and Rwanda, the East African Tourist Visa which costs only US$100 but grants a tourist seamless access to the 3 tourism rich countries.

But what’s the good in this?

Liberalization or loosening of any country’s airspace has its risks and the proponents of closed airspaces will quickly step forward to present a highlight of the possible risks and challenges like the foreseen potential threats of terrorism by guerillas who may fly into the country in the guise of tourists. In other parts of the world, nations have preferred closed airspaces in a bid to protect their ailing local airlines.

But this shouldn’t be the case for Uganda. The regional flights into the national parks from within the region can be regulated in a special way to confirm that they are strictly tourism flights, and I would think that these flights wouldn’t have the kind of impact that the actual (huge) passenger planes would have if they were granted direct access to the parks. In my view we are really looking at the smaller aircrafts and private jets owned by “billionaires on safari” in Africa. Uganda is actually quite late for this.

This brings a whole new feel to the African safari and possibly a sweet ride towards the desired goal of seamless travel in East Africa and marketing East Africa as a single tourist destination.

It has been operational in the East African region, but still quite limited. I think the best example is the connection between Serengeti National Park and Rwanda’s Kigali International Airport. The ultimate convenience of flying directly from Kigali to the plains of Serengeti National Park, saving precious time and money of the previous days when tourists had to go through a number of airports to get from Rwanda to one of Africa’s largest and most visited National Parks, Serengeti. The flight now leaves Kigali early in the morning, so tourists need not to stress about breakfast; is it not better to leave the land of  a thousand hills (Rwanda) to enjoy scrambled eggs and bacon at your lodge in the plush plains of the Serengeti. Now that level of convenience is what some tourists look for (it’s not really the cost in monetary terms)… ease on safari, it’s a holiday they are looking for at the end of the day, not driving or aeroplane time!

Will Smith in Tanzania

Think of it… The big spenders that pay more than US$1000 per person for a hotel room in the Serengeti in Tanzania, the likes of David Beckham and Will Smith (who was recently in the Serengeti) can fly out of Tanzania direct to Kihihi Airstrip in Kanungu district and then transfer to one of the pomp hotels in Buhoma near the gorilla kingdom called Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. Or a couple flies from the Masai Mara direct to Kisoro airstrip and then transfers to Nkuringo for a night at one of the beautiful hotels there, to then track the mountain gorillas the following morning. Even sweeter since Uganda’s gorilla permit fee won’t change from its current US$600 (at least not next year), much more affordable than Rwanda’s gorilla permit.

I see so many itinerary possibilities… Here are a couple:

Having completed a gorilla tracking safari, tourists can choose to be booked on a flight from Kigali, straight into the virgin and picturesque Kidepo Valley National Park, where they can also enjoy a convenient trip to the archaic Ik, a people who still put up in a “traditional life” setting.

Or perhaps on his next trip to the Serengeti, Usher Raymond can quickly swing by the forested Kibale National Park (the best point to track chimpanzees in the world) and then continue to Murchison Falls National park for the cruise to the bottom of the world’s strongest waterfalls… Murchison Waterfalls, before flying to Kigali for a visit to the Genocide memorial.

At the forum, Patrick Fitzgibbon, senior vice president for development at Hilton, the global hotel and hospitality group mentioned that “The more attractive and streamlined Uganda can make the immigration process, the easier it’s going to be to grow tourism.” Of course a lot has to happen (at the same time). Some serious intergovernmental engagements must quickly happen, the singing of MoU’s, the registration of new concessionaires into but in my opinion, this would be a great move; a worthwhile venture.

At the forum, quite a number of incentives were suggested including discounts on hotel bed night levies, waivers on fees charged to land at wilderness airfields, and extensive support to market new tourism enterprises.

Was October 2017 a blissful month in the history of Uganda’s tourism, the start of a new era headed towards the right direction, or will it be remembered as a potential high-level engagement down the drain, will it be another political statement by the Head of State that goes unattended by the responsible bodies of government? The generations that preceded ours taught us to say “Time will tell”.

I would really like to read your views in the comment box below. (Wink Wink)

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.