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Africa Business News of Tuesday, 23 February 2021


Uganda: UTB brand and push for tourism recovery

When she was first appointed there were whispers. Not that there had been none. In fact, there had been plenty of them in the corridors at Lugogo House, the home of the Uganda Tourism Board (UTB).

Too much had been happening - some laughable stuff - for an agency on which Uganda was seeking to steal the shine away from regional heavyweights - Kenya and Tanzania.

At the fold of 2000, the government had seemed to understand the importance of tourism. Indeed, there had been attempts to reinvigorate UTB into a solid vehicle that would sell brand Uganda.

UTB, before the 2000s, one would say, was just one of those agencies, stuck in the civil service mood and delivering so little.

There was little happening and the problem of “no funds” to do this or that had become another facet in the woods of an agency that only seemed to receive with little return on investment.

Workers would turn up to draw salaries without doing much and years had gone by with a gaping call for change.

However, the arrival of Stephen Asiimwe, an experienced marketer with a strong drive in the private sector and media, had seemed a welcome relief.

Things had started happening but between there was something amiss.
Something had sucked the energy out of the agency that had promised to deliver brand Uganda to another level.

The drive, which had been building had started to wane with corridor rumours pointing to brewing office politics that would later manifest in a fist fight between two members of management.

In the later years of Asiimwe’s second contract, it was clear that there was need to change things.

The mood within and without had been falling, so low that UTB needed new blood to give it fresh energy and a new direction.

To be fair, Assimwe had done an enormous job to build a new mold of UTB, whose visibility and brand had grown beyond the veil of just another civil service extension. But it was difficult to put a finger on who would do the job, not just for the sake of it, but drive the tourism agenda forward.

In fact, names, from within UTB and without, had been thrown around but what better way to deliver a surprise than the appointment of Lilly Ajarova somewhere around January 2019.

Ajarova, according to people familiar with the goings-on then, was the only female in a race of three and it was a surprise that she beat two men with vast experience in civil service, media and international organisations.

However, those who knew her well from her days in conservation at Ngamba Island Chimpanzee Sanctuary argued otherwise. Government had delivered the right the person, they would say.

And make no mistake. What better way to measure Ajarova than now when she has held together brand Uganda and the tourism sector when Covid-19 had threatened to sweep away all the shine and threatened to collapse one of Uganda’s largest foreign exchange-earners.

For starters, there are few sectors that have not been affected by Covid-19. But for tourism it has been to the extreme. Jobs, later alone companies, foreign exchange, and taxes have been wiped out.

But the energy at UTB seems to tell a different story. It has held together an industry which had been the most threatened.

Of course, UTB has enjoyed some government support but it is the drive that has kept hope alive at a time when numbers have not been looking good for a long period.

Until March 2020, according to data from UTB, the tourism industry had been growing with an incremental average of at least 4 per cent annually.

Of course, this had been achieved out of sweat with earnings peaking at $1.6b by the end of the 2018/19 financial year.

However, by December 2020, the industry had lost an estimated one million tourists, which, UTB says, translated into up to $1.06b or Shs3.91 trillion in lost earnings.

Therefore, the road to recovery will be the hardest. However, as Ajarova believes Covid-19 has been a great learning curve”, which has presented justification for a renewed strategy that seeks a balance between overseas visitors and domestic, regional and intra-African travelers”.

Therefore, now that the UTB brand has been consolidated, there is a need to rebuild on the positive vibe to shake off the Covid-19 existential threat.
Whereas there have been mixed signals in the recovery of global tourism in 2020, Ajarova believes it will be a different story in Uganda because UTB, together with government has done enough to push a pickup in domestic, regional, and intra-African visitors.

This, she says, will be achieved at least in the second half of 2021 with numbers among international visitors expected to improve by 2022.

But this shall not just drop, she says, it will be through strong awareness and UTB will put it at the forefront as it seeks to push the tourism agenda in the face of both Ugandans and international travelers.

“Anybody who understands tourism will tell you that it is built on 5As - attractions, accommodation, amenities, accessibility, and awareness. While the first 4As form the bedrock - and Uganda has plenty of them, awareness is what converts the first 4As into money. It is not until tourists are aware … that you begin to make money,” she says.

Therefore, it is this push that UTB is seeking to leverage on everyone, especially role models such as athlete Joshua Kiprui Cheptegei to promote and market Uganda as a preferred tourism destination for both domestic and international tourists.

In the next year, Ajarova says, UTB will collaborate, specifically with Cheptegei to promote destination Uganda.

But this, she says, will not be done in isolation, it will be combined efforts involving all Ugandans and other external stakeholders.

Therefore, the journey to recovery is going to be UTB’s preoccupation because Ajarova believes: “It is time to work even harder to put this tough past behind us”.

How UTB plans to use Joshua Kiprui Cheptegei:

• Engage in and endorse tourism campaigns for marketing and promoting Uganda as a preferred tourism destination.

• Promote destination Uganda during his domestic and international sports activities, dressed up in branded uniforms, and display the branded collateral.

• Authorise UTB to use his image in photos, videos, and promotional collateral and material.

• Engage his domestic, regional, and international athletics network and peers and encourage them to visit Uganda.

• Create publicity and awareness of the tourism destinations in Uganda that he travels to during the term of this memorandum of understanding.

• Participate in and attend any other tourism promotion events subject to his availability.

• Acknowledge, recognise, and publicise UTB as the official tourism partner during press conferences, speeches, announcements, commercials, and sports events.

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