TOURISM STAKEHOLDERS SEEK ASSURANCES OVER UTB AND TOURISM MINISTRY
Recent meetings of leading tourism stakeholders, coming together to discuss the Ministry of Tourism’s sectoral review and strategize over the future of the sector and how to finally send it soaring, have privately and in some cases publicly expressed their concerns if not outright dissent over PRESTO, the Presidential Initiative on Sustainable Tourism. Calling it ‘a body without legal standing’ and ‘removed from parliamentary oversight’ some of the more outspoken elements amongst tourism stakeholders want the forum scrapped and better funding extended to the Ministry of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities and in particular the Uganda Tourist Board, which has for years almost deliberately been starved of resources, in apparent preparation to liquidate the institution, at least in the view of those spoken to.
‘We have a tourism policy in place which spells out the functions of the various institutions, we have a law in place which governs those institutions and we have regulations in place to administer the sector. We need attention from the top level in government, not an obscure forum which swallows a lot of our meager resources. It is time someone on top stops lipservice and gives our sector recognition. What we have achieved is not because of big support but our own sweat. Government has been half hearted on the sector. Besides some one off actions which also cost a lot of money, we have seen little. The former Vice President had a forum on tourism. Can someone tell us what that cost and what it had achieved in measurable terms. Were any of our recommendation ever implemented? Implement the tourism policy, yes change some of the characters in the tourism ministry who live in the past and when the UTB has enough resources they can then attract the brightest marketers from the open labour market. Right now the packages cannot make someone leave MTN or AIRTEL or COCA COLA to market the country but they are doing a very good job in where they are. We have talent in Uganda but we must be ready to pay for it. They [at UTB] have a marketing plan and strategy but are unable to roll it out for lack of funds. When most of the annual budget barely pays rent and utilities and salaries, what to expect. Why you think did Roni Madhvani quit as Chairman of UTB but for lack of funding and for lack of political support’ ranted a regular source last weekend, when discussing these challenges.
Another source said: ‘We just discussed within the IGAD framework a larger regional cooperation and tourism master plan. UNDP is helping to review and rewrite our national master plan. The last one sat on the shelves for a decade. What of it was implemented I wonder. They have no answers and yet we are supposed to play a part in IGAD and COMESA’s tourism plans’.
Challenges galore for sure for a sector as the country celebrates the Golden Jubilee of Independence, an occasion which together with the ‘Uganda – The BEST destination in 2012’ by Lonely Planet Guides could have spurred some serious progress. Instead is a sector, which could and should be the engine of economic growth for Uganda and spurring added conservation efforts in the process, growing by less than hoped for margins. As so often in the past have personality clashes between former and present staff of the Ministry and turf wars, besides never ending arguments over the implementation of the tourism development levy, its collection and control impacted heavily on the growth of a sector which could for some years sustain 20+ percent growth rates and offer attractive investment opportunities. Anyone listening out there? Quo Vadis Uganda Tourism – full of potential but it is money only the bank accepts, not potential. Watch this space.