Tourism Uganda gets new board and the promise of the tourism levy becoming reality

JAMES TUMUSIIME APPOINTED NEW CHAIRMAN OF UGANDA TOURISM BOARD

In a marked departure from past practice, when often political considerations influenced the appointment of members of the Board of Directors of Tourism Uganda, has the Minister for Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities Hon. Maria Mutagamba announced a team of seasoned professionals comprising leading industry representatives to oversee, in what can only be hoped, the revival of Uganda’s tourism fortunes on a grand scale.

Chairman of the Board is Mr. James Tumusiime, a leading member of the publishing and media fraternity in Uganda, signaling a new partnership with the media in the making.

Also on the board now is the Executive Director of the Uganda Wildlife Authority Dr. Andrew Seguya, significant as much of Uganda’s tourism industry is based on wildlife experience and visits to the 10 national parks.

Similarly was Ms. Lilly Ajarova, the Executive Director of the Ngamba Island Chimpanzee Sanctuary appointed to serve an initial 3 year term on the board. Others are Mr. Roger Wamara, Sales and Marketing Manager of Qatar Airways in Uganda, Amos Wekesa, CEO of Great Lakes Safaris, Ismail Sekandi, Managing Director of Rwizi Arch Hotel in Mbarara and immediate former Executive Director of the Uganda Hotel Owners Association. From the government side were Mrs. Edith Kassaja-Kateme of the National Planning Authority appointed along with Mr. Michael Aliyo from the Ministry of Finance, Planning and Economic Development.

Mr. Cuthbert Baguma, the Executive Director of Tourism Uganda, serves as an ex officio member and Secretary to the Board.

While announcing the appointments, the Minister also signaled a further significant change to the funding of the Uganda Tourism Board, when she indicated that the long overdue operationalisation of the Tourism Development Levy, provided for in the Tourism Act of 2008 but never, until now, made a reality, is due to be tackled in the next financial year 2013/14, which could turn the fortunes of Tourism Uganda around.

Long hampered by a lack of funding, inspite of regular verbal commitments to the sector, which has in recent years become a key economic activity for the country, Tourism Uganda’s budget allocations were barely enough to meet recurrent expenses and had promotional activities overseas restricted to attending just the most important tourism trade fairs, like ITB, WTM and a few others. When the levy becomes operational, an estimated 10 million US Dollars will become available for a range of tourism related activities, spelled out in the law and related regulations of the upcoming Tourism Development Fund, key among them financing the operations of Tourism Uganda. This will put Uganda, in terms of available marketing budgets, at par with other key destinations, not only in the region but the continent at large. Budget analysts expect that UTB will for the next financial year be allocated between 1.5 and 2 billion Uganda Shillings, a fraction of what industry observers consider the bare minimum, but with the levy now apparently becoming a reality, the long lasting financial woes of Tourism Uganda seem to be finally coming to an end.

A regular source, when discussing the appointments, provided this insight: ‘Finally we get a competent board with experience from across the entire industry. Airlines, hotels, safari operators, wildlife attractions, they are now all present at board level. But the best news is that the levy will become a reality now. As you know, for a long time there were these issues of who collects and where does the money go, and the industry was totally opposed to see the money go to the Ministry of Finance, because it would be used for alien purposes. If lucky we would get a fraction back. But like CAA collects airport service charge and uses it as they see fit to develop our airport, so should tourism have the same right to collect a levy and use it as the industry decides. You have some years ago already said that UTB should have between 1.5 and 2 million US Dollars as a marketing budget. The levy could substantially increase that now. Uganda can finally build on the top ratings we got from Lonely Planet and National Geographic and many other sources, naming us a leading adventure and safari destination. We can match such recognition with a presence at all key tourism trade fairs. The Adventure Travel Trade Shows in America for instance could bring us a lot of traffic. We can go into new and emerging markets like Eastern Europe and China and make our attractions known. The airlines are ready to bring extra capacity from such markets, especially our long standing partners like KLM, Kenya Airways, Brussels Airlines or BA but also those from the Gulf like Emirates and Qatar or Turkish Airlines. We might see new airlines wanting to fly to Entebbe even. These are the first rays of real hope tourism had in a long time and the sector will blossom from it’.

While all eyes will now be on the new board to see how they shape their agenda and implement it, at this moment in time it is congratulations to the newly appointed Board of Directors of Tourism Uganda and all the best for the work ahead in coming years.

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