Uganda records domestic tourism boom

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Nestled on an island in the rushing waters of the Nile, Lemala Wildwaters is a very special holiday destination.

This year, it was voted the second most Instagrammable hotel in the world by the travel site Luxury Travel Advisor.

And with its lush greenery, raging torrents and picture-perfect thatched cottages, it’s easy to see why.

The station began to attract a whole new type of visitors – local people.

As the pandemic has halted international travel, Ugandans have become aware of the beauty they can find within their own borders.

Isaiah Rwanyekiro, CEO of tour operator Breathtaking Uganda, said this was a big change in the market.

“Previously, Ugandans didn’t travel to Uganda so much. A lot of people thought they were born here, grew up here and there was nothing exciting to see,” he says.

“But eventually we started showing them so many of these beautiful places like Wildwaters, like Chobe, like Murchison Falls, like Kidepo National Park, like Queen Elizabeth National Park, and every time we go there with photographers, videographers, cameramen and we have these amazing images, these amazing videos, everyone kept asking, are you sure this is Uganda and we’re like yes this is Uganda? “Uganda is our country, that’s how beautiful it is. we showed people how beautiful Uganda is, the more people appreciated the beauty of this country, the more they move to in and around Uganda.”

This island paradise offers exciting views from every angle.

Addicted to travel, Gitahi Wangeshi has visited many destinations around the world.

She visits Wildwaters for the first time with a group of friends.

“I’ve been to South Africa – a beautiful place, but there’s something about Uganda. It’s green so you get nature, people are friendly, food is fresh so you get fish fresh – it’s divine,” says Gitahi.

Dedan Ochele is Managing Director of Wildwaters.

He has seen a huge change from before the pandemic, when most visitors were foreigners, to now.

“Looking at the numbers we get, 70-65% are local Ugandans. And again COVID has opened our eyes. You can’t depend on foreign tourists anymore,” he says.

“I’m happy because of social media, the kind of guys who come here, they spread the news, they spread the word to their friends and we literally survive on the local Ugandan market.”

This region of East Africa is home to a wide variety of tourist attractions, from the source of the Nile to its 10 national parks that are home to the so-called “BIG 5” safari animals.

The government says it actively promotes parks and wildlife to entice Ugandans to holiday in their own country.

“If you look at December numbers, for example, around 41,000 people visited national parks,” said the Hon. Martin Magarra Bahinduka, Minister of State for Tourism.

“But the highest percentage for the first time are Ugandans, which has never happened before. So that’s very promising and we hope that if we continue to focus on the domestic market, the numbers will definitely increase. . And that’s what we encourage, what Ugandans need to travel to this country, love their country but also through this we can create a sustainable tourism sector.”

One of the biggest hurdles for Ugandans is the cost of visiting these places.

The government therefore allowed more competition in an effort to lower prices.

“What we have done deliberately as a ministry with our partners at UWA (Uganda Wildlife Authority) is actually give more concessions to more people to build housing in the protected areas so that we can make the housing a little more competitive and also create availability,” said the minister.

“The prices will automatically come down but I can assure you that there are accommodations in the parks from 30,000 shillings 50,000, 80 to 100. So everyone is catered for, whoever wants to pay $1,000 , we have this accommodation, 300 we have.”

The booming tourism sector is also helping to lower unemployment levels that have soared during the pandemic lockdowns in Uganda.

For places like Wildwaters, giving jobs to the local community is a major key to sustainability.

“We always employ as many local communities as possible, we train them, so we always also look at talent when they work with us, we spot talent, we train it and we promote it higher,” explains Ochele.

“Of course we’re community owned, we’re only doing this basically because of the community and to maintain our standards that you come to Africa, you come to Uganda, you come to Lemala Wildwaters, you see that kind of difference .”

From adrenaline-pumping activities to majestic landscapes, Uganda hopes to keep more of its citizens home for their holidays.

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