Domestic Tourism: A Closer Look at Impacts of Explore Uganda Campaigns

Domestic Tourism: A Closer Look at Impacts of Explore Uganda Campaigns

Having grappled with the Covid-19 pandemic and barely keeping afloat for the years 2020-2021, stakeholders in Uganda’s tourism industry came to a critical realization that for the industry to be resilient, the domestic tourism component must be reinforced.

Before this wake-up call, the better part of marketing aimed at selling destination Uganda beyond the region and drawing in foreign tourists.

The travel restrictions put in place to cub the pandemic in early 2020 through 2021 and some good months of 2022 gave the tourism industry world over a hard slap, with countries getting meagre revenue from a sector that was, before Covid-19, a cash cow for numerous economies.
Even for a country whose tourism sector contributed Shs5. 8 trillion in the 2018/2019 financial year, making it the country’s leading foreign currency earner then, Uganda was not immune to the devastating effects of Covid-19 and this blow was largely blamed on over reliance on inbound tourism.

To counter this, the Government of Uganda through the Ministry of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities embarked on strategic promotion of domestic tourism to be able to withstand shocks brought about by disruptions in foreign/cross border travel.
Explore Uganda, The Pearl of Africa
On 21st January 2022, the President of Uganda H.E Yoweri Kaguta Museveni officially unveiled the country’s redefined tourism destination brand – Explore Uganda, The Pearl of Africa operated by the Uganda Tourism Board (UTB), the official tourism marketing and regulatory agency under the Tourism Ministry.

Among its core components, the Explore Uganda, the Pearl of Africa call to action invites in tourists- both domestic, regional and international to delve into rediscovering the wonders of Uganda, spread across her various regions.
Most importantly, however, following the Covid-19 shocker on the global tourism sphere, the marketing brand seeks to create a resilient tourism sector and reduce dependence on foreign tourists through bolstering and reinforcing domestic tourism among other strategies.
To this end, domestic tourism campaigns meant to traverse the different regions of the country kicked off in December 2022 with the inaugural edition dubbed Explore Elgon which drew in more than 300 domestic tourists for a 4-day expedition in Bugisu headlined by the State Minister for Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities Hon. Martin Mugarra Bahinduka.

This would be followed by Explore West held in April 2023, Explore North (June 2023), Explore Bunyoro (September 2023) and the just concluded Explore Busoga (February 2024).

“By pushing these domestic tourism drives, we are not neglecting the foreign campaign, it is also ongoing. However, Covid-19 has taught us that the only way we can have a resilient tourism sector going forward is to focus on the domestic market and we are seeing the achievements. This is not unique to Uganda, it’s a global dynamic,” Mugarra said during the launch of the Explore West tour back in 2023.
How Explore Uganda Campaigns Boost Domestic Tourism

Popularization of Regional Tourism Sites/Attractions

According to Minister Mugarra, when tourists visit a particular region, they get to have more time exploring the various attractions therein.

The nature of Explore Uganda domestic campaigns – moving with the media, travel influencers, tour operators, national icons among other people with a huge social and mainstream media influence – subjects the region and its attractions and tourism prospects to wide publicity.

“If you move to an area massively as we have done with the media, influencers and big names like Jose Chameleone, John Blaq and others who have a big following but most importantly, the normal travel enthusiasts who love to document their journeys, that is already influence on the locals and the rest of the citizenry to want to have the experience,” Hon. Mugarra said while speaking to the press during the Explore Busoga campaign in Jinja.

He added, “Tourism is a product and the only way you can market it and have more people visit is by putting it out there. When we have these big numbers, we attract more people, create awareness and encourage more people to travel. On this trip we moved with about 360 people and along the way we picked up more, so we are about 400 tourists. Everyone is sharing their experiences, everyone is tweeting, so the whole world is seeing this. This is already influencing the domestic tourism dynamic.”

Spotlighting hidden gems/tourism products
“We have seen people doing the very trails we have done in the previous campaigns. When tourism officers, in collaboration with the local tourism development departments scout routes and trails for these domestic tours, we give them the much-needed highlight so that other tourists can take them on,” the Minister says.

One such a case is the Wanale Hill hike challenge which, following the Explore Elgon tour of Mbale in which masses summited the stiff hill, has since gained more hikers and visitors according to preliminary reports from the area tour operators.

Birthing new itineraries / tourism packages
Through profiling existing but less explored sites, the Explore Uganda campaigns present new points of interest for tour operators to add into their tour packages or create entirely new circuits for sale.

According to Mr. Vivian Lyazzi, the Commissioner Tourism Development at Ministry of Tourism, much as they don’t have concrete figures on the impact of the previous editions yet, “the information we get from tour operators in the regions we have visited indicate an upward trajectory of the tourist records at particular sites spotlighted during the Explore Uganda promotional tours.”

Meeting platform for tourism stakeholders
Apollo Atenyi, a tour operator based in Fort Portal has participated in at least 3 Explore Uganda domestic campaigns. His reason for taking the night bus so that he is in Kampala for the flag off is to meet and network with people in the industry he is in.
“I travelled by night because I didn’t want to be late for the flag off. I have been on a couple of these campaigns because that is how we get contacts of our potential clients and reference. They (campaigns) also give us tour operators an opportunity to expand our knowledge and travel experience across the regions of the country,” Apollo said.

Inspiring Local Travel
“My friend who had participated in the first Explore Uganda campaign inspired me to travel. Looking at the beautiful pictures in nature, hearing about the places they visited gave me interest to want to explore, not particularly the same routes but generally leaving my home and visiting historical sites, national parks and other attractions,” M. Alikisa, a hospitality worker spoke to Prime News’ Patience Natukunda about how the explore Uganda campaigns changed her perspective on travel.

She adds, “Before, I only heard about stuff like hiking, game drives and blah blah but didn’t have an idea what people really do on these trips. I was lucky to join the explore North campaign and experienced all these things. As we speak, much as I not able to do like 4-day trips, I am interested in exploring areas of interest. I am planning an excursion with my friends to Nyungu Yamawe, we will do ziplining there and enjoy the woods.”

According Minister Mugarra, almost 86% of visitations to Uganda’s tourism sites are Ugandans.

“60% of visitations to National Parks are East Africans, a big chuck of which are Ugandans. These numbers have not been like this before we started these campaigns. So, we encourage more Ugandans to travel, document their experiences and market the Pearl of Africa,” he added.

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