How can tourism become a driver of economic growth in Uganda?

  • With diverse wildlife and a dramatic landscape, tourism represents a promising way to galvanise economic growth in Uganda.
  • However, despite what seem like obvious advantages of the tourism sector, policymakers have at times been reluctant to support it, instead opting to focus government efforts on facilitating industrial development.
  • This paper details cost-effective, actionable policies for the Ugandan government to stimulate tourism in the country in the medium term. These policies include strengthening measures against poaching, and clarifying a marketing strategy for Ugandan tourism.

If you’ve been paying any attention to the English Premier League this year, you might have noticed the Arsenal team have a new sponsorship emblazoned on the sleeve of their shirts: ‘Visit Rwanda’. These new shirts are indicative of how, increasingly, African governments are seeing tourism as an important aspect of economic transformation in their countries. However, in Uganda, which possesses significant natural assets in its wildlife and landscape, the tourism sector lags behinds what it could be.

Theoretically, tourism could be a key driver of Uganda’s economic growth. Tourism offers a range of opportunities for productive employment in both low-skilled and high-skilled jobs across the country, not just in richer urban centres where new jobs outside agriculture might typically be created. Barring unexpected events like natural disasters and terrorist attacks, tourism also promises relatively robust prices compared to other sectors. To put it simply: as incomes rise globally, the demand for new destinations around the world will increase faster than the supply of new tourist destinations. A new Taj Mahal (or in Uganda’s case a new national park) is not going to appear overnight.

Uganda’s currents tourism strategy runs to 2020, so it will soon be time to identify new priorities. This paper is intended to be useful in this exercise. More concrete steps could be taken to improve the attractiveness of Uganda to tourists worldwide.

Most importantly, the government in Uganda should invest significantly in improving wildlife management in the country. Specific measures include strengthening measures against poaching, combatting invasive weeds in the Queen Elizabeth National Park, and investigating the feasibility of electric fences to restrict animal movement.

For the longer term, the Ugandan government could take steps to change the country’s brand to potential tourists worldwide. Currently, travel agents with products in Uganda complain they have to spend half their time selling the country before even selling their holidays.

The impact of this policy paper on Uganda’s future tourism strategy remains to be seen, but current strong relationships with policymakers in the Ministry of Tourism and elsewhere in government mean that before long these recommendations could become reality.