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Competition is impacting our tourism industry for the better – Mwanje

Formed 10 years ago, One Touch Safaris is trying to leave an imprint on Uganda’s tourism industry. theCooperator’s Patrick Jaramogi had a chat with the founder and CEO Josiah Mwanje about the company’s story, and the state of the tourism sector generally.

 

What prompted you to start One Touch Safaris?

I love  to travel – I love  to tour and discover new things. What I  am most remembered for during my primary and secondary education was the fact that I would never miss any school trip, and I was the best storyteller in class.

This actually earned  me some beatings,  and even at times suspension from class. I would always be caught telling others stories about the Statue of Liberty, what we enjoyed during the school trip and so on. When I finished my form six  (6)  I started traveling by myself, going to Kenya, Tanzania and many other areas. So I went into safaris because of my love for travel.

You have been in this business for 10 years now, how would you describe the Tourism Industry in Uganda?

The industry  is growing. It is better than how   I found  it. There  is a good response  from both domestic  (local) and international  clients.  This positive response is as a result of collective efforts by many players, including a conducive policy environment by the government. Infrastructure has significantly improved. Even though it’s not in every destination, generally access to most touristic areas is today easier than it was, years back.

There has also been an improvement in the industry especially  with the coming in of investors who have set up hotels and s countrywide. Others have also set up our companies, and for us, the more players, the better for the industry. So we go out of the way to facilitate the entry new actors. Right now, there is a fellow operator that I am helping to organize a trip to Rwanda, not because they can’t, because I know Rwanda better. That is the type of collaboration that has aided the the of the industry.

This growth must mean the industry is now more competitive. How is that(competition) affecting you as local actors?

Of course growth has meant that the tourism market is now more competitive. But it is a healthy competition. Even with the growth, we’re  still  such a small industry  to start competing   unfairly, so we specialize.  For example, our company  is best known for group tours, organizing  tours for  schools, churches and  corporate  entities  both locally,    regionally    and   internationally. We have weekly trips for Ugandans going to Dubai,  and domestic weekly  trips on Lake Victoria like Bulago  Islands.  We also engage in destination management, destination  weddings, lodge reservations, boat excursions, car rental, gorilla tours and adventure tours. Amidst this, I can hire cars for  other tour operators,  while I  can help others take their clients to tour destinations that they are not well conversant  with.

For instance,  I  have multiple  contacts in Dubai,  and a  close working  relationship with many leading hotels there. So rather than hustling, they approach me and I assist them.

Talking  about Dubai, there have been reports  of having tourists to UAE  given five – year multiple entry visas to boost tourism. How true is this?

That proposal  is still in the pipeline. UAE  is marketing their country  vigorously. Arguably the biggest tourism event globally this year is the Dubai Expo 2020 and they are doing all it takes to have human traffic to Dubai increased. I am also using that opportunity to boost One Touch. I  have already signed contracts  with hotels, so they are offering me low prices.

By the time Expo 2020 happens,  if you  have been going to Dubai for USD$1,000 (shs.3.7m), you will find that it has tripled. But we will still be able to offer affordable  prices  because I have a contract with the organizers.

How competitive is  Uganda’s   tourism industry vis-à-vis her EAC counterparts?

Our industry  is very competitive.  In terms of nature and what we have to offer, we beat them all. We have rare, yet much sought-after  fauna like the gorillas. The recent census found that the gorillas now number over 700, the largest number in a single country in the world. We only share these gorillas with Rwanda,  but again our gorilla permits are much cheaper, going

for USD$600 while in Rwanda,  they go for USD$1500. Then we have a variety of bird species, about 600 of them, accounting for 10% of the global  population.  We have a very nice climate, good food and rich culture.

Ugandans   are  also  very   kind  and hospitable  people. I  have had my car stuck in  Nebbi, Arua, Kabale,   and random people have always come in to help, even when I  am a total stranger. We’re also happy people, partying Monday to Monday. This combination  –of rich natural endowments and welcoming culture is something  rare to find anywhere else.

Tourists enjoying the view in a One touch Safari truck. COURTESY PHOTO

Nonetheless, countries like Kenya  and Tanzania continue  to register better tourist numbers than Uganda. Why is that so?

Those countries are  more  deliberate about supporting  their tourism. They  have invested heavily in upgrading their tourism infrastructure like roads and hotels to international standards. They  even have training institutions  for  tourist handlers like  the Utali  College  in Kenya.  Our Tourism training school in Jinja is not so good in comparison.  The issue of investment  is really critical –  Government    funds  Uganda  Tourism Board (UTB) to the tune of USD$ 250,000 yet Kenya

releases  USD$ 5 million. How do you begin to compete?  Here we also need to improve  our tourism  experience.  In Kenya for example, when you are going for  a  game drive let’s  say the Masai Maara, the Kenya Wildlife Society rangers drive around and when they find lions they send a radio message to all lodges alerting  them where the lions can be seen. Comparatively, we(Uganda) do not go out of our way enough  to deliver a great experience.

So how is One Touch Safari fairing on this – going the extra mile to deliver a memorable tourism experience for its customers?

We try. Usually on each trip, we have about 40 people working directly and indirectly.  When a client wakes up to go for safari, we have a driver, then he goes to a fuel station to get fuel, we have a pump attendant, then the guide to guide them around, and a set of others in the restaurant to make them meals of their choice.  Finally, we have well- trained guards to ensure their safety.

Do you (One Touch Safaris) in any way give back to the community?

Very  Much.     Every November  we give back to random communities in what we call Christmas in November. Last year, we were in Bweyale.  We took blankets, mattresses, food and so on for refugees in the settlement camp.   In  2018,  we supported the people of Rwenshama, the fishing village in Katunguru, in Queen Elizabeth National Park. In 2017 we went to Muhabura,  climbed  the mountains, and supported the pregnant mothers through a local  NGO operating there. This year we hope to go to Ssese Islands. We usually choose needy communities and work with other companies to support them.

So where do you see Uganda’s tourism industry in the next 5- 10 years?

We  will  be far.   All  we need to do is continue to improve  our infrastructure especially in the hard to reach touristic areas like Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. Then  we need to invest more in letting the world know how touristic our country  is, by investing in branding and marketing.  Finally, we need  to grow local tourism.  Uganda  is  still  a poor country, where the locals don’t cherish the importance of domestic  tourism. A Ugandan  would rather  travel to Dubai than visit Lake Mburo, Queen Elizabeth or Murchison Falls National Park.

This requires  us tourism operators,  to learn what a Ugandan crowd wants, and devote ourselves to providing it.

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