An Overview of the Tourism Sector in Uganda by Ephraim Kamuntu, Minister of Tourism

Ephraim Kamuntu gives an overview of the tourism sector in Uganda, mentioning some of the treasures the country has to offer, as well as investment opportunities in that area. He also shares his vision, which is to develop the sector in a sustainable way, for the transformation of the economy and the people.

Interview with Ephraim Kamuntu, Minister of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities

Ephraim Kamuntu, Minister of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities

What are the major treasures that Uganda has?

Uganda is exceptionally endowed by natural assets and resources. It is blessed with an attractive climate and many freshwater lakes such as Lake Victoria, Lake Edward, Lake George, etc. You can find snow on our mountains, even though we are on the equator. Uganda is also the source of the Nile River. The Nile motivated European discoverers to follow the source and discover Uganda. Being the source of the Nile is a very unique tourist attraction for Uganda. Uganda hosts more than 54% of the remaining mountain gorillas. The evolution of human beings starts with gorillas and chimpanzees and their DNA is very close to humans. We have had peace, security, and stability in the region. Uganda is an island of peace. That in itself should entice tourists to come and enjoy themselves. Kampala is the entertainment capital of the region. On top of all this, we are endowed culturally. We have more than 56 ethnic groups united to form Uganda. We boast about our country’s unity and diversity with these groups and their music, dance, drama, gastronomy. The facts speak for themselves. In cultural heritage, we have the ancient kings including the kingdom of Buganda. It has the Kasubi Tombs which is a UNESCO Heritage Site. In religious tourism, Uganda is the only country in Africa where people died for their faith. We have martyrs such at the Namugongo Shrine where we celebrate every June 3rd. We also have Makerere University. It was called the Oxford and Cambridge of colonial Africa. It spearheaded education then and remains a famous institution of learning today. Adding all these points, Uganda stands out as a paradise. You can summarize using Churchill’s words. He was a British Prime Minister, a military man, a literary man, a politician, and his perception is respected because of his own reputation as a man of very different talents. He visited what they used to call “British possessions” in South Africa, Rhodesia, Kenya, etc. But, when he arrived in Uganda after visiting all these other countries, he knew it was different. From corner to corner, it was green. If you sow a seed, it grows without effort. When he summarized his trip in the House of Commons in London, he said three words: “concentrate upon Uganda”. He called Uganda the Pearl of Africa which has remained the brand for this country. These are things that distinguish Uganda from the rest.

If that is the case, why are all these assets not being exploited for the benefit of the country? Part of it is explained by our history. After Uganda achieved independence, we had a period of turmoil. Tourism is a very fragile sector and very sensitive to security. Because of that tumultuous period in our history, Uganda, which had been a top tourist destination in the region before the 70s, had a backslide. Since 1986, when peace, security, and stability were restored both in political and economic terms, the country has seen economic progress and the economy expanded. Since that time that weakened Uganda’s effort to be a preferred tourist destination, we now recognize that tourism is a transformative force fueling the development of our economy. But the instability was one of the reasons why Uganda’s visibility in the world changed. When you have instability, you have travel advisories and most people will not visit. That has changed since 1986. Today, the numbers are positive. Although not yet at maximum, they are on an upward trajectory. The tourist arrivals in the country have increased. We now have 1.505 million tourist arrivals changing from just mere hundreds in the previous period. Tourism is a leading foreign exchange earner earning the country 1.6 billion USD. The second sector to come close is remittances of Ugandans working abroad. Tourism has now overtaken agriculture which used to be the mainstay – coffee, tea, tobacco, copper, cobalt, all these things are no longer the leading traditional export earners for the country. Tourism is now top. But we can do more. Our projection is that by 2025, foreign exchange earnings from the tourism sector should be 2.7 billion USD instead of the 1.6 billion USD currently. We are also looking at tourism’s contribution to job creation which is very important. At the moment, tourism constitutes 8% of Uganda’s labor force. In our third five-year development plan, our projection is to add another 500,000 jobs to the sector. We are contributing to GDP. If our country is to become a modern and prosperous country, which is our vision and our mission, you need economic growth in the double digits. The single digit of 6% and 7% is good but not good enough to bring the country to a middle-income country. Tourism has the greatest potential to drive this. At the moment, we are contributing about 9% of GDP. But, if we could attract another 100,000 additional tourists to the country, we would increase our GDP by 1.6%. If that is sustained, we will have a double-digit GDP growth and the country will be lifted into the middle-income status bracket. That is the potential of tourism that Uganda has now recognized. The President talks about harnessing this potential every day.

There are three major focus areas for us. The first is destination marketing. We must aggressively market and promote Uganda as a preferred destination for tourists. In this regard, the Ministry has appointed a number of destination development firms in major tourism markets in the UK, the US and North America, Japan, and in German speaking countries. We are looking at adding one in India because we have a long relationship there. We have also appointed a marketing destination firm in UAE because we have excellent connectivity. We have Emirates flying daily and they have now added a second flight. We have Qatar Airways, Turkish Airlines, EgyptAir, Ethiopian Airlines, KLM. Everyone goes to China today, even the Americans and Europeans. We have appointed a firm in China also. Outward bound tourists from China is about 130 million people. If you can get even 1% of 130 million to come to Uganda it would be significant. Every time you can make a leisure tourist extend his stay for one extra day, it increases your GDP by 1%. Tourism is like a hanging fruit, but we have to change the mindset of people to see that this is a driving force. We have been successful. Previously, tourism was looked at as a leisure activity for people with nothing else to do just walking around. Attracting tourists to Uganda as a preferred destination is a major challenge and a major focus of ours. Related to this is developing tourist attractions and products so that when the tourist comes, he has a range of options. When it comes to investment opportunities, they would help in making tourists stay here longer. We have the issue of infrastructure. Most of our tourist attractions are nature-based. Being nature-based, wherever nature put them is where they are. To access them, you must develop infrastructure. Kidepo Valley National Park is one of the best in the world in the extreme north of our country. We have mountain gorillas far down in the west. We have ten beautiful national parks all over the country. We must develop infrastructure to reach all of this. We need roads, electricity, water, ICT facilities so the tourist is connected wherever he is. This is the work the government is currently doing. If you go to Entebbe Airport, you can see the renovation because connectivity is a very key element in attracting tourists. We are also rehabilitating our air routes. We must save the tourist time. If he lands at Entebbe, he should fly to Kidepo or to the mountain gorillas and be there in a matter of hours instead of travelling by road. We are tarmacking roads across the country. We even have specific tourism roads targeted to accessing the nature-based tourist attractions scattered across the country. We link infrastructure development with conservation. The issue of conservation of our natural assets is so paramount that it is even in our constitution. The constitution commands that the state must promote and protect natural assets, including wildlife, fauna and flora for the benefit of both the present and future generations. It is a moral issue. We must enjoy these in our lifetime and preserve them for future generations. As the Minister of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities, I am commanded to conserve these natural assets.

Lake Victoria in Uganda
Lake Victoria, the largest lake in Africa and chief reservoir of the Nile, is one of the treasures to be visited in Uganda.

What can investors bring to the tourism industry? What are you looking for in terms of developing your transportation?

At the moment, tourism is earning the country 1.6 billion USD. I would want in the years ahead to earn 2.7 billion USD to contribute to the foreign exchange earnings of the country, to improve the balance of payments position of the country, and to help with the economic transformation of the country.

Lake Victoria is the largest freshwater lake. Investment opportunities would include floating restaurants, water buses, piers, etc. Lake Victoria can link Entebbe to the immediate surrounding areas. Similarly, as the source of the Nile, it is a very interesting attraction because of its history. The whole of civilization in the Mediterranean Sea was inspired by the waters of the Nile. We want to develop this to become international class. Interestingly, Mahatma Gandhi willed that his ashes be spread over the waters of the Nile to bring Africa and India together. Today, we are talking about Gandhi’s heritage site on the source of the Nile. Investment opportunities include developing infrastructure, cultural centers, entertainment facilities, zip lines, information centers, monuments, floating boats. There is a whole range of packages waiting for investment at the source of the Nile. We also have nearly 23 hot springs which have medicinal properties. I have visited Hungary and seen as such. These hot springs, once developed, can become a wellness spa. They are curative as well as relaxing. If you have aches in your bones and you relax in the hot spring water, by the time you get out, all your aches will be cured. This is an example of health tourism and eco-tourism. Kitagata Hot Springs is in my constituency I represent in Parliament. There is also Sempaya Hot Springs and Kibiro Hot Springs. We are looking for investors that can take them up. We have development of canopy walks in Kibale and Bwindi National Parks. There are so many things that can be done. Mount Rwenzori is the highest mountain in our country across the equator. There is an ice cap on top. Having snow in the equator is a wonder. To climb manually, it takes seven days to reach the top. But these leisure tourists do not have that time. We would like to see a cable car that zooms to the top. When you are on top of Mount Rwenzori, it is like you are on top of the world. Below is Queen Elizabeth National Park and if you have binoculars, you can even see all the Big Fives: hippos, elephants, lions, buffalos. But to see glaciers below you at the same time is something you must do before you die. Unfortunately, lack of investments limits us in making that happen.

Mountain Gorillas in Uganda
Uganda hosts more than 54% of the remaining mountain gorillas.

What do you want to achieve for Uganda in three years’ time, the medium term?

Our vision is sustainable development of tourism and natural assets for the transformation of our economy and our people from being peasants and poor to being prosperous and modern. That is what motivates me and drives me. In this regard, the following are indicators. I must increase the country’s visibility in tourism destination markets. At the moment, tourism is earning the country 1.6 billion USD. I would want in the years ahead to earn 2.7 billion USD to contribute to the foreign exchange earnings of the country, to improve the balance of payments position of the country, and to help with the economic transformation of the country. Second, I want to increase employment creation in this sector. Currently, our contribution is about 8% of the total labor force. We want more jobs in this country related to tourism. When you look at the tourism value chain in this country, you arrive at the airport and pay a minimal fee for your visa, then you pay a driver to take you to a hotel. In the hotel, they must give you accommodation, food, entertainment. Then, you go out and see the attractions. We want to increase jobs along that value chain. This also includes human resource training. The human resource gaps must be closed. In this regard, we have established the Uganda Hotel and Tourism Training Institute in Jinja where our aim is to improve skills. This country can only be as good as the quality of its people and our sector can only be as good as the quality of our staff. Satisfaction of your clients is very much a function of how you train your staff. Today, Uganda has a large gap in skills and cannot compete internationally. International tourists today have been to China, America, etc. They really have a comparison to how they are treated. Uganda cannot lag behind. We must also contribute to the GDP and economic growth. The fundamentals are in place. We have security, stability, both in economic terms and political terms. We have peace and a growing, stable economy. The exchange rate must be stable and inflation must be controlled. The whole world must have confidence in the management of Uganda’s economy and politics. These are fundamentals for us in tourism because the sector is so fragile and sensitive to security issues. This has been done and we have seen a boost. As Churchill said, Uganda is the Pearl of Africa. It is a paradise on earth. It is a country you should visit before you die. The necessary infrastructure and products are being harnessed for the transformation of its economy and its people.


This material (including media content) may not be published, broadcasted, rewritten, or redistributed. However, linking directly to the page (including the source, i.e. is permitted and encouraged.

Scroll to top