Tourism in Uganda and East Africa: Billy Ssali Presents Active African Vacations

Billy Ssali explains why tourists should come to visit Uganda and what Active African Vacations can offer to them. He also talks about serving other countries such Congo and Rwanda, discusses potential partnerships, challenges to be faced within the tourism industry and his vision for the future of the company.

Interview with Billy Ssali, Managing Director of Active African Vacations and Founder & CEO of Self Drive Uganda

Billy Ssali, Managing Director of Active African Vacations and Founder & CEO of Self Drive Uganda

Why should your clients choose to come to Uganda?

The client should choose Uganda because of its location, temperature, and environment. Uganda is a country of diversity in terms of its attractions. Because the equator passes through the country, the climate is quite favorable. In northern Uganda, Kidepo Valley National Park has beautiful landscapes. Murchison Falls, which was the former Kabalega National Park, is endowed with many different attractions. There are chimpanzees in the Kaniyo Pabidi. The beginning of the Albert Nile joins the White Nile. The wildlife is amazing. The Kibale Forest National Park is a destination for the chimpanzees. Uganda has the highest number of chimpanzees in East Africa. You can spend an entire day with chimpanzees in a habitat, do chimpanzee tracking, and you will have a guarantee of seeing the chimps, not just a tail or a shadow. Rwenzori Mountains National Park has a completely different horizon, like the mountains of the moon. Everyone who enjoys mountain climbing really enjoys this experience. Queen Elizabeth National Park offers many attractions such as the very rare tree climbing lions in the Ishasha sector, the Kazinga Channel which is about 42 km long and has the highest concentration of chimpanzees in Africa, and the environment is amazing. Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park is where Gorillas in the Mist was filmed. Uganda is naturally endowed with many different attractions. Uganda should be everyone’s first choice. We have an all in one destination with the Big 5 plus the primates, compared to our neighboring countries which are well known for wildlife but not primates. Primates are our closest cousins as you can see in the chimpanzees and mountain gorillas. You can see this in the juvenile and baby gorillas who are so similar to human babies. Lake Mburo National Park, the Ssese Islands, Lake Victoria, all make Uganda the perfect choice for clients over our neighboring countries. We have hospitable and friendly people and security. People have freedom to do what they want. The government is doing what it can to make tourism better and create jobs for everyone in the country. The roads and infrastructure have also been improved to connect to tourist attractions and destinations. Uganda should rank #1 on everyone’s bucket list and travel plan. Our temperatures are around 27 degrees Celsius because we are under the equator which passes through Kampala, Lake Victoria, Kasese, and Bwindi. We do not have winter. It makes every tourist who visits our country really feel comfortable.

Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park
Bwindi Impenetrable Forest is a habitat for more than half of the world’s remaining moutain gorilla population.

Why should clients choose your company?

In three years’ time, we hope that the company will increase in sales, own lodges in different parks, and add on manpower. We want to be able to attend to different travel markets and do more marketing.

They should choose us because of the variety of options that we provide. Those that can afford a full safari as well as those who want a private tour where we give them a vehicle and they drive themselves are all accommodated. It gives our company a wider range of choices in the eyes of a potential traveler who would like to visit Uganda. Based on our reviews and reputation, we are also considering sustainable business and sustainable tourism. This will give us an upper hand. We do not do business out of survival but out of quality service to the client. We create trust to make our clients returning visitors.

What is your international reach?

We serve countries like Congo and Rwanda primarily for primates because people want to experience the comparison of different types of gorillas. Congo has lowland and mountain gorillas. Uganda also has mountain gorillas in Bwindi National Park and Mgahinga National Park. Each family has different gorilla groups so people can go for more than one trek to make a comparison on each different experience. This is a lifetime experience. You can do it once and do not know if you will come back tomorrow. Also, the active volcano in Congo makes us broaden our offerings so the client will stay for longer than a few days in those destinations. In Rwanda, there are the sites related to the genocide in 1994. Clients also come to experience the Rwandan culture, see mountain gorillas, and see the volcanoes. Dian Fossey, the American primatologist who dedicated her life to saving mountain gorillas, is featured in many travel magazines and blogs. Many people come to hike to the graveyard where she is buried in Volcanoes National Park. Some clients have asked us to create an extension of our tours to cover those areas of Rwanda.

Active African Vacations also provides car hire and car rental services in Uganda
Active African Vacations does not only do safari vacations, but also provides car hire and car rental services to clients and travelers around the world.

What kind of clients do you have?

We have different types of travelers. People from Europe, Paris, the Netherlands mostly like to discover things on their own. We give them a vehicle and camping equipment and they go out on their own with the help of Google Maps. Those from Scandinavian countries and Americans come as traditional tourists and like everything paid upfront. They tend to go for full safaris that we organize here at Active African Vacations.

Are you looking to attract investors or partnerships?

We hope in the next five years to have a partnership with some investors and we can set up a tourist lodge or luxury campsite in Kidepo and the savannah parks or Lake Mburo National Park. We also want another investor in the company to allow new ideas to come to the company.

What challenges do you face?

The biggest challenge is that the tourism industry is very sensitive. Any slight political problem that affects the country affects us. Competition is obvious because most of our activities are online. There is nothing you can hide. You want people to see you and what packages you are selling which means our competitors can see this also. Another challenge comes from the government. In most cases, tourist activities sell packages to travel agents for a year or more. Sometimes, you find that when the government makes changes to the government or the tourism industry, we are also affected. One example is the gorilla permit price. When Rwanda changed the permit price two years ago, we took losses because we had fixed prices. We also have limited government funding in marketing. The government itself must initiate certain things. We do not have a national carrier. There are few direct flights that come into Entebbe. Even now, the government does not allow people to come in with drones, but drones would allow tourists to clearly film the attractions they go to. There is too much bureaucracy. If you come into Entebbe airport but are going to Kigali, you would have to leave your drone at Entebbe Airport. You would have to change your entire travel plan. There are also natural acts of God such as roads being washed away by too much rain. There is also the issue of changes in Google rankings and search engine system optimization. Information expires and you must keep updating. It is a big challenge for us. Training manpower and getting qualified people that can do what you need them to do is difficult. Everyone will say they are capable, but practical is not capable.

The national parks in Uganda are among the many treasures to be visited in the country
The national parks in Uganda are among the many treasures to be visited in the country.

What is one of your success stories?

I am happy to be in the tourism industry because there are many fish in the sea. There are many clients. You have unlimited choice because you are dealing with the entire world and professionals. There is a high chance of success. There is no monopoly in tourism. The way is totally open. You cannot own all the clients in the world. We have tried to take advantage of the prevailing security in the country. We want to make sure our clients’ trips are successful and we have no negative reviews. This is progress for us.

How do you see the company in three years’ time?

The company has already bought land for itself. In three years’ time, if things go well, we hope that the company will increase in sales, own lodges in different parks, and add on manpower. We want to be able to attend to different travel markets and do more marketing. In five years, we want to be among the biggest companies in Uganda and East Africa. However, all of this is based upon security. We have elections next year and all these things might affect us. We are not sure whether or not things will stay the same.


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