On a recent trip to northern Uganda, I stopped for lunch in Nakasongola. It was a Friday. As I settled down, four 32-seat buses commonly known as Coasters arrived. One of the passengers to alight was a former student. He works with a travel and tour company.
I asked him which organization had hired his company and where he was taking all these people. He told me the passengers were not from a single organization, rather people who had individually paid tickets to spend a weekend in the Murchison’s National Park. Each passenger, he told me, had paid Shs120,000 for the trip including accommodation but exclusive of meals and drinks. They were to spend two nights in the national park and return to Kampala on Sunday.
I was mesmerized. Ugandans are starting to embrace local tourism to the extent that they can travel as individuals or small groups and go unwind in the park. The people who were traveling looked to be middle class. The kids actually looked every inch upper class and spoke English ‘with an accent.’
This further underscores the potential of the local tourism market. These 120 tourists were all booked by one company. There might be others traveling to all the other national parks and others to islands like in Ssese every weekend.
And I believe with the modern buses procured for the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) for such travels by CEDP, the cost might even come down so that more and more Ugandans enjoy the beauty of our country. Perhaps UWA simply needs to market these buses more. The UWA buses are modern and comfortable and can significantly reduce the cost.
Also schools without their own buses can use UWA ones for such trips. As the year ends, organisations could consider taking their Christmas parties to the national parks instead of the usual restaurant and bars. Staff would bond more and some would see the beauty of our country up close. If they enjoy the trips, they would return with their families and friends.
The Uganda Tourism Board (UTB) also needs to double its efforts in promoting local tourism. Shared transport and accommodation make it cheaper for everyone. I couldn’t imagine that you can spend just Shs120,000 and have a weekend away in a beautiful national park like Murchison’s.
Denis Jjuuko, the author, is a communication and visibility consultant