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Bright for the Ugandan tourism industry

Interview - May 29, 2014
It may not be as well-known as other African destinations such as Kenya and Ghana, but Uganda’s tourist industry is growing. Local expert Bonifence Byamukama, Chairman of the Uganda Association of Tour Operators and Managing Director of Lake Kitandara Tours and Travel, speaks to United World about all that Uganda has to offer – from stunning wildlife, natural beauty, and range of national parklands to its rich heritage and warm and welcoming people
What sort of tourism is Uganda best known for?
Uganda is a nature-based tourist destination. It is known for its mountain gorillas, the snow on the equator (5,109 meters above sea level), its 3 peaks with permanent snow, and its friendly people. 
Uganda is such a colorful country. Every region has its own set of ethnic groups, beliefs and cultures. Cuisine features prominently. These all tie well with our community conservation program. They are represented in the Board of the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA). We give 20% of the income generated from the national parks to the local communities so they can better appreciate our conservation program. We even allow some of them to access medicinal grants so they treat themselves as needed. 
The allotment that we have given them has contributed to the growth of the communities around the national parks. Through it, they have heritage centers, schools for the children, and access to nearby markets (for their wares).
Apart from its lovely people, the Ugandan landscape is truly breath taking. 
Yes, Uganda is an evergreen destination with a lot of lakes. About 10% is conserved for wildlife protection and preservation. We have several national parks. In the north, there is the Kidepo Valley National Park (KVNP), home of the mountain gorillas. More than 52% of these primates are in Uganda. 
The underground forest at the Queen Elizabeth National Park (QENP) is below sea level, and offers a very unique experience. It also has a real forest in the middle of a savannah. Murchison Falls National Park (MFNP) is the largest national park in the country. Murchison Falls is the second largest waterfall in Africa, following Victoria Falls. You have the whole of the Nile entering a gap that is 7 meters wide, which then gushes down in the form of white water. It is an amazing thing to behold.
Other national parks include the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park (BINP), the Kibale National Park (KNP), the Lake Mburo National Park (LMNP), the Mgahinga Gorilla National Park (MGNP), the Mount Elgon National Park (MENP), the Rwenzori Mountains National Park (RMNP), and the Semuliki National Park (SNP).
Can you tell us more about the thriving wildlife?
One of our gaming reserves is home to sub-species of impalas unique to these parts. BINP is one of the most interesting birding spots in the continent. It is about 530 kilometers from here. For etymologists, Uganda is home to more than a thousand species of bugs (what we call the rift valley endemics). There is just so much to see.

What makes Uganda a unique destination in East Africa (EA)?
One unique feature that we offer is the way people are able to view game. In other East African destinations, you ride a car to view game (which could be quite noisy). Here in Uganda, you can view game while riding a boat. You can relax and see buffalos, hippos, and so on. At the QENP, you can even see lions while crossing the channel.  
What can you tell us about the main market for your tour operations?
Our main market for the tour operations here in Uganda has mainly been the British (because of our colonial ties), followed by the Germans. It is remarkable to note that each tourist who have come to Uganda have not left the country disappointed. A good number of them wish that they could extend their stay. This desire to prolong their visit is a strong selling point for Uganda. The positive experience that they have contributes to our number of repeat tourists. 
Increased accessibility has made places like the KVNP one of the most widely visited places in Africa. It has even been mentioned as one of the best destinations in the world by CNN.   
With all this rich potential, what is the local’s general attitude about tourism?
They enjoy being a part of the tourism sector. They like to work for this industry. 
We understand that the industry has a rich pool of young and vibrant human capital to tap into.
That is true. As we speak, about 90% of our members in the Uganda Association of Tour Operators (UATO) are under 40 years old. There is a lot of interest from young university graduates. They are doing a really good job; especially when it comes to employing social media in promoting the country. They are doing very well under the guidance of the association. 
What is your outlook for the Ugandan tourism industry?
I think the future is quite bright for the Ugandan tourism industry.