The Pearl of Africa: Building Sustainable Tourism in Uganda

I’m currently wrapping up a
6-year CITA project in Uganda where we’re working to enhance rural livelihoods with sustainable tourism. Agriculture has always been the number one industry in Uganda, but tourism is
a very close number two. The concept is that
by providing incomes based on the wildlife capital
of Uganda, the local people will generate income and therefore, support conservation initiatives in the country. We currently have
3 community projects, they’re in various stages
of development. The first community that we defined the project for was Ruhija in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park. We were actually doing
an analysis in Winnipeg, trying to determine
which communities we were going to be working with, when we received a phone call from Ugandan Wildlife Authority, letting us know that Ruhija was going to be opened up for gorilla tourism. It’s really quite
an exciting opportunity, really nothing quite like it. I think it’s really important that people think, you know, why am I paying this amount
of money to see gorillas? Well, there’s really, there’s one gorilla on the planet for every 10 million human beings, just to give people a sense of how rare
they actually are. Ruhija had previously not
had any tourists, other than
a few birders coming through. Tourists didn’t stay there,
and we knew that once gorillas were habituated in the area,
and tourists started coming, there’d be a bit of a land rush. So we immediately engaged
the community to say what is it you’d like to do
as a tourism initiative? And through a process of a number of community meetings, group workshops,
we came to the concept that the first thing
we would fund was a community tented camp. The largest is the Ruhija Gorilla Friends Community Rest Camp, which was
the first one to be funded. As a condition of funding,
20% ownership of the Gorilla Friends
Tented Camp belongs to the community
at large to help fund other initiatives in the community. In Kibale National Park, many of the communities surrounding the park are agricultural. And Kibale National Park is known for its primate population. They’re fairly clever animals, which frequently raid crops. So it sets up a fairly significant conflict between local communities
and wildlife in the park. But by developing income
based upon that wildlife, and having the people recognize that their income is coming because tourists are coming
to visit the wildlife, they become more tolerant
of some of these activities. There’s a strong community champion Kemigisa, who really set the stage
for things moving forward. (Michael Campbell) Margaret has organized the community members, the women in her community, into craft development groups. She has over 250 women working in her group, producing crafts for sale at zoos across North America, and for a very short
period of time, in Banff National Park as well. (Margaret) (Michael Campbell)
The third project is occurring in Katanguru, which is in Queen Elizabeth National Park. It’s actually right on the border of the park, it’s a small fishing community, and it has very, very low educational capacity. Very few people in the community have completed even primary 6, there’s only a few people in
the community who speak English, and it’s been a real challenge to develop a proposal for them that would allow them
to engage in tourism. Early on in our discussions
with that group, we were able to work with Ugandan Wildlife Authority and got permission for them to operate
a boat launch on the channel, which had the potential to generate a lot of income, but would be very costly
to get started and very difficult to bring that community up to the capacity where they’d be able
to manage it. It’s still there as a possibility for the future, as they begin developing
other initiatives. But for the time being, the women actually decided
what they’d like to do and what they felt
comfortable doing was taking some of the land that they have been given by the park, rehabilitating it– it’s a
former sand and gravel quarry– and turning it into a hostel for Ugandan school children
who visit the park. Which seems like a very good idea given the fact that they speak the local language, the students from Ugandan schools will be speaking the local language, and they won’t have to raise the expectations in terms of what their deliverables are. The Ugandan people are warm, open, friendly, incredibly happy to see tourists in their country. The most recent statistics
from the Ugandan Tourism Board show that about one million, close to a million tourists, maybe 800,000, 900,000,
visited in 2011. And those numbers have increased almost tenfold since
the late 1990s. So numbers of tourists are increasing rapidly. Some of research shows, however, that a lot of those tourists aren’t the typical
nature-based tourism. About 50% of them are actually here as volunteers, working in the country with NGOs, religious organizations, etc. And probably only about 25%
are actual nature tourists. So what that says to me is that there’s tremendous potential to expand the nature-based tourism offerings in Uganda. [snorting of a hippopotamus]

One thought on “The Pearl of Africa: Building Sustainable Tourism in Uganda

  1. tourism has a lot of potential in Uganda that is yet to be tapped into.As a tourism student watching your contribution towards sustainable tourism in Uganda  is very motivating .

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