Art, Culture, Books and Travel
Incredible Uganda An exclusive interview with Tim Henshall – 2013
Do you think Uganda deserved the recognition from Lonely Planet, as the best destination for 2012?
Uganda was recently declared “Destination of the Year” by Lonely Planet, and in my opinion, the accolade is richly deserved. Given the wealth of wildlife, birding, scenery and culture that is on offer to tourists visiting Uganda, it is astonishing that more people do not visit. It is to be hoped that this award will increase interest in Uganda and help it be recognized as a world-class destination.
Why do you think no big operator ever picked interest in marketing Uganda’s destinations?
It is noticeable that too few UK based Africa specialists* actively promote Uganda. Many are happy to offer Ugandan trips to customers who specifically request it, but they are not getting out there using Uganda as a key option on their websites, in their brochures or in advertising. (I am excluding the overland companies who support Uganda well).
Personally, I think there continues to be a lack of understanding regarding what’s on offer in Uganda. Whilst every Africa tour operator will be well aware of the Mountain Gorillas, less know about the various options for chimpanzee encounters (few know of excellent places like Budongo, and many don’t realize the options available at Kibale); there’s less acceptance of QENP and Murchison Falls NP as being outstanding plains game viewing sites; the golden monkeys at Bwindi are little heard of; walking safaris in Lake Mburo NP…the list goes on and on. Uganda is also undoubtedly Africa’s No1 birding destination, with the kind of birds that even absolute beginners will love to see (not just hard-core “twitchers”).
Traditionally, the safari industry has had two very different markets – the independent traveller (backpacker upwards) who is happy with basic or lower end accommodation because of their budget; and the upmarket traveller where 5-star luxury is a must. But in the last decade, things have changed. The need for good mid market, 4-star properties has increased dramatically right across Africa…and Uganda has been one of the slower destinations to respond.
For the UK travel trade, who are focused on top-end travel, there have been too few options – and all at very high rates. This has given a high price perception of the country, and has made many rule Uganda out as simply being “too expensive”. That’s actually nonsense. There are now numerous 4-star and 5-star properties that actually offer attractive and affordable accommodation….but they are smaller players who are unable to shout quite as loud as some of the other players!
Do you think Uganda can surpass its regional counterpart in the tourism industry and what do you think needs to be done?
Uganda has the potential to become a major travel destination. It could and should be seeing far more visitors than Rwanda, whilst getting closer to the numbers achieved by Tanzania. But there are fundamental requirements for achieving that, which I have listed ;
- – Roads need to be improved to provide easier logistics, especially to /in major destinations like Bwindi.
- – Uganda’s wealth of attractions need to be more widely recognized, with certain key attractions used as the “heroes” – used in marketing. This is harder than it sounds – it will involve giving less focus to less important locations / activities – but it is essential to success.
- – The country has to be effectively and efficiently marketed to the world, focusing on key potential markets (including the UK).Uganda needs marketing to would-be travellers and to the travel trade far more successfully. This requires specialist skills, expertise and experience, but above all a real passion for Uganda. Oh, and funding!
Your company has been marketing Uganda. What are the challenges you normally encounter?
Kamili has been marketing a number of Ugandan properties (Primate Lodge Kibale, Mantana Engagi Lodge, Mantana Mburo Lodge) as well as a safari operator (Great Lakes Safaris) to the UK travel industry for 4 years now. Whilst this is increasingly successful, it has been frustrating, because trade product knowledge is much lower and the anticipated benefit of adding Uganda to their product offering is low too. In presentations regarding a lodge in Kruger (SA), Mara (Kenya), Luangwa (Zambia) or Chobe (Botswana), I am required to simply detail the specific benefits of the lodge – bigger bedrooms, tastier cuisine, nicer views from the deck or whatever. But with Ugandan properties, there is firstly a need to promote why anyone would want to visit the country at all, let alone a specific location or property!
What are the three best attractions you would recommend to someone travelling for the first time in Uganda?
- Mountain Gorillas in Bwindi (only possible in Uganda and Rwanda)
- Chimp trecking in Kibale (only really possible in Uganda and Tanzania)
- A boat cruise of the Khazinga Channel in QENP (exceptional in Uganda)
- But other highlights include: White water adventures on the Nile; Night safaris in Kibale; Bigodi forest walk; walking in Mburo; Shoebills in Murchsion; Tree-climbing lions in Ashasha; Chimp trekking in Khyambura Gorge; Birding on the Golden Mile; game viewing in QENP……..and seeing the incredibly warm and friendly people everywhere in the country, their homes, the markets…just life in general.
What was your experience visiting Uganda for the first time?
My first visit to Uganda was in 1999, shortly after the murder of British tourists in Bwindi. My wife and I were understandably reluctant to travel, but we were made to feel so welcome and we were the first Europeans to stay overnight in Bwindi. Unknowingly we had 200 soldiers camped a few hundred feet away at night, making us very safe indeed! But our experience was INCREDIBLE. It was the genuine and warm hospitality that impacted on us – almost matching the experience of coming face to face with a mountain gorilla! That’s when our love affair with Uganda started and it is as alive today as ever.
Any advice to tourists visiting Uganda?
- No matter how many you planned to bring, pack more memory cards for your camera!
- Take the time to chat with local Ugandans about their world and be prepared to talk about your own!
- Enjoy the journeys between your various lodges and hotels – they are not just “transfers”, they are a great opportunity to see into everyday Ugandan life.
- Do a little reading up on gorillas, chimps, birds and other wildlife you are likely to see.
- Prepare your friends because when you get back, you will want to talk about nothing else!
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