Uganda shops for tourists in booming China market

With China generating more outbound tourists than any other country on earth last year, and tourism overtaking remittances to become Uganda’s most lucrative export during the same year, it’s not surprising that Uganda Tourism Board is using this opportunity.

As part of its new strategy to explore the Far East and China in particular as alternative tourism markets, UTB recently led a delegation to the China Guangdong International Tourism Industry Expo 2014 in Guangzhou. Coordinated by Uganda’s consulate in Guangzhou, the multi-dimensional delegation included representatives of UTB itself, parliament, Uganda Wildlife Authority, Civil Aviation Authority, tour operators and the media.

While Uganda has previously targeted North America and Europe as the prime tourism markets and participated in expos in these countries, this was the first of its kind in China.

Indeed, the turnout was great and Uganda’s modest stall attracted a lot of interest, even winning an award for excellent organisation from the organisers.

Language and culture barriers, as well as inconvenient and expensive travel, were found to be the main obstacles, leading members of the delegation to advocate the restoration of a national airline or at least a direct flight, and more effort in teaching the Chinese language in Uganda.

A direct flight, on the other hand, whether a national carrier or not, would not only be cheaper but it would also minimise the language barrier by reducing flight time and ensuring Chinese-tailored on-board services.

The Ugandan team here also learnt that most Chinese demand a different kind of tourism.

The Chinese are interested in culture, how it affects lifestyle, livelihoods. They are interested in the evolution of things…the Europeans want to see, but these ones want a story and Uganda has a story.

Prosperity in China over the last couple of decades has seen outbound tourists increase in leaps and bounds. The most popular destinations for Chinese nationals are said to be United States, Russia, France, Australia, Japan and South Korea. Of the 33.5 million Chinese tourists who used the services of tour companies in 2013, 281,716 visited Africa compared to 27.9 million who visited nearby Asian countries, 3.6 million who visited Europe and 751,783 who visited America.

In 2013, the number of outbound Chinese tourists was 98 million, an 18 per cent increase from 2012. The expenditure of outbound Chinese tourists reached $128.7 billion in 2013, an increase of 26.8 percent on 2012. This figure is expected to reach $140bn in 2014.

Latest figures indicate tourism is now Uganda’s biggest export earner. It fetched $1.4bn in the 2013/14 financial year, up from $1.1bn the previous year, according to Bank of Uganda’s monetary policy for August. Remittances from Ugandans working abroad ($800m) are now second and coffee ($415m), third.

Source: The Observer