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Don’t just tell Ugandan’s to smile at Tourists; give them a reason to do so

Local Community Dancers – Bwindi Forest, Uganda By Geoffrey Baluku

Visitors are drawn to Uganda by the natural beauty, wildlife, hospitality and the rich culture that continues to make this country a popular destination.
With the knowledge that tourism has the potential to contribute significantly and continuously to the country’s economy, the government and concerned tourism players need to place emphasis not only on the development of our infrastructure and tourism facilities but also to improve the lives of local people, protect their environment and offer a better future.
Long and short-term development plans should be developed so that tourism and its benefits are spread within local communities.
For tourism to be developed in a sustainable manner, efforts should be made to ensure enjoyment for the tourist and minimum impact or disruption for the local communities and environment. Tourism investments are too often imposed from outside the communities where some of our tourist attractions are located, and the potential for sustainable forms of tourism is weakened. Unless local people begin ‘feeling’ tourism in their pockets and on their tables, all efforts may be put to waste.
To ensure community involvement and to safeguard local cultures, sustainable tourism development should therefore involve all partners in tourism development at all appropriate levels, facilitate the development of tourism services that are planned, managed and reviewed by the host community, ensure that tourism revenue stays in the host communities so as to enhance livelihoods and generate a profitable source of income.
There is need to also emphasize the use of new technology, natural resource management and marketing concepts. Ideally, participatory planning and implementation should be part of the processes. What has often disturbed me is seeing that Uganda Wildlife Authority, custodians of all national parks in Uganda, are the very people that have given this country a raw deal. Cases in point range from the gorilla permit monopoly deal that almost created chaos in the sector, the hunting contract given to a private investor among others.
Time has come when these private investors should consider building symbiotic relationships with the locals staying close to the protected areas. The biggest challenge is when locals finally realize that they got a raw deal from particular investments. It is happening in Bwindi; where a private investor was supposed to be giving back some financial contribution to the locals under a lease arrangement.
However, it came to my knowledge then that members from the very community were complaining that the investor kept on claiming that they have more guests on complementary arrangement than the paying guest meaning that the locals did not benefit from the deal. However, the stakes have since changed as result of the private sector efforts in lobbying for the community.

At one time a local was asked why he had stolen some items from a tourist, and he replied: “They say we should benefit from tourism so I’m just benefiting.” If am also to remind you of a Chinese proverb that says you do not teach people to eat, you just give them food, similarly the locals of Bwindi and other areas in Uganda should not just be taught how to smile at tourists, but should be given a reason to do so!

An Australian Tourist (Amanda) while on Tour in Uganda, buys a bunch of banana’s which she later gave out to a local community

Involving local people is surely one of the missing ingredients undermining the success of Uganda’s tourism industry. Non-governmental organizations and some donor agencies have tried to work with local people identifying their needs and supplying them with what they want. But without private sector input, the sustainability of these initiatives is questionable.

Two key forces are driving the development of tourism i.e the new tourists and the new private sector initiatives.

Involving local people is surely one of the missing ingredients undermining the success of Uganda’s tourism industry. Non-governmental organizations and some donor agencies have tried to work with local people identifying their needs and supplying them with what they want. But without private sector input, the sustainability of these initiatives is questionable.

Two key forces are driving the development of tourism i.e the new tourists and the new private sector initiatives.

Tourists from Australia with the writer (middle) prior to Gorilla Trekking in Uganda’s famous Bwindi Forest

The new tourists are waking up to calls of the media as well as to the hard reality that it’s not business as usual. There is growing demand for more contact with locals and a safer and cleaner environment. We have to deviate from the known practice of a few reaping the benefits because tourism is for all and people are for tourism.

The Ministry of Tourism, through its line department of Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA), should not just give people fish but should teach them how to fish. What we expect from UWA is that they need to train the locals so that they can effectively manage the resources in their areas.

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