Tuesday, July 13, 2010


The Easter weekend came and went. Anecdotal evidence suggests the pickings were not so good for the hospitality business. Beers went undrunk, hotel rooms went unoccupied and cows, goats and pigs lived to see another day. This was one of the quietest Easters in years, traders observed morosely.

After the Easter weekend we get news that the hotel project at the former Shimoni Primary School is back on track. Real estate group Kensington Group is now in charge opf the project as majority shareholders in Azure Group. The minority shareholders are Kingdom Holdings of Saudi billionaire Al Waleed bin Talal, who was the original promoter of the project.

Work has already started on the sh170b project, which will include a five-star hotel, serviced apartments and the commercial space. The hotel will be run by an, as yet unnamed, international operator.

And the news also is that the major structural work on the Hilton Hotel in Nakasero has been completed and the more involving finishing has begun.

This is all very laudable and barring any unforeseen circumstances, on the completion of these two hotels Uganda may begin to fulfill its potential as a tourism and conferencing destination.

But as is typical of our government there is a lot of uncoordinated troop movement that means we continue to shoot ourselves in the foot (do we still have feet?) perennially.

I learnt from friends crossing the border into Uganda from Kenya just before the easter weekend that whereas the more marketing savvy Kenyans charge $25 for foreigners, Uganda charges $50 and this is only for a single entry visa!

The effect of this is that there is more incentive as tourist to base yourself in Kenya and tour the rest of the region, which means lost earnings for our tourism and local industry which have benefitted from a prolonged stay in the country.

We have all heard about non-tariff barriers. Uganda has its own version. The traffic police are running a major racket on our highways. What these ladies and gentlemen of the law do is to position themselves at the bottom of valleys on the high way, on the ready with their speed guns and the proceed to extort bribes from drivers in lieu of the sh100,000 fine for overspeeding.

Speeding up hill or down hill is wrong and should be discouraged but to deliberately contrive to catch drivers overspeeding for selfish gain is more than criminal. Interestingly on the road to western Uganda I counted one traffic policeman with speed gun as compared to about three on the eastern route by my friends’ count.

And this is just one of the several ruses we get up to as Ugandans, to prey on our own but more especially on visitors to the country. We can build all the hotels we want but if were hospitality is only skin deep visitors feel and are not only unlikely to return but will spread the word denying us valuable earnings at a time when our brothers in the diaspora are finding it increasingly difficult to remit money home.

It is bad enough that we do not have world class transport, financial or entertainment facilities without adding our propensity to fleece anything that moves.

The global financial crisis is here, even if we pretend it is not and go on as if it is still business as usual.

Currently and for some time to come, money will be tight and people both local and foreign, will be second guessing themselves on how they spend their money. In the good days maybe we could afford the luxury of believing that if we lose one customer there is always one around the corner to take their place.

As individuals, as businesses, as a government, as a country we need to reorient our ways by not only cutting back on our expenditure—inevitable as sales as low, but banish the perception that visitors are an invitation to overcharge and cheat.

Beyond the white beaches and beautiful women, there is a reason why Mauritius and Seychelles are top tourist destinations with millions of visitors a year and Uganda, with its breathtaking scenery and numerous game viewing opportunities is not, and it has nothing to do with being bewitched, we are just not serious.

Published April 2009, New Vision

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