While the tourism potential in Uganda is boundless, the current tourism infrastructure is…ummm…lacking. As one traveler who wrote an article for The Independent found out, planning your own trip to Uganda can be a nightmare.
With so little internet penetration in Uganda it can be nearly impossible to get information about tourism sites or even get a simple phone number or e-mail address to make reservations. It is expensive to hire personal transport, but impossible and sometimes dangerous to get to many places on public transportation. And once you get there, you never know what the quality of your experience might be.
The USAID-STAR (Sustainable Tourism in the Albertine Rift) Project is trying to change that.
If you read this blog regularly, you know I sometimes criticize the way foreign aid is given in the developing world. I don’t like handout aid that doesn’t build capacity of locals or leave useful infrastructure in place that can stimulate economic growth over the long term. The STAR project is an example of using aid money to develop capacity and the economy within Uganda.[Full Disclosure – I am a member of the Technical Advisory Group for this project, but it is no accident that I have chosen to volunteer my time to this.]
One of the new initiatives of STAR is the Pearls of Uganda website. This website highlights local cultural tourism venues in the Albertine Rift of western Uganda that have been vetted by the organization. The staff at these sites have been trained in guiding and hospitality skills, so the quality of experience should be consistently high. This website will also be a very useful planning tool for anyone – Ugandan or foreign -who is making their own arrangements for travel within Uganda.
Tourism benefits the land, the wildlife and the people of Uganda. It brings economic opportunities into remote areas that have few other options, and the money that is brought in by tourists incentivises people to protect the forests and wildlife that visitors come to see. It also provides a motivation to keep cultural dances and other traditions alive.
There are few countries in the world that can compete with Uganda on biological and cultural diversity. As its reputation grows as a travel destination, more and more local people will be able to sustain themselves by providing services to tourists.
People who visit Uganda love Uganda. Groups like STAR and the many dedicated tour operators, business people, government agencies, media outlets and others who are partners on the project will continue to increase the quality and expand the diversity of experiences that are available to visitors to this amazing country.
Mark D. Jordahl – Kampala