At the end of her speech at the opening ceremony for the 6th African and Indian Ocean Aviation Week on May 14, 2019, Uganda’s Transport Minister Monica Azuba Ntege told her audience that Uganda was ready to host similar events in the future.
“We look forward to hosting more ICAO [International Civil Aviation Organization] technical meetings, for, I am sure, our capacity and competence have been tested,” she said, to applause. “The Government will continue to guarantee the conducive environment that has made it possible for experts like you to convene in Kampala.”
Azuba’s optimism tells of the confidence Uganda has gained from successfully hosting regional, continental and global meetings in the recent past, which have brought to the East African country some of the world’s most influential leaders and eminent personalities.
Since January 2018, Uganda has hosted at least half a dozen international conferences. They include the Global Conference on Education, Global Tea Convention, Commonwealth anti-corruption conference, Africa Blockchain Conference, Africa Internet Summit and the Africa Water Conference.
In the second half of 2019, Uganda is also scheduled to host a series of international conferences, including the Africa Fintech Conference, Pan African Literacy for All Conference, the African Epilepsy Congress and the Global Leadership Summit. The country hosted the 64th Commonwealth Parliamentary Conference at the turn of September 2019.
Over the last two decades, the country has slowly built capacity to host international visitors. According to statistics from the Uganda Hotel Owners Association, the “Pearl of Africa” currently has several hotels with 250,000 bed capacity.
Most international meetings in Uganda are held either Entebbe, the city that hosts the country’s only international airport, or Kampala, the country’s capital, where most of the five star hotels have been built. Hotels include the Munyonyo Commonwealth Resort, which hosted the 2007 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) and the Serena Kampala Hotel, which hosted Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom when she was in Uganda for CHOGM. Others are the Lake Victoria Serena Gold Resort and Spa, the Sheraton Kampala Hotel and the Pearl of Africa Hotel.
Uganda has also recently seen an addition of 820 high-end rooms in the capital Kampala, especially following the entrance of the globally acclaimed Hilton Hotel Chain into Uganda with two hotels and Carlson Rezidor Group from Denmark which has taken over the Pearl of Africa Hotel to establish its first world famous Radisson Blu Hotel brand in Uganda. Skyz Hotel also recently opened shop with the breath –taking scenic view of the city, rendering 4-star cervices.
The Executive Director of the Uganda Hotel Owners Association (UHOA), Jean Byamugisha, tells Nnyonyi Magazine that the entry of major hotel chains into the country is a vote of confidence in Uganda’s attractiveness as an international conference and tourism destination.
“If Hilton can put up a very big establishment in Uganda, it means that they have done their market research and they know they will make a good return on their investment,” she adds.
Byamugisha reveals that UHOA is lobbying the Uganda government to construct a modern convention centre to supplement the country’s only available international conference centre at the Serena Kampala Hotel, which was built to host the African Heads of State summit in 1976.
For Uganda, international conferences have become a vital tool in the country’s global tourism marketing strategy. Currently, tourism is Uganda’s biggest foreign revenue earner, with annual returns of $1.5 billion which represents a 10 per cent contribution to the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
Byamugisha says lobbying to increase the number of conferences that Uganda hosts each year and consolidating the country’s position as a global meeting hub, is one of the strategies that both the government and the private sector are using to ramp up tourist numbers.
According to the UHOA boss, the strategy is being anchored on the MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Exhibitions) initiative, a tourism plan whose goal is to assemble large groups of people to one area for a particular purpose and then leverage the tourism opportunities they provide.
“MICE is one of the biggest markets for international tourism in Africa. It has buoyed many economies because of its very big value chain,” she explains. “Visitors will come in as business guests, but spend more than a regular budget tourist. Operators can also sell tour packages to them just as crafts makers will sell their products. It is always probable that the person who comes as a business guest returns another time with their family or friends.”
The Byamugisha says the government and private sector partners plan to progressively turn Uganda into the biggest MICE capital for sub-Saharan Africa, blending conference infrastructure and the country’s unique natural attributes such as the gorilla trekking experience. Uganda is also home to the largest fresh lake in Africa and source of the continent’s longest river, the Nile.
The Speaker of Parliament, Rebecca Kadaga, (R) with members of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association