KAMPALA. The Government has moved to leverage annual pilgrimage to Uganda Martyrs Shrine in Namugongo to rollout a package of religious tourism that will see several other religious place of importance to believers targeted for their value.
First off is this year’s Martyrs Day due June 3 at Namugongo, whose celebration the Ministry of Tourism, Wild Life and Antiquities is committed to use as a way to promote religious tourism in the country.
While addressing the media on preparations for the celebrations at the Media Centre in Kampala, yesterday, the State Minister for Tourism, Godfrey Kiwanda, said, worldover, faith-based tourism market is fast growing as more destinations and suppliers work with religious organisations to create new tourism products.
The minister urged Ugandans to tap into the emerging opportunities.
According to the United Nations World Tourism Organisation, about 330 million tourists visit the world’s key religious sites every year and spend about $18 billion.
“If we promote and market our religious sites such as Namugongo and other martyrs shrines like those in Mityana, we can be able to increase on the number of tourists visiting the country every year, which will fetch significant revenue for the economy,” Kiwanda said.
He said the Government will continue working with the different religious institutions to refurbish and market such sites given their potential to contribute to national development.
Currently, the world’s largest form of mass religious tourism takes place at the annual Hajj pilgrimage in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, which receives 12 million visitors per year and are expected to rise to 17 million by 2025.
Minister Kiwanda believes that Uganda can grow the three million visitors expected this year if all the religious sites are promoted and marketed for their value.
Ahead of Martyrs Day, the Government has made improvements at Namugongo shrine, including renovation of the basilica, sitting areas, water and power supplies, roads, and construction of the joint security base at the site.
“The Government is also committed to setting aside the month of May every year to boost activities in remembrance of the martyrs. We want our friends from all over the world to not only come on June 3, but arrive a month earlier and visit the birth places of these martyrs to get to fully understand the backgrounds of their martyrdom,” he added.
John Ssempebwa, the deputy chief executive Uganda Tourism Board, said the cooperation between the Government and the different religious organisations in preparations for the celebrations will increase the number of pilgrimages coming to the country.
“Many pilgrimages have been coming to Namugongo but we want also to promote the site in Mityana where five of the martyrs were killed so that it can also start attracting tourists. We shall also help the Anglican Church to do research about other sites where their martyrs were killed and help the Muslim community on documentation,” he said.
Ssempebwa added that they are producing a video on the catholic martyrs to distribute in the countries with majority Catholics so that they can appreciate and start paying pilgrimage to Ugandan religious sites.