KAMPALA – Uganda Tourism Board (UTB), the Government of Uganda’s tourism marketing and regulatory agency over throughout last week held talks with Senegalese American musician and businessman, Akon on all matters of tourism investment.
Akon, whose real names are Aliaume Damala Badara Akon Thiam was in the country at the invitation of Ambassador Abbey Walusimbi, the Senior Presidential Advisor on Diaspora Affairs to explore various investment opportunities in the country.
During his stay, UTB CEO, Lilly Ajarova hosted Akon and his wife Rozina Negusei for a familiarization trip to Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and Queen Elizabeth National Park.
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, the most visited national park, together with MgahingaGorillaNational Park are famous for the Mountain Gorilla and host 53% of the world’s population of gorillas. Queen Elizabeth National Park is home to over 95 mammal species and over 600 bird species.
Describing the gorilla tracking in a media interview, Akon and Rozina said, it was a rare, tough and beautiful at the same time.
“We had an amazing time—a beautiful experience. “It was amazing, I got an up-close and personal shot with the gorillas… you don’t see shots this close.”
At another media address in Kampala, Akon said: “I cannot believe what I have experienced while in Uganda, the kind of welcome I never knew Uganda had and I’m determined to expose how beautiful this country is to the rest of the world.”
Commenting about the UTB-Akon talks, Ajarova said that Akon’s visit follows another February 2021 meeting between Ajarova and Akon’s wife and entertainment entrepreneur, RozinaNegusei.
“One of the key opportunities discussed with Rozina then, and again with the couple was an opportunity for a huge potential for a back-to-Africa (in this case Uganda) International Music Festival,” she said.
She continued: “We also discussed marine tourism- given Uganda’s abundance of water bodies, the redevelopment of the Equator—UTB has profiled up to 6 areas of investment as well as the construction of especially luxury accommodation facilities in and around our 10 National Parks in addition to a favourable business environment such as government incentives, widely available and affordable labour, all, combine to make Uganda, one of the best places to visit and invest,” she said.
She also said that UTB, hopes to leverage the multi-platinum selling singer, rapper, songwriter, record producer, entrepreneur, philanthropist, and actor’s celebrity and wealthy networks, first to create awareness about Uganda in the North American markets especially and subsequently influence investments inflows as well.
Ajarova said that the North American Market, that includes the United States of America and Canada, according to the just-released Uganda’s Tourist Expenditure And Motivation Survey (Tems) 2019 Report, by the tourism minister, although North America tourists constitute only 9.3% of overall tourism numbers to Uganda, they, together with European and Oceania (Australia, New Zealand) were largely leisure travellers that spend between 8 to 14 nights. Nearly one-third of all leisure visitors were much more likely to stay in either Uganda’s Safari Lodge or Tourist campsites.
In an interview with Associated Press News, an American newswire, Akon said that Uganda was rich with potential and indeed confirmed that his company was interested in and would host an international music festival in Uganda.
“Uganda is definitely a hub for investment. We’re looking to put together a huge festival here,” he said, adding: “We do want to be able to invest in the local artists. One of the reasons for the festival is to expose the local artists here in Uganda because they play a big role in the East African music alongside Kenya and Rwanda and Congo as well too.”
Akon also hinted at plans to build what he called an entertainment city in Uganda.
“That is on the list of things that we are doing. That is one of the reasons why we are doing the Akon Entertainment City here; because we want to be able to focus and showcase the entertainment all throughout East Africa,” he said.
Created by the Tourism Act (2008), Uganda Tourism Board (UTB) is the official Government of Uganda’s destination marketing organization for Destination Uganda, the Pearl of Africa. UTB exists to sustainably promote Uganda as the most preferred and competitive destination for tourists and tourism investments in Africa. By working with stakeholders in the tourism sector to market Destination Uganda while encouraging investment, education, training and research as well as developing and monitoring standards in the tourism sector, UTB has since its inception, 13 years ago, grown the number of tourist arrivals by 78% from 844,000 in 2008/09 to 1,500,000 in 2018/19. This is slightly above global growth rates of 63% in the same period. As a result, sector foreign exchange earnings have nearly tripled, growing by more than 171%, from US$590 million to US$1.6 billion in the same period. Today the tourism industry, directly and indirectly, creates 667,600 jobs, 77% of whom are youth aged18-30 years and accounts for 7.7% of GDP.
By 2024/25 and barring for the effects of Covid-19, UTB plans to grow international tourist arrivals from the key source markets i.e., U.S., Europe and China from 210,000 to 500,000 tourists- a core element in increasing Uganda’s annual tourism revenues from US$1.6 billion to US$3.0 billion! This will increase the contribution of tourism to total employment from 6.3% to 10% which is equivalent to 433,000 new jobs or an increase from the current 667,600 jobs to 1,100,000 jobs. This will increase the total contribution of tourism to GDP from 7.7% to 9%.
“Known as the “Pearl of Africa,” Uganda is located in East Africa and offers some of the continent’s most diverse wildlife viewing, dramatic landscapes, and immersive cultural experiences and warm people and hospitality. Uganda is home to more than half the world’s population of endangered mountain gorillas and trekking to observe these gentle giants in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest is one of the world’s top bucket list travel activities. Safari opportunities abound in savanna, forest, and wetland settings throughout 10 national parks, where visitors can come face to face with “The Big Five + 2 ” – lion, leopard, rhino, elephant, buffalo, chimpanzee and mountain gorilla– as well as giraffe, zebra, hippopotamus, crocodile, and more than half of all bird species found in Africa. Among Uganda’s extraordinary natural attractions are the snow-capped Rwenzori Mountains; expansive Lake Victoria, which forms the source of the Nile River; and Murchison Falls National Park.