KAMPALA – The COVID-19 pandemic has left many businesses crawling and the tourism sector is no exception to the effects. In efforts to revive the sector, the Uganda Tourism Board (UTB) is set to host the 6th Pearl of Africa Tourism Expo (POATE 2021), the first-ever virtual tourism expo.
POATE 2021 will take place from 23rd to 25th of April under the theme: “Restarting Tourism for Regional Economic Development”
In understanding how this is intended to work, PML Daily‘s Nelson Mandela caught up with Ms. Claire Mugabi, the UTB Marketing Manager to further draw an image on POATE and how UTB is positioned to meet the evolving changes to suit their respective challenges to revive the sector.
QN. Tell us about POATE
ANS. POATE is our annual tourism exposition intended to bring together all tourism players across the globe and get to know the Pearl of Africa. It’s organised every year in the month of February but this time because of the destructions caused by Covid-19, we had to push it a bit to April to allow things to stabilise.
It brings together domestic, regional and international tour operators, travel agents, destination agencies and various players in the tourism trade to network and facilitate tourism business. It is a unique opportunity for tourism businesses to meet new clients, network, and market their services and products. With the effects of the Pandemic to the tourism sector, POATE is an initiative to revive the industry back to its glory days.
QN. What exactly happens during the expo?
ANS. Basically at POATE, it’s organised to bring together key tourism players across the globe; from the domestic players, the regional players; Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzanian; across Africa and International. By international we invite hosting buyers from our markets of focus which is the North American market including the UK, Ireland and Germany. Those are the traditional markets that we have always focused on as tourism board but also of recent we added new markets of China, Japan and UAE who could also contribute tremendously to the foreign arrivals. So we bring in those clients to see what does Uganda has to offer so that they start to promote us in the international markets.
QN. Speaking of bringing as many participants on board as possible, please help us understand how exactly will this virtual POATE work?
ANS. This year is a virtual expo. Usually, we organise physical POATE. We fly people from the region, across the world, take them around Uganda so that they see what beauty Uganda has to offer in terms of tourism. We organise for them meeting at POATE so that they have meetings with our local players for networking purposes. So normally these are physical Expos but because of Covid-19, we decided to go virtual this year because there’s a lot of restrictions on travel. But this has come with a lot of advantage because it has now expanded our reach because normally when we do a physical Expo, we bring in about 50 hosted buyers but this time we expect over 400 of them and we are now going to expose our destination to more people but also in terms of the exhibitors (local players in the tourism sector), we normally have about 50 but now because it’s virtual again the reach is more because we have about 300 already who are registered. So POATE provides the platform to all the tourism players to showcase what they sell.
What is making this event very special is that as tourism board we have gone ahead to create virtual reality content about Uganda. Like I said that at the physical Expo we bring people and take them around Uganda for some trip, now that we don’t have a chance we have created a virtual reality content that is going to be uploaded on the platform so that someone can feel that experience.
This virtual platform has unique abilities such as:
i) Directory Listings: This is similar to on-stand presentations- where exhibitors will be able to showcase their products and services in a variety of multimedia formats, including video, website links and e-brochures. For easy searchability and fundability, exhibitors can list their products and service categories.
ii) 1-On-1 Meetings: The meetings function within the platform will be exclusive to buyers, media and exhibitors only, and shall allow participants to connect with the highest level of travel trade industry professionals with direct purchasing power. Participants can create their attendee profile, adding products and regions they are interested to buy from. This will make it easy for exhibitors and other participants to quickly find and match contacts that suit their business needs.
iii) Lead Generation: The virtual platform allows participants to remotely schedule individual thirty-minute video meetings and network with industry professionals. The system also allows several functionalities, such as the exchange of business cards, drawing up of draft contracts etc.
iv) Choice Content Sessions: Participants will have a variety of live sessions, debates and forums from industry experts to choose from. A variety of topics from experts in key areas such as hotels, aviation, resilience, sustainability, and recovery in a post-COVID-19 world have all been lined up.
QN. We understand this year’s theme is “Restarting Tourism for Regional Economic Development” How would you break that for us?
ANS. Of course before we look outside our region we have to start with the region because 80% of our arrivals are people from the region. We get so many people coming in from Rwanda, Kenya, Tanzania and even vice versa. Uganda is number two source market of arrivals in Kenya. It’s a matter of converting all those people who come in for trade. If someone is coming from Sudan for trade, you have a higher chance to convert that person into tourism because Uganda is not only the most beautiful country in the world but also the safest and right now safety is number one determining factor of travellers across the world.
QN. What is the criteria for exhibitors to be part of the Expo?
ANS. You have to be registered with UTB. As UTB, one of our mandates which is under quality assurance is to register and license all tourism practitioners so you must be registered and for you to be registered there are certain amount of criteria that you must meet.
QN. We know that Uganda is the home to over 50% of the world’s remaining Mountain Gorillas. What does this mean for the country and tourists?
ANS. Of course that is really one of the things that make us the Pearl of Africa. So that means that we can tap into more and more people that travel to come for Gorilla tracking in the country.
QN. A normal Ugandan may not know the impact of tourism on the country’s economy probably thinking it’s just leisure. As a marketing organization, do you think you have done enough to educate and interest citizens regarding the matter?
ANS. Yes we have done that. People are fully aware of the contribution of tourism to the country’s economy and that is why right now there is quite a lot of goodwill for tourism in the country amongst the different stakeholders both the general public and our funders. As tourism board we have taken the time to share our performance with the media and Ugandans are now aware that tourism is the number one contributor to our country’s GDP. Annually, tourism would fetch up to $1.6M so people have gone ahead to disseminate that information and are now appreciative because initially, they didn’t know because tourism is an invisible trade. People have understood the contribution of tourism, many of them are now even taking interest in conserving the tourism products because they understand why it is very important for us to preserve the natural beauty of our country because without it we don’t have visitors coming to Uganda.
QN. If I said tourism is expensive for a normal Ugandan, how wrong would I be?
ANS. Yes, there is that perception also that tourism around Uganda is expensive especially domestic tourism because when you compare our international tourism with other nations like Rwanda, we are actually very affordable destination but with domestic tourism, yes, there is that perception and we have gone ahead to work with our sector players to discount prices for domestic travel and many of them have listened to that cause. Right now many of our facilities are operating at around 30% to 50% of original prices they used to charge Ugandans. Also the other thing was that we had a challenge of our players charging Ugandans in foreign currency and even if something is not expensive, if someone hears 10 dollars they will not know that that’s less than shs50,000 and that sends a message of being expensive, so we have gone ahead to inform them to charge citizens in domestic currency.
QN. What is expected of a Ugandan as far as tourism promotion is concerned?
ANS. It is important for Ugandans to tell positives about their country. Many Ugandans are fond of spreading negative stories. People jump onto the story on social media and spread it without even verifying if it’s true which is really bad. So it’s very important that as Ugandans you say good things about your country because you are the first champions of tourism and also your word because you are a national when you say Uganda is bad people believe you because it’s your country. So let us trade the positive narrative about our country so that we promote tourism and also travel around Uganda. Many Ugandans have money and they mainly think that to enjoy the money you have to go to Dubai or outside Uganda. So, I urge Ugandans to travel around Uganda and also love your country.
QN. Any last words to the tourists and everyone else out there?
ANS. My last word I urge everyone to participate in POATE. To register as either a hosted buyer or an exhibitor, visit www.poate.co.ug and if you are just a Ugandan, I also urge you to register so that you come to know about tourism.