TOURISM: A BEACON OF SUSTAINABLE ECONOMIC EMPOWERMENT FOR LOCAL COMMUNITIES IN UGANDA

Tourism has become one of the world’s fastest growing industries. It is an important means of generating national income for a number of developing and developed countries. Many development strategists have identified tourism as a diverse and labour-intensive industry that provides a wide range of employment opportunities that can transform the lives of millions of people especially those living adjacent to protected Areas. However, careful planning and systematic implementation are essential for bringing about the desired positive impact. In Uganda, tourism is well placed to contribute to rural poverty reduction. This is because it is consumed at the point of intervention and even low-skilled workers in remote areas can become tourism ‘exporters’.

Uganda should seize the opportunity to harness the full potential from tourism. The highly diverse natural attractions, good climate reflecting the combination of an equatorial location and medium to high altitudes and friendly people provide the necessary ingredients for a vibrant tourism economy. Of recent, amenities such as hotels and game lodges of international standards have been added to the tourism assets that put Uganda at a good ranking with her neighbours.

In spite of its proven contribution to national and global economic growth and development, the tourism sector still lacks political and economic recognition and support. In general terms, the challenge at hand is due to the fact that converting comparative advantages into competitiveness and sustainability require not only a coherent policy framework and a dynamic private sector but also efficient institutions to translate policy measures into programmes. Additionally, a national tourism development strategy inevitably involves issues that extend far beyond the sector into cross-sectoral linkages. Integration within global tourism networks and practical actions to establish linkages with other sectors of the economy and along tourism value chains are key elements of community focused tourism development. This wider perspective is essential if tourism development in Uganda is to positively affect inclusion and poverty reduction especially in rural communities.

Here are some suggested ways through which rural communities in Uganda can be targeted to benefit from tourism:

  1. Employment of the rural communities in tourism enterprises

This mechanism involves undertaking measures to increase employment in tourism enterprises. It is important that the provision of education and training is strengthened so that the local people may respond to employment opportunities, and any social or cultural barriers are eliminated.

Hillary (with a basinful of coffee berries) taking tourists through the basics of getting a good cup of Uganda coffee. He is the focal person for Kichwamba Escarpment Community Tourism Initiative (KECOTI) a community partner with Trek Africa Eco-Tours

Hillary (with a basinful of coffee berries) taking tourists through the basics of getting a good cup of Uganda coffee. He is the focal person for Kichwamba Escarpment Community Tourism Initiative (KECOTI) a community partner with Trek Africa Eco-Tours

2. Supply of goods and services to tourism enterprises especially those employing the local people
One of the fundamental conditions to achieving poverty reduction is to ensure that as much as possible, goods and services in the tourism supply chain come from local sources at all stages. The objective is to maximise the proportion of tourism spending that is retained in local communities and to involve the local people in the supply process. This also helps to support traditional forms of rural activities and skills, enhance the quality and identity of the local tourism product and establish stable sources for business.

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Fideris (with back to camera) Director of Nkuringo Cultural Centre in Rubuguri with volunteers at Itambira Agricultural demonstration garden in Rubuguri. The plan is to have local people supply fresh agricultural produce to hotels and lodges in the Southern Sector of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. On his right is Aggrey (with cap) Director Trek Africa Eco-Tours.

  1. Direct sale of goods and services to visitors by the informal economy

One of the main ways in which local people seek to earn income from tourists is through selling produce and services, such as fruits, handicrafts or guided tours, directly to them. Where visitors engage in the informal economy, it can be a direct route to providing income to the local people, and it can provide visitors with a colourful and rewarding experience. Information provision to tourists on available local products is important, as well as training to local people to ensure their products meet the quality requirements of visitors.

  1. Establishment and running of tourism enterprises by the local people

This involves the establishment and management of formal tourism enterprises by the local people, either individually or at a community level. These may include accommodation establishments, catering, transport, retail outlets, guiding and entertainment. Advantages of enterprise formation at the local level are that it places power and control in the hands of the local people, it can guarantee investments for the longer term and it enables enterprises to establish a scale of operation needed to attract customers.

  1. Tax or levy on tourism income or profits with proceeds benefiting the local communities

This mechanism relates to the revenues that are earned by National or Local Government from tourism, which can be used to fund social programmes. It has the advantage that the whole community can benefit from tourism without being directly engaged in the sector. However, the extent to which state revenue earned from tourism is put towards community development will depend on national priorities and programmes. Taxes or levies raised locally, for example through levies on bed-nights or entrance fees for protected areas, can often be used fully or partly for community benefits.

Transparency in the application of local taxes is essential, as well as consultation with the private sector to avoid deterring the industry and tourists by imposing relatively high taxation levels.

  1. Voluntary giving/support by tourism enterprises and tourists

Voluntary support in money or in kind, given by visitors or tourism enterprises to the local people can act as influential drivers for local poverty reduction. Various studies have pointed to a willingness amongst tourists to give something back to the area they are visiting. Many tourism enterprises are also committed to provide sponsorship to development initiatives in the areas where they operate. Local NGOs or trusts may help develop mechanisms for the collection and distribution of donations.

Beneficiary schemes clearly showing tangible local impact and community involvement have a high hance of attracting sponsorship and visitor support.

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