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Monday, June 7, 2010

Murchison Falls National Park

After the long drive to lunch, some of us ended up waiting over 3 hours for our food! The restaurant was not well organized - Dr. Root and Dr. Bishop ended up running the place so we could finally get our food. Dr. Root directed the kitchen staff while Dr. Bishop directed the wait staff and all the food was out in less than half an hour. It just seems like there's not really a sense of time here. I think the laid back culture was really reflected in our lunch experience and that's not really a good trait in terms of sustainable development because slow service definitely negatively impacts the tourism industry. Anying of the tourists who aren't backpackers are probably used to getting their food pretty promptly and would not react well to getting their food late all the time. If Uganda wishes to cater to a wider range of tourists, the level of service is one of the aspects that needs to be improved.

We ended up getting to Red Chilli at Murchison Falls (MFNP) around 6 o'clock and the keys were handed out to the bandas, tents, and the two little cottages. This Red Chilli was definitely more of a camping experience for some people, but they had a great area to hang out up by the reception. We were warned about hippos wandering into camp, but I don't think any of us saw any. There was a family of warthogs wandering around, though. My favorite part of Murchison Falls was getting to see the giraffes - my favorite - and get even closer to the elephants! It was amazing and the waterfalls were breathing taking. I've never seen a real waterfall before - it was so gorgeous. I was kind of disappointed that we didn't get to see lions, but all in all it was a great experience.

I was particularly interested in the couple of UCOTA (Uganda Community Tourism Association) shops we saw on the way to MFNP, but we didn't get to stop at them. As I was thinking about it though, I'm probably the only person who knew they were shops and that's only because UCOTA came up in my research on tourism. I don't see how UCOTA is really making a difference in communities surrounding national parks if tourists don't even know to stop at the shops. UCOTA claims to be assisting people in the communities by giving them a source of income from the sale of handmade crafts, however I don't think their vision really takes into account what the people in the community want. I also don't think that their really doing much because I don't see their shops getting much traffic, especially if our whole big group didn't stop there and I think Red Chilli at Kampala sends a lot of business to MFNP.

Based on what I saw, MFNP seems to appeal more to backpackers than any higher level tourists because it's more of a "roughing it" experience. MFNP is also in more of a remote location and because of the 2+ hours of driving on really bumpy roads, I'd classify it as tough to get to. Tourists with a lot of money aren't going to want to take a 6-hour ride there from Kampala, especially with rough roads. The speed and quality of transportation and roads are major inhibitors in terms of the tourism industry, in my opinion. Going along with our experience at lunch, the amount of and length of delays is a major challenge the tourism industry is going to have to overcome in order to widen Uganda's appeal as a tourist destination.

From working at a luxury travel company in the customer service department, I learned about the littlest things that wealthy tourists would not put up with. Based on this trip, I don't think Uganda is even close to being considered a luxury tourist desitination. The major draw that Uganda has in the luxury tourism industry is that they are on of the three countries in the world where people can see the last remaining mountain gorillas. I think that the exclusivity and expense of tracking gorillas definitely appeals to luxury tourists, but the infrastructure will deter those tourists from venturing elsewhere in Uganda.

Right now Uganda is appealing to backpackers because it's not really touristy yet, it's cheap, and it has an authentic feeling. However, if Uganda wants to increase their revenue from the tourism industry, which is where I see a lot of potential, then some major changes need to take place. Another market that isn't being tapped into in Uganda is family travelers - right now I don't see anything that is geared towards families traveling together. I see a lot of room for Uganda's tourism industry to grow and develop, but right now is a key moment where the country needs to make decisions and decide where funds are going to be focused. I think it would be a mistake for Uganda to become too touristy because right now what it has over some other destinations in Africa is that it is more of an authentic experience and it isn't overcrowded like major tourist destinations.

What do you think Uganda should focus on in terms of developing tourism?

What do you think Uganda needs to do in order for tourism to be sustainable?

How do you think tourism impacts the local community? Is it positive or negative? How can that impact sustainability?

Thanks for reading and I look forward to reading your comments!

- Kristin Kowalski


  1. Great blog! I agree that Uganda should try to aviod becoming touristy as their tourism industry continues to grow. A couple areas that I would definitely focus on in developing tourism in Uganda is first to improve the condition of the roads so that travellers can get around the country easier - this would especially be helpful near MFNP - and secondly to improve the service and conditions of the hotels and restaurants so that travellers can have a happier experience. The key in developing these areas is to not build large, mainstream resorts and instead infuse the local culture into the building process.

  2. This was a great re-cap Kristen! Uganda has so much potential to become a hotspot in the near future. I would not like to see Uganda become a touristy place...but I would like world travelers to gain a certain appreciation for all that Uganda has to offer. All of the beauties of this place I think have to have better marketing and advertising strategies. I think Uganda will have to work hard to make their country a tourist ATTRACTION as opposed to just simply a tourist TRAP (if that makes sense). Like Josie said, they should stay away from large resorts and such and simply focus on the beauty and culture of their region.

  3. One thing that surprised me about the trip was the natural beauty in Uganda. This country has many gorgeous natural features. Uganda possesses so much potential in the tourism industry because of this natural beauty. I definitely agree with Kristin that they have room to grow and develop in the wildlife tourism industry.

  4. I would like to be a voice of opposition and say I didn't think the roads and other amenities were that bad. There were, of course, questionable bathrooms I would have liked to avoid, but my experience wouldn't have been complete without them. Taking away the truths of Uganda (such as the lack of flushable toilets) makes it the tourist trap Danielle mentioned instead of a tourist attraction. I suppose this then means that only people able to withstand a little difficulty can travel to Uganda. However, I don't think people who can't pee in a hole deserve to see lions and gorillas anyways. I think Uganda is developed well enough for a certain level of traveler, such as the backpackers Kristin mentioned.

  5. I agree with some of the previous comments, as in I wouldn't want to see Uganda become extremely touristy. But if that can help their economy, then so be it. I also think that if Uganda is planning on becoming a touristic country, it is going to need to balance some of that out with some form of industrialization. Tourism is still dependent on other people's incomes and other nation's economies, so therefore Uganda still isn't "sustainable" in that sense. Tourism could be a driving force in Uganda's economy, but it should not be the only factor.

    If Uganda wants to grow their tourism sector, many things are going to need to happen, in my opinion. First I think that the roads are going to need to be fixed up, as no one wants to travel on those things. I also think that Uganda will have to clean up its current political environment, as many would shy away from bringing their families to Uganda due to the current instabilities within the government.
    There are more things that need to change as well, but those are a few of the main ones that I saw as most important.

  6. I was really surprised that Murchison Falls didn't have more visitors and that it wasn't as developed as Queen Elizabeth National Park. The falls were so beautiful and the park and boat ride had so much more nature and wildlife. Uganda has the potential to make more money if it attracted tourists to this area and show them the natural beauty. I don't think that attracting more tourists would be detrimental, but I do wish that the craft shops and the restaurants would remain minimal. The nature and wildlife should be what people come to see, not the little knick knacks that can be bought at the markets or in town. I liked that there wasn't any trash or litter there also. Ugandan wildlife officials are doing a great job at preserving the national park and the wildlife. I hope this continues in the future because we don't see that at all in the U.S.