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