Uganda Tourism Board’s ambition to attract Chinese tourists has got a shot in the arm with the visit of a top tourism official from the province of Guangdong.
Li Jinmao, the vice president and secretary general of the Guangzhou Tourism Association, last month spent almost two weeks in Uganda on a familiarisation tour that took him to several tourist destinations.
The ground-breaking visit was hatched in August 2014 when UTB participated in the China International Tourism Mart in Guangzhou, China’s commercial hub and capital of Guangdong, the country’s richest province.
Driven by the goal to raise the number of international visitors from the current 1.2 million to 1.8 million by 2016, UTB has been keen to break into the Chinese tourism market, seeing that China is the biggest producer of outbound tourists in the world. Chinese travellers spent an estimated $100bn outside their country in 2013, and Uganda wants a piece of that pie.
At the end of the Guangzhou tourism expo back in August, during a dinner organised with the help of Uganda’s consulate in the city, Mr Jinmao, whose organisation represents 2,000 Chinese companies, won an air ticket to Uganda provided by Ethiopian Airlines.
The trip came to pass last month as Jinmao and his wife landed in Uganda for the first time. After a whirlwind tour that took the couple to Bwindi, Kidepo, Semliki, Murchison Falls national parks and the Source of the Nile in Jinja, among other attractions, Jinmao sat down with journalists at the UTB officers in Kololo on Thursday last week to discuss his experiences.
Speaking through an interpreter, a Ugandan who has lived in China for 16 years, Jinmao said he had been impressed by what he saw although he decried the lack of awareness of what Uganda had to offer in China.
He said he had been blown away by the beauty and diversity of Uganda’s wildlife and scenery. He also spoke of the warmth of the people, the green and the abundance of lakes, food and culture.
However, Jinmao had some advice too, reminding his hosts of the need for a direct flight between China and Uganda, a better road network in some of the places of interest, and adequate marketing.
Stephen Asiimwe, the UTB executive director, thanked Jinmao for the visit and acknowledged some of the bottlenecks facing the Uganda tourism sector. On the case for a direct flight, he said there was a growing realisation that a national carrier would be in Uganda’s best interest.
While Asiimwe spoke of the advantages that such an airline would bring – connectivity, convenience, employment, marketing and branding – Tom Wasswa, a UTB board member and Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) official, revealed that a paper on the issue is before cabinet.
Asiimwe, who was flanked by Amos Wekesa, another UTB board member and Great Lakes Safaris proprietor, thanked sponsors such as Ethiopian Airlines, Gate1 Tours and Travel, Kampala Serena hotel, Uganda Wildlife Authority, Imperial group of hotels and CAA, for making the Jinmao tour not only possible but successful too.
With an ambassador of Jinmao’s credentials, UTB can afford to dream of more Chinese tourist arrivals in the future. However, critical bottlenecks such as marketing, airline connectivity and infrastructure will have to be addressed to facilitate this.