uganda: time to open the national office of event planning and fill it wisely…but urgently


Museveni Selfie
Photo from http://www.matookerepublic.com

IF you were like me and found it surprising that there was a major Commonwealth event taking place in Kampala this week, then please accept my sympathies for missing yet more opportunities for this country.

According to the official website: “The Commonwealth brings together government ministers, senior officials, young leaders, and youth workers from across the globe for the 9th Commonwealth Youth Ministers Meeting.”

The meeting involves the Youth Minister’s meeting, the Youth Forum and the Youth Stakeholder’s Forum. This meeting, I have discovered, takes place every four years in a different country each time – and the one in Uganda this week is the 9th in the series.

There are 52 countries in the Commonwealth, so a basic mathematical analysis into this means that the next time Uganda might get a chance to host such an event will be the year 2181.

These thoughts came to me because during this week I also received news of the Tokyo Olympics 2020. This news was broken to me NOT by way of a sports publication but through an ICT magazine – www.computerweekly.com.

The article in this magazine was titled, ‘How Japan is gearing up to secure the Tokyo Olympics’, and explained a non-obvious link between computers and the world’s biggest sporting event.

The story told us that the ever-efficient Japanese, hosts of the 2020 Olympics, were focused on securing electricity and communication systems THREE YEARS ahead of the event, to ensure there are no cyber attacks or system failures in 2020.

Three years to go, and they are already planning for contingencies. Some articles even state things like, “The 2020 Olympics are around the corner…

The Japanese have planned their 2020 event to such levels of detail that even the possibility of cyber interruptions is being looked into.

When I remarked on this to a youthful colleague, on the day the event opened and a photograph circulated widely of the grey-haired Kirunda Kivenjinja at a podium opening the event, he laughed.

“Even you, “ he said, “You can’t claim to be good at planning, so don’t start that kaboozi…”

He was right about one part, but we really have to stop and think a little bit.

The Permanent Secretary for Youth, Gender and Culture, Pius Bigirimana, wrote an article about the Conference and concluded with: “Let me also mention that right now and in days to come, all Commonwealth focus will be on this important event and this will further showcase Uganda to the world.”

Right.

Another youth asked me, when I mentioned the Conference to her, whether it was really trending worldwide on the social media platforms that most youth spend their time on.

Luckily, the President himself stepped forward with a selfie stick and created at least one superb image that went viral for hours on end via digital media, starting with his half million Twitter followers.

The rest of the stats of impressions and views of the hashtag @9CYMM are pathetic.

Yet we knew FOUR YEARS AGO that we would be hosting this most important event in the country with the world’s youngest population. We knew FOUR YEARS AGO that this event would make Uganda the focus of at least 52 countries for a long period in the run-up to the Conference, then during the three days of the Conference and meetings, and thereafter when they return to their homes, and update their Facebook walls and photo albums. We had FOUR YEARS to plan our hashtags, and menus, and itineraries and millions of other opportunities.

I say millions of opportunities because there are millions of youth in Uganda alone who could each have been brought on board in some small way to take advantage of this event – not necessarily by attending it, but even by tweeting it or gramming (from Instagram) elements of the meetings, or using the hashtag to promote bits of Uganda that would be highlighted to the millions following @9CYMM in the 52 Commonwealth countries.

Mind you, this opportunity is so massive that we are amazing in the way we have let it pass. From a tourism or investment point of view, for instance, the Commonwealth countries are english speaking and can communicate with us rather easily, and have certain other similarities that make it easier for them to send their nationals here to benefit us. Plus, many of them presumably don’t have stringent visa requirements and other prejudices that would keep other ordinary people from bringing their funds to Uganda.

I’m sure some segment of our millions of youth here would have appreciated the opportunity to make souvenirs for the people who came for the Conference to buy. Better still, they would have certainly been happy to take them round the country on tours, and sell them Rolexes and other home grown delicacies. Even just Re-Tweeting or Liking posts about Uganda so that the rest of the world’s seven billion people get a good impression of this country would be putting this resource to good use.

I checked the impressions of the hashtags and googled for the #CYMM and was disappointed at the numbers. Little of the above was done.

As usual, though, I took up hope. Since the Japanese are global experts at getting precision right and exact, should we not aspire to be like them? Perhaps we can take some lessons from their Tokyo 2020 Olympics planning and then apply some of them to our upcoming events. Maybe we can create an office in charge of events planning, whose first role would be to compile a list of all events coming up in future.

For instance, what are the Independence Celebrations on October 9 this year going to look like? What about the UMA Exhibition in the first week of October? These events are just two months away but try googling for the theme or other aspects around them and see. THAT is what the Office of Events Planning would concentrate on. Identify opportunities around events, publicize them so that the general public can work out more, and make them nationally profitable.

Since we have up to 2181 for the next @CYMM, we can even send a few people to Tokyo 2020 specifically to pick up ideas from the ground there, for use in 164 years’ time. We appear capable of waiting another three years, since we allow these opportunities to casually go by without batting an eye lid.

let’s make Entebbe great again!


1-EntebbeAirport.jpg
Photo from: entebbe-airport.com

HEARING the lamentations of travelers to Uganda these past few weeks as they come through Entebbe International Airport is disheartening.

Especially in light of the talk we engage in about how Tourism will be Uganda’s economic savior the way it has worked for South Africa, Dubai and all those other markets with sensible tourism-fueled budgets, strategies and plans.

My first memory of the airport at Entebbe goes back to 1983 when, walking through the crowded terminal with piles of suitcases, we kept getting stopped by an ugly breed of armed men. I took serious issue with one of them when he depressed a button on the belly of my little sister’s doll that made it recite phrases designed to amuse infants her age.

The fellow was startled and turned his rifle up, then demanded that a full inspection be conducted by half the armed Company present. It was scary but we went through the steps safely and were let through while absorbing many unpleasant smells and a rancid atmosphere.

We have come a long way since then – but we haven’t gone far enough. It is difficult to explain why we should be so desperately lousy at something so obviously simple.

I honestly believe that the most basic Customer Care and Marketing people could swing the airport experience around to the advantage of the entire country within hours if given the opportunity.

If the Civil Aviation Authority people unleashed some young students in these disciplines and gave them three hours to change Entebbe for the better, I am certain they would do a better job of it than we currently endure.

At some point last year I found myself there a few hours before my scheduled flight, as usual, and ran my device batteries down. As I was way too early for access to the check-in counters, I was sequestered in the cafe on the departures level.

I was already in a bad mood because of the ridiculous prices that string of cafes charge for their annoyingly small cups of hot drinks and pitifully limited range of weakly-imagined snacks.

Again, what kind of ‘Tourism’ are we selling to the world if our airport snacks cannot spell and say and communicate ‘Uganda’? Sausage rolls and meat pies? We sometimes appear to be in need of intellectual support to deal with some of these matters.

That day, walking around the hall with my plugs in hand flabbergasted me when I failed to find a functional socket across the floor. It was strange – especially in 2016. I took the issue up with people right up to somebody educated and was told the sockets had been removed because “people were charging mobile phones here” and it was a security concern.

I was flummoxed because in this information age the availability of sockets for electricity to power gadgets that get you online is sometimes more valuable than the availability of food (even food as bad as the one in the Cafe’s there).

What kind of terrorists are we dealing with that can walk in with their mobile phones and chargers and power banks but would be deterred by the lack of sockets?

It was angering, but then eventually I got to the more difficult aspect of travel through the airport – the final gate of the departure lounge. For some reason, after going through all the belt dropping and shoe removals, at Entebbe you enter into a mini-sauna without air conditioning or sufficient air flow.

Why is that room is so hot and stuffy?

I have never had the opportunity to properly fight that battle, but here is a new one introduced in the last two weeks:

A furore has arisen over an annoying process change at the Entebbe International Airport Arrivals hall that is described in detail by many people, but best of all by Amos Wekesa, Tourism Prince.

His recount of the process makes one’s blood boil even more than the departure gate upstairs.

Early this week he returned and found he and his fellow passengers had to take their bags up and lift them onto the luggage scanner, then lift them off again after going through the security check point. The queue is very, very, very long because everybody has to take each and every one of their bags through this process. Amos was miffed this week to see elderly ladies, tourists visiting Uganda, struggling to lug her bags up and down.

He jumped in and offered to help her and a number of others, and during the process got thanked profusely by one of the Section Managers, who was tired of being abused by angry travelers.

To his credit, this manager told Amos that one of the measures they had decided to take was to stop any government official from trying to skip to the front of the queue claiming that they were “VIPs”.

“These travelers suffering here are paying money to come to Uganda to enjoy themselves, and they are being made to line up and carry suitcases after flying long hours. Then some government people who are using our money to travel try to jump the queue?!” the fellow said, livid.

I applauded.

And I also regretted not having been there to suggest that we could do small things in that uncomfortable hall to ease the pain that travelers are facing as they enter into Uganda. For instance, how about distributing some free bottles of water or banana juice? Or installing some nice fans to keep the air cool? Or playing some nice Ugandan music in the background to keep the soul calm?

Surely there are very many things we could have running in that space to keep tempers calm and the spirits uplifted as people come into the country?

I certainly don’t know everything but I know first hand how difficult running a public institution can be. Nevertheless, my sympathies are limited over the lack of these small actions and over exaggeration of others (such as the need to search every corner of every bag) that rub everyone the wrong way.

challenging Ugandan tourism to a game of dool


If you haven’t heard of the game ‘Mah Jong’, this is your opportunity to Google it, as we consider the potential of a local Ugandan game called Dool.

Mah Jong is a simple tile or card game, and has led to many others being created as a result – across Continents. The history of the game goes back to the 18th Century in China and the earliest surviving Mah Jong tile is said (according to Wikipedia) to date back to 1870.

That’s about the time the first White Men came to Uganda and stopped over in Buganda for a while.

White men are central to the discussion here, as the thoughts below came to me because of two tours of white men who visited Uganda briefly on business last week and took the opportunity to tour one of the oldest traditional Kingdoms in the world – the Buganda Kingdom.

I became Tour Guide for a while, for www.shiyaya.travel, taking them round various installations in Buganda, around Kampala, explaining the history of the Kingdom. I had with me a good collection of my history – personal and academic – and an official guide from the Buganda Kingdom who did a good job of keeping them engaged.

They certainly enjoyed the tour and confessed that they had learnt facts about Uganda and Buganda that they did not imagine even existed. One of them was amazed that we had so much happening here before the first White Man set foot on this soil – which is not surprising since many Ugandans, by virtue of our education, are in the same boat and yet we live here every day driving and walking past a lot of evidence of an admirable civilization that has existed for centuries.

This is not a history lesson – that will come elsewhere.

I was disturbed, at the end of the tours, that besides photographs the tourists had no mementos to carry off with them back to their homelands to remind them of what they had heard, seen and experienced.

The best option would have been for them to spend a little bit of money on items from the Kingdom cultural centers, therefore putting cash into the hands of local artisans, the Kingdom, and maybe even the Uganda Revenue Authority.

That didn’t happen – mostly because there were few opportunities to do so. The few points that offered items on sale were inside little, cramped, walled rooms where not much effort was made to entice my tourists to spend anything.

But besides that, there was zero effort at making them walk off with a small piece of Buganda – even free of charge.

Until, on the last tour, I hit on an idea. The story about the Kabak’anjagala tree (Candlenut tree – Aleurites moluccanus) being planted on both sides of the King’s Mile from the Bulange to the Lubiri always caught their interest. There are 52 trees, one for each of the Clans of Buganda, lined up on either side of that Precious Mile.

As we were leaving the Lubiri, I went off to find a fruit of the Kabak’anjagala (which, in English, means ‘the King loves me’) and, as always, found some kernels (seeds) lying around. I gathered them up and presented them, dusty and all, to my tourist.

IMG_0113
Photo: Simon Kaheru (using the other hand)

Before he could take them up though, I offered to demonstrate what they were for and challenged Tom Kyembe, my Buganda Guide, to a game of Dool.

I can confidently state here that in my much younger days I was a local champion at the game of Dool. This is a game once described by a prefect in my school as “a manipulation of the fingers to project small, hard stones into the distance…”

It is much more entertaining than that, and even though Tom and I squatted to play without digging up a peal (the hole) and didn’t declare whether it was a ’nothings game’ or not, and also didn’t shout out ’Teach!’ and ‘Changes!’ at points, we almost got carried away but didn’t get to the point of asking each other, “Dool?”

Our tourist was fascinated that we had had marbles played here for hundreds of years. The last time I played the game was some months ago as I taught the children how fascinating it was, as opposed to the PS2/Xbox. That effort was dismal, but the tourist last weekend was impressed.

I hope he actually took the dools home with him.

And herein lies that very simple, low-cost but high value opportunity: If that Buganda Kingdom tour can incorporate the game of Dool and have some young people on ground (literally squatting, as that is how it is played) playing that game as a demonstration, tourists will be agog.

Not only that, they will buy up kernels of kabak’anjagala to take home with them and teach their children how to play ‘African Marbles’. The possibilities are endless: Sets of 52 kabak’anjagalas – one from each of the Clan trees; books with instructions of how to play Dool; autographed photographs of dignitaries playing dool; highly decorated kabak’anjagala pieces; kabak’anjagala that the Kabaka himself (or the Katikiro or the Kiweewa) once played Dool with…

Even before all that we (or the Kingdom) could organize clan-based Dool tournaments pitting each of the 52 clans against the other, where players originate and represent only their own clans. Dools from each of the 52 trees could be marketed and sold as such, branded for each clan totem and akabbiro. Every day, each clan Dool representative could collect the dools that drop from their tree, polish them, and then put them in the Dool store for sale to visitors and tourists.

A whole crafts industry could be made to germinate from one kabak’anjagala seed if we are imaginative, raking in millions in serious currencies.

Not only that, the game of marbles is world famous across all the continents. Our own version exists in Kenya as ‘bano’ and in India as ‘kancha’; I found a photograph on the internet of boys in Mexico playing marbles some time between 1862 and 1877, and another photograph depicting American President Teddy Roosevelt with other fellow soldiers (at the time) playing a game of marbles.

We could have those nationalities streaming in to marvel at the similarities as well as run tournaments. There IS a World Marbles Federation that runs World Marbles Championships, mostly in the Czech Republic. If we got these guys to discover that we have been playing Dool going back over 700 years, then maybe we will have them coming over as curious tourists and staging tournaments here…

The possibilities are myriad, all from this simple, ubiquitous tree that grows wild, thick and fruitful – but these are only possibilities if we gather our marbles together.

Dool?

 

focus on the lower tier employees in the tourism, hospitality and investment sectors


Toilet Paper
Photo from: http://cache.emirates247.com/

WALKING into the washrooms at the Dubai International Airport late in the night a couple of weeks ago, I was surprised to be greeted by a fellow wearing a wide smile above his uniform and declaring, “Nice to see you again, sir!”

I was taken in for a few seconds and marvelled slightly at how he could remember one person among the millions that go through that airport. Was it my t-shirt with the Ugandan flag? The way I smile engagingly and project an electric personality when I am under pressure?

As I was calculating it, he stretched his hand out and pointed me to a specific toilet cubicle at the end. Since achieving adulthood, being chaperoned to the toilet has not been an option open to me, so I went to a nearby cubicle that I could see was available and clean.

“No!” the fellow shouted, “Here! Here!” and he gestured majestically with his entire arm held straight, pointing me to a specific one at the far end, lighting it up with his wide toothy smile.

Intimidated and unclear on the etiquette, I complied hesitantly, and the fellow actually went in before me and cleaned the clean toilet once again before exiting and, once again, presenting the cubicle grandly for me to use with another grand hand gesture.

It was like having my own toilet butler, and the anxiety that followed was intense to a point that I won’t go into details over, but suffice to say that my most urgent need became the need to tip the obsequious fellow, rather than biology. I succeeded at neither till much, much later.

I did spend my time in the cubicle well, though, working out that his politeness and claim that he had seen me before was all an act. His well-practiced performance was designed to keep tourism and hospitality flowing smoothly in Dubai. There was no way this guy could have recognised me so many, many months since I was last at that airport terminal – however prolific my attendance to toilet matters might have been then.

He was simply performing a duty that would keep customers (visitors, tourists, travellers) happy to be in any corner of the Dubai airport. Even in his lowly position of toilet cleaner, he was doing his utmost best to service everyone that he came into contact with so that even their toilet experience was rated five-star.

I sat unsuccessfully on that toilet seat thinking and waiting for him to stop being available for that disappointing moment when I shrugged to indicate that I hadn’t carried my wallet with me to give him a tip.

During that time, I remembered a porter at the Cape Town airport last year who insisted on pushing my trolley even after I told him I wasn’t in much need of the help.

“It’s okay, braah! I do this for free, don’t worry,” he replied, taking up a trolley, testing it for firmness, then lugging my bags onto it and leading me through the tax refund process.

This porter engaged me in conversation and told me how his role was to keep as many people as possible happy so that the three million tourists going through the Cape Town airport would double or even triple.

“Then we get more money as a country and things will be better!” he declared.

In his lowly position, he understood this quite well, and he knew that at the end of this process I would certainly give him a tip even if he had declared he didn’t want one. I did.

That Cape Town porter and the Dubai toilet guy are key players in the tourism sectors of both cities raking in five million (5million) and fifteen million (15million) overnight tourists respectively last year.

Those are the people that make the experience of a tourist or investor worth remembering; along with the clerks and secretaries who do the paperwork that determine how long it takes to go through a business process; and the waiters and waitresses who smile and speak politely and serve efficiently; and a whole range of other low cadre employees that we never really celebrate in this country.

Might our economic numbers improve if we focus more on this tier of employees in our service industry? Should we make efforts to professionalise this cadre of staff so that our tourists and investors flock to Uganda for more and more of what we have to offer?

Over to the people in charge – both public and private sector.

tourism is everybody’s business – on world tourism day


baby-gorillaWHOEVER in Uganda coined the phrase “Tourism is everybody’s business” meant very well and should be explained better.
Tourism IS everybody’s business, in any nation that values the business of tourism.
We, all of us and everybody, plug into tourism both as beneficiaries and contributors to the business in more ways than most people actually recognise, and if we all stopped to think about it starting this World Tourism Day then we would all be the better for it.
Follow the path of Mr. & Mrs. Joe and Mary Tourist, from a foreign country of your choosing.
Before they actually make their holiday plans and decide on a country to visit, they are most likely going to do a little bit of research on the countries on the list. Regardless of what their passion is – be it walking with gorillas, trotting alongside chimpanzees, whitewater rafting, zip-lining in the Mabira, eating muchomo and Rolleggs, or going on game-heavy drives, they will want to check which country has the best offers.
The offers they will google for will not only be activity related but the additional things as well – security, hospitality and friendliness, efficiency, the general atmosphere and so on and so forth.
They will not restrict their google search to what the governments or politicians or hotels and restaurants say, but they will also check what the bloggers post and the tweeps from the different countries say, as well as what other people say about Ugandans in general.
That’s the ‘Word of Mouth’ element.
Their source of tourism information will also include ‘everybody’, as ‘everybody’ will have operated as country marketing and public relations officer by way of what they say about the country.
After the bookings are done, Mr. & Mrs. Joe and Mary Tourist head over to the country and arrive at the airport or border crossing point. Of course the people that they interact with are principally the government and commercial officials that handle their transportation and other things, but there are other aspects of their arrival into the country that ‘everybody’ has an input into.
See, the ordinary travellers in the various queues and in the same general area as our tourists form part of the pleasurable (or otherwise) experience that the tourists enjoy. I’ve been to countries where I’ve seen people turn their faces to the side and spitting heavy amounts of disgusting material onto the floor, with no-one batting an eyelid. I mentally began preparing to cut short that particular trip right there as soon as it had began, just because of that experience.
When the officials at these various desks are polite and courteous Joe and Mary Tourist will not be surprised because they expect them to be so – they are being paid and have been trained to be this way. When the ordinary people milling about them are also polite and courteous then our tourist couple will be writing blog posts, tweets and WhatsApp messages back home saying, “This place is great!”
Meanwhile, those polite and courteous everyday people that smile at Joe and Mary Tourist with no ulterior motive have no idea that their demeanour is marketing Uganda much more than a paid television campaign probably would.
And, in most cases, they do not realise that their unintentional efforts get rewarded directly by way of Joe and Mary Tourist spending money.
First, the bookings they make always attract a certain amount of taxation that goes into the coffers that the government collects from to build roads, fund schools and hospitals, and spend on other essentials such as defence and security.
Then, when Joe and Mary Tourist buy a cup of freshly ground Ugandan coffee on arrival at Entebbe International airport, or pork ribs at a stop en route from Entebbe to Kampala, or take a taste at a roadside market of their first washed and massive fresh and organic fruits and vegetables grown right here in Uganda, the money they spend goes straight into the economy, having originated from whatever country they flew in from.
Plus, everything they consume and purchase is in most cases grown or manufactured or processed by locals who find themselves earning a living because Joe and Mary Tourist have chosen to visit Uganda,
That is very different from the money you and I spend while we go about life in Uganda, because all we are doing is re-distributing the wealth that is already within the economy. A thousand Uganda Shillings in my pocket right now at my typing desk in Kahangwe, Hoima may go to the receptionist at Shiyaya Tours & Travel to pay for something there but that doesn’t change the amount of money in circulation within the Ugandan economy. But when Joe and Mary Tourist bring in a thousand Uganda Shillings from their country of origin they are increasing the amount of money in circulation inside the Ugandan economy.
Besides the amounts that we get to keep in our pockets as direct earnings from Mr. & Mrs. Joe and Mary Tourist, a certain portion of the money they spend goes into the coffers of the government because the various bits of that money are taxed by way of VAT and other commercial taxes levied on all these items – from the drinks and eats they consume to the crafts they buy and the fuel used to convey them from place to place.
So the beneficiary of tourism is not just the commercial entities engaged in tourism and the people employed directly by the sector.
Understanding this chain of benefits from the tourist to the ordinary Ugandan is an essential part of the efforts of the Competitiveness Enterprise and Development Project (CEDP) intervention in tourism.
Creating this understanding among ordinary Ugandans will better gear us to directly identifying what opportunities are available to us as a result of increased tourism, as well as how we can directly contribute to that increased tourism.
The World Bank alongside CEDP, has invested US$1.5million in hiring three PR and Marketing firms to promote Uganda as a tourism destination – specifically in the UK and Northern Ireland, Germany and parts of Europe, and the United States of America.
The efforts of these PR and Marketing firms will result in increased numbers that must be met with increased production and servicing across the industry – right from the additional mouths to feed to the need for much higher quality products – accommodation, transport, activities and more.
The performance indicators for the CEDP initiative are an increase of tourists to 1,500,000 (one million five hundred thousand) international visitors into Uganda, up from 945,000 in 2010 and 1,206,000 in 2013.
As those PR and Marketing firms go about doing their promotion and representation of Uganda abroad, we – the private sector – should be finding out what else Joe and Mary Tourist might be interested in, so we offer it to them almost intuitively and have them saying the right things about Uganda to their friends and relatives and perpetuating the Word of Mouth cycle.
Because Joe and Mary Tourist, once they have visited Uganda, will join the team ‘Marketing Uganda.
You see, Tourism is everybody’s business – including the tourists themselves.