Tourism in Uganda is an increasingly important contributor to its economy. The 1.5 million international tourists combined with a growing number of domestic tourists contributes to over 7.75% of Uganda’s Gross Domestic Product.
In the year 2018, tourism contributed over 6.7% of total national employment. This has been largely from nature-based tourism. Uganda has the potential to grow its tourism two folds by investing in its integration of agriculture, energy (oil and gas) and MICE.
According to the Uganda Country Report 2022, tourism has registered the highest recovery after the Covid 19 era. It is estimated that the number of visitors grow from 513,000 from 2021 to 814,508 in 2022.
This is attributed to the massive investments in the sector through recovery, rebooting and reconnection efforts by the sector players.
By 2020, the tourism sector alone contributed approximately 9.31% of Uganda’s export earnings. Tourism earnings have progressively reached nearly 2.7 trillion shillings ($712.6 million), representing 12.2% of total exports and 41.4% of service exports as a result to continued recovery from COVID 19. One important factor to note is that MICE related services like accommodation, food and beverages, passenger transport and shopping took the largest share of inbound expenditure, which stood at a combined 68.8 percent share.
Therefore, investment in Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Events (MICE) has potential to trigger and induce the entire economy.
The Albertine graben investment in oil and gas must therefore refocus its sustainability on MICE tourism.
Uganda celebrated the international tourism day on the September 27th 2023 in Hoima’s strategic oil city on the theme “Tourism and Green Investments”. This day has since 1980 been celebrated as a precedence set by the United Nations World Tourism Organization following the adoption of the day from the 1970 Statutes of the UNWTO.
The purpose of this day is to raise awareness on the role of tourism within the international community and to demonstrate how it affects social, cultural, political and economic values worldwide.
Whereas this was a success in terms of vibrating the nation to treasure and embrace domestic tourism, it lacked critical focus on how the most lucrative investments in oil and gas can robustly integrate, facilitate and promote tourism.
As this happened, Total Energies and China On and Off Shore Corporation (CNOOC) and other international Oil Companies were busy investing excessively in building and hosting over 40,000 employees in camps.
For example, Tilenga project alone is in advanced stages of erecting its 30,000 people capacity camp. The employment camp concentrates employees to strictly one line of business chain and therefore leave very limited linkages on the business and communities. As Uganda intensifies its investment and focus on domestic tourism, the need to be deliberate on MICE tourism is critical.
The Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Events (MICE Tourism) is a new global direction beyond wildlife.
Local citizens have the potential to meaningfully engage, participate and benefit from MICE tourism with the oil and gas sector offering the foundation for this as a market and business multipliers.
For example, according to the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development’s Industrial Baseline Survey projects that 150,000 people will be employed at the peak of the petroleum industry.
This has the potential to positively influence and impact MICE tourism and local economy in a much more sustainable manner.
MICE tourism is the most suitable to shaping the induced opportunities that petroleum can shape both the Albertine region and Uganda at large.
In essence, this doesn’t replace the programed competitive edge petroleum has been doing across the value chain.
Therefore, having the entire core workforce residing in camps is a hinderance to growth and citizen participation in the petroleum sector opportunities.
Therefore, as Uganda enhances its efforts to invest in harnessing its local content in the oil and gas sector, it should replace the camps with MICE tourism.
The huge investment in residential camps for the International Oil Companies is misplaced.
It provides one benefit to the companies but also denies the average farmer, transporter, hotelier, tour operator, marketeer, and other support services an opportunity to meaningfully participate and shape sustainability of both the tourism and petroleum sectors.
Therefore, for Uganda to register meaning out of oil and gas, focus on this lucrative part of tourism mix or business tourism is critical.
The agenda should be set by the Petroleum Authority of Uganda by regulating through stoppage of all oil companies from erecting any work camps as a strategy of facilitating linkages between petroleum sector and tourism.
The author is the Executive Director Recreation for Development and Peace Uganda (RDP Uganda)