Tourism is arguably considered the world’s largest industry. Tourism employs more people than any other sector according to data from UN World Tourism Organization and World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC). Selling under the realm of “Pearl of Africa”, the tourism sector in Uganda is growing at a fast rate than its neighbors – Kenya, Rwanda and Tanzania according to a report from the Ministry of Tourism. This makes tourism one of the major contributors to foreign exchange earnings. According to recent statistics from WTTC, the share of GDP derived from tourism stood at 8.4% in 2013. This shows how, with continued investment in the sector, tourism has potential benefits to the country.
Ironically, the tourism sector still falls short in positioning itself as an important avenue for uplifting local communities out of poverty. This is the case especially in communities living at the periphery of major tourist destinations such as Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, a gorilla hub in southwestern Uganda. At the same time, communities such as those close to Bwindi are important stakeholders in conserving the park. The government and private sector should work together to forge ways for communities to benefit from tourism. A good example is gorilla tracking in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park where a small amount of the gorilla levy fee of $600 is meant to support local initiatives. Without winning support of the local communities, proponents of conservation will continue to deal with rising cases of human-wildlife conflict in protected areas in Uganda and beyond.
There are few ideas that government agencies and private tourism operators can do to ensure that tourism plays a meaningful role in improving livelihoods of rural communities in major tourist destinations.
Firstly, investment in community based tourism projects should be taken as a step forward. This involves connecting local enterprises such as community lodges and artisan groups to the tourism value chain. Tourists can be encouraged to stay at community lodges as way to indirectly support community driven businesses. Revenues generated by local communities from such enterprises can help meet other household necessities.
Secondly, creating linkages between the tourism industry and other sectors like agriculture can be a step forward in creating opportunities for the local people. For instance lodges and guest houses should come up with mechanisms to outsource food and other possible supplies from the local markets.
Bamboo Ecotours is is taking this approach of investing proceeds from safaris and tours into community based enterprises and social services such as health care, education and provision of safe drinking water.