For a while now, regional tourism bodies have been trying to crack the formula of domestic tourism. They all agree that it is crucial for the industry to survive instead of depending on the western travellers who disappear the moment their governments issue a travel advisory after a terror incident. For some reason we never think of doing the same when things go wrong in London or New York but that is a story for another day.
So these tourism bodies have conducted surveys and spoken to experts of all kinds and hired influencers to convince people from the region to visit but it is still a challenge.
Kenya has been the luckiest when it comes to regional tourism ever since Ugandans found out that some of the tourist places they coveted in Uganda would cost them more to access than if they just jumped on a bus all the way to Mombasa to play in the beach sand. Even RwandAir has flights to Mombasa’s Moi International Airport for a reason.
The challenge tourism boards face now is how to get this traffic of East African tourists moving in other directions as well. How do you get Kenyans to come to Uganda or to Rwanda for example? I think one of the ways you can pull this off is by creating packages around shared resources. This idea hit me last week thanks to two particular unrelated events. In Kampala, Uganda and Kenya’s rugby teams were on the rugby pitch in the now famous Elgon Cup first leg which Kenya won.
This game as I mentioned in my column last week could inspire other countries in the region and beyond to organise friendly games crafted around what they share whether it is the views of imposing Kilimanjaro or the calm Lake Kivu or Lake Tanganyika. Now although I was thinking of these physical features in terms of prospective friendly sports events some Ugandans were already onto something more interesting.
A group 18 Ugandans with five cars made a plan to drive around Lake Victoria in four days. They dubbed their adventure “Conquering Nalubaale.” Nalubaale what the people around Lake Victoria on the Buganda side called the lake before some fellow came from England came around and “discovered” it then went ahead to name it after the Queen of England. Anyway these guys managed to drive through Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania making stops at lake side cities like Kampala, Jinja, Kisumu, Homa Bay, Musoma, Mwanza, Bukoba, and Entebbe then back to Kampala.
They had a hashtag to curate their conversation for the envious people like yours truly. They made effort to share lots of photos whenever they stopped some for some fuel or food. They even had to comment on the one stop borders and how efficient they are. What is important is that they have given those who love road trips an idea.
Now I am wondering whether someone can do a road trip around Lake Kivu, Mt Elgon, Mt Kilimanjaro, and other such imposing features. When the colonialists converged in Berlin to draw lines on our continent, in many cases they forced us to share lakes, mountains and rivers among other things. I know that some of these features have been turned into sources of conflict but there is a bright side to it too.
I know people who trek the mountains that make up the Virunga mountain ranges climbing all the way to the point where they can put one foot in Rwanda, another in Uganda and stretch an arm into the Democratic Republic of Congo.
What an experience. Even with Mount Elgon, I am told you can climb from Uganda and descend into Kenya. Thrilling experiences they must be.
At the end of the day, the tourism boards still have a lot of work to do in packaging and selling these attractions to their neighbours and fellow citizens. I remember being part of a Kenya Tourism Board familiarisation trip where journalists from Tanzania were taken to Amboseli national park just so they could see how their Mt. Kilimanjaro looks beautiful from the Kenyan side. East Africans have to travel more and more because once we appreciate our attractions then we are the best marketers of the same.