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Is Uganda’s Tourism Ready for Chinese Market?

Tourism in Uganda has traditionally thrived on foreign visitors who come to experience the diverse flora, ed fauna, this lifestyle, drugs weather among several other beauties of the Pearl of Africa.

To be more specific, most of the numbers that make up these visitors come from the United Kingdom, Germany, USA and other English speaking countries.

However, Sandra Rwese, a professional tourism marketer and consultant says that it’s high time Uganda positioned itself to tap into the markets in Asia especially China.

Rwese has lived in China for a period of over 10 years, giving her vast acquaintance with the socio-economic and cultural dynamics of the Chinese who love tour and travel.

On an annual basis Chinese outbound travelers (who leave China to tour elsewhere) spend at least USD 136M, according to Rwese.

The country has a strong middle class population that contributes USD 150M to the country’s GDP in addition to a young population (20-34 years) that earns 30 percent of China’s GDP and have a spending power of over USD 164M.

“This implies that the youths are the majority and have keen interest to spend vastly on travelling and exploring new things. I believe Uganda can capitalize on this section of young people because on a single trip, a group of young Chinese tourists spend at least $40,000 which is double of what UK tourists spend,” says Rwese.

Unlike the rest of their counterparts in US and UK, Chinese tourists are known for travelling in groups of 5 to 40 people which presents more opportunities to destination countries in terms of revenue.


Rwese points out that Uganda like other African countries has not invested enough in pitching to the target Chinese market about its products. For this reason, Africa isn’t a preferred destination for most Chinese tourists.

They instead are most fond of South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Thailand, France, Italy, Switzerland and Germany.

“Uganda needs to invest in human resource especially training those in hospitality to speak Chinese language. Chinese can sometimes be hard to deal with so hotel staff must understand their traits to be able to guarantee their satisfaction.”


She proposes that Uganda could exploit marketing options such as youth holiday packages, university research partnerships, sports and athletics.

Using landscape for photography and movies is another area.

Amos Wekesa, a tour operator with Great Lakes Safaris appreciates the importance of embracing the Chinese market but is quick to highlight setbacks such as inadequacies in facilities to accommodate large numbers.

He adds that there’s still less investment in leisure and hospitality which in effect limits Uganda from positioning itself as a preferred destination for big spending visitors.

“When you go tour national parks, the lodges there are incapacitated to hold many numbers that Chinese come in. I recall a time when I landed a potential deal that would see a group of 300 Chinese tourists come to Uganda which I turned down because I knew I simply couldn’t meet their demands.”

Wekesa adds that as of 2012, all lodges within Murchison Falls national park had only 245 beds for visitors – inadequate to host the usually many numbers that Chinese travel in.

“There’s a lot of pretense by tour operators in terms of marketing but to be honest most of them are not well informed about tapping into these new markets.”

He further highlights the need to adopt harmonious policies across the region to boost tourism.

Wekesa says Uganda’s move to increase its visa to USD 100 was a nail in the foot and numbers have since shifted in favor of Kenya and Rwanda whose visas remain at USD 50.

While Uganda seeks to position itself as Chinese’ favorite destination, poaching and the increasing demand of artifacts in Asia present another huddle.

In fact Rwese admits that it is for this same reason that most countries are slow to open their doors to Chinese tourists.

This she says requires strict laws and keen attention at exit points.

“For every one Chinese that succeeds in sneaking out these animal parts, you can be sure 10 more will come to try their luck,” warns Rwese.

However, even limiting Chinese as visitors is increasingly becoming no option for growing economies given the heavy investment in tourism by Chinese companies in Africa, she says.

Most of these companies are state funded and are slowly changing the dynamics in tourism to target the high spenders.

Sultan Palace and AA Lodges in Kenya’s Masai Mara are good examples.

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