Uganda is exploring different ways of reviving a badly battered tourism sector brought to its knees by the corona virus pandemic which has seen foreign tourists locked out of the country.
The country has been projected to lose up to 1.6 billion in tourism revenue because of the shutdown.
To save jobs tourism offered especially those in the private sector and also ensure that the sector gets back to its feet, government has embarked on campaigns to promote domestic tourism during this time and diversification of the country’s tourism products from nature based to history, adventure and experiences among others.
The Uganda Tourism Board (UTB) through its tourism product development and diversification programme has now partnered with Agribusiness enterprises to support the development and promotion of agro- tourism across 18 regions and 51 districts in the country.
The move UTB says is hoped to help diversify the sector by adding a new experience to it, create jobs for youths and increase incomes of households running different farms according to the UTB executive director Lilly Ajarova.
“As UTB, we are at a point where we are looking at product diversification and agro-tourism gives an opportunity for such. We need to give experiences that are different to add on what we already have as our products,” Ajarova said.
Agro tourism is the business of establishing farms as travel destinations for educational and recreational purposes.
It is a hybrid concept that merges elements of two industries—Agriculture and Tourism—to open up new profitable markets for farm products and services and provide travel experiences.
This initiative is currently being piloted in the western districts of Mbarara, Isingiro and Bushenyi to which authorities made a familiarization trip.
The trip saw stop overs at Agribusiness incubation farms including; Guide Incubation Farm Limited, Bushenyi Youth Forum Project and Excel Hort Consult Agribusiness Incubator Limited.
For an agro-tourism experience, one is taken through different processes of growing particular foods or taking care of certain animals but for a fee which ranges from farm to farm.
According to UTB, the partnership with different agribusinesses will include putting focus on the development of agro-tourism products and services, creating awareness about their availability, and supporting and facilitating them.
According to Alex Ariho the Excel Hort Consult Agribusiness Incubator Limited Director General, the product has modules like simply touring the farms which helps visitors understand different methods and practices on them, skilling tours which equip visitors with knowledge on what is done and agro based tours that look into technology and value addition on farms.
Others are agro based tour events including festivals like banana festival, rabbit festival, coffee festival and agro- education where schools especially agricultural classes are brought to visit.
According to Lilly Ajarova, agro-tourism can also boost domestic tourism in these times of the coronavirus pandemic that have seen foreign tourists away.
“Tourism is a multi-sector industry and we are trying to link it to other sectors. As we interest investors in agro-tourism, we need to interest the wider public in visiting them,” she said.
According to Alex Ariho, there is a plan to support the development of Agro-tourism incubator hubs in the 18 regions of Uganda within the next five years.
“In the next five years, we are targeting incubating 27,000 start-ups that are joining the tourism sector and that could take a total investment of about $500, 000,” Ariho said.
While the biggest hindrance to the development of agro-tourism in Uganda is mainly lack of skills for the starters, capital to start, sustain and expand these agribusinesses should be availed by authorities.
“What UTB brings on board is policy, legal framework and mobilization of sector players like tour operators whom we farmers might not even know,” Ariho said.