Uganda’s capital Kampala is the economic, cultural and logistical epicentre of the country, a city growing in stature as more and more tourists touch down each year.
Lying in the hills just north of Lake Victoria, Kampala is both Uganda’s capital and largest city.
As with many African capitals, its roots lie in a colonial past, on this occasion with the British Empire and Captain Frederick Lugard, who in 1890 set up a fort headquarters for the British East Africa Company. This sat just north of Mengo, the capital of the Kingdom of Buganda in the 19th century.
Lugard’s base remained the administrative HQ until 1905 when the decision was made to relocate to Entebbe. However, following full independence in 1962, Kampala became the capital once more.
Today the city is considered among the safest in East Africa and an ideal location for businesses to base regional operations.
For the both the business and leisure traveller, the city is also upping its game when it comes to modernisation of tourist offerings, not least through its provision of some stunning five-star hotels.
The city, and Uganda more widely, is starting to see more big-name accommodation brands arrive, proof that international investors are showing confidence. Combine this with the rising number of visitors, and the future for Kampala’s travel sector looks bright.
THE BUSINESS END
Kampala is located in Uganda’s most productive agricultural region, reflected by the fact that the city exports significant volumes of coffee, cotton, tea, sugar, and tobacco.
In terms of industry, the city is home to food processing plants, metal production facilities, furniture factories and even a tractor assembly site, and is also home to many of the country’s largest firms’ headquarters. However, Kampala is not the major industrial city in Uganda – this is Jinja, around 65 kilometres to the east.
The World Bank identifies Kampala as central to the prospects of wider Ugandan economic growth, calling for investment in the Greater Kampala region as a means to benefit the whole country.
Christina Malmberg Calvo, World Bank Country Manager in Uganda, commenting on the publication of a recent report, said: “Over two-thirds of Greater Kampala’s businesses are informal. Local governments need to enable small and micro-entrepreneurs to access affordable, well-located land and premises, and provide public transport to link people with jobs and enterprises with customers.”
While Greater Kampala accounts for only about 10 percent of Uganda’s population, it generates a third of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and employs 46 percent of its formal workers.
TOURISM INSIGHTS: UGANDA HOTEL OWNER’S ASSOCIATION
Founded in 2000, the Uganda Hotel Owners’ Association (UHOA) formed with a purpose of uniting hotel owners to work towards common goals and have their voices heard at the wider tourism industry level.
The organisation has more than 500 members on its books and is represented on the Uganda Tourism Board and Uganda Wildlife Authority.
Jean Byamugisha is the Association’s Executive Director and, having spoken to us earlier in 2018, gives us an update on how the sector is progressing.
Q&A WITH JEAN BYAMUGISHA, EXECUTIVE DRIECTOR, UHOA
How has Uganda Hotel Owners’ Association developed and progressed since we last featured you?
Jean Byamugisha (JB): UHOA has grown leaps and bounds in the last year since you featured us. We have registered more members, grown our secretariat to include two new staff, attended more international meetings that have opened up business opportunities, and have addressed hoteliers at the Africa Hotel Investment Forum.
We also worked together with the Uganda Tourism Board to host the Founder of the Ritz Carlton Hotel Company, Mr Horst Schultze, at a breakfast meeting here in Kampala. The hotel sector in Uganda is growing at a very fast pace. We are honoured and proud to be a part of this progress.
What key projects have you been working on recently?
(JB): We have been trying to think outside the box. You gain more when you speak with people in much more developed markets that your own. In May 2018, we led a delegation of 20 hotel owners to Chicago to meet with fellow hoteliers, service providers as well as hotel experts. This was an eye-opening trip for the Uganda hotel owners who got to see first-hand the changing trends of the hospitality sector on an international scale.
In October, we also met hoteliers at the African Hotel Investment Forum that was held in Nairobi. We got to make business linkages as well as develop partnerships with hotel investors looking to set up new hotels in Uganda. We were proud to note that Uganda is increasingly becoming a destination of choice for both travellers as well as investors.
Taking a more general industry stance, how would you evaluate the tourism sector in Uganda?
(JB): On a general note, the tourism industry in Uganda has been growing steadily for the last two years. The international arrivals are a testament to this. Tourist numbers grew from 1.4 million in 2016 to 1.5 million in 2017. This is no easy feat.
Why, in your opinion, should someone visit Uganda?
(JB): Uganda is the new frontier when it comes to Tourism in Africa. We see a few more big brand hotels opening up shop in Uganda, a sign of investor confidence in the economy.
Besides this, Kampala is also one of the safest cities on the African continent. Not to mention the friendly people, amazing weather and great cuisine that’s on offer for all our guests. Uganda is a country truly gifted by nature; the equator passes through Uganda, the snow at the top of Mount Rwenzori as well as the amazing flora and fauna. Kampala is a city that’s becoming more modern everyday with beautiful five-star hotels open to the public. Uganda has something to offer every guest, from the budget tourist to the luxury tourist.
What more needs to be done to improve Kampala and Uganda’s tourism industry?
(JB): We need to have more marketing to improve the tourism industry. Most of the world still knows Uganda as the country of Iddi Amin. We are much more than that. We need to sound our own trumpet to the rest of the world. Uganda is without a doubt one of the world’s most beautiful and safest countries, and publications like this will help us showcase that.
Finally, looking forward, if we were to speak again in a year’s time, what progress and development would you hope and expect to be able to report back?
(JB): We hope to have registered more members and become a more powerful and robust private sector body. As a country, we hope to record more international arrivals for the year 2018. We also hope to have more international hotels in operation employing more young people and increasing the tax base of our economy. In a year, Uganda should be ready to host a few major international conferences in Kampala.
OUT AND ABOUT IN KAMPALA
From chaotic shopping streets to a garden city vibe as you venture up Nakasero Hill, Kampala is a hotbed of culture that offers something for everyone.
Although it does not possess a museum dedicated to arts, the city does house several galleries which offer a broad contemporary art scene through monthly shows and permanent exhibitions. Kampala is also home to Uganda’s national theatre and many live music venues.
In terms of wining and dining, there are a deluge of quality restaurants covering a huge variety of cuisines thanks to the international makeup of the population. Street food can also be found in abundance, while coffee houses are also in good supply.
Further afield, numerous companies offer a diverse range of activities to enjoy, from multi-day trips to Murchison Falls National Park and source of the Nile tours to gorilla trekking and guided walks through Kampala itself.
There are also many sites of religious and cultural significance scattered through the city, including the Baha’i Temple, Gaddafi National Mosque and Uganda Martyrs Shrine.
Lying just a few minutes from the origins of the River Nile, the Source of the Nile Hotel offers a choice of 45 luxury rooms with garden, terrace and river views. The Source of the Nile Hotel also caters to a range of events and hosting needs thanks to its versatile function space.
GETTING TO AND AROUND KAMPALA
Kampala, as well as sitting in the agricultural and economic heart of Uganda, also represents the major hub for transport.
It is the focal point of the country’s road network and sits on the key rail link from Kasese in the west to Mombasa, the capital of Kenya. Port Bell, located 10 kilometres east on Lake Victoria, also serves routes to nearby Tanzania and Kenya.
Most international visitors to Kampala will arrive via Entebbe International Airport, Uganda’s major international transport centre which lies around 45 kilometres southwest of the capital.
In 2017 the airport reach a significant milestone, serving over 1.5 million passengers for the first time, recording a strong eight percent growth on 2016’s figure. Some 99 percent of all travellers passing through either arrived or departed on an international flight, with Ethiopian Airlines the most used carrier.
In February 2017, the airport welcomed the arrival of Kenyan budget airline Jambojet’s inaugural service from Nairobi, which runs twice daily between the two cities.
With Kampala’s population growing at a rate of around four percent a year, it is vital that Entebbe and other transport routes are able to accommodate what will continue to be a growing demand for travel services.