In early 2001, then-young Amos Wekesa founded Great Lakes Safaris Limited, with Shs. The story of Wekesa and Great Lakes Safaris is one of the most enterprising start-ups that have changed the face of Uganda’s tourism industry.
Against all odds, Wekesa, now an industry veteran, has thrived in the tourism sector, which has seen a number of young people take an interest in the sector. They merge traditional and contemporary ways to increase the visibility of local tourism, increase the interest of tourist sites across the country and create jobs for themselves and for young people.
Data obtained from the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) indicates that the number of domestic tourists to national parks has increased significantly, which is attributed to the boom in local tourism.
Recent statistics show that there are more than 150 tour operators and tour operators in the country, according to Destination Uganda. With meager resources at their disposal, a big challenge for most start-ups, young people today are pooling their resources to start travel projects.
Joel Wakanyasi, a tourism enthusiast, says most local tour and travel agency owners are young entrepreneurs, who thrive on combining their efforts and resources to make ends meet.
He notes that in most cases, companies come together to support each other in the execution of a given project. Wakanyansi adds that a tour company can arrange a tour to a particular destination and then partner with another to provide transportation, tents or entertainment.
Given the number of registered travel agencies, few of them have the necessary resources to operate independently, but they have a lasting impact on the tourism sector.
Most local tourism entities use digital platforms to tap into Uganda’s youthful population. Muliwa, Tusimbudde
Wakanyansi and Ambrose Odong, the owners of Kempten Safaris graduated with Bachelor of Commerce degrees from Makerere University, who never expected jobs but rather created their own.
The two explain that all they had was an idea and a dream to tap into the tourism industry. Today, their business is known to attract a number of young people to Kampala.
When the doors to entertainment venues were slammed in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, Kempten Safaris provided space to merge local tourism with entertainment, a sector which had been given the green light to operate.
Kempten relies on art to interest young people in tourism. Their journeys are packed with yoga, dance, music, a festival of colors and live deejaying. Wakanyansi explains that together with Odong, they also went the extra mile to create catchy slogans such as Muliwa [where are you]Tusimbudde (we left), to attract young people and interest them in joining the caravan.
Kempten Safaris benefits over 100 young people directly and indirectly. Wakanyansi says they rent out tents and sleeping bags to young people in business, pay artists, social media influencers, transporters and catering services, among others.
The company has helped many young people to visit most parts of the country and unlock destinations known to few. He adds that in addition to travel, the group talks to young people about environmental conservation, natural resources and culture.
Kenneth Oketa and his youth team give Ugandans the chance to fly to their favorite destinations. Vilakazi Safaris Uganda has partnered with Uganda Airlines to bring Ugandans the first of its kind experience of visiting the mountains from the sky. With Shs550,000 per tour, you’ll see lakes, Rift Valleys from above, and their catalog of local and regional destinations is growing by the day.
Michael Odong, one of the directors of Vilakazi Safaris, explains that their idea is to generate interesting and user-friendly packages for both local and international trips. The group also organizes weekly local trips in partnership with other companies.
Unlike other local tourism businesses, Vilakazi has used its revenue to own a viable transport system, creating jobs for drivers, tour guides and influencers. They also regularly organize individual private tours and packages for companies and groups.
Ivan Ssebuuma is arguably one of the best young men to make a name for himself in tourist photography. He had an idea, but didn’t own a camera. He borrowed gadgets and over the years he has mastered the art and is currently a force to be reckoned with in tourist photography.
He started with fashion photography, but later chose travel photography as his niche. He has put his name on hundreds of eye-catching images that define Uganda’s diverse beauty.
Remember that viral clip of a photographer calling local rafters to show him some energy in the famous Njagala vibe tagline? This photographer was Derrick Ssenyonyi. He is a full-time professional travel and corporate photographer working with Wild Aperture256. Karibu Travel Magazine photographer Lovart Mugabi is similar to the aforementioned masterminds behind the lenses. Daily Monitor photojournalist Edgar Raymond Batte among others.
Artists, influencers, suppliers
Merging entertainment and tourism is the new trend in Uganda. Road trips, campfires, boat cruises are always associated with dancing, deejaying and musical performances.
Singer Kenneth Mugabi, dance choreographer Walta Ruva and Abeeka Band are some of the names making this happen. Likewise, Innocent Nsubuga lets travelers drift to the beat, providing a high-tech mobile system called audiophile that has been used by many tour operators.
The influence of social media has been tested and proven in promoting artists, politicians and commodity companies. Smart businessmen are also importing the trick in the tourism sector. Leading influencers such as John Ssenkindu alias Laban, Eddy Pages, Esther Birungi and Lydia Nabawanda have marked the sector.
Laban explains that for a price given per tweet he makes about a particular destination, he shares the artwork of the tour and gets young people interested in the trip. Influencers use videos, photos, and other graphic content to tap into their huge following to increase much-needed visibility for tour organizers.