I’ve followed your work promoting tourism in Uganda over the past few years. I’ve watched you speak and greeted you briefly in a line for food at some conference. The other day, I read you wax eloquently in a WhatsApp group about your strategy to invest in marketing Uganda. You also you praised the work done on Ugandan upcountry roads by UNRA and testified that you spend most of your time on the road. I related to that. I’m based in Kampala now, but have traveled to Entebbe, Masaka, Mbarara, Kabale, Ibanda, Kasese, Fort Portal, Murchison, Gulu, Kitgum, Moroto, Kidepo, Soroti, Mbale, Jinja and places in between.
I don’t know if you’ve met the makers of #KoiKoiUG at Kafunda Kreative, but they have struck on a powerful model for Ugandan tourism promotion by picking up on the symbiotic relationship between talented upcoming photographers and the contemporary desire to slay and post great pictures on social media.
They also recruit bloggers to come along, and trips are open to the general public (with limited spaces that sell out fast). Please come with me on one of these trips if you can. It would be awesome to travel with you.
As a fellow traveller of Uganda, let me share my experience of Kidepo Valley with you, and everyone else who reads this and has thought about how to improve the tourism industry in Uganda: The good and bad; the ugly and beautiful.
Please allow me to be free and generous with words as I paint a picture of travel to the extreme ends of Uganda…
A beige and green bus tagged with the word "GALVANIZE" rattles over UNRA's speed bumps carrying 22 #KoiKoiUG travelers upcountry to experience and promote local travel across Uganda. This time we are posting across social media with the hashtag #KoiKoiNE, because we're headed to the North East (Kidepo Park in Karamoja) with our collection of Ugandan photographers, bloggers, and whomever booked a seat online for an affordable Ugandan adventure. I fit into the last category this time – though I’ll you tell the story anyway – having sent 400,000 UGX ($108 USD) Airtel Money to Kafunda Kreative leadership to cover 3 nights and 4 days of transport, food, accommodation, and activity fees (which is the most affordable long weekend roadtrip I know of).
Soon the playlist switches to the Black Panther soundtrack and a new theme begins to find its footing in our journey: Wakanda is Uganda, and Black Panther is our pride!
The final stretch of marrum road towards Kidepo Valley National Park, draw out, with sun setting and a periodic sign to say you’re still far. Someone speculates that we’ll arrive after the park closes and will have to sleep in the bus, keeping out watch for lions.
I don't worry though. What's the point? We'll get there when we get there, and things always work out in Uganda 'somehowly.'
Sure enough, we make it to Uganda Wildlife Authority's Apoka Rest Camp and begin to unpack. My usual travel bestie didn't make it, so I've sign up to share a room with a talented young photographer and sweet as pie KoiKoi sister named Mudo Eve. She spent the trip experimenting with “lighting painting photography,” as we sat still and she waved her DIY light saber behind us through a long exposure, with beautiful results.
It is my 5th time travelling with KoiKoi and I'm used to the low-rate hostels we stay in. Like I said, it is an affordable trip. Plus, I've lived in plenty of less than ideal accommodations as a student and young professional over the years and usually take it easy, but the shortcomings of these UWA accommodations strike me harder this time, probably because I've spent the last few months working from a new 5-star spot in Kampala named Skyz Hotel (as a consultant to assist in building up the marketing and communications team).
I've become used to correcting an errant comma, a waiter forgetting to include the perfect biscuit when serving a latté, and straightening table mats so they are Obsessive-Compulsively aligned. It’s my first time working with a hotel, but I was a waitress and bartender for many years so I understand the importance of making sure our guests’ experiences are top quality. Obviously I'm not paying 5-star rates in Apoka, but it got me thinking about the need for HR training and investment in the accommodations, because did I mention they were sold out far in advance? In my amateur opinion, what I saw was demand to expand the Kidepo tourism business.
I'm told the Apoka Rest Camp also has 14 self-contained bandas, but they had already been booked for Easter by January. Apparently there is one other hotel nearby that is significantly more expensive – around $300 a night. That’s not my level, to be honest. What do you think of this gap in the market for good service and decent lodgings at around $80 or 300k per night? Do you have any friends who could build a hotel in Kidepo Valley like that? Because I would stay there, and from the look of Saturday night at Apoka Rest Camp, the place would probably attract all sorts. The lady tending bar told us she had a profitable weekend.
Ah, but the trip from Kampala to Kidepo through Gulu has been long, and we accept it all. We sleep. We wake to day two of our adventure. Our trusty driver Paul Nsubuga arrives in the morning (on time) with the Shell-fuelled GALVANIZE bus to ferry us to the main UWA site in the morning to meet the rest of our KoiKoi travelling party for eating and adventure.
See Ninno Jack Jr.'s results!
It takes nearly two days to fly from Canada to Europe and down to Uganda, at about $1500+ per return ticket, an exhausting and expensive journey. I testify with all my heart that it’s worth it to experience all the wildlife Uganda has to offer, the colour and fruit, music and art, and most of all the people. The country is overrun with kindness and clever conversations. But let’s be honest: the customer service and tourism facilities really need work.