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Tech for the Future: Digitalizing the Ugandan Tourism Sector

While the whole world has been hopping onto Zoom calls for both business and (arguably) leisure purposes, and much of the population in the Global North took internet access and an ability to work from home in their pajama bottoms for granted, things have been quite different for people living in the developing countries. Despite significant progress in the past years linked to the expansion of the existent infrastructure and a general interest towards digital transformation in almost all sectors, technological progress in the tourism industry is still not on par with what can be seen elsewhere. Nevertheless, looks like Uganda recognizes the challenge and is ready to put both state and private effort into entering the post-pandemic era fully prepared.

Before the surge of the covid-19 pandemic in Uganda, the Tourism sector was registering a satisfactory increase in foreign exchange volumes from tourists. According to the Annual Tourism Sector Performance Report for Financial Year 2018/2019, revenues rose from $1.45 billion in 2017 to $1.6 billion next year. As a result of this growth, the sector accounted for 7.7% of the national gross domestic product and 6.7% of total national employment while supplying the market with 667,600 jobs. Nevertheless, the coronavirus spread has changed much of that, and just as in other countries, the tourism sector has found itself struggling for survival. This is when the need for digital innovation manifested itself in the most obvious ways.

Brian Namanya, the CEO and founder at Tubayo, an online travel marketplace for users to easily find fun trips and unique accommodation spaces in Africa, says their platform currently hosts over 450 operators. Unlike other platforms that take on tourism operators who are well-established in the market, Tubayo’s founder understands that young players starting out in the field may need help with going through the excruciatingly expensive process of legitimizing their business. “With Tubayo, I chose to open the market to growing tourism operators and, in a way, offer them a chance to work alongside the ‘big fish’ in the game,” Namanya said.

Despite the clear eagerness of entrepreneurs such as Namanya to develop digital solutions, a few obstacles can still be found on their way. The first one is rising internet costs. The new 12% excise duty slapped on data bundles will surely just accelerate the rise and make connectivity even more unaffordable. Another issue is the customers’ skepticism towards technological transformations, with many travelers still not trusting the digitized processes and preferring to approach their travel plans in a more traditional way.

This is precisely one of the problems the disruption-oriented entrepreneurs are taught to cope with at The Innovation Village, an accelerator program educating the new industry players on everything from coping with the consequences of the pandemic to human-centered design, to general business operations.

While it looks like there is still a long way ahead of Ugandans when it comes to a digitized travel sector, things are moving in the right direction. The covid-19 calamity has taught all of us that surviving means adapting and constantly innovating, and the country’s youth seems to have learnt the lesson. Hopefully, this theoretical knowledge could be implemented effectively and efficiently in practice.

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