An open letter to the Minister of Tourism
Dear Hon. Kiwanda,
Whilst I know that you have a cabinet minister above you in your ministry, I deliberately choose to address you specifically because I’m impressed by your passion and energy in driving the tourism agenda forward. I admire your gusto and relentless effort, against tough odds to improve local tourism in a very competitive region.
The special recognition you received from Pr.Dr. Joseph Sserwadda on new year’s eve further confirms what a good job you’ve done so far. However, as I write this, I’m cognisant of the positive strides made by our neighbours Kenya and Rwanda in this very lucrative industry. I trust, from the little that I know about you, that you’ll take into consideration the views I express in my bonafide missive.
On the 31st of December, my family, a friend and I decided to visit Clouds Mountain Gorrilla Lodge in Nkuringo – the great district of Kisoro. We had heard about the facility before and their legendary segregative reception arrangement but still thought we might be this one time lucky.True to our expectations, we couldn’t go passed the packing area. A call was placed from the gate to have us allowed in but still the “managers” couldn’t allow us to at least look around.
We were politely (albeit in a sarcastic way) explained to that this was a private lodge and we would have to make prior reservations! I’ll give it to James for laboring to explain to us why it didn’t add value to their business for us to look around.
Maybe we would look disgustingly idle to their high-end clients. Last year, the same lady (manager) who was with James chased this friend of mine from Apoka Lodge in Kidepo because their shoes were dirty and this wouldn’t look very good for the visitors. I’m not sure how clean the tourists you have interacted with appear but the ones I often see are very dirty especially after a hectic game drive.
Sulking as we were, we decided to go to another of the very many scenic places overlooking L. Mutanda and the B (V)irunga ranges. It is called Chameleone Hill. Here we found a very rude local attendant who did not want to see us near him. He assured us that he was under instructions from his bosses not to let in any one that is not an in-house resident.
He said his name was Mr. Chameleone and he was the Alpha and Omega of the area. He also doubted if we understood English very well because we were asking him very many questions that we felt were relevant but “Mr. Chameleone” thought they were rather silly. For the second time, we were chased away from our own home.
Two years ago, a group of friends called Paraa Lodge in Queen Elizabeth and made reservations (read paid) for lunch a week early. On the D-day, they were informed that the lodge restaurant area was too full and they needed to wait so that arrangements are made.
The fish was half cooked and when they raised the concern to the waitress she referred them to the chef who in turn referred them to the manager and the manager refused to get out of the office to talk to them.
A glass fell off their table a few minutes after they’d arrived and the fragments remained on the floor by the time they left about two hours later. Paraa should (must) be the epitome of excellent customer care under normal circumstances. And such is what you’re vehemently selling to us and the rest of the world.
Back to my old story, we decided to travel to Gisenyi (Rubavu district) in Rwanda. I’m reluctant to rub into you Honourable Minister that the roads and the general town set-up are way better than anything the cabinet you’re happily a part of has ever envisaged for us. Public places like beaches are accessed without restriction and there’s no discrimination of citizens by class (real or perceived). We missed our hotel because we hadn’t made prior arrangements.
The gentleman at the reception helped us find another hotel. He went out of his way to make calls to different hotels (at his expense) and after many frantic calls, he finally got us where to sleep. He escorted us to the Bodaboda stage, gave directions to the riders and negotiated the transport price for us.
We could all speak the language (my colleagues way better than me) but it did not matter to him because we were his visitors. Why wouldn’t I recommend this place to my friends?
Let’s face it; we might have better and more attractive sceneries but all this is useless in the face of our segregative approach and poor customer service. The personnel in Rwanda seem a little slower in their service but this with their apparent commitment they’ll soon remedy.
Your effort to get us to visit our tourist destinations will remain futile if we set a trend to the effect that certain places are for certain people. You’re trying to launch a missile from a canoe. You’re smiling in the dark Honourable Minister.
I’ll not claim to know what you have done thus far to fix the challenges I’ve enumerated above or if you even think they are valid concerns. What I can say with certainty is that you still have a long way to go. It might help you to start improving the system from within before you focus on attracting suitors to your still ugly daughter before you even allow her time to put some make-up.
I still don’t understand why we speak the ‘dollar language” like we have no national currency.
Maybe I’m a poor economist but all payments in Rwanda were made in Rwandan Francs. The dollar option was available though for those interested (they are usually visible by skin). Why should a Ugandan quote dollar prices to a fellow Ugandan?
You can build a local tourism base by getting to understand why we don’t go to these facilities in the first place.
It is my hope that you’ll find time to look into these matters.
I wish you a happy and prosperous new year!