Uganda’s expo goes virtual to revive tourism sector

Wednesday March 31 2021
Traditional dancers.

Traditional dancers perform at a Pearl of Africa tourism Expo in Kampala. PHOTO | MORGAN MBABAZI | NMG


Tourism authorities in Uganda are targeting about Ush12.2 billion ($3.3m) as return on investments from this year’s Pearl of Africa Tourism Expo (POATE) slated for between April 23 and 25.

The 6th edition of the annual expo was earlier scheduled for February but could not take off due to measures put in place by the government to contain spread of Covid-19.

The POATE brings together domestic, regional and international tour operators, travel agents, destination agencies and various players in the tourism trade to network and facilitate tourism business.

With the sector being one of the worst hit by the coronavirus pandemic brought about travel restrictions world over, Uganda is dedicating this year’s expo to devise ways of bouncing the sector back to its feet. It is themed; “Restarting Tourism for Regional Economic Development.”

According to the Uganda Tourism Board, the industry had lost an estimated 1 million foreign tourists by December 2020, translating into up to Ush3.91 trillion ($1.06 billion) in foreign exchange earnings.

“Well aware that different players in the sector were affected variously, the key focus of POATE 2021, will be on 4 major sub-topics i.e. Recovery, Rebuilding; Reconnecting and rebooting the sector,” Ms Lilly Ajarova, the Uganda Tourism Board chief executive told The EastAfrican.


This year’s POATE will be virtual in order to observe restrictions on large gatherings in the country and international.

One-on-one meetings and other sessions will be held on virtual meeting platform that will also facilitate live conference sessions for domestic, regional and international tourism players.

The platform’s interface will have directory listings, options for meetings, choice content sessions where participants will have a variety of live sessions to choose from and will also have debates and forums from industry experts to choose from.

According to Ajarova, the meetings will mostly be centred around destination awareness enabling visitors and exhibitors to showcase and obtain information on the country’s available tourism products.

“Building on the successes of POATE 2020 where we registered a 138 percent growth in exhibitors, from 63 exhibitors in 2018 to 150 exhibitors in 2020, and leveraging the power of the internet, this time we expect to attract more than 200 exhibitors,” Ajarova said.

But some tour operators and service providers are sceptical about this number increasing since being a virtual event and would instead prefer a physical one with more days than the two already earmarked.

“Whereas there is no way we can operate but virtually given the circumstances, I am of the view that this year’s expo will not really attract so many exhibitors because they, especially the tours operators and investors would love a face to face physical interaction than meeting potential clients and partners virtually,” John Birigwa of silverback safaris said.

Birigwa added that the authorities should then rollout trainings for all exhibitors on the use of the virtual interface in time. At the past expos, the country hosed a range of tourism business enthusiasts and investors, foreign reporters and travel writers, influencers and tour operators with the aim of showing them what the country has to offer.