Arne's Observations | Majority of lodges in Africa still in foreign hands

Getting tourism money into local pockets

In front of me is Lake Mutanda, in the very South-West of Uganda. The lake is littered by small islands, while steep green hills rise up from the deep waters. Every inch of land is cultivated here as Ugandans don’t want to miss out on any possible income. From the dining room of our lodge we can overlook the waters as the sun sets, in what is one of the most stunning views you can find in Uganda.

We started our 21-day tour at a German-owned place overlooking River Nile, after which we stayed at several Dutch and British-owned places. We spent only three out of 21 nights in Uganda in locally owned places, and these were the places where the customers complained the most. Customers indeed, as I worked as a tour guide for three weeks this summer.  

Free advice to hotel owners

So why do foreigners prefer to stay in foreign-owned places? Are they all racists, trying hard to keep the money within their own ‘tribe?’ Well, not really. The inconvenient truth is that many locally-ran places simply don’t live up to the expectations of Western travellers. You may call them spoilt, yes, but if you want their money you just got to adjust to their standards.

We stayed at a locally-owned hotel in Hoima; epicentre of Uganda’s oil boom. The owners had put up a solar power system to heat the water. But on this cloudy day the system failed and the shower was cold. My clients complained. ‘What is this? Paying a hundred dollars per night and then still not having hot water?’ My free advice to hotel owners: get your act together. Showers need hot water, to be clean, and off course the water has to drop down from above. Just a tap and a basin are simply not appreciated by people not used to showering from a bucket.

To the communities

I learned a lot about tourism these weeks. The secret is that tourists want to see what they consider the ‘real’ Africa, as long as the hotels they stay in resemble the comfort of home. One other thing struck me. The group I had was going wild when we saw ten lions in a group. But most of them told me that it were the visits to local orphanages and schools (see photo) that made a lasting impression on them.

Friends of mine, who run the Matoke tour company, have developed an entire ‘schools and nature’ holiday in which tourists visit several schools, interact with local youth and visit projects. In the process, some donations might be left behind here and there. Days between the school visits are filled up with safaris. Although up to now sales have been disappointing, it is my guess that this concept may soon overtake ‘safari-only’ holidays. By now, Western travellers are starting to see that Africa is not only about elephants and gorillas. The true beauty of Africa lies in its people.