Whether it's Uganda or New York City, guides serve as a country's brand ambassadors, represent local residents, and make a lasting impression on foreign tourists, and they're often an afterthought at best at tourism boards.
Herbert Byaruhanga, the chairperson of the Uganda Safari Guides Association, is excited. Untrained guides who have been undermining tourism ventures could soon become something of the past.
“Guides act as ambassadors for Uganda’s tourism,” says Byaruhanga, adding that they spend most of the time with the visitors.
“It is strange that we have not been sure of the quality of services they offer.”
Byaruhanga says this is set to change with the training and grading of the guides in relation to the quality of service they offer.
“People who are selling the country as a destination should have knowledge about the country so that the tourists have a good experience. If this is the case, the tourists will keep on coming back and telling their friends about Uganda.”
Byaruhanga, who was speaking after an examination aimed at grading tour guides recently, also pointed out that the move was aimed at making Uganda a more competitive tourism destination.
He cited Kenya which has marketed its destinations for decades.
“Uganda can compete with Kenya when it comes to birdwatching and cultural tourism,” he says, adding that in order to make headway, it is necessary to provide outstanding guides to provide excellent service.
Tour operators advised to employ professional guides
In order to give visitors the best possible satisfaction, Byaruhanga says tour operators and the private sector in tourism business should employ trained guides.
“Without skills, you cannot serve the tourism industry,” says Byaruhanga, adding that the Tourism Act outlaws untrained guides and the tourism ministry has to develop guidelines for implementing the law.
“As the private sector, we should wait for the law to do the right thing because we directly depend on tourism. When it thrives, we also make more money.”
Barirega Akankwasa, the principal wildlife officer and Uganda Wildlife Authority spokesperson, says guiding has been one of the most serious concerns for the Government.
“We have cases where the guides know less than the tourists they are guiding,” says Akankwasa, pointing out that this is unacceptable and that the Government is in the process of cracking the whip by formulating regulations.
“When tourists are coming to the country, they gather information about Uganda and some of the destinations. Such visitors will end up guiding the guide.”
He added that even if the product is good and the country spends a lot on branding and marketing without professional guides, Uganda will not gain much.
“It is the guides that help the visitor to get a memorable experience.”
Byaruhanga says one of the roles of the guide is to interpret the product, explaining in detail, where necessary, for the visitor to understand.
The guides are supposed to portray a good image of the country and act as a go between for tourists to appreciate the community and the community to appreciate their visitors, he adds.
Byaruhanga notes that over the years, tour operators have not appreciated guides because they aim at reaping money from the sector and do not mind about professionalism.
“Anybody who has money can invest in tourism. But when businessmen are guided on the investments such as employing professional guides, the sector can grow.”
Byaruhanga says the guides are given a bronze, silver or gold grading, depending on their experience, knowledge and expertise in writing and presenting papers on tourism.
“Guides who have experience of two years and pass the examinations get bronze, and silver is given to those who have experience of five years and have passed the examinations.”
Byaruhanga observes that when it comes to gold, the guides have to have experience of 10 years and also present papers on tourism.
Currently, Uganda has 70 guides in the bronze category and 10 in the process of attaining silver.
Exploitation, conflicts undermine tourism growth
Sources who preferred to remain anonymous say the guides are exploited by the tour operators.
“Even when the guides offer good service, many tour operators do not pay them well,” says a source, adding that this demotivates the guides.
“Guides should create a good impression about Uganda, but some of them paint the country as the worst and ruined by dictatorship to attract sympathy,” said a source.
“We need patriotic people to sell this country and create a good impression,” another source said.
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