By Ian Ortega
I don’t claim to be an expert on tourism but I can confidently claim to know when things are going wrong. Of late, I have been observing the Ugandan Hotel Industry. A few weeks back, I was at the Innovation Village in Ntinda. It’s described as a destination for the next BIG IDEAS in Fintech, Climate, Agric, Health, Diversity, Education and Media. Being one of the founders of BigEye Media, Innovation Village Kampala speaks right to me. The location is a grand creative space of various recycled furniture that brings home the African touch. I was impressed.
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Yet, when I travel to all Ugandan Hotels, I am shocked to find the African touch lacking. It’s as though every Ugandan Hotel is trying its level best to become a better version of the Western Hotels. Right from the architecture to the decor, all Ugandan Hotels have nothing Ugandan about them.
So then it gets me wondering, where is the unique positioning for our hotel industry? One of the best places to find a unique placement is in the cuisines section. However most Ugandan Hotels don’t have a Ugandan menu per say. The few that do have a Ugandan menu have limited themselves to the basic buffet of local Ugandan foods blended with various other western dishes.
In the past while still young and energetic, I toyed with the idea of a Ugandan cookbook. Together with a friend, we had plans of capturing the various Ugandan foods in a book, with guidelines on how to prepare each of these dishes. We also had plans of having our own Ugandan Food Show. It was to air on one of the Ugandan TV stations and would capture our travels around different parts of Uganda, interacting with the culture and capturing the process of preparing all those unique Ugandan dishes. I never executed on those ideas. But I have chosen to put them in the public domain just in case someone gets to implement them faster than I can.
Definitely when I take my leave soon, I will take my time to compile that Ugandan Cook Book, it may be the single contribution I can make to Uganda’s tourism. Which brings me to the central question-why don’t Ugandan Hotels have a fully fledged Ugandan menu? To make it even spicier, why not have a menu that gives a taste of the different regions and tribes of Uganda, the drinks, the foods, the vegetables, the fruits and the deserts? Why can’t we have a hotel in Uganda preparing ground nut paste with the Gisu’s bamboo shoots aka Malewa?
These are questions that trouble my mind every night. They are very simple questions yet we fail to solve them. Instead of us wasting time running after the big ideas of making tourism better, we could start with the simple things. What is Ugandan about our hotels? You will be troubled to find a Ugandan distinction in our hotels.
Mustapha Mugisa opined in a tweet; “Uganda hotels are killing local tourism: no local menu. Everything is SpinachCannelloni; PastaPrimavera; Penne etc no Kalo.” I couldn’t agree beyond my tails. He had hit the point home. Hopefully, the powers that be in this tourism can pick up these ideas and inject life in them.