There are over 20,000 tourist guides in the East African Community (EAC) region. Most of them have been trained through associations, some went to vocational schools, others trained on the job as they went along. There is no mutually agreed standard for tourist guides in the EAC.
Recognising the importance of tourist guides and their critical role in marketing East Africa as a single tourist destination, as promoted by the EAC, addresses various challenges of the tourism sector – from a lack of adequate and unifying competence-based training for better skilling of guides over scant information about the opportunities that the industry can offer to East Africans to poor marketability of tourism destinations. Additionally, so far there has been no database profiling and marketing skills of tourist guides which led to many companies from source markets resorting to employ foreign tour leaders to accompany groups to East Africa.
These challenges are the reason why the Uganda Safari Guides Association in partnership with Uganda Tourism Association, Uganda Tourism Board, Rwanda Safari Guides Association and Kenya Professional Safari Guides Association are implementing the “EAC Tourist Guides Online Portal” with support from EAC-GIZ via IIDEA. The portal aims to become the number one stop hub for professionally trained youth tourist guides of the EAC region.
The platform is used for training and equipping young tour guides along the tourism-rich areas of Uganda and Kenya with skills and professionalism to manage and guide tourists. It also provides market access and information for the tourism industry and guides to both local and international tourists as well as potential tourist guides employers. Herbert Byaruhanga, General Secretary of USAGA stresses, 'the website comes in at a time when we need to showcase our services to buyers around the world. The information shared online has a great impact in offering people information about the tourism sector of the EAC.'
'We encourage more tour guide associations to enroll with the platform and on a high note encourage more women to take over the tour guiding profession', says Herbert Byaruhanga in an interview with EAC-GIZ Insights. Training not only enhances the capacity of the guides to ensure that tourists visiting the EAC region are offered a high and consistent level of quality tourism services but will also increase the trust among regional tour operators offering joint tour packages and encourage more cross border delivery of tourism services.
As part of the project young guides learn to create touristic itineraries which can be marketed across the region. This helps them enhancing their skills and assists the growth of a sustainable tourism sector in the region. Women, who historically have not been well represented in the tour guiding industry, are especially encouraged to participate. Herbert Byaruhanga points out, 'trained youth tour guides can be seen on the platform as service providers. They can be booked directly by tour operators. This way jobs are created.'
Since its commencement in October 2020, the project has identified and recruited 122 young tour guides, among them 24 women, in Uganda and Kenya and brought on board relevant stakeholders and active partners such as the Uganda Tourism Board, Uganda Tourism Association, Ministry of Tourism, Tour Guides and Drivers Association Kenya, and the Uganda and Kenya Women Birders‘ Association. Additionally, it profiled more than 50 tourist sites and destinations across the EAC.
Although the project was seriously affected by COVID-19 and the lockdowns in Uganda and Kenya, it continued business at a lower scale through facilitating online meetings. As the aviation industry in the region slowly picked up business again, USAGA is hopeful that tourists will return to the region and enjoy visiting again, maybe under slightly different conditions, as the Safari industry is adapting to the ‘New Normal’.
With continued collaboration among the different tour associations in East Africa and bodies/ministries in charge of tourism, the portal will, with no doubt be the number one platform in marketing East Africa as the preferred single tourism destination.