Supporting Global Development through Sustainable Tourism


USAID-Sustainable Tourism in the Albertine Rift (USAID-STAR)

Supporting biodiversity conservation and economic growth in Uganda's Albertine Rift region through sustainable tourism.

  • Client: USAID-Uganda
  • Partners:
    • US Agency for International Development
    • U.S. Forest Service
    • Academy for Educational Development (FHI360)
    • African Wildlife Foundation
    • International Gorilla Conservation Program
    • Jane Goodall Institute
    • Uganda Community Tourism Association (UCOTA)
    • Nature Uganda
    • Uganda Wildlife Authority
    • Ministry of Tourism, Trade and Industry
    • Wildlife Clubs of Uganda
    • Uganda Tourism Association
    • Association of Uganda Tour Operators
    • Uganda Hotel Owners Association
  • Project Duration: 2009-2012

The Challenge

Uganda's economy traditionally relies on small-scale agricultural products like coffee, tea, cotton, and grains, while tourism serves as the largest non-traditional export. In the 1960s, Uganda was the main tourist destination in East Africa and it relied heavily on tourism for economic growth. However, during the 1970s and 80s, Uganda's image as a tourist destination was severely damaged by natural resource depletion, an exodus of trained personnel, the destruction of tourism infrastructure, and poaching. With political instability and civil unrest behind it, Uganda is enjoying strong economic growth and making progress toward biodiversity conservation and redevelopment of its national parks. Despite this, the pressure on parks from encroachment and poaching remains high due in part to the lack of financial benefits from the park for its neighboring communities.

The Solution

With Uganda's wealth of tourism assets—the highest diversity of primates in Africa, a growing list of over one thousand bird species, diverse cultural attractions, and an extraordinary variety of landscapes from savannas to tropical forests to ice caped mountains—there is significant potential for tourism to contribute to biodiversity conservation, economic growth, employment and poverty reduction. To achieve these goals a comprehensive approach to tourism was needed, one that actively involved stakeholders from all aspects of the tourism and conservation sectors to enhance tourism in and around Uganda's national parks, strengthen the communities bordering the parks to benefit from tourism and to link activities and attractions to the national and international tourism value chain.

Major Activities

Solimar, through the USAID-STAR program, worked with a broad variety of stakeholders in the tourism sector to enhance the tourism products in select national parks, build strong community enterprises linked to the parks and conservation activities and invigorated the tourism sector by connecting tourism businesses from the park level to the national level to international and domestic tourism markets. USAID STAR's successes have far exceeded the initial expected outcomes of our clients and much of the success can be attributed to the communications-driven management process used to prioritize project interventions and strategic activities. From the beginning, the program opted not to establish itself as the new "tourism expert on the block," but as a facilitator of collaboration and a convener of partnerships in support of conservation and tourism. This ethos that all activities should be lead by a local champion and only then supported by the program allowed the program to scale up its results in a relatively short period of time. We achieved this through the following activities:

  • Enterprise development, training and workforce development: Increase community revenues and participation in conservation activities through community tourism training, tourism product development, and market linkages.
  • Increase revenue and funding for conservation activities: Increase funding for conservation activities through institutional strengthening, fundraising, travel philanthropy and corporate social responsibility programs, and investments in tourism facilities, products and services that generate conservation revenues.
  • Increase partnerships and communication in support of conservation and tourism: Enhance conservation and tourism by building partnerships with and between tourism stakeholder groups, working with partners on conservation and tourism sensitization programs, and engaging the media in support of tourism awareness.
  • Marketing & Branding for Destinations and Enterprises: Utilizing inventive digital and traditional marketing techniques for better marketing and branding of the national parks, community enterprises, project partners, and the national tourism sector as a whole.


Enterprise development, training and workforce development

  • Average 27% increase in household income in targeted communities
  • Average 16% increase in tourism revenue for targeted existing community tourism enterprises
  • Increase of revenue in the first year of operations for new start-up community tourism enterprises equivalent to the average household income of over 15 households in the community.
  • 42 Community Tourism Enterprises completing full Solimar tourism business training program along with 103 supporting organizations.
  • Secured business linkages between small tourism enterprises and national tourism operators and accommodation providers.
    Increase revenue and funding for conservation activities
  • Increased funding for conservation by $1.9 million and leveraged support to the program by over $4 million.
  • Enhance the capacity of the Uganda Wildlife Authority, Uganda Community Tourism Association and others to realize greater revenues for them and their stakeholders.
    Increase partnerships and communication in support of conservation and tourism
  • Brought together the media, Hollywood celebrities, travel & tourism business, government and conservation groups to launch the 'Friend-a-Gorilla' campaign, generating over $2 million worth of free international media coverage and strengthening industry partnerships.
  • Established Tourism Media Awards, increasing media coverage of tourism and conservation in the country by over 100%.
    Marketing & Branding for Destinations and Enterprises
  • Created 'Pearls of Uganda' an award-winning marketing program for community tourism enterprises, that links communities to markets. 120 private sector tourism businesses from Uganda signed up to support the program.
  • Promotion of Uganda, through development of the first "Destination Uganda" guide of the country for the tourism trade, creation of the national tourism song "Oh Uganda,"
  • Destination marketing campaign for Queen Elizabeth National park that increased overall park visitation by 16% and domestic visitation by 23% in one year.
  • Creation of Uganda Wildlife Authority Web-portal that boosted visitation to their site by over 200% and increased the number of page views by over 500% with an average visit of about 6 minutes (above industry average).

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