I hope it's beautiful. I hope that it gives you chills in your spine and provides new breath in your lungs. I hope you get knocked down--hard. But I hope you have the courage to get right back up and keep moving on. I hope you find a new perspective looking at life through the under glass of a broken bottle, at least for the duration of the coronavirus crisis. I hope my story touches your life in tender ways, because I know you'll touch everyone else's.
I remember being younger, may be Eighteen and spinning my globe around with my fingertips touching the equator. I remember thinking that I wanted to see my country Uganda, eat burgers in America, shop in China and dance in Europe. I remember how I started out as a trainee at the then Nile Hotel, and the Uganda International Conference Centre (Nile Mansions, for the older ones). How time flies. At my first gig as a trainee, and on one of the lucky times, I remember being asked to take 12 one 1 liter mineral water bottles to the suite where two top officials of East Africa were about to hold a meeting. The President of Kenya- His Excellency Daniel Arap Moi (RIP) was on a state visit to his counterpart HE, President Museveni. Here I was with a tray in my hand and standing at the executive lift when it opened, and there…. Two presidents that I had never dreamt to meet face to face. Anxiety and shock hit in. But with courtesy, I was invited to take a ride with my heroes…the two presidents. Not knowing what to do, the lift doors started to close, but I wasn’t going to take any of that. So, I made a dash and as it is with trays, I lost balance and one lot of the water was in the lift on the floor and of course burst, while the other were spilling the floor outside. I don’t remember what the Presidents faces looked like… I could not even look up to them. I just saw wet suits and shoes and for a moment was left for dead. I was resurrected by a small part by M7 who said “Young man, the lift was too fast. You must soldier on and become the best. Go get us some more water”. And President Moi added, “I like your courage. Soldier on”. I got to the service floor and there was dead silence. I would be fired. But a phone call had come through with the instruction, “Please give the young man another tray of water and let him be the one to serve us”. That is how I was on a second chance, which I executed very well. And so, my Tourism journey started.
I wanted to step on every patch of land, swim in every drop of the lakes, seas and oceans and look up at every single cloud in the sky. But then I got older, and I realized how harsh and cynical this world could be. I got older and wondered if I would ever even stop travelling and learning the good stuff in this tourism industry. I do not wonder what else is out there. I worked for big tourism brands and names. I worked hard, and partied hard. I changed jobs for better challenges and money of course. Sometimes it was a rollercoaster. I changed cars, built a home and helped many along the way. This is what we are told as we grow up…not so? And then I decided it was about time to start my own establishment, to get this dream of mine to the very top. I started a destination management company, what some here call Safari Company. With all the experience and knowledge acquired, it was always going to be a force to reckon with. I travelled, met with big personalities and worked with big names like Wanderlust portfolio, World of DMCs, APTA and sit on boards. The travel industry is a big and privileged world, my friend!
There's going to be downsides to every situation, no matter where you are. There will be consequences from roaming in any professional field. But I will tell you this. If Tourism was easy, every human being would do it. There will be days that you'll just want to hide under the covers, but I must assure you that you must keep pushing on. Keep watering the dream with optimism, passion and solutions.
So here we start to employ all the skill and expertise. As some know, you do your research, find a good name, explore the markets and launch websites…the obvious. That did not take time. Then the real work starts. Budgets come into play and marketing and promotions are at the center of the trade, including a lot of travel, this time not for holiday but to sell the destination Uganda to your target market. An average tour company spends in the region of three thousand bucks per month on marketing...an average company. This now is the investment, and there is no guarantee that it will come back right that minute. Patience is exercised. Then you organize fam trips so that your appointed representatives overseas really get to understand first-hand what they are going to preach. We have done all this right and results have been visible. But then again, not many of the operators will plan for crises like COVID-19. Well, it is here with us. We are working from home and no traveler arrivals or departures. This bell is so loud! We all know that the tourism dollar comes months in advance so that the destination manager can plan the programs and make all necessary payments. So, we happily receive and execute so that when the tourists ae here, there is no need to panic or find wallets to make payments. It’s that seamless, but also relies on trustworthiness and transparency of the operators. This is the other good side of being in tourism… it keeps you honest. Long story short, Coronavirus has hit the entire world and this has led to freezing of all travel everywhere. That is only the lid. The bottom is that travelers cancel with us, and many a time request a refund…boom!
That’s not all, future bookings are also halted, so the future seems like it’s all dark and no light at the end of this long tunnel. This my friend means income for the un foreseeable future is bleak and an entire sector is doomed. Airlines, lodges, driver guides, farmers, tax man and everyone in the value chain is affected. While we are running without such calamities, this sector does not really need Govt intervention, in fact, we bring in a sizeable chunk of forex to the economy. Now, with COVID-19, this is where you would expect some interventions as a way of keeping up with the good times. Not many governments see this need, or maybe they see it but have also been waiting for what was to come in. This is when the dream gets to knock a hard rock. To come to pass or maybe not. My hero M7, is there another lift we can meet… this time I won’t drop the bottles on your shoes. I am older and wiser. I will tell you my story, for you to help me soldier on even better. But then again, as Collin Powell once said, “A dream does not become reality through magic; it takes sweat, determination and hard work”. So, I will soldier on. After all, on the general side, we are all at the bottom of a very deep valley now. We are just about finishing our first week of “stay home” lockdown in Uganda with lots of uncertainty. It is humbling. We are glued on media watching the rest of the world struggle with the same COVID-19. It’s comforting to say, we are in this together. We accept that we have no control over this. But even then, my pen and brain have not stopped working. I need to have my dream watered correctly so here is what I am up to, besides writing poems and reassuring articles for my travelers and travel colleagues in terms of bookings with Uganda Safari Chapter. Just to show that we are all in the crisis and to allow no space for losses on funds already paid.
Book between now and 31 July, for travel in 2020 or 2021
The lift might be too fast. You must soldier on and become the best and don't you ever forget that. No matter what side of the world you're on, no matter how many miles or mere inches are separating us, none of that matters. But what does matter is that you must soldier on. And I want business to soar. So, I keep on keeping on, for those in travel until your heart is content, and I truly do hope that you find what you're looking for…keep on watering your dream and business.
(Even if you're just looking for fun.)
And for my last two cents… Be careful what you water your dreams with. Water them with worry and fear, and you will produce weeds that choke the life from your dream. Water them with optimism and solutions, and you will cultivate success. Always be on the lookout for ways to nurture your dream.
By Mukose ‘Omukose Petero
Uganda Safari Chapter
A Destination Management Company