By Shakila Lamar
Every time I look out of an airport lounge, the tails of the aircraft parked on the apron and others maneuvering to their positions for departure runway or parking slots, trigger my curiosity. Where are they coming from, what kind of people live there, and what opportunities could be there? For the frequent or even occasional traveler, the flag of a national airline often arouses a desire to discover and interact with a new culture.
This places flag carriers high up among the ranks of destination ambassadors. Alongside hotels, they play a critical role in driving the meetings, incentives, conventions and events (MICE) segment of the tourism industry. Before the COVID-19 Pandemic turned the global economy topsy-turvy in March 2020, Uganda was a fast-rising MICE destination. In 2020, it was the sixth most preferred MICE destination in Africa, two places up from 2017.
Expected to attract more than 500 foreign delegates, the 55th African Airlines Association Annual General Assembly that Uganda Airlines will be hosting at Speke Resort Munyonyo this November is one of the biggest meetings destined for the country this year. Even with the most conservative estimates, that single event, scheduled over three days, will have a significant multiplier effect on the economy.
At the national level, hosting a major international event like the AFRAA-AGM, will stimulate the local economy as delegates, exhibitors, and participants from various African and international airlines, and aviation-related industries, consume local goods and services. That influx of visitors will boost tourism, hospitality, transportation, and associated industries, leading to increased spending and revenue generation for local businesses.
At the airline level, the meeting will enhance Uganda Airlines’ brand visibility and exposure. This is all the more important for a young carrier that is still seeking growth opportunities and market penetration. The event brings together aviation professionals, stakeholders, and media from across Africa and beyond. Some of these delegates will travel to Uganda with the national carrier, giving a firsthand experience of our onboard product, services, and capabilities to a diverse audience, generating positive publicity and raising awareness about the airline. We shall also be able to network with industry leaders, airline executives, and potential partners.
The AGM is also a platform for establishing potential business connections, exploring collaborations, and pursuing of new opportunities. Some of the expected outcomes from such engagements are strategic partnerships like code-sharing agreements, interline partnerships, and cooperative arrangements with other airlines. We also aim to use the event to position ourselves as a leading player in the African aviation market. We hope that through the conference, we can demonstrate our operational superiority and service standards to drive increased market presence and business growth for the airline. With a personal experience of what we have to offer, attendees will leave with more confidence and trust to use the airline for their future travel.
Through the visibility that the meeting will generate for Destination Uganda, we hope over the mid-to-long-term, to see a positive impact on financial performance through increased air travel demand and passenger traffic. It will also be a learning opportunity for us and our technical staff from the workshops, and panel discussions that cover various topics relevant to the aviation industry. This will give us valuable insights from industry experts, knowledge exchange that can contribute to operational improvements and best practices.
During the 54th AFRAA AGM in Dakar Senegal last December, Uganda Airlines Chief Executive Jenifer Bamuturaki, was elected the AFRAA board chair for 2023. As an airline, this position has given us unprecedented opportunity to set the agenda and lead the conversation that will culminate in critical decisions during the AGM. It has also been an opportunity for us to demonstrate our leadership abilities on crosscutting issues in the aviation industry and establish ourselves as a key player in African aviation. We shall use the AGM to showcase our services, fleet, operational capabilities, and share our growth plans and aspirations with a diverse audience of industry professionals. This exposure will reinforce brand recognition, attract potential customers, and position Uganda Airlines as a reliable and competitive player in the African aviation market.
More importantly, we shall share our experiences, challenges, and successes with other airlines, while also learning from their experiences. This collaborative environment will contribute to industry best practices, operational efficiencies, and improved service standards for Uganda Airlines.
During the meeting, we aim to actively participate in policy discussions and deliberations to advocate for policies that benefit our operations and the broader aviation sector in Uganda and Africa. We hope to raise pertinent issues, offer insights, and contribute to the development of regional policies that promote sustainable growth, safety, and harmonized regulatory oversight.
Finally, Uganda’s aviation sector is not just about Uganda Airlines. There are many areas in which the private sector can contribute to the development and improvement of our aviation infrastructure and ecosystem. During our tenure as AFRAA chair, we have been encouraging other stakeholders to consider partnerships, investments, and collaborations within the country. The expected yield from these engagements is increased private sector participation in infrastructure development, job creation, and overall economic growth for Uganda.
The writer is the Head of Communications and Public Relations at Uganda Airlines