Tourism At Bujagali

Wednesday, January 17, 2001

To: Ron Anderson, International Finance Corporation (IFC)

From: Stephen Linaweaver

Copies to: Christian Wright (AES), Peter Woicke (IFC), Hiram Sivam and Karen Rasmussen (World Bank)


I hope all is well. I understand that AES wrote the following, in its review of a recent case study on Bujagali written by International Rivers:

"’6,000 people raft annually spending US$4m on activities not related to rafting.’ These figures defy empirical research and the account books shown to the Atkins EIA team by the rafting companies. The unrealistic 6,000 figure demands over 16 rafters daily each day of the year spending US$666.67 each in the process."

Since this particular fact came from me, and because of my experience as manager of one of the whitewater rafting companies on the White Nile, I feel it is important that I give the details behind this assumption. The breakdown of the figure is at the end of this letter. I would also like to take this opportunity to make the case that Bujagali Falls and the corresponding stretch of the Upper White Nile are critical for Uganda’s long term success as a tourist destination. Uganda’s future lies in the tourism and service sectors, not in manufacturing, and thus Uganda’s success as a tourist destination is a critical factor in Uganda’s success as a nation.

Bujagali Falls, in its natural state, is already the most popular destination for Ugandan tourists. This generates revenue for Jinja District directly through the admission fees charged to Ugandans, as well as ancillary income from transportation and food purchases. Due to its proximity to a main road, which connects the two largest cities in Uganda, nothing compares to the accessibility of Bujagali Falls as a tourist destination. More symbolically, the fact that Bujagali Falls is one of a handful of tourist destinations that actually appears on a Uganda Postal stamp entrenches the Falls as a symbol of Ugandan cultural heritage and pride, and thus a long–term tourist destination for Ugandan tourists.

Both the National Environmental Management Authority and local officials acknowledge the importance of tourism for development in Uganda. Tourism is the second leading foreign exchange earner for Uganda, behind only coffee. (NEMA, 1996) As outlined in the quotation below from the National Environmental Management Authority’s "Uganda State of the Environment Report", one of the contributing factors to the rapid growth in tourism in Uganda is "diversification of tourism products’. Whitewater rafting is THE key tourism product that diversified the Uganda tourism industry from 1996 to 1998, adding a popular nature–based adventure activity to an already impressive array of national parks, mountains, and wildlife areas.

Damming the Victoria Nile and flooding Bujagali Falls would hurt Uganda’s tourism industry, cutting off vital dollars to the Ugandan economy. NEMA’s 1998 State of the Environment Report continues to note that one of the major limiting factors in the tourism sector is the limited scope of tourist products: "The tourism sector is one of the main foreign exchange earners for Uganda. The sector has continued to grow, with an annual average growth rate of 10% since 1995. This growth rate is much higher than the global rate (which was 5.5% and 2.9% in 1996 and 1997, respectively). One of the contributory factors to this growth is diversification of the tourist products, and improvement of tourist facilities/services. Despite this apparent improvement, poor and inadequate tourism facilities and services and limited scope of tourist products remain the major issues in this sector" (NEMA, 1998).

Allowing whitewater rafting to flourish at Bujagali Falls will introduce further tourism products, such as lake tours, microlight tours, and river boarding, as has occurred as a result of whitewater rafting on the Zambezi River in Zimbabwe and Zambia. In contrast, destroying rafting at Bujagali Falls will only decrease the number of available tourism products in Uganda, and stymie any potential for growth, consequently negatively affecting the second greatest foreign exchange earner in the country.

This institutional support for tourism is also backed by officials on the ground in tourist areas. In an interview with Jinja’s Mayor, Stephen Nsubuga–Bewayo on July 13, 2000, he stated, "Tourism is the future of Jinja, not industry. Tourism has more potential for the revival of Jinja. Now tourism numbers have decreased here because rafting has gone down." The decrease in rafting numbers is due in part to a systematic suppression of the activity by the Uganda government.

The economic figures on rafting, which I have listed below, are in spite of the central government’s refusal to support rafting in Uganda due to the controversy over the Bujagali Falls Dam. Rafting would have grown much faster if the activity had not been suppressed by the central Government. There have been two overt efforts to minimize rafting at Bujagali Falls:

a) The Camel Whitewater Challenge (CWWC) is the Olympics of rafting and is held once a year in a different venue around the world. CWWC brings over 1,000 participants and spectators to the host country for a period of two weeks. Films about the competition are aired internationally to an audience of over one billion viewers in over 50 countries. This type of international coverage is critical for a country like Uganda to gain widespread acceptance as a tourist destination. While filming the event, cable channels also cover other tourism highlights in the country. Coverage of the CWWC on the Zambezi River in 1997 officially entrenched Zimbabwe and Zambia as a leading active travel destination in Africa, and the same could have been true of Uganda.

The Nile at Bujagali Falls is the ideal setting for the Camel Challenge, and its director has eagerly sought Uganda as a venue. On two separate occasions, for the 1998 and 2000 events, Uganda refused to accept the Camel Challenge. For the 2000 event, Tony Hansen, the CWWC Director, was specifically told by a Ugandan government official that Uganda would not host the Challenge because it did not want to broadcast the popularity and success of rafting or the beauty of Bujagali Falls, for fear that it would spread opposition to the Bujagali Falls Dam. This was confirmed in discussions with tourism officials during my most recent visit to Uganda in July of 2000.

b) The official Uganda Tourism Brochures, which heavily featured rafting in 1998, make no mention of the activity in the 2000 brochure. This is despite the fact the rafting drew more tourists than any other activity in Uganda in 1998, and that Bujagali Falls drew more visitors than any other park in Uganda. This suppression of one of the world’s best rafting trips and one of Africa’s most scenic river views has cost Uganda income, and indicates that there is an attempt to downgrade rafting in order to make the Bujagali Falls Dam appear less destructive to the Uganda economy and especially the economy of Jinja district.

The popularity of river–based tourism at Bujagali Falls is not unique to Uganda, but represents one facet of a growing trend. Nature based tourism is the fastest growing sector of the tourism industry and is critical to sustainable progress in any developing country. Overall, tourism is one of the world’s largest industries, representing annually a US$ 3.5 trillion activity. The travel and tourism industry employs 127 million workers (one in 15 workers worldwide). The World Tourism Organization (WTO) has conducted forecasts of international tourism, which grew by more than 57 percent in the past decade and is expected to grow by 50 percent in this decade. The approximately 595 million international travelers in 1997 are expected to grow to 661 million by the year 2000 (WTO, 1998).

The segment of tourism undergoing the fastest growth is nature–based tourism, which includes ecotourism and river–based activities such as rafting. Nature–based tourism has been estimated to account for between 10 and 15 percent of all international travel expenditures, according to WTTC, and that figure is increasing rapidly (WTTC 1998). Specifically, the annual rate of growth of this type of tourism is around 15 % (compared to a 4 % growth rate for overall tourism [Honey, 1999]).

Bujagali Falls is truly one of Uganda’ greatest treasures and one that will generate hard dollars for the country – as a natural falls, not a series of man–made reservoirs. As the figures directly above indicate, Bujagali Falls is a significant economic asset that will grow in value over the next decade, and in decades henceforth. I hope that the IFC will carefully evaluate the loss of tourism in its appraisal of the project and specifically address the true potential of river–based tourism unfettered by government stumbling blocks.

As always, I am very willing and open to discuss the points noted above. I look forward to hearing from you.


Stephen Linaweaver



Annual income generated from Whitewater rafting in Uganda.


Assuming 6,000 people raft the Nile each year. This is a conservative estimate. The annual average in 1998 was 6,000 rafters, and growth figures elsewhere indicate this number will increase dramatically. In 1981, when whitewater rafting was introduced on the Zambezi, less than one hundred people rafted this river which divides Zambia and Zimbabwe. In 1997, over 46,000 people rafted the Zambezi. Commercial whitewater rafting only began on the Nile in 1996, and grew ten times as fast as the Zambezi did in its first four years. Rafting and river–based tourists generate the following income for Uganda:

I. Direct – Annual Income from Rafting: $388,800

II. Related– Annual Income from Ancillary activities: $3,686,400

Total Annual Income Generated for Uganda from Rafting: $4,075,200

Note: This is only based on 1998 – 2000 levels and does not account for the expected growth of the rafting industry on the Nile. This also does not account for the international marketing value of rafting when promoting Uganda as a destination. (Rafting companies in Uganda pay expensive slot fees at international expos to promote Uganda. They are often the only Uganda – based operators promoting Uganda at these shows.)

Supporting Statistics:

I. Direct Income:

80% of the retail price of a rafting trip in Uganda is reinvested into the Ugandan economy. The average price of a rafting trip in Uganda is $81 (35% of customers pay $65 for half day trip and 65% of customers pay $90 for a full day trip, including allowances for periods of discounted specials.)

Assuming 6,000 customers per year paying $81, the gross revenue generated would be $486,000. 80% of that, or $388,800, re–enters the Ugandan economy. That is in addition to the income generated below.

II. Related Income:

The 6,000 rafters fall into four groups:

1. Residents (5%) We will assume no related income from this group
2. Short Stay – 4 days (45%)
3. Extended Stay – 10 Days (30%)
4. Extended Stay / With Gorilla Trek – 10 Days (20%)

Rafters spend money on the following additional activities:

1. Food: 3 meals per day, excepting two meals on the day of rafting. This varies from open stalls to sit down meals, and including drinks, averages $10 per meal.

2. Accommodation: This varies from backpacker hostels ($7 per campsite) to the Sheraton Kampala ($168 +) and averages $40 per night.

3. Transportation: This varies from "matatus" (50 cents per ride) to "special hires" (taxis, $7 per ride) and averages $5 per day.

4. Gifts: Most often wooden instruments, batiks, rugs, and wall hangings, and averages $60 per visit for short stays and $100 per visit for Extended Stays.

5. Miscellaneous – This varies from writing materials to personal toiletry products and averages $8 per day.

6. Gorilla Trekking – a one hour viewing of the mountain gorillas in Southwest Uganda costs $150 per person and is state–run.

The income for each group breaks down as follows:

1. Residents: 5% of 6,000 = 300 people generating no additional revenue

2. Short Stay: 45% of 6,000 = 2,700 rafters generating $332 each or $896,400 total in related activities.

10 meals X $10 = $100
3 nights X $40 = $120
4 days transport X $5 = $20
1 Gifts expense = $60
4 days x $8 Misc. expense = $32

Total per person generated from Short Stay rafters: $332

3. Extended Stay: 30% of 6,000 = 1,800 rafters generating $870 each or $1,566,000 total in related activities.

28 meals X $10 = $280
9 nights X $40 = $360
10 days transport X $5 = $50
1 Gifts expense = $100
10 days x $8 Misc. expense = $80

3. Extended Stay with Gorilla Trekking: 20% of 6,000 = 1,200 rafters generating $1,020 each or $1,224,000 total in related activities.

28 meals X $10 = $280
9 nights X $40 = $360
10 days transport X $5 = $50
1 Gifts expense = $100
10 days x $8 Misc. expense = $80
Gorilla Trekking = $150

Total per person generated from Extended Stay rafters with Gorilla Trek: $1,020

Sources cited in this letter:

NEMA. 1996. State of the Environment Report for Uganda, 1996. National Environmental Management Authority.

NEMA. 1998. State of the Environment Report for Uganda, 1996. National Environmental Management Authority.

Honey, Martha. 1999. Ecotourism and Sustainable Development. Island Press. Washington, DC.

WTO. 1998. WTO News. NO 9, May 1998. The World Tourism Organization. Madrid, Spain.

WTTC. 1998. Update on World Tourism. World Travel and Tourism Council. Brussels, Belgium.