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Uganda Aims to Triple Tourists With Help of Better Transport

FILE - A general view of Lake Bunyonyi, a twisting 25-km (15.5-mile) long freshwater lake which lies in the far southwest of Uganda, Jan. 8, 2015.
FILE - A general view of Lake Bunyonyi, a twisting 25-km (15.5-mile) long freshwater lake which lies in the far southwest of Uganda, Jan. 8, 2015.

Uganda aims to boost annual tourist numbers to 4 million over the next five years, helped by improvements in road networks around game parks and other attractions, an official said on Thursday.

Tourism, such as treks to see gorillas, is a major foreign exchange earner for Uganda, which also exports coffee and tea but has only a small manufacturing base. It discovered commercial quantities oil in 2006 but has not started producing.

Stephen Asiimwe, chief executive officer of state-run Uganda Tourism Board (UTB), told Reuters that Uganda attracted 1.3 million tourists last year and expected the number to rise to 1.5 million this year.

"Our target is that by 2021 we want to have 4 million visitors," he said in an interview.

"The government has prioritized tourism roads," he said, adding Uganda had also contracted three international marketing firms to promote the country in North America and Europe.

He said the roads to be improved would include highways to link parks to major regional towns.

The tourism has been slowly recovering after being hit by the knock-on effects of Islamist attacks in neighboring Kenya, a major destination that saw visitor numbers plummet. Uganda often benefits from people crossing the border for a few days.

A major attraction are the gorilla tours, which take place in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, a stretch of jungle in the southwest on the border with Democratic Republic of Congo.

Murchison Falls and Queen Elizabeth parks boast spectacular waterfalls and big game animals, such as elephants and lions.

But tourists landing at Uganda's only international airport at Entebbe, just outside the capital, usually face long journeys on often poorly maintained roads to reach those destinations.

Alongside improving roads, Asiimwe said the government was pursuing plans to revamp small regional airports to provide alternative and faster routes for tourists to reach the parks.

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    Reuters is a news agency founded in 1851 and owned by the Thomson Reuters Corporation based in Toronto, Canada. One of the world's largest wire services, it provides financial news as well as international coverage in over 16 languages to more than 1000 newspapers and 750 broadcasters around the globe.