AMOS WEKESA: Let’s not forget the bottom line in Uganda Airlines saga

Amos Wekesa, an entrepreneur and founder of Great Lakes Safaris Limited, a tour operating company.

Amos Wekesa, an entrepreneur and founder of Great Lakes Safaris Limited, a tour operating company (PHOTO /Courtesy)

I have met a number of people who have asked me why I have said nothing about Uganda airlines discussion going on now. I normally don’t join every conversation happening out here partly because I have plenty of work to do and sometimes I don’t have facts.

But well, I spent many years advocating for bringing back a national airline and I explained many times on radio, TVs, including the print media why that was important. In our discussions, let’s not forget the importance of a national airline. An airline is an infrastructure.

The reason you will never see Kenya Airlines, south African Airways and all the lose making airlines across the Continent not close, its because its an infrastructure. When am a tourist in the UK who has say 5000 dollars to spend on a holiday abroad, I will consider a few things.

When I choose a destination, I will think first about the connectivity ( I won’t want to spend, say 30 hours in transit unless it’s too important). I will choose destinations with direct flights ahead of many others that don’t have direct flights into their country.

The second thing I will think about is the ease with which I attain my visa to your country. When I have my money to spend, I wouldn’t want to go to a country I will struggle to attain my visa. The thing we all have to remember/ appreciate is that we are land locked country.

So how does a loss-making South African Airways benefit South Africa and South Africans? The airline helps in creating a direct road in the air for spenders to go to South Africa, it also transports their goods to consuming countries, who are willing to pay higher prices.

When Uganda Airlines transports a one Wekesa from Uganda to Tanzania, Uganda Airlines earns money from already existing cash in the economy. It’s not new cash coming into the economy, it helps simply save some money but won’t control the amount Wekesa spends in Tanzania.

In the above case, it’s better economically to transport a Tanzanian on Uganda airlines flying into Uganda. Uganda wins twice, the money for the tickets and the spend on the ground by the Tanzanian. Say we collect 300 dollars on ticket and another 500 dollars earned by citizens.

For the above to happen, we need a proper positioning strategy and the implementers must understand the game. A case in point, Kenya Airways started flying to New York in September 2018 I think. But started marketing that route in the USA in 2013, through agency in the US.

Kenya Airways today flies a number of times in the week from New York to Nairobi and I have used it many times. The plane belly is always full of Hass avocado being transported to the USA and yes many returning American tourists who will have spent money in their economy.

So an American tourist will spend say 3k dollars on ticket and another 5k dollars in Kenyan economy and it becomes a numbers game. Rwanda Air intends to fly to New York too but started positioning of Rwanda Air in the US in 2013, I have met their marketing guys at USTOA.

The government of Uganda made a right decision to start Uganda airlines but when you spend 400m dollars on buying equipment, you must spend over 10% of the same on positioning or marketing that equipment. Uganda airlines right now has a clear strategy of making it work for us.

Of course I took off time many times and engaged Uganda airlines team about how the national carrier should be positioned, I gave examples of what I have seen others do but to date nothing in that direction. Uganda Airlines should, for example, ferry Kenyan spenders into Uganda daily.

Kenya Airways have for example helped ferry Ugandans to spend money in Kenya year in year out. Over 200,000 Ugandans spending an average of $2k per person go to Kenya every year. Kenya earns from us over 400m dollars annually. Uganda airlines should help us earn from Kenyans.

Leadership of Uganda airlines must be one that understands the above and should be capable enough to make us achieve that. That includes those who are put there as board members, otherwise, the reason for set up will be lost in between. It will be sad to see it close.

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