Elias Aryanyijuka represents a generation of young Ugandans driving their tourism sector. An energetic and passionate operator, who founded Home to Africa Tours and Travel, we set out to find out what fires his enthusiasm.
When did you first truly appreciate that you live in a beautiful country?
It came about accidentally. As a child I had my chores to do – collecting firewood for cooking, fetching water every day. But I had to walk miles to get these things. Day after day I travelled along the same paths and gradually I began to look at my surroundings and really start to see how beautiful my country was. It turned out to be a wonderful discovery.
Also, living near both the Tanzania and Rwanda borders, I could compare and see how God had spent so much more time in Uganda! It was easy to see that he made it the Pearl of Africa.
Did you travel much around the country when growing up?
My family is huge. And we are scattered all across the country. So, we would journey by bicycle over 100km to visit various relatives. I loved taking these early family trips and it’s another way I began to appreciate how beautiful my country is. It was during these trips that I formed a love of travel.
Any other trips were limited to the most simple and inexpensive means of transport. But I travelled whenever I could.
Who inspired you to get involved in the travel industry?
The answer to this one is easy: my wife, Agwang Teopista Aryanyijuka, was my inspiration. I was originally a computer scientist. But I always ached to travel around the country and have adventures. She saw this and one day suggested that I try to make travel my profession.
It was a brilliant observation and one I immediately understood to be my destiny. So, in effect, I have travelled from machines to people.
What other influences directed this path for you?
I am a very social person, in that I hang out with all sorts of people. People from different classes, different professions. I realised through my travels that tourism is the most intense way to congregate and get involved with different cultures and types of people.
Tell us about journey that led you to starting you own business?
Growing up, my family did not have much money, but I always had a love of learning. I used to clean classrooms to earn my school tuition. This love of learning led me to university, where I ranked number one, earning a First Class degree. Studying computers, I put my skills to work at the Watoto Church as an IT specialist.
From there, I started my own company, SMSHOUR Ltd, an online marketing company. SMSHOUR turned out to be very successful and generated the funds that started Home to Africa Tours and Travel.
I am still continuing with my education, pursuing a Master’s Degree – MBA E4IMPACT. This is an MBA programme for social entrepreneurs, where we are looking to create the maximum positive impact for society.
What is it about the travel industry that stimulates you?
Everything about travel and tourism is stimulating. Just constantly meeting with different people and a variety of cultures is energising. I think it makes me a better person and more appreciative of the world. And it’s not just me – I think that 99 per cent of my clients are transformed by the travel experience.
Can you recall the first time you guided or escorted foreign tourists around Uganda?
Yes, I had an experience as a teenager – long before I was even in the travel business. I was in high school and I met a group of missionaries from South Korea. They wanted to know all about Uganda and its culture. So I took it upon myself to teach them what I know and show them around the country. It was an amazing experience and probably in some way foretold my destiny.
What do you think makes Uganda different from other African countries?
There is a reason Uganda is called the Pearl of Africa. Of course, part of it is because of the land and its beautiful variety. Part of it is because of the animals, especially the gorillas. But I think the real reason Uganda is the Pearl and different from other African countries is the Ugandan people. Nowhere else will you find a people with such golden hearts, so willing to share and be of service to its guests.
What makes you proud to be Ugandan?
I have had to struggle for everything that I have. But Uganda taught me that I can achieve anything. Everything I need is right here, if I am focused and passionate. I have been offered jobs in the US but I turned them down. This is my home and I believe I can be a success in my own country.
What do you find most surprises foreign visitors about Uganda?
Unfortunately, the Uganda reputation of Idi Amin still survives. We of course, have long moved past that rough time from the ‘70s. Today’s Uganda is a place of freedom, security and great hospitality. Visitors are surprised at how peaceful the country is.
Last September I was in China and the people there were surprised that I was happy, healthy and lived a peaceful life.
Just as toursts are surprised to discover that Uganda is a land of peace and increasing prosperity, I am always amazed by their old notions of the former Uganda. But our team’s hospitality quickly puts them at ease.
What are the things that every visitor should do or see when visiting Uganda?
Two things. If you come to Uganda you cannot leave without experiencing our world-class white water rafting. And, perhaps even more importantly, the gorilla trekking here is epic. No other country has the variety and authenticity of our gorilla experience.
What are the secret things that you like to do that might surprise visitors, but you know they will love?
We have all sorts of tips and tricks to ensure our guests have the best possible experience. For instance, I have set alarms on my email so I can reply to every email, any time day or night. If a guest emails me, they will never wait more than an hour for a reply!
If you could encourage visitors to do one thing when visiting Uganda, what would it be?
I would encourage visitors to be aware of the social impact they can bring to those less fortunate. They can make a difference in our communities just by giving their valuable time to meet and encourage those living in poor circumstances. Just those simple gestures will enliven the spirit and brighten the hearts of all involved.
What’s your biggest challenge running a tour operation in Uganda?
The world of tourism is about mixing peoples from all over the world. Tourists come from different cultures and have varying points of view. Sometimes it is a challenge blending them together in a tour operation. Most are agreeable and curious about those from other places. Still, they have different needs and expectations, and all of them want their needs met… immediately. It takes a cool head and an experienced hand to make everyone happy. But that’s our job!
What are your five favourite places in Uganda and why?
Murchison Falls National Park: there’s an unbelievable variety of wildlife here. A hike to the top of the falls is a must for breathtaking views.
Bwindi National Park: this is where visitors will find the world’s last mountain gorillas. This is a place of dense forests and an unforgettable gorilla trekking experience.
Lake Bunyoni: one of the deepest and most beautiful lakes in Africa. Home to thousands of small birds, this is treasured tourist haven.
Nqamba Island: this is a small rainforest of an island that is home to a chimpanzee sanctuary. The island is a short, fun boat ride from Entebbe.
Queen Elizabeth Park: the park is home to leopards, lions, elephants and chimpanzees which one can spot on game drives. A boat cruise on the Kazinga Channel will reveal hippos, crocodiles and much more.
What’s your favourite food eaten popularly in Uganda and why would you recommend it?
Without question, my favourite meal is banana “matooke”. This is a traditional Ugandan dish of plantains that are peeled and cooked or steamed. It’s sometimes served with sauce, meat or vegetables. Not only do I love it but my guests go crazy for it. Once they try it, they ask for it with every meal.