Rarely has a city been transformed so quickly. Just a few years ago, the choice of where to stay in Kampala was rather limited.
Maybe this was a hangover from Uganda’s dark days of the 1970s and 1980s and the fact that it took a while for the Ugandan economy to make a full recovery. But a full recovery is exactly what happened, as previously exiled business people returned to Kampala with money to invest.
A changing point came with the 2007 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting. This acted as the catalyst for an unprecedented boom in hotel construction, fuelled by generous subsidies, that has only just begun to slow. That meeting also gave an emphatic signal that Uganda had fully returned to the Commonwealth fold and informed the world that Uganda was open for business.
Yet, despite the additional bed capacity brought by the construction boom, there are still times when finding a room in Kampala can be difficult. The city is now regarded as a major venue for regional, continental and even global conferences and it can be a problem if your visit to Kampala coincides with one of these events. From the point of view of the city and its hoteliers, of course, it’s a nice problem to have.
In addition, the Ugandan economy continues to grow at a rate that most developed nations would envy as business visitors flock to the nation’s capital. And, with the discovery of oil, rooms have become a little harder to find and hotel rates have also reflected this situation.
More hotels are due to be opened, with each hotel company hoping to carve a niche and eager to differentiate itself in a crowded market. This applies especially to locally owned, mid-market properties built by wealthy investors entering the sector for the first time.
Kampala has an impressive range of properties, from internationally recognised five-star brands at the top end of the scale to homely, price-conscious, family-run guesthouses at the other. In between, there is a range of properties including good quality business hotels, secret hideaways, classy boutique establishments and those run by organisations such as churches.
At the same time, some well known brands that started life in Kampala have used the city as a springboard to set up similar, but mostly smaller, hotels in other towns such as Entebbe and Mbale.
Hotel construction has not been focused on any one particular area – although there is clearly a concentration of good quality properties close to the Uganda Golf Club and around Kololo. Therefore, visitors can pick the location that exactly suits their needs – and will probably have a choice of two or three hotels once they have done so.
So Kampala has come of age at a time when prospects for Uganda as a nation have rarely been brighter.