By Esther Oluka
On a hot Monday afternoon I meet Lilly Ajarova in Lugogo, Kampala. Her black skirt, paired with a white sleeveless top and stripped blazer, create the perfect official look.
Our discussion is about her tourism work. Although Ajarova is currently the executive director at Ngamba Island Chimpanzee Sanctuary her passion for the tourism sector as a whole dates back to her childhood. The Sanctuary prioritises protection of chimpanzees as a species in the wild, conservation, environmental education as well as creating awareness on environmental issues.
Her tourism journey
During her earlier years, Ajarova frequently visited national game parks and slowly started developing a fascination with the wild.
“I remember visiting places, such as, Murchison Falls National Park for game drives, hiking and nature walks,” she says, continuing, “In addition, I got a chance to interact with people who were familiar with wildlife issues.”
Ajarova grew up in Nebbi District in north eastern Uganda. The visits to the game parks were courtesy of her parents and the respective schools she attended. She later had got an opportunity to travel to Italy for an all-expenses-paid youth conference during her Senior Six vacation. She attended Angal Girls Primary School in Nebbi, Warr Girls Secondary School for O Level, Mvara Secondary School for A Level. She pursued a Bachelor of Arts degree in Social Sciences in 1991 at Makerere University.
During her time at university, Ajarova was lucky to get part-time employment at Botanical Beach Hotel (now Imperial Botanical Beach Hotel) where she had a stint in different departments including working as a housekeeper, accountant and receptionist.
Eventually after graduating in 1994, she got a scholarship to study a post graduate diploma ( from 1995 to 1996) at the International Tourism Management (ITM) College in Austria. Awaiting her graduation, Ajarova took up internship placements at Sheraton Kampala Hotel and Delmira Tours and Travel. At the former, taking up different tasks in the food and beverages section, housekeeping and the reception desk while at the latter as a tour manager. After graduation she got a job at Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) as the tourism development manager.
“My job jurisdiction, among other things, included getting the gorilla tourism sector developed and marketed. This included developing guidelines, training the guides, setting the rules and the system for selling gorilla permits to the tour operators,” she says.
In addition, she was required to attend the international tourism trade fairs to market Uganda and work with researchers to find out what key things make a great experience for tourists in national parks.
In 2005 she was appointed executive director at Ngamba Island Chimpanzee Sanctuary. She has held the position for 12 years.
Challenges in the tourism career
Ajarova’s work is incorporated with a lot of field work. “Like the time I was working at UWA, I was starting my family. You cannot imagine that there were times I had to go mountain climbing while pregnant. Then, eventually, when I had children, there were occasions I would go with them even to the middle of a forest. It was not pleasant,” she says.
Ajarova, who is currently in her 40s, says she will never forget the time she enrolled for a Masters in Business Administration at Eastern and Southern African Management Institute (ESAMI) while pregnant with her third child. This was in 2002.
“Besides having a full-time job and two children and a husband to look after, I had to dedicate two weeks-straight on, every three months for lectures. The classes were taught between Arusha, Nairobi and Kampala, so, you can imagine the movements I had to make.”
Although things were hectic, Ajarova found a way to juggle family, work and school. The children are now 20, 17 and 14 years respectively.
Her recommendations for tourism
For the tourism industry to thrive exceptionally well, Ajarova notes that the customer care aspect in the hotel business needs to be professionalised. “The hotel business needs to train its workers ranging from receptionists, waiters and waitresses,” Ajarova emphasises. She believes diversification in wildlife and reviving Uganda Airlines would also boost in marketing the tourism industry.
“Emphasis should also be put on players sin the industry learning international languages, such as, French, Spanish and German,” she says, adding, “This is ideal for better service provision.”