As a boy, David Ssemwogerere dreamt of becoming a community development officer. The 40-year-old owner of Elite Backpackers says that although being in the hotel and tourism sector was not his main goal, it still helps him achieve a major goal in life: to support his family financially.
Ssemwogerere says starting Elite Backpackers at Bwala Hill in Masaka Municipality was a fulfillment of one of his life’s dreams.
He is also the founder of Suubi Community Health Centre and Suubi Secondary School, both located in his home village of Lubanda in Kisekka Sub-county, Lwengo District.
Ssemwogerere grew up in Lubanda village, Lwengo District in a family of 12 has beaten many odds to be the business owner that he is today.
His parents survived on subsistence farming, menial jobs, but instead of this bringing him down, it only motivated him to work harder.
When times got tough and his parents were unable to provide food and clothing, Ssemwogerere turned to prayers for comfort. This is how he started working at an early age. “I started working hard as early as 10,” he recalls.
The dream is born
Ssemwogerere’s dream to start a safari business was born in Lwengo. Managing trips for many travellers and friends compelled him to find a way to earn from the new found hobby.
He started off in early 2000s by guiding several tourists in the greater Masaka.
When the same tourists asked him to help them organise a second trip to other popular tourist attraction sites in western Uganda, the idea bore a business.
When he graduated from university, his only goal in life was to expand his small business. And so Elite Backpackers was born in 2014.
He registered the business by acquiring the necessary licenses and used some cash he had saved from farming, a loan from a friend and some cash from guiding tourists to setup a website.
He also opened an office and bought a laptop computor to help him with office management.
“I always had two life dreams,” he said while relaxing under a beautiful grass umbrella in the elegant compound of the tourist facility.
“My first life dream was community work trying my best to cause positive change in my home area comprising several villages and the second one was to promote tourism. After 15 years of community work, which brought me into close contact with many volunteers and travelers from overseas. My second life’s dream was awakened. Whenever they came to do voluntary work they needed accommodation and other services. They also made trips to different parts of the country and on many occasions I traveled with them which gave me an idea about the services they needed. That is how I came up with the idea of starting Elite Backpackers,” says Ssemwogerere.
“Besides accommodation and meals we have vehicles for hire and bicycles that they can use to go on safaris. Some of them come with their tents in which they sleep and we just provide them with space to set up the tents and perhaps the meals and toilet facilities,” he adds.
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He is quick to explain that tourism is not merely about people visiting national parks to see wild animals.
“It is a misconception that has got to be corrected. Many foreigners come to Uganda to see the way we live, the way we cook bananas, how we prepare our native beer, the way we carry out burials, how we do the last funeral rites, kwanjula, and some other cultural activities,” he explained.
“I call it community tourism. It is the reason we have so many bicycles here. Some travellers are university students and come to Uganda to conduct research. We do get some visitors here who just want to go and see life in our local villages and we provide them with bicycles for them to move about or they may just walk into the villages with a guide who also often acts as an interpreter,” he says.
Through his campus idea, Ssemwogerere has since achieved part of what was always his initial dream in life: help his siblings and parents have a better future.
True to his dream, Ssemwogerere says he is committed to helping his mother. He sponsored her campaigns during the just concluded LC 1 elections.
He also helps his siblings finance their small businesses whenever he can.
With the earnings from his business, Ssemwogerere has changed his life and has plans to inspire many others from Lwengo to become successful entrepreneurs.
He cites competition and marketing as the major challenges. “Competition from bigger companies is a big challenge to Elite Backpackers. However, we attract our customers with our affordable packages, friendly customer services, quality and incentives,” he adds.
Other challenges he continues to encounter is when prospective clients assume that holidays are a reserve of the rich.
“While many people assume it’s a costly affair to go on a holiday, our work at Elite Backpackers is to demystify the notion by offering affordable holiday packages available for either community tourism better known as domestic tourism or otherwise,” he explains.
Ssemwogerere’s dream for the next five years is to turn Elite Backpackers into a household name.
He also plans to employ more people and purchase assets that will help compete with the big safari companies.
Ssemwogerere plans on growing his tour business by opening several other branches all over the country.
Ssemwogerere, 40, holds a Masters Degree in Rural Development and a Bachelor’s in Development Studies.
He also holds a Diploma in Computer Science and Information Technology as well as a Post Graduate Diploma in Organisation and Development.
He has devoted his life to his home area community development where he has mobilised funds to put up the SUUBI Community Health Centre and SUUBI Secondary School.
He has travelled to Australia, Denmark, Sweden, German, South Africa and Thailand.