Before it was rudely interrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic, Uganda’s tourism industry, was one of the fastest growing sectors, contributing about USD2.5 billion, an equivalent of USD5.9% in GDP.
But back in the 1990s, there was very little about the tourism industry to talk about, beyond its sheer potential. Some of the successes that we see today, rest on the shoulders of ballsy private-sector trailblazers such as Eugenie Nsubuga Windt, the Founder and Managing Director of Swanair Travel & Safaris Limited.
Founded in 1993, Swanair Travel & Safaris is one of the oldest and surviving travel management companies in Uganda. For the last 30 years, the company has been offering a series of travel management solutions such as flight and hotel bookings as well as the associated travel insurance and in their own words, is known for “offering the shortest response time in this industry segment” and “providing clients with competitive, accurate, and comprehensive” solutions.
The company also boasts of sustainable travel solutions offering clients “eco-friendly travel options, such as hybrid and electric rental cars and hotels that prioritise sustainability”.
Such has been Swanair’s reputation that since 2002, the company has been a member and certified local partner of the CWT Global Partners.
CWT, formerly Carlson Wagonlit Travel, is one of the leaders in global travel management companies with a range of business travel, meetings, incentives, conferencing and exhibitions management solutions and has a presence in over 140 countries. By being part of CWT, Swanair clients can dependably benefit from CWT’s over 150 years’ travel management legacy, across 140 countries, 25,000+ destinations and over 140,000 unique properties, as well as array of solutions.
Born in Uganda to a Dutch father and Ugandan mother, a teenage Eugenie left Uganda for the Netherlands with her parents who were escaping the then Ugandan President, Idi Amin’s political insecurity of the 1970s. After college in the Netherlands, she found work in the Liberian embassy in the Netherlands. Her desire to be back in Africa combined with her hardworking skills, saw her eventually get a job in the Liberian finance ministry as a Junior Assistant to the then Finance Minister, Stephen Tolbert. Following the subsequent death of her boss in a plane crash in 1975, Eugenie, on the advice of her father left Liberia, shortly before the nation was engulfed in the political instability that ensued after the overthrow and assassination of President William Richard Tolbert Jr. by Seargent Samuel Doe’s Armed Forces of Liberia in 1980.
After leaving Liberia, she joined her father, who by this time had moved to Kenya. After a short break, she got a job as a hostess in the now defunct Africa Safaris Airways⏤ a tourist charter company based in Mombasa, that also flew to Switzerland, Germany and Austria. She eventually left the airline and started working for an insurance company called America Life.
She would later return to Uganda the land of her birth in 1990 and landed a job with Silver Springs Hotel in Bugolobi, a Kampala suburb. In 1993, an opportunity availed itself to start Swanair Travel and Safari company with a friend who ran Swanair Travel in Kenya.
Largely depending on her savings to build the company from near-scratch, she, in a 2017 interview with The Daily Monitor, a daily newspaper in Uganda, told of how she eventually had to sell her house in Kenya and relocate with her children to Uganda. She would also use some of the proceeds from the property sale to buy office premises at which her Swanair Office is presently located, on 33 Luthuli Avenue, in Bugolobi.
“That helped a lot because I didn’t have to pay rent. All I had to do was make sure there was food on the table,” she told Daily Monitor.
Business grew and prospered and in her words, “gave birth to Lakeside Adventure Park”, a resort and leisure park in Mukono District on the shores of Lake Victoria, Africa’s largest freshwater lake.
A well-respected industry thought leader, Eugenie has used her three-decade tourism and hospitality experience as well as industry leadership to mentor, guide, inspire and influence other players in and outside the tourism industry. Amongst some of the key leadership positions held in the industry, she is the current Vice President of the Confederation of Uganda Tourism Associations (COUTA), an umbrella industry association that brings together all tourism associations in Uganda. COUTA was formerly known as the Uganda Tourism Association (UTA). She is also the Board Chairperson of the Netherlands Uganda Trade and Investment Platform (NUTIP), a Ugandan association that harnesses the economic power of cooperation between Dutch and Ugandan entrepreneurs.
Thanks to her dependability, hard work and consistency, Swanair is one of the most respected and leading travel management companies in Uganda. The company in 2022 scooped the Uganda’s Leading Travel Management Company accolade in the World Travel Awards, 2022. They have also been previously nominated in the 2020 and 2021 editions and were once again nominated in this year’s edition.
“I have always been self-driven and a result-oriented person,” she described her approach to work, in the Daily Monitor interview, adding: “When I decide to do something, I like to see it to the end. I don’t stop halfway. I am very persistent and consistent.”