It is estimated that Uganda was expected to lose about one million incoming foreign tourists owing to the closure of Entebbe International Airport. The United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO)noted that travel restrictions and border shutdowns were likely to see international tourist arrival decline by between 58 and 78 per cent globally.
The Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities, Doreen S. Katusiime, observed that by the end of June 2020, the pandemic had brought international travel to an abrupt halt and significantly impacted the tourism industry.
Her observations were captured in the ‘Impact of COVID-19 on Tourism Businesses in Uganda’ report released by the ministry which detailed how hard hit the lucrative sector was with a sharp drop in demand and a surge in job losses at national, regional and global level, putting many SMEs at risk.
Covid-19 broke out in December 2019 and led to a national lockdown March 2020, including the closure of Entebbe International Airport. Three year on, efforts to track the recovery of the tourism sector are being undertaken.
Uganda Tourism Association (UTA), an umbrella organisation that brings together all tourism associations in Uganda, introduced the COVID-19 Economic Recovery and Resilience Response Program (CERRRP) supported by the Private Sector Foundation of Uganda (PSFU) for entities in the tourism sector.
Richard Kawere, the project’s coordinator said that the beneficiaries of the project were to be picked, focusing on the sector’s value chain using the different trade associations that comprise UTA.
UTA’s president, Herbert Byaruhanga says that one way Uganda’s tourism sector can recover would be government coming to the realization that the sector is a hanging fruit by exploiting the generosity of Mountain Gorillas, birds, mountains, rivers
“Setting standards for all occupations will keep us ahead of others,” Byaruhanga adds. Tours and travel operator, Yvonne Hilgendorf says that the recovery is promising with many many inquiries and bookings coming from German speaking countries. “…and usually, it is the Best of Uganda Tour 10 to 14 Days,” the CEO of Manya Africa Tours says, adding that the news of the budget cuts by the government towards the tourism sector is a step backwards and outright frustration.
In a rejoinder, Jean Byamugisha, Executive Director of Uganda Hotel Owners Association says that the budget cuts is a cause for concern because for Uganda to reap from tourism it requires government investment in terms of a big budget for constant and consistent marketing campaigns in our destination countries.
She explains, “An industry that contributes $1.6BN deserves commensurate facilitation to continue growing and contributing more to the economy. The tourism sector is still in recovery taking a few steps back every time. We are hit with bad news in the country notably the recent Ebola outbreak which has since triumphantly been handled.”
To fast track tourism, there is a need for increased marketing and Public Relations (P.R) budget for the tourism sector, review of the tax regime to ensure more local investment in the sector, for example hotels pay 25 different types of taxes and licenses which makes it one of the most taxed sectors in the country.
Byamugisha also recommends need for access to training and capacity building programs to discourage over reliance on expatriate manpower, a credit line for investors to borrow money for investment in the sector esp for confirmation and renovation of existing facilities and prioritisation of tourism roads in key destination areas especially the access to the gorillas which are our key tourism product.
According to Simplicious Gessa, Public Relations Officer (PRO) of Uganda Tourism Board (UTB), the agency in charge of marketing Destination Uganda, is focused on entrenching the roll out the Explore Uganda – The Pearl of Africa brand in all its source markets.
“The brand promises a lifetime adventure to guests that explore the country. The brand is positioning Uganda as a competitive destination that offers a lifetime experience to our guests. The institution is working with all partners, hoteliers, tour operators and stakeholders to prepare our guests for an all-round experience as a stand out of our brand,” Gessa explains.
He adds, “As we promise people locally and internationally of an exceptional adventure, focus should not only be on tourist sites and attractions. It should begin from the Airport to hotels where they’ll stay, transportation to sites to have a holistic experience.”
Byaruhanga says that Uganda would do well through increasing its visibility in the major tourist source markets as a must-do, something Gessa says is high on their agenda, adding that UTB is aggressively highlighting destination Uganda through participating in International Exhibitions like World Travel Market London, ITB Berlin Fair as well as regional expos for the marketing mileage in source markets.
Domestically, the institution hosts the Pearl of Africa Expo. UTB’s PRO says the annual event slated for April this year will increase numbers of both domestic and international visitation.
“POATE is key in showcasing Uganda in the foreign markets because hosted buyers are brought in the country to meet tour operators and partners involved in the tourism value chain. A lot of engagement has been done with tourism partners and stakeholders involved in initiatives that market the country.”
Gessa adds, “We have undertaken digital marketing and content development to reach out to the online market about our destination brand. We are creating fresh and attractive content as well as taking high resolution pictures to sell destination Uganda both locally and internationally. The digital online interface is ongoing through online engagements that offer timely responses to issues posted digitally. The platform has offered a lot of visibility of our brand on Social Media Platforms like Facebook, twitter, instagram where a great number of following has been observed.”
He also discloses that UTB is setting up a Digital hub where several marketing initiatives will be consolidated into one center as well as establish databases for content sharing housed within Market Destination Representatives (MDRs) that UTB commissions to market the country.