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By Titus Kakembo                                         

The COVID-19 lockdown was a blessing in disguise for the tourism industry in Uganda. The number of mammals, primates and birds increased in record time. When the lockdown was partially lifted, domestic tourism numbers began going up.

Uganda Tourism Board (UTB) deputy CEO Ochieng Bradford says the lockdown made Ugandans appreciate what is in their backyard.  

“Post COVID-19, travellers will steer clear of crowds,” predicts Ochieng. “This is evident given the inquiries and bookings of gorilla permits and national parks being received on a daily basis.”

Uganda Hotel Owners Association UHOA) boss Jean Byamugisha says many tourism industries have been affected by COVID-19 and they have communicated with the Government on what can be done.

“Some high-end hotels were due to open up branches in Uganda, but the lockdown affected their enterprises,” laments Byamugisha. “But for those that had already started construction – there was no stopping them.”

She adds that given the way Uganda has handled pandemics, COVID-19 will not cripple the economy.

“What is being done is vaccinating and adhering to the SOPs. We need to recover and shoot higher than where we were before the pandemic.”

Byamugisha counts the trademarks of international repute and domestic brands that continue to invest in the industry. She cautions UHOA members that the business landscape will not be the same again as most of the bookings, inquiries and payments are being done online.

“A new hotel is expected this year,” starts Byamugisha. “This makes it the global brand’s fifth facility in Uganda. It comes on the heels of Naguru Skyz Hotel, Sheraton Kampala Hotel, Protea Hotel by Marriott Entebbe and Protea Hotel Marriott Kampala.”

Uganda Wildlife Authority executive director Sam Mwandha says given a better infrastructure, it has never been as easy as it is to access the nine parks spread across the country.

“Out of the visitors destined to tourism attractions, 61.4% are from the East African region, 20% are non-resident and 10% are foreign residents.”

Talking to other players in the industry was a revelation of what makes Uganda attractive to visitors. Tour Guides Forum of Uganda’s John Mwere says their professionalism eases one’s trip.

“During the lockdown, guides were equipping themselves with knowledge about different fields of operation,” reveals Mwere. “They are improving their communication skills, mastering languages and how to make a client ask for some more.”

A bird guide, Herbert Byaruhanga, says inquiries from birders based in the US, Australia and India are on the rise.

“This follows a concerted display of Africa’s most sought after species, the Shoebill found in Mabamba and Queen Elizabeth National Park,” says Byaruhanga. “They are aware birding comes with bonuses like mammals, reptiles and primates.”

Tourists from the US confess that a trip away from home will in future be longer than the four to seven days they used to have.

“Given good accommodation, food, wine and attractions,” confided Hannah Bushet from the US. “An American will not mind how much a room, food or beer costs. They will simply ask for some more.”

Other EAC tourists say they love Uganda for the street food, culture similarity, party atmosphere 24/7 and adventure in Jinja.

“Those music launches, Blanket’s and Wine, Goat Races, Diwali and Kwanjula are attractions,” confides Joseph Kamau from Kenya. “The different tribes of Changa (gins) make Uganda heaven on earth.”

Ndere Troupe was a crowd puller for culture tourists.
Photo by Titus Kakembo



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