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Online gorilla trekking permits start as tour operators concede

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UWA board chairman Ben Otto (R) hands Wildlife Park Access system cards to Tourism minister Maria Mutagamba.

UWA board chairman Ben Otto (R) hands Wildlife Park Access system cards to Tourism minister Maria Mutagamba. PHOTO BY Martin Ssebuyira. 

By Martin Ssebuyira

Posted  Wednesday, January 8  2014 at  02:00

In Summary

Tour operators worried that online permit booking would put them out of business.

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Kampala

The misunderstanding between the Association of Uganda Tour Operators (Auto) and Uganda Wildlife Authority could come to an end after tour operators agreed to the terms for the online gorilla trekking permits that became functional on January 1.

The stalemate had prompted the Tourism minister Maria Mutagamba to suspend the system until tour operators wrote to Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) telling them to go ahead with the system.

“Following our executive board meeting last week, it was agreed that you go ahead and put gorilla permits online to be viewed only by locally registered tour operators,” Auto chairman Bonifence Byamukama wrote in a letter dated October 29. He however, said UWA should generate a code where sales will be reviewed after this financial year to check if the system is working well before rolling it out officially.

UWA in reply, said the system was beginning on January 1 and urged all intending tour operators to register with it to get necessary credentials to gain access to the system. “In consultation with the Hon Minister, Tourism Wildlife and Antiquities, we would like to inform you that implementation of the gorilla online permit system is scheduled to start effective January 1 2014,” Dr Andew Gunga Seguya, the executive director, UWA, said in a letter dated December 23 reference TD0108/01.

Tour operators concern
Tour operators were concerned that putting gorilla trekking permits online for booking could put them out of business because it exposes them to international competition, where foreign travel companies could directly buy gorilla permits from UWA instead of going through them.

Uganda Wildlife Authority, however, said the move was intended to increase the gorilla permit sales, which currently stand at 80 per cent compared to Rwanda that has sales of 90 per cent of its gorilla permits.

Mr Seguya argues that putting the gorillas online will be a great boost towards marketing them.
“I don’t want you to have fears of permits going online. It is the trend. If people out there have difficulty in accessing your services, they will opt for other options like Rwanda, Kenya and Tanzania,” he said in an earlier interview.

mssebuyira@ug.nationmedia.com