The tourism industry, which is one of Uganda’s top forex earner, is engulfed in a web of disputes which have culminated into threats of strikes and other expressions of disharmony.
It all started more than six months ago when Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) moved to introduce a system which would avail online gorilla permits for public viewing and purchasing.
The tour operators came out strongly against the move and since then, both parties have been entangled in a series of accusations and counter accusations.
UWA claims they have been making annual losses of about Shs20 billion due to what they call “under-selling” of gorilla permits and they believe that the new system will not only help make it easier for tourists to purchase the permits, but it will also double the sales.
“In today’s world, the most convenient and effective way of doing business is online,” said Dr Andrew Seguya, the Executive Director UWA.
“I don’t understand why a tour operator would prefer running up and down looking for gorilla permits when actually they can easily get one on the internet. Gorilla permits online also means that a tourist anywhere in the world can be able to see and buy the permit any time even if it is bedtime in Uganda,” Dr Seguya said.
The tour operators, on the other hand, argue that the system gives no protection to the indigenous businesses and therefore it’s unfeasible for the Uganda tour operators.
“If tourists can see and access the permits online, it means tour operators in Uganda will become unwanted and therefore redundant,” argued Herbert Byaruhanga, the president Uganda Tourism Association (UTA).
“UWA has never made a loss on gorilla permits like they claim. We sell more than 100 per cent during peak seasons but we all know every business has low and peak seasons. That can’t change regardless,” Byaruhanga said.
He added: “The gorilla permit is the bait on a package a tour operator gives a tourist so we cannot just watch as someone tries to jeopardise our business. UWA should stick to conservation. We have been using our little resources as private sector to market this country. Is this is how they repay us?”
The cold war turned hot a few weeks ago when two newspapers ran a story suggesting that Dr Seguya had accused the minister of Tourism, Ms Maria Mutagamba, of conniving with tour operators to fail the online gorilla scheme. Consequently, tour operators converged at their offices in Kololo last week and responded with fury.
They even carried placards, some with provocative statements directed at Dr Seguya and threatened to hit the streets if necessary.
There have also been accusations that Dr Seguya has personal interest in the gorilla permit scheme, something he has vehemently denied.
In fact, there was a meeting at the Uganda Museum where one of the tour operators said he has proof that Dr Seguya overruled the decision of the contracts committee at UWA to re-instate a company which had been rejected in the bid to supply the online system.
In response, Dr Seguya warned the tour operator of the legal consequences if he continues to falsely accuse him.