Tour operators risk closure over minimum standards

Saturday May 18 2019

The craft village at the national theatre. The

The craft village at the national theatre. The toilets at the facility are currently closed for maintenance to meet health requirements. 

By Eric Ntalubwa

The public conveniences have been out of action in the Crafts Village, located behind the National Theatre for months ago. The toilets are to be improved and upgraded after a tourism quality assurance report said they had a poor drainage system and were closed due to the potential health risks to the tourism service sector. In the same vein, authorities in Moroto Municipal Council closed more than 40 restaurants, bars and hotels operating in the municipality due to poor hygiene, warning that the next step will be arrest of landlords.
This exercise follows a retooling training of district health inspectors on the minimum standards for accommodation and restaurant facilities that kicked off in February ahead of hotel inspections scheduled by Uganda Tourism Board (UTB) for later this year.

The legal mandate
This exercise is part of UTB’s directive by the Tourism Act (2008) to promote Uganda as a preferred destination for both domestic and foreign tourists and to regulate the tourism industry through sensitisation, registration, inspection, monitoring and classification of tourism enterprises. Those eligible for licensing so far are tour operators, accommodation facilities, and tour guides along the tourism value chain.

The Quality Assurance Manager, Samora Ssemakula, further reveals that the law was gazetted in 2014 before the demise of Maria Mutagamba, the Tourism minister then, and since then till to date, the private sector players have not had licences. “This has created disorderliness and attracted a lot of quacks. We need to license in order to speak one voice that attracts more volumes of tourists and aims to meet and exceed customer expectations. This is our direction and we need to implement it,” he explains.

Licensing the hotel industry
In reference to accommodation facilities, Ssemakula says the tourism authority will continue to train district health officers in order to build their capacity to effectively inspect them in their districts. The Uganda Tourism (Registration and Licensing of Tourist Accommodation) Regulations, 2014 in section four stipulates that the board, or an authorised person, shall issue a licence to only a tourist accommodation that has been registered and the owner is in possession of a certificate of registration. The registration and inspection is one of the active measures being taken to regulate and improve the quality of hotel and tourist facilities in Uganda.

Farook Busuulwa, a tour operator and a board
Farook Busuulwa, a tour operator and a board member of the Association of Uganda Tour Operators (Auto), speaks to locals and leaders of Nyakatonzi community, neighbouring Queen Elizabeth National Park. Tour operators have specific requirements to fulfil or else they risk losing business. PHOTO BY EDGAR R. BATTE.

Through this process, UTB will be able to find out the number of establishments, rooms and beds available for domestic and foreign tourists in every district across Uganda. This registration process has already happened in some parts of the country.
“UTB concluded the registration and inspection of 578 facilities, 6,960 rooms and 7,606 beds in eastern Uganda and we are now cooperating with different district public health departments in the northern region. We intend to also build district inspectors’ capacity to effectively inspect accommodation facilities and promote tourism in the districts,” Ssemakula explains.

Minimum requirements for registration
Whether you have existed in business for the last 20 or 30 years, the quality assurance team leader says UTB has minimum requirements. This follows concerns that today everyone does as he or she wishes to entice the customer.
According to the Uganda Tourism Regulations, 2014, a tour operator means a person licensed to sell or offer for sale, tour packages either directly or through a third party. Some of the minimum requirements for tour operators are a registered company, a functional office, skilled and experienced staff, at-least two comprehensively insured vehicles registered in the company’s names, integrity of the company, and advertising.


Meanwhile, the tourist accommodation is any category of accommodation such as caravan, cottage, homestead, eco lodge, guesthouse, hotel, hostel, lodge, motel and requirements vary from occupational permit, trading licence, proper drainage in and around the premises, sewage disposal and treatment, vermin proofing, communication and security systems, hotel insurance, medical certificate of staff handling food, to name but a few.

The tour operators and guides are exempted from registration and licensing, whereas, the hoteliers are expected to part with Shs200,000 and Shs100,000 for registration and licensing respectively. “The licensing exercise is annual, but registration is done once. The law that was gazetted does not have a figure for the guides and so we are waiting for the line ministry to come up with a fee. For now, we are starting at zero cost,” explains Samora Ssemakula.

Private sector speaks out
Uganda Hotel Owners Association (UHOA) is absolutely not ready for licensing. According to the executive director Jean Byamugisha, they were in receipt of communication from UTB informing them of the commencement of the registration, however, there has been no sensitisation of the process and it has caused some confusion.
“We do support the idea of licensing of the hotels, however, we believe that a few steps are being skipped and this will cause some hindrances especially in regards to compliance. We believe the first step should be sensitisation of the hotels and share; criteria, requirements, time frame, costs, what happens to the hotel tax that we are already paying, what will the money collected from the licence benefit the hotels who are already overburdened with 18 different types of taxes and licence collected every year,” she argues. Byamugisha adds that some hotels think this is grading and classification which is not. However, they have gone ahead to register members who are ready to pilot the programme, but with so many questions still unanswered, Byamugisha is not sure how UTB will be able to carry out the licensing without a hitch.

The tour guides do not differ significantly. They demand for the sensitisation of guides before the whole process kicks off. Adrian Ddungu, a head guide at Pinnacle Africa Safaris, argues that it will prepare them for the mass exercise. “This can be done through organising several workshops and gather more suggestions from us. If effectively done, it will eliminate some bad characters in the guiding job,” he suggests. Ddungu further asks UTB to handle the activity in a harmonising manner and cautions against any guides association that may express interest in the training, examining and awarding process.
“Set papers for those in the working as tour guides to access their ability and efficiency, then grade them accordingly. Better still organize a refresher course to check them so that they can be able to deliver in a desirable manner,” he explains.

Mgahinga Gorilla National Park
Mgahinga Gorilla National Park

Strategies to license businesses
Uganda currently has more than 3000 facilities, but UTB cannot afford to have 300 officials to play a supervisory role in the country. It is against this background that the authority relies on collaborative strategies and effective partnerships with Uganda Tourism Association(UTA), Uganda Hotel Owners Association (UHOA), Hotel General Managers Association of Uganda (HOGMAU), KCCA, Uganda Revenue Authority, among others.

“We have worked with all town clerks, district health inspectors in northern Uganda and we continue to partner with more. In Kampala, we are ready to work with KCCA and the divisions because it is part of their mandate. We shall simply train them on the minimum requirements such that they understand exactly what they need to look out for,” says Ssemakula.
He also reveals that Uganda Tourism Board (UTB) intends to embark on regional investors workshops where they will meet the shareowners. “The investors who also yearn for knowledge will introduce us to the management teams and then engage with the lower end staff of the tourism facilities who interact with customers on a daily basis”.

Benefits of regulation

In a bid to improve Uganda’s competitiveness index in comparison with her neighbours, the Uganda Tourism Board Quality Assurance encourages the business arm of tourism to register and get licensed. This will improve the quality of service and facilities for tourism products in Uganda and encourages a tourist first approach to customer service.” It is important for us to increase customer confidence for tourism related products and services accredited. It also inculcates a culture that values quality tourism services as well as quality improvements in Uganda,” explains the team leader.

In Kenya, licensing is a deterrent to would-be unscrupulous businessmen since punitive measures are taken against those who contravene laws; Tourists handlers are expected to demonstrate high levels of professionalism and integrity which implies that only personnel are engaged in the industry; It is an endorsement for membership to industry associations and enables operators to get access to training and capacity building programmes by government agencies.