Govt to close all unlicensed hotels

A hotel assistant helps a guest around his room. Unaccredited hotels and accommodation facilities face closure as the government moves to crackdown on those without licenses issued by the Uganda Tourism Board. PHOTO | EDGAR R. BATTE

What you need to know:

  • In a notice issued yesterday, unlicensed facilities have been give 14 days to register and obtain valid licenses.

Unaccredited hotels and accommodation facilities face closure as the government moves to crack down on those without licences issued by the Uganda Tourism Board (UTB). 

In the closure notice issued yesterday, UTB gave all unlicensed facilities 14 days to register and obtain valid licenses and cited Sections 13 and 14 of the Uganda Tourism Act 2008, which bans unlicensed accommodation or other designated tourist facilities. The law empowers UTB to enforce tourism standards, and shut down any tourism enterprises that operate without a valid licence.

Hoteliers who spoke to Daily Monitor last evening welcomed the crackdown on errant facilities as a step in the right direction. The notice targets proprietors of all unlicensed tourism facilities and services; accommodation establishments, restaurants, tour companies, tour guides, tour and travel companies, travel agency providers operating in the country.

“A person who contravenes [section 13 and 14] commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding forty-eight currency points or imprisonment not exceeding 2 years or both. This is, therefore, to call upon all unlicensed facilities to register and obtain a license from the UTB before operation within 14 days of notice,” the UTB statement says. 

PPDA warning 

Working closely with the UTB, the Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Assets Authority (PPDA) last year issued a circular to all government ministries, departments, and agencies (MDAs) warning them against dealing with unlicensed accommodation facilities.

The July 2023 circular signed by Dr Aloysius Byaruhanga Mwesigwa on behalf of the executive director of PPDA indicated that all government entities that procure hotel and accommodation services must ensure that the facilities present UTB licence as part of the preliminary list of bid documents submitted.

Dr Byaruhanga said all the procuring entities must comply with the new guideline while procuring hotel and accommodation services and reiterated that the requirement was by section 13(1) of the Tourism Act, 2008. 

“Therefore, this is to advise all Procuring and Disposing Entities to always include the UTB Tourism License as part of the documentary evidence for eligibility of the bidder when procuring hotel services. Requests for further guidance on this circular should be addressed to the Executive Director of the Authority,” Dr Byaruhanga said.

Mr Gesa John Simplicious, the spokesperson of UTB, said he was out of office but promised to send a response to the issues raised by the tour operators.  However, by press time yesterday, he had not responded.

Tourism players speak out

Ms Jean Byamugisha, the executive director of the Uganda Hotel Owners’ Association (UHOA), yesterday told Daily Monitor that the move will help both the government and hoteliers do business in a friendly environment. 

“It is great that the government does business in a regularised way by making sure that all those people who want to get benefits from the government are also supporting the government, they are duly registered, and we know where their address is. They are paying their taxes and they are [positively] contributing to society,” Ms Byamugisha said. 

She revealed that while the government is coming up with the directive at this time, for long, UHOA has been working with PPDA and continues to issue certificates to its members to confirm that the 436 facilities are registered with the association and have known addresses and standards, which all members must adhere to. 

“This has helped us in taking note of the hotels doing business with the government, but most importantly it also gives the government protection in that by the time a hotel carries a certificate from the Hotel Owners Association, it has an address, it has directors, it has got a TIN and it is duly registered,” she said.

Mr Herbert Byaruhanga, the president of Uganda Tourism Association, said: “This is something we have been telling our members to do. For you to account to the people who visit your facility, you must comply with the standards and get a licence. We cannot enforce standards without being licensed.” 

Civy Tumusiime, the chairperson of the Association of Uganda Tour Operators, also told this publication that the association only admits members who are fully licensed by the regulator and reiterated the internal challenges that UTB needs to address. 

She said several entities have applied to be licensed, but have never been issued the licence because UTB has its problems.

“How can you enforce such directives when you have not fully licenced all the entities? For a fact, some people and businesses have applied for licensing but UTB has failed to issue them licences up to this time. They need to also clean their internal issues,” she said.