Tourism sector players decry booking cancellations

Queen Elizabeth National Park. The executive director of the Uganda Wild Life Authority (UWA), Mr Sam Mwandha, has assured local and international tourists that Queen Elizabeth National Park is safe for visitors. Photo | File

A section of tourism industry players have raised concern over the recent cancellation of bookings by tourists.
This follows last week’s brutal killing of two foreign tourists and their Ugandan guide in the Queen Elizabeth National Park at Nyamunuka on the Katwe-Katunguru Road in Kasese District by suspected Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) rebels. The vehicle that the trio was travelling in on was set on fire.

Industry players say they have suffered a huge setback as a result of this attack.
Mr Godfrey Byaruhanga, the managing director of Kagando Friends Rangers Limited in Kisinga Town Council, says they have so far cancelled three of their bookings for the months of October and November.

“We count a loss of $300 (Shs1.1m) for the three cancelled bookings. We charge $100 (Shs372,000) per trip; therefore, the cancellations mean a loss to both us as a company and the government,” Byaruhanga says.
Mr Benon Isuka, the chief executive officer at Rwenzori Mountaineering Services (RMS), says: “It is very unfortunate that the incident happened. As tour operators, we are now being affected because some of our clients have cancelled their bookings.”

He adds: “So far, three bookings for six clients have been cancelled, including for one client who had already deposited $1,600 (Shs6 million) and he is now asking for a refund.”
Isuka says the six clients would have paid in total of $7,600 (Shs28.3m) to cater for accommodation in the park, meals, transport, mountain climbing and guides, among others.
“Every group of two tourists is supported by 10 people, especially the potters and guides. That means about 30 people, who would have been the direct beneficiaries of these trips, have been affected,” Isuka adds.
Mr William Bwambale, a tour guide, says one of his clients, who was set to visit the country in January, has cancelled the booking while three others are now having doubts about coming.

 “This incident has caused fear, especially among tourists who have not been to the country before. The tourists are now saying they will observe the security of the country in the next two months and then take a decision,” he says.
He adds: “I have assured them that business is normal in the country but also in Queen Elizabeth National Park particularly. I am telling them that what happened here has happened in other countries as well and that, that does not necessarily mean that the country is insecure.”
Mr Robert Centenary, the managing director of Rwefuma Safaris, says although he did not register any cancellations, the incident has created scepticism about the security of the country. 

“Right now when potential clients are making inquiries, on the end note they ask if it is safe for someone to come to Uganda. That means that tourists want to be sure that they are safe when they travel to the country,” he says.
Mr Centenary, a former Kasese Municipality Member of Parliament, urged the government to beef up security in the national parks since tourism is Uganda’s biggest foreign exchange earner.

“Queen Elizabeth is the second largest park in the country bringing in a lot of resources in the form of foreign exchange. If the security in the park is compromised, then the entire tourism sector will be heavily affected,” he says. 
Efforts to get a comment on the matter from the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) were futile by press time. 
However, last Friday, Mr Sam Mwandha, the executive director of UWA, said the Queen Elizabeth Conservation Area, which comprises the national park and Mt Rwenzori National Park, is safe. 

Mwandha revealed that the wildlife body had engaged other security agencies to ensure protection for all guests within the country.
“We have held several meetings with various security agencies that are in the region including Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF), Uganda Police Force, Kasese Resident District Commissioner, and UWA staff and we have developed a programme that will ensure all our guests are safe,” he said.

About kasese tourism
In 2019, the Kasese District Council passed a motion designating Kasese as a tourism district. The area is home to water bodies such as lakes Edward, George, Katwe and Kasenyi, the Kazinga Channel, as well as other tourist destinations such as the Queen Elizabeth National Park and Mt Rwenzori, among others. 

The district is also about 70 kilometres away from the Fort Portal City. 
Last month, Kasese hosted the Rwenzori Theluji Festival, an annual event aimed at showcasing the district’s untapped tourism potential. 
Five of Africa’s seven tallest points seat on the Rwenzori Mountain. 

Additional reporting by Moureen Biira