Tourism sector suffers another blow

Tourists admire Sipi Falls and the scenic Kapchorwa.

What you need to know:

  • Most of the cases were detected around the epicentre of the outbreak, with scares in other parts of the country.

The number of tourists cancelling their visits has increased following the outbreak of Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) in the country last week, the Uganda Tour Operators Association has revealed.

The revelation came yesterday during the Tourism Day celebration in Kampala, themed “rethinking tourism” in Uganda. Many of the tour operators who talked to this newspaper also confirmed the development. 

Ms Nancy Okwong, the spokesperson for the association, without giving numbers, told this publication that some tourists had been forced to postpone their travel programmes, while others have cancelled their bookings.

“Some companies have witnessed cancellation of bookings but the agility to travel is still high because intending travellers are constantly seeking reassurance that it is safe to travel,” Ms Okwong said yesterday in a telephone interview.

Ms Jean Byamugisha, the chief executive officer of the Uganda Hotel Owners Association, told this newspaper that in a bid to reassure the tourists, tour operators and hotel owners are updating their websites with information on how to prevent the spread of Ebola.

However, at the same event, sector players urged the government to ensure tourism is funded to bolster the economy.

But Tourism minister Tom Butime downplayed the number of Ebola cases, indicating that the country will “shake off” the pandemic. 

“The cases we have, can they cause a crisis? The tourists who come here book three, four and five months ahead. So we should not scare away tourists,” Mr Butime said on the sidelines of the celebrations.

He added: “The Covid-19 brought us down, Ebola should not bring us down again. So, please, [the media should] tone down the prominence of the Ebola story so that tourists who intend to come to Uganda in another four or six months, do not cancel their bookings because this Ebola will be contained.”

Last week, this publication broke the story of the EVD outbreak in Mubende District. This followed a Ministry of Health confirmation of a 28-year-old man who tested positive for the virus and later succumbed to the disease on the same day.

The number of Ebola-related deaths had, as of Monday, stood at 23, with five confirmed and 18 probable.

Most of the cases were detected around the epicentre of the outbreak, with scares in other parts of the country.

During the Covid-19 pandemic between 2020 and 2021, more than 90 percent of the tourists cancelled their flights as most of the countries announced total lockdown as a way to prevent the spread of the disease.

Minister Butime indicated that their financial year budget had been slashed by the Ministry of Finance, which affects their programmes and activities to improve the sector.

“We don’t want to start a quarrel with the Ministry of Finance, but we shall continue to negotiate with them and we hope that even a supplementary can assist and that cut can be reinstated so that we continue working as a sector and continue marketing the tourism sector,” Mr Butime said.

A budget framework paper seen by this publication indicated that the Tourism budget for 2022/2023 financial year had been slashed to Shs178b from Shs197b. 

Mr Francis Mwijukye, the shadow minister for Tourism, said “if the government wants to benefit from the sector, they should allocate more money to it because the more they inject in it, the more they earn.”

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