UTB pushes for direct flights to tourism sites

A gorilla cuddles and its infant at Bwindi National Park. Uganda Tourism Board wants international tourists to fly directly to tourism sites. PHOTO/FILE

What you need to know:

  • Experts say Uganda has the biggest population of mountain gorillas, but the country has failed to make much revenue because of long distances and bad roads to tourism sites.

The Uganda Tourism Board (UTB) is in discussions with the Immigration department to allow international tourists to fly directly to tourism sites.

UTB, which is mandated to market the country beyond its borders, said the move will save time and money for tourists and make it easier for them to transit. Currently, all international arrivals must first touch down at Entebbe International Airport to be cleared to enter the country, before proceeding to their destinations.

Ms Lilly Ajarova, the chief executive Officer of UTB, said the new arrangement if given a green light, will allow tourists to reach their destinations faster and more conveniently. 

Ms Ajarova also added that she has received complaints, especially from regional tour operators who say the delays costs them a lot of time and money.

“International tourism trend has changed, people want to spend little time or the time they spend in exploring as much as possible.  Our air connectivity is a big challenge. If we are really going to make big strides in increasing arrival numbers in this country and increase tourism earnings, then the air connectivity is very important,” Ajarova said.

He said while Uganda has the biggest population of mountain gorillas and the rates are cheaper, the country has failed to make much revenue out of it because of long distances and bad roads to reach the tourism sites.

“We are losing a lot of revenue from our Gorilla trekking. For all these years we have been earning in Gorilla tracking, we have never reached 100 percent occupancy where we sell all our Gorilla permits. Our rates are half the rates of our competitors and the major reason is that we don’t have direct flight to Bwindi or to Kisoro. Everyone has to go through Entebbe before they can take local chartered flights,” she said.

Uganda’s international tourism numbers have continued to recover to the pre-Covid-19 level of 1.5 million arrivals through Entebbe International Airport.

The country’s only international airport recorded a total of 842,429 international passengers (413,223 arrivals and 429,206 departures) in the first part of the year from January to June 2023.

The figures reflect 134,679 more passengers than was registered in the same period of January to June 2022 which recorded a total of 707,750 international passengers (326,384 arrivals and 381,366 departures).

The January to June 2023 traffic is also higher than that recorded before the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic in the same period of January to June 2019, which registered 836,472 international passengers (405,458 arrivals and 431,014 departures).

According to data from UCAA, in 2019, the airport safely facilitated 32,798 aircraft movements. The number reduced to 14,421 in 2020, because of Covid-19lockdown, increasing to 21,584 in 2021 and 28,985 aircraft movements in 2022.

Ms Ajarova said while the figures are steadily recovering, the immigration department must move out of its comfort zone to extend visitor clearance to other aerodromes so that tourists can directly fly to such destinations and get cleared there.

“Currently we have a very big issue because the tourists first have to fly to Entebbe, get cleared, and then again head back to board local chartered flights to these destinations which wastes time and is more costly,” she said.

Regional view
Mr Herbert Byaruhanga, the chairperson of Uganda Tourism Association, said they have been crying out to the government to open up facilities so that tourists can land anywhere in the country and get cleared at their points of entry, but not only limited to Entebbe Airport.

“Why do we have to struggle to get clearance? Make the whole of East Africa local and allow people to fly visitors from Kenya, or Tanzania or any other country in the region directly so that more numbers can come in,” he said.