Government has said that Uganda’s tourism earnings dropped by 73% to shs4.1 trillion (US$0.5bn) due to the Coronavirus pandemic.
Uganda earned $1.6b (about Shs5. 8 trillion) from tourism in 2019 to make the sector the leading foreign exchange earner then.
However, following the onset of the deadly virus and its effects like the lockdown, several entry points to Uganda including the airports and the borders were closed for many months last year.
The game parks and other tourist sites were also closed to the public for fear of the spread of the virus.
Addressing journalists on Thursday, the Ministry of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities Permanent Secretary, Doreen Katusiime said the pandemic had devastating effects on the tourism industry worth to note.
“Foreign visitors dropped by 69.3% to 473,085 whereas employment opportunities dropped by 70% to 160,980 and as of June 2020, the hotel occupancy rates dropped from an average 58% to as low as 5% with over 75% of hotel bookings cancelled, causing a direct loss of US$320.8million which is an equivalent of shs1.19 trillion,”Katusiime said.
The pandemic and its resultant lockdown saw many visitors cancel their bookings whereas many people in the tourism sector lost the jobs.
Ray of hope
Following the gradual easing of the lockdown and reopening of the airport last year, tourism has been slowly been picking up.
The game parks and other tourism sites that had been closed over the pandemic have also since been reopened but with Standard Operating Procedures to be followed.
The Ministry of Tourism Permanent Secretary said this has seen signs of recovery of the tourism sector in the past few months.
“Overall tourist bookings have tripled by the first quarter of 2021 increasing from 27542bookings recorded by the end of August 2020 to 83464 by the end of March 2021 whereas foreign tourist bookings increased faster, growing fourfold between August 2020 and March 2021,” the Ministry of Tourism official said.
She noted that daily flights also went up at Entebbe Airport and foreigners visiting Uganda’s national parks has doubled in the past few months after easing of the lockdown.
The Uganda Tourism Board last month organized the first ever virtual tourism expo in the region dubbed the Pearl of Africa Tourism Expo (POATE) as one of the ways to restart tourism.
Statistics released by UTB indicated that the expo attracted over 2000 participants whereas the number of exhibitors also increased by 192% and hosted buyers moved from 50 in 2020 to 438.
More than 70% of the hosted buyers were from Uganda’s key and emerging markets including USA, China, UK, Germany, Netherlands, Japan, Canada, Switzerland, Austria and India.
“The great results from this POATE are a testimony that in the coming days, we will each have to get out of our comfort zones, venture into the sometimes unknown, to accelerate our recovery. The road to recovery will be full of the unknown. As the government and the private sector, we need to keep supporting each other all the way,” said Daudi Migereko, the UTB board chairman.
According to the Ministry of Tourism Permanent Secretary, government is ready to consolidate these gains through domestic tourism awareness drives and other efforts to market the country abroad as a tourism potential as well as enforcement and compliance to tourism industry standards by local facilities.
“We are determined to aggressively promote and market Uganda, expand our tourism product range, improve skills along the tourism value chain, improve support infrastructure and facilities, strengthen conservation of natural and cultural heritage as well as sector regulation, Doreen Katusiime said.