Rekindling tourism amidst COVID-19
The pandemic is still going on, nonetheless strategizing is paramount for the industry to bounce back stronger ...
By Beatrice Mujuni
If there is at least one thing I am sure every Ugandan is proud of, it is the beauty and uniqueness of our natural resources. But do we truly understand the value of these attractions beyond the marvel?
Uganda has grown to be among the top tourist destination in the world. The ‘Lonely Planet’ named Uganda as the number one travel destination back in 2012. In 2013, Uganda was still ranked in the top 20 tourist destinations by National Geographic. In 2019, CNN listed Uganda in the 25 most beautiful places in the world to visit.
In Africa, Uganda has consistently featured in the top 10 best tourist destinations for the past five years.
From the natural falls, crater lakes, hot springs, gorillas, bird species, forests, mountains, variety of wild animals, the unique terrain and so much many more, Uganda is no doubt the Pearl of Africa. One can literally plan over five different holidays within Uganda in order to traverse all the breathtaking sites and get a feel of the cultural heritage.
On the economic front, tourism is the largest foreign exchange earner in Uganda, statics from the financial year 2018/2019 indicate that Uganda earned 5.8 trillion shillings in tourism revenue from about 1,543 tourists that are reported to have entered the country in 2019. But the numbers spoke too soon, COVID-19 came along and hit this sector hard, in fact, globally tourism is reported to be the worst-hit sector due to the pandemic.
In 2020, the number of tourists that entered the country shrunk to a total of 473, according to the Uganda Bureau of Statistics. One of the main ways tourism contributes to the GDP is through employment, needless to say, a significant number of people working in the sector lost their jobs as a result of the pandemic.
An industry report by Statista indicates that as of 2020, 7.6 million people in the travel and tourism industry in Africa lost employment. It’s bad enough that the industry is affected in general, but to top it off, the livelihoods of all these people are now disrupted as well.
The pandemic is still going on, nonetheless strategizing is paramount for the industry to bounce back stronger. This can be done by drawing from the challenges that affected the sector even before the pandemic, such as; limited funding, poor infrastructure, lack of skilled labour, poaching, and encroachment, unlicenced tour and travel operators, and inadequate publicity.
There are certainly strides that the Government has undertaken to overcome these challenges, for instance, the Apprenticeship Programme that has been rolled out to foster skilling and placement of individuals in the sector.
However, more can be done to this effect in terms of sensitisation the public for mindset shifts towards work in this industry to make it more attractive to the labour market. We ought to appreciate that working in this industry boosts managerial, interpersonal and hands-on entrepreneurial skills that build life-long capacity of individuals.
The Government has also put in place stringent laws against poaching. The Wildlife Act, 2019 is a reflection on the value attached to wildlife conservation. The Act highlights a penalty of 20billion shillings or life imprisonment for an offence related to endangering wildlife. This law is definitely stronger than the previous law of 1996 and now the task remains on strict implementation of this law. On this note, continuous sensitisation of communities surrounding tourist attractions on the dangers of poaching and encroachment and the penalties attached is key in curbing this vice.
On the issue of funding, the 2021/2022 financial budget revealed sh177b allocated for tourism development which is a reduction of sh20.7b from the sh197b that was allocated in the financial year 2020/2021. Is this justifiable considering the effects the pandemic has had on the sector?
Infrastructural development has a huge bearing on the tourism industry, in most parts of the country, roads that lead to attractions are impassable especially during the rainy season. More still, in the case of safari lodges and hotels, a wide variety never hurt! Tax incentives to allow more local investment is ideal.
Last but definitely not least, we need to invest more in marketing our attractions. We can never say enough or say too much. The capacity to package, and tell our stories in the most captivating manner should be given top priority. Good PR coupled with an enabling, secure economy will work the magic. #VisitUganda
The relationship between tourism and the global agenda 2030 is also something each one of us needs to appreciate. The United Nations highlights specific targets in goals 8- Decent Work and Economic Growth, 12- Responsible Production and Consumption, and 14-Life Below Water for sustainable tourism. However, the numerous links tourism has in different value chains, imply that tourism accelerates progress in all the 17 global goals.
To global tourism institutions and actors, the Ministry of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities in Uganda and affiliate institutions; Uganda Tourism Board, Uganda Wildlife Authority, Uganda Wildlife Education Centre among others and all the lovers of nature, Happy World Tourism Day 2021!
Let’s continue to soar for sustainable tourism and recovery from the effects of COVID-19.
The writer is a policy advocacy practitioner