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Hospitality industry readies for post COVID-19 era

Tourists view giraffes in Uganda’s Kidepo National Park. COURTESY PHOTO

Uganda Tourism Board kicks off inspection of tourism facilities countrywide to ensure they meet standards to curb COVID spread

Kampala, Uganda | JULIUS BUSINGE | Enterprises within the hospitality sector are putting in place stringent safety measures in preparation for jumpstarting business once the COVID-19 pandemic threat is minimized.

Jean Byamugisha, the chief executive officer of Uganda Hotel Owners Association (UHOA) says her members have lost a significant sum of revenue due to coronavirus lockdown but are ready to resuscitate businesses and grow.

Figures for 2018 indicates that the tourism sector brought in about $1.6billion and half of this amount was bagged by the hotel industry, according to Byamugisha. Hotel room occupancy for 2018 stood at 50.9% with lodges posting up to 75%.

“This year [2020] is gone…we are preparing for the future,” she said. “My members are ready and we are moving in line with the ministry of tourism and Uganda Tourism Board safety measures.”

During the COVID-19 lockdown, Byamugisha said around 400, 000 hotel staff were sent home because there was no business for hotels. Majority of these have not returned to work yet.

The hotel industry employs an estimated 450, 000 staff, according to Byamugisha whose association has a membership of 560.

In preparation for jumpstarting the sector business, and as the government continues with progressive easing of the lockdown, UTB together with the Ministry of Tourism Wildlife and Antiquities on June.05 unveiled standard operating procedures for the industry, aimed at ensuring compliance to health, hygiene, safety and sanitation guidelines for enterprises within the tourism value chain to prevent the spread of COVID-19, protect employees, guests and suppliers.

According to the SOPs, all   indoor   areas   such   as   entrance   lobbies,   corridors   and   staircases, escalators,   elevators,   security   guard booths,   office   rooms,   meeting   rooms, cafeteria should be mopped with a disinfectant (1% sodium hypochlorite or phenolic disinfectants). The other measure are maintaining social distance, hand washing and cleaning.

For metallic surfaces like door handles, security locks, keys, officials say the 70% alcohol content liquid can be used to wipe down surfaces where the use of bleach is not suitable.

In order to implement these, enterprises have been advised to appoint a management team headed by a rapid response leader.

In addition, the SOPs indicate that the management of tourism enterprises should establish an action plan tailored to  the  situation  and  implement  it  in  accordance  with  the  recommendations  of local  and  national  public  health  authorities  with  the  aim  to  prevent  cases, effectively  manage   cases,   and   mitigate   impact   among   clients   and   staff, including cleaning and disinfection of rooms occupied by ill persons.

The other general measures include maintaining a medical kit at the reception, training of staff on the implementation of these measures and ensuring real time supervision of all activities at the facility.

UTB starts inspection

On June 23, UTB together with its mother ministry – the Ministry of Tourism Wildlife and Antiquities – kicked off the inspection of hotels to ensure compliance of SOPs starting with Skyz Hotel located at Naguru Hill, followed by Golden Tulip and others. Uganda has an estimated 4000 tourism facilities, according to Byamugisha.

The Minister of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities, Godfrey Kiwanda, reiterated  that the SOPs aim to provide health and safety protocols for all hotel and accommodation facilities and create confidence amongst domestic and international visitors as Uganda readies herself for tourism revitalisation in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

He said the inspection was a critical part of the recovery process for Uganda’s tourism sector.

“We are not going to be so punitive; our intention is to build confidence in our customers,” Kiwanda said. “Hygiene measures should begin right from the gate up to the accommodation rooms…and Uganda will see a steady recovery of the tourism sector.”

He said the new exercise not only demonstrates the steps being taken by Uganda’s tourism sector in readiness and recovery but the commitment by both government and private sector to ensure the safety of both citizens and tourists

Meanwhile, Kiwanda urged UTB to use this COVID-19 time to sell domestic tourism which will indirectly attract foreigners to come to Uganda when the situation normalizes.

According to a recent report released by the UN World Travel Organisation, health and safety will be a key determinant for travel by tourists across the world as the global industry recovers.

Kiwanda said that in addition to the above measures, every hotel will going forward be required to have an isolation room, formulate an on-ground emergency task force and have a COVID-19 resource center accessible to all.

The Deputy UTB CEO, Bradford Ochieng said that domestic tourism will be enhanced as foreign visitors get ready to come. He said they will soon unveil ‘Tulambule reloaded’ which will have unique/promotional packages that are in line with COVID-19 crisis.

“Ours is a promise that quality assurance in Uganda’s tourism facilities will be upheld across travel, accommodation, amenities and experience,” Ochieng said. In addition, he said that UTB was in the process of developing a tourism sector recovery plan, and that currently consultations are underway.

Florence Nyiramugisha, the general manager at Skyz Hotel said the facility is ready for all visitors and that all staff have been trained on the SOPs. “Safety for us is paramount,” she said.

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