Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | Bookings for tourism tripled between August 2020 and March 2021 since the industry was reopened resulting from increased demand by both foreign and local tourists. According to records, 83,464 bookings were made in the first quarter of the year by the end of March, up from the three months ending August 2020 when just 27,542 bookings were recorded.
Foreign booking increased four times, which is faster than the gross domestic bookings, boosted by the reopening of the international borders and the airport. These figures are expected to increase further as the aviation industry picks up further, including the expected launch of the Entebbe-Johannesburg flight by Uganda Airlines on Monday.
The aviation industry has also recovered to about 73% of the normal flight numbers, with now 11 international flights recorded weekly, up from 3 weekly flights between June and August 2020. About 30% of the jobs that were lost when the sector virtually closed early last year have since been recovered.
It is not very clear which sections of the jobs have been recovered, but it was reported at the start of the lockdown that the hospitality industry had sent home 400,000 workers from the hotel, restaurant and accommodation industry. This also happened as the hotel industry almost shut down, with bookings dropping by 75%. By June, hotel bookings were just 5% of the total capacity, compared to the usual average of 58%. The resultant loss by the hotel industry was $320.8 million (Ugx 1.19 trillion).
According to the latest figures, at least 31% of hotel space is currently booked, showing a steady increase in activity in the industry. There is also revival of activity around the national parks and other protected areas under the Uganda Wildlife Authority-UWA, with an increase in the number of foreign non-resident visitors to the parks which also doubled to 7,318.
This has seen revenues at the UWA-protected sites for the period January-March 2021 double to Ugx 6 billion compared to the period September-December 2020. However, this is still far below the Ugx 60 billion recorded in the same period before the outbreak of COVID-19.
The UWA Executive Director Sam Mwandha says domestic revenues are still limited mainly because of the continued closure of schools which are the main contributors to local visitors to the parks.
Mwandha however says there is a big challenge convincing more Ugandans to tour the country citing the 250,000 Ugandans who visit Kenya annually as a sign that Ugandans have the capacity to travel.
The Ministry of Tourism says that in the next one year, they are going to focus on improving and modernizing tourist sites around the country, including the Kagulu Hill, Bishop Hannington monument in Busoga, the Equator point at Kayabwe and Nyero Rock in Kumi among others. The Permanent Sectary Doreen Katusiime says these developments should improve the competitiveness of these sites.
The drive to boost tourism will also include the construction of eight camping sites in the major national parks, re-introduction of 15 giraffes to Pian Upe Game Reserve in Karamoja and 200 Uganda kobs to Kidepo Valley National Park.
Enforcement of compliance to top tourism standards will be strengthened through inspecting, registering and licensing 500 tour and travel guides, 500 agents and operators and 3,000 accommodation facilities. The ministry also says it will hire more marketing companies or market destination representatives for 6 markets, North America, Europe, Middle East, China and Japan as well as some African countries.
The representatives to African markets are paid $200,000 to $400,000 dollars annually, while those in foreign markets are paid $1 to 1.2 million, according to UTB Deputy Chief Executive, Bradford Ochieng.