Mabare Tours and Travel Company is on the spot for short changing 16 tourists.
The tourists included Ugandans and several foreigners who had paid for an Easter package trip to Uganda’s largest national park, Murchison Falls. The tourists reportedly paid between Shs 350,000 and Shs 1m to the company’s CEO Sam K. Mugabe.
The trip to Murchison Falls included exciting offers of a boat cruise, game drive, and more sightseeing. The group departed from Kampala on Good Friday, April 19, but were abandoned just a day later at a hotel, where the group members claim Mugabe did not pay the hotel bill, their transport back to Kampala and meals.
Murchison Falls national park lies in the districts of Masindi, Nwoya, Kiryandongo, Buliisa and Pakwach. Pascal Kiyuba, one of the tourists, said he paid Shs 700,000 for himself and his wife.
Members paid depending on whether they were travelling with a wife or children, were foreigners or Ugandan. Herbert Kanyira, another tourist, said he paid Shs 870,000 for himself, wife and child. According to a member of the group, individual foreigners paid between $169 and $189.
“Everything went on well up to Pakwach,” Kiyuba said. “The journey was long and we just rested. I slept in the Global Village hotel and others slept in the Heritage hotel in Pakwach.”
The following day on April 20, they travelled to the park for a scheduled game drive. According to Kiyuba, they had also planned a boat cruise but it did not happen, perhaps the first sign that some things were beginning to go wrong.
“He told us the network was poor and he could not call the person who was supposed to call us,” he said. “We said let us chill the [boat] cruise since it is late and [the tour operator] offered to refund the money we had paid for the cruise.”
The tourists then travelled to Masindi and checked into Kabalega Resort, where they were supposed to depart from on the morning of April 21 to head back to Kampala. At the hotel, the guests realized they had been removed from the WhatsApp group the proprietor had created.
“He removed us from the group and blocked us,” said Kiyuba.
In the morning, they were surprised when they could not see Mugabe who was handling all the arrangements and was supposed to pay. The hotel manager informed them that their bills were unsettled and they had to clear the bill before they left.
This sparked off a marathon of pleadings, with some people saying they did not have money because they had paid the tour company for all the arrangements. At that moment, police officers in Masindi were called in to help the situation. After listening to both sides – the hotel and the abandoned tourists – it was realized the tourists were genuine, said one of the group members.
They collected 25,000 shillings each, which they left with the hotel manager and another 25,000 shillings to fuel a vehicle to transport them back to Kampala. David Watti Makuma, the Kabalenga Resort hotel manager in Masindi, says Mugabe owed the hotel Shs 2.2m.
“We have tried to get him but we have not succeeded. I have involved the police, UPDF, and Uganda Tourism Board [UTB], but [we are yet to get him],” he said.
Makuma said the people abandoned at the hotel included Japanese, Filipino, a Pakistani, Indian, and Ugandans. On April 23, Mabare Tours shamelessly posted on Facebook the pictures of tourists taken during the trip with a caption: “Photos taken during our 19th-21st April Murchison Falls national park Easter gateaway.”
In the pictures, the tourists smiled and others were captured jumping in a celebratory mood. This was on the first day when everything seemed to go according to plan.
Efforts to reach Mugabe through his known mobile phones have been futile. The contacts listed on the Mabare Tours and Travel website were unreachable. Ironically, on their website, the company says: “we value our clients’ interests and therefore provide them with their desired safari experience in Uganda and East Africa.”
Over to you, UTB.