Tourism sites in Uganda have now reopened to start receiving visitors, Col (Rtd) Tom Butime the minister of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities has said.
But with the country’s borders still closed, domestic tourists and foreigners who are already in the country are the ones expected to visit these sites. The tourism sector came to a standstill in March after President Yoweri Museveni announced the closure of all borders, together with Entebbe airport, followed by the suspension of both private and public transport, business premises and any form of public gatherings.
The measures meant that all tourist sites had to be shut to the public. However starting June, the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) reopened national parks to tourists as government steadily started easing the lockdown. Butime says the entire sector has been opened on condition that they follow the standard operating procedures (SOPs) and COVID-19 prevention guidelines issued by the ministry of Health.
These include having mandatory temperature screening at all entrances of the protected areas, mandatory hand washing and sanitizing among others. The minister made the statement during a meeting with the European Union (EU) Heads of Mission who started their retreat at Queen Elizabeth national park on Thursday.
On Wednesday alone, 260 tourists visited Katunguru park which lies within the boundaries of Queen Elizabeth national park in Kasese district. According to Butime, all these had booked and paid for their tickets before the lockdown occasioned by an outbreak of coronavirus disease.
"And now that the tourists have started coming because yesterday at the Katungulu park we had 260 tourists reporting and coming to this area. So which means tourism is now on, visitors have started coming, tourists are excited and here we go," Butime said.
Tourism is one of Uganda’s top foreign exchange earners with annual receipts of $1.6 billion brought in by 1.8 million tourists according to the Uganda Tourism Board (UTB). Out of the 1.8 million tourists, 1.3 million are foreigners while 500,000 are local tourists.
In the retreat, EU ambassadors are assessing the impact of COVID-19 on the country’s tourism sector. The EU recently gave Uganda €6 million (about Shs 25.2 billion) in support of the private tourism sector. The package will be channelled through Uganda Development Bank (UDB), where actors can access it at a discounted rate of 8 per cent.
The Head of the European Union (EU) delegation to Uganda, Ambassador Attilio Pacifici says that they are very keen to continue supporting the sector which is crucial to Uganda’s economy.
Some of the key activities of the EU retreat include the opening up of a Ranger’s Post Queen Elizabeth national park. The post was constructed by the EU at $1.3 million, to accommodate rangers who protect the wildlife at the park from poachers near the tourist site and those from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
The EU Heads of Mission are also set to visit Mweya Safari Lodge where they will interact with different businessmen who have invested in the tourism sector and visit Kazinga Channel, Mountain of the Moon hotel in Fort Portal and others during the three-day retreat.