Uganda Tourism is looking beyond borders for financial help with recovery

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Uganda’s rebranding ambitions will be much more difficult if its tourism industry doesn’t receive the necessary investment. The calls for help now reach far beyond the state coffers.

Dawit Habtemariam

Uganda’s tourism industry leaders are seeking international and private sources of funding to support their recovery and achieve their ambitions as a competitive East African destination. The pandemic has left a hole in the industry too big for the Ugandan government to fill.

The European Union in partnership with The Uganda Development Bank recently announced that it would provide 1 billion Ugandan shillings (US$265,000) in grants and loans to eligible tourism businesses.

The Uganda Tourism Board recently called on private sector bankers to support the tourism industry at the Uganda Bankers Association meeting on July 26th. At the conference, tourism industry leaders called for the facility a special tourism fund that will help to rebuild the tourism sector.

“The only way to mitigate the negative impact of Covid on the industry is for the banking sector and the government to develop a program to encourage the recovery of the sector,” Uganda Tourism Board Chair Daudi Migereko said at the meeting.

Uganda has been devastated by the pandemic. Before the pandemic, the country was seeing 1.6 million tourist arrivals a year, according to Daniel Irunga, senior executive marketing office of the Uganda Tourism Board. In 2021, a total of 521,000 tourists arrived.

According to the at least 70 percent of the industry’s workforce have lost their jobs and 92 percent of tourism companies have taken furloughs or downsized their workforce Ministry of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiques. “The facilities fell into disrepair. They started to wear out and things like that,” Irunga said.

The focus is on making the tourism industry healthy again. “Our strategy for now is to go back to the new statistics we had before the pandemic, while projecting to 2024 and 2025,” Irunga said. Uganda is projected to have five million tourists annually by 2024.

The Uganda Tourism Board is not the only one looking for new sources of funding. Tourism sectors around the world have been devastated by the pandemic and have had to seek alternative sources of finance to help them rebuild.

For Uganda, the immensity of the damage caused by Covid is too great for the government to handle alone given its resources. The government has historically allocated 0.5 percent of its gross domestic product to the tourism sector, and the Uganda Development Bank contributes 3 percent of its resources, according to Irunga.

According to Samuel Karani, general manager of Intrepid Travel East African, even before the pandemic hit, the government was not prioritizing tourism development for the country as it should have been. “When you try to visit these tourist spots, the question arises as to how the government invests all the tourism revenue itself,” Karani said. “For a distance of 14 km, it can take a whole hour to get there.”

Lack of investment has held back Uganda’s competitiveness in East Africa. Karani said demand for travel to Uganda is growing but the infrastructure is not there to support it. He pointed to Kenya as an example of a country that has been better at realizing the potential of its tourism industry.

At the moment Uganda is undergoing a rebranding. The country wants to shake off its historical safari image and attract visitors who will stay longer, explore the country and enjoy immersive adventures.

Obviously, to support the rebranding, the restoration and upgrading of hotels and other tourism businesses will go a long way. “You have to have facilities that live up to the brand promise,” Irunga said.

But unless the sector gets the funding it needs, it will continue to lose out to competitors like Kenya, Rwanda and Tanzania. “The credit we need is to help us bring back that competitive advantage of a destination,” Irunga said.

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