The Association of Uganda Tour Operators (AUTO) has held an engagement with tourism business owners in the greater Kigezi area on professionalism and sustainable tourism development.
The meeting which was held at Cephas Inn Kabale on Monday was attended by over 100 tour companies from the districts of Kabale, Kisoro, Rukungiri and Kanungu; as well as local leaders, representatives of the tourism police from within the area, district tourism officers and tourism investors.
Being the leading trade association representing the interests of the country’s most trusted tour companies, AUTO emboldened tourism businesses in this area to seek knowledge, be trained, licensed, certified in order to offer excellent services to Uganda’s tourists; both the domestic and international travelers.
Speaking at the meeting in Kabale, the AUTO Board Chairman, Everest Kayondo emphasized the need to conduct business with the greatest level of integrity and professionalism.
“If you want to grow as a business and benefit from various incentives available for tourism businesses in the country, you must go formal to build a reputable company brand,” Kayondo said.
Gloria Tumwesigye, the AUTO CEO encouraged tourism practitioners to adopt principles of sustainable tourism development in their operations, as this benefits everyone.
“As we encourage you to operate more professionally, we also call upon you to develop the type of tourism that not only benefits your businesses but also builds the communities and protects the environment,” Tumwesigye mentioned.
At the same event, the Deputy Mayor of Kabale Town, Mutabazi Kedress appreciated AUTO for organizing a very important stakeholders’ meeting which was the much needed addition to the efforts to achieve their goal of becoming the leading tourism city. She encouraged tour operators in the Kigezi area to belong to trade associations.
In the recent months, there have been some isolated incidents of your operators defrauding unsuspecting tourists, putting the issue of ethics and professionalism in the sector under scrutiny.
In February, Ahebwa Michael Mugerwa, a tour operator, was charged in court with obtaining money by false pretence from American tourists when he allegedly promised to arrange them a good vacation here in Uganda, something he did not fulfill.
He denied the charges before the Nakawa grade one magistrate, Sheilah Angura.
Prosecution told court that four people from the Wendy family, in October of last year contacted Ahebwa Michael Mugerwa of Mushira travel agencies in Rubaga division for their tour arrangements.
Ahebwa would then receive USD 17,000 from them for their trip including internal air flights while in Uganda and didn’t fulfill the promise, but instead left them stranded in Queen Elizabeth National Park.
He was later arrested by the Tourism Police in collaboration with the Uganda Tourism Board after a tip from a whistle blower.
Didan Atukunda from Mamba Gorilla Safari was also reported to have refused to give a refund worth USD 3,000 that a tourist paid erroneously for a trip to trek gorillas.
This compelled the tourist to contact the Uganda Tourism Board which led to Atukunda’s arrest.
UTB’s Spokesperson, Sandra Natukunda, in February condemned the act saying it threatens the tourism industry.
“Tourism grows depending on the perception people have about the country. If tourists come to the country and they find out that they are fleeced or they packages they pay for are not fulfilled, then they will shun coming to Uganda,” she said.
The tourism sector currently contributes 10 per cent to gross domestic product, making it Uganda’s leading foreign exchange earner. The sector contributes more than USD 1.4bn (Shs 5.1 trillion) annually and is projected to earn about Shs 10 trillion (USD 2.7bn) by 2020.
Monday’s AUTO dialogue falls upon a background of the growing number of tour companies and tour guides in the Kabale and Kisoro area premised on the fascinating lifestyle of the people, the presence of various tourist attractions like the stunning Lake Bunyonyi.
The region is also home to more than half of the world’s Mountain gorillas in the neighboring Bwindi Impenetrable National Park which attracts local and international tourists annually to enjoy gorilla tracking safaris; an opportunity for the local community in this part of Uganda.
The journey to the famous tree climbing lions of Ishasha in Queen Elizabeth National Park can also be enjoyed on a road trip through the Kigezi area.
The easy entry of new businesses in the tourism sector in the Kigezi area however presents challenges, principally the emergence of sham tour operators and this therefore calls for the need to regulate, license and professionalize the tourism business.