Kampala Executive Aviation (KEA) has under its subsidiary ‘Fly Uganda’ launched their scheduled flights that will open up the sky route to Bwindi impenetrable national park which is home to hundreds of mountain gorillas.
The flights, which will be on Monday, Wednesday and Friday seek to connect travelers from Kampala to Kihihi in Kanungu district. The initial flight is scheduled for November 2 from Kajjansi airstrip near Kampala.
According to Dorothy Byenkya, the Sales Manager at KEA, a seat on the Kajjansi – Kihihi flight will cost US$ 236 (Shs 890,000). In air, connecting to Kihihi takes only one and a half hours which is significantly less than the 8 hours spent while using the road.
KEA advises travelers to book at least 48 hours in advance.
She said that the decision by KEA to launch the Kihihi flights was occasioned by the boom in the number of tourists visiting Bwindi to track the mountain gorillas.
The Kajjansi based aviation company says that based on demand, more routes are due to follow, with Kidepo national park likely to be among the routes lined up, given its good ratings in international media.
She however pointed to the need of improving the physical infrastructure as an enabler for the aviation industry.
“Most national parks have airstrips though some of them are too short and affected by terrain around. Like in Kisoro, we can land full board but can’t take out full board. When the tourist numbers grow, we are willing to partner with government or private sector to expand them,” she said.
On his part, Steven Asiimwe, the Uganda Tourism Board (UTB) chief executive said that for the last three years, Bwindi has turned out as “the best product for our tourism”.
In a year, Uganda sells about 43,000 gorilla permits. This year alone, all permits have been sold out which the tour operators attribute to the investments made by government in aggressively marketing Uganda in the foreign markets.
“Tourism is the biggest foreign exchange earner and it has the fastest growth of any sector of the economy. In the last ten years, it is the only sector that has grown by more than 15%,” Asiimwe explained during the launch.
He said that the Kihihi route launch by KEA comes at an opportune time when the tourism sector is faced with a critical shortage of accommodation facilities as well as means of transport due to a spike in tourist arrivals.
While the US$ 236 individual charge for a flight from Kampala to Kanungu might seem unaffordable for most Ugandans looking to partake in domestic tourism, Amos Wekesa, a renown tour operator and chief executive of Great Lakes Safaris believes this is a mindset issue.
“The majority of tourists don’t just wake up and go spend money. People plan for 5 years, 6 years in advance. Unfortunately for us, we think you just wake up and say ‘tomorrow i’m going to Kisoro’,” Wekesa said.
He urged Ugandans to take advantage of the lower charges (US$ 65 compared to US$ 600 for foreigners) that are designated for Ugandans to track gorillas so as to fill up for the low foreign arrivals during off-peak seasons.