Tour operators in Uganda are counting losses after a drop in tourist arrivals attributed to the recent political and security tension in the country.
They say that the recent happennings in the country have impacted negatively on the tourism sector with some of the foreign tourists cancelling their travel to Uganda.
This was revealed by the Chairman of the Association of Tour Operators in Uganda (AUTO), Everest Kayondo during a press briefing on Monday.
Kayondo told journalists that there has been jittery within the fragile tourism sector following the events that unfolded in Arua district weeks ago and the aftermath which was characterized by brutality by security agencies.
He cited the torture and imprisonment of civilians, some of them in military detention facilities, battering of journalists and the use of live ammunition during riots.
As a result, Uganda has been marked as a security risk country for foreign countries where Uganda sources tourists, since many of these events featured prominently in international press.
“This has resulted into cancellation of trips by some visitors who were already here in the country. Those who had booked their travels earlier are calling to cancel or suspend them,” he said.
He added that “our members are losing business and are being made to refund the dollars they had received in advance”.
Kayondo said that this is not only a loss to the tour operators but the country at large since it is losing foreign revenue.
He cited the example of Amos Wekesa who runs Great Lakes Safaris who was compelled to refund over US$ 30,000 (about Shs 111 million) that had been paid in advance for trips by tourists.
Tour operators are asking government to professionally handle demonstrations without causing unnecessary beating of people who are already under arrest.
They have also urged that the individual officers who were responsible for brutalizing Ugandans and as a result denting the image of the country to be reprimanded.
Tourism is Uganda’s leading foreign exchange earner. In 2017, the sector generated USD 1.4 billion followed by foreign remittances.
Uganda registered a total of 1.37 million foreign tourists. But with the current concerns, government ambitious plan to grow the USD 1.4 bn revenue (2017) to USD 2.7bn in 2020 could be frustrated. The gains achieved by aggressive marketing through investment in PR firms in strategic markets could equally go down the drain.
Last week, Minister for Tourism, Prof Ephraim Kamuntu said that the gains made in the sector “should be guarded jealously because tourism is everyone’s business”, urging all stakeholders to work towards the good publicity of Uganda.