South Sudan had apparently issued a strong protest to the Ugandan government about what has been described as “unaffordable fees for our people” triggering an instant review and response of its travel visa cost. This caused consternation and disbelief among tourism operators, who are still trying to come to terms with the no notice rise in fees at the beginning of July, which caught many tourists unaware at the airport as neither Uganda’s embassies abroad nor the local tour operators had been forewarned.
Tourism operators were swift to react when news emerged that the Ugandan government was making special provisions for citizens of South Sudan, to pay only a US$50 visa fee, reversing the decision of last month which raised visa fees broadly to US$100 per person, per entry.
“If they can reduce the visa fee for South Sudanese, they can surely reduce them for everyone else. We are already struggling with high taxes here which made safaris upcountry a lot more expensive compared to last year. Now the visa fees are doubled. Does our government think the markets can absorb such sudden changes? We are working against the odds to bring more tourists here and for the last year things were very tough. Make no mistake, higher cost for travel to Uganda will be counterproductive. See what happened in Kenya when they raised taxes and tourists stayed away because of the cost? Visa cost[s] are like non-tariff barriers for our industry, and our government should remember that. As you keep saying, choices have consequences, and we don’t want to go Kenya’s way when in a year we have to tell government WE TOLD YOU SO.”
Insider information, however, suggests that with upcoming elections there is little chance that either the taxes on upcountry hotels and lodges will be scrapped or the fees will be reversed as the treasury is struggling to meet the expenses of an ambitious pre-election budget aimed to impress voters.