The meeting took place on Friday at the Skyz Hotel in the suburbs of Kampala on Naguru Hill.
Present at the meeting were representatives from the Uganda Tourist Association (UTA) Association of Uganda Tour Operators( AUTO) Uganda Safari Guides Association (USAGA), Exclusive Sustainable Tour Operators Association (ESTOA ) Tour Guides Forum Uganda (TOGOFU), freelance Guides and Concessionaires.
Presiding over the engagement was UWA Executive Director Sam Mwandha, Business Development Director, Stephen Saanyi Masaba, and Paul Ninsiima Sales and Marketing Manager who were later joined by The State Minister for Wildlife and Antiquities Hon. Martin Mugarra Bahinduka.
The Executive Director welcomed you all present, ‘We appreciate that you have taken off your afternoon to join us. I will Straight away dive into the guidelines ‘he said in his opening remarks. He also welcomed State Minister who opted to take a back seat as an observer.
Masaba announced that tourist numbers have surpassed pre covid numbers showing a positive trend since the end of the Covid 19 pandemic. Visitor numbers increased from 265,539 to 382,285 for FY 2022/23, a 116,746 representing 44 percent increment. Murchison Falls National Park continued to top visitor arrivals recording 145,116 visitors followed by Queen Elizabeth National Park recording 97, 814 visitors for FY 2022/23.
He also presented the following updates for consideration:
That the current tariff is being reviewed for the private sector to give their input through their different associations, by July 15th, 2023, cashless operations enhanced at all UWA gates and a new booking system is to be launched by the end of July 2023, a new reservations office has been opened at Kampala Sheraton hotel and new tracks are being created on the Buligi and Albert circuit due to development oil in Murchison Falls National Park.
Regarding Promotion and Market, Masaba announced that UWA has continued to work with the private sector in marketing by participating in and supporting some expos, availing photo and video content on all parks on google drive and physically, continuing to carry out sponsorship and support FAM Trips for Tour Operators plus discounting filming for promotional purposes.
On UWA Tariff Incentives, UWA has supported incentives on group travel with two free permits to operators for groups of ten, free one-day entrance to Mt. Elgon, and Toro Semliki Reserve on purchase of a gorilla permit.
UWA has also continued engagement with the Presidential Investors Round Table (PIRT), Engaging Uganda National Roads Authority (UNRA), and other development partners such as the World Bank on the improvement of Roads.
Other initiatives have been sharing key UWA contacts for engagement, Working on signage, game spotting tracks, branding, and strengthening tourism focus.
Regarding Gorillas and Chimpanzee bookings, management resolved to revert to the old guidelines as well as make some changes or introduce some new ones namely:
Gorilla and chimpanzee permits are to be sold to only tour operators licensed by Uganda Tourism Board, for booking a permit where the tracking date is within 6 months full payment, of 100% payment should be made.
For booking of a permit where the tracking date is beyond months, a deposit of 50% of the value of the permit may be made, where a deposit has been made, the balance of 50% shall be paid within 90 days to the tracking date.
Where the balance of 50% is not made within 90 days of the tracking date, the permit shall be automatically canceled and the client shall forfeit the deposit.
For online reservations, payment has to be completed within 72 hours, reschedule requests have to be made within 14 days of the tracking date, or be subjected to a 25% surcharge.
The new tracking dates for all rescheduled permits shall be within a period of twelve months from the initial booked tracking date, only one free reschedule is allowed.
From 2nd rescheduling onwards, the surcharge is 25% of the permit value, rescheduling of complementary permits is not permitted.
Downgrading of habituation to normal tracking is not permitted.
Advance payments made for entrance and park activities shall not be eligible for rescheduling, cancellation, or refund except for Gorilla and Chimpanzee tracking, funds paid for an activity shall not be transferred or utilized for another activity.
This provoked serious concerns from stakeholders.
Dona Tindyebwa of Jewel Safaris said contrary to UWAs’ positive outlook on recovery in the sector, businesses were affected by the anti-LGBTQ bill and the recent incident in Mpondwe where students were killed.
Mark Fredrick Kato who blocks books to avoid missing out during high season expressed concern over the high increase from 30 percent to 50 percent for deposits.
The Chair Lady AUTO Civy Tumusiime observed that UWA stood to lose by amending the booking deposit requirement from 30 percent to 50 percent since it would attract fewer speculators.
Frank Wataka USAGA guide recommended that the assessment of field guides should be extended to UWA rangers in order to equip them with customer savvy skills which were wanted from recently brushes in the field.
This eTurboNews correspondent requested that UWA absorbs the surcharge on online and Point of Sale Card visa, Master Card, and Cirrus payments as they have done for Airtel Money and Mobile Money MTN Merchant Code payments, and as is done with some other enterprises.
The Executive Director promised to have a follow-up engagement due to overwhelming reactions from members present that could not be exhausted in one-afternoon seating.
He used the opportunity to announce that Four Gorilla families are being habituated: One group in Buhoma, one in Nkuringo, and two in the Rushaga sector of the park.
The honorable Minister closed the deliberations by thanking all stakeholders in their respective capacities, UWA for their leadership, and the private sector for advocating increased funding for the tourism sector.
He reassured members present of the government’s commitment and reiterated the President’s commitment to developing aerodromes, tourism facilities, and infrastructure which the President had announced in his pre-budget address a month ago.
The honorable minister presided over presenting the following awards to outstanding performers in their respective categories before hosting the gathering to a cocktail poolside:
Outstanding Concessionaires: Wild Places, Kigambira Safari Lodge and Wild Frontiers.
Outstanding Tour Guides: Kakande Geoffrey, David Acaye, Wycliffe Rushagu
Outstanding Tour Operators Grace Navito, Maria Terez, and Farouk
Mountaineers : Muhavura Senior Secondary School, Ruwenzori Trekkers and Mountain Slayers
Domesnc Tourism Promoters : Vilakazi, Gofan and Nkwanzi Safaris.
Outstanding Tour Operators for Inbound Tourism: Speke Uganda Holidays Matoke Tours and Wild Frontiers
Outstanding Tourism Partner: Volcanoes Safaris