No one saw it coming; the tourism sector was high in expectations. Some African countries had seen an increase in their bookings for 2020; they hoped that this was going to be their best year ever until lockdowns became the greatest franchise in the world casting a wet blanket.
The novel coronavirus has hit hard the tourism sectors of several African countries. From the wilderness of Kruger national park to the land of the pharaohs, border restrictions are making once the best circuits and overlands no longer possible and where it is possible, it is done under strict restrictions.
One of these African countries is Uganda, a small country in East Africa. Relying on tourism as the major sector that earns the country foreign exchange, the outbreak of the novel virus has decimated the tourism earning down by 4.1 Trillion Uganda shillings in the year 2020.
The Ministry of Tourism, Wildlife, and Antiquities has confirmed that the global pandemic has hit hard the blossoming tourism industry in Uganda and has brought devastating effects. Before the outbreak of the coronavirus, Uganda was earning a turn of US$1.6billions. In the year 2020, the country earned as low as US$0.5bn. The earnings dropped by 73% hitting hard the tourism sector, the major foreign exchange earner to Uganda’s economy.
Tourist numbers dropped in the country by 69.3% to 473,085 and employment opportunities also dropped by 70%. By June 2020, the room occupancy rate dropped from an average of 58% to only 5%. Over 75% of the hotel bookings were canceled and travelers who had booked their Uganda safaris postponed their trips to 2021 and 2022.
The reduction in tourism receipts was largely due to the suspension of tourism in all Uganda national parks for several months. In addition, borders were closed to contain the spread of the virus as well as suspension of all flights to Entebbe International Airport except the cargo planes.
Primate tourism was also suspended from March 2020 to October 2021. All the most popular national parks including Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, the home to almost half of the world’s population of mountain gorillas were closed to tourists fearing the possible transmission of the human disease to the mountain gorillas as well as chimpanzees.
After the reopening of tourism, Uganda came up with promotional prices to attract tourists. The promotion ran from December 2020 to 30th June 2021. Park entrance fees were discounted by 50% and gorilla permit prices were reduced from US$700 to US$400. Several brave travelers took use of the promotion and visited the country thus accounting for the US$0.5bn earned in the financial year 2020/2021.
The Ministry of Tourism reports that after easing the lockdown and running several promotions, there is a gradual increase in the number of tourists visiting the East African nation and there are signs of the industry picking up.
Tourist bookings have increased by three times by the first quarter of 2021 and more foreign visitors have booked their trips to the country. The ministry reported that tourist bookings received at the Uganda Wildlife Authority have tripled by the first quarter of 2021 increasing from 27,542 bookings recorded by the end of August 2020 to 83,464 by the end of March 2021. Foreign tourist bookings have also increased fourfold between August 2020 when the savanna national parks were reopened and March 2021.
The country has learned a lot from the global pandemic and tourists can plan their trips and explore the country following the Standard Operating Procedures that were set to protect both the tourists and the wildlife.
On June 19th, 2021, Uganda had a second total lockdown that was set to end on the 30th of July 2021. However much it is considered a total lockdown, some sectors in the economy were allowed to continue operating under strict observance of the standard operating procedures. The tourism sector was one of the few sectors that were left open. Tourists are free to proceed with their Uganda safaris as long as they follow the Covid 19 Standard Operating Procedures that were set by the ministry of health. These include social distancing, wearing face masks, and sanitizing.
Fully vaccinated tourists are allowed to enter the country as long as they have a negative PCR Test. Currently; the country is closed to only travelers from India.
Tourists who are not fully vaccinated can also travel to Uganda. All they need is a Negative PCR test obtained from an accredited laboratory. The results of the test must have been obtained within 72 hours before arrival at Entebbe international airport.
Not fully vaccinated travelers from countries with Covid 19 Variants e.g Brazil, South Africa, United States of America, and more are subjected to a second Covid 19 test on arrival. If found negative; they will be allowed to proceed with their Uganda safari. The results of the test can be obtained in about 4 hours.
One of the major changes that have come with the Covid-19 pandemic is the Visa application procedure. Previously, Uganda had a number of countries that she allowed to organize their Visa upon arrival. This is no longer the case. Every tourist is now required to apply for their VISA online before arrival. Unfortunately, the system is fond of many errors. This is where the help of a professional Uganda tour operator comes in handy.
Though the tourism industry has been hit hard, the wilderness has instead flourished and ready to offer authentic unique experiences far better than what was offered prior to the pandemic.
Source: Market Watch