By Spy Uganda
Kampala: After four months of lockdown, Col. (Rtd) Tom Butime, the Minister for Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities, has revealed that Uganda Tourism Board has resumed operations at all its tourist sites in Uganda.
Butime revealed this during a meeting with the European Union (EU) Heads of Mission who started their retreat at Queen Elizabeth National Park on Thursday.
However, since the country’s borders are still closed, domestic tourists and foreigners who are already in the country are the only ones expected to visit the sites.
Following President Yoweri Museveni’s directives to close Entebbe International Airport and all Uganda’s borders in March due to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the tourism sector halted operations until June when the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) reopened National Parks to tourists after government eased the lockdown.
Minister Butime revealed that the entire sector has been reopened on condition that the tourists and tour operators follow the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) and COVID-19 prevention guidelines issued by the Ministry of Health.
Some of the SOPs include having mandatory temperature screening at all entrances to tourist sites, mandatory hand washing and sanitizing, wearing face masks, among others.
On Wednesday, 260 tourists visited Katunguru Park which lies within the boundaries of Queen Elizabeth National Park in Kasese district. According to Butime, all these had booked and paid for their tickets before the the COVID-19 lockdown.
Tourism is one of Uganda’s top foreign exchange-earners with annual receipts of USD1.6 billion brought in by 1.8 million tourists according to the Uganda Tourism Board (UTB). Out of the 1.8 million tourists, 1.3 million are foreigners while 500,000 are local tourists.
it should be noted that the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic triggered an unprecedented crisis in the tourism sector, given the immediate and immense shock to the sector.
The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) estimates that COVID-19 has affected the international tourism sector with a decline of 60%. However this may rise to 80% if recovery is delayed until December.
During one of his National Addresses on COVID-19 in June, President Museveni said that Uganda will lose 1.6 billion dollars per annum due to the COVID-19 effects on the tourism sector.
Museveni also said the economy would lose a substantial chunk of the $1.3 billion sent home each year by Ugandans working abroad as many would be out of work due to the global economic downturn following the pandemic.
Recent data available from the Uganda National Bureau of Statistics indicates that Uganda earned USD$2 billion from tourism in 2017, up from USD$1.7 billion the previous year.
The International Monetary Fund said last month that Uganda’s tourism earnings were expected to fall by 54% in the 2019/20 (July-June) fiscal year, and decline by 52% in the next year due to COVID-19.