UGANDAN TOUR OPERATORS GRUDGINLY ACCEPT ON LINE GORILLA PERMIT SALE
(Posted 09th January 2014)
In what was described as an internal debate of some vigour has the Association of Uganda Tour Operators apparently accepted that the Uganda Wildlife Authority’s on line sale of the prized gorilla permits can go ahead after all. Sections of the local tour operating fraternity had vehemently opposed plans of UWA to go online with permit sales, as the organization wanted to widen their reach beyond Uganda in an attempt to push sales up.
Local tour operators had enjoyed a monopoly in purchasing and processing gorilla tracking permits which provided them with a significant portion of their income and cash flow and were of course reluctant to share this resource with anyone else, especially not foreign tour companies for which the new system would at last provide the opportunity to get permits confirmed directly from UWA without having to go through local companies. This was aggravated by a second controversy brewing when UWA announced late last year that they would begin to offer tours into the parks, using new vehicles purchased under a bilateral aid agreement, which again prompted sections of the local tour operators to object vehemently, some going as far as accusing UWA as wanting to ‘kill our business’.
While no details have been received as of now over the vehicle and in-house tour plans by UWA, it seems that the debate, for now, is over about the Uganda Wildlife Authority’s plan to offer gorilla permits on line. According to a source close to UWA it appears that an agreement has been reached now with AUTO’s leadership allowing the Uganda Wildlife Authority to formally launch their online platform. Uganda has seen visitor numbers to the national parks grow substantially in recent years, with gorilla tracking in Bwindi and Mgahinga leading with generated revenues, bringing the organization closer to financial self sustainability. However, compared to the closest ‘rivals’ in the region, Tanzania and Kenya, visitor numbers are still considerably lower and in terms of gorilla permit sales neighbouring Rwanda has for some years now outpaced Uganda, clearly prompting UWA to take a fresh look at available options to gain a greater market share within the East African Community. Uganda over the past two years had gained international recognition in being named the Lonely Planet’s top destination for 2012 and was ranked in the top bracket of countries to visit by National Geographic in 2013 and is now globally recognized as one of Africa’s leading adventure destinations. Said one source when contacted about the controversies between AUTO and UWA: ‘Personally I think open controversy does not help. It does not help relations and it does not help anyone’s reputation. We should take a leaf from Rwanda. You never read about open controversy between RDB and their tour and travel association. But I know they also have arguments, like when RDB wanted to raise the permit fee to 750 US Dollars per person. Even then there was no dissent in the media unlike here in Uganda where all the arguments are dragged into the public domain. We have a representative on the UWA board where clarification can be obtained. It is there where the lobbying needs to start plus direct engagement of our board representative, the AUTO leadership and UWA management. Maybe we need to look at our style of doing things and think of better ways in the future’.
However that pans out, Uganda remains the Pearl of Africa and has a wide range of wildlife and natural attractions to offer to visitors, details of which can be found via www.ugandawildlife.org and www.visituganda.com