Uganda tourism relegated to ‘less important economic sector’ ranking

TOURISM SECTOR STABBED IN THE BACK AS GOVERNMENT KICKS SECTOR FROM TOP 10

(Posted 31st January 2014)

Uganda’s tourism industry is coming to terms with the latest shock inflicted on it by the government, when it became known that for the 2014/15 budget was tourism booted down the ranking list even further and no longer stands among the professed priority sectors, inspite of significant contributions to the national economy.

Key sectoral stakeholders have for long accused government of only paying lipservice to the sector without ever giving it due recognition and budgetary support and those outspoken critics are now having a field day in having once again been proven right, that key individuals in government continue to think that ‘tourism just happens’ and therefore not require any special financial consideration.

In fact from figures available it is becoming evident that the budget allocation to tourism has been continuously trimmed back leaving the Uganda Tourism Board all but crippled to carry out its mandate for generic marketing of the country. Even after restoring a standalone Ministry of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities, a move long demanded by the sector which saw the portfolio being submerged in a minister including trade and industry at the time, the hopes for a half way decent fund allocation was swiftly extinguished, leaving the ministry too with challenges of not being able to pay for quite a few of their planned activities and having to defer them to a time ‘when funds become available’.

Tourism is the global number one service industry. Tourism has the capacity to fast track job creation, attract foreign investment, boost foreign exchange earnings and create goodwill for the country when our visitors go home with a positive holiday experience. But it is increasingly clear now that all we get from this government is hot air but no money which amounts to stabbing us in the back. Everything today is about oil. May I remind you that at the time oil became a factor in Nigeria the country was self sufficient in producing food and agriculture was a key sector back then. Then came the oil and agriculture deteriorated for lack of attention and Nigeria ever since has to import food. Here I fear a similar trend. Maybe some want to destroy tourism so that they can drill and pump oil from the national parks without interference from a sector which demands protection measures for the environment, emergency plans and equipment standing by in case of a big spill somewhere. When I look back over a few years it is almost like a masterplan unfolding, to starve the sector of funds and squash the life out of us. The ministry is harping on about their new policy and masterplan but let us be clear here, we had a tourism policy and they did not implement most of it and the masterplans from before gather dust in filing cabinets. It is not writing new plans it is about implementing those plans and there our ministry has miserably failed for lack of money. And let us be frank, a Miss Tourism contest is a nice social event but what we need to concentrate on is to attend global trade shows, the American adventure trade fairs, market ourselves abroad more vigorously. But it seems this government has lost the plot as far as tourism is concerned. Maybe we need to look at the way we as a sector do business with government, how we interact and consult. Because whatever we did, it does not seem to make any impact when it comes to budget allocations’ ranted a senior stakeholder with regular input on all matters of Uganda’s present tourism set up and developments.

Others pointed at additional failures, like the lack of a board at the national hotel and tourism training institute for lack of a legal foundation, the self destruction of the Uganda Wildlife Authority under past ministers from which the institution is only now beginning to recover again or as a case in point, the delay in implementing the single tourist Visa for Uganda, Kenya and Rwanda, which was due to kick off on January 01st but faced, like many other issues, logistical challenges of preparedness.

Looking back at now almost 22 years in Uganda and being involved in the tourism industry from the very first moment after arriving in the country, it is clear that tourism is a sector full of opportunities and potential but then, potential is not a currency which banks accept and when not fulfilled and exploited, like the biblical talents, never can live up to the full scale of what the sector is capable of. True, visitor numbers have been growing and tourism receipts have grown too but government is yet to embrace the UNWTO recommended tourism accounting methods known as ‘tourism satellite accounting’ and is reportedly still in arrears vis a vis due payments to key international bodies where membership is quintessential. ‘Whatever progress we have made, we made it under very tough circumstances and with very little real support from our government. Had it not been for World Bank and EU and USAID projects, who knows where we would be today. This government would be well advised to take a hard look at their priorities and return focus from oil and foreign or regional affairs to national domestic affairs. It is at home where we make or break the economy and if you break tourism, it will be like pulling a cornerstone from the building and bring the roof down, but does anyone listen. We shall go to parliament again and seek redress from them because it is obvious that the finance ministry is only ready to take the revenue we generate but not put anything back into the sector’ added another source from Kampala. All eyes will now be on the budget reading expected in March this year to see if any last minute changes have been made to the proposals now revealed or else hope that parliament will make adjustments for the sector as they did when granting relief over VAT proposals made by the finance bureaucrats last year which would have out-priced destination Uganda for years to come. Watch this space.

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