TRIPLE WHAMMY FOR UGANDA BUT OPTIMISM PREVAILS
(Posted 12th April 2020)
Lake Victoria has always been seen as a major asset for Uganda’ tourism industry but also for fishing – and subsequent exports of much in demand lake fish fillets – and to serve as a water source for irrigation and watering livestock.
Few would have imagined that the lake could turn into an existential threat to hotel investments, which – entirely legally I hasten to add – had been constructed along the lake shores between Entebbe, Kampala and Jinja but also on several islands belonging to the Ssese islands group.
Not that, apart from the substantial damage of course the owners are suffering, it does matter these days, because hotels, resorts and safari lodges and camps are empty of tourists and empty of locals too, given that foreign visitors were prohibited from entry weeks ago already and the country is now at the end of week three of a five week lockdown.
The net effect of #COVID19 on one of Uganda’s key economic sectors, tourism, has been massive and while at the very early stages played down by ‘industry leaders’ has the recognition set it that the disease outbreak has effectively wiped out tourism in Uganda – as it has in many other African countries depending on it like Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Zambia, South Africa and Namibia to name but a few of the tourism giants on the continent.
In fact did one hotel some weeks ago threaten legal action should ATCNews report that the place was empty and in the process of laying off staff and closing down, effectively excluding it when the industry gets back into gear in a few weeks or months and then needing positive PR and increased visibility.
But these maladies are but two of at least four challenges, the country is facing at present.
With the locust hatching season going underway, triggered by the present heavy rains across the region, will new swarms soon mature and begin their relentless march – or rather flight – onward to parts of East Africa which have been spared by the initial wave. It is projected by experts that Uganda, Eastern Congo, South Sudan, Kenya and even Tanzania could be the locust swarms next targets, causing an existential threat to subsistence farmers but also to commercial farms, as there is not a leaf of green left once the locusts have migrated through an area.
And now, with global oil prices dropping bottomless, are South Sudan, Kenya and Uganda staring at the abyss for their oil projects as minimum prices for viable production and to finance the fledgling production and export infrastructure, require a barrel price of in excess of 60 US Dollars, and the higher the better. Other oil producing countries like Angola and Nigeria are seeing their incomes dwindle to a fraction of past years, and gas producers too – the gas price is linked to the crude oil prices – are taking an added economic hit, as if the shutdowns in various degrees were not enough to cripple their industrial output and subsequent government revenues.
That all said are leading hoteliers in Uganda confident that once the lockdown ends – of course to be confirmed at the time – on the 05th of May, that business will resume in some format.
Some Ugandan travel agents and tour operators have started to shift their marketing efforts to the local market, knowing it might be months before international visitors are returning to the country, and given that the domestic travel percentage in Kenya is way over 50 percent – or was before the COVID19 outbreak – is this the way to go. Hotels, resorts and lodges however need to examine their pricing, shift from their favourite US Dollar denomination to local currency and drop their pants – tariff wise – to make a stay for average Ugandans affordable. Kenya, when domestic tourism started in earnest, began lowering their rates for locals progressively to as low as break even point, with discounting factors reaching up to 60 and even more percent from published rates. Unless that happens in Uganda too, will no amount of marketing succeed, especially as many Ugandans saw their financial nest eggs wiped out by 5 weeks of shutdown and lack of income.
On the continental scene are opinion leaders like Ikechi Uko – organizer of the AKWAABA Lagos and Accra Weizo tourism trade shows – and publisher of ATQ News confident that in the present calamity is also an opportunity for Africa’s travel trade. Intra African travel must now be supported and facilitated like never before, with the rapid and complete removal of Visa hurdles and other non tariff barriers, to encourage Africans to travel across the continent instead of the hotbeds of COVID19 in Europe or the Middle East, leave alone the Far East.
Africa must formulate a common policy and strategy towards that end, through first and foremost the African Union and then through regional bodies like the EAC, SADC, COMESA and ECOWAS.
Once it is safe to travel again, first of course within Africa, this must be the focus of marketing campaigns. If they are successful will the over reliance on visitors from overseas no longer be so dominant that a market earthquake like seen right now would wipe out the economic foundation of Africa’s tourism countries as local travel can and will form the backbone of the respective local tourism sectors.