The growing number of local tourists is attributed to MV Kalangala and Entebbe Intenational Airport that resumed operations on October 1st, 2020. Service providers say few, if at all any, international tourists are visiting Kalangala.
It is good tidings for Ugandan holiday makers as providers of accommodation, meals and recreational services continue to charge lower fees despite growing number of local tourists flocking Kalangala district.
The growing number of tourists is attributed to MV Kalangala and Entebbe International Airport that resumed operations on October 1st, 2020. Service providers say few, if at all, international tourists are visiting Kalangala. The opening of the airport however, has stimulated bookings for December when many Diaspora Uganda expect to be in the country and will be coming to the islands with teir Uganda based family and friends.
Kalangala district, made up of 84 islands, attracts thousands of tourists because of its rich historical and cultural heritage, which includes hosting the royal regalia in Bubembe and Bukasa shrines, the Luggo forest, home of the tree species from which the Buganda royal mace is molded.
It also hosts Nanziri Waterfalls, Wanema shrine on Bukasa Island.
Many tourists flock to Kalangala for forest walks, bird watching, boat cruises and picnics among other activities.
Kalangala district has over 100 hotels, inns and lodges in the various islands.
Before the outbreak of COVID-19, hospitality centres used to charge between 60,000 and 800,000 Shillings for a single and deluxe rooms respectively during the peak season in December. During the off peak season, hotels would charge between Shillings 40,000 and Shillings 700,000.
However most of them, including Victoria Forest Resort, Mirembe Beach Resort and Brovad Sands Lodge on Buggala Island, have since cut prices.
Victor Adala, the Manager Victoria Forest Resort, says the hotel has handled only local tourists since last month, between 20-30 people every week mainly for honeymoon and parties.
The hotel has 40 rooms that can accommodate 100 people, a conference hall that can host 150 people while 120 people can gather in its boardroom. The hotel will however host its first conference meeting in early December.
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Mirembe Beach Resort has been receiving 10-15 guests weekly, but majority over the weekends at reduced rates from 200,000 to 400,000 shillings for its 50 rooms.
Meanwhile, Eric Kakuru, the Guest Relations Manager Brovad Sands Lodge, says the hotel receives about 20 guests every weekend and 10 to 12 visitors in the week. The hotel has 40 rooms.
Kakuru says the hotel has cut prices for bed and accommodation to 52 US Dollars from 65 US Dollars and 82 US Dollars from 100 US Dollars for bed, breakfast and dinner.
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Kakuru however says that come December, the hotel is charging between 155 US Dollars and 225 US Dollars per room because of increasing demand and bookings made so far. By Friday, only 10 rooms were left.
URN spoke to some of the guests. One Esie, with her four friends held a birthday party near the beaches of Brovad Sands Lodge. She says the group usually tours sites across the country but had never been to Kalangala.
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Meanwhile, Lim Choonmeng, former General Manager of BIDCO (U) Ltd, was the only international tourist at Brovad Sands Lodge. The other foreigners, at the hotel, work in various companies including BIDCO.
Choonmeng is a Malaysian currently working in Côte d’Ivoire who left BIDCO in 2013. He says he has been returning to Kalangala to visit his friends but also because of the good weather and attractive sites within the district and elsewhere in Uganda.
He says it is safe to travel as a long as one observes the guidelines. He estimates that he would have spent over shillings ten million during his three-week stay in Uganda.
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However, Adala says that the government needs to develop the sites to attract more local and foreigners because most of them including John Speke's Cave do not meet reasonable standards.
"Where are the stories about these sites? For instance, why did Speke stay in that cave? Why did he leave? That is lacking at the moment," Adala says.
Willy Lugoloobi, the LC 5 Chairman Kalangala district agrees, saying majority of the sites are private.
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He says the Uganda National Roads Authority-UNRA has commenced the processes to tarmac the Bugoma-Lutoboka road and Mulabana roads, which are tourism infrastructural projects. Lugoloobi adds that in the meantime, the district carries out routine road maintenance.
He further explains that the district council has waived local tax for hotels until end of the year because of the negative impact of COVID-19 on the hospitality sector.
"That is our short term contribution towards reviving the dead tourism sector, Lugoloobi says, "Council generates between shs 10 million to sh 70 million every monthly in local tax levied on hospitality businesses."