UTB, Tour Operators in Standoff Over Sector Rebranding

The operators say that they have never benefited from any of the government Covid 19 rescue packages that have been given to various sectors of the economy.

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Uganda’s private sector players in the tourism sector have vowed to boycott the national event at which President Yoweri Museveni is due to launch a revival campaign for Uganda’s tourism.

The event dubbed Rebranding the Pearl of Africa is aimed at boosting the growth of the tourism sector which was hit hard for two years due to the covid 19 pandemic. 

All government agencies, foreign envoys and tourism companies among others, have been invited to the Friday event at Kololo Independence Grounds. 

Tourism and hospitality, entertainment and education sectors were the most hit by the measures government instituted to contain the spread of Covid 19, with some locked down. 

However, the tour operators, led by the Uganda Tourism Association says they are boycotting the events because of what they call government neglect of the private sector over the two years. 

The operators say that they have never benefited from any of the government Covid 19 rescue packages that have been given to various sectors of the economy. 

Over the two years, the tour operators have been accusing the Uganda Development Bank of sidelining tour operators in handling the more than 60 billion shillings from the government and the European Union aimed at rescuing the sector. 

Among the requirements for accessing the money included formalization of the business, tax returns records and NSSF contributions, among others, which some of the operators do not have. 

They also criticized the requirement of proof of membership and subscription to the Uganda Hotel Owners Association and the Association of Uganda Tour Operators. 

The President of the Uganda Tourism Association, Herbert Byaruhanga says that some of the government initiatives and decisions by the government seem to be targeted at competing with the private sector.  //Cue in: “Throughout the…. 

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The operators were also disappointed when they were not invited to participate in the 5th Growth Forum held in Kampala earlier this month, which they call a fundamental event where they were ignored.

Byaruhanga also says they are also disappointed that they have not been consulted in the design of the rebranding project, yet they are the ones who are the main implementers of the programs. 

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Some of them say the program might be another waste of resources on something not well-thought-out like previous campaigns. 

One of the most criticized campaigns was the “Gifted by Nature”, which was featured on international media through paid adverts on TV among others. 

Lydia Mpanga, the proprietor of Nkuringo Safaris, says they could save billions of shillings if the government knew how to develop campaigns and partnerships instead of working alone or hiring international consultants.  

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The Uganda Tourism Board has, however, called these claims false and inaccurate. In a response statement to the allegations and concerns raised by the UTA, UTB, for example, says that the consultations were held in August last year all known associations in the sector were invited and six meetings were held.

UTB says UTA was represented by then-President Pearl Hoareau Kakooza, and the Chief Executive Officer, Richard Kawere, Chief Executive Officer, UTA Byaruhanga was elected President in October.

UTB adds that even when drafting the “Destination Uganda” Campaign in 2020, wide consultations were made and UTA Chief Executive nominated Dennis Ntege, the Director Raft Uganda to represent them.

The UTB statement also dismisses as untrue, allegations that the operators were sidelined in the covid-19 relief programs.   They say even the "Pearl of Africa Rebranding” is part of efforts to lift the private sector in tourism out of the distress they are in.

“The rebranding process is just starting and we pledge to continue working with everybody to ensure the intended benefits of the rebranding and all the other planned interventions do reach every stakeholder”, the statement says.