Uganda’s Top Foreign Exchange Earner Shaken By Attack on Tourists

by Christopher Kiiza
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Uganda’s Tourism sector was on Tuesday, October 17, 2023, shocked with bad news of the killing of two international tourists and their guide in Kasese District near Queen Elizabeth National Park.

The attackers set ablaze to a vehicle in which the trio were traveling.

Uganda Police Force blamed the attack on the Ugandan rebel group, the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) that operates in Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

“We have registered a cowardly terrorist attack on two foreign tourists and a Ugandan in Queen Elizabeth National Park. The three were killed, and their safari vehicle burnt. Our joint forces responded immediately upon receiving the information and are aggressively pursuing the suspected ADF rebels,” said the Police Spokesperson, Fred Enanga.

A day after the attack, the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) identified the murdered tourists as British and South African.

“One of the tourists was a British, another tourist was a South African. Their vehicle was burnt,” said UWA Spokesman, Bashir Hangi.

Contrary to social media reports, Hangi clarified that the unfortunate incident occurred outside the National Park.

“They were on a public road, the road that goes to Katwe – Kabatooro Town Council. They were not deep inside the National Park where you have tourism trucks, game viewing, nature walks, experiential tourism activities,” he said.

He added: “Last year, no single incident [was recorded]. And this has happened over the years. This is not what we are known for. We are known to be a country of safety, we are known to be a country that welcomes people, the Pearl of Africa is known to be a place worth everyone’s time to come and explore.”

Despite the incident happening not deep in the park, it sent vehement shockwaves to the tourism sector that is just recovering from the outbreak of COVID-19 that put the sector on its knees.

The industry captains expressed worry that the incident could heavily affect the sector and reignite the consequences caused by the outbreak of the pandemic that left the sector completely collapsed.

“As a sector, we are just recovering from COVID, and we had almost recovered back the numbers [of tourists] we had pre COVID. This incident will set us back,” said Boniface Byamukama, the tour operators chairperson.

He, however, added: “If we work together, the tourism sector should be able to revamp. Any incident of this nature can happen anywhere in the world, but we are confident that the security forces in Uganda will be able to bring the culprits to book.”

The Executive Director of UWA, Sam Mwandha said efforts are underway to track the attackers to answer for their crime, and assured international arrivals not fear because of the isolated incident.

“Having visited the site of the murder of our two tourists from abroad, with their tour driver, we have had several meetings here with various security agencies. Right now, the park remains open, and visitors are encouraged to come. We have deployed appropriately in all locations,” he said.

Impact of Tourism Sector on the Economy

Uganda harbors some of the world’s most rare tourist attractions, and the country is one of the top tourist destinations on earth.

According to the Uganda Tourism Satellite Account 2023, published by the Uganda Bureau of Statistics (UBOS), the tourism sector is a major contributor to Uganda’s economy, accounting for 7.7% of GDP and 6.7% of total national employment in 2018.

Before COVID-19 pandemic, Uganda’s tourism sector was one of the fastest growing sectors. The sector generated $1.6 billion in forex earnings in 2018 compared to $1.45 billion in 2017, accounting for 7.7% of the national GDP.

The number of international visitor arrivals increased by 7.4% from 1,402,409 in 2017 to 1,505,669 in 2018.

However, following the outbreak of the pandemic, the country received 512,945 tourists in 2021.

In 2022, the sector earned the country $736 million from 814,508 tourists.

To return to the pre pandemic arrivals, the Uganda Tourism Board (UTB) developed a strategic plan and a Recovery Marketing Strategy to propel the sector to recovery through interventions such as domestic tourism promotion and destination branding.

Tourism is a major source of foreign exchange earnings for Uganda, helping to improve the country’s balance of payments. It also creates jobs and supports businesses across a range of sectors, including hospitality, transport, food and beverage, and retail.

Uganda’s tourism sector is based on its rich natural and cultural attractions, including its national parks, wildlife, and historical sites. The country is home to over 10 national parks, including Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and home to half (54%) of the world’s remaining mountain gorillas. Other popular tourist attractions include Queen Elizabeth National Park, Murchison Falls National Park, and Lake Victoria.

Apart from the Big Five; lion, leopard, giraffe, elephant and giraffe, travellers track and habituate the mountain gorillas and chimpanzees.

With that, Uganda positions itself as the key destination for maintain gorillas.

In addition to its natural attractions, Uganda also has a rich culture and history. The country is home to over 50 different ethnic groups, each with its own unique language and traditions. Visitors to Uganda can learn about the country’s culture by visiting historical sites, such as the Kasubi Tombs and the Bigo bya Mugenyi, attending traditional ceremonies, or simply interacting with the local people.

Fauna and Flora International (FFI), the world’s oldest international wildlife conservation organisation, ranks Uganda among the top ten most biodiverse countries globally; with 19 species of primates that among others features more than 54% of the World’s remaining population of mountain gorillas, 11% (1,057 species) of the world’s recorded species of birds (50% of Africa’s bird species richness), 7.8% (345 species) of the Global Mammal Diversity (39% of Africa’s Mammal Richness), 19% (86 species) of Africa’s amphibian species richness, 14% (142 species) of Africa’s reptile species richness, 1,249 species of butterflies, 600 species of fish, 18 plant kingdoms/over 5000 species (more than any other African country) and its biological diversity are one of the highest on the continent.

Uganda is gifted with the Source of the Nile, Africa’s longest and world’s second-longest river. The river itself is punctuated by unique features such as the Murchison and Karuma Falls. The Itanda Rapids (between Bujagali and Isimba Dams present Africa’s most exceptional all-year-round white-water rafting experience surrounded by landscapes and bird views.

Uganda is also home to Rwenzori Mountains National Park, famous for among others; the Rwenzori Mountains – the only snowcapped mountains on the African Equator and 3rd highest mountain in Africa; Kasubi Royal Tombs of the great Buganda Kingdom and Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, home to the Mountain Gorillas.

The country is home to 45% (12,000 square miles) of Lake Victoria, Africa’s largest lake and the world’s second-largest freshwater lake and world’s largest tropical lake with beautiful beaches and over 100 habitable islands, many of them largely pristine and teeming with primates, rare birds and hundreds of plant species.

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