Uganda’s Tourism Industry Reaches 82.6% of Pre-Pandemic Levels

by Mmeeme Leticia Luweze
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The latest Tourism Trend and Statistics Report for 2024 by the Ministry of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities released on Tuesday, March 26, 2024, offers insights into Uganda’s tourism landscape. Highlighting a notable rebound, the report reveals that international tourism in Uganda has surged to 82.6% of pre-pandemic levels, signalling a resilient recovery trajectory despite a -17.4% deviation from the benchmark set in 2019.

In 2019, arrivals stood at 1,542,620, only to fall to 473,085 in the wake of the pandemic in 2020. However, subsequent years witnessed a gradual resurgence, with arrivals climbing to 512,945 in 2021 and further escalating to 814,508 in 2022. By 2023, the sector experienced a remarkable turnaround, with tourism arrivals peaking at an impressive 1,274,210, indicative of a substantial recovery.

International tourist arrivals surged by 56.4%, increasing to 1,274,210 from 814,508 in 2022. This surge, according to the Tourism Trend and Statistics Report for 2024, was propelled by robust performances across all markets, notably from Mainland Africa and key overseas source markets such as the UK, USA, and India.

The report highlights that the number of international tourist arrivals from the U.S., Europe, and China witnessed fluctuations between 2019 and 2023. In 2019, there were 29,036 arrivals, followed by a slight decrease to 27,877 in 2020. However, there was a notable increase in 2021, with arrivals reaching 46,907, indicating a potential rebound in tourism. By 2022, the number further rose to 67,252, suggesting a positive trend in international tourism.

Tourism in Uganda has long been celebrated for its rich biodiversity, stunning landscapes, and cultural heritage, positioning the country as a prominent destination within Africa and globally. Despite facing significant challenges, including the unprecedented impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the resilience and recovery of Uganda’s tourism industry are commendable.

The Ministry of Tourism, Wildlife, and Antiquities (MTWA), alongside its agencies and the private sector, has spearheaded initiatives to revitalize and sustain the tourism industry. Notably, the “Explore Uganda – The Pearl of Africa” campaign has been instrumental in boosting domestic tourism and attracting international visitors, contributing significantly to the sector’s recovery and growth.

The 2023 tourism performance report highlights projects that International tourist arrivals will increase up to 1.5 million by the end of 2024. Concurrently, international tourist receipts soared from US$0.736 billion in 2022 to US$1.025 billion in 2023, representing a noteworthy 48.5% growth and reaching approximately 83% of the US$1.232 billion recorded in 2019.

According to the Ministry of Tourism, Wildlife, and Antiquities, this surge underscores Uganda’s growing prominence as a tourist destination and the increase in both numbers and revenue from arrivals from Africa and some key overseas markets, including the United Kingdom, United States of America, and India. However, stakeholders emphasized the need to further boost local tourism and enhance infrastructure to unlock even greater potential for growth and development in the sector.

“Through the concerted efforts of the Ministry of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities, in collaboration with its agencies and the private sector, we have witnessed a recovery of the industry. International arrivals have increased to an impressive 82.6 percent of pre-pandemic levels,” said Doreen Katusiime, the Tourism Permanent Secretary.

Tourism is one of Uganda’s key sectors contributing about 4.7 percent to the private sector. According to the Ministry of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities 2024 report, tourism continues to play a crucial role in Uganda’s economic landscape. The sector’s direct contribution to employment rose, supporting over 610,806 jobs in 2022, a 6.5% increase from 2019. Furthermore, tourism’s contribution to the GDP was significant, underscoring its importance to Uganda’s economic stability and growth.

The contribution of tourism to Uganda’s GDP fluctuated over the years, showing varying percentages from 2019 to 2023. In 2019, tourism contributed 7.7% to the GDP, dropping to 2.7% in 2020, likely due to the global pandemic’s impact. There was a slight recovery in 2021, with tourism accounting for 4.2% of the GDP. By 2022 and 2023, contributions rose to 4.7%, indicating a gradual recovery in the sector.

In the last three years, Uganda has been aggressively marketing its destinations in southern and western Africa. Before the Covid-19 pandemic disruptions and its ensuing lockdowns that saw the sector come to a standstill, it was the country’s biggest foreign exchange earner raking in about $1.6 billion annually. To further recover from the effects of the pandemic, the Ministry of Tourism has outlined a comprehensive plan. This includes producing and advertising brand campaigns across domestic, and regional.

Additionally, the Ministry plans to conduct domestic tourism promotional activities such as Explore Uganda Campaigns, local tourism awards, festivals, and events. Destination Uganda will also be actively promoted at international expos in both African and European markets. The ministry aims to continue positioning Uganda as a prime MICE destination while supporting the training and capacity building of tourism actors along the tourism value chain.

Worldwide, the tourism sector is gradually returning to pre-pandemic levels, with Asia and Africa leading the recovery. The report highlights Asia and Africa as regions with the best results, surpassing pre-pandemic levels by 79% and 9%, respectively. The Americas and Europe each recovered 16% of 2019 numbers, while the Middle East and Oceania recovered 13% and 8%, respectively. India, the USA, the UK, China, and Germany emerged as the top overseas source markets for Uganda, while Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan, Tanzania, and Eritrea were the top five African source markets in 2023. Notably, the proportion of leisure visitors increased from 12% to 16%, and MICE visitors increased from 5% to 8%. The top five source markets for leisure visitors were the USA, Kenya, the UK, Germany, and Rwanda.

Tourism plays a crucial role in Uganda’s economy, offering a pathway to sustainable development, conservation, and cultural preservation. With its diverse attractions, including national parks, wildlife reserves, cultural sites, and natural landscapes, Uganda continues to attract visitors from around the globe.

Uganda’s rich biodiversity and natural heritage attract visitors worldwide. Domestic tourism saw a 25.3% increase in 2023, with significant growth in visitations to the Uganda Wildlife Conservation Education Centre, the Source of the Nile, and the Uganda Museum. In 2023, visits to national parks and wildlife reserves increased, with foreign non-residents constituting a significant portion of park visitors. The report highlights the importance of continuous conservation efforts and the positive impact of tourism on Uganda’s wildlife conservation initiatives.

According to the report, there has been a concerning decline in the populations of both lions and mountain gorillas from 2019 to 2023. The lion population decreased from 493 in 2019 to 275 in 2023, while the mountain gorilla population remained stagnant at 459 individuals throughout the period, highlighting the need for conservation efforts to stabilize their numbers.

The year 2023 marked a significant milestone in the recovery and growth of Uganda’s tourism sector, with substantial increases in tourist arrivals and economic contributions. The Ministry of Tourism, Wildlife, and Antiquities attributes this recovery to robust marketing efforts, strategic partnerships, and the enduring appeal of Uganda’s natural and cultural assets.

Last year, the government faced public backlash after announcing a more than halving of the tourism budget from Ush194.6 billion ($52 million) to only Ush89.29 billion ($24 million) for 2023/2024. Government technocrats and private sector players agree that more funding is needed for activities like upgrading, maintaining, and redeveloping tourism sites, participating in international meetings and exhibitions, reviewing and implementing the national tourism marketing strategy, and developing new sites and products.

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