Ugandans are geared to throng Uganda’s national parks and various tourist attractions, located In upcountry parts of the country during Christmas and New Year. This rare occurrence comes at a time when few Ugandans have in the past been spending their festive seasons in their upcountry homes, urban centres and some outside Uganda.
Government has for the last couple of years promoted domestic tourism; commonly referred to as; Tulambule, in a bid to encourage Ugandans visit their tourist attractions. It’s against this background that the tourism industry in Uganda; is gearing up for the peak season ahead of the Christmas period with discounted rates, for those looking to explore attractions within the country.
The Uganda Tourism Board (UTB) and Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) together with private hoteliers and tour operators announced the festive season campaign during a joint news conference last Tuesday. Suzan Muhwezi, who heads Uganda Hotel Owners Association (UHOA), the body that brings together hoteliers in Uganda said that most of the accommodation facilities have slashed their prices to enable local and foreign visitors have an exciting holiday.
“This is an exciting time for hoteliers and we are preparing family diners, kids activities and other programs at discounted prices,” “If you are a hotelier, like any other business, it is about numbers. So, we want to have many people at lower cost than have a few and charge them highly,” Muhwezi said.
She encouraged Ugandans looking to have family excursions in the countryside to visit the UHOA website and look out for the best offers by different hotels. Up to 450 accommodation facilities are members to the Association. “I am engaging them to promote domestic tourism so that Ugandans who rarely live in these hotels get the chance to do so,” Muhwezi said.
Some of the hotels in Kampala including Sheraton and Mackinon Suites have already announce discounts of up to 30 per cent and a free night of accommodation when one books two nights. Stephen Masaaba, the Marketing Manager for Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) on his part said; “Our national parks are open so that Ugandans can enjoy their national heritage”.
At a cost of Shs 110,000, citizens can get access to any national park for a two day visit and Shs 250,000 (USD 69) for a gorilla trekking permit which is significantly lower compared to Shs 2.1 million (USD 600) for foreign visitors.
“In areas like Queen Elizabeth National Park, we have acquired new boats and you will get affordable accommodation and students’ hostels,” Masaaba said. The Executive Director of UTB, Stephen Asiimwe noted that there has been growth in the number of local tourists in the last few years. He said that the Christmas season offers an opportune time for people to step out of their traditional homes and experience what’s out there.
Many have often decried the hefty prices charged by most hotels and lodging facilities in national parks which scares away low earning Ugandans, but Muhwezi attributed this to multiple taxation and lack of incentives have always made it difficult for hotel owners to bring their rates down.
“Currently, we have 11 taxes on hotels. We need to merge all these taxes and have a single tourism levy like Kenya does,” she said.
She however noted that even for those who afford the relatively expensive charges, hotels must endeavor to offer value for money in terms of quality of service. Uganda received 1.37 million people in tourist arrivals in the 2016/17 financial year, drawing in USD 1.4 billion in foreign revenue and contributing 9% of GDP. But players in the sector say the only way to make the benefits from tourism industry sustainable is by growing domestic tourism. Government and the private sector players in tourism have appealed to Ugandans to exploit the discount offers to tour the diverse attractions that they have always yearned to travel to.