By Francisco Bwambale
When China publicly admitted that coronavirus was the disease killing people in the city of Wuhan, no Ugandan thought of how its effects would reverberate as far as far as Kanungu, Nwoya, Kaabong, Kisoro or Rubirizi districts.
The five districts have one thing in common; national parks. Tourism overtook coffee – becoming the country’s biggest exchange earner. Uganda earns about $1.6 billion from tourism, contributing 7.7 % of the Gross Domestic Product –GDP.
Most of the tourists who visit Uganda mostly go to national parks and other wildlife reserves.
Uganda Wildlife Authority – UWA, the agency mandated with protecting wildlife says the coronavirus has had a devastating impact on the sector.
Bashir Hangi, the UWA spokesman says ever since the virus broke out especially in Europe and United States, there has been a sporadic drop in the number of tourist’s bookings.
Although Hangi says what happened was not cancellation but rescheduling, he nevertheless admits that even when the tourists finally come, there might be a problem of managing them especially if they book during the months that had already been overbooked.
Hangi also says that even after the virus is defeated, tourism might take long to rebound because devastation of the source markets.
“Even someone who had planned to come, for instance in November, it might be very hard to do so because their economies have been largely affected. What this means is that issues of tourism have become secondary to them. The priority shifts to survival other than leisure,” said Hangi.
He reveled that as UWA they are also on high alert so that tourists who might have the virus don’t transmit it to the chimpanzees or the gorillas; the two animals whose gene formation is very close to that of human beings.
UWA has also relaxed on its rules governing bookings to visit national parks. Previously a person who booked to visit the park especially Bwindi Impenetrable and Mgahinga national parks, the homes to gorillas, would be fined for rescheduling.
UWA now allows those who booked to reschedule their visits. “Someone doesn’t want to come from German or UK to be quarantined here for 14 days. These people normally have a week to tour so they budget accordingly. So we have also relaxed on the rules because we are in this together,” Hangi said.
The pandemic has not only affected UWA but others in the sector.
“If there are no visitors in the parks, it means that the lodges, the hotels, the transporters, the tour guides among others involved in this hospitality business are now jobless. Tourism is a value chain. When we get affected everybody in the chain gets affected,” added Hangi.