Uganda’s tourism industry has started feeling the impact of the of the deadly Coronavirus also known as COVID-19 following cancellations of bookings by tourists.
Last week, the Uganda Tourism Board advised tourists intending to travel to the country from high risk countries to delay their travels until when the pandemic is contained worldwide.
Subsequently, the country’s tour operators and hoteliers have reported an unprecedented number of cancellations of bookings in the wake of a continuous spread of the virus throughout Europe which is Uganda’s premium tourism market.
Gloria Tumwesigye the Chief Executive Officer of the Association of Uganda Tour Operators (AUTO) said they were still monitoring the situation and handling queries from members who are receiving requests by booked in travelers to defer or cancel their travel.
“We have been calling for calm and encouraging our members to hope. We have also advised all our members to follow the precautionary measures communicated by the Ministry of Health and continue to engage all relevant authorities on our members behalf,” she said.
Tumwesigye lauded the Uganda Wildlife Authority for accepting to relax their reschedule policy for clients to postpone travel and that they are in discussions with them to further relax them especially to areas still unfair to the business community.
The Chief Executive Officer of Uganda Hotel Owners Association, Jean Byamugisha, told ChimpReports that the effects were hitting the entire tourism industry affecting flights and earlier scheduled conferences have been postponed and several countries are issuing travel advisories.
“Speaking for the hotels, coronavirus will definitely affect us in terms of low revenues due to cancellation of bookings. Some hotels upcountry have sent some staff on leave due to lack of business. We also have to refund money for cancelled bookings and this is really going to hit hard. It’s a very difficult time for us in the hotel industry,” Byamugisha said.
She added that they are likely to lose income worth millions of dollars because all major conferences have been cancelled until June like the Global Science Conference, G77 summit which was going to attract more that 136 member states and many more.
“Right now, it’s hard to get an educated estimate because effects change every day. One day the stock markets crush and today we wake up to news of the US banning the rest of Europe from entering their boarders. We don’t know what news we will wake up to tomorrow. But the fact the industry is taking a very big financial hit since the outbreak of the corona virus,” she said.
Jean Byamukama advised the people in the sector to be vigilant with washing hands and following the directives of the Ministry of Health and WHO to protect themselves and guests in the hotel industry.
“This is an inconvenient time for the whole world and we must do our part to ensure that Uganda is kept free from corona virus. Bad as it might be right now, it will be a lot worse for our industry should Uganda declare a case of coronavirus, “she said.
The World Health Organization earlier this week declared the disease a pandemic and countries have taken measures to avoid non-essential travels from foreigners.
World leading travel and tourism conferences were canceled and others rescheduled like the ITB Berlin travel show and the Aviation Development Conference.
In an effort to keep the virus out of the country, the Health Ministry has instituted a mandatory 14-day self-isolation policy for travelers from 16 high risk countries like Italy, China, Iran, San Marino, South Korea, France, Germany, Spain, Belgium, USA, United Kingdom, Netherlands, Sweden, Norway, Austria and Malaysia.
According to the health ministry, the country currently has 1,632 travelers under quarantine.
The Minister of Health Dr Jane Ruth Acing said in a statement that of the 1,632 quarantined travelers; 244 are Ugandans, 1,071 Chinese, 43 Italians, 34 from South Korea and 484 are from other countries.
“We have samples from 26 persons who presented signs and symptoms similar but they have all been tested and found negative”.
Last week Uganda denied entry of 22 foreigners who had come to attend the Uganda – EU Business Forum on failure to follow the countries procedure of self-quarantine for 14 days.