It goes without saying that Uganda’s tourism sector has been greatly affected by the Covid-19 lockdown and the closure of the airports, not forgetting the various restrictions that have been put in place by government to curb the spread of COVID-19 in the country.
While the sector is still grappling with the immense economic impacts of the prevailing pandemic, the people who were earning a living from the tourism industry are not spared either.
We spoke to Paul Ocheng, a 46 year old tour guide with the Great Lakes Safari, to get his opinion of what the impact of the lockdown has been on the tourism sector.
What was the tourism industry like before March when the lock down was effected?
Well, I have been in this sector for the last 7 years and one of the amazing things I have seen with this sector is that the number of tourists keeps growing year in year out.
Numbers were increasing from the previous years. The sector, I believe, was close to even beating the agriculture sector in terms of revenue collection. I believe it is the most affected sector as far as the lockdown is concerned because it was put at a time when we were supposed to get into the peak season which starts in May.
Uganda’s tourism industry is believed to be very dependent on foreign tourism. With international travels banned, are Ugandans embracing the local tourism?
Yes that is true, the industry relies more on foreign tourists. But you also need to keep in mind that Ugandans also cannot travel abroad since the airport is closed. Ugandans are now traveling more within in the country because they have information on various great destinations.
Tourist resorts, companies and inline parties are also coming up with discounts to encourage local tourism and I believe UTB has been doing a great job informing Ugandans that they too can afford tourism and that it is not only for foreigners.
Ugandans have money to spend; Kampala is called the ‘party city’ because Ugandans spend heavily in terms of the party life, travel and relaxation. So, if you see how much they spend in the bars, you will realize that they can also afford to travel to these national parks as well.
The closure of the airport is also forcing Ugandans to embrace touring their motherland because they can’t leave.
As a tour guide, how has the pandemic affected you personally?
Of course it has hit me hard because I do not have an alternative source of income. This is because with tourism you have to give your all to be able to succeed at what you do.
You have to give more than 100% to be able to sell the idea of tourism to people. For instance, in the high season, you find yourself on the road almost every day which makes it impossible to focus on alternative sources of income.
My prayer is that all this comes to an end so that we can get back to normal life.
Lastly, what does it take to become a tour guide especially for the young people who want to join the tourism industry?
Well, you need to be patriotic. Patriotism is not about politics, it is about loving your country. Once you love your country, it becomes easy for you to enjoy the uniqueness of Uganda.
There is no way you can see that uniqueness and fail to become great in the tourism sector.