17 July 2010

Uganda: Tourism Sector Vibrant Despite Bomb Blasts

Kampala — "My readers have expressed interest in birding and gorilla safaris since I posted my Uganda articles. I like to update them on the current situation." This message from a reporter in New York to one of the tour operators in Kampala is one of the many that have been overflowing tour companies' mail boxes since the news of the twin bomb blasts that rocked Kampala filtered through the international media.

Tourists and tour operators earlier have been weary of the situation and its impact on the tourism sector. However, players in the field say apart from inquiries, there are no tourists cancelling their booking and safaris that characterise the season will go as planned.

Hundreds of tourists book vocations in Uganda during this period to visit parks and especially to trek gorillas in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. Concerns whether they would cancel their trips or change their itinerary have been quelled by further bookings, according the Mr Moses Mapesa, the executive director of Uganda Wildlife Authority, a body that is charged with keeping the national parks, among other tourism attractions.

Reassuring tourists

Mr Mapesa said he has not received any cancellation, something that reassures the sector that the bombs scare will not seriously affect the business. On Wednesday morning, tour operators held a meeting at the Uganda Tourism Board offices in Kampala. At the meeting, they resolved on safety measures of tourists in the country and those about to arrive.

Though the primary aim of the meeting the upcoming World Travel Market (WTM) fair in London due in November, tour operators addressed matters regarding the bombs scare because they could be damaging to their business.

Mr Geoffrey Baluku, the manager of African Pearl Safaris told Saturday Monitor that though some tourists booked with his company are concerned and have been inquiring whether it is safe to visit the country, he is glad that none of them has cancelled. Mr Baluku, also secretary general of the Association of Uganda Tour Operators (AUTO) said,, "No park has been far closed, so as long as visitors observe safety precautions, the situation is very normal."

Uganda Tourism Board's Edwin Muzahura added, "I have met the private sector in tourism and we have agreed on updating our clients on the situation back home." He said providing factual updates on the website, twitter and facebook helps tourists understand the situation as it is, and not to scare them away.

"These scares happen anywhere and tourists cannot stop to come because two bombs are detonated in some parts of Kampala. For example, South Africa was on high alert before and during the World Cup, but millions of football fans watched the games peacefully. The situation in Kampala is very controllable and every other places tourists visit, are more security conscious than possibly they have been."

Mr Mapesa adds, "People out there understand that there are security concerns in America, Europe, Asia and everywhere." He said there are reasonable security measures in place to protect the tourists from harm, adding, UWA has enough security on its own in all national parks.

Mr Mapesa who says the gorilla permits for example are fully booked, adds UWA has always asked tourists to observe security precautions and his body has enough security detail in case of any emergence. Entebbe International Airport, according to Mr Ignie Igundura, the Civil Aviation Authority spokesperson, has operated normally throughout the week, save for the delayed flight by Kenya Airways on Monday.

Total guidance

"The safaris are done in the total guidance of our staff. We tell our visitors to travel during the day and to be inside by 7p.m.," he says, adding, "And even when a tourist asked for a self guided tour, we advise them on routes and give them a map."

Mr Muzahura told Saturday Monitor, the situation is under control and that is why the government has not issued any travel advisories. Mr Baluku adds, the coming months are high season for safaris and if the government serves advisory notices, it would heavily impact on the tourism industry.

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