30 August 2013

Uganda: Cashless Tourism Here

A new electronic cashless system has been introduced in Uganda to enable visitors to Uganda's national parks to be able to make payments centrally, through a carefully monitored and controlled system.

The payments are credited to the Wildlife Card, which visitors can then use as a cash debit card to pay park fees and related expenses for special park services or guide support.

The item is a plastic card about the size of a credit card, with an embedded microchip that is used by Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) to load the Gorilla tracking details and electronic cash payments for other tourism activities in the five National Parks of Lake Mburo, Bwindi Impenetrable, Queen Elizabeth, Kibale, and Murchison Falls.

Most importantly, it also helps to collect key data, which transfers automatically to a central database to generate statistics and reports. It can also be used to buy branded UWA gift items, souvenirs, curios, park maps and guide books from UWA-managed shops.

It is hoped that the initiative would improve on the security of the tourists and tour operators, who will no longer need to carry large amounts of cash. Also, it will help to bolster the security of the gate clerks who have been keeping a lot of cash at the gates, which was prone to robbery and misappropriation. UWA therefore hopes that it will help reduce to leakage at fee collection and handling points, and help reduce leakage at revenue collection points.

Also, it is hoped that the details of tourists captured by the system would enhance customer service delivery and improve customer relationship management. The card was unveiled by United States Ambassador to Uganda Scott DeLisi at the occasion to commemorate 50th Anniversary of the Kidepo Valley National Park on August 22.

The cashless payment system has already proven successful in several other East Africa countries. The idea is that the system will improve the revenue management capability and ultimately increase the availability of funds to support biodiversity conservation in Uganda.

However, some tour operators said they are keeping their fingers crossed about the effectiveness of the card system. Rashid Kiyemba, the managing director of Brovad Tours and Travel Uganda, said, "We don't know because we haven't tried it yet, we just hope that it is practical," he said.

Corne Schalkwyk, the general manager Premier Safaris, was however a little pessimistic saying a similar card system has failed to work in Kenya and has now been withdrawn after numerous complaints.

"Even if UWA has learned from the mistakes in Kenya and is planning to implement an improved system where you can load at the gate, the system will only be as good as the connection, software and its IT assistance," she said.

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