Adventure, uncertainty and speculation have always been associated with traveling in Uganda through the Covid-19 time. During the past two years, uncertainty on its own got worse with the political threats that associated the 2021 general presidential elections. This was right from the incidents that happened in the late months of 2020 to the terrorist threats that covered the some months in the older months of 2021.
The number of tourists seeking Uganda Safaris on their travel plans dropped by almost 80% in 2020 and 60% through 2021. The unprecedented drop tourism worsened with the suspension of Gorilla in the region, as these endangered primates were cautioned at contracting this deadly virus.
However, through that time, there has been a craving for excitement and lust to experience the pearl of Africa but all had been put on stand hold by the travel restrictions and possible risks. The popularity of Uganda safaris that had dropped by 70% in terms of visitor turn up is now on its way back to the road again. As the restrictions are being eased, confidence is returning thus a continued gradual recovery in the last 12 months with a much better performance compared to the weak start of 2021.
Most destinations have eased COVID-19 related and travel restrictions that were put in place to combat the spread of this coronavirus. This has thus contributed to unleashing pent-up demand. In the first half of 2022, there has been a steady increment in the number of tourists coming into the country as according to statistical data collected by the Association of Uganda Tour Operators (AUTO).
The numbers were boasted when the government scrapped off compulsory covid testing for travelers at Entebbe International Airport that is the main gateway for tourists into Uganda. Tourists have continued to come in for different reasons. Many are coming in for Game viewing in the Savannah parks of Queen Elizabeth and Murchison Falls and others for primates trekking, majorly mountain Gorillas of Bwindi Impenetrable Forest in the South West of Uganda on top of other adventures that Uganda offers.
Other destinations that are receiving visitors is the Lake Bunyoyi, a river dammed lake in South West Uganda. This is so because the lake that has more than 30 islands offers refreshing activities such as boat rides as a relation for those from a tiresome Gorilla trekking adventure in Bwindi Forest. Kidepo National park with its unique gem of wildlife is has also seen an increase in the number of tourists that visit it despite its remoteness and a bit tough access due to poor infrastructure that lead to the inside of the park.
Based on data collected from some individual pilot studies, international tourist arrivals in Uganda have more than doubled by May 2022 compared to early 2021. Uganda’s tourism structure has always been characterised by two peak season one from Late June to September and the other from December to March. Meaning the low seasons run from April to Mid-June. However, the numbers of tourist’s arrivals in the first half of this year have almost equalled to the total increase for the whole of 2021.
This momentum gain should not only be contributed to international travelers but also regional. Through tourism promotional campaigns by the Uganda Tourism Board such as Tulambule and Explore Uganda, local travelers have been brought close in the process of recovering Uganda’s tourism.
Comparison with East Africa’s destinations
As global tourism continues to recover at a strong pace, so does East Africa’s. Destinations have welcomed almost three times as many international arrivals in the first half of 2022 as in the same period of 2021, with Kenya and Tanzania leading the sector’s regional rebound respectively.
Kenya is currently ranked 8th in Africa and the most visited country in East Africa. The country receives an average of 1.4 million visitors every year and is continuing to gain an impressive recovery of the industry. The Maasai Mara has quickly become one of the most popular safari destinations in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, thus the most visited destination so far this year.
Over the years, Tanzania has been a gem for vacationing over the continent, attracting thousands of tourists to the region annually. Tanzania is home to some of Africa’s most well-known national parks, including the Serengeti, a UNESCO World Heritage Site with millions of animals. As a result, Tanzania safaris and wildlife-related experiences such as Wildebeest migrations are the most popular things to do in East Africa and the reason many visitors visit the region. Tanzania receives an average of 1.3 million visitors every year, making it Africa’s ninth most visited country. According to the UNWTO world Tourist Barometer, tourism in Tanzania’s tourism has seen a steady increase since 2021 and sector has gathered more pace by almost tripling in the past three months.
Uganda now stands at Africa’s tenth most visited country in position, with 1 million visitors per year on average. Like Rwanda, Uganda is becoming a popular destination for mountain gorilla watching. Uganda tours also offer rich culture and history that also attracts visitors from all over the world thus the steady momentum.
New Uncertainties are emerging
While figures confirm the positive trend already underway last year, the pace of recovery is yet to be engaged by these new emergences and uncertainties. Re-introduction of travel restrictions in several destinations.
Despite the impressive performance, the tourism and hospitality sector is still facing uncertainties arising mainly globally. The war in Ukraine poses new challenges to the global economic environment and risks hampering the return of confidence in regional travel. The conflict is having major economic consequences already globally, exacerbating high oil prices and overall inflation and disrupting international supply chains, which results in higher transport and accommodation costs for the tourism sector in all destinations.
Some tour operators are also worried about the increasing numbers of Monkeypox infections in Europe. Although there are still no registered cases of this disease outbreak in Uganda, it is still a concern as it may lead to the enactment of travel restrictions similar to those previously brought up by Covid-19 that had already been lifted.