Uganda’s tourism industry is set to be hard hit by latest ban on flights from Uganda as the second wave of coronavirus disease pandemic continues to ravage the country.
The United Kingdom (UK) yesterday joined the list of countries that have imposed travel ban on Uganda effective June 30.
The ban follows the spiraling wave of community infections and death from various Covid-19 variants in Uganda.
The Ministry of Tourism economic growth forum budget for 2019/2020 financial year indicates that tourism is the leading foreign exchange earner for Uganda, generating $1.5b in revenue.
Uganda earned $1.6b (about Shs5.8 trillion) from tourism in the 2018/2019 financial year. According to the Annual Tourism Sector Performance Report for Financial Year 2018/2019, the revenue rose from $1.45b (Shs5.3 trillion) in the 2017 financial year.
Tourism also generated $1,453m in 2017, compared to $1,371 million in 2016.
Mr Amos Wekesa, the managing director of Great Lakes Safaris, one of the big actors in tourism industry, worries that this could be the beginning of trouble for Uganda with the rest of other countries picking a cue from the UK.
“The UK is a developed economy and this ban might cause a ripple effect with other countries such as the US doing the same, he said.
Mr Wekesa blamed the ban on Uganda’s poor communication in its fight against the pandemic.
“The problem is that we don’t have leadership that wakes up and starts engaging like Kenya does. Kenya is on the red list but they have a team that’s engaging the UK government. Uganda needs to have similar arrangements in engaging the UK government. We already had problem, one doctor in the Ministry of Health went on the BBC and started talking of how terrible things were on the ground… the way we communicate excludes our recoveries, the restrictions put in place and how the airport is still functional. Uganda can only grow when we have international business,” he said.
The decision to impose travel ban on Uganda comes on the heels of similar decision by Rwanda-government-owned RwandAir, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The UAE suspend entries for travellers from Zambia, DR Congo and Uganda, starting June 11 as part of efforts to contain the spread of Covid-19.
The communication by the UK government indicates that only British and Irish nationals and third country nationals with resident rights to UK will be permitted to travel to the UK from Uganda.
For this category of red list, the statement says: “You must quarantine in a hotel and take two Covid-19 tests. You cannot currently enter the UK if you’ve been in or through a country on the red list unless you’re British, Irish or you have the right to live in the UK.”
However, these British and Irish nationals and third country nationals with residence rights in the UK will be required to quarantine for 10 days in government-approved and managed quarantine facilities once in the UK.
The travel advisory named the full list of countries to be added to the red list as Uganda, Eritrea, Haiti, Dominican Republic, Mongolia, and Tunisia.
It said all measures will continue to be kept under review to protect public health as the top priority and that the countries listed “present a high public health risk to the UK from known variants of concern (VOC), known high-risk variants under investigation (VUI) or as a result of very high in-country or territory prevalence of Covid-19.”
Following the travel restrictions, Uganda has registered a drop in traffic flow at its premier airport Entebbe and this will continue to bite, according to Uganda Civil Aviation Authority (UCAA).
Mr Vianney Luggya, the UCAA manager of public affairs, said the country had started to register gradual rise in passenger traffic after the first wave of the pandemic, but the numbers have since dropped again as the new restrictions kicked in.
“You may recall that it (passenger traffic) has been rising steadily since we resumed operations. For example, we resumed in October last year and in the period of October to December 2020, we were averaging between 1,400 to 1,800 passengers per day. January was 1,800 passengers per day, February 2,100 and April was 2,800 per day, but when it came to May, the numbers dropped to 2,400 per day,” Mr Luggya said.
UCAA says the drop in May was largely because of the second wave of Covid-19, which came along with the restrictions.
In Uganda, the UK falls under the second category of countries from which originating travellers are required to do an additional PCR test on arrival.
Ms Liilly Ajarova, the Uganda Tourism Board chief executive officer, said: “We (UTB) do not know how long this is going to take and tell the real impact. We are all going through the pandemic period and things are changing all the time. After going through the first wave we had picked up very well, but now it’s becoming increasingly difficult to give clear projections.”
Mr Wekesa said the ban means almost 50 per cent of tourists won’t be coming but also exports will be affected.
The UK has for long been Uganda’s number one trading partner until Kenya took over, according to Mr Wekesa. Kenya is now Uganda’s biggest trading partner.
Experts say although Uganda is facing a resurgence in coronavirus infections, the situation is not as bad as is with many other countries.
Uganda has so far registered 9,906 Covid-19 cases in eight days according to Ministry of Health data.
Mr Wekesa said: “If you look across Africa South Africa has lost thousands, is there economy closed?, Isn’t Stanbic Bank working here and taking back money to SouthAfrica… we are borrowing and have no single ability for us to earn money outside the country.’’
Advisory from UK government
“The government advises people not to travel to amber destinations. If returning from an amber list country, you must: Take a Covid-19 test before departure and have proof of a negative result Book a Covid-19 test on days two and eight after your return Complete a passenger locator form Quarantine for 10 days It may be possible to end quarantine early in England if you pay for an additional test under the test-to-release scheme.
“Members of diplomatic mission and consular posts in the UK, officers servants or representatives of international originations, representatives at an international or UK conference granted privileges and immunities and their families or dependents however do not need to complete passenger locator forms and are not subjected to mandatory testing, neither will they be required to quarantine in managed quarantine hotel. They will be asked to self-isolate in the place they will be staying in UK for 10 days following arrival as at present...”