The COVID-19 Business Hub spoke with Richard Kawere, the Chief Executive Officer of the Uganda Tourism Association, to learn how the tourism sector in Uganda can recover from the pandemic and thrive in the future.

Ernest:  Can you please introduce yourself and describe your role at Uganda Tourism Association and tell us; what does the association do for the tourism sector?

Richard Kawere: My name is Richard Kawere, the Chief Executive Officer and technical coordinator of the Uganda Tourism Association. Uganda Tourism Association is the umbrella body of tourism private sector in Uganda.  In my role as the chief executive officer, I ensure that the association meets its mandate. This involves coordinating the private sector, in terms of advocacy, capacity building, product development, marketing and harmonized quality assurance standards.

We have approximately eight-member associations, including the Association of Guide Tour Operators, the Hotel Owners Association, and The Travel Agents Association. The General Managers Association, the Uganda Safari Guide Association, the National Cultural Crafts Association and the Tourism Trade show.

We remain focused on ensuring that we have a sustainable tourism industry in Uganda. To achieve this vision, we intervene between the government and the private sector for a favorable business environment for tourism enterprises in Uganda.

Ernest Wasake: Could you please tell us how the tourism sector has been affected by COVID?

Richard Kawere: The tourism sector has been the worst hit industry. If we are to narrow it down from the global perspective to the Ugandan perspective, the tourism industry was hit, actually before COVID entered Uganda. Because when COVID-19 hit the globe, cancelations started coming in as early as January and February. And those cancelations meant loss of business. As a result, businesses started going down as early as January and February.

By the time they announced a lockdown, tourism industry had already suffered substantial business loss. Each subsector of the tourism industry was hit differently. In terms of outbound tourism, the travel agents industry, suffered about 97 percent business loss with the announcement of airport closures. In terms of inbound tourism, our study (The Impact of Covid-19 on the tourism sector, Ministry of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities, July 2020) revealed that tour operators suffered about 80 percent business loss (around 30.4 Million US dollars – 0.11 trillion shillings) in inbound tourism between the months of February and July. Meanwhile, the accommodation sector lost about 1.19 trillion shillings by July as a result of 48,966 room cancelations. On average, the study that we conducted puts the industry at a loss of about 92 percent of businesses and because there was no activity, there were temporary layoffs and about 80 percent of the workforce was fully laid off.

Ernest Wasake: What needs to be done to help the tourism sector recover and thrive?

Richard Kawere:  It requires a number of mixed strategies for our industry.  All businesses lost revenue and continue to pay operating costs, meaning that all tourism businesses have run out of, what I would call, operational cash flow, and some of them are tentatively even closed.  For the survival of the industry, we are looking at two dimensions: One dimension is survival in the form of grants and the other dimension is the recovery through soft loans. A mixture of those two is very important.

Marketing is also essential. As the globe settles down because now there’s this glimpse of a vaccine, it is all those countries that have been in touch with their clientele that will be on the travel lists. A good amount of money needs to be spent on constant marketing and promotion of Uganda as a destination. Because once there is some level of confidence for travelers to move, they will go to those destinations that have been properly marketed.

Additionally, Businesses need to be supported in the area of capacity building (both online and in person training), so they can design strategies to respond to such catastrophes like this one in the future. The psychological impact on business owners and employees is quite high. So making sure employees are counseled and also empowered through capacity building so that there is hope still ringing in the minds of these employees and the business enterprises. Most importantly is the adoption of technology as the new way for most of the business processes in the tourism industry. So first survive, then recover and then develop resilient mechanisms for future catastrophes.

Ernest Wasake: What would you say the future looks like in terms of if you were to sort of glance into what the future looks like, if the right things were put in place? What does the future look like for tourism?

Richard Kawere: Wherever there is a challenge, there’s always an opportunity. We have a very strong belief that this industry will bounce back strongly. Especially because people have been confined in [home] areas, we believe there is going to be a very strong push for people to move out and shake off the stress. That positive belief indicates that there will be an increased demand for the tourism services, both locally and internationally for both inbound and outbound.

It is also important that we have a secure and safe environment and a secure political environment. That gives confidence to our clients to arrive in one or two years since the vaccine is getting some little headway, maybe in about one year we may start [the journey of recovery] all over. The future of the industry is bright. What we need to do is to get our strategies right now. If we get our strategies right, then we would be able to compete favorably with other destinations.