Hotels ask government to market venues, ease restrictions

November 14, 2021

Uganda's hospitality industry, grappling with the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic that have seen hotel occupancy rates plunge to below 40 percent ahead of the December festive season, now want the government to ease restrictions and market the country's tourism to foreign markets, with an emphasis on its natural heritage.

The hoteliers say increasing funding for tourism will bring in more returns and quicker and save a crumbling economy.

According to Jean Byamugisha, the chief executive of the industry umbrella body Uganda Hotel Owners Association, many of its members are operating in losses and are straddled with pending utility bills and salaries.

Others have defaulted on bank loans and the government is yet to say whether they will receive a share of the Covid-19 economic stimulus package.

“One can only tell the health of the hotel industry by occupancy rates. On average, most hotels in the country have currently not reached 40 percent occupancy,” said Byamugisha.

Uganda, currently under partial lockdown, has imposed some of the toughest anti-pandemic measures in the region, which have affected businesses and individual livelihoods across all sectors.

Byamugisha said the 7pm to 5.30am curfew has killed night life, with local clients keeping off hotels and foreign visitors choosing destinations that have greater freedom of movement.

“A big chunk of hotel business takes place at night and a curfew at 7pm is killing the hotel business, with no chance to revive the economy,” she said.

Before the pandemic, the sector was the country’s largest foreign exchange earner, raking in about $1.6 billion in revenue annually.

Hospitality contributes close to seven percent of the country’s GDP, yet receives a paltry one percent of the national budget.

Hoteliers are now asking the government to adjust some of the restrictions and to also invest more in marketing the country’s tourism potential to foreign markets, with an emphasis on Uganda's natural heritage and as a space for meetings, incentives, conferencing and exhibitions.

The hoteliers say increasing funding for tourism will bring in more returns and quicker and save a crumbling economy.

Last week, the Secretary to Treasury Ramathan Ggoobi told reporters in Kampala that next year’s budget will focus on sectors of the economy that can speed up economic recovery in the short run, among them tourism.

“The majority of our tourism income comes from international tourism. After the opening up of the remaining Covid-19 restrictions, there should be no way we should fail to invest in the sector. For us we do believe that government needs to inject more money into marketing Uganda as a destination and sponsor the private sector to for example attend international expos from where they can lure the tourists to come into Uganda,” Byamugisha said.


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