Uganda’s tourism sector on a path to recovery

Kampala, Uganda | JULIUS BUSINGE | Uganda recorded a 59% increase in international visitor arrivals to 814,508 in 2022 signalling a recovering tourism sector from the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

The report released by the Ministry of Tourism Wildlife and Antiquities on March 29 in Kampala, indicates that visitor exports generated Shs2.7 trillion (US$0.736bn) – representing 12.2 % of total exports in 2022 and 41.4% of service exports.

The largest item of expenditure for inbound visitors in 2022, continued to be accommodation, food and beverage, passenger transport and shopping with a combined share of 68.8% in 2022.

International tourists stayed an average of 7.6 nights in the country resulting in a total of 6.5 million bed nights. Staying with friends and relatives continues to be the largest accommodation type (33.5%) due to Uganda being a major visiting friends and relatives (VFR) market. International visitors spent 10 times more per day than domestic visitors according to the report.

Tourism sector players said improved recovery means that the sector is speedily recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

The report also indicates that Africa remained the largest source of Uganda’s tourists, contributing at least 87.8% of international arrivals. However, Europe and America saw their numbers drop to third and fourth position, respectively, while Asia took up second position, contributing 4.9% of arrivals.  Kenya was the largest source of arrivals, contributing 376,294 followed up by Rwanda with 158,523 arrivals. South Sudan, Tanzania and Eritrea contributed 59,602, 26,932 and 26,524 arrivals, respectively.

Basil Ajer, the director of tourism in the tourism ministry said Uganda had done well in terms of marketing, which saw international visitors return to Uganda.

He said the other supporting factors included increased domestic tourism campaigns executed through events such as Ekyooto ha Mpango and Explore East, innovations and technology initiatives; full operation of the Uganda Airlines in 2022, hosting of big events such as Nyege nyege and promotion of the country’s tourism potentials abroad.

Full recovery in national parks

The report indicates that there was a full recovery in visitation to National Parks in 2022 compared to the past two years of the pandemic.

Before COVID-19, visitation to National Parks was on the rise hitting the 300,000 mark in 2018 and 2019. In 2020, however, visitors to National Parks dropped by -68.7% from 323,861 recorded in 2019.

In 2021, visitors to National Parks registered a recovery of -41.3% but showed a huge improvement from the year 2020. Visitors to National Parks doubled in 2022 from 190,000 in 2021 to 368,000 in 2022.

During the first 6 months of 2022, Murchison Falls and Queen Elizabeth National Parks continued to stand apart while driving the recovery of visitor-ship to National Parks. These two contribute up to 68% of all visitors and show the highest recovery levels of 49.9% and 10.5% over 2019 levels.

Semliki and Lake Mburo are in second and third place in terms of recovery at -3.1% and -16.4% respectively. Recovery is lowest in Mount Elgon and Rwenzori at -63.5% and -53.8% in the Mountains National Parks.

Meanwhile, visitation to the Uganda Wildlife Conservation Education Centre (UWEC) saw an increase in visitor numbers in the year 2022 amounting to 486,313 visitors showing a 26.8% increase over the year 2019 reflecting a full recovery in 2022.

Visitors to the Uganda Museum also fully recovered in 2022 increasing by 21.5% over the same period in 2019. The source of the Nile visitation stood at 87.8% recovery.

Going forward, Ajar said, the ministry and its sector agencies intend to continue marketing and promoting domestic and international tourism, training and capacity building of tourism actors along the tourism value chain.

They will also upgrade protected areas to ensure improved wildlife conservation and tourist experience.

The ministry also plans to continue deploying promotion representatives in core and emerging markets like North America, Japan, China, Gulf States, UK & Ireland, Germany, Austria & Switzerland to promote Uganda.

Uganda earned approximately US$1.6 billion, contributing about 8% to GDP and over 500,000 jobs before the COVID-10 outbreak in 2020.

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