Uganda tourism hit by protests

2011-05-09 17:01

Kampala - Uganda may be losing up to $100m monthly in tourism earnings as a result of the ongoing walk-to-work demonstrations against sky-high food and fuel prices, industry officials said on Monday.

Tourism is the major foreign exchange earner in east Africa's third biggest economy, and the country attracted about 800 000 visitors last year, earning $600m.

The capital Kampala and other major towns have been roiled by violent confrontations between demonstrators and security forces that are struggling to put down the twice-weekly protests.

Edwin Muzahura, head of marketing and public relations at the state-run Uganda Tourism Board (UTB) told a press conference in Kampala that the government and private sector were estimated to be losing $100m a month in tourism revenues.

"Our conviction was that this year we shall probably collect well above $1bn. Unfortunately unless something is done [about the riots] we might not be able to realise this target," Muzahura said.

The clashes between security forces and protesters which have been going on since April 11 boiled over on April 29 after the country's main opposition leader, Kizza Besigye, was violently arrested the previous day.

Uganda's inflation figures for April showed the headline rate had leapt to 14.1% from 11.1% in March, with food prices up by nearly a third over the past year.

Sensitive time

President Yoweri Museveni, in power since 1986, blames drought for high food costs and soaring oil prices for surging local fuel costs, and has warned Besigye protests will not be tolerated, and vowed to defeat the protests.

"Figures show that we've probably so far lost about 30% of our hotel occupancy," Muzahura said.

February's peaceful presidential elections, he said, had started to cement the country's tenuous image of peace and a safe destination for tourists.

"Unfortunately in the event of the riots we're having cancellations by tour operators, travel agencies and postponements of journeys by visitors to Uganda."

Boniface Byamukama, chairperson of Uganda Tour Operators Association said the unrest had struck at a sensitive time when most tourists are making bookings for their summer holidays.

"May and April is when tourists start ticketing for their next holiday and now we're in this situation, people will not decide to come to Uganda because they see it in the media that it's not safe to travel there," he said.