Uganda: Private-Sector Tourism Players Raise Red Flags On Persistent Government Underfunding of the Sector

Persistent funding gaps by the Government of its Tourism Development Programme (FY 20/21 to FY 24/25) are slowing down the sector’s post-Covid-19 recovery and if not urgently addressed, Uganda risks failing to meet all of the programme’s targets, Herbert Byaruhanga the President of the Confederation of Uganda Tourism Associations (COUTA), has warned.

Mr. Byaruhanga, who was speaking at this year’s World Tourism Day 2023 national celebrations in the western district of Hoima, raised a red flag, saying that there already were worrying signs that the country is lagging behind its regional competitors in post-pandemic recovery and said that accelerating enhanced funding of the sector’s unfunded priorities, was an urgent prerequisite.

“Permit me to draw your attention to the findings of the recently released Tourism Development Programme Annual Performance Report for FY2022/23 by the Ministry of Tourism, Wildlife, and Antiquities. The report, among its many insights, notes that while the East African region has achieved approximately 60% recovery in pre-pandemic visitor numbers, Uganda still lags behind our regional counterparts. The report indicates that Tanzania, Kenya, and Rwanda have made significant recoveries with 95%, 73%, and 68% of pre-pandemic visitor numbers, respectively. In contrast, Uganda, despite registering a notable 58.8% growth in the number of visitors from 512,945 to 814,508, still stands at just 52.8% of pre-pandemic levels (2019),” he told stakeholders in attendance, led by the Prime Minister, Rt. Hon. Robinah Nabbanja, who was the Chief Guest.

Byaruhanga said that while there was some growth reported in the number of tourist arrivals, this growth was not strong enough to get the country back on track to achieve the set targets, with only two years left to FY2024/25.

“While this increase offers hope and optimism, it is our shared aspiration that we accelerate our efforts, particularly in the funding of the tourism sector. Failure to do so places us at risk of not achieving the targets outlined in the National Development Plan III (NDP III), which include attracting 2.1 million visitors and generating USD 1.862 billion in revenues. Falling short of these targets would have cascading negative effects across the tourism value chain and, ultimately, on the millions of households that depend on this sector,” Byaruhanga said.

In line with Uganda’s National Development Programme III, the Tourism Development Programme (FY20/21 to FY24/25) among others targets to increase annual tourism revenues from USD 1.45 billion to USD 1.862 billion and sustain 667,600 jobs.

It also targets to increase inbound tourism revenues per visitor from USD1,052 to USD1,500 and increase the proportion of leisure to total tourists from 20.1 per cent to 30 per cent.

However according to the Annual Performance Report for FY2022/23 recently released by the Ministry of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities, with only two years, left to the end of the programme, the sector is far from achieving these targets.

According to the report, the government has only met only 57% of the programme’s outcomes. The “increasing tourism receipts” component of the programme is the worst performing, at only 25%.

For example, while Uganda experienced a surge of 58.8% in tourist arrivals, from 512,945 in 2021 to 814,598 in 2022, this is only 52.8% of 2019 levels (1,542,620) and 39% of the 2.1 million target by FY2024/25. The report also showed that only 11.7% of the 2022 visitors, were leisure tourists, which is just 39% of the 30% target by FY2024/25 target. As a result of slow recovery, with only two years left, while Uganda targets to earn USD 1.862 billion by FY2024/25, by the end of 2022, earnings were only USD 729 million.

“As highlighted by the Ministry in the report, during FY 2022/23, only UGX199 billion was appropriated against the planned expenditure of UGX635 billion outlined in NDP III. This equates to a mere 31% of the planned investment by government.

This persistent underfunding has adversely impacted various planned activities, including marketing efforts in international tourist source markets, skill development for women and youth in proximity to protected areas, upgrades to protected areas such as Pian Upe, Matheniko Bokora, Echuya Forest, and domestic investments,” Byaruhanga reiterated.

“It is against this backdrop that I, on behalf of the private sector, call upon our esteemed Members of Parliament, the President’s Office, and the Speaker of the Parliament of Uganda to urgently increase their attention to the tourism sector. I implore you to consider a budget increase of at least 70% for tourism in the short term, while also seeking avenues to restore funding to the levels outlined in NDP III. Tourism is not merely about leisure; it represents an economic transformation and a means of providing sustenance to our people and fostering opportunities for prosperity,” an impassioned Byaruhanga pleaded.

“As a nation, we are blessed with an abundance of natural wonders and cultural treasures, from our magnificent wildlife to our diverse birdlife, enchanting butterflies, historical monuments, and rich cultural heritage. Millions of tourists around the world long to experience these wonders firsthand, and it is our collective responsibility to welcome them with open arms,” he added.

He also called upon the leaders of the Bunyoro region to “seize the imminent opportunities arising from developments related to the airport, oil projects, national parks, and the expansion of road networks.

“This is a golden opportunity to equip our youth and women with the knowledge and skills they need to benefit from these developments,” he reiterated, adding: “At COUTA, we remain unwavering in our commitment to promoting Uganda as a premier destination. Our primary objective is to attract two million luxury tourists by the year 2026. In doing so, we aspire to make a significant impact on our nation’s economy by generating at least 200,000 additional jobs for our youth and women, both directly and indirectly. Tourism, ladies and gentlemen, is an economic catalyst and represents the most accessible avenue for our nation’s growth”.