Uganda tour operators make desperate appeal

The Association of Uganda Tour Operators (AUTO) secretariat convened an extraordinary general meeting at Fairway Hotel, Kampala, on Tuesday.

This meeting was called at the behest of Association of Uganda Tours Operators (AUTO) members with a team from the Private Sector Foundation Uganda (PSFU) – Competitiveness and Enterprise Development Project (CEDP) to address challenges of accessing funding for the sector under the Tourism Enterprise Support Facility (TESF). This followed a call for applications to support tourism and hospitality industries in order to boost eligible activities including marketing and promotion, market representation, new tourism product development, and adoption of new technologies.

Just when tour operators were recovering from 2 years of COVID-19 lockdown, the country was struck by an Ebola outbreak dashing hopes of bookings and following cancellations or rescheduling of safaris until the coming year.

From CEDP were Jean Marie Kyewalable, Project Coordinator; Ivan Kakooza, tourism business advisor, and Apolo Muyanja, PSFU Project Director for the Master Card Foundation. From AUTO were the Chair Civy Tumusime; Vice Chair Tony Mulinde; and Herbert Byaruhanga, General Secretary. From the AUTO secretariat were the Chief Executive Officer at the Association of Uganda Tour Operators, Kasozi Albert, and his assistant, Matilda Iremera, Marketing Officer.

Warren Ankwasa Rutanga of Kikooko Africa Safaris expressed concern that the timing of call for proposals was outside the window of several activities that fall beyond the period for the call for proposals. For example, in the current window, applicants are expected to receive feedback in January which is when there is the the bulk of exhibitions which include Vakantiebieurs Netherlands, MATKA Finland, Reiseliv Messe Oslo, among others.

Attendees also requested consideration for guarantors in order to secure the matching grant. Jean Marie, however, noted that donors were weary of carte blanche funding, and they preferred to hedge the risk from the 20 percent matching grant. He called for behavioral change from in society in general, implying that several businesses fell short on credit worthiness.

In response, AUTO Chair Civy Tumusiime responded in concurrence while thanking Jean Marie for financing Kilifair, Tanzania, and WTM London fairs. She also reminded participants to expedite accountability from the recently concluded WTM. She also appealed that applications be accepted because the tourism sector is still struggling.

Reacting to concerns raised by participants, Apolo Muyanja acknowledged that business development services play a catalytic role in supporting the tourism sector through (Meetings Events Conferences & Incentives (MICE), exhibitions, and road shows in source markets. In order to cushion the sector from financial strain, he proposed that a Memorandum of Understanding can be signed with AUTO through a  hedge facility, an invoice discounting facility, or equity financing facility. He also outlined other support areas including manufacturing and tourism, and women in tourism grants of up to 10%.

Muyanja also coordinates the MasterCard Foundation program under the “Young Africa Works” strategy. It supports private sector economic growth focusing on financing and skilling the youth and strengthening Uganda‘s growing tourism and hospitality sector among other sectors.

Project component

The overall objective of CEDP is to support measures that facilitate increased private sector investment in the tourism sector and also strengthen effectiveness of the land administration system.

The Competitiveness and Enterprise Development Project (CEDP) is a project of the Government of Uganda co-financed by the International Development Association of the World Bank Group (IDA). One of the sub-component activities under CEDP is the Tourism Enterprise Support Fund which will offer grants to communities living around the protected areas in order to strengthen their capacity to engage in tourism-related commercial activities and also support private tourism enterprises to recover from the effects of COVID-19 and also build resilience.

Specific objective of the Tourism Enterprise Support Facility

The specific objective of the TESF is to support tourism enterprises in Uganda to recover from the impact of COVID-19 and position them for growth in the medium to long term.

The proposed interventions are categorized into products and services’ diversification, and capacity development initiatives including training and provision of equipment to enhance value addition. The interventions seek to build capacity of firms and communities to provide improved and quality tourism services and products, adopt new technologies, generate economic benefits, support conservation, and protect local tourism assets.

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