Thursday, 1 December 2016

UGANDA: Hospitality And Tour Operators Reject Cosmetic Statistics Created And Fabricated By Tourism Officials

A war of words erupted at the release of the annual Tourism Sector Performance Report for the Financial Year 2015/2016, as operators claimed that the Tourism ministry had been too generous in its views of the sector.

During the AUTO (Association of Uganda Tour Operators) post-Sector Review Forum at Hotel Africana, several tourism sector actors where irked that they had not been consulted to give their views before a final report was made.

The report indicated a 47. 6% room occupancy rate and a 46. 2% bed occupancy rate. However, the percentages were disputed. Some tourism players noted that occupancy rates, especially in the game parks are between 13% and 17%.

Also disputed were reports of a 23% increase in tour operator business in the year 2015/16, an estimation that implied that tour operators enjoyed a growth in sales.

Babra Vanhelleputte, AUTO Board Chairperson said there were several gaps in the report and the AUTO members concurred with her. she said: “The percentages given in the report are questionable. There is a mismatch in the kind of information that is being disseminated and the reality on the ground. The ministry should provide a description of how this percentage was arrived at," Vanhelleputte said speaking about the figures about the growth in business.

"On behalf of private sector and AUTO, we would like to dismiss this report. It is a pity that the final copy of the report was put out before the private sector was given an opportunity to air put their views," Vanhelleputte said.

Vanhelleputte requested for an explanation from UTB on the performance and actual plan for more fair engagements for tour operators with Uganda's PR firms.

"I applaud H.E. President Yoweri Museveni for his directive to scrap Value Added Tax (VAT) on Tourism, and tasked the leaders of Uganda's tourism (the tourism public sector) to follow through the directive and confirm that it is actually implemented in the budget reading for the next financial year," she added.

Civy Tumusiime, managing Director of Pakuba Safari Lodge and an AUTO Committee member says the Ministry needs to be assessment instead of painting a wrong picture.

"Inaccurate statistics paint a wrong image. Statistics from the ministry indicate that business is good and yet in reality, it is not true," Tumusiime said.

She added: "This is affecting our funding. We spend more on expenses rather than the dividends we get since there are a number of economic hardships within the country."

Tumusiime called for regulation with the tourism sector, a separate regulatory authority and market Uganda's tourism especially in other natural endowments rather than concentrating on only Gorillas.

Like many other private sector players, Byamugisha reiterated the need for the sector to present statistics that aren't merely made up. She said: "Of the hotels gross monthly revenue, 47% of the gross revenue pays licences, salaries and taxes. It is no wonder that hotels are closing since business is low. This is in addition to employing over 8 workers rather than the 4 that the report states."

"When I saw and heard the statistics, I wanted to shout but refrained from it so as to keep my job. How can we say that Kampala is operating at 47%? This is not what is on ground and yet the data contained in a document is so authoritative. This is absolutely nuts! My goodness, this is not true," stated, Jean Byamugisha, the executive director, Uganda Hotel Owners Association (UHOA).

Alex Asiimwe, the principal policy analyst in the Tourism ministry, said they the ministry should not entirely be blamed since private sector players are sometimes uncooperative in disseminating information.

"Where do you want us to get the statistics from if you dismiss is or give us wrong information? Asiimwe asked?

Stephen Asiimwe, Uganda Tourism Board (UTB) CEO called for statistical man power especially at the borders and within the ministry

"Tourism is a passion. You do not need to polities it. Instead we need to aim at developing it," Asiimwe said.

The tour operators and the tourism ministry resolved to create a statistics collection committee to collect and disseminate accurate tourism data. The meeting also agreed to have a joint marketing committee for tourism with representation from the private sector.