Tour operators in Uganda are worried that their businesses may suffer due to a recent scandal involving the illegal sale of gorilla tracking permits. This situation has caused significant financial losses for the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA), exceeding 11.2 billion Shillings (USD 3 million).
The scandal has also led to the suspension of 16 UWA staff members and raised suspicions about the involvement of some tour operators. These tour operators, however, strongly deny any wrongdoing and stress that they are customers of UWA’s services and do not have access to the authority’s systems.
Herbert Byaruhanga, President of the Uganda Tourism Association (UTA), expressed concerns about how this scandal might affect Uganda’s global tourism industry. He believes that those implicated may experience temporary setbacks in their businesses.
Byaruhanga, who is also the General Secretary of the Association of Uganda Tour Operators (AUTO), squarely places the responsibility for this situation on UWA. He is calling for comprehensive investigations into the sale of gorilla and chimpanzee permits, as well as entrance tickets. Byaruhanga has stressed that these fraudulent activities were reported to the Ministry of Tourism and UWA in the past, but no action was taken.
He also emphasizes the need to restore Uganda’s image before addressing internal issues within UWA. Byaruhanga notes that the negative media coverage is causing concerns among potential visitors, potentially impacting the industry for the next two years since tourists typically plan activities well in advance.
Sivvy Tumusiime, the AUTO Chairperson, expressed the association’s desire for a clean industry and highlighted the challenges tour operators face in recovering from the effects of COVID-19 lockdowns, ADF attacks, the Anti-Homosexuality Act, and the emergence of fake permits.
Wilberforce Begumisa from Africa Adventure Safaris, one of the companies allegedly involved in the scandal, called for responsible actions from UWA and questioned why allegations were made before completing thorough investigations. He also emphasized the challenging times his company faces.