Nine airlines are all set to resume business as soon as Uganda’s main airport at Entebbe resumes. These are Uganda Airlines, KLM, Turkish Airlines, Emirates, Brussels Airlines, Qatar Airways, Kenya Airways, Air Tanzania and Ethiopian Airlines.
The Uganda Civil Aviation Authority – UCAA has confirmed that Entebbe International Airport will be reopened for scheduled commercial passenger flights on October 1st, 2020.
However, the flights are restricted to only Ugandans returning home and tourists leaving or coming into the country.
Vianney Luggya, spokesperson for the Uganda Civil Authority-UCAA, confirmed Monday evening that the airport will be reopened, six months after its partial shutdown.
He says that in the meantime, the current arrangements for handling of cargo, emergency, evacuation and repatriation flights will continue.
Luggya says the regulator is still discussing a number of issues regarding the resumption such as transport to and from the airport and flow of movement inside the airport among others.
Eng. Ayub Sooma, the UCAA director for Airports and Aviation security on September 8th, wrote a letter to airlines executives saying that passenger flights would resume on October 1st, 2020. However, it would be President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni to announce the actual resumption date.
Following Museveni’s directive to open the airport on Sunday night, UCAA managers have agreed that the resumption of passenger flights will take place next month.
Luggya says the reopening will be done in a phased manner. In the first three months, 13 flights to and from the airport have been cleared for the first day while 10 flights are confirmed for the second day.
These flights will be operated by Uganda Airlines, KLM, Turkish Airlines, Emirates, Brussels Airlines, Qatar Airways, Kenya Airways, Air Tanzania and Ethiopian Airlines.
The resumption of passenger flights is expected to improve on the revenue inflows for both UCAA, airlines and other stakeholders. For instance before the lockdown, UCAA was recording revenues worth 20 billion shillings a month but this has since dropped to 1 billion Shillings.
However, the tourism industry has been the most hit because it relies heavily on commercial flights bringing in foreign tourists.
Uganda airlines ready
The director commercial at Uganda Airlines, Roger Wamara says the national airline is ready to operate its first commercial flight next month.
“We are very excited and ready to fly in the region and where airports are open,” said Wamara. He said they will be going to Nairobi, Mogadishu and Juba when the airport reopens.
He however says the airline is yet to announce the airfares for the different flights. The rates will be influenced by the COVID-19 safety measures for airlines and crews such as wearing of face masks, regular disinfection of the aircraft among others.
Wamara adds that “Even if we do not increase our airfares, the passenger will have to spend an extra $65 US Dollars, about shillings 240,000 for a COVID-19 pre-flight test.”
Tour operators uneasy
Meanwhile, Irene Nalwoga the managing director for Renewills Tours and Travel, Women Tours and Travel and Renewills Real Estate Company is doubtful about the resumption date.
Nalwoga also says the presidential directive that tourists should not mix up with the general public may be difficult to implement.
To make matters worse, according to Nalwoga, travel agents are not eligible for the tourism intervention fund, a total of $18.4m, of which $10.8m is a loan from UDB and $5.7m is a grant from the EU.
She says some members of Uganda Hotel Owners Association – UHOA and Association of Uganda Tour Operators – AUTO have benefited from the fund and are not affected by the closure of the airport.
Richard Mujjuzi, the chairperson of The Uganda Association of Travel Agents (TUGATA) says travel agents need financial help because Uganda’s tourism industry could stabilize after the 2021 general elections.
Boda boda riders and special hire taxi operators are however excited about the reopening. However, they want President Museveni to reconsider the curfew hours.
Jivnath Pangeni, the general manager, K Hotels is excited about the resumption. The hotel currently one of the quarantine centres will have to first disinfect its premises before opening up for normal business.
Pangeni says that the hotel will charge the usual hotel room rate of $120 US Dollars a night though it has halved the rates for the quarantined travelers and returnees. The last lot of quarantined people at the hotel are expected to leave next week.
Meanwhile, James Kavubu, the head of sales and marketing for Imperial Group of Hotels said the resumption of flights will bring business but the group needs tangible results because people are fearing to travel due the pandemic.
The group has five hotels including Grand Imperial Hotel, Imperial Royale Hotel, Imperial Botanical Beach Hotel, Imperial Golf View Hotel and Imperial Resort Beach Hotel. Imperial Botanical Beach Hotel is the group’s only hotel that is being used as quarantine centre.
Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, host to more than half of the world’s mountain gorillas is experiencing an unprecedented baby boom never recorded before according to experts.
High up the ridges of what is known as one of Africa’s oldest rainforest, the population of mountain gorillas is growing.
Joseph Arinaitwe, Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) warden tourism in-charge of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park told Xinhua in a recent trip to the park that since July 22 this year, Uganda has registered the birth of eight mountain gorillas, seven in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and another in Mugahinga National Park along the common border with Rwanda and eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.
Arinaitwe attributes the baby boom to largely the conservation efforts that Uganda has undertaken over the years to protect the endangered giants.
He argued that several factors like high stress levels can make gorillas not to procreate. He said the stress is caused by poaching, fights among family members or different groups and uncontrolled tourism.
“It is a message that conservation is paying off, gorillas are getting stable. If there was no effort of creating an environment of comfort, there would be no boom. When there is crisis in a family, a man has no time for sexual intercourse. The assumptions here is that there is no pressure and therefore the baby boom,” Arinaitwe.
The conservationists argued that Uganda has over the years been able to fight poaching in the park. There is also controlled tracking of the gorillas to avoid stressing them.
When the COVID-19 pandemic broke out in the country in March, all tourism activities were closed in a bid to stop the spread of the deadly disease. Entebbe International Airport and the borders were closed to all incoming and outgoing travelers.
This lockdown had a major impact on the country’s tourism revenues which are largely used to conserve the wildlife. According to ministry of finance figures, the country could lose up to 1.6 billion U.S. dollars it annually earns as revenue from the sector. More than half of the tourism revenue is contributed by gorilla tourism, according to UWA.
Arinaitwe said that because of the lockdown and the closure of tourism activities, many people whose livelihood depended on tourism to Bwindi Impenetrable National Park were affected.
Those living close to the park resorted to poaching, setting up snares to hunt antelopes. These snares at times end up trapping the gorillas.
According to UWA figures, poaching in the park has gone up from about 7 suspects arrested in a year to 8 suspects arrested in a few months.
A vivid case happened in June this year when a poacher named Felix Byamukama and three accomplices killed a popular silverback gorilla named Rakifi. Byamukama, pleaded guilty to counts of trespassing in a protected area, killing a gorilla, a duiker and a bush pig and illegally possessing meat from the bush pig and duiker. He was sentenced 11 years in jail in July.
Arinaitwe said despite the challenges of reduced funding, they have increased foot patrols in the park. Despite the lockdown which started in March, the rangers continued to monitor the gorillas and other wildlife in the park. Some poachers have been arrested.
EASE OF LIFE
Uganda continues to ease the lockdown restrictions as it attempts to resuscitate economic growth. President Yoweri Museveni on Sunday announced that the airport was reopened to tourist arrivals.
UWA on Sept. 5 reopened all its primate parks after instituting strict standard operating procedures to stop the possible spread of COVID-19 from humans to the primates.
At Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, tourists are sanitized four times at different stages before they get to meet the mountain gorillas. Those with abnormal body temperatures are asked to step aside and if the situation worsens, there is a nearby health facility.
The distance between the visitors and the gorillas has also been adjusted to 10 meters from seven. Social distancing is emphasized throughout tracking the gorillas.
Buhoma town neighboring the park has also come alive again after a government directive that tourism reopens.
Denis Rubalema, co-director of Ride 4 A Woman, a community-based organization told Xinhua that they have been carrying out renovations at their accommodation facility and also encouraging the rural women, some of whom make hand crafts, to be prepared for an anticipated tourism boom.