In a recent development, tour operators have expressed concerns about the Shs 11.2 billion gorilla tracking permit scandal involving Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) staff. They fear that this scandal will lead to business losses and negatively affect the country’s global tourism industry.
The illicit sale of gorilla tracking permits has resulted in the suspension of 16 UWA staff members. There are also suspicions of tour operators’ involvement in this illegal activity. However, tour operators strongly deny any wrongdoing, stating that they are merely customers of UWA’s services and do not have access to the authority’s systems.
Herbert Byaruhanga, the president of the Uganda Tourism Association (UTA) and the general secretary of the Association of Uganda Tour Operators (AUTO), expressed his concern about the scandal’s impact on the tourism industry. He believes that those implicated may experience temporary business setbacks and firmly places the blame on UWA.
Byaruhanga has called for thorough investigations into the sale of gorilla and chimpanzee permits, as well as entrance tickets. He pointed out that these fraudulent activities had been previously reported to the Ministry of Tourism and UWA, but no action was taken. He stressed the importance of restoring Uganda’s image in the eyes of potential visitors, as negative coverage could affect the industry for the next two years, given that tourists typically plan their activities well in advance.
Civy Tumusiime, the AUTO chairperson, expressed the association’s desire for a clean industry. She highlighted the challenges tour operators face, including recovering from the effects of COVID-19 lockdowns, ADF rebel attacks, the Anti-Homosexuality Act, and the emergence of fake permits.
Wilberforce Begumisa, representing Africa Adventure Safaris, one of the companies allegedly involved in the scandal, called for action from UWA. He questioned why allegations were made before completing thorough investigations and emphasized the challenging times his company is currently facing.