Tour operators in Uganda are in fear of losing business because of the scandal involving the illicit sale of gorilla tracking permits. The scandal, which recently came to light, has resulted in significant losses for the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA), exceeding 11.2 billion Shillings (USD 3 million).
It has also led to the suspension of 16 UWA staff and raised concerns about the involvement of some tour operators in the racket. Tour operators strongly deny any wrongdoing, emphasizing 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 the impact of the scandal on the country’s global tourism industry. He believes that those implicated may face temporary business setbacks. Byaruhanga, who is also the General Secretary of the Association of Uganda Tour Operators (AUTO), places the responsibility for the situation squarely on UWA.
He called for comprehensive investigations into the sale of gorilla and chimpanzee permits, and entrance tickets. Byaruhanga stressed that such fraudulent activities were previously reported to the Ministry of Tourism and UWA, but no action was taken.
He emphasized the need to restore Uganda’s image before addressing internal issues within UWA. Byaruhanga noted that the negative coverage is causing concerns among potential visitors, potentially impacting the industry for the next two years as tourists typically plan activities well in advance.
Sivvy Tumusiime, the AUTO Chairperson, expressed the association’s desire for a clean industry, highlighting the challenges tour operators face in recovering from the effects of the COVID-19 lockdowns, ADF attacks, and the Anti-Homosexuality Act, in addition to 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, emphasizing the challenging times his company faces.