By Guest Writer
Opinion: World Tourism Day, celebrated on September 27th every year, is a significant global observance introduced by the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO). The purpose of celebrating World Tourism Day is to raise public awareness among the global community about the social, cultural, political, and economic worth and value of tourism.
The occasion also underscores the potential of tourism in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals stated by the United Nations, including poverty eradication, job creation, and environmental preservation.
Under the National Development Plan (NDP) III, the Ugandan government identifies tourism as one of the priority economic sectors that must be developed for Uganda to reduce poverty levels, increase jobs, and accelerate economic growth.
The government, which recognizes that the sector attracted over 1.5 million visitors in 2018 and earned the country $1.6 billion in the same year, set the following targets in the NDP III: increase the tourism sector’s revenue to $1.862 billion; increase the sector’s share of GDP to 8.5%; and maintain the contribution of tourism to total employment at 667,600 people.
The above and other targets are supposed to be attained by 2024/25 through the government doing the following: promoting domestic and inbound tourism; increasing the stock and quality of tourism infrastructure; as well as developing, conserving, and diversifying tourism products.
Furthermore, in June 2023, during Uganda’s budget speech, Hon. Matia Kasaija revealed that in FY 2022/23, Uganda’s tourism and hospitality sectors contributed 6.7% to the gross domestic product (GDP). To boost Uganda’s tourism sector, the budget allocation to the sector increased to UGX 249 billion in FY 2023–24 from UGX 194.7 billion in FY 2022–23.
Through the budget, the government will invest in marketing the country as a global and regional center for meetings, incentives, conferences, and exhibitions (MICE). Hospitality standards will be enforced through licensing, grading, and classification of tourism facilities.
Despite the increase in finances and all the above strategies to boost the tourism sector, the government must also address the challenges below that are negatively affecting the sector.
Oil and gas activities in eco-sensitive areas such as the Murchison Falls National Park Ever since the commencement of oil exploitation activities that involve the use of heavy and loud machinery, the habitat and source of livelihood of wildlife, most especially elephants, have been tampered with, causing distress to the elephants and hence driving them out of their natural habitat.
Such destructive activities will destroy irreplaceable biodiversity, lead to the loss of wildlife, and increase carbon emissions in the country, which is contrary to the country’s commitment to the Paris Agreement and Kyoto Protocol, among others.
Sugar cane growing: Despite the tourism potential of Bugoma Forest, the reserve is being destroyed due to sugarcane growing, illegal logging, charcoal burning, and other activities. While the forest has traditionally faced challenges such as expansion of small-scale agriculture, population growth, and others, the deforestation and forest degradation challenges of Bugoma Forest have escalated.
The forest, which was grabbed following the oil-induced land-grabbing bonanza in the Albertine Graben, is being destroyed amidst a lack of sufficient information on the green economic alternatives that can be harnessed while protecting the forest. To note, Bugoma Forest is home to 570, or 11.4%, of Uganda’s estimated population of 5,000 chimpanzees. The forest is also home to 225 bird species and the endemic Ugandan mangabeys. Despite these attractions, no tourism activities in the forest are ongoing.
As we prepare for the World Tourism Day celebrations, I call upon the government to do the following: stop oil activities in Murchison Falls National Park. The government of Uganda and oil companies should stop the oil activities in the park because it is home to wildlife such as lions, elephants, and buffaloes and at least 500 animal species.
The government should upgrade Bugoma Forest to a national park to protect the forest and its biodiversity and promote tourism.
The author is Catherine Twongyeirwe, a concerned citizen.
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