Uganda’s tourism sector is once again being hit by effects from a deadly disease.
In 2021, it was the COVID-19 pandemic. This time, it’s the Ebola outbreak, with 141 confirmed cases and 55 deaths.
President Yoweri Museveni said Tuesday in his address to Ugandans that he had been informed that tourists are canceling trips to the country and some had postponed hotel bookings.
This comes as the outbreak has spread to a sixth district of Jinja in Eastern Uganda, a favorite destination for tourists.
“This is most unfortunate and not necessary. As you have seen, Ebola, if you follow the guidelines, it will not get you. Uganda remains safe and we welcome international guests,” Museveni said.
He also said lists of Ebola contacts are being provided to immigration officials to prevent the virus from spreading outside the country.
December is usually one of the peak months for Uganda’s tourism industry.
Scovia Kyarisima, executive director of Legends Gorilla Tours, a company that provides wildlife experiences for visitors, told VOA that several tourists have postponed their visits.
“I’ve had so far five cancellations from online tourists,” she said. “And they have pushed it to June next year. They don’t say we are not going to come anymore. But they say, considering the situation that is on today, let’s push this to next year.”
Before the pandemic, Uganda was getting a little over 600,000 tourists each year. That number nosedived to about 200,000 when COVID-19 hit in 2020, costing many Ugandans their jobs.
Gessa Simplicious, public relations officer for the Uganda Tourism Board, said that in between the pandemic and the Ebola outbreak, the tourism industry was slowly climbing out of its downturn.
He said industry operators, some of whom borrowed heavily to revamp their facilities, are now facing a crunch as tourism dries up again, while other wildlife destinations like Kenya and Tanzania remain unaffected by the Ebola outbreak.
“And you see this Ebola is only isolating us as a country. So, it means, tourists can go elsewhere for the same thing and omit Uganda,” Simplicious said.
The government has tightened measures in two of the most Ebola-hit districts of Mubende and Kasanda by extending a lockdown for another 21 days. It is also banning citizens from seeking treatment from traditional healers and trying to limit individuals’ movement in and out of the districts.