Speaking at a consultative meeting yesterday, the minister of Tourism wildlife and Antiques, Ms Mutagamba halted the project to allow a seven-member committee to investigate and suggest recommendations that would create harmony, streamline and develop the sector. “Today’s meeting has proved that most people do not understand what the project is about and as such, there is need for further research before a decision can be taken,” Ms Mutagamba told stakeholders in Kampala.
The committee will be represented by UWA, tour operators, people from the conservation communities and one from Tourism, who will also chair the team.
The minister’s directive followed failure of UWA and tour operators under their umbrella body, Association of Tour Operators (ATO), to reach a consensus on the sale of gorilla permits online. The operators, who are against the project, accuse UWA of selfish interests.
They further argue that putting permits online could render them irrelevant and kick them out of business because foreign travel companies will now be able to buy them directly from UWA instead of going through them.
However, Mr Raymond Engena, the director Tourism and Business Services, UWA, said although permits will be viewed online, payment will be done through a local tour agent. He, however, maintained that putting permits online will increase permits sales and ensure the availability of the permits.
Uganda Tourism Association president Herbert Byaruhanga, however, disagreed, saying if implemented in its current form, the online permits would weaken tour operators’ bargaining power and also kill the sector in the long run.
Bufumbira East MP Eddie Kwizera said being a country’s natural resource, UWA should consult all stakeholders before implementing projects of such a manner. He added that being a body charged with protecting and conserving the country’s wildlife resource, UWA “should not dictate but rather provide technical expertise” on such matters.