National parks in the East African Community Countries are to be graded, an official from the Association of Uganda Tour Operators has revealed.
Mr Bonifance Byamukama the chairman Tour Operators Association said the exercise will be carried out depending on the products available in the parks and under this arrangement parks will be given different stars depending on product availability.
The 10 national parks in Uganda are already graded with Murchison Falls, Queen Elizabeth, Rwenzori and Bwindi Impenetrable national parks belonging to grade A because of the variety of products they offer.
However this time the grading will be done at a regional level. Kenya has about 10 national parks, Burundi has about three, and Tanzania has over 15 parks.
This comes after the five countries in East Africa agreed to issue a single tourist visa for travel throughout the region and are discussing a protocol to create and market the region as a single tourist destination.
The visa will allow tourists to move freely among the member countries of the East African Community.
The discussions include setting a common code of conduct for tour operators, establishing professional standards for travel agents, creating standardized hotel classifications and adopting common policies on wildlife management.
A collective policy for the conservation and sustainable utilization of wildlife and other tourist sites in the region is also in the pipeline.
The introduction of the visa has, however, delayed. “In November we shall be going to the World Travel Market in the UK but each country has its own stall and will be marketing separately. There is need for one body to market the region because the countries have different products,” said Byamukama.
“Uganda still faces a challenge in marketing her tourist attractions. Some of the roads like that leading to Bwindi Impenetrable and Queen Elizabeth national parks are impassible among others,” noted Byamukama.
He said the tour operators are still facing a problem in accessing the new markets. “We cannot depend only on the traditional markets of the US and the UK. There are new markets emerging such as China and Asia which we need to tap in with the help of the government.
Byamukama added that tour operators face many challenges in marketing which they cannot address. “The tradition worldwide is that the government takes the initiative to penetrate markets by buying stalls and the service providers get onboard to showcase what they can offer,” he argued.
Byamukama said matters have not been helped with the under funding of Uganda Tourism Boardwhich would be doing the marketing.
He also said they are facing challenges in accessing financing since most banks do not look at tourism as a viable business.