Published on : Wednesday, November 13, 2013
The introduction of the weird online marketing of gorilla permits raised so much dust that it threatened to leave a dark cover over Uganda’s tourism industry.By the time the issue calmed down, it was clear that we still had a long way to double our tourist numbers. In case you missed it, this was a do-or-die matter as the Association of Uganda Tour Operators (Auto) ganged up against Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA).
Auto accused UWA of using the financial muscle from the World Bank and USAID Tourism for Biodiversity (T4B) to develop a marketing initiative that would put them out of business.Tour operators claimed that the initiative came at the same time as UWA introduced the use of smart card system to access game parks, had cost UWA Shs 10bn, something that UWA refuted, claiming it cost them $25,000 (Shs 63.4m).
When UWA Executive Director Andrew Seguya first disclosed these new developments (at a recent Auto annual general meeting in Bugolobi), the tour operators looked on restlessly.
Later, when it was their turn to respond, they refused to embrace the new initiative [of putting gorilla permits online]. Their worry was that by putting the gorilla permits online, it would enable everyone all over the world to view them and book or purchase them through the internet.
That would automatically put them [tour operators] out of business as it would grossly weaken their negotiating power.Gorilla permits, they said, are like the icing on the cake, which tour operators use to bargain and market the country so that a tourist is obliged to visit several other tourist sites before capping it up with the gorillas.
They argued that with the new system, it becomes hard to negotiate with a client who has a gorilla permit or who knows the dates of availability. That you cannot advise a client to stay in a certain lodge, which you, as a tour operator, think is not suitable for them.
They argued that UWA was making a suicidal move by going ahead with the new initiative, projecting that it would most likely kill all the other parks because no one would be interested in visiting them (most tourists visit Uganda to see the gorillas).Later, the UWA board, on which Boniface Byamukama, the Auto chairman, is a member, held a special sitting where they resolved that the UWA wouldn’t sell gorilla permits to a foreign company or individual who hadn’t gone through the local tour companies.