Direct flights to Uganda’s national parks to boost tourism and protect wildlife

President Yoweri Museveni introduces incentive at world-first event held to protect the country’s flora and fauna

Mike Pflanz
Monday 09 October 2017 08:30 BST

Tourists will be able to fly directly into Uganda’s pristine national parks without needing first to clear immigration at the country’s international airport, authorities announced at the close of a pioneering conservation finance Forum.

It was among a raft of incentives that Uganda approved as part of the Giants Club Conservation and Investment Forum, held on Friday 6 October near the capital, Kampala. They included discounts on hotel bed night levies, waivers on fees charged to land at wilderness airfields, and extensive support to market new tourism enterprises.

The Forum welcomed global tourism innovators, international financiers, philanthropists and conservationists. Among those attending were the Giants Club’s patron, Evgeny Lebedev, who is also the proprietor of the Independent and the Evening Standard. He was accompanied by his father, Alexander Lebedev, and George Osbourne, the former Chancellor and current Editor of the Evening Standard.

The Giants Club is an initiative launched by the international conservation NGO Space for Giants. It unites political leaders, philanthropists, business heads and conservationists in developing innovative new solutions to protecting Africa’s key remaining wildernesses.

In an address to the Forum’s delegates, Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni, who is Founding President of the Giants Club, cited his commitment to finding innovative ways to fund conservation and drive more benefits to local people.

“Requiring all visitors entering Uganda to do so only at Entebbe International Airport was holding back the potential to fully develop the country’s tourism potential,” said Justus Karuhanga, Uganda representative for the Giants Club.

“This step furthers regional integration, by making it very easy, say, for a tourist visiting Kenya’s Masai Mara National Reserve to take one flight and land directly into Uganda’s tropical rainforest at Kibale National Park.”

The move, approved by the Ugandan Ministry of Internal Affairs and its Civil Aviation Authority, would see tourists clearing immigration on arrival directly to the airfields in national parks. It comes soon after Kenya, Uganda, and Rwanda enacted a joint visa scheme where visitors may visit any of the three countries on a single entry permit.

It's a development which further boosts East Africa’s attractiveness as a wider destination for international visitors seeking to see more than one of the region’s famous holiday destinations.

“The more attractive and streamlined Uganda can make the immigration process, the easier it’s going to be to grow tourism,” said Patrick Fitzgibbon, senior vice president for development at Hilton, the global hotel and hospitality group, who attended the Forum.

“Imagine how much more attractive Uganda will be for certain tourist groups if they can fly straight into some of the country’s spectacular natural destinations. It's a very clever move.”

The Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) also announced a series of new incentives for investors. It will reduce by 50% hotel bed night fees for tourists staying more than five nights at properties opened following the Forum, and cut by 20% fees on groups of 10 people or more.

It will also waive aircraft landing fees during an investor’s first year of operation, offer a 12-month grace period on new operators’ annual fees, and cover the costs of promoting new enterprises in UWA bulletins, publications, and brochures.

UWA already covers the costs of the maintenance of airfields and access roads in Parks and Reserves it manages, provides rangers and security to lodges, and discounts hotel bed night fees for children.

Global investors focused on responsible tourism gathered in Kampala to hear from conservationists and the Government of Uganda about a series of new concessions, some available for the first time in more than 30 years.

They include opportunities to open new conservation-compatible high-end eco-lodges, or to invest in the rehabilitation of more remote and under-visited reserves to make them ‘tourism ready’ in the coming years.

The Forum, organised by the Giants Club with support from the African Wildlife Foundation and the UN Development Programme, aims to bring private sector financing to boost Uganda’s efforts to conserve its wilderness areas by increasing responsible tourism that brings benefits to local communities and protects environments.

“Continental and intraregional tourism in Africa is increasing, and offers opportunities for economic and export diversification,” said Kaddu Sebunya, President of African Wildlife Foundation. “Today’s Conservation and Tourism Investment Forum offers an opportunity to start planning appropriately. We can attract the best global operators if the incentives are structured correctly.”

A new ‘One Stop Centre’ housed at the Uganda Investment Authority under the authority of the Office of the President will streamline investors’ procedures to launch new businesses.

The Forum stood alongside Uganda’s ongoing work to bring investment to sustain its elephant herds as part of its commitment to the Elephant Protection Initiative, of which it is a signatory.

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