KAMPALA, Uganda (eTN) – A recent safari experience to Queen Elizabeth National Park (QENP) by renowned wildlife experts, one resident in Uganda and one on a repeat visit to Uganda from Germany was described as “less than satisfactory” upon their return to Kampala from a safari through some of the key national parks. They explained to this correspondent that sections of QENP were “almost bare of wild animals,” while also complaining about the number of cattle outnumbering game in Lake Mburo National Park.

It was also learned that the World Bank-funded Protected Areas Management and Sustainable Use project, benefiting the wildlife sector over the past 10 years or so, will be coming to an end soon, leaving Uganda without any major development partner funded projects for the tourism and wildlife sector.

Upon further inquiries with the EU delegation office in Kampala it was learned from one staff, who spoke on condition of anonymity, that the government of Uganda apparently has not made tourism and wildlife conservation a priority area when holding bilateral discussions on potential support areas. This is, of course, greatly disappointing and of major concern to the tourism fraternity at a time when the Ebola fallout of late last year and the Kenya impact during the first two months of 2008 is still reverberating across the industry.

Uganda has built substantial hotel and meeting capacities over the past years in preparation of the Commonwealth Summit in 2007 and now has to aggressively market its hospitality sector abroad to maintain reasonable occupancies and allow the hotel operators to repay their loans.

However, Uganda’s ITB performance was also far from optimum, when funds to pay for the stand rent and construction were only released on the very eve of the world’s most important tourism trade show. In fact only nine companies and organizations in the end participated directly with the Uganda Tourist Board, after other companies canceled their attendance over the uncertainty lasting to the very day of the show opening.

Tourism in Uganda, while making major contributions in foreign exchange earnings and job creation, is still the most neglected sector of the economy when it comes to government funding, budgetary support and direct interventions. The government needs to move from lip service to real concrete action, otherwise all the gains of past years are in danger of being eroded.