October 29, 2001. News.
Tourism from U.S. shows signs of rebound
By Carl Bialik
Some American tourists have postponed or cancelled upcoming trips to Uganda, but the long-term effect of the Sept. 11 attacks on Uganda’s tourism industry is unclear, according to U.S. tour operators and Ugandan embassy officials in Washington, DC.
Eric Gordon, president of Park East Tours in New York City, said his business was hurt, just as all travel-related businesses were. Park East runs trips to Africa, the Middle East and South America. "America is going through a change in society right now," Gordon said, "and I think all businesses are going to be affected."
As America’s society goes through change, people around the world are feeling the repercussions. In Africa, thousands more children may die and millions more people may slip below the poverty line, World Bank President James Wolfensohn warned Monday.
Tourism is the industry most visibly and directly vulnerable to the economic downturn. After four passenger jets were hijacked and used as guided missiles more than three weeks ago, people around the world have feared flying. Newer security measures have exacerbated the downturn in travel, as flying has become a longer, more cumbersome process. Some airlines report reservations down 40 percent, and many planes are taking off with less than half their seats filled. Tour operators Zimbabwe and Senegal are already reporting cancellations, according to Thursday’s Vanguard (Lagos).
Uganda’s tourism industry, while still at a fraction of its peak, pre-Idi Amin levels, brings thousands of foreigners and their currency into the country each year. And most fly in to Entebbe Airport. However, one tour operator suggested to The Monitor that a tourist who chooses Uganda as his destination is less likely to be cowed by security concerns.
"Uganda is an adventure travel destination, and it appears that adventure travelers are the least affected by the most recent events," said Mark Nolting, president of the Africa Adventure Company based in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. "Adventure travelers have more independent interests, and they are more likely to travel when the average person is afraid to travel."
Nolting said many of his customers who had booked trips for September or October this year were rescheduling to next year, but few were canceling. He tells his clients that "It’s safer to travel now than it’s ever been."
Africa Adventure Co. books about 50-100 trips to Uganda each year, most for stays of 12 days or longer.
Edith Ssempala, Uganda’s ambassador to the U.S., agreed with Nolting’s assessment. She said that for the first two weeks after the attacks, her embassy received almost no visa requests. "But right now, there are many people who are going," Ssempala said. "The passport office is quite busy issuing visas. People were frightened at first, but they are gaining courage again." An embassy employee confirmed that visa requests have picked up after a precipitous decline.
Ssempala recently escorted two officials in the Ministry for Energy and Mineral Development -- Minister Syda Bbumba and Permanent Secretary Kabagambe-Kaliisa -- to their flight returning to Uganda after a meeting with World Bank energy officials. She was impressed with the attitude she found among passengers. "What you hear from everybody is that they are willing to sacrifice the time for the security," Ssempala said. "So people now feel they can wait."Copyright © 2002 Carl Bialik
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