After the first group of Afghanistan refugees arrived in Uganda, hotel owners and managers in Entebbe municipality have expressed optimism towards hosting more evacuees saying, it will help the hospitality industry which has gravely suffered from the ripple effects of COVID-19.
The first group of 51 Afghans which jetted into Uganda, on Wednesday morning aboard Kam Air A330, were accommodated at Imperial Resort beach hotel in Entebbe. As more refugees are expected from the Asian country, Hillary Onek the minister for relief, disaster preparedness and refugees said they won’t stay in Uganda forever. “Uganda will be used as a transit point before they are taken to the United States,” explained Minister Onek.
Hotels appeal for equal opportunities
On learning of such a development, several hotel owners appealed to authorities for a chance to host the refugees. “We were told that most of the bookings were done at hotels under the Imperial group of companies,” complained a couple of other hotel managers who appealed for rational opportunities while hosting the said refugees. Other hotel owners went ahead to ‘accuse’ their counterparts of Imperial group, for “having scooped the deal” of hosting all the refugees intending to come to Uganda.
When contacted, James Kasavubu the marketing officer for Imperial group of companies said, whereas the company was tipped to receive some Afghan refugees, a decision was yet to be taken by relevant authorities on how many will be hosted at the accommodation facility.
“There are several international bodies involved in this whole programme. There is no way we can therefore, influence any stage of the process nor which hotels to be accredited,” intimated Kasavubu.
Andrew Otage, the chairperson for private sector at Entebbe municipal council who also doubles as the chairperson for Entebbe tourism association, said several other hotels have already been reserved to host the refugees. “This thing is being kept under wraps.
Even hotels that are going to benefit are not willing to disclose because their colleagues have been left out,” said Otage. “We request that as more arrive, considerations are made for the cake and crams to be relatively distributed among the different hospitality facilities,” he added.
This has come at a time when over 10 hotels, diners and other entertainment places have closed business whereas a few that are still withstanding the ‘storm,’ only retained a skeletal staff to man the premises. Some of the facilities that have since closed business due to the low number of customers include, Phenice hotel, Entebbe motel, Acacia hotel, Esquare hotel, Thai garden hotel, Seiko hotel among several others in Entebbe municipality.
The municipality which is gearing up for a city status effective next year 2022, seeks to formulate an economic blueprint that will successfully inform the development process. “Our discourse should therefore, enhance the capacity of the private sector to grow and expand the local economy and its different value chains of tourism and commerce to contribute job creation and employment,” remarked Otage. He further appealed for emphasis on Entebbe’s economic potential while leveraging its tourism assets.
Fabrice Rulinda the municipality mayor said, Entebbe ought to pick lessons from the pandemic and design a sustainable plan which can enable tourism and businesses thrive amidst pandemics like COVID-19. “Whereas I laud all hotel owners who have managed to keep in business even when the conditions could not allow it, we should design a plan not only for disasters, but also economic boom,” Rulinda appealed.
Uganda’s main gateway which has for long been surviving on the hospitality business due to the many hotels, guesthouses and beaches, suffered the ripple effects of COVID-19 when the airport was closed to passenger flights in the first lockdown.
Since then, business has never resumed to its former glory, save for a time last year, when many stranded Ugandans were being repatriated back into the country. Entebbe municipality used to be a popular weekend retreat and lakeside resort, with a rich cosmopolitan community.