There are several new developments at UWA, among them being the introduction of the smartcard entry system to national parks.
Gorilla Permits to go Online
However, the most intriguing development that has put tour operators at loggerheads with UWA is the move to put gorilla trekking permits online for booking. The move, which starts in 2014, according to Dr Andrew Seguya, the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) Executive Director, is meant to do away with the uncertainty surrounding the availability of gorilla permits.
According to Dr Seguya the move is designed to eliminate the uncertainty associated with the current procedures for obtaining permits whereby operators have to phone the UWA and enquire about availability. By putting the permit application process online all operators can see immediately what is available and inform their clients accordingly.
Ugandan operators see things differently. The current system gives them a monopoly on the acquisition of permits, so foreign travel companies must work through them to obtain the permits. Under the new system they fear that operators from around th eworld will be able to go online and buy their own permits, bypassing the Ugandan operator.
Another, perhaps bigger, concern is that a large operator could simply buy up all the available permits and monopolise the entire market.
Dr Seguya is adamant that this will not be allowed to happen.
Good for overseas operators
As a foreign tour operator I see this as a good development, provided safeguards are put in place to protect local operators and prevent abuse of the system. It will mean that we can buy gorilla permits with more flexibility and face fewer penalties for unsold permits. At present if we wish to operate a gorilla trekking tour we must buy the permits in advance, to ensure we have them, then put the tour up for sale. If there are places remaining unsold we can return unsold permits to UWA, but they retain $150 per unsold permit.
We’ll be keeping an eye on developments as there are bound to be a few twists and turns before this comes into force.
Thanks to Simon Musasizi of The Observer (Uganda) for his report on the Association of Uganda Tour Operators (Auto) meeting.