Uganda Tourism Down After Killings
Mar. 16, 1999
BWINDI NATIONAL PARK, Uganda (AP) _ The killers of eight foreign tourists who had come to see rare mountain gorillas left a note saying their aim was to destroy Uganda's economy.
A visit to the charred remains of the victims' campsites in Bwindi National Park shows they partially succeeded.
In this impoverished East African nation, tourism is the second-largest source of hard currency, and Bwindi is Uganda's greatest tourist attraction.
But the park closed following the March 1 attack by Rwandan Hutu rebels that left four Britons, two Americans, two New Zealanders and one park guard dead.
The closure cut off revenue from the estimated 200 tourists who had been coming to Bwindi each month in search of the 320 mountain gorillas.
The mountain gorillas that roam what used to be known as the Impenetrable Forest are among only 620 left in the world and were the only ones accessible to tourists. Parks in Rwanda and Congo have been off-limits since 1994 because of war and unrest.
But Uganda has now lost its monopoly.
Tourist bookings _ even for areas in Uganda still considered safe _ have plummeted, a devastating blow to an industry that was crawling back from two decades of civil strife.
``Without exception (tour operators) are receiving massive cancellations for the next three to four months,'' said a top tour operator, who asked that neither he nor his company be identified by name.
Those canceling ``either say they are too scared to come to Uganda as a whole, or they are not interested in coming to Uganda if they cannot see the gorillas,'' he said.
Tour operators estimate that as much as 75 percent of Uganda's $107 million in tourism income is derived from gorilla visits.
Visitors paid $250 to see the gorillas, and hundreds more in park fees, lodging and guiding expenses. There was often a waiting list.
It was a far cry from when tourists avoided Uganda during the brutal 1971-79 dictatorship of Idi Amin and the chaos that followed. In 1990, about 55,000 foreigners visited, according to the Uganda Tourist Board, and that number rose to 220,000 in 1997.
President Yoweri Museveni has conceded that the tourism industry will suffer for some time, ``until people find out that the (security) measures put in place are effective.''
Kenya and Tanzania, Uganda's neighbors, worry that the spillover effect of the attack will wound their tourism industries as well.
``As a result of the Bwindi incident, Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania may suffer economic adversity over a problem they had nothing to do with,'' Kenya's Daily Nation said in an editorial.
But those who will suffer the most are the people in the Bwindi area, who have lost what had become their main source of income since the park opened in 1993.
Hundreds lived off the park, either working as rangers and camping staff or providing food, crafts and entertainment to the tourists.
The Uganda Wildlife Authority, which collects the park and permit fees, is legally bound to return 20 percent of that revenue to community development projects like schools and health clinics.
``We have been depending on tourists for survival,'' said Tibesigwa Ngongo, manager of one of the looted and burned campsites. ``Now we have nothing.''