There has recently been a public outcry over some six gorilla tracking permits that were allegedly given to a single tour operator, and Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) has variously been accused of favouritism and unfairness.
UWA appreciates the public’s interest in tourism issues. We have many times before explained the saga of the six Nkuringo gorilla-tracking permits, and we shall not tire of doing so until everybody is on board.
When UWA began habituating the Nkuringo Gorilla Group in 1997, it was meant to help increase the opportunities for gorilla tracking by the tourists. During the habituation process however, it was discovered that part of the range area for this gorilla group was on community land and communities often suffered crop damage and loss of income.
Several discussions subsequently held between UWA, the communities and other stakeholders such as the International Gorilla Conservation Program (IGCP) and the African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) to find the best way of addressing this problem. The Nkurngo community, which later constituted itself into the Nkuringo Conservation and Development Foundation (NCDF), then decided to give up this land totalling 4.2km2 so that it could be left for the gorillas.
The communities were aware of the important role that gorilla tracking plays in Uganda’s tourism industry, and therefore made this selfless gesture in support of the country’s tourism development efforts. UWA compensated the community for the land and property that they had left on the land, and it is now used for gorilla conservation.
It was then agreed that mechanisms be put in place to ensure that the communities get substantial benefits from the newly habituated gorilla group especially since they had willingly decided to give up the land for gorilla conservation.
To address this challenge, the different stakeholders decided that a tourist accommodation facility be constructed and owned by the communities as a source of income. The idea to build an eco-lodge in Nkuringo was mooted, and UWA together with IGCP undertook to help the community in raising funds for constructing the eco-lodge.
It was however noted that the communities had inadequate capacity to manage the lodge given the high standards of services and aggressive marketing that are required to attract business. Several consultative meetings regarding this issue were held with different stakeholders including the Kisoro District leaders and non-governmental organisations involved in gorilla conservation. It is at this time that the stakeholders agreed to offer the gorilla tracking permits to the community in recognition of their selfless offer of land for gorilla conservation.
The eco-lodge would be part of the broader strategy for income generation for the Nkuringo community in the long run. Apart from creating employment and direct revenue, the eco-lodge would provide constant income for the community as a market for their produce as well.
The Nkuringo Conservation and Development Foundation (the community association) then embarked on identifying a competent company through a competitive bidding process to market the gorilla permits and manage the eco-lodge on their behalf. Requests for Expression of Interest were issued out in 2004 through leading tourism websites, tour operators, local and regional newspapers inviting private tourism operators to partner with the community to manage an eco-lodge.
Four companies responded to the advert and these included:
- Serena Hotels
- Inns of Uganda
- Uganda Safari Company
- Heritage, Vintage Africa & HM Consortium.
At the end of the process, Uganda Safari Company emerged the best evaluated bidder.
UWA requests the public to note the following:-
The Nkuringo Eco-lodge is owned by the Nkuringo community (under NCDF) not The Uganda Safari Company.
The six gorilla tracking permits belong to the Nkuringo community as per agreements with UWA and other stakeholders.
The Uganda Safari Company has a concession contract with the community to market the gorilla permits and manage the eco-lodge on their behalf.
The insinuation that UWA is favouring one operator against all the others therefore has no basis and is very unfortunate. UWA is mindful of the interests and stakes that each stakeholder has in gorilla tourism, and we work continuously to ensure that these interests are met without jeopardising the sector. We have regular meetings with the Association of Uganda Tour Operators (AUTO), and would request that they raise their concerns with us for dialogue. This matter will be discussed at the next scheduled AUTO meeting with UWA among others.
Conserving for Generations
Lillian Nsubuga is the Public Relations Manager of Uganda Wildlife Authority.