UGANDA (eTN) – “We shall lobby the East African Legislative Assembly now because our own governments do not listen to us,” was the tenor of many stakeholders this correspondent was in touch with since the reading of the national budgets before the respective parliaments on Wednesday.
No sector-specific incentives were visible in the budget outlines presented to the parliaments in Nairobi, Dodoma, Kampala, Kigali, and Bujumbura, raising question marks within the sector if their finance ministries and the bureaucrats preparing budgets had understood at all the crucial importance to support a potential growth sector on all fronts.
“Egypt and Tunisia are pouring money into tourism promotion presently, as if there is no tomorrow,” one stakeholder told this correspondent, and “South Africa is riding high after last year’s successful World Cup and still spending more on promoting their sector. Especially Egypt and Tunisia are also, from what we hear, giving their tourism industries tax and duty breaks to attract more investments, and we pay through the nose.”
These sentiments went on across the region where hoteliers wanted to have duty concessions on imported capital goods not available within the East African Community to keep the rapidly-rising construction and refurbishment costs under control, while safari operators demanded that their vehicles should be put on the road without any duty payments, those becoming due when the vehicle, after 3 or 4 years’ use, is being sold on the open market.
Said a leading tourism trade association member from Nairobi: “I think our presentations and case studies we submitted to the finance officials dealing with our budget have not been understood. We will continue, through our Minister for Tourism, to lobby for greater recognition and respective incentives and rewards for our sector but must take the battle to Arusha now. We will discuss with EALA members the need to have a regional recommendation drawn up to once and for all sort out sector incentives. They should be long lasting and predictable, not come one year and go the next – imagine a hotel or resort being planned will take years to complete and yet incentives may expire half way through the project.
“Government can put special vehicle registration license plates on our safari cars, transfer busses, but this also is important for boats and yachts to attract tourists to the waterfront in Mombasa where they can hire boats to go out sailing, and it also is important for the deep sea fishing industry where, again, duties are a big part of the investment into new equipment.
“There is much to be done, and as we grow into a full open market in East Africa, our sector aims to become the number one for job creation, forex earnings, investments, and future revenues.”
Valid comments for all the right reasons, but at least here in Uganda, where officials still tend to think “tourism happens,” it is the right avenue to pursue and start lobbying the EALA members to finally get open ear and support at the regional level for putting the sector right and on a path to future growth and prosperity.