By Sadab Kitatta Kaaya
As one of the most pristine national parks in East Africa, Kidepo national park is finally taking its place among the most attractive tourism sites with new investors looking to offer services to cash in on the financial prospects, writes SADAB KITATTA KAAYA.
Kidepo Valley national park has recorded improved revenue collection over the past eight months, cementing its position as one of the most sought-after tourist sites in Uganda.
According to official records seen by The Observer, the revenue collections increased to Shs 846.9 million at the beginning of the current financial year, from Shs 325m four years ago.
The figure is expected to go above Shs 1bn by the end of the financial year thanks to the increased number of tourists visiting the park. During the 2010/2011 financial year, the park received 2,783 visitors. The numbers have been improving over the years to 5,924 last financial year and 6,806 visitors registered at the beginning of the 2016/17 financial year in July last year.
“We have been running an aggressive marketing and publicity campaign, like at international shows. In the past, Kidepo was not known until 2012 when it appeared on CNN,” Johnson Masereka, the park’s chief warden, told The Observer.
CNN has gone ahead to rank Kidepo as the world’s fifth best tourism destination because of its spectacular landscape and pristine valleys, hosting the largest herd of buffalos in Africa. There is an estimated 12,000 buffaloes in Kidepo, in addition to other 85 animal species and an unspecified number of bird species such as the ostrich.
Although Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) has been aggressively marketing the park internationally, it mostly receives local tourists. For instance, between July 2016 and February this year, the park received 4,377 local tourists and 228 students as compared to 1,771 foreign tourists and 430 foreign residents.
In the 2015/16 financial year, 1,571 visitors to the park were foreign and 589 foreign residents compared to 3,636 local tourists and 128 students. Godfrey Kiwanda Ssuubi, the state minister for Tourism, attributes the growth of local tourists partly to his Tulambule campaign that is intended to promote local tourism and also to the improved security situation in the region.
“Seven years ago, I was here [Kaabong] district as the [resident district commissioner] RDC but it was not easy to travel to this place unescorted. Today it is easy to move freely even in the dead of the night without armed escorts,” he said.
The road infrastructure has also greatly improved that the 116km journey from Kitgum takes about two hours now, compared to what it was like five years ago.
The biggest challenge that Kidepo now faces is limited accommodation. Apoka Safari Lodge with a capacity of 20 beds and the UWA hostel with a capacity of 42 beds, as well as the 16-bed Ngamuru camp are currently the only operational accommodation facilities in the park.
UWA has signed four concession agreements with four investors to construct more accommodation facilities. While the UWA officials were tight-lipped on who the new investors were, The Observer understands that Protea Hotels Ltd, Bomah Hotels Ltd, Shanny and Codet International ltd are the new investors.
Codet International Ltd is interested in the redevelopment of Katurum Lodge, which was built by former president Idi Amin in the 1970s but was vandalized in 1979 after his government was overthrown.
Cornelius Codet, the proprietor of Aero beach Entebbe and Moroto hotel, was allocated the lodge in 2011 by President Museveni only to be blocked by UWA.
“He hadn’t followed the due process because when the president gives a directive, he expects us to follow the right procedures which he [Codet] didn’t and we advised him to follow the due process,” UWA executive director Andrew Seguya told The Observer.
Codet later received UWA’s clearance but renovation works at the lodge have stopped.
“He has written to us that he is facing some challenges but will resume soon,” Seguya said.
“We need new facilities because that will create options for the visitors, being that Apoka Safari Lodge is high-end; it may not be affordable to many tourists,” Seguya said.
A night per person at Apoka Safari Lodge goes for $585 (Shs 2.1m). According to Corrie Brits, the general manager of Apoka Safari Lodge, the figure covers accommodation, meals and two game drives. The cottages at the UWA hostel go for Shs 52,000 and Shs 62,000 per night.
Meanwhile, African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) with support from USAID has donated to UWA a full set of road construction and maintenance equipment, which includes a grader, a bulldozer, an excavator, a vibro roller, two tippers and one low bed transporter to improve the road network in Kidepo.
“The equipment will help UWA to improve the network of monitoring tracks, as well as roads and fire lines, tourism roads and enable easier monitoring of illegal activities in the protected areas,” said Abiaz Rwamwiri, AWF’s communications officer.
The support is part of the $11.6m (Shs 41.7bn) support towards UWA and the National Forestry Authority to improve the capacity to manage their estates through developing infrastructure for monitoring and improving tourism.