By Ronald Wandera
The Covid-19 pandemic has claimed more than 6 million lives worldwide over the past 2 years. In Uganda, there were about 163,416 confirmed cases and 3,588 deaths as of 9th of March 2022, according to the Ministry of Health latest report.
To curb the spread of the virus, the government of Uganda imposed stringent mitigation and containment measures including travel restriction and total lockdowns which negatively affected different sectors of the economy.
The biggest impact was on the services sector, with tourism as one of the hardest hit sub-sectors. The tourism sector was hard hit by Covid-19 because of its nature, as it depends largely on foreign tourists, and with various travel restrictions in the country, the number of foreign tourists reduced to 3.7 percent (MTWA 2022).
In January 2022, the government fully opened the economy, but the tourism sector is still grappling with uncertainties as to when the situation will normalise.
With the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, the hotel occupancy level declined from 51 percent in 2019 to 4 percent in 2020 and the number remained very low through 2021. The total number of international tourists declined by 69 percent from 1,542,620 to 473,083 in the calendar year 2020, meaning that the country only received a third of the 2019 tourist numbers. As a result, Uganda’s tourism foreign exchange earnings dropped sharply by 73 percent from US$1.6 billion to US$0.44 billion during the same period. Jobs lost at the end of June 2020 due to the pandemic stood at about 70 percent.
On the other hand, at least 30 percent of tourism jobs were recovered by the end of March 2021, according to the Ministry of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities latest report (MTWA2022) and with the full opening of the economy in January 2022, the situation is improving. The opening will also result in the increase in the employment within the sector.
In 2020, the government through Bank of Uganda put in place credit relief measures to help stressed borrowers in various key growth sectors cope with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. These measures allowed for; – suspension or reduction on repayment of principal and/or interest, applicable to the outstanding principal loan amounts; extension of the loan repayment period; reduction of interest rate on the loans; and other forms of loan rearrangement provided for under the Bank regulations. These measures are set to expire in the first quarter of 2022.
Uganda Development Bank (UDB), the country’s development finance institution, continues to support the tourism sector to aid its post-pandemic recovery and promote sustainable socio-economic development. The Bank provides relatively cheap medium to long term loans and business advisory services to investors in the same sector, ranging from SMEs to large scale projects.
The Bank plays the counter-cyclical stabilization role, as it scales up lending operations when other financial institutions experience temporary difficulties in providing credit to the private sector. Indeed, this was done, over the last two years of Covid -9 pandemic.
Additionally, the Bank plays a risk absorption role for the state during economic downturns, most especially when sectors are in dire need for credit. In this case, UDB is a crisis resolution vehicle.
The Bank intervened in the pandemic situation by engaging with stakeholders, such as the Ministry of Finance, Planning and Economic Development, and European Union, to cushion the tourism sector from adverse effects of the pandemic through affordable funding and advisory services.
UDBL put aside funds and put-up calls for applications by 15th October 2020 to facilitate the sector to stay afloat.
From the first call for applications, 94 applicants applied for the intervention facility and 44 facilities were approved, and 42 of the 44 facilities approved have received funds to a tune of Shs20 Billion out of the Shs61.8 Billion that the facility had set aside.
The second Call has been opened to seek applications from companies within the tourism sector. The relief fund has been adjusted to include a greening component, and the successful companies will be offered free environmental assessment on request.
To ease access to the funding, the eligibility criteria has been relaxed and the application period extended.
In addition, to resuscitate the sector from COVID19 effects, UDB has put aside Shs75 Billion to support the Tourism Industry in the year 2022 signifying strong commitment to revive the economy through targeted financing.
The author is a Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning Assistant at Uganda Development Bank Ltd (UDB).