International hotel brands are angling for Ugandan market amid efforts to jump-start the tourism sector.
In 2020, the International Conference Association ranked Uganda the sixth most popular Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Exhibitions (Mice) destination in Africa. This was to entice international hotel chains to invest in Uganda.
According to Jean Byamugisha, chief executive of the Uganda Hotel Owners Association (UHOA), at least five international hotel brands wanted to open new facilities in the country between 2020 and 2022, but the unrelenting Covid-19 pandemic has derailed those plans.
“International hotel brands are now interested in investing in Uganda because of the country’s growing Mice sector,” Ms Byamugisha said.
“Most of these new facilities in Kampala would be open by now if it wasn’t for the coronavirus pandemic.”
International hotel brands planning to launch or expand their portfolio in Uganda are Onomo Hotels, Marriott International, Golden Tulip, Radisson Blu and Hilton International.
Marriott International, which debuted in Uganda in 2016 with the acquisition of Starwood Hotels, is expanding its portfolio with the 142-room Four Points by Sheraton, but construction of the property in the leafy Kololo suburb has been slowed down by effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The new facility, which was slated to officially open in 2022, will be the global brand’s fifth hotel in Uganda after the trendy upscale Naguru Skyz Hotel, Sheraton Kampala Hotel, Protea Hotel by Marriott Entebbe and Protea Hotel by Marriott Kampala.
Hilton International, which arrived in Uganda in 2019 with the opening of the 96-room Hilton Garden Inn Kampala, plans to expand its footprint in the country with the new, 244-guestroom Hilton Kampala Hotel, which is also currently under construction in the upscale Nakasero suburb. Hilton’s latest undertaking in Kampala was initially supposed to start welcoming guests this year, but the launch has been postponed to a later date that has not been finalised, according to Ms Byamugisha.
Onomo Hotels, which currently runs properties in Senegal, Rwanda, Côte d'Ivoire, Gabon, South Africa, Mali, Togo, Morocco, Guinea, Cameroon, Mozambique and Tanzania, was also set to open another property in Kampala as it seeks to have at least 3,700 rooms across Africa by 2022. But those plans have been shelved for now.
By the end of last year, Radisson Blu was in the final stages of acquiring a property in Kampala, but the brand’s debut facility in the country was cast to the waiting list indefinitely as the pandemic rages.
Covid-19 impact has hit Uganda’s hospitality and the wider tourism sector hard, but it’s the high-end hotels that are dependent on international travellers that have borne the brunt the most as visitation is now down to levels the country hasn’t seen in decades.
For years, tourism was Uganda’s biggest foreign exchange earner, attracting 1,542,620 international visitors and raking in $1.6 billion of their cash at its peak in 2019.
However, when the Covid-19 struck last year, the industry took a sharp downturn, registering a 69.3 percent drop in foreign visitors to 473,085 and a 73 percent drop in tourism revenues to $500 million.