The 39th Africa Travel Association (ATA) conference, hosted for the first time in Kampala, is proceeding at Speke Resort Munyonyo, with calls for the western countries to drop their negative perceptions about African tour destinations.
The annual international event which brought together players in the tourism industry from over 20 countries, was launched on Wednesday by HE President Yoweri Museveni.
Hosting the event in Kampala however was initially faced with resistance from stakeholders majorly from the Western countries, raising concerns about among others the deadly Ebola virus.
This was revealed by ATA Executive Director, Edward Bergman at the conference, noting that other issues like terrorism and the country’s recent Anti-homosexuality law, were brought up to block Uganda from hosting the conference.
The hemorrhagic fever broke out a few months ago in the West African counties of Sierra Leone, Liberia, Guinea, Nigeria, Mali and Senegal; but is yet to find its way in Uganda, or elsewhere on the continent.
The conference also opened a day after Uganda was announced by the Health Ministry, free of a related Marburg virus.
Bergman was dismayed that “in the modern world, perception is reality.”
According to Bergman, when the Association announced that this year’s conference would be held in Kampala, a barrage of questions quickly shot up about the safety of the delegates.
“We realized that the perception of Uganda and Africa by many in the western world had a negative connotation, but we remained persistent. We felt that this was an opportunity to show the world that Uganda is an emerging destination with incredible potentials and that Africa is a continent and not a nation,” he added.
However, speaking at the opening of the conference on Wednesday, President Yoweri Museveni allayed the fears of the foreigners saying Ebola was in fact less of a threat to a country like Uganda.
“The virus was a big problem for our brothers in West Africa because they didn’t know how to go about it. Here we are experts. We have had three Ebola outbreaks and two Marburg outbreaks, and we stopped them promptly,” said Museveni.
“Ebola is actually the easiest disease to fight, because it’s not as contagious as influenza which can be spread through the air. One has to touch a sick person or a dead body of a sick person to contract it.”
The president went on that the most effective measure besides having a functioning health system, was political.
“If there is an outbreak at midnight and I am informed, I don’t delegate. By morning, I am on radio telling people what to do to avoid the spread.”
The president further blamed the frequent outbreaks on the people piling pressure on forests, forcing the causative fruit-bats out to areas inhabited by people.
“We also have some groups of people who engage in some cannibalism by eating our brothers, the monkeys. This too should be discouraged because it’s why we are having these problems,” he added.
The five – day ATA conference is expected to chart ways of promoting tourism in Africa and to strengthen more partnerships amongst member counties.