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UWA Chief endorses cashless system for tourism sector

UWA Chief endorses cashless system for tourism sector

Uganda Wildlife Authority’s (UWA) Executive Director, Dr. Andrew Seguya, has endorsed the cashless system in the tourism industry while conducting day-to-day transactions. This was at an engagement workshop with the Association of Uganda Tour Operators and Uganda Hotel Owners Association members. Themed on e-commerce and financial literacy, it was organized by Barclays Bank Uganda Limited on February 7, 2017 and was held at the Hotel Africana, Kampala.

As guest speaker, Seguya said UWA had entered into a partnership with Barclays making it now possible to pay directly at the park gates without having to carry large sums of cash.

There are point of sale terminals for Uganda shillings and United States dollars accepting Visa, Mistral, Cirrus, and Master Card. They are currently available at Lake Mburo, Mt. Elgon, Queen Elizabeth, Kibale Forest National Parks, and Toro and Semiliki Wildlife Reserves.

UWA controls 11% of the land in Uganda, 30% of forests (which shall increase to 90% in the future), 30% of water sources which includes 30% of the Nile River; Lakes George, Edward, and Albert; and all mountains, with ten national parks and twelve wildlife reserves, sanctuaries, and community wildlife areas, including 80% of all the tourism in the country attributed to gorilla viewing.

Carrying large sums of bullion cash between these protected areas presented enormous challenges including insecurity and fraud. In the past, UWA lost two accountants to armed robbery and has been hit by fraud owing to temptations of having large sums of cash in the bush.

Counting and validating large sums of cash was also time wasting; on many occasions the organization lost revenue from counterfeit notes. Walk-in clients would also be discouraged from making bookings by withdrawal limitations at ATMs. This was also eroding UWA’s core function to sustainably manage all wildlife and protected areas in the country.

In response, UWA also introduced the Wildlife Card that transfers virtual money to your card on payment at headquarters in Kampala. Equipped with a microchip which has details of your payments, for example gorilla, permits, park entrances, boat, and other fees, the card does not require Internet connectivity in order to function, explained Seguya.

Murchison Falls National Park for example has six gates which previously necessitated driving up to 500 km back and forth. With the cashless system, such transactions can now be monitored and reconciled on a dashboard, and in addition there are no hassles in determining the day’s exchange rate, he said.

What’s more, with the new pre-paid co-brand card, UWA clients are able to load money on their card from anywhere without necessarily having an account with Barclays.

Seguya appealed to tour operators to stop giving cash to drivers, guides and other staff but to pay directly at the park gates using the Barclays cards.

Sam Mulawa, Head of Card Acquiring, said the merchant point of sale as well as online e-commerce payment were also options available for tourism businesses.

Merchants applying for point of sale systems are required to fill out forms and submit the necessary documents such as a Certificate of Registration memorandum and Articles of Association, Trading Licenses, and other KYC (Know Your Client) requirements. Thereafter, the point of sale machine is delivered and training of staff is carried out.

For e-Commerce applications that involve online payments, Barclays works with the clients’ IT personnel to integrate the system on the company’s website. After notification, the system is tested before it can go live.

There is a 3.5% transaction fee and a monthly maintenance fee of USD50 for the online transactions, and USD25 per month on the Pay Bill system.

Mulawa added that by April, the bank shall have the Direct Currency Conversion system which shall enable customers to transact in their preferred currencies rather than lose out through foreign exchange currency trading.

However, Seguya expressed reservations about applicable charges. “Cards (online payments) should not be a means of earning income through fees and charges, but as a means to facilitate creation of more money,” he said, to applause from tourism stakeholders in the hall, marshaled by Jackie Rububi Kemirembe, Vice Chair of the Association of Uganda Tour Operators (AUTO) who in contrast had a few years ago resisted UWA’s attempts to introduce direct online gorilla payments on the premise that they would lose out to international wholesalers. Kemirembe said there was no guarantee of making USD50 a month on top of account maintenance and other attendant fees. She, however, encouraged her fellow tour operators to catch up with the times and embrace change, saying the debit card in particular was handy for out-bound clients who often travel on holidays to Dubai, Seychelles, and other holiday destinations since it can be used anywhere in the world.

Also presenting was Jean Byamugisha, Executive Director of the Uganda Hotel Owners Association, who was pleased to announce that hotels were embracing e-commerce solutions. Byamugisha lamented the fact that Uganda has some catching up to do because whereas Kenya has 5,500 point of sale terminals, Uganda has only 600.

Other recommendations were that the bank should also create floats where tour operators are able to deposit funds that are deductible from their accounts, rather than having to pay each time they require a service, that dedicated links should be created for branding and customization purposes, that mobile money payment services should be integrated with bank accounts, and that a dashboard should be created for individual accounts for easy monitoring and reconciliation.

Presenting the e-commerce success story, was David Sekitoleko, Rooms Division Manager at the Kampala Sheraton, who said: “Today’s traveler is so demanding, and the credit card payment provides a simple mode of payment for them.” It has also provided a memorable level of satisfaction for customers. He also used the occasion to announce upcoming innovations in the Starwood Hotel chain. “The front desk shall be no more at Starwood; we are using check-in on mobile phones which would double as your room key,” he said.

Other value-added services at the point of sale system include one-stop terminal payments for bills like electricity, water, and mobile money/cash back services, in addition to available products ranging from commercial banking; asset finance, ideal for tour operators who manage fleets of vehicles; “Letter of Credit” to suppliers; and Business Club membership whereby local business can benefit from tours abroad to learn best business practices from counterparts abroad.

In his closing remarks, Barclays Bank Managing Director, Rakesh Jha, assured the tourism stakeholders that as the level of transactions increases, Barclays will continue to build relationships so that the pricing can change since it is dependent on the level of transactions.

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