In the wake of the brutal slayings of eight tourists in Uganda,
including two U.S. citizens, the State Department has issued a
public announcement urging Americans who may be planning to visit
western Uganda "to postpone their travel until further information
The United States Embassy in Uganda is closed.
Those reported dead are two Americans, four Britons, and two New
Zealanders; four men and four women. London-based Acacia
Expeditions said six of those killed were on its tour.
Sue Ockwell of Acacia Expeditions, told AP that customers were
warned of certain dangers. "People should understand there are some
risks. They understand that it's not a conventional holiday."
Ockwell said the area the tour group of 15 was visiting was
believed to be safe.
Thirty-one tourists were intially abducted at dawn on Monday,
3/1/99. Seventeen of the hostages escaped or were freed soon after.
Of the fourteen remaining, six were released and eight were
The tourists were abducted at campsites in the Bwindi National
Park, also known as the Impenetrable Forest, which is the starting
point for visitors hoping to catch a glimpse of rare mountain
Civil war and widespread violence kept tourists away from Uganda
for 25 years. When travelers ventured back in the late 1980s they
came to track the mountain gorillas made famous by the movie
"Gorillas in the Mist." Tourism in Uganda has thrived in recent
years primarily because of the gorillas.
The Uganda government said it "strongly condemns this barbaric
"On the one hand, it is the criminality of the Interahamwe
(rebels), but on the other hand there was also laxity on our own
people in respect to guarding these wonderful visitors of
Meanwhile, tour operators specializing in Africa considered the
impact of the killings.
Christa Brantsch, Director of Public Relations at Abercrombie
and Kent said one client from Abercrombie and Kent International
Inc. was involved in the kidnapping, but survived the ordeal. She
was immediately flown to Nairobi and her family was notified.
"We then cancelled all operations and closed down our camp for
the next two months. We contacted all clients scheduled to take the
Uganda trip--about 20 people--and apprised them of the situation."
Clients were given the option of a full refund or another trip.
"This is indeed a tragedy," said Brantsch. When asked what it
would take to reopen the Abercrombie and Kent operation she
replied, "We'd need a full report from our Bwindi office,
government insurance that it's safe, and evidence that security has
been beefed up at the borders."
Asked if this will affect other Africa itineraries Brantsch said
"It may but I don't know if it needs to. People very often lump a
whole country together when there's violence in one area. In this
case it would be [condemning] a whole continent."
Jennifer Kunath, Program Coordinator for Alabama-based
International Expeditions, a eco-travel operator, said that while
the company did not have any clients there at the time, they did
have two clients arrive in Uganda on Monday for the start of their
trip. They were met at the airport and are back home now. "Our camp
was not tampered with but was used to house and comfort some of the
She believes the Uganda killings "are going to change things
"We have sixteen-day programs in Uganda and only three of those
days are spent in the Bwindi National Park, but those three days
are the reason people come to Uganda: to track gorillas. The
mountain gorillas are not only the highlight of the trip, but for
most travelers it is the objective for the trip."
International Expeditions offers about ten Uganda trips a year
encompassing around 100 clients.
"It's important to see how the government will respond to get
tourism back because tourism is going to be hit real hard by this,"
Scott Senauke, Marketing Director, for California-based
Wilderness Travel, said there was a March 7th tour scheduled for
Bwindi. They immediately canceled it and gave clients the option to
either get a refund or postpone the trip. "None chose to cancel;
all 10 clients want to go on this trip in the future," Senauke
said. "Our clients are not your garden-variety travelers, they are
adventure travelers and are aware of the hazards and risks
When asked about future travel to Uganda, Senauke said the next
planned trip is June 20th. "About a month before the departure we
have to reassess the situation and of course we can't go if Bwindi
Park doesn't issue permits." Park headquarters stopped issuing
permits after the kidnappings.
As for safety, Senauke adds, "It would be different if we were
talking about war here, but with this incident it's hard to assume
that this will last."