News from ‘Uganda – Gifted by Nature’, the Eastern African and Indian Ocean region
By Prof. Dr. Wolfgang H. Thome
Fourth edition April 2010
GATELY ON NILE TURNS 10
(Merryde cutting the anniversary cake at the Gately on Nile’s 10th ‘birthday party’)
A decade ago this correspondent sat on the terrace of the just opened Gately on Nile with proprietor Merryde Loosemore, enjoying their ‘signature dish’ Quiche de Maison and preparing to write an article for what was then East Africa’s leading leisure magazine, Travel News of Nairobi / Kenya. Merryde had a few months earlier taken out a long term lease on a dilapidated residential property overlooking the part of Lake Victoria where it begins to turn into the River Nile, just a few hundred metres away from the erstwhile ‘Rippon Falls’ where the river initially started its long journey to the Mediterranean Sea. Construction of the Owen Falls dam in the 1950’s then submerged these spectacular falls (as seen on archived pictures) and moved ‘the spot’ further down to the current location of the ‘source of the Nile’.
Intense renovations took place during those weeks, with Merryde by her own admission working around the clock, to meet her target opening date in April 2000 and to stay on top of the work to ensure the project was delivered on budget.
Jinja was beginning to emerge as ‘the adventure capital of East Africa’, courtesy of several rafting and adventure companies drawing in the crowds for rafting, kayaking, quad biking, bungee jumping and horseback riding and more quality accommodation was required to meet the growing demand. The nearby golf club and sailing club offer added attractions of course for visitors’ intent to ‘work out’ a little more.
The Gately on Nile, named after Merryde’s adventurous auntie she told me, became an instant ‘hit’, for guest staying in the homely atmosphere – including being able to go downstairs to the restaurant at night and fetch drinks before telling the bar staff in the morning to put it on the bill – but also for the restaurant which soon made it to the top of the list for eating out in Jinja.
Some years ago Merryde then managed to obtain a lease for the building and large plot next door and incorporated a second property into the Gately, now offering more rooms, more facilities but still the very same warm hospitality, good ‘home cooked’ food and most important, the owners attention to detail.
Last Saturday evening a large crowd assembled at the Gately in Jinja to help Merryde and her staff celebrate the achievement of turning ‘10’ and a very hearty ‘happy birthday’ it was for them all. For more information visit www.gately-on-nile.com or write to firstname.lastname@example.org
Another ‘Gately’ is also found now in Entebbe, enroute to the airport, convenient for those who could not get enough of their hospitality in Jinja.
NDEGE JUU GETS NEW BOARD CHAIRMAN
Patrick Bitature, a well known local business man and also presently service as chairman of the Uganda Investment Authority, was earlier in the week introduced as the new chairman of the board of directors of Ndege Juu, a domestic charter airline based at the Kajjansi airfield just outside Kampala, along the main road to Entebbe.
Ndege Juu commenced operations in 2008, as reported at the time by this correspondent, and has since then gradually established itself as a serious player in the otherwise hard fought over domestic aviation market. Their fleet is best known for operating the ‘branded’ MTN plane, which is used to enhance MTN’s marketing activities across the country ‘from the air’.
CHOGM ‘HUNTERS’ NOW LAY INTO CAA
Top Civil Aviation Authority management got a roasting last week when the public accounts committee of parliament laid heavily into them, demanding answers about changed (upwards of course) contract values, alleged overpricing, payments without retaining withholding taxes, and in the absence of formal payment vouchers, and shoddy work ahead of the 2007 Commonwealth Summit. The massive expenditures incurred by government, prior to and just ahead of the summit in November 2007, continue to excite the mostly opposition parliamentarians on the committee, as they are now less than a year ahead of a general election and while they seek to find culprits and those responsible for not getting value for money. Read all about the latest interrogations of those appearing before the parliamentary committee and subsequent additional questioning of them by CID officers attached to parliament, and the possible fallout for those concerned, via www.monitor.co.ug/News/National/-/688334/904060/-/wxxm0x/-/index.html
MARASA STAFF CHANGES
It was learned late last week that Marasa, the Madhvani Group company overseeing their tourism and hospitality investments in Uganda, has ahead of the opening of the newly restored Chobi Safari Lodge in the upper part of Murchisons Falls reshuffled their senior managers.
Long serving Richard Hodgson moves from Mweya Safari Lodge in Queen Elizabeth National Park to oversee the final pre-opening phase at Chobi, which will offer 36 rooms in the main building, 21 superior self contained tents on elevated platforms or vantage view points along the river, 4 suites and one VIP cottage. Located along a stretch of white-water of the river Nile the lodge was of old a much sought after place for river fishing but will in the future appeal to ‘non-fishermen’ too considering the added features like conference facilities. Mweya’s loss will undoubtedly be Chobi’s gain.
New in Mweya, and taking over from Richard there, will be a Mr. Renier Botes from South Africa who brings with him a wealth of experience from previous appointments.
Good friend Kenneth Mugira is also leaving the Paraa Safari Lodge, returning to Kenya to take over the first Marasa property there, as told in another article in this week’s edition and will be replaced by another new face, Kenyan Crispus Nguraru Mwamidi who will be managing the ‘jewel on the Nile’ as the lodge has been dubbed in their promotional material.
Welcome to the new faces and good luck to all of them and Kwaheri Ya Kuonana to Kenneth, whose competence and friendly disposition will be much missed by this correspondent.
CONTROVERSY BREWS OVER CONCESSION AGREEMENTS
Information was leaked to the media last week indicating a possible change of government’s policy to stick to and uphold contracts entered into with private sector investors, when news surfaced that apparently existing terms and conditions for lodges in national parks were set to be altered, according to public statements made by the Minister of Tourism.
In the early 1990’s, when investors in Uganda’s tourism industry were few and far between, the then Uganda National Parks, legal predecessor of UWA, offered concessions, lasting between 20 and 30 years to those ‘early birds’ who were willing to take the risk of investing.
One of the investments, due to a deteriorating security situation then in the Northern park of Murchisons’, soon went ‘belly up’, was foreclosed, put into administration and then sold to the cash solvent Madhvani Group, which not long before had also acquired the main concession for the Queen Elizabeth National Park’s Mweya Safari Lodge.
Cognizant of the fact, that investors would need a long financial breath to see results from their investments in the tourism sector, UNP had at the time offered exclusion zones of varying radiuses to the concessionaires, to avoid ‘competition’ building literally next door – and it is understood that someone intends to build near the Paraa Safari Lodge – so that a return on the massive investments could eventually be achieved. Most of these first investments faced long periods of sustained losses, justifying the demand for such exclusion zones to the fullest extent, as only the financially strong lodge owners eventually saw their bottom line improve.
Sites outside the parks are of course available on private land or government land, but often rejected by investors, unlike in Tanzania, where TANAPA strictly enforces in for instance the Serengeti a policy of ‘no more lodges’ inside the park, often reported about here.
New investors in the now gradually expanded tourism industry in Uganda have regularly questioned these exclusion zones embedded in existing contracts, but so far government has relied on opinions from for instance the Solicitor General’s Office and the AG’s Office, confirming that existing contracts are ‘air tight’ and government would either need to wait until the present concessions are due for renewal or else be prepared to pay mega money in compensation to existing operators with at times still well over 10 years ‘on the clock’.
While the Ministry of Tourism did not comment on specific questions raised by the time of posting this report, there was also the inconsistency of a statement attributed to the Minister, who reportedly mentioned that the Uganda Investment Authority would soon advertise for investors, while by law it is in fact the Uganda Wildlife Authority to advertise for concessions. Again, this discrepancy was not addressed either and the legal validity as well as the political sense of the announcement is now coming under scrutiny.
All parties in fact remained rather guarded in the few responses received, but it is clear that, should the existing concessions be altered unilaterally, government would be in for a decisive court battle, and potential investors could count on court injunctions to be granted on application, to stop any negotiations, agreements or building activity until the principal suit would be determined, which can take many years of course, considering the appeal provisions, and in the end undoubtedly resulting in a massive multimillion US Dollars compensation for affected ‘first round’ investors. Watch this space as this saga continues.
UWA CONFIRMS SITATUNGA HUNTING
Recent reports about the Sitatunga gazelle now being officially on the hunting list were confirmed last week by the Uganda Wildlife Authority, causing the predictable outcry amongst dyed in the wool conservationists on one side while those in favour of hunting considered it a step to open up hunting in the entire country, and hoping for hunting blocks or areas to be established as concessions.
There is amongst the more mature conservationists however still the concern about game numbers, which prompted at least some of them in communications with this correspondent to voice their concern, if not outright demand that this MUST be ascertained first before hunting for any species should be granted, while there is also of course a group categorically opposed to the consumptive use of wildlife, inspite of this being embedded in the amended Wildlife Act under ‘wildlife use rights’.
Where UWA could defuse some of the arguments would be by publicly availing the findings of the erstwhile ‘pilot hunting project’ outside the Lake Mburu National Park, an issue still raising the temperature amongst the hardline ‘anti hunting’ activists and in a public forum state their intent and discuss their way of going about the introduction of new hunting areas and granting of relevant concessions. Building consensus would clearly be the best option to bring diverse interests together towards an ultimately common objective, which is wildlife conservation.
It was also pointed out to this correspondent that UWA’s heavy leaning towards the Southern African school of thought could also open the door to ‘canned hunting’ a much condemned activity ‘down South’ which has come under increased criticism before criticising the lack of governmental intervention to stop illegal poaching outside the protected areas, where a profitable trade in game meat appears to be going on and growing, according to some sources. Here, it was said, the police needs to be working hand in hand with UWA enforcement and intelligence personnel to bring this menace to a halt. Upon questioning the sources conceded that they do make a difference between subsistence hunting and commercial poaching, but were firm that the latter must be tackled by the country’s law enforcement bodies immediately.
While hunters and anti hunters will arguably never really see eye to eye, it is only opportune to give the UWA CEO the opportunity to comment on the questions posed to him and allow his view to be published here too, a move which in the past has drawn criticism for this correspondent but is in his opinion only fair, as well as beneficial for all others to be able to read a clear position taken to the question:
eTN: ‘I recently saw a German weblink claiming the Sitatunga gazelle is up for hunting in Uganda.’
Mr. Moses Mapesa:
‘On Sitatunga, as you may know that this is the easiest antelope to hunt
traditionally. It is easy to trap along the swamps with traditional nets or
spear. In the last 2 decades lots of Sitatunga have been traditionally
hunted wherever they occur in swamps outside Protected Areas. This was after
their numbers had drastically gone up especially in Central Uganda because
of the War.
On the Sesse Islands, Sitatunga hunting tremendously increased with
increased logging and the palm oil project. There is no UWA presence on
It is against that background that we decided to lisence Sitatunga Sport
Hunting, rather than have them exterminated through traditional hunting.
With the Sport Hunting program the traditional hunters aid the sport hunters
and therefore do not loose out, they earn some money, they take the meat,
and only a few animals are taken out. They then participate in conservation
and protection of the animal as an economic resource.
Controlled hunting programs in Europe and South Africa have proven
conservatives wrong about the no hunting policy, especially where land is
owned privately as is the case for where (illegal) Sitatunga hunting has
been happening over the years. To win over the land owners, traditional
policing by a government agency is rarely successful but economic incentives
eTN: ‘If you say that the poaching of the Sitatunga is reducing in areas where hunting is now permitted – how many areas by the way are those and located where – what is happening in areas which are not protected but where poaching is nevertheless illegal and a serious worry about the viability of the species’ long term survival?’
Mr. Moses Mapesa:
‘As you would appreciate, there are no quick fix solutions to conservation
challenges. We believe the intervention will ultimately check poaching or
“illegal” hunting of Sitatunga and other wild animals. To the communities
there is nothing illegal about their traditional hunting expeditions. We are
now seeking cooperation on how best to utilize the resources. We want to be
partners and not “enemies” in conservation with the local communities and
We have noticed interest from land owners where we have not started the interventions.
Infact our pilot was around a few ranches near L. Mburo but
the demand to participate in the collaborative management of wildlife has
been overwhelming. So now we cover Kafu Basin, Aswa Lolim area, Karamoja
and Kalangala. We want to take advantage of the positive attitude where
communities and local government leaders now appreciate wildlife as a viable
We are picking lessons from Southern Africa, we have had a team of farmers
visit Zimbabwe early this year.
But I must emphasize that the outcomes of this intervention can only be
measured over a few years and if we can sustain the cooperation that we have
cultivated. At the same time we must all be aware that with competing
economic land use practices unless wildlife can be seen to contribute to the
local and national economy including individual livelihoods (the reason
people poach) we would be fighting a losing battle with the no touch policy
or with the so-called ban on hunting as experience and studies in many
places has shown.
A key issue of course is control. But the controls must evolve through a
system of mutual trust and dialogue not just policing per se. Policing can
Adds this correspondent in closing: the ball is now in the public court where undoubtedly the debate will go on for some time and it can only be hoped that a mutually acceptable and all round beneficial solution will ultimately be agreed upon.
REPORTS ON SECURITY PRESENCE IN MURCHISONS ‘NOT CORRECT’ SAYS UWA
A report in last week’s edition (Oil companies come under scrutiny) has drawn a comment from UWA in regard of alleged comments made by some of their staff, and then reported in the local media and here, over the presence of security personnel inside protected areas, in particular in Murchisons Falls National Park. As was expected UWA welcomed the support the country’s security services offer UWA to keep parks safe and categorically denied that there was any rift or disagreement between the two bodies. UWA’s CEO Moses Mapesa also availed this response to a relevant question: …’on Murchison, the statement was very wrong. We
work with the UPDF very well. We only said we shall require additional security now that we have oil and may have to locate more security camps inside the park but keep all workers camps outside. It is the worker’s camps that are problematic.’
Duly noted and published!
EGYPT MAKES NEW WATER PACT OF RIPARIAN STATES A MATTER OF NATIONAL SECURITY
As it is becoming evident, that the ‘producer countries’ of the Nile waters are indeed intent to commence the signing of a new agreement by mid of May, Egypt has once more resorted to intimidation and thinly veiled threats, as information from sources close to the negotiating teams has now revealed.
Calling the intended pact now a ‘matter of national security’ has raised the stakes once again, although the Egyptian delegation has in the past been accused to use even more threatening words in private conversations to clearly bully the riparian states into giving in to the Egyptian demands based on the outdated and forced down the throat agreements of 1929 and 1959.
Alongside Egypt is also engaged in an economic aid and assistance roll out to ‘buy’ East Africa’s sympathy through bilateral and multilateral projects, as one more outspoken source in Nairobi put it, while a source in Kigali confirmed that while Rwanda is interested in good relations with Egypt and encouraged investments from there, this would not be at the price of foregoing their say over their water resources. Follow this story in coming weeks as the new treaty between Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi, Congo and Ethiopia is put up for signature from the 15th of May onwards.
NEW ROAD TO KISORO ALREADY BREAKING UP – BEFORE IT IS READY?
The long awaited new tarmac road connecting the two South-Western Ugandan towns of Kabale and Kisoro is reportedly already developing cracks before it is even handed over by the contractors to government. The recent very heavy rains across the country may well be a reason for the cracks which have in recent weeks become visible at the road shoulders, causing enough concern for government to bring in consultants, engineers and consultants for a full assessment of the damage, before deciding on what to do next along the affected sections of the road.
The consultants’ report will hopefully shed some light on the origin of the cracks and fissures, and establish if the rains alone were the cause of if poor materials were used in construction, or else earth tremors responsible for the problems.
Kisoro offers short access to Uganda’s two gorilla national parks of Mgahinga and Bwindi and is also close to the border to Rwanda and Congo. The town is surrounded by steep volcanic mountains and extensive tropical rain forests not to forget the various lakes, making it one of the most scenic locations in the country.
EAC INVESTMENT CONFERENCE OPENS IN MUNYONYO
The third East African Community Investment Conference opened earlier in the week in ‘Munyonyo’, the sprawling lakeside resort and conference complex comprising the Speke Resort and the Commonwealth Resort. The organizers expect about 2.000 participants to come to the event during which the region will showcase the many opportunities which exist across East Africa, from Uganda to Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi. The latest field to be highlighted will be infrastructural developments like railways, bridges, toll roads but also investments in green energies like geothermal, solar and wind energies, which are both financially viable as well as environmentally friendly, two key elements to attract financing from bilateral and multilateral agencies and development banks.
Agriculture, agro processing, mining, manufacturing and the ICT sector will also feature high on the agenda of talks and in the efforts of the regional investment promotion bodies, all of which have prepared well for the event, trying to attract capital into the EAC.
Meanwhile though were some exhibitors expressing their disappointments and anger, if not worse, over the final run in of setting up their stands and getting their accreditation sorted out, a matter this correspondent too fell foul of, eventually giving up wandering from one part of the resort to the other in search of establishing press credentials, subsequently ending the reporting from the event with this one and only piece.
UNLICENSED MARA LODGES CLOSED
Further to recent reports here over allegations that a number of safari lodges and camps in the wider Masai Mara area were operating without licenses, it was learned last week that indeed government had made good of the promise to shut such facilities down upon establishing their status.
At least a dozen unlicensed camps and lodges were closed, with the ministry of tourism mulling over added action, like prosecution and fines, most of them found in the Siana Springs area adjoining the Masai Mara proper. More investigations are also underway into properties under construction to establish that they too have all relevant licenses, including clearance from NEMA and KWS and these findings are likely to produce more action against offenders in due course.
It was pointed out to this correspondent by a reliable source in Nairobi though, that a number of those alleged to operate without a license were ‘invisible’ at this time of the year, as they would only operate during the high season to cater for the increased demand and overflow from other lodges and camps while being overbooked. This, the source said, was :’a problem for the inspectors now, because these camps are now not there, but we will make sure that more inspections go there during high season to track down the culprits’.
The Masai Mara is one of Kenya’s best known tourism attractions and forms the extension into Kenya of the Tanzanian Serengeti National Park, and the annual migration of the wildebeest and zebras moves between the two parks every year, when the big herds follow the rains to find fresh pastures.
In comparison, taking geographical size into account, the wider Masai Mara is thought to be rather overpopulated with lodges, permanent and non permanent safari camps while in contrast the Serengeti has far fewer accommodation facilities, a situation appreciated by conservationists but contested by the developers of new lodge projects in Tanzania, who at present must either choose a site immediately outside of the park or else forego their plans. Watch this space.
MARASA ACQUIRES FIRST KENYAN PROPERTY
The company last weekend finally broke their silence and confirmed a ‘secret’ that for those in the know and with links to Kenya’s tourism industry was out of the bag way earlier. Marasa bought their first property in Kenya, expanding their operation from Uganda to East Africa’s (numberwise) most important tourist market, reversing the trend of Kenyan companies coming to Uganda so far. The ‘Mara Leisure Camp’ was taken over earlier in April by Marasa from the previous owners in a low key ceremony and besides the new general manager Kenneth Mugira – who is also doubling as country operations manager for Marasa in Kenya, all staff were retained and absorbed by the new owners.
Located along the Talek River, just outside the official park boundary, the Mara Leisure Camp is offering 29 accommodation units, comprising different sized tents and three cottages, suitable for families and a ‘honeymoon’ tent discreetly set aside from the other units, and of course a pool where visitors can take a refreshing dive in the mid day heat. Visit www.maraleisurecamp.co.ke for more information.
Meanwhile it was also learned from sources in Kenya that sections of the new draft management plan for the greater Masai Mara area projects an increase of 50 percent in fees for foreign non resident visitors to 60 US Dollars a person a day as well as putting a ceiling on balloon operations across the area to keep animal disturbance and off road driving (to retrieve the balloons after landing) to present levels. Both proposals have predictably already met with resistance from affected parties warning of overpricing as a result, but only time will tell how the consultations for the new plan will unfold and what the final results will be.
ACTING MINISTER DEFIES PARLIAMENT, APPOINTS NEW KAA CEO
In an act of outright defiance to a directive by the parliamentary committee on transport has the acting transport minister, within hours of receiving his letter confirming his acting capacity in the ministry, appointed a new CEO for the Kenya Airports Authority. The newly appointed Stephen Gichuki was reportedly the ‘wish man’ on former CEO George Muhoho’s list and while parliament had directed the KAA board to start a fresh recruitment exercise, claiming the whole affair was tilted in Gichuki’s favour, the minister has ignored, if not deliberately defied parliament with his action.
The acting minister may well need to prepare himself for another showdown with parliamentarians now in coming days. Parliament had already unanimously censured him two years ago over allegations of his involvement in the ‘give away’ of the Grand Regency Hotel in his then capacity as Finance Minister following which he was forced to resign at the time and he has now graced his political comeback promptly with more controversy it seems. Political patronage in this case was not ruled out by sources in Nairobi, in fact to the contrary rather suggested to this correspondent by usually well informed individuals ‘in the know’.
RAILWAY REPAIRS ON COURSE
The main railway line from Dar es Salaam into the heart of the country, under water some months ago following torrential rains and eventually severely damaged, will be up and running again by late May, it was learned from a source in Tanzania.
Many spots where the rails had been dislodged have already been fixed up and the area of major damage is now the focus of the work teams dispatched there by the railway management.
Engineering personnel of the Tanzanian armed forces reportedly assisted in the repair of crucial sections an the opening up of stations, an effort train users will surely appreciate and thank their ‘men in green’ when opportunity arises.
Services will however only resume when a full inspection of the line has taken place, and on opening the rail will initially carry cargo trains only before passenger services would then follow some time later, when all safety aspects had been reviewed.
In a related development it was also learned that China was interested to participate in the building and modernization of railway lines in Tanzania, connecting Rwanda and Burundi in the future from Isaka. China did build the TAZARA railway between Zambia and Tanzania’s main port of Dar es Salaam and Chinese construction firms are expected to submit bids just as soon as the participating countries are ready to go ahead from the planning into the pre-construction phase.
10 YEAR TOURISM MASTER PLAN LAUNCHED
Within days of the Rwandan cabinet approving the recently developed tourism master plan for Rwanda has the ground breaking document been launched to the tourism industry and society at large in Kigali last week. The document outlines on nearly 200 pages the various hubs of activity across the country, tailored along which the sector will further diversify to add new products alongside the all important gorilla tracking.
Kigali, where visitors to the country arrive by air, is the central ‘hub’ of the tourism industry, while upcountry the following areas have been mapped out for product innovation, the creation of new tourist attractions, the addition of cultural attractions, community based tourism activities and intensified marketing: Volcanoes area, Nyungwe area, Akagera area and the areas around Kibuye and Gisenyi in Western Rwanda.
The Rwanda Development Board – Tourism and Conservation, has already over the past year sped up their effort to diversify their marketing efforts, and had targeted successfully bird watching and forest walking, in particular at the Nyungwe National Park, where also a high elevation ‘tree top walk’ is to be established, permitting visitors to spend time high up in the foliage of the tropical rain forest and observe birds and insects directly ‘eye to eye’.
The new master plan also outlines plans for a greater involvement of the country in MICE traffic, by attracting meetings and conventions to Rwanda, now that new facilities have sprung up, are nearing completion or have broken ground in recent months. All the best to Rica and her team to implement all these plans in coming years and bring yet more success for the Rwandan tourism industry.
RWANDAIR FLEET DEVELOPMENT UPDATE
Following the announcement of signing for leases of two B737-500 from GECAS did questions arise over earlier statements made that the airline would in fact acquire the NG B737-800 types. It was confirmed that indeed two of these newer and larger aircraft are on order from Boeing and that delivery is due to commence by mid 2011. The leased B737-500’s will in the meantime be used to operate on the airline’s expanding route network, mainly to Johannesburg and Kinshasa, and will very likely be replaced by the newer and more fuel efficient -800’s as and when they are delivered.
The airline, according to sources normally well informed, is also studying the acquisition on lease of a wide body aircraft which could permit RwandAir to fly to new destinations like the Gulf, or even to Europe, where they presently codeshare with Brussels Airlines on the route to Belgium.
Southern Sudan News
ELECTION RESULTS CONFIRM WIN FOR SPLM
The President of the semi autonomous region of Southern Sudan, Gen. Salva Kiir, has reportedly won an overwhelming mandate in the South of the country, as has the ruling SPLM overall in the just concluded recent election. Salva Kiir, according to well informed sources in Juba, garnered 93 percent of the votes cast compared to 7 percent by his only serious rival and SPLM break away candidate Lam Akol.
The SPLM is expected to form the new government in the South, although no confirmation was received from Khartoum at the time of going to press if a renewed coalition government on national level would be formed as was the case before under the provisions of the CPA.
The SPLM in the South however has already indicated that they would try to form an inclusive government again, which for the next 9 months would be in charge of running the southern territories until the independence referendum will take place in January 2011.
Considering the margin of winning by the SPLM it now seems a foregone conclusion that a resounding YES vote will be separating the South from the North and make Southern Sudan, blessed with many natural resources and a fiercely proud population, Africa’s newest nation next year. Keep watching this space for news updates.
TOURISM SECTOR PULLED TOGETHER OVER ASH CRISIS
The Director of Tourism Marketing at the Seychelles Tourist Board has commended the archipelago’s tourism sector for some extraordinary efforts taken when tourist visitors, due to leave for home, got ‘stuck’ on the islands in the absence of European airspace being open.
Hotels, resorts, guesthouses and bed and breakfast establishments all pulled together in a variety of ways to ensure such clients had a bed to sleep in and some square meals to keep them going, while Air Seychelles was one of the early ‘birds’ to attempt flying into the Southern European airspace to at least get their passengers back into Europe, even if only as far as Italy or eventually Southern France, before resuming their full flight schedule by Tuesday last week and adding ‘extra’ flights from Mahe to Europe to clear the backlog on both sides swiftly. The availability of a spare B767 helped the airline to achieve this, while other traffic started to arrive and leave again via Kenya Airways (twice a week NBO – SEZ), Emirates and Qatar Airways, the latter of which at last also saw connecting traffic again go underway via their hubs in Dubai and Doha. Flights to other Indian Ocean islands and South Africa had not been affected during the ‘ash crisis’ it was confirmed by a source in Mahe.
Mr. St. Ange was unable at the time of going to press to say exactly just how many visitors had been ‘marooned’ on the archipelago, or how many ultimately could not come for their planned holiday when flights from across Europe were halted, but the ‘dent’ made in arrival statistics will undoubtedly be made up over the course of the year, as the destination continues its aggressive and innovative marketing in the global market. The revenue loss for Air Seychelles and the archipelago’s tourism industry is thought to have run into a combined multi million Euros, similar to the East African tourist destinations too which lost major money through the grounding of aircraft. It was also reported that clients with prepaid holidays to the archipelago, who could not arrive due to the grounded flights, can utilise their accommodation over the next couple of months after coordinating a new date of their holiday with the respective hotels and resorts.
Meanwhile has the Seychelles President James Michel congratulated Air Seychelles for their efforts, as copied to this correspondent in a statement from State House in Victoria / Mahe:
“This week has proved that the management and staff of Air Seychelles are really flying the Creole spirit. They endured stressful circumstances and delivered a service very few airlines were willing to provide in this aviation crisis. The reputation of the airline and the country have been commended by many, and I join in this applause,” said President Michel.
President Michel said that the tourism industry needs to reinforce its capacity to act in a unified manner in times of airline-related crisis, and that destination management companies, hotels and airlines should worker in closer collaboration in the future, in order to lessen the impact of passenger stress and frustration.
“Air Seychelles has done a great job and in this instance has provided a model for others to follow; that in the tourism industry it is crucial to go ‘an extra mile’ to deliver a service that leaves the customer happy and with good memories of Seychelles.”
This correspondent can only agree with these sentiments, in particular as according to reports from Mahe other ‘big’ international airlines, like Emirates, came under sustained criticism of how they dealt with passengers ‘stuck’ on the Seychelles, and while they (Emirates) may have done a sterling job in Dubai, no such thing was evident in Mahe. It is in fact understood that passengers were getting angry and aggravated when their return journey home via Dubai got delayed even further after the European airspace had re-opened, with some passengers in fact told, according to reliable sources, they had to wait until early MAY … No wonder everyone was giving Air Seychelles rave reviews and comments as they repatriated their passengers within three days of the European airspace re-opening but putting on extra flights …
AIR SEYCHELLES MOVES TO NEW OFFICES AT MAHE INTERNATIONAL
The Seychelles national airline will this weekend move into their purpose built new and owned offices at the international airport on Mahe, bringing almost all departments under one roof, although a ticket and reservation office will remain open in Victoria’s city centre. Headoffice, Marketing, IT and the company secretariat will relocate together, but it is understood that for logistical reasons the airline’s call centre, finance department and corporate sales division will join their colleagues at a later date.
The move will complete another strategic goal set by the management and board of the airline, which will now save substantial lease costs, while at the same time making it easier to be ‘on site’ with the operations department, maintenance and other services previously already located at the airport. Congrats on this event.
At the same time has a new website been commissioned which incorporates state of the art features and a booking and payment engine for travellers wishing to securely book and pay online. The French language version will follow before the end of the month while a German and Italian language version, key markets for Air Seychelles, will be launched in due course.
ARRIVAL NUMBERS ‘ON COURSE’
The projections for the 2010 arrival numbers are still on course, inspite of the setback during the ‘ash crisis’ which also affected the Seychelles of course. In particular the markets outside Europe seem to be doing exceedingly well as figures availed to this correspondent from the Seychelles Tourist Board show: Chinese visitors numbers, compared to a year ago, are up by 35 percent, La Reunion – a market courted by STB, is up by 40 percent, South Africa too responded to the added flights offered by Air Seychelles to Cape Town with a 35 percent arrival increase, East African arrivals rose by 26 percent, giving rise to hope for the third flight by Kenya Airways soon coming into play, but leader of the pack is the UAE, where Emirates has added more flights, leading to an increase of a staggering 136 percent in arrival numbers compared to a year ago.
In a related development it was also confirmed that Qatar Airways will change aircraft equipment from mid 2010 onwards, replacing their single aisle A 319 with A330 wide body equipment. This move is expected to add a further 300 seats on the route per week, supporting the growing appeal the Seychelles have across the Gulf countries but also across the Qatar Airways network, where many passengers now connect in Doha en route to Mahe. Cargo shipments will also benefit as the A330 can carry palletised cargo, unlike the smaller Airbus presently used on the route.
and today concludes the series of interviews taken with leading conservationists from the Seychelles islands, recorded while on a visit to the archipelago a few weeks ago, this one with the Acting CEO of the Island Conservation Society Mr. Riaz Aumeeruddy:
eTN Q1: What are the objectives, the briefs, the main activities of the Island Conservation Society, tell us a little about it.
Mr. Aumeeruddy: Our society is registered here as an NGO since 2001 and our main field of activity is conservation of course. One of our major projects is the management of Aride Island, which is about 9 kilometres off Praslin Island. The original owners had already given the island for conservation purposes to a UK based NGO, the Royal Society for Nature Protection, which later became the Royal Society for Wildlife Trust. In 2003, most likely because it was difficult for them to continue manage Aride from so far away, they accepted our offer to manage the island on their behalf, on a lease basis. Since then we have been managing Aride as a nature reserve and marine reserve. We do permit day visitors on the island, tourists mainly, who come in the morning and then leave again in the afternoon. There is no accommodation for tourists, although we have a team of rangers on the island who also live there.
These rangers also conduct the guided tours for visitors, how spend about 5 hours at most on Aride. The main attraction, besides the flora, are the sea birds on the island, of which there are very large numbers and a great variety. We also reintroduced rare birds, like the Seychelles Warbler and the Magpie Robin, which is only found on 5 of the 115 islands of the Seychelles.
Part of our work is monitoring of the habitat and it shows that for the past decades conservation was the main purpose on the island of course.
We do get researchers once in a while from abroad but our limitations are to accommodate them, as we only keep staff houses for our rangers, so that limits us to host more researchers and scientists from abroad. We do have plans to begin a major refurbishment soon, to improve the living conditions for our staff, that will also then offer better facilities for visiting scientists. Once completed this will solve the problem of shared accommodation for staff, giving each one their own privacy, which has been a challenge in regard of retaining staff on the island. In comparison, we receive a lot less visitors than for instance Cousin and Cousine, but offer a very personalised service during the tours across the island, which visitors really appreciate, this type of one on one contact with our guides and staff.
Besides managing Aride we also consult in regard of environmental issues on the islands, cooperate with the Island Development Company and give guidance and advice about eco tourism. We did sign an MoU with the IDC, which is a governmental body and oversees the outer islands. We act as conservation advisors and managers for IDC. Here we have capacity limits, we cannot work on all islands, on all possible projects, so we must always make a choice where we go and what we do there.
What is relatively new, is that when a developer comes to propose a project on one of these islands, they must commit an agreed amount towards conservation. This is done by forming a foundation for that island, which then manages the funds, and uses funds for conservation and restoration measures. In this foundation the developers are presented, IDC is represented, the Ministry of Environment is represented and we are represented to have a balance vis a vis interests, conservation must always be our top priority.
Our part is then to develop work plans, draw up project proposals, submit budgets for what has to be done or what should be done. We had a good start with this way of operating on the island of Alphonse, where we set up a conservation centre three years ago with permanent staff, just a few, and they look after turtles, plants and birds, coral, fish etc.
Tourism for Alphonse are mostly ‘fly fishermen’ who come normally for a week, and there in conjunction with the hotel our staff give talks to them, give them conservation overviews, do guided tours and explain the do’s and don’ts to visitors. The hotel there pays a royalty per guest into the conservation foundation, which helps to meet the expenses of the conservation work.
A similar project is now underway since about May last year on Desroches Island where like for Alphonse we produced a management plan to make sure conservation is always the main focus. These plans cover about 5 years and annual work plans are drawn up accordingly.
eTN Q2: Does every island have a separate foundation, is one being set up whenever development is approved somewhere?
Mr. Aumeeruddy: Yes, every island gets its own foundation responsible for that location and funded by developers, which is part of looking after the environment.
eTN Q3: Are you cooperating with other NGO’s
Mr. Aumeeruddy: Yes we do, we recently signed an agreement with the Nature Protection Trust of Seychelles, they are based on the island of Silhouette, and of course we exchange views and seek input from others where special advice is needed, special expertise required. This extends to Nature Seychelles, the Seychelles Island Foundation and others of course.
We did sign an MoU also with D’Arros Island in January to cooperate and share findings and pool resources for training for instance and maybe share logistical support. (eTN did report this at the time).
eTN Q4: Would you like to expand your scope, do more?
Mr. Aumeeruddy: Oh yes, of course we would like to do more, there is so much to be done, but we are limited by both budget and capacity of staff. For instance we would like to do more on habitat, vegetation restoration even on the islands we are active and have been active for a while, like bringing indigenous vegetation back where old coconut plantations presently exist, but this is a big challenge, financially and logistically. Manpower is a challenge, to find trained competent staff and retain them on these locations, but so is money of course, finding the funds.
One of our staff on Alphonse for instance left in December and I simply could not find a Seychellois with the required background, job competence and experience to replace him, so now we are looking internationally for such a person. This is a lengthy process though but almost inevitable right now.
eTN Q5: Where does the funding come from?
Mr. Aumeeruddy: Mainly from the foundations, but we also source funds from international bodies for specific projects for which we then write proposals towards that end. Right now we are doing some work for the Indian Ocean Commission like demarcations, so there is always some extra work and income.
eTN Q6: Does the piracy issue affect your work?
Mr. Aumeeruddy: We are not directly affected, had no direct encounters, but we are now much more careful in our operations to the outer islands, and we know that other projects, further out, are much more careful now in their movement, and of course supply shipments are now an issue, it is more dangerous. In fact some programmes were hindered, tuned down, deferred or delayed, halted, because of these issues and if it takes longer it will have an impact on some areas of research, demarcations, for sure it is not good that way but the scientists are of course careful now to come into areas where there is this type of danger.
eTN Q7: Talking of supplies, are you using diesel generators for your project work in Aride or solar panels
Mr. Aumeeruddy: We are using a generator on Aride to have electricity, we also got some solar installations but could in the future like to convert to solar exclusively as the operation would become more economical, we could use the funds for diesel and the transport for other activities. I am not too sure about this as the cost is also very high for the installation of solar equipment.
That is on Aride, which we manage but on other island were we work it is IDC supplying the logistics and infrastructure like water and electricity and we only ‘hook up.
On the island of Desroches I remember there were plans to install a heat exchanger for air conditioning. Half of the electrical power is needed to run air condition units. A heat exchanger would pump very cold water from deep ocean levels up to the surface which can then be used, at about 5 degrees, to run the a/c units, but I am not sure how far they have gone there, but as you can see, there are plans to use sustainable and renewable sources of energy by conservation groups working on the islands.
eTN Q8: how does your organization relate to tourism, are you broadly in support of tourism activities, what is your policy there, are you advising developers, are you cooperating with them, is there controversy?
Mr. Aumeeruddy: many of the smaller islands have small resorts which do not have a lot of impact, and in some cases owners are working towards a greener profile when they renovate and modernize. I think we can help developers in many ways. You see in the past there were many of the smaller outlying islands dedicated to produce copra from coconuts, but that has reduced now, and now these islands have a bit of a problem, their original economic activity has gone and they need something else to do. It is there we advise government and developers about new technologies, best practise.
eTN Q9: Does government, do developers actually listen and implement your advice on the ground
Mr. Aumeeruddy: we most of the time see good results, because we also discuss it together, and when developers don’t listen, there is not enough we can do really, but mostly they do comply. There is a mechanism when things are agreed and not done, to improve on what developers are doing.
eTN Q10: would you think of yourself as the ‘green conscience’ for the islands
Mr. Aumeeruddy: well, part of it, everyone of our colleagues is doing their bit, but it does take does take time to build consciousness, change mentality, change people’s thinking, to create awareness of best practise, new technologies, better ways of doing things, we are confident though.
eTN Q12: do you work with international development partners, do you get funding support
Mr. Aumeeruddy: there are some GEF projects which are being implemented right now across the country, and all the national ones are implemented with and by UNEP. I am sitting on the steering committee of one project, working with our partners, and we can of course bid for project management and implementation.
The problem we all have is the availability of enough local capacity, technical expertise, to do all those project which could be done, so there are manpower limitations for us, for our colleagues across the board, which is a big problem.
But the same problem you have in the hotel sector too, in constructions, in other sectors of the economy, it is a national issue to have enough trained staff, enough competent, experienced and motivated staff from within the Seychelles.
eTN Q13: what is your main message for our readers
Mr. Aumeeruddy: I think what we aim for is to assist the country to move towards sustainability, so that in 20 or 30 years they still have a good intact environment. We need to combat invasive species where they are found. We are also working with schools on the islands to have children understand our work, environmental issues, and that is going well. The schools have in their curriculum some elements which we can complement, they have eco clubs, wildlife clubs, we would like to do more but simply lack the staff to expand on that.
But we do once a week have a column in the national newspaper, which also gives exposure, widens our reach amongst the population.
We have produced a DVD / CD for use by teachers in school and that is also helping them to propagate this, and the Indian Ocean Commission has in fact given us some funding to produce the material for use in schools and education institutions.
Thank you Mr. Aumeeruddy for your time and all the best in the future for your organization.
Also see www.islandconservationsociety.com for more details and in particular a complete photo gallery of the ICS’s work on Aride Island.