Tourism News from Eastern Africa and the Indian Ocean region Second edition October 2010

TOURISM NEWS from the Eastern African and Indian Ocean region

Reports, Travel Stories and Opinions

By Prof. Dr. Wolfgang H. Thome

Second edition October 2010

LUFTHANSA TEAM PROMOTES CODE SHARED FLIGHTS

A high powered team of Lufthansa German Airlines officials travelled across Eastern Africa last week to promote their code shared flights out of Addis Ababa into the region. Both Lufthansa and Ethiopian Airlines presently fly five times a week between Frankfurt and Addis, and under the code share arrangements now in place LH flight numbers are placed on a number of onwards flights from Addis to East African destinations like Entebbe, Kigali, Mombasa and others, operated by ET on their B737-800 aircraft.

The team, comprising the LH Commercial Director for East Africa Ulrich Link, the General Manager Ethiopia and East Africa Thorsten Windten and a dedicated sales and marketing representative based in Addis, visited travel agents, corporate clients and international organizations, giving a broad overview over their code shared services via Addis. Most important was the ‘seamless’ onward connection now available through a range of added Ethiopian Airlines flights, leaving to destinations across Eastern Africa after the late night arrival of the service from Frankfurt, while equally swift connections in Addis enroute to Frankfurt are, needless to say, also available.

The spanking new status of ET as applicant member of Star Alliance will be an added bonus for travellers on these flights, as the in flight services and ground handling by Ethiopian is matching those of Lufthansa flights. As the code shared services are taking hold in the market, and fed by the global Lufthansa network via their Frankfurt hub gain greater passenger numbers, there is speculation that the presently 10 flights a week the two carriers operate may eventually expand into a ‘double daily’ operation, which would give both morning and evening flights between the two cities, benefiting Ethiopian as the main East African partner airline operating the regional feeder operation.

Lufthansa and Ethiopian have a long standing and very close working relationship and their membership in Star Alliance, by far the global industry leader, will undoubtedly further strengthen ties and equally benefit both flag carriers.

In a related development the LH team also highlighted during their visit to Uganda and Rwanda their code shared flights with Brussels Airlines, which have seen passenger numbers boosted to the point of SN now flying 7 times a week into the East African region – four times each connecting Brussels with Entebbe and Kigali with the other flights route via Bujumbura and Nairobi. The only ‘missing link’ in the region for Brussels Airlines, Tanzania, is presently served by Swiss via Nairobi, also a member of the Lufthansa Group. Watch this space.

Uganda News

FORTRESS KAMPALA

The meetings last week in Kampala of the UN Security Council, the UN’s and other Western Security Chiefs, leading military brass of NATO countries and a MDG (Millennium Development Goals) review panel brought striking new features to Kampala, when motorists found some roads around the ‘hotel district’ near the Serena, Imperial Royale and Sheraton blocked off by military lorries, causing wide detours and substantial traffic jams during the rush hour periods.

Said one visiting business associate of this correspondent: ‘I knew you told me Kampala is safe but wow, I was not expecting this at all, we don’t have this level of security in Europe unless there is a big summit coming up, but I am not complaining.’

Guests at these hotels were allowed through in their cabs and limousines but only after identifying their purpose to the deployed security personnel and at the gates and entrances were still subjected to yet more checks, including their entire baggage, ostensibly to make sure no ‘mischief’ was able to enter, as one operative put it to this correspondent while at the Kampala Sheraton Hotel.

The high ranking UN and military visitors had come to Kampala to discuss the Somalia situation, amongst other issues on their agenda, with their Ugandan counterparts and President Museveni, since Uganda was the largest contributor of troops to the AU mission in Somalia which is currently being reviewed with the aim of strengthening the troops’ mandate and give them more robust rules of engagement beyond pure self defence. Uganda is also, until the end of the year, a rotating member of the UN Security Council and as such and important partner for the global powers that be. In addition, Uganda is presently training a further 900 troops for deployment to Somalia by November, supported by the EU, and the visiting military chiefs acquainted themselves, according to media reports, on site with the status of these preparation. Notably has Ugandan President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni now also echoed a demand long voiced here by this correspondent, that Somalia must be subjected to a total air and sea embargo and blockade, to keep supplies from reaching the Islamic militants but also to keep the ocean terrorists, aka pirates, marooned at land, or else risk to be intercepted and even fired upon when attempting to sneak out on to the open ocean and trying to hijack ships.

The stepped up security in Kampala comes hot on the heels of reports that a group of German nationals were successfully targeted in an alleged Al Qaida training camp in Pakistan last week while another German national intent to joining the Somali terror group Al Shabab was nabbed at the Kenyan coast while trying to make his way across Kenya to the Somali border. This suspect was hunted for several days in a game of ‘hide and seek’ with Kenyan security personnel combing the coastal strip for him. It is understood that the individual was immediately deported back to Germany where he is expected to be charged with offenses related to terrorism.

Hence, as there is no way of telling any longer who is who, security was generally stepped up in Uganda to ensure visitors and locals alike are safe and the few rumblings about ‘excessive checks and paranoia’ at the check points are easier endured compared to ‘the other scenario’ Kampala experienced a few months ago.

 

FUEL SHORTAGES NOW HIT POWER GENERATION

The fuel crisis, though now gradually ebbing off again – with prices slowly reducing too from records highs in Kampala when a litre of petrol cost 3.500 Uganda Shillings – still has a significant impact on the economy as thermal power plants, running on diesel or heavy fuel oil, seem to have run low of reserves too, with some of them having to ‘ration’ their operating hours. This in turn promptly caused power to be rationed too and the notorious ‘load shedding’ came back, as did memories of the period of country wide darkness a few years ago when the low levels of the lake water caused a sharp reduction of generated power from the country’s only hydro electric dam.

However, authorities were swift in pointing out that these measures were temporary as fresh supplies of diesel and heavy fuel oil were expected in the country as the supply situation was progressively improving once again. One source from the regulatory authority was quoted in the local media that the ‘load shedding’ was not right because they had not received a report from the national power transmission company – prompting the public to ask what more of a report does one need other than seeing that the power is off?

Nevertheless, the power cuts were a sharp reminder of how dependent the country is on a regular flow of supplies from the Indian Ocean ports of Mombasa and Dar es Salaam for the import and export of commodities and how crucial it is to develop a suitable oil infrastructure in Uganda itself to shield the nation from future fuel crises. It was also a reminder that NOTHING had been done since the great shortages in early 2008, when the supply routes through Kenya had come to a halt, i.e. to refurbish and restock the national fuel storage tanks in Jinja, inspite of many good but equally obvious empty words and promises, from where the fuel companies could draw supplies to boost deliveries when other means fail.

In a related development it was also learned during the week that a quarter of a million energy saving bulbs, imported by government for free distribution to needy households upcountry, are apparently still in government stores as they have not been handed out as was planned at the height of the last major electricity crisis. Ooops…

 

FERRY STILL OUT OF SERVICE

The ministry of transport has last week posted a full page four colour advert in the local media, attempting to answer complaints from the public at large over the prolonged period to return the MV Kalangala into service, after withdrawing the vessel for a safety inspection and maintenance in August of this year. Island dwellers, traders and tourist visitors alike have since then been forced to use alternative modes of transport, often having to resort to what can best be described as ‘unsafe’ lake boats, lacking safety equipment and being operated by poorly trained crews. The full page advert attempted to explain to the public that as the vessel is owned by government, although concessioned out to a private sector operator, it was government which had to undertake major maintenance and repairs, and had to follow the provisions of the procurement law, which’ application caused these extraordinary delays in having the ship’s engines overhauled.

A new timeline now given speaks of end November to put the lake ferry back into service but the public has little confidence it appears that this date will be adhered to, demanding that government makes alternative arrangements to provide safe and reliable transportation from the Port Bell and Entebbe piers to the Ssese Islands. With the upcoming elections this will undoubtedly become a campaign issue and it will be interesting to see how the islanders can be appeased to ‘vote wisely’ when the day comes, considering the ongoing rows, accusations and counter accusations over the fate of the MV Kalangala. Watch this space.

 

KYANINGA LODGE OPENS NEAR FORT PORTAL

The new ‘Kyaninga’ Safari Lodge has ‘soft opened’ recently at a breathtaking location overlooking Lake Kyaninga not far from the Western Ugandan town of Fort Portal, and while outside the parks it is nevertheless set in a place worth visiting for tourists and locals and yet near enough to combine the trip with a safari proper to the Semliki Game Reserve, the Rwenzori Mountain National Park or even Queen Elizabeth National Park. Driving from Kampala is relatively easy via Mityana and Mubende on all tarmac, with some of the ‘old road’ sections between Kampala and Mubende nearing re-sealing and widening. Depending on ‘cruising speed’ the trip should take under 4 hours and allow ‘locals’ to leave the capital on Friday after lunch and spend a weekend there before driving ‘home’ on Sunday afternoon.

The eight thatched log cabins, or ‘cottages’ are built on elevated platforms into the slope down towards the lake and connected to the main buildings by via a walkway on stilts, providing a sweeping view across the crater lake and into the hills surrounding the lodge.

Hand built by the British owner Steve Williams, a furniture designer by profession and (apparently) a carpenter and builder by acquired skills, the new property is undoubtedly by a head or two above the finishing standards of other similar lodgings in upcountry Uganda and as such a welcome change for visitors from the capital or abroad.

Anyone liking the accommodation, and no doubt there will be many, to the extent that they would like to take one of the cabins back with them to Kampala, or wherever else they live in Uganda, they can actually order one to be custom designed and built for them, then delivered and put up in one’s garden or weekend ‘retreat’ property. Details are available via www.kyaningalodge.com, for those interested in visiting and staying at Kyaninga and for those wanting to ‘buy’, find relevant information via www.kyaningahomes.com

 

UGANDA RE-ELECTED TO ICAO COUNCIL

The aviation fraternity last week welcomed the news that Uganda was re-elected to the ICAO Council for another term of office, having first been elected in 2007. Out of a the total 161 delegates who voted the country garnered 143 ‘YES’, which put Uganda’s way ahead of the other African contenders Cameroon, Swaziland and Morocco. The current representative to ICAO, former Uganda Civil Aviation Authority Director for Airtransport and Regulatory Services Mr. Kabbs Twijuke, is considered as having been crucial to this success in the face of widespread competition and lobbying from other African ICAO member states for this prestigious and influential position. Well done Uganda, and well done Kabbs for this achievement.

 

FLY 540 LOWERS FARES, AGAIN

Information received from the Kampala office of Fly 540 confirms the buzz amongst travel agents and regular travellers to Nairobi that the fight for market share has just become a notch harsher and ‘specials’ are being put out by the airlines, and often superseded by yet better deals, just as soon as the ink on the promotional pamphlets has dried. Fly 540, which last week confirmed a fare of USD 268 return all inclusive has over the weekend lowered this to US Dollars 240, inclusive of all taxes and surcharges, applying pressure on their competitors Kenya Airways, which is facing renewed strike action if last ditch efforts to find a common basis with the Aviation and Allied Workers Union in Nairobi fail, but also vis a vis Air Uganda. The latter recently introduced a third daily flight between Entebbe and Nairobi, going one up on Fly 540 – KQ operates 4 daily flights between the two airports – but from usually reliable sources it was learned that the flight occupancy was still needing more ‘work’ to meet expectations at this moment in time and U7 too was considering dropping fares in order to get extra passengers into their seats.

Air Uganda, according to another source, has offered a range of ‘specials’ for their flights between Entebbe, Mombasa and Zanzibar, indicating that market conditions are ‘tough’ and unless passengers can be found, and kept, the struggle for not just market share but also for financial viability is a steep uphill journey. To lure more passengers on this route they are presently offering a companion rebate of 50 percent on their US Dollars 319 fare (terms and conditions apply) for the second ticket, making this deal slightly cheaper than Fly 540 if travelling ‘in pairs’ and cheaper still with their ‘family fare’ which goes for US Dollars 959 for two adults and two children.

Meanwhile it was also learned that Fly 540 had offered a special fare for weekend travellers from Uganda travelling to Nairobi for the African Cup of Nations qualifier at only US Dollars 210, to be also repeated again for the upcoming ‘half term’ holidays of local schools between 15th and 24th of October.

Uganda drew their match 0:0 with Kenya and presently tops their qualifying group to the joy of the ‘Cranes’ supporters who for long have waited to see Uganda return to the continental stages, leave alone of course making an appearance in a FIFA World Cup final for the first time ever.

Said one football fan traveller with 540 to this correspondent: ‘at 210 Dollars I could not refuse to fly with Fly 540 and instead of spending a hundred or so dollars more with others, that money saved I used for my tickets and transport in Nairobi. And they have a very good aircraft, very comfortable’.

 

KLM SUFFERS BIRD STRIKE ON TAKE OFF

The Amsterdam bound KLM flight on Sunday night was far from ‘normal’ when a bird was apparently sucked into one of the aircraft’s engines, prompting the crew to shut down the engine and continue the initial climb with one engine. Following procedures they then dumped fuel to reduce the aircraft’s weight to the maximum landing weight permitted before returning the aircraft to Entebbe, where as a precaution emergency services had been put on alert.

Twin engined jets are capable to operate safely with one engine shut down and cockpit crews, during their twice annual training in flight simulators, are specifically acquainted with such emergency procedures like continuing take offs with an engine shut down and returning a plane safely to the ground. A KLM source in Kampala also confirmed that a new engine would be flown into Entebbe at the earliest possible time to replace the damaged one before having the plane returned into service. The passengers, initially taken to Entebbe hotels to spend the rest of the night, were subsequently rebooked on other flights to Europe leaving the following morning and afternoon on Kenya Airways via Nairobi and other airlines with space on their flights out of Entebbe.

The local media, as often witnessed before in such cases, made a hash out of things, when making a totally unwarranted reference to the crash of a military flight some 18 months ago at Entebbe. This upset the local KLM office, where one source termed the media report as ‘unnecessarily sensational and causing alarm’, saying under cover of anonymity to this correspondent: ‘I agree, this is not a normal situation but it was something the cockpit crew are well trained to deal with. No passengers came to any harm during the event. Entebbe is unfortunately known for the potential of bird strikes, especially during the day when birds are more active and the airport management is operating measures to reduce the possibility of this happening. It is not so normal that it happens at night and we might have to look at this afresh now and discuss counter measures with the CAA’.

 

MOBILE PHONE TARIFF WARS CONTINUE

It did not take long, after Warid Telecom lowered its call tariff across all networks to Uganda Shillings 5/- per second, for others to follow suit. First out of the starting blocks, within a day of Warid’s announcement, was former Celtel, then Zain and now Bharti Airtel with a startling 3/- Shillings offer per second, compelling the remainder of the pack to also review their positions.

Consumers will be smiling all the way through their calls now that Orange has entered the fray too with a matching 3/- Shilling per second tariff and Warid, the company which triggered the ‘war of the airwaves’ has just bettered their own initial offer of five to three.

However, none can presently follow Orange’s special ‘deals’ where they offer a state of the art mobile phone, a USB ‘stick’ modem, airtime and surftime for 149.000/- Uganda Shillings while an Acer netbook, modem and surftime – minimal as it may be – now goes for 499.000/- Uganda Shillings. (1 US Dollar presently is worth about 2.250 Uganda Shillings)

Last to enter the fray was Uganda Telecom, which first hid its own 3/- per second call charge in a full page rambling advertorial, praising their services in the face of a prolonged network outage of their wireless 3G platform last week, and comments sourced by this correspondent must have made UTL’s management’s ears ring at 150 decibels, so were they ridiculed over their ‘scruffy and unprofessional’ advertorial, timed precisely to coincide with the second day of their outage.

As mentioned before, Ugandan consumers and visitors to Uganda can now take advantage of cheap local calls, international calls to many destinations at as little as 299/- Uganda Shillings per minute and purchase hardware like USB ‘stick’ modems, phones and even netbook and laptop computers at prices which should see a ‘run’ on the companies’ service centres and these items literally ‘flying off the shelves’. The ones most concerned however will be the mobile companies finance departments and shareholders, as they stare a substantial revenue reduction into the face with call tariffs now lowered by as much as 60 percent and more, while their marketing strategists will be hoping and praying that new customers and more calls will eventually make up for such shortfalls.

In a related development was the CEO of market leader MTN quoted to have called for a reduction in the number of companies operating in Uganda, claiming it would improve competition and make the remaining companies more viable. This was reportedly said while trying hard to stick to their substantially higher tariffs and attempting to hold the ‘dam’ with one hand while all the competitors have already been swept along and have to make do with lower tariffs. So my advice to the MTN CEO: Dream on my dear man and bit the bullet of a free market, as after all it was the ‘newcomers’ who brought tariffs and rates down to the benefit of consumers, whose interest you clearly do not have in mind. Watch this space.

 

4X4 CHIMP CHALLENGE ON 16TH OCTOBER

The ‘On Course Training Ground’, Uganda’s main training range for off road and 4×4 driving, will be the venue this weekend for the annual ‘Chimp Challenge’, aimed to raise funds for conservation of the species in Uganda. Beneficiary will be the ‘Chimpanzee Sanctuary and Conservation Trust’, which owns and operates the Ngamba Island chimpanzee refuge. The event is expected to draw large crowds to watch the competitors race the course and show their off road skills, and spectators will be quietly hoping for muddy conditions to make it even more fun, at least for the onlookers through probably not for crews stuck axle deep in the quagmire. Past years have seen substantial amounts of money raised and the main sponsors, amongst many others, are Kenya Airways, Wild Frontiers, the Uganda Wildlife Education Centre, Nalubale Rafting, Red Chilli Hideaway as well as a number of banks, car tyre and spare part companies and many others from a wide cross section of manufacturing, services and trade in Uganda.

 

MILLET FARMERS GET A BOOST

When news broke last week that President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni has taken to drinking large quantities of millet porridge in an apparent change of diet, supermarkets in Kampala and the rest of the country recorded an immediate rise in demand by consumers, apparently wanting to try out the diet for themselves and attempting to figure out the secret of ‘millet diet’. This will undoubtedly put a smile on farmers who grow millet cashing in on the extra demand.

An occasional opposition contact made this correspondent laugh when he in all seriousness suggested ‘this is only for electioneering by the president, he wants to boost millet farmers and then claim the credit for it’, showing how warped some people’s thinking is with anything to do with government in general and President Museveni in particular … diet as an election tool ?!? Get real man, even I eat once in a while some millet bread and for sure I am not canvassing for votes …

 

Kenya News

KENYA AIRWAYS ONCE AGAIN FACED WITH STRIKE ACTION

The Aviation and Allied Workers Union has announced another  imminent strike action against Kenya’s national airline from the middle of this week, prompting concerns by the country’s tourism industry over the likely impact on the sector and the national economy. Last year the union ignored a court order and went ahead with strike action, which reportedly cost KQ a whopping 600+ million Kenya Shillings. Economic recovery of the country in general and of the airline in particular was slow in coming after the post election violence in early 2008, combined with the fallout of the global economic and financial crisis but is now fully underway with the tourism industry especially looking at a new tourism arrival record for 2010.

Vacationers, business and conference visitors are streaming back into Kenya at a record pace but this may all be in danger should the union go ahead with the strike call. Government intervention has been demanded by the airline and the tourism industry to prevent what could be highly damaging industrial action and for the union to return to the negotiating table, but being recognised as one of the more militant and radical unions under the umbrella body COTU – the Kenyan ‘Central Organization of Trade Unions’ this may not succeed.

It is understood that Kenya Airways’ management is making logistical arrangements to minimise the impact of a potential strike while at the same time attempting for more talks, but going by last year’s record this may not be successful considering the hard line taken by the union, smacking of classic blackmail tactics.

Travellers booked with Kenya Airways on flights from Wednesday this week onwards, both to and from Nairobi, should therefore consult the nearest offices of the airline or their preferred travel agents and  should monitor announcements made on the Kenya Airways website via www.kenya-airways.com to be on the safe side. eTN will monitor the situation too and update readers as and when more details and news are available.

And in a breaking news development has the Industrial Court in Nairobi blocked the planned strike, while COTU has also urged the AAWU to halt any action and sit down with Kenya Airways to resolve any issues through negotiations. It was learned overnight that Kenya Airways consented to have a ‘moderator’ appointed by government and have the talks conducted in the presence of the Federation of Kenya Employers and COTU, the Central Organization of Trade Unions of Kenya.

However, it must be pointed out that AAWU last year ignored a court order and went on strike anyway and the situation will be closely monitored by all concerned, as this time, according to information from Nairobi, officials of the Aviation and Allied Workers Union may be jailed for contempt of court should they go ahead with industrial action as of Wednesday this week.

Kenya Airways is due to release a statement later in the day which, as soon as available, will also be posted here.

 

FIRST TENTED CAMP TO OPEN IN NAIROBI NATIONAL PARK

Visitors to Nairobi ordinarily expect to stay in some of the city’s posh hotels, try a ‘home stay’ in some of the converted residences in Karen or Langata or else only change flights, from international to the safari circuit and ‘get the heck out of Dodge’ as the saying goes amongst travellers from a certain part of the world.

Canvas accommodation is associated with the game parks, the ‘safari proper’ and few would expect to be treated to canvas accommodation within sight of the city’s skyscrapers, and yet here it comes.

The Nairobi National Park until now had no accommodation available ‘inside’ although a few nearby establishments were available for a comfy stay and easy access into the park area. However, now a new tented camp development is nearing ‘soft opening’ (imminent I am told) ahead of the ‘official’ opening expected in early December this year. The ‘Nairobi Tented Camp’ is set along some riverine forest, depending on traffic (which can add a few more at least to the first gate into the park) some 30 minutes from the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport and offers 8 twin, self contained tents. Views from the mess and bar tent as well as from the ‘terrace’ of one’s own extend into the park and give a general idea what to expect from a game drive, often rich in sightings and yet with the city as a backdrop creating a reminder how close ‘civilisation’ has come to this last natural enclave near East Africa’s biggest city. Visit www.nairobitentedcamp.com for a complete overview of setting and services or follow the ‘new kid on the block’ via Twitter or Facebook for regular updates. Bookings via reservations@nairobitentedcamp.com

 

KENYA AIRWAYS TO RESUME MALINDI FLIGHTS

The ‘pride of Africa’ will return to Malindi at last when they finally resume flight operations in December this year, using – according to usually reliable information – one of their new Embraer jets for the route. No schedule details are available yet but it is thought that KQ will operate initially a once a day service. This is  likely to expand to double daily in the run up to the festive season of Christmas and New Year to cater for the added passenger numbers before returning to a once a day service once the ‘rush’ is over a few days into 2011. The resumption of this important domestic route to the Kenyan coast’s second major resort area is undoubtedly going to boost KQ’s market share in the process, which on the domestic scene had suffered a setback as flights from Nairobi to Kisumu and Malindi had been halted during repair, maintenance and expansion works.

Watch this space for further announcements as and when details become available.

 

Tanzania News

ATR SNUBS EAST AFRICA – FOR NOW

The French aircraft manufacturer ATR has now reportedly decided to turn down overtures from Eastern Africa for the establishment of a training base for the African continent and according to reports from Johannesburg decided to create this facility in South Africa, inspite of several airlines in East Africa like Fly540 and Precision Air flying various ATR models as their workhorse fleet aircraft. Precision in fact just took delivery of their 7th brand new ATR72-500 a few weeks ago with ATR representatives present at the ceremony, and there was growing speculation that a pilot training and simulator facility could be established in either Tanzania or Kenya, but alas, that was apparently not to be.

It was learned that the newly established ATR training centre in South Africa will provide courses for all current ATR models of the various ATR42 and ATR72 makes.

No reasons could be ascertained what prompted ATR to opt for South Africa but there is some level of hope left that a full ATR maintenance base with manufacturer support could still be established somewhere in Eastern Africa to ‘spread’ their presence out a little more, ‘reward’ their East African customers and create capacity in this part of Africa too, and much in demand jobs for technicians and engineers in the process. Watch this space.

 

MWANZA TO SPEND ALMOST 20 MILLION ON TOURISM PROMOTION

The Mwanza municipality and some of the neighbours has committed nearly 20 million Tanzania Shillings to promote their area more aggressively in Tanzania, aimed to attract more visitors coming to spend time on the shores of Lake Victoria. Located on Africa’s largest lake and being a potential springboard into the Serengeti and other parks Mwanza is still largely unexplored by visitors, leave alone foreign tourists, who often have little idea about the location of the municipality nor added facts about nearby attractions.

The funds set aside will undoubtedly go a long way in making Mwanza better known in Tanzania, the region and the wider world and it is hoped that the initiative will bear fruits in months and years to come, and more funding will follow to sustain this ‘promotional drive’.

Tourism board sources too have welcomed the novel approach by Mwanza and said: ‘we welcome this, it helps us promote our country better with more information and we hope that more parts of the country come forward and put together a tourism promotion for their area also’.

 

BALLOON SAFARIS SUSPENSION LIFTED

Following the start of the air accident investigation by the Tanzanian CAA it is understood that the initial suspension of balloon flights across the Serengeti National Park has been lifted. Information received from Arusha indicates that the initial measure to curtail operations until some clarity about the cause of the accident had been established, was lifted and the remaining balloons are operating ‘normally’ again. The accident, regretted though it is, was the first in over 20 years of balloon operations out of the Seronera area in the heart of the Serengeti. There are also some indications emerging now that the cause of the accident may be attributed to sudden strong winds rather than lack of fuel (LPG) as has been alleged by a former employee of the company, something the management of Serengeti Balloon Safaris immediately and strongly rejected.

Balloon safaris normally take off before sunrise and are back on the ground before 8 a.m. latest to avoid the build up of wind currents associated with the warming of the ground once the sun is up, a development best avoided according to pilots in particular during the difficult phase of landing the crafts.

With this information update now at hand readers can be availed the latest facts.

 

Rwanda News

TREEPLANTING HIGH ON THE NATIONAL AGENDA

It was learned from sources in Kigali that the government has cleared the planting of over 40 million new trees across the ‘land of a thousand hills’ during the national tree planting week, due to commence in early November. Rwanda has in the past excelled in efforts to re-afforest sections of the country where continuous forests had in the past been decimated, by creating a ‘new’ forest belt aimed to improve water catchment, better the micro climate in that part of the country and restore biodiversity, while counting on increased tourism will help pay for the efforts long term.

Rwanda intends to increase forest cover from the present 21 percent to about 30 percent by 2020 and deliberate measures are being taken to in particular use indigenous hard wood and other tropical  trees found in medium and high altitude rain forests, including bamboo, for which alone over 2.500 hectares have been set aside for replanting.

The source also confirmed that the exercise will continue beyond the annual ‘tree planting week’ in early November, using the entire rainy season across the country to have every district make an extra effort to meet targets set for them by the central government in Kigali.

 

Southern Sudan News

UN SECURITY COUNCIL VISITS SUDAN

The UN Security Council last week visited the Sudan on a fact finding mission, in the process snubbing regime leader Bashir while in Khartoum, who is indicted by the ICC’ indicted and a wanted man on the run. The visit was deemed important for in particular the South of the country, which is on countdown towards their independence referendum due to be held on 09th January next year amidst growing threats, intimidation and verbal broadsides from leading regime figures in the North. It was here in particular that interaction by the UN Security Council members was seen as very important to understand the position of the SPLM, which forms the government in the Southern Sudan, in regard of the various logistical hurdles placed in the way of a smooth referendum by the Khartoum regime. In fact the SPLM led government in Juba requested to deploy UN peace keeping troops along the present demarcation lines between South and North to avoid armed conflict before, during and after the referendum period, prompting angry outcries and outright threats again from the regime in Khartoum. Regime leader and ICC wanted Bashir in fact unleashed broadsides against the Southern leadership at the Arab League Summit last week, accusing them to be in violation of the 2005 CPA and warning the South of unspecified consequences, hardly concealing references of renewed war and again showing his true face when he spoke in anger ruling out any consent from his regime to deploy UN contingents ahead of the January referendum.

Inspite of all eyes now on the independence referendum, work however is going on as planned with the restoration of protected areas in Southern Sudan, which after independence could form one of the backbones of economic advance by attracting investments in the hospitality sector inside and outside the present 6 national parks and 7 game reserves. As seen with Southern Sudan’s East African neighbours this should allow them to progressively bring in sizeable numbers of tourist visitors to see the great migration of the white eared kobs between Boma National Park – located along the border with Ethiopia – and the River Nile via the Badingilo National Park,  and also explore other attractions, including the famous ‘Sudd’, itself not yet a park but expected to be raised to this status after independence.

Current, and besides Boma and Badingilo, fully fledged national parks are Dinder, Southern, Shambe and Lantoto while the 7 game reserves are Kidepo, Chelkou, Tokar, Rahad, Ashana, Bengangai and Fanyikango Island – plenty to explore for adventurers and intrepid travellers when the South has become Africa’s youngest nation in early 2011 and is fully open for ‘business’ after being rid of the yoke of oppression by the Khartoum regime and its paranoia to keep tourists out of the country. Watch this space for regular updates from Southern Sudan as the semi independent region is marching towards self determination.

 

Seychelles News

INDIA’S SPICEJET GIVEN PERMISSION TO FLY TO MAHE

From information received out of Seychelles aviation circles it appears that India’s SpiceJet has received permission to fly at least once a week between Mumbai and Mahe. Only a few weeks ago did Air Seychelles announce that they will commence flights between Mahe and Mumbai which then route on to Singapore, and the addition of an Indian airline may be part of the intergovernmental BASA – bilateral air services agreement – under which air transport between India and the Seychelles is regulated.

No information could be confirmed however when such flights would commence, how many flights per week would be operated and what aircraft SpiceJet would use, arguably their B737NG’ which they are using across their present network. SpiceJet is a typical LCC airline and it remains to be seen what impact their added flights would have on arrival numbers to the Seychelles, which up to now are only being served by full service airlines.

 

DESROCHES ISLAND RESORT FEATURES IN ‘FORBES MAGAZINE’

The Forbes Magazine’s latest edition has included the Desroches Island Resort as one of the world’s top ten ‘most remote resorts’, an accolade well earned, considering the distance metre from the ‘main island’ of Mahe of the archipelago reading some 130 nautical miles.

Desroches is world famous for its ‘fly fishing’ along the beaches and lagoons and the resort is not just remote but also of the highest reputation for standards, food and service, holding its own amongst the otherwise many other famous resorts across the islands of the Seychelles.

Desroches can be reached by air via helicopter or fixed wing aircraft, or by boat – or personal yacht, whatever applies to the respective visitors to this unique resort. For more information visit the island’s web site via www.desroches-island.com which shows a complete overview of the resort and the activities on this extraordinary island.

 

AIR SEYCHELLES SHOWS OFF MEDICAL TRANSPORT OPTION, INTRODUCES FLAT BEDS

The Seychelles national airline has last week shown publicly for the first time the ‘medical suite’ available for evacuation airlifts of seriously ill or injured patients, which include facilities for accompanying nurses and doctors as well as medical equipment required during flight. The ‘facility’ is available on one of the airline’s B767’s presently used on a regular charter operation between the UK and the Falkland Islands, which Air Seychelles flies on behalf of the UK government.

At the same time all B767’s have been receiving an upgraded ‘flat bed’ business class which was also launched last week, matching the front cabin product of other airlines flying to Mahe but most importantly offering far greater comforts for ‘Pearl Class’ passengers on the routes to and from Paris, London, Rome and Milan. The product will eventually also be introduced on the flights to Singapore, which now route via Mumbai in India.

The installation of the 24 state of the art seats necessitated the removal of one row of seats in the economy class cabin but the ‘loss’ of revenue there will, according to an airline source, be made up by improved sales of the premium class product which now allows Air Seychelles to meet the higher expectations of passengers used to travel upfront.

 

CONDE NAST INCLUDES 4 SEYCHELLES RESORTS IN TOP 20

Following the success of Desroches Island in the Forbes Magazine last week, Conde Nast has done even better for the archipelago when naming four resorts in their ‘top twenty’ for Africa, the Indian Ocean and the Middle Eastern region.

Denis Island Resort came an impressive third for this Conde Nast ‘region’ and was overall awarded the 11th place worldwide, making it the highest rated resort of the Seychelles, according to the gospel of Conde Nast that is.

In the regional ratings Cousine Island Resort came 15th, closely followed by North Island Resort in 16th place and Fregate Island Resort came a respectable 18th. Considering that the regional ratings covered such illustrious destinations like Botswana, South Africa, the entire Indian Ocean including the Maledives (one of their resorts came overall winner this year), Sri Lanka, Mauritius, La Reunion as well as the Middle East, having scored so highly is not just a credit to the Seychelles but also a resounding vote of confidence in their tourism sectors’ unending efforts to improve the quality of its hospitality industry. Well done, small country but BIG scores.

Visit www.seychelles.com for comprehensive information on all the archipelago’s licensed resorts, hotels and restaurants as well as details on DMC’s, the national carrier Air Seychelles and everything else there is to know about turning a visit to the ‘time of your life’.

 

And today as most weeks some interesting ‘stuff’ from The Livingstone Weekly, compiled by Gill Staden:

 

 

Ngepi Camp, Caprivi ‘Strip’, Namibia

 

We were hot, bothered and tired when we took the dirt road down to Ngepi Camp on the Kavango River.  I had also just had an altercation with the lady at the petrol station in Divundu about allowing her friends to push in the queue.  Driving down the sandy road thinking that I desperately needed a beer to cheer me up, the first Ngepi sign came into view.  A bit further down the road and another one appeared out of the darkness … and so it went on along the road … and they really raised my spirits – I knew Ngepi was going to be a good place to stay … but I still needed that beer.

Arriving at Ngepi we parked the car and headed to the bar for an ice-cold drink, a quick sign-in to our tree house then off down the tracks to find our spot.  The tree house, fortunately, was not a house in a tree – it was a house around a tree – the three steps up to the deck were quite painless, carrying the bags and then … back to the bar for another beer and to the restaurant on a deck overlooking the river for a meal. 

Meals at Ngepi are pots of tasty food where everyone eats what is prepared – no point being fussy here – it is just good honest food – eat and be happy.  We were happy, relaxed and ready to retire and then face another day …

The following day was an expedition to Mahango National Park.  Then after a midday break while the sun belted down and sapped all our energy we read, dozed and recuperated for our trek to Buffalo Core area of Bwabwata National Park.  A tour around the park brought us back to the lodge for another couple of beers and meal. 

Both evenings at Ngepi were busy.  It is mid-range market which caters for overland trucks, campers and self-drive tourists, to mad twitchers who come to tick off, photograph and enjoy the amazing birdlife which I am reliably told meets 560 species – the highest number of species in our region around the Victoria Falls. 

Certainly the birds were ever present – not only was the early morning bird commotion above average, they seemed to be chirping, flitting and doing birdy things all day.  There were old and young men with cameras and big lenses trudging out through the bush with Christoff the bird guide.  Christoff told me about the unusual sightings he had seen during the day.  I can’t remember them, but they sounded impressive.

Other people went on boats or makoras on the river; some took the rubber canoe ride through some rapids.  Some swam in the cage in the river which is the camp’s pool.  And, although there were so many activities on offer, some preferred to sit in the shade of the riverine trees and read a book. 

All in all, a great place to stay with lots going on.  Being on the Kavango River it is en route to/from the Okavango, Etosha and Victoria Falls. 

Reaching Ngepi from Livingstone is quite a trek but easily manageable in a day.  Take the road to Sesheke and cross the border into Namibia (an easy border crossing).  From Katima Mulilo, take the road west to Kongola (110 km) where you cross the Kwando River and enter Bwabwata National Park.  This park stretches for 200 km and there is rarely much to see except at either end on the Kwando and Kavango rivers.  There is no water in between so animals don’t tend to tarry in the mid-section.  On reaching Divundu cross the Kavango River and take a south road towards the Botswana border – you will see the sign to Ngepi after about 10 km.

 

CONSULTATION

 THE ZAMBEZI SOCIETY http://www.zamsoc.org

The Zambezi Society is a non-profit, non-governmental, membership organisation working to promote the conservation and environmentally sound management of the Zambezi River and its basin for the benefit of wilderness, wildlife and people.


CONSULTATION: OCTOBER 2010 

MANA POOLS WORLD HERITAGE SITE:

ZIMPARKS AUTHORITY PROPOSES NEW TOURISM DEVELOPMENTS

Zimbabwe’s Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (ZPWMA) has asked The Zambezi Society and other stakeholders to ratify its proposals for the following:

  • three new semi-permanent” 24-bed lodge tourism development sites along the Zambezi River frontage of the Mana Pools National Park and World Heritage Site,
  • one new “semi-permanent” 24-bed lodge tourism development at the Ruchomechi Research Station inland within the Park
  • one new tented camp operators’ site as a replacement for one being displaced by a river frontage lodge development site above

The map below shows existing tourism development camps, lodges and sites along the Zambezi River within Mana Pools in Zimbabwe and also on the opposite (Zambian) bank of the river, as well as the four proposed riverside development locations which are marked (very approximately) with red symbols.  Ruckomechi Research Station (the site of an inland development proposal) lies adjacent to the Ruckomechi River in the south-eastern section of the Mana Pools National Park and is off this map.

 These development proposals have been announced after preparation of a 10-year Management Plan for Mana Pools, which included negotiations with all the stakeholders, including the Society itself, and are not included in the Plan. Completed some 18 months ago, this Plan remains unsigned by Zimbabwe’s Minister of Environment.  However, at a meeting held on 20th September 2010, the ZPWMA informed stakeholders that if the above proposals are ratified, the Mana Pools Management Plan will be signed by the Minister and no further developments will be allowed to take place in the Park for a 10-year period.

In the Plan, Guiding Principles for Tourism are stated as follows:

1. Wilderness qualities will be maintained
2. Tourism away from the river will be encouraged
3. Camping and low impacted tented camps will be promoted
4. Unescorted walking will continue to be permitted
5. Citizen and educational access will be promoted
6. ZPWMA accommodation will be competitive
7. Linkages with appropriate communal areas will be encouraged
8. Exclusive use areas will be discouraged

During the management planning process, stakeholders agreed that further developments along the Zambezi River frontage at Mana Pools would be likely to increase tourism pressure to a level which could damage the very fragile ecosystem of the Mana Pools alluvial terraces known as the “floodplain” and diminish the wilderness and wildlife experience currently enjoyed by visitors to the Park.   The Plan recommended, therefore, that there should be no further developments in the Zambezi riverside/floodplain zone of the Park and that only small (12-bed) semi-permanent developments should be encouraged at identified sites inland.

No mention of these four new proposed sites was made by the Authority or any of the developers during several stakeholder consultations for the Management Plan.  Indeed, although the possibility of one new riverside tourism site was discussed during stakeholder meetings, it was subsequently firmly rejected by the Authority’s own planning department on the grounds that there were “already too many developments along the Zambezi River in Mana Pools”.

We are informed by the Parks Authority that one of these proposed riverside development sites is a Joint Venture initiative between The Zimbabwe Parks Authority and Wilderness Safaris (an existing Mana Pools Tour Operator).  The Authority would not name the proposed recipients of the other sites, but made it clear that the tenders have already been awarded.  We await details.  We are also told that the sites will be leased for a maximum 25-year period (renewable every 5 years) and a comprehensive Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) will be required for each development before construction commences.

The Zambezi Society has written to the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Authority informing them that we cannot respond to their request until we have consulted with our members.  We have further stated:

“…We would …suggest that it is now necessary to re-examine the Park Plan in light of the potential impacts these new proposals might have on the environment of Mana Pools National Park and on the tourism experience of visitors to the Park.

In fact, we would go further to state that the Mana Pools Management Planning process should now be revisited as part of a wider, more comprehensive planning process for the entire Mana Pools/Sapi/Chewore complex which constitutes the UNESCO World Heritage Site.  We believe that this would provide for more flexibility and creativity in developing future, long-term, sustainable tourism solutions and opportunities along the Zambezi River and throughout the World Heritage Site.

With the permission of the Parks Authority, The Zambezi Society would be happy to seek funding sources for such an exercise, which would include a provision for reinforcing the planning capacity of the Authority.”

The Zambezi Society urges its members and associates to respond to this CONSULTATION by sending us your comments/opinions on these development proposals.

PLEASE RESPOND TO US BY E-MAIL to zambezi@mweb.co.zw  

ALL RESPONSES TO BE RECEIVED BY 31ST OCTOBER 2010 

INFORMED COMMENTS/OPINIONS CAN BE POSTED ON THE INTERNET VIA THE FACEBOOK GROUPS

THE ZAMBEZI SOCIETY  and/or

SAVE MANA POOLS

 

1 Comment

Comments are closed.