TOURISM NEWS from the Eastern African and Indian Ocean region Reports, Travel Stories and Opinions By Prof. Dr. Wolfgang H. Thome Third edition October 2010
UGANDA CIVIL AVIATION SETS DATE FOR NEXT LICENCING HEARING The long awaited and much overdue public hearing of new and renewal applications for the consideration of air service licence applications. It has become practice to administratively grant or deny new applications, depending on their merit while waiting to accumulate enough applications to warrant a public hearing. According to information availed to this correspondent the 16 listed applicants, 10 of which are ‘new’ and 6 of which are for the renewal of existing licenses, will be required to appear before the licensing committee of the Board of the Uganda Civil Aviation Authority on the 25th of November, starting at 11 a.m. prior to which the committee will have a meeting in ‘camera’. Venue is the Imperial Royale Hotel in the heart of the city. What has already become apparent though, after the publication of application details, is the proposed use of relatively ‘old’ aircraft by applications, such as Fokker 27 and Fokker 50, DC 9-30 series aircraft, DC 8 and DC 10 cargo aircraft, which once granted would again make Africa a ‘dumping ground’ of ageing early generation ‘sky howlers’ by companies which clearly value cheap acquisitions over environmental concerns such as carbon and noise emissions. Amongst those seeking license renewals are such long standing companies like Eagle Air, Mission Aviation Fellowship, DHL Aviation (Kenya) and the Uganda Air Cargo Corporation, all of which are expected to pass with flying colours considering their records. In comparison Kenya for instance holds quarterly meetings as the demand for air service licenses there leads the entire region, while other member states of the East African Community hold their regular licensing hearings as and when demand so requires.
MONDAY 25TH FOR PRESIDENTIAL NOMINATIONS TO ELECTORAL COMMISSION
Uganda will take a giant step towards the general elections next year, when the Electoral Commission will receive formal nominations from various political organizations and from independent candidates vying for the position of president. The ruling NRM party will present their flag bearer and incumbent Yoweri Kaguta Museveni next Monday, 25th October at the national stadium in Namboole. After the ‘formal part’ with the EC has been concluded and the nomination been certified, the party faithful and followers are expected to move to the ceremonial parade ground in Kololo for a rally, and while the ‘official’ campaign is still months off all aspirants for elected offices are already busy travelling the country in search of votes. Prediction for the elections next year by this correspondent is once again: No Change …
KAMPALA SERENA GETS NEW GENERAL MANAGER
Killian Lugwe, who came to Kampala in early 2004 to lead the Serena team taking charge at the then Nile Hotel International, and subsequently oversaw the transformation and rebuilding of the ‘shoebox’ into the spectacular Kampala Serena Hotel – now a member of ‘Leading Hotels of the World’ – was given a ‘heroes send off’ by his CEO, staff, clients and the assembled corporate leadership from Uganda last Monday. After nearly 6 ¾ years in charge of Serena’s activities in Kampala, which also saw the acquisition under management of the Lake Victoria Serena Hotel on the shores of the lake , Killian was – in the words of his CEO Mahmud Janmohamed ‘promoted’ to take over the Nairobi Serena Hotel, for long the flagship of the group before the Kampala Serena came along, at least in the expressed opinion of the Kampala crowd attending the farewell party. While paying glowing tribute to Killian his CEO also announced that the Nairobi Serena would undergo substantial refurbishment and expansion over the next two years, and Killian was chosen to be at the helm of the hotel as a result of his ‘brilliant’ performance in Kampala. Taking over from Killian Lugwe is Mugo Maringa, who for the past three years managed the Kigali Serena Hotel, where in turn Charles Muya has taken over. In a further fresh appointment did former Kampala number two to Killian Lugwe, Mr. Tuva, take over the Mombasa Serena Beach Resort and Spa. From the sentiments voiced by those in attendance, like the Governor Bank of Uganda Emmanuel Tumusiime Mutebile, or leading business leaders Prof. James Mulwana (Honorary Consul of the Kingdom of Thailand) and Prof. Gordon Wavamunno (Honorary Consul of Hungary) and many many others, it was clear that Killian had ‘shed’ the mantle of being a Kenyan ‘import’ and had become ‘one of ours’, a further testimony to his amicable nature and good standing in Kampala’s business circles in general and the hospitality industry in particular. From us it is Kwaheri ya Kuonana to Killian and his family and all the best wishes for the challenges ahead.
IBANDA GETS NEW AIRFIELD
As part of bilateral aid and in the context of intense security cooperation between the European Union, NATO and Uganda was last week an airfield near Ibanda, Western Uganda, completed and handed over to the beneficiaries. Nearby is a training facility established with the help and support of ‘friendly countries’ where troops, due to be deployed to Somalia as part of the African Union mission, are being acclimatised and trained before they are flown to the troubled region in the Horn of Africa. The airfield was deemed helpful, for this mission but also to open up the area to air traffic in general, which is also part of government’ objectives in promoting air transport and creating related infrastructure. Area residents enjoyed a ‘boom’ during construction by providing materials and labour and local leaders have expressed their satisfaction to have received this economic bonus.
CHOBE SAFARI LODGE TO BE OFFICIALLY OPENED BY PRESIDENT MUSEVENI
It was learned last week that the Chobe Safari Lodge’s official opening is now only a short time away, and will be conducted, according to impeccable sources, by none other than President Museveni himself. The lodge, destroyed by marauding units of the former dictatorships – sent packing by Yoweri Kaguta Museveni’s National Resistance Army when he captured power some 24 ½ years ago – was for a long a reminder of the troubled past Uganda had under various dictatorships and the restoration to its former glory, and in fact bettering the standards and facilities, will wipe the slate clean here too. Tourists are already staying at the lodge, as has this correspondent recently when inspecting the facilities and sampling food and services, and rave reviews are now being received, much focused on the location at the river, where guests can overlook some white water sections of the River Nile. However, accommodation standards too, as does the food, have attracted a number of very positive comments and after the official opening has been performed Chobe is set to become a key element in a circuit taking tourist visitors across the scenic parts of the country. The President, subject to confirmation at short notice, will likely fly into the lodge’s airstrip, which leads right on to the vehicle parking area for this sort of ‘pleasant duty’ he so often performs when inaugurating major new investments across the country. One hope though – that the owners in their official address make it clear that our government has to invest in tourism marketing and promotion in line with our neighbours Rwanda, Kenya and Tanzania, all of whom are spending vast sums of money on global marketing and have the results to show for …
NATIONAL BIRD COUNT WEEKEND ENDS
Last weekend saw once again a ‘national bird watching competition’ unfold across much of the country, where bird watchers, birding clubs and wildlife club members spent two days ‘hunting’ for birds with their binoculars and ears. Uganda has over 1.050 recorded species of resident and migratory birds on its register and is considered one of the world’s great bird watching destinations, yet less known than it should be amongst a growing community of ‘birders’ from around the world. There has been progress in promoting more such tourist visitors to come to the country predominantly for bird watching and they will undoubtedly be waiting for the count results to be released by main promoter ‘Nature Uganda’, which every year commemorates the event with nationwide activities. Bird watching, according to statistics available, is now a 6+ billion US Dollar business worldwide and Uganda can benefit too from its’ reputation as a leading birding destination in Africa by tapping into this specialised niche market.
BRUSSELS AIRLINES NOW OFFERS CODE SHARED FLIGHT TO ESTONIA
The Kampala office of SN has confirmed that effective end of October they will offer their passengers from East Africa’s destinations Entebbe, Nairobi, Kigali and Bujumbura, three times a week a code shared onwards flight, operated by Estonian Air, to Tallinn. Brussels Airlines recently signed the agreement with Estonian, sparing passengers heading to this Baltic country a detour via other airports from where to connect to Tallinn. Estonian, according to the information available from Kampala, will use a B737-500 on the route and Miles and More cardholders will be able to earn points on the route as well as they are able to enjoy lounge services in Tallinn in line with SN’s own policies. In a related development, and courtesy of Brussels Airlines, the airline is during the current ‘mussels season’ in Belgium flying fresh ‘supplies’ on their nonstop flights from Brussels to Entebbe, where the Belgium owned ‘Le Chateaux’ is once again features regular ‘mussels nights’ for their faithful clientele, dedicated to good cuisine and good company. For visitors to Kampala a ‘must visit’ restaurant, located near the US Embassy just outside the central business district. See http://www.qualitycuts.net for more details
PRESIDENT STOPS ILLEGAL SALE OF AVIATION SCHOOL LAND
Following a public outcry over the intended sale of land, belonging to Uganda’s premier public aviation school – also a ‘Centre of Excellence in the East African Community’ the president last week put a halt to any attempts to dispose of facilities, building and land of the institution. The aviation industry had raised the alarm first, prompting a public investigation into the dubious deals initiated by some shady individuals and were all pleased when the president stepped into the fray himself and pronounced a firm ‘NO’ to the deal. The aviation school recently received 6 new trainer aircraft and is set to get more new equipment, which will allow it to regain its standing as a major aviation college in the region. The runway, presently 1 mile long, is also due for expansion to allow the landing of larger planes in Soroti, where the school is located. Government has also reaffirmed plans to improve and create new aerodromes in strategic places across the country to enhance and promote aviation in Uganda. Pilots and aircraft technicians, as reported elsewhere by this correspondent, are in short supply and training young aviators will ensure the long term objective of keeping aviation in ‘national hands’ instead of having to constantly employ foreign pilots on a long term basis.
FIRST SECTION OF KABALE – KISORO ROAD COMPLETED
Last week saw the handover of the first section, approximately 50 kilometres long, of the road from Kabale to Kisoro from the contractors to the Ugandan government. The road, one of the most scenic in the country, will open up the tourism and farming areas around Kisoro to the rest of the country with much greater ease, as the ‘old’ murram road made travel by car difficult, to say the least. The new tarmac road will now allow Kisoro residents to ship their produce to the markets in Kabale, Mbarara and Kampala at reduced cost and greater speed, while tourist visitors, both local and from abroad, can drive to Kisoro and enjoy the often breathtaking scenery along the route, especially when seeing the distant volcanic mountains progressively coming nearer or when driving through the bamboo forests and alongside the rivers and wetlands which still make up much of this part of the country. The new road construction, after long and at times inexplicable delays, started in early 2008 but owing to the terrain and often adverse weather conditions, which caused repeated landslides and other damage to the new road bed, the handover of the new road was delayed until now. The remaining section of nearly the same length is due for completion and handover in late 2011 at which time the full rehabilitation and widening of the Kampala to Kabale highway should also be complete. Travel by road, which at times could take 14 or more hours between the capital and Kisoro – located in the border triangle with Rwanda and Congo Dr – will benefit from these developments and it is expected to reduce the time on the road to between 8 to 10 hours. Time to pack the car and visit that beautiful part of Uganda once again soon.
DATES ANNOUNCED FOR ANNUAL KAMPALA MARATHON
25.000 runners are expected at this latest edition of the annual Kampala Marathon, and the town will be painted in ‘Yello’ again with MTN, Uganda’s leading mobile telecom company, again being the main sponsor of the event. The Kampala Marathon has in recent years established itself as a star sporting attraction for Ugandans and runners from the region and beyond, and while Kenyan athletes have often taken the winners’ honours, this has not stopped Ugandans to try in ever larger numbers to capture victory. Start and finish will be at the Kololo ceremonial parade grounds and the races, several categories are again available, will all take place on Sunday 05th December from 8 a.m. The race will include shorter distances, half marathons, categories for men and women, group and corporate team participation and a wheelchair race too this year, all aimed at improving one’s health and raising funds for worthy causes. The route will be announced shortly by the organizers and will be cordoned off from regular traffic, undoubtedly leading to detours and delays for road users – their way out on that day, participate, leave the car in the garage and ‘run, run, run’ …
FRIEND A GORILLA ‘NEEDED AND VALUABLE’
Comments made by the embattled Chairman of the Uganda Wildlife Authority, who rubbished the ‘Friend a Gorilla’ campaign in recent statements, were generally dismissed by conservation stakeholders as ‘unsound’, ‘uninformed’ and ‘spoken in anger and ignorance’. Tourism Minister Kahinda Otafiire too tried to soften the impact of the ill timed and ill considered utterances when he, during a conservation dinner last week, praised the campaign for bringing attention to Uganda as a tourism destination and to the need to protect the gorillas and their fragile mountain environment. During a meeting of the Leadership for Conservation in Africa – Uganda Chapter it was also felt that the campaign, accessible via http://www.friendagorilla.org, was indeed valuable as a promotional tool, had raised the profile of gorilla conservation. Present at the LCA meeting was, amongst others, a past tourism minister, the current chairman of the Uganda Tourist Board, two past chairmen of the Uganda Wildlife Authority and Mr. Moses Mapesa, a member of the Board of Directors of LCA in his personal capacity, while none of the present UWA brass did show their faces. Wonder why?!?
THY TAKES DELIVERY OF NEW B777
A source close to the Kampala office of Turkish Airlines confirmed that the first of 12 brand new B777-300ER was delivered to the airline recently and that several others will still join their fleet this year, while the remainder of the order was due for delivery in the first half of 2011. It is understood that the airline’s present B777 fleet is leased and the contracts will expire by the end of the year, when the newly delivered aircraft will have been integrated into operations. THY flies an A340 from Istanbul to Entebbe and then on to Dar es Salaam three times a week, and travellers from Eastern Africa – the airline also serves Nairobi – can expect to travel on the new B777’s to a range of long haul destinations on their connecting flights. The new Boeings will reportedly be configured in a two class set up with 309 economy class seats – including some 63 premium economy seats – and 28 ‘flat beds’ in business class. THY has in recent weeks made ‘spectacular’ offers for passengers travelling from Eastern Africa to Istanbul and beyond to European destinations, but also on their North America flights and the ‘established’ airlines in the region have been fighting a rear guard action with matching or near matching offers to retain their passengers, while the fight for market shares intensifies. Entebbe is presently served by international airlines like Brussels Airlines, Kenya Airways, KLM, Emirates, South African Airways, Egypt Air, Ethiopian Airlines, British Airways and Turkish, giving access to their respective international networks via their home hubs, while Air Uganda, Precision Air and RwandAir offer flights to Uganda’s neighbouring countries of Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi, Kenya and Southern Sudan.
KENYA AIRWAYS ANNOUNCES CODE SHARE WITH QUANTAS
Last weekend finally saw the public announcement going out, that Kenya Airways and Quantas have agreed on a code share arrangement, which will link Nairobi and Sydney, via KQ’s daily flights to Bangkok, with a one stop journey. Australia has in the past seen growing numbers of visitors come to Kenya and the East African region, but easy and affordable flight connections were difficult to source, so this latest addition of destinations by code share for KQ will undoubtedly assist in tapping further into this growing market. Travellers on business and leisure to Australia, coming from Eastern Africa or from across the continent and flying with Kenya Airways, will also sigh a breath of relief as connectivity for many matters a lot and can cut travelling time substantially while also seeing fares come down to more affordable levels. The arrangement will come into effect on November 15th and ticket sales are available with immediate effect already. Well done Pride of Africa!
KENYA AIRWAYS EXPANDS REGIONAL RECRUITMENT, AVOIDS STRIKE
A large advert in the print media early last week served notice to airlines in the region that Kenya Airways was on the recruitment prowl, as ‘the Pride of Africa’ sought new ways to add more, and already qualified staff to their ranks. Airline personnel in Eastern Africa, and the continent as a whole, have for years now been targeted by mainly Middle East carriers, luring them with huge packages and bonuses to become expatriates and work for them as pilots, cabin crew, aircraft technicians and in other specialised and important sections of flight operations. Kenya Airways countered this by progressively building up and expanding their own training academy where they teach new staff what they need to know, graduate them and of course also bond them to work with KQ for an agreed number of years, before being able to leave for ‘greener pastures’ without a substantial financial penalty. However, as recently mentioned in a related article, there is a shortage of in particular pilots now emerging and inspite of KQ’s in house training even of pilots, fleet expansion plans now require affirmative steps to man the new crafts when they eventually arrive in Nairobi from the manufacturers. While this move is understandable it has also raised the heat in relations between Kenya Airways and other airlines flying in Kenya and the region, who feel that by targeting their pilots, cabin crew and operations staff KQ was entering unchartered ‘waters’ and introducing a new wave of ‘staff poaching’ not seen before. While in the past staff did change ‘sides’ periodically, or applied for specific jobs being offered by one carrier while working for another, never before, according to a top manager of a private airline in Nairobi, has KQ so openly advertised for and targeted staff working for competitors, as done in their advert which in part read: ‘if you work for another East African airline and you feel the same way about flying as we do, then we would love to meet you’ [sic: for an interview]. The move is expected to drive up wages across the industry even faster now, as airlines faced with the loss of experienced captains and first officers, but also cabin crew, technicians and key sales, operations and IT staff will more than likely ‘sweeten the deals’ in order to retain them, or else risk having their fleet operate at reduced utilisation in the absence of enough crews to operate full schedules. A regular source close to Kenya Airways was stoical about the ‘emerging storm’ and said on condition of anonymity: ‘everyone in the industry knows, or should have known by now, that KQ is expanding, destinations, flight frequencies and the fleet. They have always entertained applications from qualified people working for other airlines, everyone in the industry does this, so why this is now suddenly becoming a big issue for some of the competitors I do not understand. They are recruiting also on the open market and may have absorbed some of KQ’S former staff into their ranks, so what is the issue here. Everyone knows Kenya Airways are expecting more aircraft and need more crews. KQ is the only airline in the EAC with an own training academy but the graduates from there are not enough for their future plans it seems so they are now actively recruiting from the open market. The competition can do the same of course and either jointly or individually start their own academies to produce future staff. Anyway, providing for more jobs should be a good thing for our economy, for even all of our neighbours, as Kenya Airways can now recruit from the entire region. This is not aimed to cripple some of the smaller airlines from those countries at all as some are now already making wild allegations, not at all.’ Meanwhile are negotiations ongoing now once again between Kenya Airways and the Aviation and Allied Workers Union, with key stakeholders like government, the Federation of Kenya Employers and the Central Organisation of Trade Unions of Kenya ‘shadowing’ the negotiations, helping where they can to avoid strike action, keep the airline flying and prevent potentially huge damage to the Kenyan economy in general and the tourism sector in particular. Watch this space for future updates from the Eastern African aviation scene.
KENYA AIRWAYS FIGHTS FOR MARKET SHARE ON MOMBASA ROUTE
In a surprise move, which caught privately owned airlines flying between Nairobi and Mombasa rather unaware, has Kenya Airways lowered their fares between the capital and the Indian Ocean city of Mombasa to a level previously only offered by low cost airlines. The fare of 9.499 Kenya Shillings and other attractive packages including a family fare for two adults and two children are likely to intensify the competition on domestic routes, as similar spectacular deals are expected when ‘the Pride of Africa’ returns to the Malindi route in a few weeks time. Travel agents and tour companies expressed their immediate delight with the new fare structure, saying it will allow them to put together attractive domestic tourism packages for Kenyans to visit the coast and flying with Kenya Airways, while some of the private airlines expressed thinly concealed anger and upset, that KQ would use its superior cash flow and market position to ‘muscle in on our market’ as one regular source to this correspondent from Nairobi put it. Said another: ‘at least they cannot compete with us for flights to our secondary Kenyan aerodromes where they lack the type of aircraft needed. Their jets can operate to the main airports but we are now covering a lot of other destinations across Kenya with scheduled flights and our main growth comes from there. We are also more flexible taking swift decisions on adding or reducing capacity on a route which gives us an advantage in the market and for passengers it is a lot more than just the fare, it is the departure and arrival time, punctuality and so on, so we are not too worried and KQ is not likely to continue for very long with their special offers.’ Several airlines fly from Nairobi to the coast, covering such destinations like Lamu, Malindi, Mombasa and Ukunda, often using medium sized turboprop aircraft for flights originating at Nairobi’s second major airport ‘Wilson’ to airfields unable to allow jets to land, i.e. Ukunda and Lamu. Others use state of the art CRJ aircraft like Fly540 and Jetlink on the routes to Mombasa and Malindi but Kenya Airways’ renewed attempt to recapture lost market share on the domestic market will serve notice of intent by the national flag carrier not to stand by idle and let the expanding market go entirely to their domestic rivals. It is understood that flight occupancies on the Mombasa route are lower than last year and KQ will undoubtedly try to reverse this trend by using special offers and ‘extra miles’ for holders of their frequent flyer loyalty cards. Watch this space.
KENYA AIMS AT NEW TOURISM REVENUE RECORD
With the strike action against Kenya Airways now narrowly avoided the Kenyan tourism industry seems set to beat both arrival and revenue records this year, considering the uninterrupted arrival of visitors who are coming with KQ to Nairobi and Mombasa. Information received from sources in Nairobi indicates that the first half of 2010 saw a new half year record already, when data released by the Central Bank of Kenya and other relevant bodies pegged tourism revenues at 48.5 billion Kenya Shillings. Considering that the first half includes the traditional ‘low season’ which spans from the week after Easter until July, and that the second half of the year includes both ‘shoulder’ as well as ‘high season’, this may well mean that the hitherto unprecedented tourism revenues could reach, or even exceed the 100 billion mark for the first time. Should this indeed be the case, tourism as a sector could return to the top of the economic performers for Kenya, and being a rapid generator of new jobs as well as bringing in much needed foreign exchange, this can only be good news for East Africa’s biggest economy – as when Kenya does well the entire region tends to benefit from the trend. This latest information is also a vindication for tourism minister Najib Balala and his private sector counterparts, who lobbied relentlessly for the allocation of more funding to the tourism marketing body KTB, aimed to promote Kenya in new and emerging markets, like Eastern Europe and the Far and South East, but also rebranding Kenya as a destination in their existing markets of Europe and North America. The success of this strategy is best seen with arrivals from the Far East, where China now already has twice as many arrivals compared with Japan, i.e. over 20.000 visitors. Challenges remaining to fully explore these markets however are the lack of more direct airlinks between China and Japan, but also from the other ‘tiger economies’ to Kenya, something which can hopefully be resolved soon as visitor streams from the Far East to Kenya and the rest of Eastern Africa increase. Sections of government at the time of budget preparations had attempted to reduce the allocation of funds to the tourism ministry and the tourist board, claiming a shortage of available budget resources, but this huge success of KTB in conjunction with private sector stakeholders will underscore, that the more the country spends for marketing the better the financial results the sector can produce, and in the process pay back government via taxes and other means. The triumphant performance of Kenya is especially remarkable considering the anti travel advisories slapped against the country by ‘friendly countries’ like the US, where the State Department in particular is notorious to use such initially well intended publications to ostensibly ‘punish’ countries for one thing or another, but thankfully American travellers too have seen through the machinations and largely ignored such negative propaganda. This development across our borders may also be a timely reminder to the Ugandan government, which has been outright mean to its tourism marketing body UTB since its inception, that giving ‘good words’, i.e. paying lip service, is simply no longer acceptable and that government at last ought to follow through with the allocation of not just enough funding to the Ugandan marketing body but also enact the levy provisions in the Tourism Act, to generate sustainable funding for the sector and allow it to emulate our neighbours in promoting ‘The Pearl of Africa’ to the rest of the world. Watch this space.
NEW HIGHWAY TO MOMBASA SOUTH COAST A STEP NEARER
The planned construction start for the long awaited and most urgently needed ‘bypass’ from the Nairobi highway and the Moi International Airport in Mombasa to the ‘South Coast’ has finally come within reach, when government in Nairobi announced that all is now ready and set to advertise for tenders for the project. Once awarded, the construction could begin soon afterwards and is expected to last between two and three year. Presently commuters, arriving and departing tourists and visitors from upcountry destined for the beaches South of Mombasa are all compelled to travel through the city and use the notoriously unreliable ferries across the Likoni Channel, delaying journey times in particular during breakdowns by hours. The tourism industry at the Kenyan coast has for long demanded that this crucial road link be constructed but had to wait seemingly forever before the final decision to go ahead with the project was taken. The present government in Nairobi has of late embarked on a series of new infrastructural projects, including multi lane highways from Nairobi to Thika and Athi River, the construction of a major Nairobi bypass highway taking transit traffic out of the city centre, and the construction of a new harbour in Lamu and a brand new rail link from there all the way to Southern Sudan is also on the drawing boards of planners. The new Mombasa to the South Coast bypass highway will bring relief to many and is in the process expected to trigger a new economic boom for such townships as Ukunda and Diani which will see rapid developments in all areas of commerce, trade and industry once the new road – incidentally due to expand to the Tanzanian border at Lunga Lunga – is completed. Watch this space.
TOURIST ARRIVALS TO GET BOOST FROM NEW FLIGHTS
The Swiss subsidiary ‘Edelweiss’ has just announced that they will be operating a weekly charter from Zurich to Kilimanjaro International Airport located between Arusha and Moshi in central Tanzania. The added tourist arrivals this is likely to generate will be good news for the safari sector in Tanzania, especially the Northern circuit, and lodge owners this correspondent spoke to this morning expressed their hope of even higher occupancies for their safari properties, while safari operators, at least those entrusted with handling the Edelweiss passengers, also voiced satisfaction over the new flight and the subsequently greater numbers of visitors. Arusha, while often termed the ‘safari capital of East Africa’ and springboard too for climbers intending to go up Kilimanjaro, has seen significantly less arrivals by air compared to Nairobi or Mombasa, where tour charters bring larger numbers of tourist visitors but the latest addition of a flight by Edelweiss gives hope that more airlines can be attracted to fly directly from overseas into JRO and give visitors easier access to the renowned safari parks like Tarangire, Manyara, Ngorongoro and the Serengeti. Watch this space.
ILLEGAL LOGGING BECOMING FAST A MAJOR THREAT TO TANZANIA’S ECOSYSTEMS
Reports last week of an increase in illegal logging has unsettled environmentalists in Tanzania who expressed their concern over the ongoing wanton destruction of priceless forests and ecosystems by individual and corporate greed. Corrupt officials near forest reserves have also been blamed as a major factor in making a quick buck by cutting tropical hard wood trees, many of which are then labelled as ‘coming for a third country’ to conceal their origin and to facilitate exportation to the ever hungry markets of the Far and South East, where Africa’s resources are gobbled up at record speed. Tanzania does have a forestry policy but observers insist that enforcement and monitoring leaves a lot to be desired as insufficient budgetary resources are allocated for re-forestation, controls and enforcement. Tanzania is still blessed with large tracts of forests, but if anything to go by, the shrinkage due to illegal logging operations has in recent years accelerated and left many bare patches where previously continuous forests could be observed from the air. Conservationists have warned that this would at a short period of time impact on the water catchment areas the country depends on so much and also lead to the loss of biodiversity, wetlands and forest ranges, which could worsen the fall out of global warming even more for nearby residents. Watch this space. .
RWANDA INCREASES FUEL RESERVES
The Rwandan government has moved swiftly to introduce plans for new expanded fuel storages across the country, following the lessons learned in the recent past when fuel shortages were caused by a number of reasons, much to do with the import and export regime in Kenya. The region depends largely on a regular flow of ‘white fuels’ from the Indian Ocean port of Mombasa to the African hinterland nations and whenever the supply chain suffers disruptions, through repairs to the docking bay at the Mombasa port, breakdowns of pumping stations along the pipeline from Mombasa to Eldoret or bureaucratic interference by regulatory and tax bodies, the region swiftly encounters shortages and price hikes by dealers attempting to cash in on such developments. While in Uganda the national storage in Jinja is shrouded in mystery – but ostensibly NOT working – the Rwandans have taken prompt measures to add capacity to their existing depots to create a greater ‘cushion’ during the times of shortages and being able to keep the country ‘on the move’. Well done!
CONSERVATION HAS A PRICE
The Rwandan government has recently evicted a large group of ‘squatters’ found on an island on Lake Kivu, after evidence emerged of water contamination, a negative impact on fish breeding grounds and lack of organized living amongst them. According to reports received over 80 such squatters were picked up by enforcement personnel and relocated away from the lake to areas where they can have easy access to social services. Officials were quoted in the local media that provision of such services to the people was one aspect of their action but equally was the issue of the protection of the environment of concern to them which government policy has guaranteed to protect, at a cost albeit to those who have ignored laws and regulations it now seems. Other sources in Kigali also confirmed that small islands on Lake Kivu, would be kept free of human settlements to increase the protection of water and fish resources and add greater potential value to the growing tourism element making use of boats provided by the Rwanda Development Board and private investors as part of Rwanda’s diversification of tourism attractions. In a related development it was also learned that Rwanda has moved to protect some indigenous species of long horned cattle, which are progressively being replaced by higher yielding ‘hybrids’ better suited for the dairy and meat production. However, it is thought that conserving several herds of indigenous cattle will enhance the experience of visitors, when they come to the locations where the herds are being kept, but also for future generations of Rwandans who can learn about the culture and heritage of cattle keeping in the ‘old days. The presently two herds are kept in Eastern Rwanda and it is understood that more such ventures will soon be created in other locations.
KIGALI CITY PARK READVERTISED AS DUBAI WORLD LOSES OUT
The financial woes of Dubai World, which had to scale back their Rwandan project plans worth nearly 240 million US Dollar dramatically, has now led to one of their ‘offers’ being formally withdrawn by the Kigali City Council. KCC last week officially re-advertised the ‘city park’ for new developers to apply and make their presentations, following which a suitable partner would be selected to construct a top class hotel and adjoining championship quality golf course. This is according to reports from a source in Kigali the third time this project goes ‘on the market’ as the two previous developers all ran out of money or interest. With the present upswing in the global economy however, and the growing esteem Rwanda has gained internationally in recent years, it is thought that ‘third time lucky’ the project will now take off once offers have been received and reviewed.
CANOPY WALK IN NYUNGWE NATIONAL PARK NOW ‘OPEN’
Last weekend saw the official launch of the Nyungwe Forest National Park canopy walk, a new attraction for visitors to this recently created national park in the South of Rwanda. The Rwanda Development Board – Tourism and Conservation, was the main driver for the establishment of the new attraction and this was recognized by those present, and the tour and safari operators in Kigali, many of whom were represented at the event of the launch. The newly created ‘tree tops walk’ is about 150 metres long and gives a great view into the treetops and foliage where birds and insects can be spotted with greater ease from a different ‘view point’. Together with the recently opened Nyungwe Forest Lodge this has put the park undoubtedly on the ‘map’ for visitors to ‘the land of a thousand hills’ which has in recent years actively promoted diversification away from being considered a ‘purely gorilla tracking destination’. Nyungwe is home to several hundred bird species, including endemic species found only there, and also ‘houses’ 13 species of primates, although not the mountain gorillas which are found only in the ‘Parc de Volcanoes’ at the border with Uganda and the Congo DR. A visitor centre has also been constructed and was officially inaugurated too, where added information can be given by the guides to visitors about the flora and fauna found in the park, when they come to hike over the tracks which have been opened in recent months. Visit http://www.rwandatourism.com for more information about this and the other national parks across Rwanda.
FIRST LADY CAPTAIN NOW FLYING FOR ETHIOPIAN AIRLINES
Last week saw information coming from Addis Ababa that Ethiopian Airlines, one of the oldest aviation companies on the continent, has at last appointed their first lady captain, Ms. Amsale Endegnanew. After serving as first officer and flying Boeing 737 and 767 aircraft she is now in command of a Bombardier Q400 aircraft which is used to serve on domestic routes across Ethiopia but can also be deployed on regional routes out of the airline’s Addis Ababa hub. Ms Amsale reportedly joined ET 10 years ago when ‘affirmative action’ brought in female ‘fliers’. According to one source the airline presently has a further 4 lady first officers and has plans to employ several more in the future. Ethiopian has recently become an applicant member of the global Star Alliance and having ‘ladies’ in the cockpit and in the left seat is another step forward in offering equal opportunities for women aspiring to become pilots. Well done.
AIR SEYCHELLES TO OPERATE EUROPEAN FLIGHTS FOR AIR MOZAMBIQUE
Information provided last week to this correspondent by a regular source in Mahe confirmed that HM – or Air Seychelles as more widely known – has signed an initial two year contract with LAM Air Mozambique to operate on their behalf long haul flights from Maputo to Lisbon, the capital city of Portugal. Air Seychelles will be deploying a B767 on the route, which will ‘ferry in’ to Maputo from the airline’s scheduled service between Mahe and Johannesburg, as a result of which departure times and days between South Africa and the Seychelles will also be revised when the service for LAM is due to start in April next year. It is understood that HM will provide the cockpit crew for the flights to Portugal and back to Maputo while the cabin crew will be ‘shared’ between specially trained LAM staff working alongside their Seychellois colleagues. Flight numbers will be those of LAM, as the flights will operate under the bilateral air services agreements in place between Mozambique and Portugal, and all sales will be conducted by LAM under their own a ‘flag’ too. The contract is a major ‘coup’ for Air Seychelles which is also operating flights between the UK and the Falkland Islands on behalf of the UK government, a clear indication that an innovative and creative thinking by management can provide for better aircraft utilisation, earning foreign exchange and securing and even expanding employment. Well done indeed and a shining example of how Africa can work together in the common interest, leaving the ‘traditional’ suppliers of aircraft leases trailing in their wake.
EMIRATES TO ADD ‘SEVENTH’ BEFORE END OF THE YEAR
The UAE’s award winning national airline Emirates has finally confirmed that they will go ‘daily’ between Dubai and Mahe within the next four weeks, when their long awaited 7th flight will start operations. This will be good news for the tourism industry of the archipelago, as daily connections with a major global carrier like Emirates will largely improve connectivity and give potential visitors travelling on EK daily options to fly into ‘paradise’ from more than 100 destinations around the world. For long the 7th flight has been subject to arguments within the Seychellois aviation establishment over the requested slots, i.e. arrival and departure times, when the airport operator in Mahe had cited capacity limitations, but it seems this issue has finally been addressed to the satisfaction of most, if not all, finally permitting Emirates to go ‘daily’. Usually well informed sources, on this occasion a little shy to go on record, attribute this decision to the intervention from ‘high up’ – and considering that the tourism portfolio is now directly under the Office of the President – this is not really surprising. The UAE and the Seychelles have in recent years substantially expanded their diplomatic and trade relations and investments from the UAE across the archipelago are said to have exponentially grown following closer relations between the two nations. The Seychelles depend entirely on regular air connections to bring tourists from around the world to the archipelago and with this added flight a new arrival record is likely to be achieved for the Seychelles already this year, before new records can be eyed for 2011 and beyond. It is also understood that other airlines from the Middle East are considering commencing flights to Mahe too in the not too distant future and news updates will be published here as and when the time is right to make such announcements.
AIR SEYCHELLES APPOINTS GSA IN SWEDEN
Scandinavia, though not on the immediate list of destinations by Air Seychelles, has suddenly come ‘nearer’ to the archipelago, when the Seychelles national airline appointed a new General Sales Agent in Stockholm / Sweden, tasked to sell tickets to the Seychelles via the regular flights originating from London, Paris, Milan and Rome. AVIAREPS will be representing HM in Sweden and the rest of Scandinavia, offering the market the opportunity to book flights with participating partner airlines like Air France and SAS and feeding / de-feeding into the HM flights from their key European airports. The company already has existing ties with HM which it represents too as GSA in such markets as the USA, Canada, Austria, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Poland where Air Seychelles does presently not fly to.
EDELWEISS TO FLY CHARTER TO PT. LOUIS
The subsidiary company of Swiss has just announced that they are planning a once a week flight between Zurich / Switzerland and the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius for the forthcoming winter season. It could not be established if the Mauritian authorities have relaxed their attitude towards all inclusive tour charters some more, as in the past it was only scheduled airlines being permitted to fly to the island, but the fallout of the global economic crisis may well have triggered a change in mindset towards this policy, embracing any and all wanting to bring tourists to beaches of Mauritius. In any case, for Swiss travellers intent to spend their vacation in Mauritius this will be great news and undoubtedly making a holiday there more affordable.
Southern Sudan News
SUDANESE CURRENCY TAKES A BEATING OVER POLITICAL SQUABBLES
The official currency of the Republic of the Sudan, the ‘Pound’ has lost in value again in recent days and weeks, as the political squabbling between the North and South intensified ahead of the independence referendum due for 09th January 2011. The Bank of Sudan in Khartoum has instituted unpopular measures, also affecting the semi autonomous region of the South Sudan, of limiting the allocation of foreign exchange over growing allegations that the earnings from oil exports are being grabbed by the regime in Khartoum and misused for purposes neither sanctioned by the world community nor in the slightest interest of the Southern establishment. The value of the Pound, officially kept at 2.37 versus one US Dollar, had sunk as low as 3.20 on the black market before slightly recovering last week again, when the Bank of Sudan under pressure released more hard currency to the South. Said one regular source in Juba, the capital of the Southern Sudan: ‘this is another nail in the coffin of unity. They are selling our oil, short change us on the proceeds and then keep the dollars and send us their worthless money. If they are still wondering why we will vote for independence next year, here is one of the many answers. We need our own country, our own currency and decide how to use our oil proceeds to develop the South, bring infrastructure like roads bridges, river transport, schools, hospitals etc to our people. The North has never seriously looked at the South as a part of the united Sudan to develop, they have only ever taken from us, occupied us, terrorised and enslaved us. When we are independent we will change their rules very quickly. We want tourists to come and see our parks, our animals, and them in the North don’t want visitors and yet they could show a lot of history along the Nile. Sources in Khartoum declined to comment on the currency slide, only adding: ‘it is a difficult time for the country, pray we can get through it’ without however going into details where the hard currency income was going and what the regime was actually buying with these funds. The Sudan Pound is expected to undergo further heavy fluctuations in coming weeks ahead of the referendum and may take an instant further massive slide when the South, as is commonly expected, votes for independence. Watch this space.
REGIONAL LEADERS FIRMLY SUPPORT INDEPENDENCE
Ahead of the independence referendum in January next year have regional leaders gone on record, and made it abundantly clear, that the Southern Sudan will ‘not stand alone’ should they vote for independence and then be threatened by the regime in Khartoum, which is suspected to try and overturn the result on the ballot by the use of force. Former Kenyan President Daniel arap Moi has last week come out loud and clear in support of an independent Southern Sudan, saying in public what the government of the day at present may not wish to pronounce as yet. Ugandan President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni too made it abundantly clear where his sympathy’s were rooted, when he made pertinent comments while recently in New York at the UN General Assembly but also later on when home again, that the Southern Sudan would be assisted to fend off any aggression against them. The President was in fact quoted that ‘Kampala would pay any price, including the flare up of the past insurgency’ which was long suspected to have been fuelled by the regime in Khartoum. Regime leader Bashir has in the recent past avoided visits to Kampala after sections of government had advocated for his arrest under an international ICC arrest warrant, where he stands accused of alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity. Strong words, but spoken with sincerity and the iron will to help the Southern Sudan become a new nation, should their people vote to become independent.
AND IN CLOSING today again some interesting material taken from Gill Staden’s ‘The Livingstone Weekly’ – thanks for bringing news from ‘down south’ to us here in the east.
Game-Viewing from Ngepi Camp, Caprivi Strip
En route to Ngepi from Livingstone we passed through Bwabwata National Park. The heat haze was incredible – the road looking liquid in the distance. There were many signs along the road warning us of elephants running along at 80 km/h, but we didn’t see any. At the Kavango end of Bwabwata there are two sections of the park worth visiting – Mahango and Buffalo. Mahango is on the west of the Kavango, a small area which makes for a good morning or afternoon game viewing. We entered the park from the north and paid our entrance – two people and one vehicle – Nam$70 (±US$10) – and took the road into the sand away from the river. We saw quite a few herds of animals – wildebeest, zebra, kudu – all suffering in the heat. The borehole along this road was broken so there were fewer animals the further away from the river we went. We then went into the sand – deep sand and 4-wheel drive all the time over the sand ridge. Nothing to be seen here until we crossed the main road and entered the game route along the river. The road along the floodplain is where the animals were all happily munching on the grass and posing for the tourists … or not, as the case maybe. There are two spots worth mentioning along this route – a large baobab tree and a picnic site, Kwetche. Visitors are allowed to walk around, which is rather a plus, except when it is so hot … not much enthusiasm for a walk in the park with temperatures in the 40s. Suffering from the heat around midday we trundled back to Ngepi and had a couple of lazy hours and then headed out to Buffalo Core Area. To reach Buffalo, one goes back to Divundu, taking the road towards Kongola and then south after about 13 km; the entrance is 3 km along this road – payment is the same as that for Mahango. Within this area there are several abandoned South African Defence Force camps. Many soldiers were stationed here during the Angolan war, some people saying that the lack of animals in the area is attributed to their presence. Whatever the case, the animals are a bit thin on the ground … but it can only get better from now on. The Namibian government is investing in their parks – more protection, more facilities. The drive through this area is along the Kavango on a ridge which overlooks the floodplain with some great views into the distance. Heat haze upon heat haze and wobbly views of elephants and other animals, heads lowered as they trudged across the plain to the water. The floodplain supports a variety of game – elephants, buffalo, zebra, impala, lechwe, ostrich, mongoose, warthog and kudu. It was an enjoyable couple of hours in the park. The following morning we popped in to Popa for a quick look. Popa, or Popa Falls, is a set of rapids just south of Divundu. The area around the Falls has campsite and chalets and is run by the government. It cost us Nam$20 per person to go and have a look. To see the Falls properly one has to rock-hop over the rapids. Being a bit short of time and enthusiasm, we didn’t bother. Other people who had gone across said that it was a bit precarious with some wobbly rocks, anyway. I am told that the view on the opposite side of the river at N//goabaca Community Campsite is better … that is for next time …
Hwange National Park / by Clarissa Hughes
A recent visit to Hwange brought many pleasant surprises. Crossing from Botswana to Zimbabwe at Pandamatenga was hassle-free and quick. Just remember if you have a S.A. Registered car that you need to receive a form when leaving the Customs Union. It’s asked for when you return to S.A. The road in Zimbabwe to Robin’s Gate is pretty good. It’s a dirt road passable in a high clearance 2×4 in the dry months. It might get sticky in the wet season so checking with the authorities beforehand would be a good idea. Arriving at Robin’s Gate to a welcome of pure joy from the gatekeeper, Abiot Musema, made us realise how infrequently this gate has been used lately. Right then and there he radioed ahead to Robin’s and gave us suggestions as to where we should try and stay in the park. Not really knowing our way around we’d not made any reservations. It was already around 17h00 when we arrived at Robin’s Camp so we decided to overnight there. We were welcomed pleasantly and efficiently, and our onward reservations were made for the next day. The manager, Rhino (didn’t get his surname) went the extra mile by coming round after we’d settled in to check that everything was okay and warn us that hyena do sometimes get into the camp. We stayed in the campsite where although the ground is bare, the ablutions are clean, the water is hot and the staff are pleasant. An electric plug point meant that fridges could be charged too. Next day we moved onto the picnic site at Deteema Dam. These sites are game-viewing hides that you can book as an exclusive overnight campground at a reasonable rate. The ablutions are basic – flushing loos and a do-it-yourself bucket shower. During the day you need to be prepared for other visitors as they are permitted to use the sites for picnics. Fortunately we had no interruptions and had the place to ourselves for a blissful 24 hours. Rhino at Robin’s had warned us to “expect fireworks”. We sat and watched the show. Elephants by the tonne, giraffe, kudu, impala, one lone hippo and the antics of two persistent hamerkops kept us endlessly entertained. Lions roaring during the night added to the fizz. The following day we took a slow drive through to Jambile Pan on the eastern side of the park. All the other picnic sites were occupied. We were surprised at how fully booked the park was. There were lots of good sightings on the way, including leopard. Zimbabwean hospitality was apparent when we were invited by some locals at Shumba Pan to come in and have some tea and biccies and a natter. The gate-keeper at Main Camp made us smile at one of those lovely turns-of-phrase that most Africans are so good at. When we asked why we had to have a gate pass he explained that if we didn’t return in the time we indicated he would send someone out to look for us. “Not to arrest you. But to assist you!” he said with a broad white smile of pride. Thanks to a raft of involved organisations, including ZPWMA, the Friends of Hwange Trust and the Wildlife and Environment Zimbabwe Organisation the wildlife populations have been maintained by donations of diesel to keep the pumps at the park’s waterholes going. The park’s finances are constrained. It is visible in the raggedy-edge tarmac and the empty shop shelves. However, this doesn’t detract from a visitor’s enjoyment. If anything it adds a wild flavour to the place. We came away with the impression that Hwange is a good illustration for the concept of human perseverance triumphing over adversity. We salute all the individuals involved in keeping this park going.