TOURISM NEWS from the Eastern African and Indian Ocean region
Reports, Travel Stories and Opinions
By Prof. Dr. Wolfgang H. Thome
Christmas (Third) edition December 2010
FLY 540 FINALLY TAKES TO THE SKIES IN ANGOLA
As the saying goes ‘better late than never’ applies here too, when a regular Fly 540 source confirmed that the airline has now commenced domestic operations. Presently a single ATR aircraft is being used to fly the route between Luanda and Cabinda as many as three times a day and other routes are to follow soon afterwards, just as soon as another two ATR aircraft are integrated into the fleet.
Operations were initially thought to start a long time ago but as Angola is under scrutiny by ICAO and its national airline faces a qualified ban in flying to the European Union over a range of safety concerns, the establishment of a private airline has been challenging to say the least, again quoting a regular Fly 540 source from their East African operations. ‘We had to source qualified staff, and then spend a lot of time training them to internationally acceptable standards to ensure a safe and secure operation in Angola. This took a lot more time than initially planned but we are now finally there, our colleagues are taking to the skies this week and we are happy for them and celebrate the youngest addition to the Fly 540 family.
It is understood that Ghana will be next on the schedule of expansion although Fly 540 has also applied for air service licenses in a number of other Eastern, Central, Southern and Western African countries, aiming to become a major continental player on domestic and regional routes. Most likely as a result of these imminent developments have major shareholder ‘Lonrho’ shares risen last week by over 4 percent.
In a related development it was also learned that TAAG, the national airline of Angola, presently allowed to fly under strict conditions and only with an approved aircraft into the EU, has lost engine parts soon after takeoff from Lisbon and the plane had to return to make an emergency landing. How this will affect their status in regard of flights from Angola to the EU remains to be seen but aviation observers are doubtful that they can retain their conditional approval and may go on the total black list once again. Watch this space for the latest updates from the aviation scene and watch whom you fly with.
TOURISM MINISTER UNDER RENEWED PRESSURE OVER UWA BOARD
The Attorney General’s Office last weekend published advice sought by government over initial plans to install a caretaker board, following the sacking of the majority of board members on orders of the High Court in Kampala for not being suitable nor qualified as required by the Wildlife Act.
The opinion of the AG’s office is such that the governing law does not provide for ‘care taker’ appointments but only for substantive appointments, and the minister – largely seen as responsible for the mess at the Uganda Wildlife Authority for his rash appointments – is now under pressure to offer stakeholders an acceptable solution, without being dragged back to court once more.
Be it as it may, and as reported here last week, donors and development partners, especially those who shoulder a huge budgetary support burden for UWA, are more than just a little concerned and have privately let it be known that they will deal with a more sensible and astute minister after the next elections, to work hand in hand with someone able to repair the damage done to the organisation. None of those this correspondent spoke with however was willing to go on record, as such could be interpreted as ‘interference in Uganda’s internal affairs’ as one source put it, irrespective of the money given to UWA as grants and soft loans. Watch this space as the UWA saga seems to drag over into 2011.
MV KALANGALA NOT BACK IN SERVICE BEFORE NEXT YEAR
The latest information obtained from the Ministry of Works and Transport about the hugely important lake ferry connecting Entebbe with the Ssese Islands, is that it will now take till new year before the vessel can return to service. Repairs took longer than anticipated – is the official tenor – but generally the public blames the mess on incompetent management and bureaucratic procurement rules, which hindered a swift conclusion of the overdue maintenance.
The latest twist in fact now is that the ministry is seeking a new concessionaire, and new maintenance arrangements, clearly expressing what the public knew for long, that the present deal was not working out and new ‘blood’ was needed to turn the fortunes of the ferry operation around.
This correspondent has for long, and initially against howls of outrage, suggested that the initially given repair dates and return to service forecasts were phantastically out of range and probably only meant to string the unsuspecting public along, until it became clear for all to see what was going on.
Lake travellers, in particular the ones wishing to go to the islands over the holidays, may therefore still need to take the far less lake canoes or else travel via Masaka and the Butagata ferry crossing.
AVIATION AGREEMENTS WITH UAE AND OTHER GULF STATES ‘ONESIDED’
African aviation sources have in communications with this correspondent pointed out that the ongoing rollout by Emirates in particular was not necessarily in the best interest of the affected, or as others would say ‘benefitting’ countries. Reasons were advanced that open sky agreements, which give Gulf, and other global carriers almost unrestricted access to key African countries, was a likely cause for national or regional aviation sectors not to develop as fast and as successfully as they should, because key routes were being taken over by foreign, non African airlines at the expense of such carriers as Ethiopian, Kenya Airways, South African Airways, Air Mauritius and Air Seychelles. Few observers in fact disagree with the sentiment, as the ‘battle for the African skies’ has moved from the primary competition between the mentioned leading African airlines to a dual competition, between themselves and their respective alliance backers on one side and Gulf based airlines on the other, with the latter – according to some – running away with a growing market share.
Few could argue that service levels, on the ground, in flight or in terms of new aircraft, is now a major factor, considering the orders and deliveries of new aircraft in place for Kenya Airways and Ethiopian, in comparison with Qatar Airways and Emirates for instance, but pricing levels and connectivity through the respective hubs are now playing an increasingly important role, and it is there that African airlines simply cannot offer a global network, as yet at least, compared to the Gulf based mega airlines. It is here in particular that ‘siphoning of traffic’ is most pronounced and most damaging. Watch this space.
EGYPT AIR WIDENS REACH TO JAPAN
Last week information was received that Egypt Air has operationalised a code share agreement for their 10 weekly flights between Cairo, Tokyo and Osaka with ANA, Japan’s successful international airline. Both being members of the global Star Alliance, the two carriers of course – as all other Star members – always seek to find synergy effects to save cost, and have clearly found it by code sharing on this route.
Information availed to this correspondent also tells the story that Egypt Air will be able to put their own flight numbers on ANA domestic services beyond Tokyo and Osaka while ANA in turn is expected to benefit in turn for flights into the MK network beyond Cairo, in particular into Africa.
Egypt Air presently flies 3 times a week between Entebbe and Cairo but is also planning to increase this number next year. Nairobi and Dar es Salaam are the other Egypt Air destinations in the region.
ETHIOPIAN CODESHARES WITH STAR ALLIANCE PARTNER AIR CHINA
Star Alliance partner airline Air China and Star Alliance applicant Ethiopian Airlines have signed an extensive code share agreement, which will benefit travellers on ET from all over Eastern Africa to their Chinese destinations Beijing and Guangzhou. The two routes have a total of 14 weekly flights at present, operated by Ethiopian Airlines, and Air China is now offering a range of mainland destinations beyond these two airports for the convenience of passengers connecting to their final destination under one ticket.
It was not immediately clear which African destinations Air China can now access in turn, but it is expected that the Africa network of Ethiopian is ‘open’ to them as a reciprocal measure, which would be good news for the East African tourism sectors as more Chinese visitors can now travel here with greater ease. Watch this space for breaking news (on Twitter via @whthome) from the Eastern African and Indian Ocean aviation sectors.
FLY 540 TAKES OVER EAST AFRICAN SAFARI AIR EXPRESS
The owners of EASAX, the first victim of the escalating fare war in Kenya, had a soft landing, when – following the initial wet-lease of their DC9 aircraft by Fly 540 – the region’s first low cost carrier put in an offer to buy EASAX lock stock and barrel. The transaction took place late last week, too late for the conventional media to pick it up and report about it. There are inevitably open questions, like if EASAX will be ‘integrated’ into the Fly 540 set up, or for the time being operated as a separate airline, but one thing is already clear that the move triggered intense speculation over the resumption of flights on the EASAX network, especially those to Juba, where Fly 540 is notably absent and to Hargeisa, which EASAX had already commenced again early last week as reported here, probably in the knowledge of new owners with deeper pockets coming ‘on board’.
This acquisition at first look seems to strengthen Fly 540’s market position, as the market has confidence in them as to their ability to weather intense competition, as witnessed in recent months when in particular Kenya Airways aggressively moved back into the domestic market, for long a domain of Fly 540, Jetlink and EASAX. However, Fly 540, having survived the first difficult years and now being present across Eastern Africa, is run by financially and operationally shrewd individuals who will be watching their bottom lines while undoubtedly taking instant advantage of such opportunities as and when they arise. Happy landings in any case, under the Fly 540 trademark ‘orange’ or the tail fin cheetah of EASAX.
KENYA AIRWAYS TAKES DELIVERY OF THEIR FIRST EMBRAER 190
Last week, as the airline launched their new, codeshared with Alitalia destinations Rome and Malindi, did KQ receive their first new Embraer 190 aircraft under a dry lease arrangement entered into with a US leasing company. The airline had previously purchased Embraer jets of the 170 type and now opted for the slightly larger 190’s, of which additional aircraft will arrive in Nairobi in due course. Kenya Airways is in a tight race with close rival Ethiopian Airlines to ‘connect Africa’ via their home hub in Nairobi, while ET is doing the same via Addis Ababa. As both airlines belong to different global alliance partners, KQ is now a member of SkyTeam while ET is ‘applicant’ to join industry leader Star Alliance in 2011, their successes are crucial for their code share and alliance partners, to cover Africa extensively.
Network expansion and increased frequencies however depend on having a reliable, cost effective and young fleet of aircraft available and while Ethiopian is regularly adding more B737-800’s fresh from Boeing’s production line, Kenya Airways has opted to use more Embraers, which can be deployed to airports with shorter runways, like Malindi, Kisumu and others, or on regional routes where the traffic demand does not justify the use of the larger Boeing 737’s. Watch this space for regular updates from East Africa’s aviation sector.
AIR ARABIA TOO TALKS OF MORE FLIGHTS
The Sharjah / UAE based low cost airline, presently operating 4 flights a week between Sharjah and Nairobi, has just celebrated the conclusion of their second year of operation between the UAE and Kenya. On the occasion it was confirmed that from mid March 2011 onwards, the airline would add a fifth frequency between the two airports, as a result of risen loadfactors and a strong increase anticipated in demand. The airline was cautious in giving details of their passenger mix but it is thought that besides ‘expatriate’ Kenyans working in the UAE – always keen to get the best deal for their tickets – a growing number of passengers now originates from the UAE coming to Kenya on a vacation or on business, and that the constantly low fares, compared to the traditional full service carriers flying between Kenya and the UAE, had a major bearing on this. Well done anyway and many more happy landings to Air Arabia.
QATAR AIRWAYS IN NEW TERMINAL – AT LAST
Information was received that over the weekend the new arrivals terminal at the Doha International Airport was made operational and that all flights from East Africa to Doha / Qatar are now ‘landing’ there. In the past there has been some discontent over the facilities in Doha, which some travellers have described as ‘inadequate, considering the service levels of Qatar Airways’ and although a new mega airport will become operational in 2012, the airport authorities have obviously listened to the feedback they got. Competition of other airports in the Gulf area, especially the upcoming brand new mega airport in Dubai, may also have played a role to take some intermediate measures for the next two years, before a state of the art brand new airport can then hold its own against the other countries in the Gulf. After all, with Qatar claiming to be a 5 star airline, facilities on the ground too have to match this claim to quality, or else all efforts are in vain if one of the links in the value chain lets all others down.
BRIATORE TO BRING SARDINIAN RESORT AND SPA CONCEPT TO MALINDI
Disgraced former F1 team chief of Renault Racing, Flavio Briatore, appears set to invest megabucks in the Kenyan coastal resort town of Malindi, not far from the Malindi Marine Park, according to information received over the weekend. Planning for a top of the range resort complex seem ready to start construction at the end of quarter one next year, and the investment is, at least according to Kenyan media report, worth some 500 million Euros or at present rates over 650 million US Dollars, an extraordinary investment by any standards and certainly for Eastern Africa.
Briatore’s Malindi Spa recently was declared ‘best in the Africa’ by a leading travel and leisure magazine and has immediately brought the global spotlight back to the destination.
Briatore reportedly also owns a similar complex to the one now planned in Malindi on the Mediterranean island of Sardinia – home of the ‘Costa Smeralda’, a retreat for the very rich and very famous – and he is expected to bring many architectural and conceptual ideas to the Kenyan coast from there.
The recent start of flights by Kenya Airways between Rome and Nairobi, and onward to Malindi on their new Embraer 170 aircraft, will boost the planned investment as it offers Italian tourists instant connectivity when coming from Rome and wanting to take a holiday on the Kenyan coast.
KENYA’S TOURISM BUSINESSES COUNTING THE COST OF EUROPE’S WINTER
The flight cancellations and delays from leading European airports have taken their toll on East Africa’s tourism businesses too, as hundreds of passengers failed to leave their home airports to the destinations across the region, like Nairobi, Mombasa, Malindi, Zanzibar, Dar es Salaam, Arusha / JRO, Entebbe and Kigali, where they had booked for a Christmas holiday.
In the other direction were equally hundreds of residents stuck in East Africa, as their flights to Europe could also not take off due to the weather conditions in many parts of the UK and mainland Europe, for many taking away a chance to fly ‘home’ to see their families over the holidays. The situation is as of Tuesday very slowly returning to ‘normal’ but a backlog of passengers on both sides may have to wait for days to reach their final destination, as flights ahead of Christmas are normally quite full already, leaving only limited space to accommodate passengers stranded by the icy weather conditions.
It is here that a travel insurance, covering such risks, comes in not only handy but is absolutely required, as the passengers – while maybe not reaching their planned holiday destination – at least are not out of pocket and get refunds for hotels, resorts, flights and other pre-paid arrangements covered by an adequate policy from a reputable travel insurance company. Commiseration of course to all those who missed their visit to Eastern Africa’s beaches and national parks – and do try come again when the weather is better.
BLACK RHINO KILLED IN SERENGETI AFTER COSTLY RELOCATION
The Tanzanian government has come under severe criticism when news emerged that one of the five Eastern Black Rhinos brought from South Africa earlier in the year, has been found dead with the horns removed by poachers. The news were greeted with dismay amongst conservationists from around the world, especially those dealing with the conservation of the rhinos in particular.
The five rhinos, a further nearly 30 are due to follow, were received with much fanfare and a huge PR campaign, and President Kikwete himself had travelled to the Serengeti to witness to offloading of the five rare rhinos from the aircraft upon arrival from South Africa. The entire exercise is expected to run into the hundreds of thousands of US Dollars in cost, to capture the animals in South Africa and then fly them in batches of 5 or 6 a time to Tanzania, with money coming from the Tanzanian government, donors and development partners, who had hoped to restore the rhinos to their original habitat.
Meanwhile though, plans by Kikwete, to build a highway across the migration routes of the Serengeti have created a global coalition against these plans, with key world bodies like UNESCO, AWF, WWF and others demanding that this plan be halted and the highway routed elsewhere. The Serengeti’s UNESCO World Heritage Status is subsequently now in danger, and Tanzania’s reputation as a conservation nation, has received deep dents and scratches abroad – especially in the crucially important countries where the tourists to Tanzania come from – over not just these plans but other mis-steps too.
During the last CITES conference in Doha did Tanzania apply to sell dozens of tons of ivory, a request refused and rejected by the forum, but instead of learning lessons from the ‘njet’ of the delegates at the CITES conference the former tourism minister and her mouthpieces cried foul, blamed some of their neighbouring countries for having ‘spearheaded an anti Tanzania campaign’ and vowed to submit a fresh application to CITES for the next global meeting. It was also learned recently that the Tanzanian customs department is trying to circumvent the CITES regulations and the expressed ban by auctioning off confiscated ivory, claiming only ‘raw’ tusks were falling under the ban but not ‘processed or semiprocessed pieces’. This has already been challenged by conservationists and their legal teams, pointing out that besides CITES other global regulation apply, which make shipping and exporting or importing such ivory illegal and subject to potential criminal charges, besides confiscation at the destination.
The slaughter of one of the rare rhinos also exposed glaring gaps in the protective mechanisms of TANAPA and other security agencies, as the animals, equipped with satellite beacons, are to have protection details nearby around the clock, and further translocations of rhinos may now well be held back, until Tanzania – already under fire for a lack of anti poaching and anti smuggling efforts in general – can show cause that they are both capable of providing budgets and manpower but also politically willing to ‘toe the line’.
It was also learned that sources in Germany are now asking questions about the donation of 2 million Euro worth of funding and equipment for TANAPA by the Frankfurt Zoological Society earlier this year, aimed to prevent exactly such slaughter by poachers, and TANAPA officials will have to answer precisely what measures they had put into place to protect the five Eastern Black Rhinos and ensure their survival, and where their plans and efforts failed and how the donated funds were spent.
One thing is for certain though, while we bemoan on an almost daily basis the ongoing massacres on rhinos and wildlife in general in Southern Africa, this was also a black day for the entire conservation fraternity in Eastern Africa.
MT. MERU HOTEL RE-OPENS IN GRAND CEREMONY
President Kikwete last weekend opened the Mt. Meru Hotel during a grand ceremony witnessed by owners, management, staff, the invited tourism fraternity, the business community and members of the diplomatic corps from Arusha and beyond. The hotel was closed for several years, following a change of ownership, to allow for a whopping 24 million US Dollar expansion, modernization and complete refurbishment of the once very popular hotel, which has housed many prominent visitors in past years. The Mt. Meru now features, according to the report from Arusha, 178 rooms and suites, including a Presidential Suite, and a range of restaurants, bars, meeting facilities and leisure options through the pool an health club.
While undoubtedly facing a stiffer competition within Arusha municipality, the location of the Mt. Meru, adjoining the golf course on one side and the main highway between Arusha to the international airport and Moshi on the other, and the vicinity to the International Conference Centre which is only a short drive away, will undoubtedly assist the hotel to recapture its former market share, but overall growing business and safari traffic will also cushion the impact of a ‘new’ hotel to all the others which over the years have sprung up or existing ones which have refurbished and renovated to stay on top of the ‘game’.
Fireworks illuminated the sky over Arusha for nearly 15 minutes in the evening, celebrating the re-opening of what used to be a landmark hotel and hopes to return to that status once its claims to be a five star hotel have been proven correct and accepted by patrons. Well done in any case and all the best in coming months and years.
ZANZIBAR ‘UPSET’ OVER MOU BETWEEN SEYCHELLES AND TANZANIA
There was bemusement as well as anger following Zanzibar’s complaints to the central government, objecting to a Memorandum of Understanding between the Seychelles government and its counterparts in what is commonly called the ‘United Republic of Tanzania’. However, the complaints, ostensibly over fears and subsequent allegations of losing beach vacation business to the Seychelles, showed little sign of ‘unity’ amongst the eternal protagonists, leaving regional observers bewildered to a point of asking ‘who is in charge of what there’.
The Seychelles have for a while now successfully promoted twin centre holidays and signed similar MoU’s with Kenya, South Africa and others, to have tourists vacationing in the Seychelles also consider extending their holiday and take a safari in East or South Africa.
While discussing the agreement recently in Dar es Salaam, aviation representatives were also looking at the establishment of direct flights between Tanzania and the Seychelles, presently only connected with the African continent via Kenya Airways and South African Airways (there are also of course flights between Mahe and Mauritius and La Reunion, two equally famous Indian Ocean island destinations). It is understood that Precision Air is considering to fly between Dar and Mahe, although the outbursts from Zanzibari tourism representatives are clearly not helpful to accomplish this – in the process leaving yet more room for complaints from different quarters that ‘only Kenya Airways via Nairobi’ offers such flights while bickering and individual misjudgements and greed prevent a greater integration of Tanzania tourism into the wider region.
Tourism observers, analysts and journalists dealing with travel topics however have dismissed the anger by Zanzibar as ‘out of line’ as well as ‘missing the point’, as the Seychelles offer a vastly different product from Zanzibar, or the mainland beaches, while also pointing at African Union efforts, SADC efforts – to which both countries belong – and other continental bodies to increase trade and travel between African countries. Said one journalist in regular contact with this correspondent: ‘I fail to see how an MoU, or flights between Tanzania and Seychelles, could damage Zanzibar tourism. The destinations complement each other, in fact can gain from such agreements as it is seen in the case of South Africa for instance. There the two have even extended their joint promotions into South America for the benefit of both destinations. Zanzibar, instead of seeing opportunities and taking advantage of them, is forming the proverbial ‘lager’ and whipping up emotions. Do my fellow Africans ever learn that we are now living and working in a global environment, and unless we cooperate and work hand in hand, it will be other continents taking the lion’s share of future travel. Already now Africa is the least travelled continent, and this we must change so as to tap into the travel budgets of Europeans, North Americans and affluent Asian nations – not make a public spectacle over inter African cooperation. If those complaining need culprits and someone to blame, let them start by assessing their product and markets first, see where Tanzania can improve and do better and not rush to judgement over cooperation African should be proud of.’ Harsh words but quite to the point.
AIR MAURITIUS GETS NEW AIRCRAFT
Information was received last week that Air Mauritius has taken delivery of a French built state of the art ATR 72-500 aircraft, which will be deployed on their network with immediate effect. It is the third such aircraft Air Mauritius is now operating on shorter routes out of their home base of Port Louis, where the use of their wide bodied jet aircraft is not financially viable but where demand for air travel nevertheless exists.
22 YEARS IN JAIL FOR OCEAN TERRORISTS
The High Court in Victoria last weekend sentenced 9 captured Somali pirates to 22 years in prison for their various offences, after finding them guilty on all charges. It is understood that the convicts will be deported back to Somalia after serving their sentence. The court’s verdict was greeted with satisfaction amongst observers in court from the naval coalition, but also by their victims who were freed through a determined and robust reaction by the Seychellois coast guard, which tracked the pirates’ vessels, cornered them and engaged them, after being first fired upon by the hapless criminals. From around the Indian Ocean similar voices were recorded, all expressing their gratitude to the Seychelles’ naval forces, the naval coalition which provided tracking and surveillance support and the archipelago’s court system, which ignored the empty threats made from the pirates safe havens in Somalia and handed down hefty sentences.
The country’s determined efforts in this regard, recently bolstered by donations of navy patrol boats from India and the United Arab Emirates, were also not lost on key tourism ‘producer’ countries, as tourists coming from Europe and the Middle East have confidence that all humanly possible is actually being done by the Seychelles, at times in stark contrast with other countries which seem to believe more in talk than action.
Southern Sudan News
BOMBS AND THREATS AHEAD OF JANUARY INDEPENDENCE VOTE
Sources from the United Nations based in Southern Sudan have last week confirmed that the Northern regime in Khartoum’s airforce has indeed bombed parts of the semi autonomous territory, where residents are seeking independence of the slave like conditions imposed on them by their oppressors for too long.
It is not clear what the Antonov bomber aircraft were aiming for, or if they were only testing the Southern air defence system, or if – as on source in Juba speculated, they were destined for Darfur and completely lost their way enroute. However, what is troubling are the other ‘measures’ the regime is currently using, including court challenges by puppet organizations against the referendum commission, all aimed at delaying and obstructing the orderly conduct of the poll.
Militias thought to be on Khartoum’s payroll too have reared their ugly heads again as the Southern army is keeping a close watch on their activities to prevent any wider outbreak of violence, which might put the referendum on the 09th of January in doubt.
Information from Juba also tells the story of over 95 percent of the eligible voters having registered by the time the deadline had arrived last week, a further indicator how determined the ‘Southerners’ are to get their long awaited independence and form their own country free of the slavish conditions imposed on them as lower grade African citizens of the united Sudan.
Khartoum has since the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, in short CPA in Kenya in January of 2005 done little if anything to provide the Southern population with incentives to stay in the union, has allegedly stolen hundreds of millions of dollars in oil revenue due to the South and obstinately delayed and obstructed discussions on a formal separation over issues of water, oil, assets and debts while outright hindering the holding of separate referenda in places like Abyei and two other regions, which are also due to decide if they wish to belong to the South or remain in a Northern Sudan known to be hostile to all things African.
On a positive note though, the head of defence forces in Uganda, as have leading politicians in the East African region, left little doubt that they would back the Southern Sudan, should renewed conflict be initiated by Khartoum, for sure raising the stakes for the hardliners in the North who have their eyes on the oilfields in the South Sudan and want nothing better than get their hands on those too. Watch this space as the clock ticks down towards the January 09th referendum day.