Tourism News from the Eastern African and Indian Ocean region, Third edition January 2011

TOURISM NEWS from the Eastern African and Indian Ocean region

Third edition January 2011

Reports, Travel Stories and Opinions

By Prof. Dr. Wolfgang H. Thome

Twitter: @whthome

Blog: www.wolfganghthome.wordpress.com

Third edition January 2011

Uganda News

BRUSSELS AIRLINES CARRIES MORE TRAFFIC IN 2010

Inspite of the problems in 2010 with the Icelandic ash cloud and the severe winter snow storms in December has the Belgian national airline carried overall 4.4 percent more traffic for the past year. Codeshared flights into Entebbe / Uganda, and in fact into the wider region to airports like to Bujumbura, Kigali and Nairobi, with major shareholder Lufthansa too has added to the attraction of passengers to fly with SN and it paid off handsomely as Ugandan traffic, originating here, also grew. Brussels Airlines flies daily into the East African region and their unique operating method, covering two destinations at a go, gives their passengers ‘options’, since ‘local’ code share arrangements, like on Air Uganda between Juba and Entebbe or Entebbe and Nairobi allow them to fly with their favourite airline daily, to Brussels and beyond. It is also understood that principal agreement has been reached to add at least one more A330 to the SN fleet this year, allowing the airline to expand their frequencies into both West and East Africa and in the process cementing Star Alliance’s market leadership in global destinations, numbers of flights and passengers. The same source also confirmed that Africa will remain for the foreseeable future the only long haul continent for SN, as the company prefers to have for instance flights to North America operated by their Star Alliance code share partners to their mutual benefit. Said the source on condition of anonymity: ‘we know Africa very well and have a big market share as a result of the rapport with travellers, companies and travel agents we built over decades, first as Sabena and now as Brussels Airlines. I believe our company chose to do what we know best, and that is to fly to Africa and give our international partners many destinations across the continent. In turn, they operate code shared flights with us to North America and other parts of the world, where they have strengths, and in the end it works out best for our passengers and the airlines involved’.

BAT UGANDA STORAGE GOES UP IN SMOKE

The anti smoking crusade in the country took an ironic turn last Friday, when one of the main BAT Uganda storage facilities in the Nakawa Industrial Area went up in the proverbial smoke. The warehouse reportedly caught fire after a power outage, as sparks were reportedly seen flying after the electricity supply was eventually restored, and an investigation is now underway to establish the precise location where the fire started, attempting to find clues, or ascertain if spontaneous combustion could have been responsible. Over 2 million kilograms of processed tobacco leaves were destroyed in the fire, the first major fire of this year, and BAT’s spokesperson pegged the damage to over 10 million US Dollars. Huge smoke columns were seen from across the city and anti tobacco and anti smoking crusaders have already sarcastically mentioned to this correspondent that ‘for the health of our fellow Ugandans it is better to see tobacco go up in smoke like this than being smoked by people and making them ill’. Meanwhile have calls re-emerged to boost the capacity of the fire brigade and establish hydrants at strategic points across the city and the industrial area, to allow instant supply of water, something which, according to media reports, ran out soon after the dousing had started … ooops …

SHILLING CONTINUES TO SLIDE

The Uganda Shilling reached new lows yesterday afternoon when end of day trading pushed the local currency to 2.380 / 2.390 versus one US Dollar. Tourist visitors are welcoming the trend as their hard currency buys them considerably more curios, mementos and even ‘beers’, but the locals are getting increasingly worried over the effect the creeping devaluation is having on the cost of imports, especially fuel. Petrol prices are now back in the 3.100 Ushs range per litre, driving prices of food up also as the transportation cost keeps escalating, but traders of other commodities have already indicated that the next batch of landed goods will increase in price as a result. One banker this correspondent consulted overnight indicated that companies in particular have been active in buying US Dollars to pay end year dividends, make scheduled loan repayments but was hesitant to point to the upcoming elections as one of the added causes. Another banker was more frank in this regard claiming that recent events in Tunisia, hitherto considered a stable country, may have prompted financial investors to clear their positions in local financial instruments and was swift to point to a fallout across much of the continent where similar trends in recent days were recorded. A reliable political source however rubbished this and pointed to the disparity of import spending and export earnings, claiming ‘when our oil hits the markets next year we will have one of the strongest currencies in the region’. Wait and see.

Kenya News

SPIRIT OF ADVENTURE GETS MORE THAN THEY BARGAINED FOR

The cruiseliner ‘Spirit of Adventure’ had some unexpected adventure of its own last week, when being approached on the open ocean by pirates, while enroute to the Indian Ocean port city of Mombasa in Kenya. The ocean terrorists however failed to get near enough to the cruiseliner to pose a serious threat, as the crew successfully outmanoeuvred them and made a swift getaway into safer waters, using evasive manoeuvring. Some of the several hundred passengers on arrival in Mombasa however did tell the local media that they were told to ‘duck down’, good advice considering that the pirates often shower ships from the distance with machine gun fire and even use rocket propelled grenades in order to make ships stop, a clear sign that they are willing to risk casualties in their criminal pursuits. The incident was kept low key in the local media, and not yet made its way widely into major international media either, as the cruise company was reportedly trying to keep such unwelcome news under wraps. It would admittedly be a nightmare scenario, often referred to by the way in articles here, had the pirates managed to get hold of the cruiseliner, a priceless bounty worth tens of millions of US Dollars if not more – and should it ever happen the ultimate wakeup call for governments trying to ‘wish the problem away’ instead of tackling it with enough determination and resources. The Indian Ocean ports of Mombasa, Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar but also the island countries have in the recent past lost substantial numbers of port calls from the major cruise companies, many of which have in fact cancelled long standing arrangements and relocated their ships to ‘safer’ waters in the Caribbean or the South Pacific, leaving only a few to still include for instance Mombasa in their itineraries. In fact, pirates have now expanded their area of operation to as far South as Madagascar, and only last week were 6 of them captured who landed in Tanzania, either out of sheer audacity or for being stupid enough to think they can land, buy food and water and then return to the ocean to continue their ‘hunt’ for ships and yachts. Thankfully residents of a fishing village spotted them and called in police and other security organs which then arrested the pirates and charged them in court for illegal entry and possession of assorted arms and ammunition. A related article refers separately to this development. The resulting loss of revenue, for ports, suppliers and tourism businesses, is estimated to be massive – there is talk of tens of millions of US Dollars across the region – adding pressure on the respective governments to do substantially more to secure the sea lanes and have cargo and passenger ships once more enjoy safe passage. Notable exception here is the Seychelles, which has over the past year or two substantially boosted their surveillance and patrol abilities, and has put their new coast guard vessels and aircraft to immediate good use. On several occasions they have now already robustly responded to distress calls and freed crews and ships captured by the ocean terrorists, arrested the pirates, tried them in court and jailed them for twenty and more years. However, other ‘regular’ members of the naval coalition, inspite of having arguably enough surface ships and aerial support in the area now, are considered weak in their responses and lack robust rules of engagement which allow them to react harshly when spotting small boats on the open ocean, looking like pirate skiffs, acting like pirate skiffs and for all practical purpose being pirate skiffs, and the pirates subsequently often get away to continue their bloody handiwork. Navies of several countries seemingly lack the ability of their commanders on site to take appropriate decisions, which for instance let to the capture of the Chandlers while a British navy ship stood nearby awaiting orders from above, instead of leaving it to the crews to deal with the ocean terrorists ‘Seychelles style’. Hence, while the Seychelles are to be congratulated for their determined no nonsense approach in safeguarding her territorial waters, other East African countries need to follow suit now and equally boost their naval capacity and engage pirates found loitering off their shores to at last secure the sea lanes once again and allow safe passage for cargo and passenger ships. Until that happens, cruise ships and cargo vessels remain ‘prey’ for the ocean terrorists and the sea lanes will remain unsafe and insecure, adding cost to our imports and exports and loosing the East African economies mega bucks in lost tourist dollars.

FLY 540 ROCKS MARKET WITH NEW ‘LOWEST’ FARES

The ongoing battle for aviation supremacy on the Kenyan domestic routes has just gotten a notch hotter again, as Fly 540 yesterday announced that they were to reduce, with immediate effect, their fares between Nairobi and Mombasa to only 6.540 Kenya Shillings, return and all inclusive. Although Kenya Airways has a stand by fare of 3.000/- KShs one way on offer, the Fly 540 fare arguably beats it as the bookings are confirmed and no one runs the risk of having to wait for the next flight just because an earlier one was fully booked. After the high season of Christmas and New Year holidays is now well and truly over, capacity on the route from Nairobi to the coast appears to be on the high side, resulting in the short term either in reduction of flights or the use of smaller aircraft, or else attempting to keep the interest in travel high by offering special fares. The ‘safari airlines’ too are operating to the coast but have ‘smarter’ options by flying from Wilson Airport in Nairobi to such places like Lamu or Ukunda, where Kenya Airways’ jets cannot land – a niche market which also attracts higher fares compared to the ‘milk run’ between Nairobi and Mombasa directly. East African Safari Air express already succumbed to the intensified competition in quarter 4 last year, when the airline, after a brief suspension of services, was reportedly taken over by Fly 540, itself on a determined expansion drive across the African continent but especially in the Eastern African region, where they have established bases in Uganda and Tanzania too. Aviation observers have voiced their concern, that the ongoing fare levels are hard to financially sustain, unless flights are operating with near full capacity, and there is intense speculation over how Kenya Airways and Jetlink, the other two main competitors of Fly 540, will react in coming days to the gauntlet Fly 540 has just thrown down. KQ in particular has in recent months rolled out a marketing offensive to recapture previously lost market share on Kenya’s domestic routes to for instance Malindi, Kisumu and Mombasa and is hardly likely to just roll over and give up what they just managed to claw back. Fodder for thought and watch this space, where news from the Eastern African aviation scene regularly break.

FLY 540 ADD NEW DAR / MWANZA SERVICE

The regionally leading LCC (low cost carrier) has just announced the commencement of an additional flight between Kenya to Tanzania, routing from Nairobi via Dar es Salaam and then on to Mwanza, before returning in reverse order. All sectors have full traffic rights it was pointed out, allowing passengers to board in Dar for Mwanza, or from Mwanza for Nairobi for that matter. The aircraft used for the service is the CRJ 200 painted in their trade mark orange colour, and the flight leaves Nairobi just after 9 a.m. before returning in the late afternoon again to base. The new routing will bring added competition on the route from Nairobi to Tanzania’s commercial capital and Indian Ocean port city but also offer passengers on domestic routes another option to fly from the coast to Mwanza or vice versa.

JUBA ROUTE PROVIDES HIGHEST YIELD

The average cost of US Dollars 500 for a return flight between Nairobi and Juba, almost double of commonly charged fares between Nairobi and Entebbe for instance, is a prized and treasured cash bonus for airlines flying on the route, like Kenya Airways, Jetlink or Fly540/EASAX. With returns on domestic fares in Kenya greatly reduced, as a result of increased capacity and competitive fare wars presently witnessed on the route to Mombasa, the yield on the Juba route is reassuring to the operators raking in the cash. Those carriers operating to Juba have quietly, and needless to say off the record expressed their delight that the demand on the route for passengers and loose cargo has allowed the airlines to keep their fares high, which in turn contribute substantially to their financial bottom lines, in fact making up for the sharply reduced revenues per passenger on their Kenyan domestic routes between Nairobi, Mombasa, Malindi and Kisumu. Jetlink, one of Kenya’s leading private airlines, has in fact jumped ahead of the pack over the past weeks with the introduction of a third daily flight between Nairobi and Juba, and the market has responded very well according to a source by filling that flight too, often to capacity. Jetlink was the only Kenyan airline to fly twice a day to Juba, using their CRJ 200 aircraft, and the third frequency has exceeded their own expectations. Launched ahead of the holiday period the airline is expected to make a windfall from the travel boom, stemming from ‘referendum travel’ when many Southern Sudanese actually returned ‘home’ to cast their vote for independence, but there is some speculation that the third flight, after the ‘rush’ is over, may be halted again, unless passenger numbers remain high and business and ‘political’ traffic continues to grown. Watch this space for up todate news from East Africa’s aviation sector.

ANTI ALCOHOL LAW IMPLEMENTATION HALTED BY COURT

 The new Kenyan ‘anti drinking laws’, which already led to the arrest of many, has been put on halt when the High Court in Nairobi ruled for an injunction, following an application by bar owners. The tourism industry’s hospitality sector too had vehemently objected to clauses in the new law regarding licensing provisions and opening hours, saying it was not viable for city hotels, beach resorts and safari lodges to follow such a law, and demanded a revision of such regulations thought to be counterproductive. It is not known if in fact any tourists have been arrested over the last few weeks, since the law took effect, but any such arrest, quoting a senior tourism stakeholder ‘would send the wrong message to overseas tourist who come to our beaches and want to have fun, and not be told by overzealous enforcers that they can only have fun during certain times’. In ‘the old days’ bars were only allowed to open between 11 am and 2 pm on workdays, and then again from 5 pm till 11 pm – making the barman’s call ‘last order’ famous and causing the closing time ‘rush’ before the bar had to be shut, but allowing patrons to consume drinks ordered before closing time. Those rules however were found to limit operations of major hotels and resorts where tourists often like to party into the wee hours of the morning, and eventually the law was changed before crusading politicians once again managed to ambush the public when they passed a new law last year. Hospitality businesses claim little if any consultations were held with them while the law was drafted and for that reason alone it must be revisited – but for now it is in the High Court awaiting ‘judgement’ on the various complaints lodged against it already. For tourist visitors in particular now is the time to have a drink, any time of the day, before the new law possibly springs back to life.

WATER DISPUTE AMONGST SUPPLIERS CUTS COASTAL RESORTS OFF

The Water Resources Management Authority was last weekend accused of robber baron methods, arrogance and – at least by some quarters – of ‘near criminal misconduct’, when they cut off the water supply of the Coastal Water Board. As a result, and as seen the week before along a section of the South Coast already, beach resorts were suddenly off water supply, inspite of most being up todate with their water bills. The area affected was said to spread from Mtwapa Creek to Malindi, a stretch of 100 kilometres and dozens of beach resorts. Said one regular source from Mombasa in a message to this correspondent: ‘what do we care if there are disputes between two water supply bodies. We for sure are paid up and a quick survey amongst fellow managers tells me they too have paid their water and electricity bills. Taking the argument between the two water bodies into the public domain, and in the process interrupting water supplies for hotels and resorts, especially when we are all having almost full occupancy along the coast, is a very callous and irresponsible act and those responsible should be charged in court. How about hospitals, businesses and residential areas, none have water – do those responsible know that people can die without water, and yet they paid bills on time. Only last week they did the same at the lower south coast and the results were very bad for those affected and now they are doing worse for a bigger area. This is a national shame and when I wonder will parastatals ever know and learn they are there to SERVE and not to RULE’.

DESIGN WORK ON NEW SOUTH COAST HIGHWAY SANCTIONED BY KENYA GOVERNMENT

It is understood from a regular source in Mombasa that the Kenyan government has now finally given the green light to proceed with the design work and pre-planning for the long awaited ‘South Coast Highway’. The new road will be making the time consuming and unreliable journeys through the city and by ferry across the Likoni channel redundant, and will directly link the main highway from Nairobi to Mombasa, and the Moi International Airport in Mombasa from the ‘starting point’ at Miritini to the coastal resorts along the famous Diani Beach, Ukunda and the rest of the beaches enroute to the Tanzanian border. A ‘branch’ is expected to open up the port of Mombasa with a direct link, giving added convenience also to users of Kenya’s and in fact East Africa’s biggest harbour. It will bring relief for companies delivering goods to the South Coast, or sending agricultural produce to the markets from there, and in particular the tourism industry has already expressed relief that the project is now gathering momentum. As a side effect journeys with the ferry will become somewhat easier for commuters, as long as the ferries are actually operating without a hitch that is as service disruptions in the past have caused pure havoc with the crossing schedules.

ROAD IMPROVEMENT TO OPEN UP LAKES JIPE / CHALA AND REMOTE TSAVO WEST PARTS

Information received from Mombasa last week indicates that contracts have been signed by the government of Kenya to finally tarmac the road from Voi to Mwatate, crucially important for trade with neighbouring Tanzania but more important for tourism, as it really opens up parts of Tsavo West otherwise not easily accessible. The road from Voi – located about 100 miles from Mombasa and 200 miles from Nairobi – to the Taveta border with Tanzania passes by the private Taita Hills Game Reserve, where two safari lodges operated by Sarova Hotels are located, before leading on to the ‘back portion’ of Tsavo West where Lake Jipe is found, but also Lake Chala (shared with Tanzania across the common border). ‘Grogan’s Castle’, a privately owned and managed and carefully restored ‘colonial style’ villa accommodation too is located in the neighbourhood and will be reachable with greater ease, when the road improvements have been carried out, and undoubtedly more tourists will be able to visit this unique, some say spectacular part of Kenya.

GO TRAVEL! ‘IN A BETTER WORLD’ SCOOPS GOLDEN GLOBE AWARD

A film shot in late 2009 on location in Kenya has during the Golden Globe Award Ceremony been given the highest accolade as ‘best foreign film’, an unexpected honour and boost to Kenya as a tourism destination. The film, portraying the lives of two Danish families, is about the work of one of them in a refugee camp health centre and clinic and will show the back drop of the breathtaking landscapes of the Great Rift Valley which spreads through the entire country but is most spectacular near the chosen location at Elementaita. While time was too short since getting the news to obtain a ‘read’ from the Kenya Tourist Board it is known that the country is trying hard to attract film makers with incentives and special concessions to the country so that ‘Destination Kenya’ can make an impact around the world when such films are shown. Well done!

Tanzania News

SOMALI PIRATES ARRESTED ON TANZANIAN BEACH

Observant villagers alerted police and other security forces when a boat carrying 6 suspected Somali pirates landed nearby their homesteads last week. While the Somalis were trying to bargain for food and water, security operatives arrived and apprehended them, in the process also confiscating a cache of arms on their boat. It has long been alleged that the increase of piracy cases in the Indian Ocean waters off the extensive Tanzanian coast was partly attributed to pirates making landfall in remote parts where they don’t see signs of much human activity, so that they can restock water and food supplies and then return to the ocean to capture yachts, ships and cargo vessels, as they slow down while going into port or else slowly depart from Tanzania. In the past such allegations had been denied by authorities, at times asking media personnel to ‘bring evidence’ or going as far as suggesting such ‘reports’ were anti Tanzanian propaganda, but this recent capture will undoubtedly make future reports more credible and maybe have police take swifter action, should more such boats be spotted to land on Tanzanian territory. The arrest took place last Thursday evening, after the Somalis were first seen in the early afternoon trying to land their boat but struggling with rough waters. After their capture the alleged pirates also claimed a second boat had capsized in rough sea before, likely drowning another 5 while they were out hunting for opportunistic targets to attack, hijack and take back to Somalia for ransom. The 6 arrested men will be produced in court this week and are certainly facing charges for entering the country illegally and being in possession of illegal weapons, while other aspects of the case are being investigated aimed to bring further charges against them. Meanwhile well done to the people spotting them and the security forces for their swift reaction!

HEAVY RAINS BRING TRAIN TRAFFIC INTO CENTRAL TANZANIA TO A HALT

The recent heavy rains in parts of Tanzania, and the resulting damage done to bridges and rail lines, have resulted in traffic from Dar es Salaam into the central part of the country being suspended, at least until 21st of January but longer depending on the weather conditions. Repairs to the damaged Bububu River bridge are being carried out as a matter of urgency and work teams are trying to shore up the bridge to allow trains to pass. With the suspension of rail traffic hundreds of passengers are now reportedly stuck both upcountry as well as in Dar, waiting for trains to resume service, but the offer of full refunds of prepaid tickets has already resulted in many travellers switching to busses to reach their destinations. Would be passengers are advised to check in advance if the route is open for traffic to allow them make alternate travel arrangements. In a related development it was also confirmed that the Tanzanian government has only offered 21 billion Tanzania Shillings in order to reach a settlement with Indian firm RITES compared to the ‘asking price’ of 125 billion TShs. The two partners, government had after a lengthy process selected the Indian firm to manage Tanzania Railways and invest in the company, are clearly on a ‘divorce’ path now and this development is also reminiscent of the saga of Air Tanzania, where government had to come to the rescue to resolve a similar ‘split’ with South African Airways a few years ago, leaving ATCL moribund and financially crippled. However, in aviation at least companies like Precision Air and Fly 540 (T) did step into the breach and offered arguably even better services, but the railways business is different and requires to operate and not go broke or come to a standstill. Strikes by staff in the recent past and the current operational problems due to flooding of key routes have made government’s task not made any easier. This is leaving the Tanzanian government only limited room to manoeuvre in the great bargaining now underway over how much they have to pay to get ‘rid’ of the erstwhile choice partner now turned into a public villain.

CATTLE INVADE SERENGETI

The globally renown national park is just not getting out of the news of late, as more bad stories emerged over a cattle invasion last week. Rangers did impound over 200 heads of cattle being driven into the park by villagers and herdsmen, ostensibly in search of pasture for the livestock, but still in contravention of park rules. Arguments are now said to be ongoing between the cattle owners and SENAPA over the return of the animals which by Tuesday were still being held. The area according to a TANAPA source is however notorious for poaching incursions and it was pointed out to this correspondent that poachers could easily disguise themselves as cattle herders, only to then kill elephant or other protected game under the cover of darkness or when no aerial surveillance was seen nearby, making it necessary to react swiftly and decisively to any sort of illegal entry and intrusion into the park.

Rwanda News

RWANDAIR OFFERS NETWORK WIDE SPECIAL FARE

The Rwandan national airline has just launched a range of special and all inclusive fares from Kigali to their widening range of destinations in the region, across Africa and into the Gulf. Dubai, available it is understood from other East African destinations too when flying with RwandAir via Kigali, sells at 500 US Dollars while for instance Mombasa sells at 299 US Dollars, all taxes and other charges included. Johannesburg sells, until the end of January – extension of the ‘specials’ is considered a possibility – 550 USD per person while all regional destinations are sold at fares which beat the competition by quite a bit, and then some more. Visit http://www.rwandair.com for more details.

RWANDA DEVELOPMENT BOARD SECURES INTERNSHIPS FOR UNIVERSITY STUDENTS

Some 200 students in various fields, including the hospitality and tourism field, have just completed internships with local and international companies, secured for them by the efforts of the Rwanda Development Board’s human resources division. Skills transfer and human resource development rank high on Rwanda’s national agenda and the RDB has in the past supported training – in the tourism and hospitality industry – but also across the economy, so that better standards can be injected into the workplace for the benefit of visitors. It is understood from a source in Kigali that a further 300 students will soon be placed in internships following the success of the pioneer programme.

TRANSBOUNDARY GORILLA PROJECT CHAIR MOVES TO CONGO DR

Earlier this week did the rotational chairmanship of the gorilla conservation project ‘change hands’ as the Ugandan Dr. Andrew Seguya on behalf of the Uganda Wildlife Authority handed over to his colleague from the DRC Cosmas Wilungula. The ceremony did take place in Kigali where the handover was preceded by meetings of technical experts discussing a range of pending issues. Participants came from Uganda, Rwanda and Congo, which cooperate closely in the protection of the prized mountain gorillas whose habitat is spread across the four national parks in the three countries, the Parc de Volcanoes in Western Rwanda, the Parc de Virunga in the Congo DR and both Mt. Mgahinga and Bwindi in Uganda. Management, conservation, research, enforcement and prizing, amongst other areas are now all coordinated between the three wildlife management bodies and this policy of cooperation has yielded good results in past years with the gorilla population actually increasing year by year.

 Ethiopia News

ETHIOPIAN INCREASES COOPERATION WITH LUFTHANSA

 Information received from Addis Ababa indicates that Ethiopian Airlines and Lufthansa last week signed an initial 5 year deal for the introduction and use of LH’s Lido/Take Off Performance Solution into the ET flight operations. Substantial savings are expected to be generated, but this latest ‘deal’ between the two airlines underscores the already existing close cooperation and in fact further intensifies it. Both airlines fly in codes share from Frankfurt ten times a week to Addis Ababa and the Lufthansa flight number then extends to a large and growing number of regional destinations in Eastern, Central and Southern Africa. Towards that end has ET introduced double daily frequencies to key airports to permit seamless connections, both ways, for travellers using the joint flights from and to Frankfurt. It is understood from a Lufthansa source that this close cooperation is in fact showing growing success in terms of passenger numbers and cargo uplifted on the long haul flights and beyond. Ethiopian Airlines will be joining the global industry leader Star Alliance later in 2011 and expects added benefits from becoming a full member of the world’s most far reaching aviation cooperation. Watch this space.

Seychelles News

AIR SEYCHELLES NEW TWIN OTTER ARRIVES IN MAHE

The two week long journey of HM’s latest fleet addition, all the way from the manufacturer’s facility in Western Canada, across this sprawling North American country, via Iceland, Scotland, mainland Europe, the African mainland and finally across the ocean to Mahe International Airport, came to a successful conclusion last weekend. The brand new aircraft of the DHC6-400 type arrived from its last ferry flight segment out of Mombasa / Kenya to a fabulous welcome by Air Seychelles management, staff and invited visitors and will soon commence domestic operations, where it will join three ‘older’ Twin Otters and a ‘Short’ to fly tourists and locals across the archipelago. The addition of the new state of the art aircraft, which includes the very latest avionics suite available for such aircraft on the market, will also allow Air Seychelles to add more frequencies during high demand periods, when seats are in short supply while also allowing one off charters to be contracted when tourist groups, or local business men need to fly to one of the islands for a day or longer. Last year, 2010, was the Seychelles best ever year in tourism arrivals and the new aircraft will undoubtedly be a bonus for HM to meet the growing demand for flights from the international airport to the other tourism islands – often just a 15 to 20 minutes’ hop across the crystal clear ocean, while the ‘scenic’ route with the high speed ferry to for instance Praslin gives arguably more close up views of the scenery but takes considerably longer. The new aircraft will be named Ile de Curieuse in the long tradition of the airline to ‘baptize’ aircraft after the names of the various islands of the archipelago. From us at eTN it is Happy Landings to the new aircraft, crew and future passengers who can enjoy the ‘Creole Spirit’ on board, even if a domestic flight can take as little as 20 minutes.

NEW BUS FLEET LAUNCHED ON MAHE

52 brand new busses were received last weekend in Victoria and formally handed over to SPTC, boosting public transportation across the main island of Mahe. Seychelles Public Transport Corporation provided details on the new TATA built vehicles, which have a seat capacity between 36 and 55 passengers. The new busses will allow to widen the reach of public transport even further, offer more frequencies during morning and evening rush hour and safely bring pupils to school and staff to their work places. It has also been noted that owing to the reasonable cost of a bus ticket, and the frequent stops along tourist routes and ‘sights’, many foreign visitors too use the busses and traverse the island from one end to the other, exploring Mahe on their own.

 Southern Sudan News

REFERENDUM COMPLETED, COUNT UNDERWAY

After millions of eligible voters had cast their votes last week across the vast Southern Sudanese territory, the vote count is now underway. International observers, like former US President Carter, former UN supremo Kofi Annan and a host of others, representing the who is who of human rights, civil liberty and democratic principles organisations came to the Southern Sudan to not just ‘observe’ but form almost a human shield around voting centres to allow the vote proceed in peace. Fears had persisted that Khartoum friendly militias may try to disrupt the voting process, but the large contingent of international and African observers made this well near impossible for them, without causing major international incidents. The East African Community, now getting ready to receive a joining applications from Juba soon after formal independence of the South – expected to be celebrated on 09th of July – had observers there, as did COMESA, IGAD – the inter governmental authority on development – and of course the African Union. The people in the South were happy to make friends with many of them, and already after the first few days was the mandatory minimum of 60 percent participation reached, which eventually ended with percentages reaching well into the 90 percent margin, and few of those, according to well informed sources close to the tallying and counting centres, would have opted to remain in the union with the perceived oppressors from the regime in the North. Formal announcements of the results are only scheduled for early February, but the initial trend is already as clear as can be – a new country will be born in Africa and the decades long struggle of the people of the Southern Sudan for liberties and freedom will at last become reality.

 

And as promised last week Gill’s ‘The Livingstone Weekly’ has re-surfaced, hampered by perennial internet connection problems, from which we are all suffering to varying degrees on a regular basis … I always find it very educating to read Gill’s collection of articles and reports, and many of them are almost a mirror image of what is happening her in Eastern Africa too. I was particularly pleased to read that conservationists carried the day in protecting birding areas in Zambia over what appeared to be exploitative intent by a Chinese company set to swallow up an pristine forest and wilderness area – well done indeed!

Another tax

National Airports has introduced a Security Charge for all passengers at the airport. It is US$5 international and US$3 for domestic flights. Since the introduction of this new charge we are delighted to see, what appears to be, a permanent road block on the airport road, manned by police wearing reflective jackets and checking insurances, licences and vehicle road-worthiness. How nice. And adds yours truly: will this have to be paid in cash (huge potential for fraud) or as in other countries be included in the ticket charge, collected by the airlines and then remitted …

And another tax …

As all Road Licences and Vehicle Insurances have now had VAT added onto them, all vehicle users have seen the cost of running their vehicle go up by 16%. What a shocker … and when will it all end??? It would be so nice to see something come down in price. And here yours truly adds that this might affect the cost of safaris too, so check with your safari operators if there is any change in cost for holidays already booked to Zambia

From one British Travel Website http://www.travelhouseuk.co.uk

The legendry Victoria Falls, the declared seventh wonder of the world and the “smoke that thunders” is the breathtaking natural attraction that we all want an escape to. However, this water shield separates Zambia from Zimbabwe, the two Southern Africa countries known for different kinds of attractions otherwise. This amazing water fall is not only a divide between the countries but also, is a major reason why one country’s tourist boom means decline for the other. Tourist, unfamiliar with African continent also wonder which way is safer, cheaper and more rewarding to see the Victoria Falls, for the falls can be accessed from both Zambia and Zimbabwe. Not only it’s a matter of access but Victoria falls are part of two national parks – Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park in Zambia and Victoria Falls National Park in Zimbabwe. According to Livingstone Tourism Association (LTA) chairperson Kingsley Lilamono “stakeholders in the tourism sector needed to work hard, as Zimbabwe poses a serious challenge to Zambia in 2011” He further added “There are increased numbers of tourists who prefer to stay in Zimbabwe than Zambia” There are many reasons for this Zimbabwean victory, for instance, the basic fare on direct flights to Harare cost 300 GBP Nett excl. taxes with Air Zimbabwe which is the country’s national flagship carrier as well. Air Zimbabwe provides onward flights to Victoria Falls. Whereas, direct flights to Lusaka the capital of Zambia costs around 482 GBP Nett excl. taxes with British Airways that offers nonstop flights from the same departure point as Air Zimbabwe i.e. London. However the comparison is not limited to flights only, accommodation, transfers as well as local transport and Safari or excursions in Zambia in comparison to Zimbabwe are more expensive. Yet, the level of services as well as the quality of excursions, flights, transportation, wild life Safari, Golfing etc offered by Zambia are considered a lot much better than Zimbabwe. As Zimbabwe is still in a transitional phase, whereas Zambia has been focusing on the country’s tourism sector a lot in the past decades. Evaluating all the plus and minus of the above analyses, through Zambia remains the first choice for British Travellers seeking a high quality services, but when it comes getting cheap flights and affordable holiday Zimbabwe gives a tough competition. There are two comments on this article. Firstly the Victoria Falls is actually in one Park – the World Heritage Site. In fact, I was told some time ago that if you pay for entrance on the Zambian side it should give you entrance to Zimbabwean side and vice versa. This of course does not happen and it is an indication of our lack of working together to increase tourism to our region. Wolfgang’s story below about East African countries increasing charges in order to ‘protect’ their businesses from neighbouring countries, is another example of our Zim-Zam problem . In fact, if we all learned to work together we would all increase our incomes. Of course, the other comment on this article is the cost of doing business in Zambia. It comes up almost every week. This month we have seen an increase in vehicle costs and in flight costs. Eventually, of course, Zambia will hike prices so much that it will be totally unable to compete … and be the demise of the tourist industry.

From Zambian Ornithological Society (ZOS)

As many of you have heard a Chinese Timber Logging Company – The Fly Dragon Wood and Lumber Company – had been given a logging concession to take out timber from the Mutulanganga Local Forest Reserve #183. The proposed logging of the forest reserve and open areas would have irrevocably destroyed the key habitats that make Mutulanganga IBA such a unique site of conservation concern. This forest has a large gallery of Mopane trees as well as a significant area of rare Lowland Deciduous Thicket. In addition, the forest also protects the headwaters of the Mutulanganga, Bendele, and Lusitu rivers that flow into the Zambezi River. The forest areas act as protection from the severe impacts of flash floods and gully erosion on infrastructure, agriculture land and surrounding villages. From ZOS’s point of view the Forest Reserve is significant as a regular breeding site for the migratory African Pitta. It is also significant for Long-tailed Cuckoo, Dark-backed Weaver, and Southern Ground Hornbill and notable for Southern Crowned Crane. The area is a wintering site for Palearctic Migrants such as the Thrush-Nightingale, River and Marsh Warblers, and Mottled and Bat-like Spinetails. From WECSZ’s point of view the Mutulanganga Forest helps to protect the Namoomba Elephant Corridor and Dispersal area, and provides sanctuary and foraging areas for the regional Elephant population and other large mammals such as Hippos. The forest is also a significant area of bio diversity which is important to keep intact for Zambia’s future generations. In April, due to lobbying from the Zambian Ornithological Society (ZOS) and the Wildlife and Environmental Society of Zambia (WECSZ) the Environmental Council of Zambia rejected the Environmental Project Brief (EPB) submitted by Fly Dragon Wood and Lumber Company to log the area and asked for a full Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) to be done. This was subsequently presented and in December 2010 it came up for review. Once again ZOS and WECSZ submitted full objections to the project. Our Project Manager – David Ngwenyama – worked hard to get other environmentally minded organisations and NGOs to also raise objections to the planned logging. We heard today that the EIA has been rejected by the Environmental Council and that the Fly Dragon Wood and Lumber Company has been stopped from logging in the Mutulanganga Forest and adjacent area. ZOS would like to especially thank David Ngwenyama, Mike Bingham, Meg Thompson and Adam Pope who have been instrumental in achieving this decision. It is gratifying to know that our voices can be heard. It is now very important that we all continue to work with the Site Support Group in the area to ensure the longevity of both the mopane and the deciduous thicket and assist with alternative income generating activities other than unsustainable cultivation and charcoal burning. Adds yours truly: this is a remarkable story of determined and committed conservationists and NGO’s to stop the destruction of a crucially important bird habitat!

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