Round up of news from Eastern Africa and the Indian Ocean islands, Third edition October 2013

AVIATION, TOURISM AND CONSERVATION NEWS from Eastern Africa and the Indian Ocean islands.

A weekly roundup of breaking news, reports, travel stories and opinions by Prof. Dr. Wolfgang H. Thome

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Third edition October 2013

Uganda News

UGANDA SEIZES BLOOD IVORY READY FOR SHIPMENT TO CHINA

(Posted 18th October 2013)

News received earlier in the week confirmed a major blood ivory seizure by law enforcement officials in Kampala last weekend, when over 800 pieces were found concealed in a container ready for shipment via the Indian Ocean port of Mombasa to China. Said to be worth over 6 billion Uganda Shillings, the catch will financially pain the middlemen of the illicit trade but have cost several hundred elephant their lives. As Uganda itself has relatively low poaching numbers, suspicion is high and investigations therefore concentrate on Uganda being used as a transit country for ivory poached beyond her own borders, likely in Eastern Congo where the slaughter of wildlife continues almost unabated as a result of the regime in Kinshasa neglecting their duty under the CITES convention.

This is yet another case, several containers from Uganda were of late confiscated in Mombasa upon verification of the cargo manifests revealing smuggled contraband, where Uganda was used as a transit point and a leading Ugandan conservationist blamed corruption as a major cause for this ‘very unfortunate turn of events that Uganda should be used as a smuggling route simply because some of our officials can be bought cheaply’.

Police in Uganda are now looking for a Kenyan by the names of Odhiambo Owino who allegedly was named in the shipment documents as the owner of the cargo to help with the investigation while the driver of the truck carrying the container is already in custody according to a source from Kampala. This latest find reinforced calls by the conservation fraternity for the Chinese government to finally shed their intransigence and begin to treat the growing illegal ivory trade into China as a major crime with the same source saying in a clear fit or rage: ‘They are very ruthless when it comes to dealing with anyone poaching their Pandas but when it comes to tens of thousands of African elephant, they show no concern at all. This is not just bad practice, this is a form of complete racist attitude towards our continent and our wildlife resources. Our tourism industry depends on our wildlife and they stand by idle and see their own countrymen’s greed for ivory carvings decimate our last great herds of elephant. It is time they are told to wake up and make use of their colossal state power inside China to help Africa with concrete measures. The trade must be halted or in 10 years our elephant will be gone. I say enough is enough China, your reputation is on the line here and as if you do not have enough issues with human rights, the Tibet situation and other adventurist claims on territory belonging to others. I say this now because China has been silent and need a wakeup call and these issues sting them. It is their own fault for being silently complicit to the blood ivory trade that I bring up these issues, and let them not mouth off. Let them act’.

This should indeed raise some blood pressure in the political establishment of China or their embassies here in East Africa, but truth told, they have indeed been sitting on their hands and silence is now interpreted as being accomplices in these crimes against our wildlife. Watch this space.

JAMES RATTOS LEAVES THE KAMPALA SHERATON AFTER 12 YEARS

(Posted 17th October 2013)

After serving in various capacities at the Sheraton Kampala Hotel over the past 12 years, his last position being Director of Sales and Marketing, is James Rattos calling it a day to move back to his native Kenya, where he will on November 01st take up his new assignment as General Manager of the Enashipai Resort and Spa in Naivasha.

Rated on TripAdvisor as the number one property in the Naivasha area, James will take charge of a fine property and ‘A Place of Happiness’ into which the Masai name translates. The resort will this weekend host the first ever Naivasha Fashion Weekend and when James arrives on the scene in two weeks time, no doubt plenty of more such activities will follow, as special events and functions at the Sheraton Kampala Hotel were one of his trademarks.

James is also a Past President of the Skal Club of Kampala and was over the years one of the club’s staunchest supporters, continuing to serve in various capacities after stepping down as club president. He formed the link between Skal and the Sheraton, which in the starting days of the chapter in the early 1990’s was the permanent home to Skal Uganda until eventually other hotels and restaurants matured enough to host meetings.

Congratulations to James who is advancing his professional career with this move and no doubt will Sheraton’s loss in Kampala be the gain of the Enashipai Resort in Naivasha. Kwaheri Ya Kuonana my friend and success in all you do.

Kenya News

TWO MAJOR INFRASTRUCTURE PROJECTS EYE GROUNDBREAKING TOWARDS END OF YEAR

(Posted 19th October 2013)

Information received while in Nairobi has suggested that two of Kenya’s future looking infrastructure projects may still break ground before the end of the year.

One will be for the work on the extension of Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, where Project Greenfield aims to create a brand new state of the art mega terminal and build at last a second runway, which when complete will permit continued operation of flights in case of an incident on the presently single runway. In the past have several such cases led to closure of JKIA and diversion of flights to Mombasa, Kilimanjaro, Dar es Salaam and Entebbe, a nightmare scenario for airline managers as it leads to days of delays trying to play catch up.

The second major project coming up for a ground breaking ceremony is the planned standard gauge railway, for which Kenya sourced the finance during the recent visit by President Kenyatta to China and which is supported by Uganda and Rwanda too, with both countries seeking to extend such a standard gauge railway from the border in Malaba to Kampala, the Rwanda border and then on to Kigali.

The urgency is testament of the governments will to get such projects off the ground and alongside create jobs during the construction phase and spur economic growth. Watch this space for upcoming confirmations of dates and venues for the ground breaking.

THE ROTTEN APPLES OF KENYA’S IMMIGRATION DEPARTMENT

(Posted 19th October 2013)

No sooner was my own experience with a rotten immigration apple published earlier this week, did a number of my readers send in more material, suggesting that my stark experience at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport was far from an isolated case, contrary to what some officials in Nairobi wanted to make me believe.

From among the details sent it I opted to select the one of fellow tourism professionals, as they after all are the very ones Kenya is now targeting as good will ambassadors and to spread the news that the country is safe – something I fundamentally underwrite by the way, as there is no place for scare mongering. However, there appears an urgent need to sort out staff of immigration who misbehave and give the country a bad name with their extortionist and arbitrary decisions.

A few weeks or so ago I introduced you to two top executives of Ethiopian Holidays who had planned a full week of scheduled meetings with hoteliers and tour operators in Kenya.

On arrival at Mombasa’s Moi International Airport they were met by the airline’s station manager who escorted them off the plane to immigration for the MOST unfriendly female welcome ever extended.

The station manager was in fact told to leave and reminded sharpishly that she deals with passengers according to HER rules and regulations.

Both arriving executives were travelling on US passports and later narrated that they were told that she can also send them back on the plane they came on.

Both were told the visa cost are US $ 50 PLUS a US $ 10 Handling Fee.

Both felt very unwelcome and only proceeded in view of the many appointments they had. One of them later mentioned that he now also understood why another group of his friends never wanted to come back to Kenya – they were asked US $ 50 plus US $ 50 handling fees which they refused and as a result of this were kept waiting FOUR hours to have the pleasure of being allowed to enter Kenya as tourists having booked and paid for a very expensive safari’.

The ‘handling’ fee issue was mentioned in fact a few times, as were suggestions to passengers waiting to get their Visa that they could be kept waiting for as long as it took, before they were softened up enough to respond by parting with some TKK for the privilege of being allowed to enter Kenya and spend their money.

Those who promptly mouthed off after my article earlier in the week better think again and not shoot the messenger but turn their attention to the shortfalls travellers encounter when arriving in Kenya and deal with such corrupt individuals. Kenya is presently pulling out all stops to blitz the global travel market and get a greater share of not only passengers but higher spending passengers, those who come to play golf or attend conventions or conferences. This is done at considerable cost for the country’s tourism marketing body KTB and the participating private sector partners and situations like my own and the one narrated above are certainly NOT helpful towards that common goal. Clearly time to deliver some kicks into the proverbial to shake up that system and remove the rotten apples before the entire harvest gets spoiled.

Kudos to those who at present work so hard to have a perfect Magical Kenya Travel Expo and charm our visitors and mega barbs for those immigration officials mentioned. More comments and experiences are welcome and should be posted, subject to moderation of course. Watch this space.

SYMPOSIUM GIVES MKTE PARTICIPANTS A CHANCE TO DISCUSS MICE AND MORE

(Posted 19th October 2013)

Hot on the heels of the MICE Seminar held at the Sarova Stanley on the day prior of the Magical Kenya Travel Expo opening its doors, did the Kenya Tourism Board on this third edition of the exhibition introduce a new component, offering participants the chance to hear presentations from a range of experts, supported by equally competent panelists who helped to stimulate debate and interaction with the audience.

How can Kenya win more International Conferences was the theme of the first hour with Jill Henry, the former CEO of award winning Sarawak Convention Bureau in Malaysia, giving a sweeping overview of how a destination can position itself and within a few years double, triple or greatly multiply the business of hosting MICE events.

The Homestay Concept – a South African case study was presented by Paul Miedema, founder of Calabash Trust and of the Kwam Emakhana homestay programme in Grahamstown. The Kenyan panelists in fact surprised the audience when they confirmed that over 350 applications had already been received within just weeks of the launch of the concept in Kenya. Criteria have already been developed by relevant government bodies, in close cooperation with the private sector, how to grade and rate homestay locations, more than 1.000 of which are targeted as a first threshold when the programme is officially introduced in 2014.

And then did Kenya’s e-Tourism Frontiers guru Damian Cook take centre stage with an hour long multimedia presentation on Social Media for Business keeping the audience captivated. His panel included the CEO of Sponge East Africa Frank Maina, Cathy Gachie, the CEO of Barefoot Consultancy and yours truly.

More seminars will continue in the morning, with TripAdvisor’s Marketing Manager Sub Saharan Africa Chad Shiver on stage first, followed by Nigel Vere Nicoll, the CEO of the Africa Travel and Tourism Association who will speak on the Changing Face of Tourism and leading trends. Last but not least will Ian Craig of the Lewa Conservancy discuss the Role of Conservancies in Kenya’s Tourism and he will be joined by none other than Dr. Paula Kahumbu, CEO of Wildlife Direct and founder of the Hands Off Our Elephant campaign which launched only weeks ago with marches in over a dozen locations around the world against poaching and the illegal trade in ivory, rhino horn, skins and trophys. Dr. Mohanjeet Brar from Porini Camps, which itself is active in the running of three conservancies and Judy Kepher-Gona from the Kenya Land Conservation Trust will complete the final session. This value addition has already made an impact on visitors to the expo and for future editions it is expected that a fully fledged Symposium Day will be added to the Magical Kenya Travel Expo to allow participants discuss relevant current affairs issues as well as serving as a training platform by introducing and showcasing the latest technologies and methods in destination marketing.

(Damian Cook seen here during his presentation at the KICC)

MAGICAL KENYA EXPO GUESTS ARE TREATED TO PARTY TIME AT THE WINDSOR

(Posted 19th October 2013)

The Windsor Golf Hotel & Country Club provided the scenic setting for the party the Kenya Tourism Board hosted last night for invited guests, sponsors, the media, exhibitors and of course for the over 150 buyers who had flown into the country a few days ago for the Magical Kenya Travel Expo. All of them had the opportunity to sample a safari into the famous national parks and game reserves to get firsthand experience of what their clients will see when they come to Kenya. Work started in earnest yesterday after the official opening by President Uhuru Kenyatta when the buyers were meeting with the exhibitors which had filled the space in the main KICC hall to the last spot. Both buyers and sellers reported that they had made good contacts and were looking forward to the second B2B day to conclude negotiations and sign contracts before on Sunday the Magical Kenya Expo will open its doors to the Kenyan public.

Cabinet Secretary Phyllis Candie alongside Muriithi Ndegwa, CEO of the Kenya Tourism Board, were perfect hosts on the night and enjoyed the sight of the crowd joining the performers on the dance floor and stage for spontaneous dancing and singing along to the now familiar tunes of Kenya’s most popular songs. Muriithi in fact told this correspondent that ‘this is the start of a new bright future for Kenya Tourism, the moment when we begin our recovery’ clearly buoyed by the mood in the party tent which can only be described as exuberant.

Other members of his team from KTB expressed similar sentiments, especially Jacinta Nzioka, Director of Marketing who was clearly on the roll, interacting with literally every single one of the visitors before burning holes in the dance floor. The Kenyan contingent in the party tent certainly was all smiles, and obviously not just courtesy of the famous Tusker beers, which were flowing freely on the night. Karibu Kenya – Hakuna Matata.

(The smile of Muriithi Ndegwa says it all as he shakes hands with a buyer from Zimbabwe while Cabinet Secretary Phyllis Kandie too enjoys her role as the hostess of the party night)

TRIPARTITE MEETING ON THE MKTE SIDELINES MAKES SIGNIFICANT PROGRESS

(Posted 19th October 2013)

The ‘coalition of the willing’ used the occasion of Kenya’s Magical Kenya Travel Expo to have their official delegations meet at Nairobi’s Utalii Hotel to drive the process of a single tourist Visa forward, which according to reliable information will indeed now become a reality by January 01st next year. Plans for a single destination Visa for the East African Community were first floated over a decade ago but stalled by one member country to the detriment of all, as the full impact of tourists visiting not just one but several of the regional countries could never be materialized. With modalities now suddenly falling into place and past obstacles being cleared in record time, after the Heads of State of Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda clearly had knocked a few heads together – pun fully intended – it is now merely a matter of finetuning the mechanism of how to distribute the funds among the three countries, create the ‘ticket books’ and then, come January 01st, offer tourists the option to either purchase a single country Visa at US Dollars 50 or else the new Visa for the three participating countries, which will cost 100 US Dollars.

Progress was also made towards creating a single destination format for the ITB 2014, and all major tourism trade fairs afterwards, to move into one common exhibition space with sections for Rwanda, Uganda and Kenya. A new single destination with many attractions logo is under consideration by the three partners, also finally moving this previously stalled element of cooperation forward.

Asymmetric development pace is allowed under the East African Community agreements and no one can now stop the momentum which has build up. The three are categorically not isolating any other EAC member country and have left all the doors open for those who feel they need more time to come on board later. Of course at that stage there will be an agreed modus operandum to which one has to sign on. So it is not a question of isolating anyone but rather some not being ready to move at the same fast pace we now have. These are crucial issues and the next tripartite summit in Kigali will want to know what progress we have made. The Heads of State will not be disappointed’ hinted one periodic source who participated in the meetings. Formal announcements are expected to be made in due course when the logistics for the common Visa have been put into place and when the new logo proposal has been accepted. Watch this space.

SERENA HOTELS TAKE 6 WTA AWARDS INCLUDING AFRICA’S BEST HOTEL BRAND

(Posted 18th October 2013)

(Graham S.E. Cooke handing over yet another WTA Award to Serena’s Director of Operations Mark Gathuri with this correspondent looking on)

Nairobi based Serena Hotels, a group presently owning and operating some 24 hotels, resorts, lodges and safari camps in the 5 African countries of Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania and Mozambique, have crowned Kenya’s sterling performance at the World Travel Awards for Africa ceremony yesterday when taking a staggering 6 awards home, including being named as Africa’s Best Hotel Brand.

This adds to the trophy cabinet as Serena already bagged a number of other awards this year, or remains in the running as the finals of for instance the World Luxury Hotel awards is still coming up.

Serena Hotels’ Maisha Spa’s: Finalists in the ‘Best Luxury Hotel Category- World Luxury Spa Awards’ 2013.

Lake Elmenteita Serena Camp: Bronze Award from the Total Eco Challenge, 2013 by the Total Group. This was in recognition of its commitment to protecting and conserving the natural environment whilst promoting responsible tourism practices.

Serena Hotels:Awarded ‘Best Corporate Hotel in Tanzania’ by theTanzania Society of Travel Agents (TASOTA) 2013.

Serena Hotels: Awarded ‘Best Africa Hotel Chain’ by the, Africa Travel Awards, 2013 (African Travel Market of West Africa).

Serena Hotels: Awarded ‘Most Desired Foreign Hotel 2013’ by the Gold List for China Tourism, initiated by National Geographic China.

Rhoda Wambui of Serena Hotels: Winner of the Kenya National Barista Championships of the Kenya Coffee Traders Association under the auspices of the African Fine Coffees Association and sanctioned by the World Barista Championships.

At hand last night to receive the awards was the entire top brass of Serena, led by CEO Mahmud Janmohammed, Director of Operations Mark Gathuri alongside Director of Sales and Marketing Rosemary Mugambi and colleagues Killian Lugwe, Charles Muia, Anthony Chege, Daniel Kangu and Rahim Azad.

Mr. Janmohamed, beaming with pride and joy after receiving the Africa Award, said: ‘The recognition for excellence is indeed an honor in itself and we are very proud to receive these six awards, which mark the sixth continuous year of our having been recognized by the World Travel Awards. The awards confirm that our strategy to invest on an ongoing basis, in both our hardware – the physical product, and our software – our human resources, continue to pay dividends. To all those travel professionals who voted for us we would like to say, thank you for valuing us as highly as we value you. Your faith in us will continue to be rewarded. To our staff, we would also like to offer a big ‘thank you’, because we know that it is entirely thanks to your unwavering dedication and loyalty that we have been fortunate enough to have attained the accolade of being Africa’s Leading Hotel Brand’.

The World Travel Awards, now in their 20th year, were established to ‘acknowledge, reward and celebrate excellence across all sectors of the global travel and tourism industry’. Often dubbed as ‘the Oscars of the Travel Industry’, the much sought-after awards reflect the opinions and preferences of travel professionals across the globe. Issued in 50+ categories and covering the entire spectrum of the industry from airlines to hotels to DMC’s, the WTA’s are universally perceived as the ultimate global travel accolade.

eTurboNews Inc. is notably one of the World Travel Award’s global media partners and has supported the regional events through regular publicity. Visit www.eturbonews.com and www.worldtravelawards.com for more information about both organizations.

REED TRAVEL EXHIBITIONS PARTNER WITH SITE/ICCA AND KTB TO LAUNCH MICE SEMINAR

(Posted 17th October 2013)

Muriithi Ndegwa, CEO of the Kenya Tourism Board, aka Magical Kenya, this morning officially launched the first ever dedicated MICE Seminar in Nairobi, which aims to equip the over 50 participants from Kenya and the wider region to understand better the concept of this ever more important market segment.

According to Muriithi Kenya already gets about 20 percent of their arrivals connected with MICE events, bringing visitors in for meetings, incentives, conventions and exhibitions or events. KTB is supporting the Reed Travel Exhibitions, Houston Marketing and SITE / ICCA organized event, which today takes place at the Sarova Stanley Hotel, itself a sponsor of the meeting.

Muriithi confirmed KTB’s renewed focus on MICE traffic, beyond the more traditional beach vacations and safari experience. This is in line with their new strategy to widen their scope and present Kenya as a destination with many different faces, with many different attractions and offering many different locations across the entire country, as he cited that Naivasha which he said was the latest entrant in profiling MICE business through state of the art meeting facilities introduced in the recent past.

Derek Houston in his response thanked the Kenyan hosts for their prompt and forthcoming responses when the idea was first floated to hold this seminar alongside the Magical Kenya Travel Expo, so that exhibitors as well as hosted buyers can benefit from the valuable lessons taught and learned today, of how to capture, organize, execute and then retain corporate business in this lucrative market segment. Derek went on to humour the room when he narrated an episode of earlier in the day in the Stanley’s elevator, when another guest, with clearly no clue whatsoever about MICE business, asked him if he was in Nairobi for a seminar on rodents – and in social media terms this had all the participants ROFLing.

Tasneem Adamjee, a SITE member based in both Kenya and Tanzania, confirmed that this entry level workshop and seminar was probably only the start of more regular interaction between SITE, ICCA and the Kenyan if not East African market and that the present seminar was in fact organized at subsidized rates aimed to attract greater interest in the segment and equip tour and safari operators with some foundation knowledge of how to handle such business enquiries.

(Derek Houston with Tasneem Adamje, Muriithi Ndegwa opening the workshop and the participants observing a minute of silence to pay their respects to the late G.S. ‘Channi’ Vohra, Chairman of Sarova Hotels)

IT WAS KENYA’S NIGHT AT THE WORLD TRAVEL AWARDS

(Posted 17th October 2013)

(It is all smiles as the Kenya Tourism Board celebrates their win as Africa’s BEST)

The World Travel Awards for Africa 2013, held last evening at the Safari Park Hotel in Nairobi, proved to be a night to remember for the assembled who is who in tourism who came to the ceremony from nearly 30 countries across Africa. Present were those who had received nominations to determine who’s the continent’s best, to measure themselves at a yardstick of quality, something hosts Kenya certainly know about. In addition did dozens more from across Eastern Africa join the throng last night, to not only celebrate the awards but to show solidarity with their Kenyan friends and partners, to stand with them and show Africa and the world that Kenya was safe, Nairobi was safe and that it was safe to attend a function of this caliber.

Graham S.E. Cooke hit the nail on the head when in his opening salvo he reassured his hosts that not only was there never any doubt in his mind to have the award ceremony remain in Kenya but that a successful ‘Oscar of the Travel Industry’ function would serve as a reminder for others too to visit this beautiful country.

And those who came were not disappointed, as the winners were announced, category after category, well over 50 of them, and the home team started to pull ahead of the pack by piling up the trophies.

Gamewatchers / Porini Camps took home the Best African Tented Safari Camp Award while Finch Hatton’s, located in Tsavo West, claimed the honours as Africa’s Leading Safari Lodge. The prize for Africa’s Leading Spa Resort and for Kenya’s Leading Resort went to The Chui, aka Leopard Beach Resort and Spa while Alfajiri Villas took the top place on the podium as Africa’s Leading Resort. The Villa Rosa Kempinski got on the map only weeks after opening when they took the honours for Africa’s Best New Hotel and host venue Safari Park Hotel walked away with the trophy for Africa’s Leading MICE Hotel. The Aberdare Country Club, in the past regularly reported about here over their revival since Marasa Africa took over the property and injected millions of US Dollars into it, earned themselves – as a result of that transformation – the prize for Africa’s Leading Green Hotel. Il Ngwesi added more trophies to Team Kenya when they claimed the award for Africa’s Leading Eco Lodge while the Amboseli Serena Lodge took the top spot as Africa’s Leading Eco Hotel. The Masai Mara Game Reserve, renowned for the annual migration of the wildebeest through its territory from July to October every year, was named as Africa’s Leading National Park. The Sarova Stanley Hotel took the honour for Kenya’s Leading Hotel, received by General Manager David Gachuru who dedicated it to his late Chairman G.S. ‘Channi’ Vohra who had passed away last Saturday. Bunsons Travel from Kenya took the award for Kenya’s Leading Travel Management Company while Fairmont Kenya was honoured as Kenya’s Leading Hotel Brand. Other winners were the Ol Tukai Lodge from Amboseli National Park, The Windsor Golf and Country Club as Kenya’s Leading Golf Resort and the Swahili Beach Resort in Diani as Kenya’s Leading Beach Resort. Air Kenya was named Kenya’s Leading Domestic Safari Carrier.

On the continental scale did Twiga Tours from Kenya take the Responsible Tourism Award, after already scooping Kenya’s Leading Inbound Operator trophy while Serena Hotels walked off with their crowning reward of the night, being named Africa’s Leading Hotel Brand after already carrying away the trophies for their Nairobi Serena Hotel, the Kigali Serena Hotel, the Kampala Serena Hotel and the Dar es Salaam Serena Hotel – besides the already mentioned Amboseli Serena Lodge – making it 6 overall, unrivalled by any other company in Africa.

Kenya Airways predictably scooped their prize for ‘Best Business Class in Africa’ and Dr. Titus Naikuni, CEO of KQ, was quick to respond to an article earlier in the week, when their new cabin product was described by this correspondent, that in fact the entire long haul fleet of B777’s and B767’s will be refurbished along the lines of their latest upgrades, while the B787’s would equally carry the new features when delivery starts in March next year.

And finally did the Kenya Tourist Board repeat their success of 2012 when it was voted Best Tourist Board in Africa, appreciating the hard work KTB had put in over the past 12 months under often adverse circumstances.

The full list of other winners can be accessed via www.worldtravelawards.com and notably was eTN (www.eturbonews.com) one of the event’s global media sponsors, represented by yours truly.

(The Top Three in Africa, Kenya Tourism Board, Kenya Airways’ Business Class and Serena Hotels)

(Chris Modigell and Jake Grieves Cook of The Chui, aka Leopard Beach Resort and Spa and Gamewatcher Safaris / Porini Camps respectively)

(Richard Kimenyi presents the Fairmont Kenya trophy)

(The Aberdare Country Club team with General Manager Kenya Richard Hodgson on the right)

(David Gachuru of the Sarova Stanley dedicated their trophy to the late G.S. ‘Channi’ Vohra)

(Marc Van der Borght of the Windsor claims the Best Golf Resort in Kenya trophy)

SERENA ACQUIRES LONG TERM LEASE FOR SWEETWATERS SAFARI CAMP

(Posted 16th October 2013)

A pending visit to what can only be described as Kenya’s most complete wildlife and adventure experience, this being the Ol Pejeta Conservancy near Nanyuki in central Kenya, will give me the opportunity to not just see the impressive work carried out by Richard Vigne and his team to look after the largest Eastern Black rhino population in the country, as well as the arguably last four Northern White rhinos in the wild anywhere in the world, but also allow to see the new look Sweetwaters Serena Safari Camp.

For long Serena had managed the property on behalf of the owners Ol Pejeta but information has come to light that the conservancy has now signed a long term 30 year lease for the land and the camp with Serena Hotels, giving Kenya’s leading hotel, resort and lodge company complete control over the property.

Serena over the past year spent over 2.5 million US Dollars to upgrade and enlarge the camp and the newly launched Morani Wing is offering guests suites under canvas in the middle of the conservancy.

The Ol Pejeta Conservancy had in a generous move, incidentally mirrored by Serena Hotels, deferred the introduction of the full impact of the new VAT charges the Kenyan government has slapped on the sector – a move severely critizised by the entire tourism industry as counterproductive and one of the worst misjudgments ever made by any government vis a vis taxation of the sector – but will from November onwards pass on the full effect of the 16 percent cost rise to visitors. The conservancy in fact lowered entrance fees for the visitors to make good of the tax element, paying the price for the follies of government and parliament which passed the VAT law in total disregard of the challenges the sector is facing this year.

The downturn in arrival is in the double digit figures for the first six months and more recent events are likely to accelerate this trend, rather than reverse it as has for a while been hoped. Notably though has Serena still announced an upswing in pretax profits by about a fifth compared to the same period of last year, but has also given a clear indication of the difficult times ahead with Serena’s CEO Mahmoud Janmohamed being quoted to have said that they are battling with many challenges ahead.

It is understood though from sources close to Serena that investment decisions taken to commence work at the Nairobi Serena and other properties of the group in Kenya will go ahead regardless of the present circumstances, a vote of confidence in Kenya’s future no doubt, but a future which will be better for the tourism industry if government will listen and adopt the sector’s concerns and act on them.

Watch this space for live reports from Ol Pejeta early next week, when visiting the rhino conservation project, see the cattle ranch coexist with wildlife, observe the work of the rangers, learn about the use of airborne surveillance, the rapid response unit, walk across the wilderness with local guides and file my experience of the available accommodation options Ol Pejeta now offers, catering for travellers on shoe string and open ended budgets. Do not miss!

KTB HOSTS ‘BUYERS’ FROM AROUND THE GLOBE TO SHOWCASE DESTINATION

(Posted 16th October 2013)

The Kenya Tourism Board, ahead of the much anticipated Magical Kenya Travel Expo 2013 has decided to tackle global perception about the destination head on by sending ‘Hosted Buyers’ across the country to experience Kenya’s star attractions and see for themselves that the destination is fundamentally safe to travel to and for tourists to visit. The buyers who come to attend Kenya’ premier international tourism showcase on home soil, held from 18th to 20th of this month at the Kenyatta International Conference Centre, has attracted over 150 high powered individuals responsible for making decisions on which destinations will feature in their vacation programmes for the forthcoming seasons, forming basically a panel of ‘judges’ on the future of Kenya’s tourism industry.

Kenya has seen arrivals in the first half of this year decline below last year’s figures by double digits, a trend which the industry says needs reversing, though the opinions are divided on how best to accomplish this turnaround.

Hosting buyers and international media is of course an excellent start to bring the spotlight back to the destination, and a positive spotlight for that matter, as key decision makers gain their own experience on site rather than by googling the destination. Travel writers worth their salt of course also have the ability to attract the attention of their readers to a particular destination and create those images in their minds, vibrant and colourful and enticing, to have them just want to come to a place like Kenya. A unique destination, offering sundrenched beaches along the Indian Ocean shores to the shores of Lake Victoria and the UNESCO World Heritage Site Rift Valley lakes in between, dozens of national parks, game reserves and private conservancies giving the Big Five experience a new dimension and of course Mt. Kenya right in the middle of the country, where the snows fall right on the equator.

Therefore, KTB’s efforts are commendable and targeting the right groups, hoping for returns on this significant investment they are injecting into the generic marketing of the destination.

At home though challenges have arisen too which need urgent attention, and strangely the position is maintained in much of the mainstream media as if the last few weeks would not have had a very significant impact on hotel, resort and lodge occupancies. To the contrary I should say after only a day in Nairobi, as all my calls to contacts in the Kenyan hospitality industry confirmed one thing – a downward trend.

Equally strangely it seems also that industry leaders have not yet come out in force, standing united, and telling government from an open platform what needs to be done on the home front to reverse this negative trend.

When discussing the issue with several key stakeholders yesterday, they all agreed with me that an immediate five point plan may be the start to inject new growth into the vital tourism industry, which for decades has been in the top three of Kenya’s economy in terms of foreign exchange earnings and job creation.

For one, the ridiculous VAT impositions must be reversed immediately. They have added a huge extra cost burden on packages at a time when – just compare Egypt here where resort prices were dropped by over 50 percent from regular contract levels to stay in business – special offers are needed and not higher prices. Tourism, which the same government professes to be an invisible export, must be treated like any other export, made free of VAT, full stop. This the government can fix with ease, and if they do not it will be a harsh lesson when the wake up to reality in coming months.

Secondly, investment incentives, including the availability of affordable low cost loans, is needed to allow in particular the coastal resorts to finally invest in modernization and refurbishments across the board. Some resorts have excelled in doing this persistently, like the Serena, the Whitesands, the Leopard Beach, Hemingways to name but a few, but most still are stuck in the time warp of 20 years ago, same old menus and same old entertainment. Here is a chance for Kenya to in one fell swoop ‘reform’ the sector and raise quality and ratings to the levels of competing destinations like Zanzibar.

Moving on to the next point, the airlines need to be engaged to come on board with joint promotions but also to find a welcome reception when it comes to traffic rights. I am a friend of Kenya Airways, no doubt there, but at times the objectives of one have to take into account the objectives of many. Offer airlines that key access to Mombasa, including where asked for fifth freedom rights, because that is one thing the coast this year lacks, enough seats to bring enough clients to fill those empty beds. Qatar Airways is just one case in point and the ball is firmly in this government’s court now.

Fourth point would be to make a very public and very visible statement vis a vis the darned Visa fees – I wrote about that yesterday from my own experience where the attitude of the immigration officer was basically telling me – and hopefully she was the one and only rotten apple in that lot at JKIA – to either pay up or get lost. Half the fees like done in 2008, or scrap them altogether. Some might say the 25 or 50 US Dollars are hardly making a dent into the holiday budget of travellers coming to Kenya, but there is a psychological value in such a move when Kenya tells the world: ‘Hey we are open for business and until whatever date, you can actually come in for free … ‘.

Lastly and perhaps one of the key issues, this government must write a cheque big enough to take KTB’s fight to the global market places, beyond the home soil like this week at the Magical Kenya Expo, beyond the traditional trade fairs like WTM and ITB. Give KTB the funds to go global, blitz the new and emerging markets hand in hand with those airlines flying there, first and foremost our own flag carrier Kenya Airways of course, and give KTB the ability to allow the private sector to back pack on such activities at a largely subsidized cost. Airlines should be more than happy to extend AD 75 tickets, not as recently seen a frugal 10 percent and expecting a big hug and thank you for THAT, because they will fill their seats to Kenya.

There sure will be other measures one can take, but knowing the attention span of politicians, outside election campaigns that is, a five point plan for now must do. I hope that leading stakeholders will stand up this week and tell their Minister and their President what must be done, as the time for asking nicely seems to have run out. Time to act, time to do it now or carry the burden of induced failure when the sector missed forecasts and targets by a large margin, impacting on foreign exchange earnings and the job market. Watch this space.

KENYA RED CROSS’ THE BOMA INN ELDORET NOW FULLY OPERATIONAL

(Posted 15th October 2013)

The Kenya Red Cross owned The Boma Inn, Eldoret is now fully operational, it was learned on day one of an extended visit to Kenya. The new hotel, part of a planned number of three star hotels across the country, alongside the Red Court Hotel in Nairobi and the 5 star luxury The Boma Nairobi, features 68 rooms. This includes 60 superior rooms, 6 deluxe rooms and 2 suites. Meeting rooms capable of handling up to 500 people at a time are available as are smaller ‘board rooms’, besides other facilities like restaurants, bars, leisure facilities and a swimming pool. Notable for a location like Eldoret is the fully fledged Zoezi Spa, which at The Boma Nairobi has become hugely popular with local residents and is expected to sell membership to the who is who in Eldoret fast. All public areas and rooms are connected to high speed internet, which for guests is provided on a complimentary basis.

Next location for a Boma Inn will be Nyeri where the company already operates a meeting and conference facility to which in due course a fully fledged accommodation unit will be added. Ultimately the Kenya Red Cross Society intends to cover Kenya’s key counties with Boma Inn’s, aimed to provide quality accommodation and hospitality services to travellers upcountry, with all profits, needless to mention, going back to the Red Cross to support their immense task to providing emergency services for Kenyans and visitors like. Apparently the new kid on the block in Eldoret, the Boma Inn is truly the place to be ‘in’. Watch this space for regular and breaking news from Kenya’s and Eastern Africa’s fast moving hospitality industry.

(A view of the pool areas of the new Boma Inn, Eldoret)

KENYA AIRWAYS READY TO SET NEW AVIATION STANDARDS FOR AFRICAN AIRLINES

(Posted 15th October 2013)

When Kenya Airways’ latest addition to their growing fleet, a Boeing B777-300ER arrives in just about three weeks from now, it will bring with it a range of new features and innovations hitherto unheard of in Africa. A sneak preview allowed some insight into the new features, ready to share them before passengers will actually be able to enjoy them once the aircraft will enter commercial service.

First and foremost and a top priority for many frequent travellers, will be inflight connectivity as KQ is launching with the new bird a new age with ‘Sky Surf’. The system is set to come on line once the aircraft reaches 10.000 feet altitude and switches off prior to landing once the descent takes the bird below that flight level. All portable devices, lap tops, tablets, iPads and smart phones can capture the signal and USB charging ports are available at every seat in the new aircraft to ensure that those who have to be on line will not run out of battery time during a long haul flight for instance to China.

Both business class and economy class will get a completely new line of seats installed, in economy giving a double recline with back rest and seat moving in opposite directions to create the feeling of more space while a passengers rest. In business class though KQ has outdone itself and managed to better an already award winning cabin layout by introducing the latest technology flat bed seats, wider and longer than the present generation in use across the long haul fleet. Storage spaces are available for shoes, magazines and even laptops, each seat features a universal power port besides the USB port, and a 15.4 inch high resolution TV touch screen to watch the latest in films, series and sports while on board.

The 400 passengers this bird will carry, 372 in economy and 28 in business, are for sure in for the ride of their lives when they take to the air from Nairobi come mid November.

This is no doubt a harbinger of things to come when from March next year the airline will begin to take delivery of the B787 Dreamliner, an aircraft which for a while had bad press but has since gotten out of the headlines and started to deliver on up to 20+ percent fuel savings and very much better passenger comfort. Kenya Airways, The Pride of Africa. Watch this space for breaking and regular news from East Africa’s aviation scene.

IT ONLY TAKES ONE SPOILER TO MESS UP THE HARD WORK OF SO MANY OTHERS

(Posted 15th October 2013)

Kenyan immigration officials had to be the odd man, or in this case woman out, when on the trot introducing new rules regarding a multiple re-entry on a visa, as practiced in the past dozens of times.

Pay 50 Dollars, get a Visa and come back to Kenya several times for the duration of three months from within the member states of the community, that was the way things were. Not this time though. The young lady had in fact the guts to state that all her colleagues who in the past applied this rule, erred in doing so as ‘you foreigners have to pay our Visa fees’. When challenged to answer when these rules were changed, no substantive response was received but for a stark utterance that ‘things have changed since Westgate’.

Really? Have immigration rules changed since those tragic events? Kenya has in the past granted free re-entry to visitors when travelling to another country in the region, and if so, when and where is the gazette notice? My Visa was issued on July 25th, was due to expire on October 24th, the very day I am booked to leave, and of course it clearly reads 3 months, not weeks.

Kenya Airways, as usual, did a sterling job to deliver me ahead of time, their staff meeting the aircraft on the tarmac in Nairobi oozing smiles and provided answers to countless questions from transit passengers flying beyond Nairobi, customs were certainly more vigilant than in the past but courteous nevertheless and my Kenya Tourist Board ‘minder’ too flashed those perfect smiles Kenyans are known for. The staff at my hotel, starting from strict but again smiling security to the front desk and on to their unique ‘Brand Ambassadors’, were on top of their game and so were the drivers later today, talkative, friendly and appreciative of people continuing to come to Kenya.

Were it not for my generally friendly disposition towards Kenya, I’d be raising a much bigger fuss about the faux pas by that immigration official, who refused to acknowledge that all past Visas were given for 3 months AND had multiple return stamps on them. Who cares for evidence, guilty as charged, pay up or else …

Under present circumstances, such rotten apples ought to be swiftly identified, removed and perhaps tasked to watch a filing cabinet in the deepest archives, where she can command dust specks but not come into contact with travellers who, especially at this time, keep coming to Kenya, and in my case, come to Kenya to write positive reports. There will no doubt be plenty of those positive events over the coming 10 days but this had to be said, ranted in fact, and sharpish.

Now moving on swiftly swiftly to forget about that episode and I do look ahead to a great week of interaction, experiences and of course the World Travel Awards, the long awaited MICE Seminar and that Magical Kenya Travel Expo during which I hope to get an even better measure of things, gauge opinions, spot undercurrents and get all the facts as to where Kenya Tourism presently stands and where it is heading to.

Watch this space for reports, live from Nairobi.

FARE THEE WELL MY FRIEND – THOUGHTS ON THE PASSING OF AN ICON OF KENYA TOURISM

(Posted 15th October 2013)

As much as Kenya’ tourism fraternity is looking forward to the events unfolding this week, the World Travel Awards and the Magical Kenya Travel Expo, there will also be a deep sense of loss among many of my friends here in Nairobi as the news made the rounds yesterday that G.S. ‘Channi’ Vohra, the Chairman of Sarova Hotels, had passed on over the weekend.

After arriving in Nairobi yesterday at the crack of dawn, the first trip out of my hotel, incidentally the very one with which G.S. launched his career in the big league of the hospitality business back in the mid 70’s, was therefore to pay my respect to the family and sign the condolence book at the hotel group’s head office at the Panafric Hotel. I went to mourn the passing of a friend and recalled those moments over the decades of shared joy, shared ambitions for Kenya’s tourism industry, shared tribulations when Sarova had in the early 90’s moved into Uganda but also shared experiences and shared friendship. Channi as his friends called him, and I, in part for the distance when I moved to Uganda in the early 1992, did not see too much of each others’ since then, but until that move our ways crossed oftentimes, and whenever we met, I could feel the warmth of his friendship and how genuine he was from the inside, beyond the characteristics of being a businessman par excellence. He, with his family and partners, like John Kariuki who for long served as the group’s executive director, built a hotel group which now ranks among the finest in Kenya, and should they scoop an award, as regularly done before, at the World Travel Award Ceremony this week, I hope it will be dedicated to his life, his work and his vision, and that the room will stand in a minute of silence to acknowledge the icon Kenya’s tourism industry has lost.

To his family and other friends I express my deepest condolences and stand with them in mourning a great man, one I have been privileged to know and share experiences with as our career paths and other interests like conservation periodically brought us on parallel tangents before moving along different paths but in the same direction. I hope, wherever his spirit now is, he will enjoy the view from high above, from a terrace of a luxurious suite befitting to his legacy as one of Kenya’s great hoteliers, holding watch over the empire he created down here on earth. Rest in peace my friend, rest in peace.

Meanwhile has the Vohra family released the following statement:

It is with deep regret that we announce the passing of Mr.G.S. Vohra, Chairman of Sarova Hotels. Mr. Vohra, aged 78, passed away in London on October 12, 2013. He was one of the founders of Sarova Hotels in Kenya, in 1974.

He was one of the pioneers of the tourism industry in Kenya. A strong driving force in the industry, he was highly respected and instrumental in putting Kenya on the global tourism map.

An iconic figure, he had several passions and numerous accomplishments to his credit. A well known philanthropist, he was involved in several charitable causes. He was the patron of the Spinal Injuries Hospital in Nairobi where he contributed not only financial resources but more importantly, personal time and commitment to improving the lives of those affected.

A champion of the environment, Mr. Vohra was extremely passionate about nature and the protection of our wildlife. He was especially saddened by the plight of the African elephant due to poaching and was personally involved in the effort led by Jim Nyamu. He was also instrumental in the Nairobi Greenline Project at Nairobi National Park, in memory of his son, the Late Sandy Vohra.

A deeply spiritual man, ‘Channi’, as he was known to friends and family, had a strong faith in the Divine and allowing nature to take its course. He touched many people’s lives and always left a memorable impact on everyone he met with.

He shall be fondly remembered and profoundly missed.

Details of the funeral service will be announced in due course’.

AIR ARABIA’S CHINA PLANS BOUND TO EXCITE KENYA’S LCC FANS

(Posted 08th October 2013)

Cheaper flying options are always a matter of keen interest and it was no surprise that queries started to come in when news broke a few days ago that Air Arabia, currently operating daily flights between Sharjah / UAE and Nairobi, was planning to introduce low cost long haul services to China.

The flights between Sharjah and Nairobi are already in great demand by many Kenyan expatriates working in the UAE, as Sharjah is only a stone throw away from Dubai and well connected to all the other Emirates. Smart travelers watching their pocket book have also started to fly to Kenya from destinations beyond Air Arabia’s hub, since the network of the airline has since it early days spread considerably.

The addition of flights to China, no full list of destinations is available at this time however, will open an entirely now range of options for travelers to and from that country, at probably considerable savings in terms of fares, making traders and expatriates the main target of sales activities, as and when the flights appear on the booking system. The only comments available from the airline were a confirmation that bilateral talks between the UAE and China had been concluded and that Air Arabia had secured traffic rights. Further details will no doubt follow in due course. Worth watching for sure, as it is always worth watching this space for breaking and regular aviation news from Eastern Africa.

Tanzania News

FASTJET FINALLY LANDS IN JOHANNESBURG

(Posted 19th October 2013)

Flight FN0201, the inaugural flight of FastJet’s first international route, arrived yesterday morning at Johannesburg’s O.R. Tambo International Airport from Dar es Salaam’s Julius Nyerere International Airport at 11.45 hrs.

This flight, delayed for some weeks as a result of competitor pressure brought to bear on the South African civil aviation department, ushered in a new era for passengers who have in the past had to pay very high fares on flights between DAR and JNB, prompting many to fly via Nairobi or Kigali to take advantage of better fares.

Flights between the two cities will initially be operated three times a week on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, increasing in frequency as soon as occupancies and demand justify more flights.

The flights will depart from Dar es Salaam’s Julius Nyerere International Airport at 09.15 hrs (a.m.), and land at Johannesburg’s O.R. Tambo International Airport at 11.45 hrs after a flight time of just 3 ½ hours. The return flight from Johannesburg to Dar es Salaam departs back to DAR at 12.45 hrs local time, landing back home at 17.10 hrs.

Tickets on these flights between Johannesburg and Dar es Salaam are priced from R1,600 one way, inclusive of all airport and government taxes, which were given as approximately R555, which is a departure from the way FastJet advertises their fares from Dar es Salaam. There, and in the face of continued criticism over this practice, they have been shy since their inception to name directly an inclusive cost of the ticket and leave it to the passengers to piece meal together the ultimate cost of a ticket. One source suggested the different handling of how they advertise in South Africa is a result of consumer protection, something which hopefully reaches East Africa soon to compel airlines to engage in a more honest way of advertising the cost of their tickets.

FastJet officials however were not shy to call current fare levels a Rip Off, something everyone in the business agrees with.

In addition to the ticket cost however is FastJet charging for checked luggage at a cost of 110 Rand per bag, one way. One piece of hand luggage is permitted for each passenger.

It was recently reported here that South African passport holders do not need a visa to visit Tanzania if they enter the country for 90 days or less, reciprocated now by South Africa for Tanzanians, hopefully spurring a boom of travel between the two countries in coming months, now that the fares have come down from the previously charged over 6.000 Rand, return, which compares to 3.200 Rand on FastJet, PLUS the cost of checked baggage and on board consumption. Watch this space for breaking and regular news from Eastern Africa’s aviation market.

(FastJet file picture)

FASTJET SETS NEW DATE FOR JOHANNESBURG FLIGHTS

(Posted 14th October 2013)

In a breaking news development it was just learned that the South African civil aviation department has at long last finished their ‘review’ of additional documents, demanded from Tanzania’s low cost airline on the eve of their planned inaugural flight from Dar es Salaam to Johannesburg.

The ‘review’, like the initial demand which effectively halted the flights to commence, was largely perceived in the market as a last ditch effort by a competitor, which has been charging fares literally at will, forcing many wannabe travelers to fly via Kigali with RwandAir or via Nairobi with Kenya Airways.

Company CEO Ed Winter was quoted in a mail just received here as having stated:

The South African Department of Transport has completed its review of the additional documents it requestedand has issued an updated Foreign Operator Permit.FastJet is delighted that, in line with our expansion strategy, operations can now commence on this route. Until now, flying between Dar es Salaam and Johannesburg has been prohibitively expensive for many people. The launch of this service offers a new, affordable and reliable option to both Tanzanians and South Africans’.

Mincing no words the culprit was clearly named by Winter, leaving no doubt at all now who was the main beneficiary for a few more weeks of their fare policy.

The inaugural flight will take off from Dar es Salaam on Friday 18th of October, i.e. this coming Friday already, showing that FastJet was ready to fly almost at an instant’s notice once given the final clearance.

The presently envisaged three flights a week will leave Dar es Salaam’s Julius Nyerere International Airport at 09.15 hrs in the morning and arrive in Johannesburg at 11.45 hrs before returning to Dar later in the day.

Watch this space for breaking as well as regular aviation news from the Eastern African region.

ZANZIBAR LAUNCHES NEW HERITAGE FOUNDATION CENTRE IN ANCIENT STONE TOWN

(Posted 14th October 2013)

The island’s government has launched a new project to promote Zanzibar’s long history when announcing the formation of a Heritage Foundation Centre in the old Stone Town, itself a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The Minister for Information, Tourism, Culture and Sports Said Ali Mbarouk, during the launch ceremony, acknowledged the role tourism plays for the economy of Zanzibar, when he pegged the sector at 27 percent of GDP being generated through tourist arrivals, while more than three quarters of the islands foreign exchange earnings were generated by the tourism sector.

The project according to information received yesterday will be cosponsored and cofounded by the World Heritage Foundation, the Zanzibar Stone Town Heritage Society and other wellwishers who would like to see more of Zanzibar’s history and culture showcased for locals and visitors alike to see. Additional financial support came through grants by the European Union and the United States’ Agency for International Development USAID.

One of the main focus areas will be the days when Zanzibar was a major slave trading centre before slavery was abolished, but also the history of architecture and art, crafts and trade in spices and fabrics which makes the old Stone Town so unique, thwarting multiple attempts to create high rise buildings in the centre of the old town in the name of ‘development’.

Rwanda News

KIGALI’S PEARL LOUNGE TO CHANGE LOCATION AND RETURN IN A NEW ‘BIG LEAGUE LOOK

(Posted 15th October 2013)

(Ongoing work on the new Pearl Lounge at Kigali International Airport)

As work progresses at the Kigali International Airport, to create space for additional check in counters and departure lounges, for more shops and outside parking too – the construction should be completed by early next year – so is work ongoing to move the airports’ premium lounge to a new location and almost tripling the space at the same time.

Opened in August 2011 the Pearl Lounge has won the hearts of many travellers, not only those ‘entitled’ to lounge services for flying First or Business Class but also Economy Class passengers, who can for a modest fee – subject to space – gain access to this little oasis of tranquility amid the hectic ongoings in the departure lounge, where crowds can be overwhelming and where at peak periods seats are often hard to come by.

We can’t wait to get into our new space’ said a lounge attendant on Sunday morning when discussing the new development with him and a colleague, before adding ‘The new lounge will be a lot bigger and a lot better than this one. Our visitors are quite happy but they will be even happier in the new lounge when it is open’.

When the new airport extension is completed the lounge management will according to information received also offer an added ‘Meet and Greet’ service for passengers who like to save time on both arrival and departure, giving access to fast track handling at the check in, at security check points and at immigration. Way to go Kigali and perhaps other airports in the region can take a leaf from such new offers for premium services.

(The present Pearl Lounge at Kigali International Airport)

KIGALI’S INTERNET REVOLUTION TURNS OUT TO BE REAL, AND REAL FAST

(Posted 14th October 2013)

A weekend trip to Kigali allowed a firsthand experience with the Rwandan internet revolution, which is currently unfolding in the capital city but may eventually spread across the main urban centres of the country.

Already in the past were signals at the international airport provided by RCAA, the Rwanda Civil Aviation Authority, open for users of smartphones or tablets, as the authority created a second ‘open’ network beyond their own WLAN. Now however, have internet kiosks entered the scene at the Kigali International Airport, where travelers, or those waiting for them or seeing them off, can courtesy of MTN Rwanda do a quick web search. They can check their flight connectivity, book a hotel even or, and if their phone battery has died on them post a quick message on Twitter or Facebook to let their friends at home know that all is well. A quick look into the mailbox perhaps and they can be off to their hotels, where in most cases now free internet is provided for them too. The little ‘Yello’ units are found in the main terminal’s arrival and departure section and while seen only two within eyeshot before being whisked away by my ‘greeter’ there may of course be more in other parts of the airport. Finally, when roaming the city by taxi, on foot – Kigali is arguably the safest city in Africa where one can walk the main fares or the neighbourhood of a hotel, even at night, without any problems – or using the new bus system, the smart phone will pick a signal to stay connected and a signal of 3+G quality soon to go 4G for which work on the upgrade of the infrastructure has just began.

Rwanda has for some time energetically pursued a policy of making internet available for all, and their one laptop per child project has certainly helped to spread that gospel already in primary school. Becoming an ICT hug is a declared goal for Rwanda and it is evident that all is done what can be done to provide the right infrastructure, the training for the people and, for now at least, free net access to Kigaleans.

Certainly another feather in the cap of Rwanda, where policy and political commitments actually do translate into some real action. Take a leaf Africa, from one of the smallest countries on the continent but certainly one of the largest when it comes to delivering development. Murakaza Neza Rwanda, The Land of a Thousand Hills but clearly also the Land of the Rising Phoenix.

KIGALI SERENA ADDS VALUE TO RWANDAIR’S RAFFLE PRIZE WINNERS

(Posted 13th October 2013)

Charles Muia, General Manager of the Kigali Serena Hotel and Country Manager for Serena Hotels in Rwanda, took no time to announce that Kigali’s finest hotel will be happy to host the winner of two business class tickets from Juba to Kigali for a weekend, access to the acclaimed Maisha Spa included.

The Kigali Serena has for long been partnering with RwandAir, including the joint launch of the respective loyalty cards for both companies in Kigali last year at the Kigali Serena Conference Centre, besides joint marketing activities benefitting both airline and the hotel.

In fact Charles topped his first gift when RwandAir announced that they will be flying Miss World South Sudan 2013 Ms. Modong Manuela Mogga to Kigali for a promotional activity, by offering her a complimentary stay too to the applause of everyone in the room.

(Modong Manuel Mogga captured on camera outdoors without the crowd indoors constantly mobbing her to shake hands and get a glimpse)

Charles, when asked about this generous gesture, commented that it was simply good business practice for Kigali’s leading hotel to partner with the national airline on such events and that the promotional value generated by such ‘donations’ was not to be underestimated. True that is as one of the winners is a travel agent, where in fact her stay will double as a fam trip at the same time, putting the entire range of Serena properties into the frame, while the presence of Miss World South Sudan 2013 will bring the media spotlight in Kigali on to the Serena, again generating goodwill and bringing patrons to the hotel.

A traditional warm welcome to The Land of a Thousand Hills for the beneficiaries it will no doubt be when they step off the plane at Kigali’s International Airport sometime over the coming weeks.

RWANDAIR OFFICIALLY LAUNCHES JUBA – DESTINATION NUMBER 15 AND COUNTING

(Posted 13th October 2013)

We are not the kind of airline which is here today and gone tomorrow, RwandAir is here to stay’ said John Mirenge, CEO of RwandAir when he addressed the invited guests at Juba’s Transit Hotel, comprising government and business leaders including key staff from the South Sudan Civil Aviation Authority, members of the diplomatic corps, representatives of NGO’s and literally all the travel agency managers and owners doing business in Juba and other parts of South Sudan.

The celebratory flight had touched down just before noon at Juba International Airport and was then greeted by the traditional water cannon salute by the airport’s fire brigade, while dozens of airport staff had lined up with their cameras to capture this historic event.

On board the B737-800NG, ordinarily the route is served with one of RwandAir’s new CRJ900NextGen aircraft, was a delegation representing the Rwandan government, members of the board of RwandAir and business leaders seeking to establish ties with their South Sudanese counterparts to explore investment and trade opportunities. Also on board were invited media representatives, besides dozens of ‘ordinary passengers’ who flew to and later in the day from Juba, filling the B737 to nearly the last seat.

Prof. Silas Lwakabamba, Rwanda’s Minister for Infrastructure, officiated on behalf of the Rwandan government and the warmth of the speeches and reaction by those in the room were evidence that the two countries indeed have developed strong ties since South Sudan’s independence in July 2011.

RwandAir’s launch fares, offering travel to for instance Nairobi and Entebbe for as low as 199 US Dollars return, taxes included, have swept the market like by storm one travel agent said when asked how the new flights were taken up among Juba resident. ‘These fares have cut the cost of travel to Nairobi by more than half compared to the cheapest other option out of Juba. So my clients are ready to fly via Kigali to save a lot of money. Those who have travelled have confirmed that the service on board is good and that transit in Kigali has no problems. These fares will be in place until middle of November and I want to sell as much as I can. Working with the RwandAir GSA has been easy going so far. I hope the fares afterwards will remain competitive because it has made travel to South Africa or to West Africa very affordable’ said a travel agency manager before suddenly disappearing into the crowd when Rwanda’ s traditional dancers started their thrilling performance, without leaving her name.

In a delightful development was Miss World South Sudan 2013, Modong Manuela Mogga invited to the function, who had only recently made it into the top 10 of the Miss World contest in Bali / Indonesia where she was also crowned ‘most beautiful contestant’ from among the world’s beauties. She drew the prizes RwandAir had brought along offering tickets to various destinations across their network and the shrill jubilation sounds from the winner’s tables told the story of excitement and appreciation.

(A beaming John Mirenge at the Juba function)

While travelling on board with John Mirenge, CEO of RwandAir, opportunity arose to also talk about the immediate future plans of RwandAir. He confirmed that the delivery of the Bombardier Q400 was expected in March 2014, at which stage the present Dash 8 will be retired from service, finally offering both business class and economy class services even on domestic flights to Kamembe or the other regional destinations the brand new turboprop aircraft will be deployed to. John Mirenge also confirmed that substantial progress has been made in bilateral talks with Cote` d’ Ivoire about traffic rights and plans to launch flights to Abidjan sometime in 2014 were therefore advancing well if not beyond expectations.

RwandAir presently flies three times a week between Kigali and Juba but has according to their CEO a keen interest to add more services, subject to passenger loads justifying the addition of a fourth weekly flight. Happy Landings it was yesterday on the inaugural flight, both ways and Happy Landings indeed to crews and passengers on this route.

South Sudan News

AFEX FORCED TO SHUT DOWN RUMBEK CAMPS

(Posted 14th October 2013)

Yet another Kenyan company has fallen foul of the murky legal, regulatory and taxation regimes in South Sudan, after that country, by refusing to allow ticket sales proceeds to be repatriated, forced Jetlink late last year into first suspending operations and then closing down altogether.

African Expeditions, a company headquartered in Nairobi and specialized to providing tented and pre-fabricated accommodation in remote places, has announced that the tax demands made of them no longer permitted to run a viable business, considering the ever lower occupancies which are a result – by the definition of some individuals met last weekend during a trip to Juba – of the prevailing security situation and the perception by business and adventure travelers about their personal safety when visiting Africa’s youngest nation.

AFEX commenced operations in South Sudan the moment the CPA, in short for Comprehensive Peace Agreement was signed between the then Garang led South Sudan and the regime in Khartoum.

At one stage AFEX was running over 60 such camps across South Sudan, often the only place where travelers, NGO personnel and even government officials could stay.

However, as time went by and reportedly more so since independence in July 2011, more and more foreign owned businesses have reported strong arm tactics by individuals, often ranking army officers up to the ranks of generals, attempting to get a piece of the cake and muscling in when not instantly accommodated in their demands.

I have told you time and again, South Sudan has to undergo significant reforms. Their legal system, their land tenure and land ownership have to be harmonized with the rest of the EAC if they want to join. Investors need secure tenure for land leases or want to buy outright. Their regulations should not just comprise copy and paste jobs by dubious consultants who have to share their proceeds with greedy individuals giving them such jobs but have to be relevant AND understood so that implementation is possible.

Investment incentives start for us in Kenya with being able to remit management fees, profits and repayments of loans taken to set up such business ventures. If we cannot get money for that purpose we all end up like Jetlink, which is broke. The often reported culture of the guns must fundamentally be replaced by a well trained police force. Being open for investments as they keep saying requires a lot more than just flying into Juba with a briefcase of project proposals and a bank draft. And talking of Juba. I hope you experienced the arrival and departure chaos we who live there go through every time we travel. First it smells like you step into a urinal and then there is no functioning aircondition. Officials make it a habit to find faults with your Visa or passport or anything if they try to get some chai from you. I laughed when you wrote about how your delegation was subjected to the same ridiculous comedy and they tried to make you pay for Visa when you were to enter free. It is worse for individual travellers. Departure security is frankly a joke too and this is a powder keg really for something to happen. I have sympathy with AFEX and in fact would not be surprised if the people forcing them to leave will not within days have another camp up and running. There truly are too many opportunities in South Sudan but the entire way of doing business, from arrival at the airport to departure, must be retooled and reinvented or else little will change’ commented a regular source who lives in Juba but was away when I visited last weekend.

Harsh words but mirrored often enough through reports from Juba and beyond to make them absolutely believable, and in the case of AFEX it is a matter of fact now anyway. Tourism to the South Sudanese parks like Boma could be a gold mine, if tourism were properly facilitated, arriving guests could just get on their domestic charter to the destination and then enjoy days out in a nearly untouched wilderness. What is lacking though are camps and lodges, ground transport accessibility as the roads to such remote locations during the rainy season are literally impassable and security, preventing incidents like earlier in the year when the entire Boma National Park installations were overrun by militias, ransacked and burned down.

Will lessons be learned one wonders as such situations like with Jetlink or now AFEX make the rounds and get into the regional and international media? Time will tell so keep watching this space.

Seychelles News

SEYCHELLES HOST CLIMATE CHANGE SYMPOSIUM

(Posted 18th October 2013)

A symposium on the problems of climate change was held on the Seychelles’ main island of Mahe this week, bringing together participants from several of the Indian Ocean islands and from the African mainland along the Eastern seaboard. The meeting is tasked to develop a common position, reflecting the threats of rising sea levels to the island countries and the countries in Africa with access to the ocean, no mean task considering the state of continued denial by many developed and in particular the BRICS countries, which have so far successfully stalled any meaningful agreements to contain and then reduce green gas emissions.

Attendance was reported to cover such African countries like Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique and South Africa as well as from Mauritius, Madagascar, the Comoros as well as officials from COMESA and the Indian Ocean Commission.

Estimates now considered realistic in regard to the data available speak of a rise in ocean levels between around 25 centimetres at the low end and over 80 centimetres at the high end of the projections, depending on how effective the reduction of greenhouse gases will be, but considering that China now is responsible for nearly a quarter of the global output, questions are being asked how committed they, alongside Russia and India are to introduce costly green technologies which could impact on their countries’ economic growth. China’s air pollution has become a major health issue especially in the Beijing area, where maximum levels of particles recommended by the WHO and other organizations have in the past been exceeded by a factor of a hundred. This beckons questions of how sustainable such unhealthy environmental circumstances are and when the people will finally demand a reversal of pollution in the face of increased deaths and wide spread health problems.

Small islands states like the Maldives, but also the Seychelles and several Pacific nations are faced with the stark reality that their countries could be completely under water in a hundred years, should the ocean levels continue to rise at the speed seen over the past decades. Most of these countries depend to a large extent on tourism and the Seychelles in particular have devoted over 50 percent of their territory towards protected areas in the form of terrestrial national parks and nature reserves as well as marine parks. The Aldabra atoll is in fact globally recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and now serves as a barometer to test the impact of rising ocean temperatures and water levels and their impact on reefs and marine life.

Seychelles President James Alix Michel has been at the forefront to raise attention to this problem and was the catalyst for small island countries coming together to formulate their own position, marked by the struggle to stay literally afloat and survive the onslaught of rising ocean waters though the world community is yet to fully appreciate the challenges these countries have and how ongoing pollution in the name of development and their right to ‘catch up’ is affecting the rest of the world.

The symposium was officially opened by the Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Environment Mr. Wills Agricole.

AND in closing some more worthwhile reads from Gill Staden’s The Livingstone Weekly …

Some photographs of our new park inhabitants sent by Peter River Club

Cowbells Down the Zambezi

David Lemon

Many of you may remember David Lemon’s trek along the Zambezi River from its source to Siavonga last year. David decided to have a break at this point – it was still hundreds of kilometres to go to the sea. He needed a rest, to build up his energy and to get some new teeth – his teeth had become so loose with the malnutrition. He returned to UK. After that we would all think that David would just relax, but no. He wrote a book about the first part of his journey. The book, Cowbells Down the Zambezi, will be available in the shops in about a month.

David tells of the trials, dangers and fun times he had walking day after day as near as he could be to the Zambezi River. He meets many interesting people and on one occasion meets up with a herd of elephant at night:

I suppose it was inevitable that one of the elephant should decide to investigate my tree. I remained where I was, but slowly levered myself into a sitting position with my back against the trunk and smiled to myself as the huge shadow approached. In the moonlight, I could see that he was a young bull with small but thick tusks. Suddenly realising that there was something under the tree, he stopped ten metres away and I sat perfectly still, waiting to see what his reaction would be.

For long minutes – or so it seemed – that massive animal peered into the shadows, while I gazed back at him. His trunk came up to test the wind, then he cocked his head first to one side and then the other. There was nothing I could do but pray he didn’t get a sudden fright and run over me in his panic, because he looked awfully large from where I sat.

At one stage that bull literally crouched down, almost falling to his knees in his efforts to see through the darkness and then suddenly, he realised what I was. There was a definite transition from puzzled pachyderm to responsible elephant. Raising himself to his full height, he took one last look at my shadowy shape, then moved purposefully into the darkness. …

It’s a must-read book so look out for it in the shops.

From Robin Pope Safaris

We have been a tad on the busy side but before we go on to that, guess what happened last night….? That familiar low grumble of thunder and then a 15 minute rain shower! What a joy. I mean just so lovely to get some rain but I have to say this morning you would never have guessed it, and then just to add insult to injury it is already a little on the toasty side! Let’s hope that this is not a precursor to forthcoming attractions because we still have 6 weeks of the season to go at Nsefu and wading around in black cotton soil is no fun for anyone except for the hippos.

Other than the dappling we received last night things have been all go in the park. The Nkwali guests have been woken up on several mornings this last week by the familiar low bellow of lions roaming on the ever-increasing beach in front of camp as they stamp their mark. The leopards do not want to be shoved aside either, so have been up to their usual tricks dragging kills up trees and generally posing for the camera.

Despite two cold days, we have been slightly warm out here in the Luangwa and all the animals have been doing whatever they can to cool down including this rather sweaty hippo taking in some shade just outside Tena Tena. Interesting fact for you all out there – it is called blood sweat and is a pink secretion that oozes from their pores and in fact acts like a kind of sunscreen! By the way I hope that you are all impressed with my knowledge! Mind you, having been out here for so long it would be embarrassing if I didn’t have a few facts tucked up my sleeve…

Memories of Kafue

My Kafue National Park story sparked a comment from one of the readers of the Livingstone Weekly:

When I was about 11 or 12 years old Mum & Dad took us (I have 2 brothers) to the Kafue Park. We were the third car to enter that very, very new game park. I still have a very clear memory of Lufupa camp, at the confluence of the Kafue and Lufupa Rivers. At that camp the “toilet was a “long drop”. The “seat” was a brick construction – to me it was about the size of a large sofa! I could not bend my knees while sitting on it. The enclosure for this toilet was a U-shaped wall of grass, in the way the people built their grass huts, but the toilet did not have a roof nor a door. This convenience was wonderfully positioned as, while sitting there, one had a scenic view down the confluence of the two rivers! The “bath room (house?)” was similarly constructed of thatch and roofless. But what a marvel of architecture. There was no door here either, instead the wall of grass was constructed in a spiral so that on entering one walked around into the centre where there was a large zinc bath. The camp attendants kept oil drum of water heating over an open fire and when one wished to bath the water was carried in buckets to fill the bath. A bucket of hot and one of cold was left for the bather to adjust the temperature of his/her bath. To indicate that the loo or bathroom were occupied there was a rough piece of card tied to each structure (at the entrance to the bathroom spiral and at the outside back of the loo). On one side of each card was scrawled “Vacant” and on the other “Occupied”. One flipped the card on going in and had to remember to turn it back to “Vacant” on leaving!

Botswana and IUCN call for global action to stop African elephant poaching

IUCN 10 October 2013

As the surge in African elephant poaching and illegal ivory trade continues, the Government of Botswana and IUCN are convening a high-level summit on the African Elephant calling for stronger global action to halt the illegal trade and secure viable elephant populations across Africa.

Hosted by the President of the Republic of Botswana H.E. Lieutenant General Seretse Khama Ian Khama, the event will bring together Heads of State and representatives of all African elephant range countries, as well as high-level representatives from key transit and destination countries in the illegal African elephant ivory trade chain.

“The need for all African nations to work together to manage our continent’s natural resources is more important than ever,” says Minister of Environment, Wildlife and Tourism, Botswana Mr T S Khama. “Africa needs the world’s support to address the issues of wildlife trafficking and trade, as it is the world that is creating the demand for wildlife products which drives poaching on our continent, and so threatens the survival of species.” …

The African Elephant Summit will take place from 2 to 4 December 2013 in Botswana’s capital Gaborone.

Desert & Delta

An amazing afternoon started when we were watching a breeding herd of Elephants drinking water. After they all finished drinking the breeding herd started moving on.

When we all thought that it was the end of the show, a big male elephant showed up. He went straight to the little mud pool instead of a big waterhole. This time he only went there for a mud bath. He started by taking mud with his trunk and spraying all over his body and then performing by trying to push its rear into a tiny little hole. With all the posing he gave us, he became the most photographed animal of the day.

On the other side a young male hippo was trying his luck of challenging the dominant male. Luckily the big male managed to claim his territory back by winning the title, and you can see why!

Story by Mod – Guide at Camp Moremi — Moremi Mud Bath..

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