TOURISM, AVIATION AND CONSERVATION NEWS from the Eastern African and Indian Ocean region
A weekly roundup of reports, travel stories and opinions by Prof. Dr. Wolfgang H. Thome
Get daily breaking news updates via Twitter @whthome or on my blog: www.wolfganghthome.wordpress.com
Third edition March 2011
KAMPALA CITY GETS EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
President Museveni has on the eve of the mayoral elections in Kampala appointed the city’s new chief executive but the name of the new appointee will not be released until after the election results are known. Government accorded the capital city a new status towards the end of last year, which turns the city’s former divisional ‘chairpersons’ to ‘mayors of municipalities’ while the city itself will have a ‘Lord Mayor’ with mainly ceremonial functions, leaving the ‘business to run the city’ with the appointed CEO.
Kampaleans are now hoping that the rot, corruption and rubbish are being swept out by the new city CEO and the new administrative set up, all of whom however will have a herculean task to reform the city’s bureaucracy at the same time as providing long awaited services to city resident.
Central government has towards that end injected mega bucks into repairing city roads but rubbish collection, health centres, street lighting and the administration of revenue are equally challenging tasks remaining entirely in the domain of city hall and the former divisional offices which are now proper ‘municipalities’.
Traffic control too will rank high on the top challenges of the new administrator but the new Kampala Capital City Authority will at least have a greater say in planning coordination over their ‘neighbours’ in Mukono and Entebbe, all of which are considered part of the greater Kampala metropolitan area.
AND THE VENDETTA CONTINUES UNABATED
Uganda’s controversial tourism minister – there has been a rising chorus of voices calling for his ‘relocation’ when the new cabinet is formed – has instituted yet another probe committee into the affairs of the Uganda Wildlife Authority, after last week appointing a team charged with investigating the World Bank funded ‘Protected Areas Management and Sustainable Use’ project, in short known as PAMSU. At least his choice of chairman of the probe committee, outspoken former Supreme Court Justice Prof. Kanyeihamba this time gives his appointment the mantle of respectability, unlike in previous cases where public opinion upon seeing the names of the appointees immediately jumped to ‘kangaroo court’ conclusions.
It is understood though that the principal motive of the move was to unearth ‘dirt’ on the previous management, which after standing up to the outrageous financial demands of the subsequently dismissed chairperson and board of UWA – he was dismissed by the High Court for not meeting the qualifications required under the Wildlife Act – were running into a hailstorm of ‘countermeasures’ resulting in first suspension from their posts and then their sacking.
Donors and development partners have been slow since the storm over UWA broke to make further major pledges for grants and loans, eying the developments with concern – some in fact say ‘grave concern’ – and this latest round of ‘investigations’ may also be aimed at appeasing those who brought the megabucks over the past 15+ years and then had to read about allegation upon allegation, made by the protagonists in both public and private fora.
Meanwhile has the minister also reacted to a media storm over plans to raze the current Uganda Museum and build a 60 storey ‘trade centre’ instead, by claiming the existing structure would only be expanded and in fact ‘preserved in the new structure’ before lashing out a critics by calling them ‘wallowing in ignorance’. In his typical abrasive fashion he was quoted in local media as having said: ‘Why should they suffer from high blood pressure over things they do not understand? Why do they like talking nonsense?’
True to fashion, an aggressive offensive continues to be the best defence, isn’t it?
MUSEUM SAGA NOW IN COURT
In a predictable development have civil society organisations and heritage advocates gone to the High Court in Kampala to stop the plans by the Ministry of Tourism to demolish the Uganda Museum and instead put up a 60 – yes SIXTY – storey building instead. At least four organisations, probably to be joined later by other groups and individuals should the case go to trial, are seeking an injunction to stop the ministry from going ahead with any preparatory work leave alone starting to demolish existing structures, in a bid to save the historic post independence building and preserve ‘history and heritage for future generations’ as one of the involved parties put it to this correspondent.
This will again pit the tourism minister against opponents of his decrees against civil society, similar to a case he lost when the High Court annulled his appointments of a board for the Uganda Wildlife Authority on the grounds that they lacked qualifications required under the Wildlife Act.
The case will be heard on 21st of March and government, already claiming the new building will improve and promote Uganda’s infrastructure will be represented by the Attorney General while the plaintiffs have reportedly lined up some of Kampala’s finest legal minds to stop the ministry in its tracks. Meanwhile the ministry has tried to appease the public by saying that two floors of the building would be dedicated to house the exhibits presently found in the museum. Critics however pointed out promptly that the historic ‘Lugard Fort’ too was to be protected by government and even had a court order on it, but was still demolished to make way for an expansion of the national mosque in Old Kampala, and when eventually reconstructed at a different site lacked several key attributes, making it less valuable and no longer authentic, saying the same might happen to priceless artefacts and exhibits in the present museum.
One regular source within the minister told this correspondent last evening that the minister would likely have to say something about the upcoming case and as and when his comments are on record an update will be issued. It was also said, off the record, that the recent demand by members of the East African Legislative Assembly, and several of their lawmaking colleagues in the Ugandan Parliament to spare the Uganda Museum had rattled the hierarchy in the ministry as it drew additional local, regional and even international attention to their plans. Watch this space.
LIBYA FALLOUT FELT IN UGANDA
The Libyan owned, many in fact say Gadaffi owned Uganda Telecom is said to be in serious financial dire straits, allegedly unable to pay interconnection fees to market leader MTN to the tune of 20 billion Uganda Shillings. MTN has now given a termination notice to UTL, effective next Monday 14th March, that no calls from the UTL network will be accepted into the MTN network, while MTN users will also no longer be able to call UTL numbers. This escalation comes amid stronger and stronger speculation about the future of ‘Gadaffi’ owned companies in Uganda and the rest of the continent, as indications grow that the UN’s sanction panel could include such companies into the ‘frozen asset’ list they are drawing up, aimed to financially cripple Libya’s faltering dictator.
As reports from Libya show the result of airstrikes against civilian targets the global pressure to inflict at least for the time being financial pain on Gadaffi and his family’s holdings anywhere around the globe is growing and Uganda companies too could be affected.
UTL, when taken over by the Libyans, was expecting a major capital injection to move their 3G network to 4G standards, expand coverage and extend their market share but found that this was not the case, leaving them in dispute over payment of those interconnection fees for the last three years, now culminating in a termination. A source from within UTL also indicated that they are now no longer expecting any immediate financial relief from the main owners while the civil war was raging and ongoing in Libya.
In a related development have staff of other companies owned by Libyans expressed their ongoing worries, and while conceding that these firms were locally incorporated and could continue operations as if nothing had changed in Libya, still felt that should their main shareholders find their holdings frozen, or board members banned from international travel, they could be in serious trouble until a resolution has been found.
In a further interesting development, connected to a related article last week, it is worth noting that Uganda’s gutter press publication Red Pepper had in a ‘copy/paste’ job taken the article off this correspondent’s blog site, or else taken it from eTN without giving author’s credit and reposted it as ‘By our reporter’ in a blatant case of copyright theft. Needless to say, communications to them were not responded to. Watch this space.
Fly 540 OPENS UP VIPINGO BY AIR
True to their recent form of expanding their domestic destinations to locations other airlines have not been thinking about, has Fly 540 now announced a three times a week service from Nairobi’s Wilson Airport via Vipingo to Malindi and back effective March 18th. Fly 540, operating from both Jomo Kenyatta International Airport and Wilson Airport, now has without doubt the most extensive scheduled flights network across Kenya including to many of the country’s key national parks. Vipingo has come into the spotlight in recent years as a purpose built and gated estate and golf club community and the who is who from Kenya and more and more of the rich and famous from abroad have lined up to build or buy weekend getaways and holiday homes, conveniently located between Mombasa and Malindi along the coastal strip. The ‘on estate’ airstrip makes arrivals and departures ‘easy’ as no lengthy travel to and from will be required by passengers.
In particular the manicured championship courses at Vipingo have immediately attracted golfers from the entire region but also from overseas and the elevated location of Vipingo creates much cooler day time temperatures compared to the beach side, making golfing much more pleasant especially during the hot dry season. The new air service from the ‘city airport’ in Nairobi to Vipingo makes it much easier to get to that part of the coast and the use of the proven Beechcraft 1900 King Air will make for comfortable travel in a pressurised cabin. The airfare, all inclusive of taxes and fuel surcharges, of KShs 10.540/- will surely attract enough passengers to make this route too a winner for the airline. The flights operate every Wednesday, Friday and Sunday
Visit www.fly540.com for more information, bookings and departure / arrival times.
IT IS SURVIVAL FOR THE FITTEST IN AVIATION
The aviation industry, just recovering from the sharp recession during and after the global financial and economic crisis, is facing another serious threat to the industry’s ability to make up for the record losses IATA airlines suffered in past years. Rising fuel cost are causing crisis meetings amongst managements and only those fortunate enough to have favourable fuel hedging contracts with their suppliers are presently exempted from these worries, that is until those contracts come up for renewal again.
Most airlines however, especially those in Eastern Africa presently engaged in a do or die fare war on Kenya’s domestic routes, are contemplating fuel supplements, or where already in place those to rise even higher, a financially sound decision finance directors have been advocating for, but also a potential factor to drive customers back to overland busses, at least those marginal market segments the current low fares have attracted on the routes to Mombasa and Kisumu from Nairobi.
There is growing speculation in Nairobi’s aviation circles over an upcoming market consolidation, and while tourism to Kenya in particular continues to boom, for now, rising air fares – already hit this year by ‘eco taxes’ in parts of Europe and other related regulatory cost increases – may well hit and depress demand for air travel too. Home heating bills in the key consumer markets in Europe are already leaving potential long haul travellers with a sizeable hole in their pockets, and industry observers presently at ITB in Berlin are behind the scenes speaking of storm clouds on the horizon of vacation businesses and air travel, inspite of the entire industry hyping confidence, in public that is, to keep up appearances.
Should in fact the East African aviation market have to consolidate, it could span from the scheduled airlines operating jet services from JKIA to safari air operations at Wilson Airport. Inflationary data just obtained also show that the falling value of the regional currencies is pushing price rises up faster and further than expected, and such developments for sure also affect business travel plans as companies, afraid of another bust cycle, are tightening their belts again to save cost as and where they can before it may be too late.
Hence, it seems that the recent demand boom for airlines in Eastern Africa may well be an endangered species, at least while inflation is running way ahead of forecasts and aviation fuel prices too have now reached a level beyond the pain threshold. Watch this space.
GROGAN’S CASTLE NOW TOURIST SITE
Grogan’s Castle is located in an area full of history, where many bloody battles were fought between the German forces based in their then colony Tanganyika and the British and allied troops based in Kenya. Imperial Germany’s General Von Lettow-Vorbeck slipped across the nearby border at Taveta with his troops and continued to inflict heavy casualties upon the allied forces in several battles and encounters, and a First World War Cemetery still reminds visitors of the events which took place nearly a century ago.
Five stylish self contained bedrooms now await tourists, coming either to visit Tsavo West and nearby Lake Jipe and Lake Chala, as does a guest cottage in the grounds of the ‘castle’. Meals are served on a ‘communal’ dining table where visitors have the opportunity during meals to share their finds and experiences and bringing them together in a family like setting rather than the separate seating used in other lodges and camps. Meals are ‘home cooked’ and the menu changes with the season to use fresh produce from their own farm and gardens.
War history buffs will have rich pickings when coming to this – unjustifiably – less visited part of Kenya where they can still trace the old battle grounds and positions taken by the British and German forces, the latter incidentally never defeated in that campaign.
Grogan’s is owned and managed by Basil Criticos, whose family also own an extensive sisal estate in the area and who is both a former member of parliament for Taita/Taveta as well as a former cabinet minister in the government of then President Daniel arap Moi.
Visible from Grogan’s, besides the nearby Pare Mountains, is also Mt. Kilimanjaro across the border in Tanzania which especially at sundowner time often appears in its full majestic view, best enjoyed from either the pool side or the main terrace of the imposing hill top ‘castle’.
A 1.200 meter long murram airstrip offers the easiest option to come to Grogan’s and those with a bit of history on their visiting agenda will not be disappointed to have spent a few days there and being able to combine it with visits to nearby lakes and into the less explored part of Tsavo West National Park. Find Grogan’s Castle also on Facebook where regular updates, pictures and comments are posted by visitors via http://www.facebook.com/GrogansCastle?ref=ts
LIONS IN THE SUBURBS
Residents of an outlying village area of Tanzania’s commercial capital Dar es Salaam had a rude shock recently when the roars of at least one, possibly two lions were heard, driving the population into a state of panic. While there is a distinct possibility of a second lion hiding out somewhere in the area one however was killed by police called in to ‘deal with the situation’ as TANAPA was notably absent as was any effort to actually either dart or trap the beast.
When the body of the big cat was handed over to the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism, it was then discovered that the tail and all claws had been removed from the carcass. Lion claws in the past were often ‘framed’ and then used in necklaces while the lion’s tail is a traditional ingredient in the still widely practised witchcraft. The ministry promptly issued a statement saying it was illegal to actually possess such items without a proper government license, but as if the people who were involved would care much about it.
Meanwhile has one conservationists consulted over the story in Arusha decried the use of lethal force without first attempting to trap the animal or dart it and then relocate it, saying TANAPA and the ministry had failed in this case, while hoping that should a second lion indeed hide out in that area better methods would be employed to safeguard villagers.
YELLO MASAI TAPS INTO E-TRAVEL BOOKING POTENTIAL
E-Commerce has finally descended on the Tanzanian travel scene with a bang since www.yellowmasai.com went on line. A key element, missing in many other ‘booking sites’, is available at Yellow Masai, namely secure credit card and payment transactions, but has also linked up with electronic money transfer services like M-Pesa and others, to allow East Africans to search for flights, resorts and other travel related services, book and pay on line without having to leave the ‘comfort of their laptop or desktop computer’.
Since their launch a few weeks ago over 200 service providers have already signed up with Yellow Masai but the company expects this number to grow to over 500 in the short term, as more and more airlines, hotels, resorts, lodges and tourism service providers get to know how best to tap into the growing market segment of individuals and families wishing to book on line.
Yellow Masai is linked to both Facebook and Twitter, where account holders can sign up for the latest news and information, special packages coming on the market and important destination updates.
Yellow Masai has a dual base in Arusha / Tanzania and in California and while the Tanzanian side is doing the hard sell to sign up new partners across Eastern Africa the American side is doing all the tech stuff to incorporate the very latest designs and widgets. It is from there that price and fare comparison has been incorporated allowing visitors to the site to actually compare airfares, the cost of hotel rooms, meals and transportation PLUS see the rating of such services by previous clients.
The real good news though is that smaller ‘one property’ companies can now take advantage of the Yellow Masai booking site, without having to spend mega bucks to create their own and often due to the transaction sizes not exactly viable booking engine, or ‘buying into one’ on a shared platform, something the hospitality giants in East Africa can afford but smaller businesses cannot. Yellow Masai is independent of any of the companies available for booking, ensuring there is no bias or vested interest in promoting one over the other, as it is ultimately the travelling client who decides where to go, stay and which airline to fly with. All in all, added visibility and choice for the East African tourism industry, and all for the better.
PRECISION AIR MOVES AHEAD WITH LISTING ON STOCK EXCHANGE
Tanzania’s premier airline, Precision Air, has announced it is set to go ahead with their planned listing of their shares at the Dar es Salaam stock exchange, apparently unperturbed over a recent attempt to have court issue a winding up order against them, following a suit about an alleged debt of a meagre 150.000 US Dollars. The company intends to widen its shareholder base and present shareholders, which include Kenya Airways with 49 percent, are set to reduce their own holdings substantially. KQ in fact is expected to retain about 30 percent shareholding but the commercial cooperation with Precision Air in terms of codeshared flights and the exploitation of synergy effects will not only continue but strengthen further.
Initially, the launch was due by March but may take place as late as April, so watch this space for updated news as and when the IPO is hitting the market, just as soon as the Capital Market Authority and the DSE have cleared the move.
IATA GRANTS RWANDA’S RTUC ‘EXAMINATION CENTRE’ STATUS
The International Air Transport Association has granted the Rwanda Tourism University College the status of an examination centre for the regular IATA courses, lifting the status of RTUC to the next level. While teaching at the college of relevant topics and courses has been going on for some time already, students had to go to Nairobi to sit for their exams, causing substantial added cost for the students and their sponsors.
Being granted examination status will now permit RTUC to carry out ‘in house’ exams for their students, and those of other institutions offering relevant courses, a move which will undoubtedly spur added interest in a career in aviation and related services.
It is expected that foreign students from for instance neighbouring Burundi and Congo DR may also be referred from now on to the Kigali examination centre after completing their course studies. Small country but Big Spirit and Great Vision.
NEW WILDLIFE BILL AWAITING PRESIDENTIAL CONSENT TO BECOME LAW
The various amendments to the Rwandan wildlife laws – most notably the provision to pay compensation to people suffering damages to property, injuries and loss of life by game straying out of the national parks – has received the approval of Rwanda’s second chamber, the Senate, yesterday. Previous objections by sections of Senators had been resolved by discussions amongst the law makers and the new bill is now being sent to President Kagame to assent to it before it becomes the law of the land.
Lack of compensation was often cited as one of the key issues communities, living around national parks like Akagera, have expressed and been disgruntled about, but the latest amendments and changes will now see to it that destroyed – or rather eaten – crops, damaged to homesteads and in particular injuries and the occasional death will not see families become destitute but receive fair value for what the lost.
Rwanda’s tourism industry is the main engine of economic growth and having communities support conservation measures will be made easier when the new law takes effect.
KINGDOM HOTELS AL-WALEED SNUBS UGANDA AND PRAISES RWANDA
In a move certain to perplex the powers that be in Uganda has Saudi Prince Al Waleed, owner of Kingdom Hotels, apparently done an about turn on his East African plans and expressed his open favour of Rwanda while on a recent visit to Kigali.
Al Waleed’s Kingdom Hotels became a notorious talking point when the company was given a prime piece of real estate in the city centre, expanding over 17 acres, and in the process of which a key city primary school with over 1.000 pupils and a teachers training college were hurriedly demolished – taking years to be rebuilt elsewhere. His plans however to build a 5 star luxury hotel ahead of the 2007 Commonwealth Summit dragged on and time and again were announcements proved to be hot air, until eventually, in the midst of the global financial and economic crisis of 2007/9 the company announced that their interest in the project had withered away.
The plot was then subject to intense speculation when ‘new owners’ suddenly appeared, again without competitive bidding for the land and they too seem to have taken the slow road of doing anything with it.
Meanwhile though has Prince Al Waleed discovered Rwanda and during a recent visit expressed his desire to invest in the country, undoubtedly also in the hospitality industry, where gaps exists since Dubai World had to withdraw from a range of projects also citing the 2007/9 financial crisis, which saw them struggle for survival, being heavily leveraged. He was in fact quoted as having heaped praise on President Kagame’s ‘progress and visionary leadership’ who ‘helped to put Rwanda on the radar screen around the world with respect and dignity’.
The sudden switch of venue for investments from erstwhile friend Uganda to new friend Rwanda has reportedly ruffled quite a few feathers within the establishment in Kampala, where for at least a while – while still courting the powers that be – Al Waleed was taken as a financial messiah before his broken promises exposed him as yet another ordinary mortal.
Time will tell what exactly Rwanda will see in terms of investments from Kingdom Holdings, under which Kingdom Hotels fall too, and as and when there are real developments, instead of the by now well known promises, you can read it right here.
RWANDAIR COMMENCES BRAZZAVILLE / LIBREVILLE FLIGHTS
Last Saturday did RwandAir operate their inaugural flight between Kigali and Brazzaville / Congo B before then proceeding on with full traffic rights to Gabon’s capital Libreville, creating their first such connection from East to West Africa. The flight leaves Kigali’s Kanombe International Airport ever Tuesday, Friday and Saturday and is operated on a B737-500 aircraft. The new link also allows West African travelers to reach a connecting flight on RwandAir from Kigali via Mombasa to Dubai, a pairing reportedly actively sold in both Brazzaville and Libreville due to the attractive launch fares.
In the address to members of the airline fraternity, the business community, diplomats from the respective countries and journalists did the airline’s Executive Chairman John Mirembe say: ‘RwandAir is the first to connect Brazzaville with Libreville’. Others commented that the flight will open up business, trade and tourism opportunities for all the three countries and in fact for the East African Community members’ business sectors, as they all connect easily with RwandAir from their own main cities to Kigali.
Later this year GECAS is due to deliver two brand new B737-800 aircraft to RwandAir as they continue to expand their fleet, destinations and frequencies in key markets. Watch this space.
ROSETTE RUGAMBA RETURNS TO HER ‘WINNING PATCH’
Rosette Rugamba, former head of ORTPN and then Deputy CEO at the Rwanda Development Board for Tourism and Conservation, will return to her ‘winning site’ this week as an invited panelist when the global report on ‘Women in Tourism’ is being formally launched by the UNWTO. After leading Rwanda’s tourism delegation to three consecutive ‘Best Exhibitor’ trophies at the ITB in Berlin, Rosette retired from RDB a year ago to go into private business and is now CEO of ‘Songa Africa’ besides making apparent waves across women executives organizations on the continent.
The report launch will take place on the 11th March – details of the venue and time are available for ITB participants in the main programme – and is organized b the UN’s World Tourism Organization, a sign in how high an esteem Rosette is held in international circles. Said Rosette on the eve of her departure to Berlin / Germany: ‘It is a humbling honour and great opportunity to showcase what Rwanda has achieved in empowering women and the potential it has to be a leading tourism destination’.
BERNARD LOUISEAU CULINARY FESTIVAL COMMENCES THIS WEEKEND
No sooner had the Seychelles concluded their first ever Carnival Festival, the first of its kind in Africa it is understood, did the ‘road signs’ for events in the Indian Ocean point to Mauritius where the Bernard Louiseau Culinary Festival is going underway this weekend. Hosted by the Constance Belle Mare Plage Resort, Michelin starred chefs from the Indian Ocean region and beyond are assembling to bring culinary delights to tourist guests and Mauritians. This fifth edition of the food festival, which saw its inaugural held way back in 2006 is expected to once again draw big crowds and is sure to receive the attention of the media on the island as well as beyond. Assisted by the local chefs and cooks at the Constance Resort Belle Mare Plage the ‘teams’ will create and then serve new dishes and menus, using the freshest ingredients available to them from the sea and from the land. Celebrating the art of excellent food and excellent service – in coming days ‘life in Mauritius’.
Find out more about the resort and the festival by ‘googling’ or via www.bellemareplagehotel.com
NO VISA AT ALL POLICY PART OF SEYCHELLES TOURISM SUCCESS
The Seychelles recent success in making big gains in tourism arrivals, often entirely credited to the privatisation of the tourist board two years ago, has many fathers though, the outstanding performance of Alain St. Ange’s tourism marketing team, globally acknowledged for that matter, notwithstanding.
A determined push into new and emerging markets, like Russia for instance, was aided by the archipelago’s policy of NO VISA REQUIRED, which leaves travellers free of worries over admission, getting their Visa in time or the cost associated with getting the bloody things in terms of time and money.
Emirates, the award winning UAE airline, too showed they are ‘skysmart’ – freely translated from ‘streetsmart’ when they decided to go double daily by late 2011 with already 10 flights in place and two more coming by the end of the month. Passengers NOT needing Visa decide with greater ease for a destination and airlines flying to the archipelago are not likely to find themselves heavily fined for carrying passengers with forged or no Visa as it happens in other destinations Emirates flies to.
When coming to the Seychelles, as long as passengers hold a return ticket, have a confirmed hotel reservation and sufficient cash to pay for their local expenses – and in the case of coming from certain parts of Africa have a current Yellow Fever inoculation certificate – everyone is welcomed to experience the ‘Creole Paradise’ a thousand miles away from everywhere else.
It is this ‘open door’ policy which has contributed considerably to the Seychelles’ success in marketing their islands as other destinations, especially those in direct competition, require Visa which for many nationalities are difficult to obtain at best, either because the bureaucracy is ‘tough’ or the nearest embassy or High Commission far away. When one hears squabbles breaking out, like recently from sections of the Zanzibari tourism trade when Tanzania signed a Memorandum of Understanding for twin centre holidays, those complaining about ‘loss of business’ should first and foremost address reasons which keep travellers away from their own shores, what can be done to make coming to a destination more attractive and hassle free, and more cost effective for long haul travellers and take a leaf from countries like the Seychelles, where according to a regular source in Victoria / Mahe it goes like this: ‘when you check into your flight to Seychelles, you and your bags will arrive here in our island paradise and all hassle and troubles will be routed to the other end of the world’ [the particular airport which was mentioned was left unprinted to avoid upsetting those concerned].
In contrast, here in East Africa countries are for years talking about a common Visa permitting visitors to travel to all EAC member states at a go, but without any results while keeping individual Visa fees high, which 50 US Dollars per person per country actually is, while at least Kenya has for the time being stuck to their fee of 25 US Dollars per person AND grants a free re-entry in case a visitor hops across the border to say Uganda and then returns to Kenya to stay for some time. Yet, overall, having NO Visa fees is worth considering, in particular when seeing the benefits such a political decision has brought to the archipelago. So GO VISIT SEYCHELLES, entrance is free …
SEYCHELLES TOURISM ACADEMY EXPANDS HOTEL MANAGEMENT INTAKE
Academy principal Flavien Joubert on Friday welcomed the fourth group of students for a hospitality degree programme, which STA offers jointly with the Shannon College of Hotel Management and has been validated by the National University of Ireland.
The 19 students will study for 3 years at the campus in La Misere / Mahe before but also serve ‘industrial attachment’ spells, one of them already lined up at the Constance Belle Mare Plage Resort in Mauritius. Information available speaks of dozens of applicants for the few positions available at STA for this programme every year and only the very best, scoring the highest all round in the selection process are admitted to the degree programme.
Constance Hotels’ Ephelia Resort, which hosted the event, is a leading supporter of training young Seychellois citizens aiming to make a career in the hotel industry and in fact many of the archipelago’s leading resorts and hotels are closely involved in defining the curriculum and providing training opportunities for STA students in an effort to gradually absorb more Seychellois into the work place.
It was also learned that the initial batch of students offered study places in 2008, will later this year leave for an extended period of time to Ireland before graduating with a Bachelor degree in hotel management. Nearly 60 percent of all jobs across the archipelago are directly (over 20 percent) and indirectly based on tourism activities and supplying the resorts and hotels and, considering the current trend in tourism investments and arrivals for the Seychelles’ will ensure jobs for all Seychellois for years to come, just as long as they are skilled and well trained.
CARNIVAL FESTIVAL A RESOUNDING SUCCESS
The well attended first ever Seychelles Carnival Festival, which ended early this week, drew spectators from afar and in fact from across the globe to the archipelago, and what they saw did not disappoint. Political delegations and ‘snoops’ from various tourist boards too came to the Seychelles, as guests and as paying visitors, to assess the impact of the festival on the country’s tourism sector before returning home and scheming up ‘copy cats’ for coming years.
In particular the Zimbabwean delegation, upon returning home, was widely reported to have commented favourably on their experience, vowing to replicate a carnival festival in Harare – claims taken with a pinch of salt though considering recent temporary occupations of hospitality businesses by regime goons and government’s intention to – if necessary by decree, i.e. force – take over the majority in tourism related business enterprises.
Other more down to earth delegations spoke of ‘a wonderful experience’ and compared the Seychelles Carnival Festival already with the more established parades and performances in the better known carnival countries of Europe and South America.
Hotels and resorts report a major inflow of guests for the festival period and tourist were reportedly too vowing to return for next year’s edition, which will undoubtedly become a major feature in the archipelago’s tourism calendar similar to SUBIOS and the Creole Festival activities.
But most of all did the participating private sector of the tourism industry and the Seychelles Tourist Board and their public sector colleagues drawn into the organisation receive praise for a flawless execution of the planned programme and for putting the global spotlight on the country. Well done all round and plenty of bouquets for Team Seychelles and barbs for the copy cats who should truly invent something original of their own.
South Sudan News
TOURISM AND WILDLIFE RELATED CONTRACTS ‘ON SHAKY GROUNDS’
When the peace agreement was signed in January 2005 between the Sudan People Liberation Movement and the regime in Khartoum, many investment opportunities were waiting for the quick witted, in particular in and around Juba, where tented camp accommodation sold at 180 US Dollars a person a night and the ROI for those ‘early birds’ was phenomenal. As more and more business visitors flocked to the Southern capital of Juba – the one place well connected by air to both Nairobi and Entebbe – the ‘second wave’ then began to eye opportunities in the national parks, earmarked to create the foundation for nature and wildlife based tourism.
6 years down the line, the referendum for independence successfully completed, a new nation will be born on the 09th of July and more and more questions are now being asked about legislative and regulatory provisions in the wildlife and tourism sector. This applies in particular for alleged ‘deals’ made over the past years, seemingly without the foundation of modern laws and regulations for the sector, which may have to be cancelled outright or formally re-advertised – some in fact say publicly advertised for the first time as no one can recall having seen invitations for tenders in the past, probably in the absence of a regulatory framework covering such. The main thrust of allegations focuses on the Boma National Park, home to the world’s second largest migration of animals numbering around 800.000 animals, part of which has allegedly been ‘gifted’ to some of the Gulf’s rulers. Several regular sources in Juba have made it plain, that if at all such a deal was made, it would be on legally thin ice as the offer was not publicly advertised nor bidders invited from the South Sudan, the region or from the international scene, and that the new country would have all right to seek the immediate termination of such deals, should they be found to actually exist – something one other source actually denies. As a newly independent nation the South Sudan could easily ‘disown’ much which was done during the 2005/11 CPA pre-referendum and pre-independence period and deal brokers are reportedly sweating in Juba, not only because of the usual hot temperatures but over worries the new republic will begin to do things properly and introduce transparent conditions for doing business in the South.
Similar allegations are being made over large scale ‘carbon credit schemes’ which involves over 150.000 hectares of land in the heartland of the South, where again shady deals are being cited yet little proof offered which could stand up to scrutiny and compel any parties involved to defend themselves against such charges.
The determination of the Southern leadership, in particular their parliament, to establish on the fast track a comprehensive legal and regulatory system while kissing the often repressive and ancient laws of the regime in Khartoum good bye, will be closely monitored in the weeks ahead before Independence Day finally comes knocking on the door, and in the months immediately after Independence, as much of the goodwill of the international community and their willingness to invest in the South will be directly linked with having strong laws and an independent judiciary able to deal with any matters brought before them.
What is of key importance however for the tourism industry, is a clear regulatory and legislative system in place for investors to apply for concessions in the national parks and have the peace of mind that contracts thus entered into will stand in law and be honoured for their duration, the issue of relevant land leases or outright purchase of land to build quality hotels on it and for safari companies to be licensed in a transparent fashion without the red tape witnessed under Khartoum rules. While opportunities are abound in the South Sudan for investment in tourism and all other economic sectors, time will tell, and probably very fast, just where the newest country will be heading after independence day and if the dreams of becoming a major African investment destination beyond the oil sector can be fulfilled. Watch this space.
And in closing today some interesting material courtesy of ‘The Livingstone Weekly’, produced week in week out by Gill Staden. I thought the piece about deforestation in Zambia of particular interest as the entire continent – like previously the Amazon region of South America – sees its previously sprawling forests and besides the Amazon the second ‘green lung of the world’ cut down at a growing pace, driven by the greed for tropical timber particularly in the ‘East’ where countries give the proverbial rat’s arse about the future of Africa. Exploitation of Africa’s mineral and natural wealth has accelerated in recent years and it seems another wave of neo-colonialism, under very different colours this time, is again sweeping the continent, this time however more likely than not to the point of no return. That point will be reached once our resources have been gobbled up by ‘friends’, who will discard us once our wealth has been stripped away. History is about to repeat itself once again!
From Novell Open Enterprise
Deforestation and climate change are two environmental forces impacting Zambia. First, deforestation plays a key role because it is both a contributor to climate change as well as a potential source for mitigation through the generation of Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) credits. Deforestation in Zambia has been dramatic, with no primary forest left and 250,000 hectares lost each year. These high rates of deforestation occur because with many Zambians lacking access to electricity, both rural and urban households rely on woodfuel and charcoal to meet their energy needs. In fact, these sources account for 75-90% of the country’s energy. The severity of deforestation in Zambia is represented in the following maps.
… As is indicated by the key on the map, the height and color of each country are indicative of how many hectares were lost or gained in the time period of 1990 to 2005. Every single country surrounding KAZA Park lost forest cover during this time period.
… Zambia alone saw its forest cover decline by 13.6% between 1990 and 2005 and Zambia no longer has any forest which exist in a frontier-forest state, meaning undisturbed forest areas which are large enough to support viable populations of their biodiversity. As is displayed on the map, Zambia is surpassed only by the Democratic Republic of Congo in terms of total hectares deforested.
W: On a more positive note come news from the PDF in Hwange with an update on a species equally threatened with extinction:
Painted Dog Foundation, Hwange
Some Room for Optimism?
We ended 2010 with some room for optimism given the reports coming in about new dogs in the area. Happily this situation has largely continued with the Sisele pack, still a regular sight around Hwange National Park, Main Camp. The Sisele pack is a small pack of only two adults and six pups, however we know the alpha female very well. She turned up at our Rehabilitation Facility on her own in May 2009. Her two brothers, Sibuyile and Sithule, were already inside the enclosures and after some time I managed to
successfully dart her and reunite her with her brothers, albeit inside our enclosure. We named her Vusile, which translates roughly as the “clever one.”
Over the ensuing months we integrated these three with the “survivors” of Starvation Island and the entire pack was released into Hwange National Park as the ill-fated Bambanani pack in August 2009.
The fate of the Bambanani was detailed in my October 2009 report. The pack soon ran into trouble with two males killed by speeding cars, three others killed in snares and at that time Vusile disappeared. We received one sighting towards the end of 2009 and another in early 2010, which we believed was Vusile and, accordingly, maintained our hopes. It was only in October last year that we positively identified the
female with six pups as Vusile, confirming that she is indeed the clever one. Her pups are the most beautiful, her alpha male partner seeming to be as smart as she is because raising six pups to this age is quite an accomplishment.
We are driving out each day to keep a watchful eye on them with the aim of getting a collar on at least one of the adults so that we can better monitor them. We know how smart they are and sure enough they have avoided all our darting efforts to date.
Further south we have been trying to keep an eye on, or rather get a handle on, the Secheche pack, which was first reported on in September 2010. This pack has a combination of five adults and yearlings plus six pups, so is slightly better positioned than the Sisele. Though this pack is further away we have actually managed to collar one of the adult males, though not without the usual share of drama involving cars breaking down in the bush and subsequent long walks.
Eventually though, the team of Greg, Ester Hans and “Mk” successfully darted one of the adult males. He was targeted because it looked as though he had a broken jaw. Thankfully it was only a torn lip, an old wound, that just gave him a peculiar appearance.
With the Kutanga pack being ever present in the area as well, we are enjoying plenty of dog sightings at the moment, while we also wait for an opportunity when we can revisit Mana Pools and check on Tait plus her Vundu pack.
Wilton and his team hit the ground running in 2011 and have already hosted five schools from the local communities. The impact of the Bush Camp programme is huge and it’s simply great to see the children having the time of their lives.
Wilton posted a lovely story on our Facebook page (http://www.facebook.com/pages/Painted-Dog-Conservation) recently about two children that managed to avoid some buffalos and thus a life threatening confrontation, as a result of their lessons at the Bush Camp and their first ever game drive into Hwange National Park, when they saw buffalo for the first time, which enabled them to distinguishing buffalo from cattle.
Poaching activity has been generally low in the first quarter of the year but with the rains now seeming to have come to an end rather early it spells trouble ahead. Already agencies such as USAID are distributing food in the rural communities and there are concerns that a relatively poor rainy season will translate into hardships for people later this year. This usually translates into increased poaching activity, so if funding permits we will try and strengthen our anti-poaching units this year.
All in all it’s been a positive start to 2011. We sincerely hope that you will continue to support us as you have done so wonderfully over the years during will inevitably be another tough year.
W: The news from Zimbabwe though are not very encouraging and belie the ‘official smiley face’ the country put on during the just concluded ITB where officials reportedly refused to comment on these allegations and the recent wave of ‘occupations’ of resorts, hotels, safari lodges, camps and outfitters the Mugabe regime is trying to ‘redistribute’ too.
From ‘New Zimbabwe’
A leading wildlife expert in Zimbabwe has warned that government’s push to implement the controversial wildlife based land reform will have ‘a huge’ impact on tourism.
Johnny Rodrigues, chairman of the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force told SW Radio Africa on Wednesday that wildlife is the hallmark of tourism in Zimbabwe and any further disturbances to the industry will kill off the sector.
‘It’s a pity people are being used as political tools. Elections are coming and this is why you have people who support the regime going into these conservancies. Genuine conservationists had the welfare of animals at heart.
But to suggest that bringing in new faces aligned to one political party and hope they will turn around wildlife conservancy as part of this new policy is just fantasy and pure greed,’ Rodrigues said.
Authorities announced on Tuesday that they will now start forcing the predominantly white conservancy owners to join with black partners in a new round of so-called land reforms.
Parks and Wildlife Authority Director-General, Vitalis Chadenga, described the new policy as ‘one of the unfinished businesses of the land reform program’. It has mainly targeted ranches and conservancies situated in the southern half of Zimbabwe.
Chadenga told the state controlled Herald the wildlife-based land reform policy will see at least 60 indigenous people getting leases from the government or ‘sharing’ conservancies with white former owners. Sharing means the owners will be forced to give up 51% of their shares.
Most of those eyeing the conservancies are ZANU PF heavyweights and senior military personnel, who include cabinet Minister Stan Mudenge, Masvingo Governor Titus Maluleke, former deputy Minister Shuvai Mahofa, Major-General Engelbert Rugeje and retired Brigadier-General Gibson Mashingaidze.
Rodrigues said wildlife management is a specialized field and people who were qualified to care for the wildlife have been driven off their properties to make way for people who, in most cases, have no experience in the field.
‘A decade ago, we had 640 game ranches in Zimbabwe but it’s now gone down to five. Of 14 conservancies before 2000, the last one was grabbed only recently, leaving none at all. Animals are being killed indiscriminately and there’s a lot of commercial poaching as well,’ Rodrigues added.
Unscrupulous hunters and safari operators from South Africa and Botswana are targeting Zimbabwe and have reportedly been responsible for hunting the very few animals left. They are also reportedly buying hunts from the new settlers, who have no idea what hunts are really worth so they are paid a very small sum, allowing huge profits to be made by the unscrupulous hunters.
‘Tourism is being hugely affected by this. They are spending millions marketing tourism and telling the world they want the tourists to come back. The tourists aren’t going to come back because the basics and principals of the industry have been thrown out the window,’ according to Rodrigues.
Two years ago the head of the United Nations programme to protect endangered species said that Zimbabwean security forces were spearheading the poaching of elephants and rhinos in the country.