TOURISM, AVIATION AND CONSERVATION NEWS from Eastern Africa and the Indian Ocean islands
A weekly roundup of reports, travel stories and opinions by Prof. Dr. Wolfgang H. Thome
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First edition December 2011
ABIDJAN AIRPORT, WHERE ALI BABA AND HIS 40 THIEVES RULE
RwandAir has since the publication of this article issued their own press report, describing the incident in what can only be described as drafted in ‘diplomatic language’, understandable considering that the delegation is still in Abidjan until Wednesday. However, this has also resulted in a number of personal attacks on this correspondent, calling into doubt my journalistic integrity. As a result it is necessary to reiterate, that what is written is indeed how the incident took place, was personally witnessed and then confirmed by those involved when back on board the aircraft and how the events were then narrated also inflight by the pilot in command of the aircraft to the passengers through a special announcement.
As our RwandAir special flight made its final approach into Abidjans international airport, the landscapes beneath were fueling my imagination of what a proper visit to the Ivory Coast might yield and what I might discover travelling along the shores and across the country in terms of scenic beauty. Tropical coastal forests gave way to palm oil plantations and then some more tropical coastal forests, as the city of Abidjan came into sight from the aircraft, which lined up for its landing.
Touchdown it was and while being redirected from the main passenger terminal to the official side of the airport, this was of no concern at the time. After all, this was a special flight with a sizeable government delegation on board, led by two of Rwandas ministers and a number of senior officials, including RwandAirs CEO John Mirenge. We had all travelled to Lagos and Abuja together for the celebration of establishing regular air links between Rwanda and Nigeria and were now delivering a number of our fellow inaugural flight passengers for their second part of their journey, with us expected to then leave for Kigali again. Receiving our official delegation was swift and soon we were taxiing back to the main terminal for refueling to then commence our journey back to Rwanda.
And here the misfortunes commenced and in a way few would have expected, not the least this correspondent who thought he had by and large seen it all in his frequent travels across the continent.
RwandAir, and I say of course, does have a handling agent appointed in Abidjan, a company which takes care of ground handling, provision of equipment like stairs and crucially the refueling.
The cockpit crew, including the engineer on board, disembarked and no handling agent representative was spotted, though the information on landing time had been transmitted well ahead I could later on establish.
Instead, a band of armed soldiers approached the aircraft and demanded cash for the fuel and handling transaction, for the latter a cool 5.000 US Dollars and for the fuel they quoted an initial figure which could have bought an oil field, or else taken care of their pension for life.
RwandAirs remaining senior official on board, Michael Otieno, the Corporate Communications Manager, also got involved in the ensuing argument, which swiftly turned into the ABC of African officials, Arrogant behaviour, Blackmail demands and Corruption visible for all to see. Little did he know what was in store for him, as one of the goons then put his gun on him, clearly hoping that this little persuasion would help to extract the extortionate amounts of money they demanded. Our two captains, include RwandAirs Chief Pilot and the engineer who had travelled on the flight, were seen busy making phone calls as the situation threatened to get out of hand quickly and turn into a potential diplomatic incident, as the aircraft had delivered a duly invited official government delegation, only to be then ambushed and extorted and with a senior RwandAir staff held at gunpoint.
Thankfully, at that very stage a representative of the handling company finally appeared, prompting the rogue soldiers deployed at the international airport to swiftly beat a retreat, and business was then finally, an hour and a half late, conducted at agreed rates with no cash changing hands, leaving the goons in uniform clearly fuming at their misfortunes as they stood by a short distance away, seen gesturing and clearly disappointed that their scheme had failed.
The delay, amongst other consequences, could have forced our crew out of maximum permitted duty hours and as it so happened, they beat the deadline with only some bare minutes to spare. A sigh of relief went through those of us on board, who saw what had transpired and knew how close we had come to a major incident and taxiing and take off was a great relief, seeing the figures of our tormentors getting smaller in the distance, guns still strapped to their chests and gripped with both hands, and once airborne again and at initial cruising altitude Capt. Babis then narrated the story for all to hear, including the willingness of fellow passengers to bail out the aircraft and give a cash collection which would have been enough to satisfy the broad robbery attempt by some of the troops stationed at the international airport, ostensibly for protection and security, but who turned their assignment on the head and sought a ready cash dispenser, likely stealing the fuel in the process as that money would arguably not have been turned over to the fuel company, causing them a major loss too.
Fellow passengers applauded the crew involved in the incident, the other RwandAir staff on board and those willing to part with their cash reserves, but it left a sour taste, of bile and vomit in our all throats. Considering that the former hang on to the bitter end president Gbagbo is now in the Hague, facing charges by the International Criminal Court, and considering that the international community supported the claims of the now President of Ivory Coast and assisted him to turn his election victory into a move to State House, this incident puts the country to shame and it is hoped that those responsible will swiftly be identified and taken to court, and that the government of Ivory Coast will see it fit to issue a formal apology to the government of Rwanda, and to RwandAir, for the ordeal described.
Landing in Kigali was at 20 past midnight and applauded by everyone on board this special flight and the red carpet was once again rolled out and much in evidence, smiling officials, welcoming comments at immigration and customs officials generously waving all of us through. I thought home at last although technically of course my own patch is at the lake shores outside Kampala / Uganda, but home to East Africa at least it was and what a change to what we saw and experienced in West Africa.
For now though I hasten to put this story out for all to read and get a feel, what dark side our festive inaugural flight suffered at the hand of armed goons in Abidjan.
As to going back and fulfill my ambition to see that country for real and write about it, this is very unlikely now, unless the Ivory Coast tourism board would see it fit to give me a formal invitation, minders and all, but that I do not expect to happen in a month of Sundays, so do not hold your breath just yet, there will be no good news about Ivory Coast any time soon from me.
East Africa News
FIRE, POWER OUTAGES AND PIPELINE CONTAMINATION THE CAUSE OF FUEL SHORTAGES
Oil company executives have been struggling to offer a believable explanation over the lack of jet fuel at Entebbe International Airport earlier in the week, when airlines were forced into costly diversions of scheduled flights in order to secure enough fuel to reach their final destination.
Following a harshly critical piece written here, some sources within the oil sector, wishing not to be named what else does one expect really claimed the article was overly critical but upon intense repeated questioning had to concede that indeed the aviation fuel suppliers had repeatedly failed to delivery sufficient quantities of AVGAS in the past for reasons of internal logistics while still being unable to explain the discrepancy in pricing between Kenya and Uganda, which aviation sources call monopolistic exploitation, racketeering and profiteering.
The sources cited a lack of pumping activity on the pipeline between Mombasa and Nairobi, following theft of electricity equipment by vandals, again a repeat situation leaving the security precautions of the Kenya Pipeline Company and the Kenya Power and Lighting Company under intense scrutiny. In addition the pipeline between Nairobi and Eldoret, the present pipeline head and point of delivery for tankers from Uganda, South Sudan, Eastern Congo, Rwanda and Burundi and even Western Tanzania, was reportedly contaminated due to an error in feeding non compatible products into the pipeline, which now requires a major cleanup and is forcing importers from Uganda and the hinterland countries to load fuel from Nairobi. There however a fire broke out again in a pumping station, not far from the devastating fire and explosion causes by leaks a few weeks ago, when over 100 people died in the inferno just outside Nairobi. One source said: It is a combination of all these factors, mostly that we were caught unaware that fuel needed loading in Nairobi, which delayed deliveries. The process is lengthy to divert tankers from Eldoret to Nairobi and the tax authorities have a lot of red tape for such changes. Fuel has started to trickle into Entebbe now again and we hope that the reserve tanks can slowly build up full capacity again.
This however did not explain why the reserves were allowed to run down to empty status in the first place and who was and is responsible in Uganda over the constant lack of AVGAS and the periodic shortages of Jet A1 fuel. One regular aviation source had this to add: They should stop looking for excuses. We are sick and tire of that. THEY are responsible for orders and timely supplies, and not only do they overprice here in Uganda but also time and again fail to have supplies in stock. It is pathetic and shows that in particular Shell needs an overhaul from top to bottom, a change of attitude.
Well, predictions for the New Year are that such incidents are likely to continue as arguments are raging over the wisdom to expand the fuel pipeline from Eldoret to Kampala, while the Ugandan government appears intent to create refining capacities here in Uganda to process our own crude oil, as and when that is being pumped, another saga which appears never ending and where one missed deadline chases the next missed deadline. Watch this space.
AL SHABAB, KILLERS OF PEOPLE AND KILLERS OF THE ENVIRONMENT
When Kenyan troops entered Somalia in hot pursuit of Al Shabab operatives, who had staged several abductions of foreign nationals from Kenyan territory and constantly engaged in cross border raids into refugee camps or against Kenyan military and security outposts, they found moon-like landscapes, bare of forests and trees.
While tropical forests, protected by law, extend on the Kenyan side of the common border with Somali right down to the Indian Ocean, across the frontier in Al Shabab controlled territory the cutting of trees for profit through charcoal exports exposed the level of moral, ethical and political corruption within the Al Shabab leadership. They clearly are ready to sacrifice not just human lives for their misguided concept of life under their draconian stone-age rule, but also show their contempt for the environment and long term ability of the land to survive, protect biodiversity and maintain natural balance. While across the East Africa region re-forestation is on the cards, to restore water towers and maintain suitable micro climates, in Somali, under Al Shabab (mis)rule, these aspects of global concerns clearly mean nothing, a dead giveaway of their bankrupt minds and visions, more so as the civilized world meets in Durban to discuss measures to combat climate change, while Al Shabab is engaged in measures to support and accelerate climate change.
Of course, these radicals, who regularly behead the innocent for as simple an offense as not wanting to fight for them, or are known to stone women to death for having been raped by members of their own militias and then daring to complain, have total disregard for environmental concerns, as became evident after Kenyan troops liberated large tracts of Somalia, formerly under Al Shabab occupation.
When the former pirate and militia haven of Ras Kamboni fell to the advance of the liberation forces, the full extent of the environmental destruction became evident, after more than 500.000 bags of charcoal, ready for export, were found in the harbour. Al Shabab reportedly extracted taxes from charcoal dealers to the tune of half a million US Dollars a month in Ras Kamboni alone, before allowing the essence and foundation of life and survival in the wider area namely the forests to be converted into wood fuels and exported to the Arabian peninsula where ready markets, knowingly or unknowingly, helped to finance the militias from Saudi Arabia over Yemen to the Gulf states of Oman, the UAE and beyond.
Benefitting not just from the proceeds of piracy, aka ocean terror, but also from the environmental destruction of Somalia on an unprecedented scale, raises the parallels with the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan, which tacitly allow the production of drugs, to finance their ill intended activities there too.
Other ports en route to Kismayu are said to have equally large charcoal consignments in store, waiting to be exported, adding urgency to the coalitions growing demands to impose a total sea and air embargo on Somalia, to disrupt trade which benefits the militias by giving them income and economic clout.
Meanwhile have the stakes been raised though with the re-entry of Ethiopian troops into Somalia, a development predicted here when Kenya first crossed the border. The AU force, comprised of mainly Ugandan and Burundian troops, now coordinates their movement with their Kenyan and Ethiopian allies and troops loyal to the Transitional Federal Government in Mogadishu and are pushing from at least three fronts against the various militias and war lords to extend greater central control over the war-torn and lawless country.
However, there are emerging indications that this coordinated action has activated the covert support by the regime in Khartoum, which is rumoured to use a recently opened new road between North Sudan and Eritrea, incidentally financed by Qatar, to open a new supply line after the Eritrean ports have come under increased surveillance by members of the naval coalition. Eritrea itself has been reported by Kenya to the UN Security Council over allegations of having flown supplies to Al Shabab and in fact continuing to send supplies by sea and air in the face of an existing embargo. Ethiopia is also closely monitoring Eritrean proxy groups as well as their common border, and has used its latest entry into Somali to attempt and wipe out rebel bases inside Somalia, which have long been used to stage cross border raids, again allegedly supported by the Eritrean government, which has become an outcast regime in recent months and years.
The advances from all sides towards the Al Shabab capital of Kismayu is progressing at the moment, though hampered at times by heavy rainfall, leaving the militias in what hopefully is the final fight for their own lives. Staring at defeat on the battle field will likely be causing their attempted withdrawal by sea across to the Arabian peninsula where in particular in Yemen friends are ready to give them shelter and time to regroup. En route though will be members of the naval coalition waiting for them at sea as well as the eyes from the skies, which can be used to engage them and destroy them before reaching safe shores across the Gulf of Aden.
The question though, if Al Shabab is deliberately engaged in a policy of burnt earth to leave uninhabitable large tracts of land behind, should they as expected be driven into the ocean by the combined onslaught of coalition forces, will have to wait for an answer for some more time, while the evidence of their environmental crimes unfolds with every further mile the Kenyan troops push towards Kismayu. Watch this space.
KHARTOUM TO BE KEPT OUT OF EAST AFRICAN COMMUNITY
The spat earlier this week between the regime in Khartoum and the government in Nairobi, which blew up when the High Court in Nairobi issued instructions for an arrest warrant against North Sudans regime leader, wanted by the International Criminal Court, alongside several of his henchmen, for alleged crimes against humanity and war crimes, has proved to be the nail in the coffin for their application to join the East African Community. Uganda and Tanzania had already made it clear that they would categorically oppose the application and Kenya is now equally miffed after the Kenyan Ambassador was given marching orders by the regime in Khartoum. There are however more fundamental reasons for rejecting this particular application, as for one the now separated state shares no borders with any EAC member countries, a crucial requirement for joining. In addition, the constant repression of womens rights, the application of Sharia law in contrast to civil law across the East African Community, language barriers and incompatible goals have also been cited as reasons for rejecting the application, giving the new country of South Sudan reason to smile, especially considering the recent military aggression by Khartoum in territories claimed by the South. Ethnic cleansing is in progress in such regions as Abyei, South Kordofan and Blue Nile, where the populations aspire towards freedom and liberty from a slave like regime with bombings by the Sudan Airforce also reported inside South Sudans territory, facts which will not go unnoticed by the Head of State Summit in Bujumbura this week. Said a regular source from Juba: We have observers in Bujumbura and are lobbying that our own application is being entertained. We are Africans, we are part of East Africa, we spent years in exile in Kenya and Uganda before the CPA in 2005 and Khartoums most recent actions, militarily as well as boycotting us economically, have combined with the expulsion of the Kenyan Ambassador to shut the door in their face. Such a regime does not belong in the civilized community of East Africa and they have to fundamentally reform from top to bottom before they should be considered. In fact the world should take notice of the brutal oppression of Africans in Abyei, South Kordofan and Blue Nile where they are driven off their land in the tens of thousands to ethnically cleanse those areas to prevent a yes vote for freedom and liberties when their referendum time finally comes. Harsh words but well deserved adds this correspondent in closing.
A return to the Ivory Coast, to see the sights and find out more about the country, is not on my cards though any time soon, unless their tourist board would see it fit to make amends to all of this, and that not happening in all likelihood in a month of Sundays, expect no reports of a positive nature from there at all.
GULF AIR RETURNS TO THE UGANDAN SKIES
Yesterday saw the long awaited return to Uganda of Bahrains national airline Gulf Air, when the inaugural flight touched down on time at 15.45 hrs at Entebbe International Airport, greeted by the traditional welcome shower by two fire engines, dousing the plane with an arc of water as it taxied into the apron area. Received by the top echelon of the Uganda Civil Aviation Authority and other government officials, Gulf Air was warmly welcomed back, 11 years after halting flights in late 2000, when the airline opted out of East Africa as a result of unfavourable market conditions.
The airline later on held a press briefing and interacted with Ugandan journalists and other media organizations, giving valuable insight into the reasons for returning to The Pearl of Africa, naming the discovery of oil and gas, amongst others, as a decisive factor.
Operating initially 4 times a week between Bahrain and Entebbe, this was explained by the airlines Chief Services Officer Mr. Marcus Bernhardt as a balanced approach to opening new routes not putting up too much capacity to start with and adding more flights as demand and uptake rose. He cited the case of Nairobi, where Gulf Air had started operations earlier in the year already, and where until now also 4 frequencies were operating, with average load factors now exceeding 85 percent. This, he added, was evidence that their expansion strategy back into Africa was working, while at the same time letting it on that for Nairobi more flights were already being planned for 2012, and that the same would apply for Uganda, once satisfactory loads have been achieved. The aircraft, an A320, offers 16 seats in C-class and 120 seats in Y-class plus up to 4 tons of cargo space, important for Ugandas flower, produce and fish exporters to the important markets of the Gulf, where the airline operates the most extensive network of any of the airlines in the region.
The airline later in the evening hosted the travel fraternity and business community for a dinner at the Kampala Serena Hotel, with key personnel of their appointed GSA, Lets Go Travel Uganda / Uniglobe also present and already busy working the market. Notably did the Gulf Air staff present embark on a major charm offensive, making more than up for the shaky start a few weeks ago, when, probably misguided by their agency chosen to help prepare the launch sequence and events leading up the inaugural flight date, key agencies and media were overlooked, prompting some stinging criticism at the time. In particular Gulf Airs Manager Communications Ms. Azza Mubarak Matar went out of her way to give all the answers, and then some more, to the media pack, including this correspondent.
In a related development did the Managing Director of the Uganda Civil Aviation Authority, Dr. Rama Makuza, respond to this correspondents question over access by passengers to the airport terminal, crucially important during the present rainy season, when the long walk, from the far end of the parking area to the entrance of the terminal being half a kilometre, regularly results in travelers arriving at the terminal soaking wet. We expect some improvements about six months from now said Dr. Makuza, while then continuing to read from the official hymn sheet these restrictions are for passengers safety and the bit of inconvenience is a prize worth paying to ensure security.
Passengers, especially those reaching the terminal dripping wet, as repeatedly witnessed in recent weeks, would vehemently disagree with this assessment, and rightly so considering that in Nairobi for instance vehicles still drive up to the terminal to offload passengers and their bags, with Entebbe being the ONLY airport in the wider region to impose such restrictions. Other CAA staff privately conceded that it was a constant source of arguments between them and the airlines on one side and the personnel of security organs who had imposed such crippling restrictions, for whom the comfort of passengers is clearly an alien concept.
That all said, it is a warm welcome back to Gulf Air, which has added greater choices and wider options for passengers to and from Uganda. Many Happy Landings!
GREY PRATINCOLE SIGHTING CONFIRMED IN QUEEN ELIZABETH NATIONAL PARK
Birding enthusiasts will be delighted to learn of this latest addition in confirmed sightings of birds within the Queen Elizabeth National Park, where last week the Grey Pratincole was spotted, bringing the total confirmed birds listed to well over 600 in this single location.
Uganda had in recent years added bird watching to its list of attractions, and birders from around the globe are doing pilgrimage to one of Africas and in fact one of the worlds richest bird watching environments, with over 1.000 species, resident and migratory, to be seen.
The bird, according to available records, is principally resident in West Africa and only one previous sighting has ever been confirmed, decades ago in Burundi sole national park Rusizi.
That said, the extensive medium altitude tropical rainforest Maramagambo is thought to contain additional species not yet recorded deep in the forest, which is impenetrable and has not been opened to tourism on a significant scale as yet, although its potential, for forest walks, forest hikes and even a canopy walks are boundless. Queen Elizabeth has in recent years seen its confirmed bird numbers rise when species from the Congolese rainforest have crossed into Uganda and found a suitable habitat there. Log on to the countrys key tourism websites www.visituganda.com or www.ugandawildlife.org for more information on Ugandas national parks and protected areas, the best time to visit year round really and to learn about the dos and donts for Uganda, the Pearl of Africa.
DANISH TOURISTS GO MISSING IN LAKE BUNYONYI
One of Ugandas most scenic lakes, Lake Bunyonyi near Kabale, has apparently claimed the lives of two Danish tourists, who were last seen swimming off the shores before they disappeared.
The lake is known to claim victims regularly but it is extremely rare that foreign tourists are involved in swimming accidents. The pair of travelers were staying at a local resort, for which Lake Bunyonyi is also famous, many located on the islands which dot the lake, and by night fall Thursday the search was called off until daylight today, Friday.
According to a source in Kabale the police has resumed search operations already this morning and are confident that the bodies will be recovered. The camp operators meanwhile were reportedly busy attempting to use available information on the two guests to establish family contacts back home in Denmark to break the sad news. Condolences are expressed by the eTN East Africa team to friends and family.
SHERATON KAMPALA HOTEL RINGS IN FESTIVE SEASON
Christmas carols in November? One might wonder but the Sheraton Kampala Hotel, for the last 6 months under the able leadership of Chris Pollard and now having its shine back again, did invite the who is who of Kampala on the last evening of November for their annual festive season party. As the saying goes, it snowed food and rained drinks on those who made their way to the hotel for the evening, with a new range of cocktail and finger food being presented to the crowd, besides the carving stations where the traditional Christmas turkey was on offer. Cooked to perfection it was arguably the best advertisement by the hotel for their culinary prowess and those in need of a perfectly cooked and stuffed turkey for the holidays can place their order with the F&B Department, as can those who need a traditional Christmas Stollen.
One of the main features of the evening though was the performance by a staff choir, led by Sales and Marketing Director James Rattos, singing Christmas carols and getting the crowd in the ballroom all worked up and singing and swinging along to the tunes.
Chris Pollard also let this correspondent into the hotels development plans, which foresees an increase in rooms to eventually 300, a new underground parking on top of which a ball room extension will be built, eventually catering for up to 1.000 participants in key society events or conferences and meetings, while the lobby too will be getting a new face, important as it is after all the friendly face of Kampalas only internationally branded hotel at this moment in time.
Said Chris: For the past 6 months we have been keeping our heads down and after identifying areas which needed attention we went to work. Today, our occupancies have risen sharply, we are again the hotel of choice for many in Ugandas business community and our F&B department has performed extremely well with revenues proving that we are doing things right. We have a major refurbishment package coming up which will take between 12 18 months to roll out and accomplish after which the Sheraton Kampala Hotel will have reclaimed its rightful place as one of Kampalas top hospitality venues. I have had many one on one meetings for the past half year and we are now ready for any challenge.
The Sheraton Kampala Hotel, a franchise operation, is in the stable of Golden Leaves Hotels, which amongst other properties also owns and operates the Addis Ababa Sheraton and the Djibouti Sheraton and which head quarters are based in Dubai.
Well, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year and a wonderful holiday season it is then at the Sheraton Kampala, which this year kicked off the season party circuit in true style. Visit www.sheraton.com/kampala for more information about their festive season programme and accommodation specials over the holiday season.
MARASA PHASES OUT ROAD AND AIR PACKAGES COME JANUARY 2012
Marasa Africa, the hospitality and tourism business within the Madhvani Group, which operates Ugandas three main safari lodges in Queen Elizabeth and Murchisons Falls National Park, has just announced that they will be phasing out their direct road and air packages to Mweya Safari Lodge, Paraa Safari Lodge and Chobe Safari Lodge as of January 2012, concentrating purely on bookings for their respective lodges.
Clients wishing to book a package can then do so via Marasas affiliate company Premier Safaris, which has just received a fleet of brand new custom built Toyota 4×4 Landcruisers, perfectly suited to go on safari. Said Mani Khan, Director of Tourism Operations within the group: We will be concentrating on our core business, running the lodges and will leave transportation to our affiliate company and others licensed to operate safaris. It is understood that lodge vehicles will still be available though for game drives in Queen Elizabeth National Park and Murchisons Falls National Park for those clients flying into these locations, but road packages from Kampala will concluded by the end of December. While discussing the performance of the three lodges it was also learned that the Christmas and New Year season was literally sold out already and that special events and meals will await guests booked.
Besides their Ugandan lodges Marasa Africa also owns and operates three properties in Kenya, namely the Mara Leisure Camp, the Aberdare Country Club and The Ark. For more information visit their main website, where links to all their properties in Uganda and Kenya can be found: www.marasa.net
ENTEBBE RUNS OUT OF JET A1 FUEL, AGAIN
In another stunning development has Entebbe International Airport once again run out of jet fuel, causing airlines to implement emergency planning measures to find fuel enroute to or from Uganda. Tomorrows South African Airways flight has already been scheduled to fly home to Johannesburg via Nairobi, to take fuel on board there, and other airlines too are said to be scrambling to liaise with their flight operations departments to either carry additional fuel on board when coming to Entebbe, a costly proposition considering the added weight, or else having to incur the cost of technical landings en route to refuel for a flight to the final destination.
Aviation sources have expressed their anger and frustration with Shell, but also with the Ugandan Civil Aviation Authority, which licenses the fuel depots operators and managers, for again failing to avail enough reserves of jet fuel. Other sources from the Kajjansi airfield, regular sufferers of Shells erratic supplies of AVGAS, have opted not to comment, which in itself is comment enough of what they think of Shell and Totals professionalism and ability to do their jobs right.
That said, another source close to the regulators in Entebbe, made no sense when saying: with all the new flights coming to Entebbe now it is a bit of a problem to have enough fuel, especially considering that it is the very CAA which is promoting Entebbe as an airport of choice and has finally been managing to bring in new airlines, only to see them suffer by finding no fuel, for the umpteenth time. Frustration galore plus passengers upset for the added time needed to land elsewhere in search of fuel, potentially causing missed connections at the other end of a flight. Watch this space!
KENYA AIRWAYS AND BOEING SHOW OFF THE DREAMLINER
December 14th has been set as the long awaited date, that Boeings new wonderplane, the B787 Dreamliner is finally making an appearance over the skies of Kenya, a harbinger of things to come when The Pride of Africa finally can take delivery of the first of 9 firm orders and 4 further options come 2013.
Ordered initially several years ago, the first delivery last month to Japans ANA was years overdrawn and resulted in equally long delays for the East African Communitys predominant airline, Kenya Airways. The B787 is upon delivery due to replace the ageing fleet of B767 aircraft, offering substantially lower operating expenses as well as provide more capacity for passengers and cargo, while at the same time greatly enhancing the inflight experience for passengers through improved cabin pressure settings at lower altitude, greater humidity in the hitherto very dry cabin atmosphere and substantially larger windows, made possible by the use of composite materials in the manufacturing of the worlds latest wide body aircraft.
Initial feedback from passengers on the ANA B767 has confirmed, if not outright exceeded expectations and the promises made by Boeing so far have come true, for the airline as well it appears, though it is early days to draw real comparisons in operating costs for the new bird.
It was announced here a while ago that Boeing had confirmed a world tour of the new aircraft, to show the B787 off to airlines with orders, and to promote additional sales of the new aircraft and this is now becoming reality with the clock ticking towards the morning of the 14th of December, when both Kenya Airways and Boeing will be presenting the Dreamliner at Nairobis Jomo Kenyatta International Airport.
Invited guests from the corporate world and the regional media will be able to not just step into the plane while on the ground but also experience a flight from Nairobi to Mombasa, allowing one to judge directly what improvements the new aircraft offers over the conventional wide bodies like the B777.
With the invitation for the event duly received and accepted, expect live tweets from Nairobi and a subsequent report on just how exciting that special flight will have been, so as usual, watch this space.
KENYA WILDLIFE SERVICE AND PORT SECURITY SEIZE MAJOR IVORY HAUL
Over the weekend did news emerge that KWS officials, working hand in hand with customs and port security personnel, detected yet another ivory shipment destined, according to shipping documents, for Cambodia, estimated to be worth nearly 160 million Kenya Shillings. 465 tusks and ivory pieces were confiscated after the container was opened following its initial arrival by road from Nairobi at the end of November. The cargo was reportedly well packed and sealed to prevent sniffer dogs from catching a scent, but suspicions were raised when the declared cargo of soap stone carvings did not match the anticipated and declared weight, prompting the container to be held and then opened for physical inspection. Related reports also talked of KWS having tracked the container for a while before it reached the port, hoping to catch some of those responsible along the way, but no reports of any arrests was available by the time of filing this report.
The source of the ivory is also presently unknown until a detailed DNA analysis can confirm the origin of the shipment, thought to be largely from outside Kenya and smuggled into the country for onward shipment from other countries in either Eastern or Southern Africa.
2011 has been a year of record confiscations of illegal blood ivory and rhino horn, both in Africa as well as enroute to the Far East, in particular to China and Vietnam, lending credibility to claims made by the conservation fraternity that 2011 has been the deadliest and bloodiest year ever for the African elephant and the remaining rhinos. The trend has been fueled by the sharply risen demand from China for ivory carvings and rhino horn powder, said to raise an individuals prestige and standing while ground rhino horn is said to help against a number of ailments which is of course based purely on superstition and not on any medical fact. A recent meeting of the Lusaka Task Force in Dar es Salaam had agreed to strengthen supervision, monitoring and enforcement through intensified anti poaching operations and increased port and airport security, to stem the tide of commercial scale poaching which is threatening Africas wildlife and the tourism industry depending on this natural resource. Watch this space.
NAIROBIS SOUTHERN BYPASS FINANCING SECURED, PROJECT READY TO GO
The Peoples Republic of China has yesterday signed the financing deal with the Kenyan government to begin the process of constructing a southern bypass around the city, which will run nearly 30 kilometres from the citys outskirts along Mombasa Road, giving through traffic to the Rift Valley and beyond the long awaited escape route. Traffic in Nairobi is a nightmare at best of times and roads are turned into massive parking lots at worst of times, so the new highway will bring much needed relief to commuters streaming daily to the Central Business District, as well as the heavy vehicles in transit across the city from the port of Mombasa, for which the same traffic nightmare persisted for too long.
Chinas financial outlay through soft loans will be nearly 17 billion Kenya Shillings, covering some 85 percent of the expected cost of the project, while the Kenyan government will have to find the balance to make the project a reality.
Only last year was it reported here that the World Bank had pulled out of the deal, citing incompatible partnerships in connection with the winning company of the tender at the time. New tender documents are presently being prepared and adverts for expression of interest are expected to go public by latest mid December, so that the process to select a main contractor can be sped along and construction commence as soon as possible.
It is understood that environmental and conservation groups are monitoring the process carefully and have expressed their concern that the Nairobi National Park might be hemmed in making migration already greatly reduced as it is all but impossible in the future, as the route cuts across the crucial wildlife corridor across the Athi Plains. Watch this space.
KAA BOSS FACES CONTEMPT OF COURT CHARGES
Institutional arrogance and contempt for the people whose lives dreams he helped destroy two weeks ago when demolition teams wrecked hundreds of homes worth hundreds of millions of Kenya Shillings, are likely to claim the first victim, as the Managing Director of the Kenya Airports Authority by some now called the damaging director will face contempt of court charges.
The High Court in Nairobi had issued orders back in September, preventing any demolition of residences and properties on what is clearly disputed land, claimed by developers as well as the KAA, which incidentally stood by idle while these developments and construction were ongoing, but the Provincial Administration with heavily armed forces shielded the bulldozer teams and opted to disregard court orders.
If found guilty of such contempt of court charges, Mr. Stephen Gichuki could be facing more legal action to find him personally, but also the KAA liable for the damages, which could potentially bankrupt the Kenya Airport Authority, and him individually too, as the latest speculation is that combined damages might run into more than a billion Kenya Shillings. Whichever way the principal case is going though, which is to determine ownership, perceived ownership, possession and the legality of evictions, the barbaric destruction of hundreds of homes left a sour taste in the mouths of Kenyans and once again showed the arrogance and impunity of the Kenyan government when dealing with such issues, in the face of existing court orders. Watch this space as this unsavoury saga continues to raise political heat and fallout.
CHELI AND PEACOCK BAG FOUR ECO TOURISM AWARDS
One of Kenyas foremost safari companies, Cheli and Peacock, has last weekend taken the Eco Tourism Kenya annual awards by storm, claiming four prizes for outstanding services.
Besides being named Tour Operator of the Year 2011 the company Elsas Kopje lodge was also acclaimed Best small lodge while their North Mara Conservancy received the nod for Best Private Conservancy in the entire Kenya. Award number four honoured C&P outstanding partnership with the Kenya Wildlife Trust, filling their display cabinets in the office with yet more trophies.
What started 26 years ago, in 1985, as a small safari company, has now grown into a major force in Kenyan tourism and has captured the imagination of many visitors who stayed in their collection of uniquely located camps, while being taken around the country by the companys superb guides.
Visit www.chelipeacock.com for more information and learn about the range of fine upmarket properties spread across Kenya and covering the best safari parks, reserves and conservancies.
STIEGLERS GORGE POWER PROJECT, LIES EXPOSED AND TRUTH BE TOLD
When earlier in the year the news was broken here, that the Tanzanian government had reached deep into the bottom drawers of its archives and took out and dusted off the old plans for a power plant at Stieglers Gorge from back in the late 60s and early70s, vehement denials came streaming out of Dar es Salaam to the point of calling the article at the time a lie.
As time went by though, evidence piled up and upon constant digging did Tanzanian authorities in the end have to admit, that such plans were in fact being reactivated and reviewed, to include the latest advanced technologies in both dam building and the attached hydro electric power plants.
These internal discussions last week took a further step ahead, when it became known that officials from Brazil had come to Dar to discuss the project for the second time already, offering the support of Odebrecht, a company with significant experience in the construction of the mega projects above the Iguassu Falls and also in other locations.
Following the visit did the chairman of the Rufiji Basin Development Authority then call upon the Tanzanian public, to fully support the new dam, apparently without anyone being supposed to asking questions nor any ifs and buts. Prof. Raphael Mwalyosi said: It is time to go ahead with this project, so let the government go ahead with it and forget looking for other reliable sources of power. He also pointed out that the area required would only stretch over some 1.200 square kilometres compared to the overall size of the game reserve of 54.000 square kilometres, without however acknowledging the crucial importance of the Stieglers Gorge to the game viewing and safari experience of tourist visitors, nor did he mention that another assault on the integrity of the reserve was ongoing in parallel over plans to carve out another sizeable piece of the reserve for uranium mining, with potentially even greater impact on the environment due to the toxicity of the processes involved there.
Pre-judging and pre-empting on such projects is sadly the order of the day it seems in Tanzania, with great many similarities to other such development projects like the Lake Natron soda ash plant, which would destroy irrevocably the breeding grounds of millions of the lesser flamingo, or the planned highway across the crucial migration routes of the Serengeti, all the way to Tanga where the marine national park, only launched in 2008 after the discovery of the rarest of prehistoric fish, the coelacanth, is equally under threat of a new harbour being built right in the heart of the marine park.
It is understood that no environmental impact assessment has yet been done for the planned location of the Stieglers Gorge project and yet are mouthpiece after mouthpiece now publicly pushing for the dam and power plant, either ignorant of the need for a comprehensive EIA or else deliberately pushing this crucial aspect to the side for the sake of convenience and expediency.
There is no doubt that Tanzanias electricity sector has a massive deficit in production, but alternative and sustainable, especially renewable sources of energy can be equally developed on a major scale to meet the present shortfalls and cater for long term growth.
Experts in renewable energy from Germany let it on that they considered Tanzania as a prime country for the large scale introduction of wind and solar power, with refurbished and modernized existing hydro electric power plants and the gas fired installations serving as back up for the daily peak demand and occasional demand spike backups.
In Germany, a country which only recently committed to move away from nuclear energy as a result of the long term evacuation and storage problems of nuclear fuel rods and contaminated building materials, the national percentage level of sustainable and renewable energy production has risen substantially in past years and with the development of hydrogen fuel cell storage capabilities this form of energy is in fact expected to eventually play a major role in Germany.
Carefully selected sites in Tanzania for solar energy farms and wind farms would also be able to produce electricity much faster than a large scale hydro power project can, considering the construction time and prerequisite approvals, not just within Tanzania but also from the financiers.
If, as can be expected, the World Bank and the IFC get involved, stringent environmental assessments must be carried out with major offset mitigation options to be presented and to be viable, and the World Banks own World Commission on Dams Report has serious implications for locations chosen for dams, if not found entirely in line with key recommendations and requirements to be met.
The often more remote locations for solar and wind power energy production sites, while also necessitating a longer access line to the national grid, are regularly, because of the lack of significant human populations, found easier to deal with in terms of EIA approvals and mitigative measures.
Other legislative and regulatory measures too have not been exhausted by the Tanzanian government, such as the mandatory use of energy saving bulbs, banning the conventional types, or the mandatory use of solar water heaters for industries and households, which would considerably reduce peak demand and lower electricity consumption to a point where existing production, on condition that all hydro electric power plants are rehabilitated and refurbished to the latest standards, could meet the demands of more than half the present deficit, if not doing better even.
The International Rivers Network has already taken the Selous project into their cross hairs and are likely to lobby and pressure financing bodies for such large scale projects as the World Bank and the International Finance Corporation, the German KFW and other major development banks and development institutions which could participate to syndicate the necessary loans to get the Stieglers Gorge project underway and see it through to completion.
There seems to be a protracted battleground being prepared, by the tourism sector fearing that one of the Selous main attractions will be destroyed for good, with environmentalists raising their own concerns on biodiversity and species displacement while the proponents of the mega project, seeing opportunities along the line to make a buck or two, will equally outspoken accept the battle cry and engage the opponents with like and then some more, considering that they will have the weight of the Tanzanian government behind it, including the police and other security organs. Not a level playing field for sure within Tanzania then, another reason why this campaign is now gathering momentum abroad too, just as it was the case with the Lake Natron soda ash factory, the highway across the Serengeti, the potential destruction of the Tanga Marina National Park and many other protected areas of the country, which of late have come to the attention of logging and mining firms. Watch this space.
KIRAWIRA SERENA BAGS CONDE NASTS 5TH BEST IN THE WORLD
Serena has done it again one ought to say, when news broke that one of the worlds leading travel magazines, Conde Nast, has declared their Kirawira Camp as the world 5th best property, according to a vote taken by the readers of the magazine.
Today, 01st of December, is Serenas big day in Dar es Salaam, when it officially rebrands the former Moevenpick, former Royal Palms and former this and that as the Dar es Salaam Serena Hotel, after purchasing it from the previous owners and putting a lasting seal of quality management on the hotel, which had changed brands just once too often before.
Serenas entry into Dar es Salaam had their competition shaking in their boots as one regular source in Dar put it, as again other supposedly top hotels too had shown the habit of changing leading hotel management brands on a frequent basis, the last one being Kempinski being kicked out in favour of Hyatt.
Serena, wherever they operate, bring top notch quality to the market and owning the hotel now will ensure that this remains so in the very long term, giving the competition cause enough to re-assess their own quality vis a vis Serenas expected performance.
The news therefore, that their Kirawira Camp has been voted as Best alongside other top global properties will only boost Serenas standing in the Tanzanian market, where they have last year added two top of the range properties in the Selous game reserve. Earlier in the week information was also received of completed upgrades at their Serena Mountain Village near Usa River, outside Arusha, where the original rondavels received a major facelift and are now designated as family rooms, accommodating three with ease. A new access road from the main highway has also been officially commissioned, constructed of course by Serena Hotels at their own expense, to make the final journey to this fine property, located above Lake Duluti in the midst of an extensive coffee plantation, a joy for arriving tourists. Visit www.serenahotels.com for more information on this leading hotel, resort and safari lodge company in East Africa.
INAUGURAL FLIGHTS, THE GLITZ AND GLAMOUR AND THE REALITY BEHIND IT
RwandAirs 13th destination was being launched with pomp and glamour, not only to prove the proverbial bad luck number 13 wrong but mainly because the new route leads to Lagos / Nigeria, Africas economic powerhouse and the continents most populous nation. Why Nigeria one might ask, and not say Kinshasa, or Cairo or Lusaka or Addis. Well, the answer is already partly given over the economic status of Nigeria. Banks for instance from Nigeria have been on the prowl across Africa, seeking to buy into existing local banks or in fact buy out and take over local banks, and the same has applied to the insurance business. Both sectors have seen entries into the East African economies of Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda and Rwanda of course is no exception.
From the greater East Africa only two airlines had previously flown to Lagos, namely Ethiopian Airlines from Addis Ababa and Kenya Airways from Nairobi, both using wide bodied B767 and B777 on the route as a result of burgeoning demand, and RwandAir now joins as the third East African airline to connect not just the two countries but the regions at large. In doing so RwandAir jumped Precision Air of Tanzania, generally thought to be East Africa number three, and served notice of intent of yet more things to come, better things, bigger things.
With now 7 aircraft on the fleet, the latest additions being two brand new B737-800NG with Boeings revolutionary Sky Interior, it has radically changed the airlines ability to open new routes and add frequencies to others where demand has risen. One of these new birds is now being used to fly three times a week to Lagos, for the rest of the week operating to Johannesburg, and passengers love to fly with the new look aircraft to both destinations.
CEO John Mirenge, in a beaming joyful mood, probably gave away more than he would otherwise have done, when he let it on, upon a question by this correspondent on the expected upgrade of the two 50 seater CRJ200 jets into the C700 series, that it would in fact be the C900 I should come to expect, following his extensive discussions with Bombardier at the recently concluded Dubai Air Show. He also all but confirmed that the present Bombardier Dash 8-100 would be replaced by a larger turboprop but would not be drawn into the question, finally realizing that this correspondent did mean business after all, whether that aircraft, leased by ASL, would be exchanged against a Bombardier Q400 or the even larger ATR 72. This in fact is quite likely from the look of it as in particular Kamembe has seen passenger numbers skyrocket, most of them actually coming from across the common border in Congo and using RwandAir to connect well beyond the Kigali hub. That said, and before returning to the inaugural again, when the two B787 Dreamliners will be joining the RwandAir fleet somewhere in 2015 / 16, the number of aircraft needed to feed these wide body aircraft, will have to gone up too and there is already speculation, that with the planned introduction of flights to Mumbai yet more deliveries could be on the way to Kigalis Kanombe International Airport very soon.
Back to Nigeria though. During the speeches, at Lagos Murtala Muhammed International Airport as well as in the capital Abuja for the gala dinner event, it was made abundantly clear that the airline will not stop at just three flights and seek to gradually expand the service to daily just as soon as passenger numbers justify the capacity expansion and more aircraft are available to cater for the added flights.
Arriving in Lagos after the nearly 4 hour long flight across the continent from East to West, landing was as smooth as a baby bottom, perfectly executed by the companys chief pilot and when turning off the taxiway into the designated parking area two fire engines created the traditional water arc through which the aircraft drove. The anticipated officaldom was notably left in the bottom drawers for the arrival, as we were ushered into the terminal and the airconditioned environment, needed considering on the tarmac it was well over 35C and humidity was high. The official part with welcoming speeches was soon to be substituted by the party time which unfolded in two of the lounges, and we could relax while the officials signed visitor books and gave interviews to the Nigerian media who had come to the airport to capture the events live for the Lagos TV and radio stations.
The time flew by as it does at a busy airport and soon we were to re-board our flight again, but got delayed just a bit when officialdom finally showed its face and the need to get new boarding passes suddenly came into focus a challenge eventually mastered with humour and patience, the usual ingredients for seasoned travelers across Africa. Take off then took some more time as a tarmac delay before getting take off clearance took 40 minutes, leading to a late arrival of the aircraft and its occupants in Abuja, delaying the evenings gala dinner by a good hour and a half in the end.
Undeterred though did the 100 plus original passengers on board the flight, on which they were joined by a number of invited guests from Lagos for the evening, get through immigration, customs and into the waiting busses, officialdom on arrival in Abuja again kept to a minimum, and much appreciated, having travelled since morning.
Nigerians are intrepid and enthusiastic travelers and in return generally quite hospitable people welcoming visitors from the continent and further abroad, were it not for the costly Visa requirements in advance and a range of other issues like the outdated use of currency declaration forms, which have long been abandoned across Eastern Africa and where Nigeria still has to catch up with global trends.
Visa in particular are almost a curse, as the Nigerian High Commission in Uganda also attends to Rwanda, so travelers have to get their Visa processed in Kampala, making it another bureaucratic hurdle. Travel by Africans across Africa should be easy, to promote business and leisure travel in the spirit of the African Unions constant verbal commitments to bringing the continent closer to each other. Now, that more airlines like RwandAir show the spirit and determination to connect East with West, this should be facilitated by easing Visa requirements, and for visitors passes to be obtained on arrival, rather than requiring letters of invitation and a litany of answers from wannabe visitors. Reality however seems to be that many African countries still look with suspicion upon their fellow Africans from other countries, putting in place hurdles to almost prevent travel rather than promote travel in itself a potentially huge economic factor, recognized in East Africa and well worth, and timely, to consider in West Africa too.
RwandAirs choice of GSA for Nigeria in the meantime was well done, with Olufemi Adefopes SkyLogistics, an established aviation representation company being arguably the best on the market. Femi is no stranger in fact to East Africa, having attended a number of Skal functions in Kampala in the past, and at last being able to welcome some of his friends from East Africa to his own home patch. His companys expertise in the market will be of paramount importance to make the RwandAir flights a success and sooner rather than later increase frequencies.
The big function of the day was in Abuja, where the travel agents, the business community, diplomats and government officials graced the gala dinner occasion to celebrate RwandAirs first flight ever to Nigeria. The airline had befittingly brought Rwandas best drummers and dance troupe along to perform and their display drove the participants to wild applause, appreciating the cultural variety the African continent can offer.
Departure experience apart, there officialdom again showed it is still a force to reckon with and delayed the aircraft by some hour and a half, the inaugural flight to Lagos and Abuja was a success story to be told and has taken RwandAir to the next level. And that all said and done, expect more major announcements in coming months from Rwandas national airline, which as the saying goes is on the prowl. Happy Landings.
PEARL LOUNGE AT KANOMBE INTERNATIONAL NOW OFFERS SPECIALS
While waiting for my flight at Kanombe International Airport in Kigali, the flight being an inaugural event marking the start of scheduled services between Rwanda and Nigeria, it was learned that the Pearl Lounge had launched a special valid on Mondays, Wednesdays and Sundays, when the normal fee of RWF 15.000 or USD 25 is reduced to only USD 15. According to the lounge manageress, Miss Fabiola Dusabe the offer has taken the market by storm and added numbers on days the European carriers Brussels Airlines and KLM are not operating into Kigali.
While speaking with her during my latest visit Ms. Dusabe also mentioned plans to add new features, like a coffee corner where Rwandan coffee is used to brew fresh espressos and cappuccinos and to enhance the food service, which already is extensive depending on the time of day one frequents the lounge.
Wireless internet is available for guests, with a fall back to the open source network of the Rwanda Civil Aviation Authority, and in addition the hotspot by MTN, which however is a chargeable service.
One thing is for certain, once used to spending time ahead of flights in a proper lounge, with drinks and food and other services, one really never again wants to be anywhere else BUT in a lounge, and not suffer the crowded concours and public spaces which in many East African airports are increasingly overcrowded and worn even if it comes at the reasonable cost of either 15 or 25 US Dollars. It is money well spent and frequent travelers do obviously head straight for the Pearl Lounge when flying out of Kigali. Watch this space for regular updates from East Africas aviation scene and the latest developments, on the ground and in the air.
RWANDAIR MAKES IT 13 AND NOT ONE BIT SUPERSTITIOUS
This morning will see the launch of RwandAirs 13th destination, and I can see already those with superstitious tendencies to advocate for 12A or 14 instead, but 13 it is and a lucky number by the look of it. The new connection will operate initially three times a week, every Monday, Wednesday and Saturday, leaving Kigali at 08.30 hrs local time and returning the same day, landing in Kigali again at 18.40 hrs, after reaching Lagos at 11.40 hrs local time.
Said John Mirenge, CEO of RwandAir, on the occasion of the inaugural flight: At the beginning of the year we made a commitment to expand our network with a focus on Central and West Africa. Lagos for us is an exciting addition to our network and we know the destination will have very positive contributions to the already existing network. We are pleased to make this our first West African destination. From the time we declared our intentions to fly to Lagos, the Nigerian government and aviation authorities have been very swift and quick in welcoming us.
RwandAir already flies three times a week from Kigali via Brazzaville to Libreville and the new route to Lagos is an almost logical expansion of the network into West Africa, considering the extensive business and trade ties already in existence, which are now undoubtedly being greatly enhanced by the nonstop flights between the two countries.
In a related development was it also announced that RwandAir, with now 7 aircraft on the fleet, is now operating three additional nonstop flights between Kigali and Dubai, besides the exiting three flights via Mombasa, which will be retained as the trade and tourism links to the Kenyan coast are equally considered to be of crucial importance for landlocked Rwanda, and with traffic rights between Mombasa and Dubai loadfactors benefit greatly from this particular stopover.
Plans are also afoot to further fine-tune the current schedule with the aim of connecting the East African destinations of Entebbe, Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, but also the domestic flights from Kamembe and Gisenyi to the continental destinations, so watch this space for further announcements on additional frequencies and timing changes in coming weeks.
MAURITIUS GOVERNMENT DIVESTS SOME TOURISM ASSETS
It was learned over the weekend that the Mauritius government intends to divest from some tourism related interest in order to bring in cash for other purposes. Divestments will include offloading interests in casinos, the Belle Mare Tourist Village, the Lake Point Complex and the Port Louis Waterfront developments.
It could not be ascertained when the divestiture will take place and if competitive international bidding will be used to find a suitable buyer for these properties, nor when the exercise is going to unfold in earnest, other than the political commitment now made. Valuations have been ordered, it is understood, to establish the approximate value of the government held assets.
Mauritius, one of the Indian Ocean vanilla islands marketing group, enjoys high demand for holidays from overseas tourists and the sector makes up a key part of the national economy, besides sugar production, trading, off shore banking and of late high tech manufacturing. The islands national airline, Air Mauritius, is flying to key African and international destinations and questions remain open, which way the flag carrier is heading, considering the sharp downsizing of neighbouring Air Seychelles. Owned largely by the government of Mauritius, the national airline has been the focus of speculation over a strategic partnership with a foreign airline to ensure its long term survival, but until now has government protection ensured that losses incurred are absorbed by the shareholders. Only recently was the main international airport voted as Africas best in an international survey.
HELICOPTER SEYCHELLES RETURN WAS MUCH NEEDED
The recent return to the skies over the Seychelles archipelago by Helicopter Seychelles has according to the companys CEO Capt. Shaun Tinkler-Rose already made a difference through medical evacuation flights at night, which the airlines Agusta helicopter is capable of performing. In a communication received through a regular source on Mahe the airline executive had this to say: Weve been absolutely delighted with your response to our re-launched services and the support that has been proven by bookings. For that, we thank you so much! The 24 hour service with Medevac backup at night has proven itself very successfully a few times already within the Agusta fleet, obviously this was a service that was severely lacking here in the Seychelles in the past. Consequently after judging the current market we can now refine our published rates to reflect the actualities that have emerged from our first few weeks of operation. The NEW Charter Rates document setting our specimen prices for main routes has been very well received. You will note that our Bell 206 JetRanger prices remain competitive, these have been tweaked to be a little lower as you may notice. Furthermore we are pleased to bring our prices for the night-flying twin-engine Agusta 109 into a range which is more accessible to a greater number of potential consumers. This should help with a service that is needed in the Seychelles and should not be only for a limited few. We are now entering a period of consolidation bringing in more pilots and specialist staff. We have also begun a dialogue with helicopter manufacturers to supply us with new larger machines to expand our existing services and we are planning to launch these new helicopters into our service in the medium to long term, but please bear with us as this will not happen overnight. Well keep you posted! We are also looking into something completely different watch this space? We are committed to achieving fair pricing and an unparalleled customer service, then maintaining it. We listen carefully to your concerns and have structured much of our new service around your requests. Please continue in feeding back your ideas (good or bad) to us. With thanks again for your support, and kind regards.
The news about the relaunch of Helicopter Seychelles, after the breakup of the earlier merger with Zil Air, was reported here a few weeks ago and it is rewarding to see how the company has once again established itself firmly in the Seychellois skies. Happy Landings!
ABU DHABIS THE NATIONAL NEWSPAPER HIGHLIGHTS SEYCHELLES
The start of flights between Abu Dhabi and the Seychelles by national airline Etihad, combined with the official opening of a new embassy by the archipelago for the United Arab Emirates in Abu Dhabi, a few days ago prompted one of the Gulfs leading newspapers to publish an extensive supplement, plus making it headline news on the front page, that The Seychelles have arrived. The supplement in particular raised the profile of the archipelago as one of the worlds greatest island destinations and will, beyond a doubt, help to fill seats on the 4 weekly flights by Etihad from Abu Dhabi to Mahe.
A beaming Alain St. Ange, Chief Executive of the Seychelles Tourism Board, was needless to say at hand to witness the opening of the new embassy, notably making specific reference in his address to the placement of a tourism attache amongst the missions staff. Almost two years ago, in January 2010, when launching the tourism ambassador scheme, he also signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Seychelles foreign ministry, paving the way of progressively placing qualified staff in key missions abroad as tourism attaches and this, combined with a whirlwind marketing and media campaign, which started then and is still gathering strength as it goes along, has raised the profile of the Seychelles in new and emerging tourism markets. The Seychellois citizens abroad, appointed as tourism ambassadors are working hand in hand with STBs tourism offices abroad and the marketing staff back at the Bel Ombre offices of STB, strengthened by the presence of the new dedicated attaches in key regions of the world.
The event was further enhanced by the presence of President James Michel, who actually holds the portfolio as Minister of Tourism, signifying the importance the Seychelles government attaches to the sector, which has generated more investment, more jobs and more foreign exchange earnings than fishing or trading, the other two main pillars of the archipelagos economy. Wherever President Michel travels on official missions abroad, the tourism sector is part of the delegation, leaving no opportunity to promote the Creole hospitality and the unique attractions of the islands, where over 50 percent of the country is dedicated to nature conservation. Seychelles, truly Another World.
And in closing today again, some material worth reading taken from The Livingstone Weekly by Gill Staden:
During the week, after writing about the lack trees planted along our roadsides, I decided that I had to be more proactive. Instead of sitting in my house in front of a computer and complaining that no-one did anything, I had to be part of the solution.
I have made several advances and think that during the coming weeks I will be able to plant about 100 trees. The Council has got some trees which I can use and they have given me permission to plant along the roadsides. Airport road is still being resurfaced and the consultant in charge wants to plant trees as soon as it is finished. Also, the same will apply to the Royal Mile. I am going to speak to the consultant and see if we can work together.
I have looked along the main road through town and there are a few gaps which need trees, but the main area in need of attention has to be south of Falls Park towards the National Park. I have spoken to several businesses in town and got offers of hole-diggers and tree planters. I have manure.
The photos are:
Top: Lusaka Road towards town
Middle: Lusaka Road south of the Weigh Bridge notice the wonderful billboards.
Bottom: the new Sichango Road (The Royal Mile)
If anyone wants to give a hand, please get in touch.
During the week a front-end loader was used to do a bit of tree surgery. The driver took it along Airport Road and bashed the trees to break the branches. When approached by a resident he said that he had been told to do it because the trees were getting in the way of trucks which passed by.
I asked the Council who would have a front-end loader and would do such a thing; they told me that it was not China-Geo, the company working on the resurfacing of Airport Road. The suspicions, however, have to point in that direction.
State House Beautified
President Sata has repopulated the State House grounds with wildlife giraffe, impala, zebra, duiker, bushbuck, among others. It is hoped that the animals will showcase Zambias wildlife heritage to visiting dignitaries.
President Sata also says that he is committed to protect Zambias national parks, stating that ZAWA is being recapitalised for the first time since its creation in 1999. He also states the wildlife and the national parks are critical to environmental protection and the growth of tourism.
African Sun gives up lease on two properties in South Africa
According to the news this week, African Sun has given up the lease on The Grace In Rosebank and The Lakes Hotel And Conference Centre, both in Johannesburg, in order to consolidate. It has also dropped Hotelserve a company which supplies hotels in Zimbabwe.
African Suns Chief Executive said that whereas the Zimbabwe hotels have registered strong growth, the two South African hotels had reported losses due to "persistent difficult trading conditions".
African Sun owns:
The Victoria Falls Hotel the famous old lady of Victoria Falls Town
Elephant Hills Resort a cavernous hotel with Gary Player designed golf course in Victoria Falls Town
The Kingdom At Victoria Falls a gamblers paradise with very few gamblers
Caribbea Bay a very pink resort in Kariba
Fothergill Island Safari a closed Kariba Island lodge
Great Zimbabwe Hotel, Masvingo
Hwange Safari Lodge – near Hwange National Park, one of my favourites, but sadly in need of renovations
Troutbeck Resort in the Eastern Highlands with stunning views and a golf course with few golfers
Crowne Plaza Monomotapa, Harare
Express by Holiday Inn, Beitbridge
Holiday Inn Bulawayo
Holiday Inn Harare
Holiday Inn Mutare
Utanga Safari Lodge, Nigeria
Obudu Mountain Resort, Nigeria
Nike Lake Resort, Nigeria
Holiday Inn Accra Airport, Ghana
Holiday Inn Gaborone, Botswana
The comment by the CEO of African Sun is rather confusing as many of its Zimbabwe Hotels rely on tourism which is in the doldrums at the moment. Most hotels keep going on conferences and business travellers. Visiting any of its properties in Victoria Falls Elephant Hills, The Kingdom and Victoria Falls Hotel, is a sad experience. Once jolly places to go with international and domestic tourists, any visitor now tends to rattle around the empty bars and restaurants. The Victoria Falls Hotel continues to attract some tourists because of its history, but Elephant Hills and The Kingdom are a shadow of their former selves.
The hotels in Victoria Falls Town which are doing well are Victoria Falls Safari Lodge and Ilala Lodge which continue to attract tourists. Both hotels market aggressively and provide an excellent service.
The other hotels around Zimbabwe which belong to African Sun are suffering likewise to those in Vic Falls Town, in fact, they are probably worse as they do not have the Victoria Falls on their doorstep. One of my favourite hotels is Hwange Safari Lodge but it is seriously in need of some love and attention. Caribbea Bay, as I commented is a very pink resort and looks like something out of Hobbitland. It is quiet except for conferences. Troutbeck has beautiful scenery in the Eastern Highlands, but few tourists go there now. Fothergill Island has been closed for many years.
African Sun has extended its operations into West Africa, probably taking all its available funding. Has it over-extended itself? We can only wonder. The dumping of its two Johannesburg city centre hotels seems rather odd with Johannesburgs huge business market. How can the hotels be running at a loss?
African Sun, which used to be Zimbabwe Sun, would have been making money hand over fist in the old days as tourists and business travellers flocked to Zimbabwe. There was no need to market the hotels then they filled themselves. Now, with the change in the political climate, African Sun cannot afford to sit on its hands and just wait for the tourists to come back. As one of Zimbabwes major players in the tourism industry, it should be in the forefront of marketing Zimbabwe and lobbying the government to improve infrastructure (like the airline).
This does not appear to be the case, so what is actually happening to African Sun?
United States to help in fight against rhino poachers
South Africa has now lost 341 rhinos to poaching this year. The total for last year was 333, so already 2011 has seen an increase.
The International Rhino Federation, based in Florida, has raised funds for Zimbabwe and South Africa. The project will teach park employees how to find and keep information on poaching incidents for successful prosecutions. At the moment very few poachers are convicted through lack of evidence.
Although the project is seen as a fairly small one, it is hoped that its impact will be much larger.
Morne du Plessis, chief executive of the South African arm of the World Wildlife Fund: Its work thats absolutely essential. In South Africa, we have a particularly poor record of conviction in rhino crime.
The International Rhino Federation launched its fundraising this week. Donations will fund training in collecting evidence and information. The federation also plans to distribute basic crime scene kits containing cameras, fingerprinting materials and evidence bags.