AVIATION, TOURISM AND CONSERVATION NEWS from Eastern Africa and the Indian Ocean islands.
A weekly roundup of breaking news, reports, travel stories and opinions by Prof. Dr. Wolfgang H. Thome
You can get your daily breaking news updates instantly via Twitter by following @whthome, join me on www.facebook.com/WolfgangHThome where the articles also cross load or read the daily postings on my blog via www.wolfganghthome.wordpress.com which you can also follow to get immediate notification when a new article is posted.
First edition June 2012
TWO CRASHES IN ONE WEEKEND SHOCK AFRICAS FREQUENT FLYERS
Readers of newspapers will wake up this Monday morning to news that the Lagos crash of Dana Air, which operates on the route between Abuja and Lagos, has claimed 147 lives when all on board the MD 80 aircraft died as the plane apparently hit a building. Not long before then did an Allied Air B727 freighter hit vehicles on the ground in Accra / Ghana when coming in short, killing almost a dozen people while the crew of reportedly four survived the crash.
In both cases were aged aircraft involved, and while at this stage it is hugely premature to speculate over the causes of both air accidents, it nevertheless will bring about fresh focus on flying in Africa, how safe it is and how perhaps ageing fleets may be contributory factors.
Africa has the worst aviation record of any ICAO region and this weekends events will only add to the black marks against our home continents records and history. Nearer to home and at home in Uganda have past years seen my reports of aviation stone ages Antonovs, Iljushins, F27 freighters and B727s meet their fiery end and while strict and exacting maintenance and crew training standards can keep those birds flying safely classics like the Dakota, aka DC3 still in use in our region are living proof of that there seems to be an alarming connection between the lack of those crucial elements and the use of such stone age sky howlers. In fact, having eye witnessed some years ago the actual crash in Entebbe of a B707 freighter on contract to Ethiopian, when first overshooting the runway on first try to land from northerly direction out of heavy rain clouds and then coming in rather too short of the runway when attempting to land from southerly direction all crew did survive at the time as the result of instant reaction by the Entebbe emergency teams this latest news serves to me as a stark reminder of the inherent dangers of flying with the wrong crowd especially in countries notorious for lax oversight and enforcement of rules and regulations if not the outright absence of it in the first place.
Only days ago did I report that the next licensing hearing of Ugandas Civil Aviation Authority will again deal with applicants who propose to use such aged aircraft for start ups and perhaps the time has come to say NJET to the use of Soviet era built aircraft, which emission and noise foot prints are in any case intolerable in this day and age and where suspicions creep in that the massive fuel bills these types of aircraft incur may perhaps then be catered for by shifting funds from budget lines more concerned with training and maintenance.
CAAs, all bound by ICAO directives, should make sure that start up airlines use state of the art equipment and if the promoters only got the money, or are willing to spend the money needed for aged aircraft, perhaps they should simply stay out of aviation and put their money in bonds or securities and leave the skies above us to those who have shown that aviation in Africa can be safe.
As a frequent flyer it is nevertheless bad news that Nigeria, a few years hit badly by a series of crashes, is again in the spotlight and when in the weeks and months ahead clarity emerges on the cause of this latest crash in Lagos, as well as the one in Accra, perhaps fresh lessons can be drawn how to make flying in Africa safer and give passengers the assurance that things are improving. For now are my thoughts with those who perished, with their families and friends and the distant hope that Happy Landings do come true for all those who step on an aircraft in Africa, today, tomorrow and beyond.
BRUSSELS AIRLINES LAUNCHES NEW YORK FLIGHTS
Flights leaving East Africa last night on Brussels Airlines will today for the first time be able to connect on a Brussels Airlines flight to New York, aka the Big Apple, as the airline launches its inaugural flights to JFK on the 01st of June.
Long operated in code share with partner Continental, a cooperation which incidentally continues to offer additional choices for Star Alliance passengers, SN will as of today offer travelers from the United States access to one of the most extensive Africa networks from Brussels available to international passengers with a final destination in West and East Africa.
Advertised and marketed for the past few months, East Africans in turn can now reach New York with a short transit stop in Brussels using the airline on both sectors, and they will be delighted to find a new Airbus A330-200 with the latest cabin product and inflight entertainment being used on the route to JFK, offering enhanced comfort while in the air. Brussels Airlines has already announced that their entire fleet of A330 aircraft will be retrofitted with the new seats and features and be available on all services to Africa from about September this year onwards.
For now it is Happy Landings to the inaugural flight and the crew and passengers on board. Visit www.brusselsairlines.com for more information on the range of African destinations and connecting flights into the airlines European network out of Brussels.
CIVIL AVIATION LICENSING HEARING ANNOUNCED FOR JULY 05TH
The Uganda Civil Aviation Authority has just announced the date for the next licensing hearing for Thursday, the 05th of July, commencing at 11.30 hrs (a.m.) at the Imperial Royale Hotel in the heart of Kampala. The licensing committee will be hearing a disappointing 8 applications only, one for the renewal of Asante Aviations existing license operating non scheduled passenger and cargo air services with a Cessna 208 Caravan and 7 new applications.
Interesting here is the application by the Kampala Aero Club and Flight Training Centre, in short known as KAFTC for the start of scheduled services within Uganda, proposing to use their C206, C210, C208 Grand Caravan and Twin Otter aircraft, depending on demand. This announcement, now that the public notice has been served for all applications to be known ahead of the meeting for the purpose of filing written objections, has already caused a stir in the market as both the business community but especially the tourism fraternity has renewed hope of being able to fly places by buying a seat rather than having to charter the entire plane.
The remaining 6 new applications include a vague propositions by Skyline Air of Entebbe to provide leasing and / or operate aviation services with ancient AN 17, AN 26, AN 32, IL76 and, better believe that, an equally ancient L1011 aircraft, having aviation analysts in Uganda shake their combined heads. Equally has Almiron Aviation applied for a license to operate non scheduled cargo services, also with an ancient L1011. Phoenix Aviation from Nairobis Wilson airport joins the throng with their application for non scheduled passenger and cargo operations using their fleet of BE20, C550 and MD88 aircraft. The remaining applicants are made up by Aerolink (U) wanting to introduce a C208 Caravan for scheduled and non scheduled charter operations, Khalid Air proposing to use ancient DC9 aircraft, amongst others, for non scheduled passenger and cargo services out of Entebbe and SKA Air and Logistics seeking an air services license to start up with F 28 andF70, amongst other aircraft types, for scheduled and non scheduled passenger and cargo services.
Readers will have noticed that of the 7 new applications several are proposing to use aged and ancient aircraft types, raising the questions just how they will make ends meet financially if granted an ASL and in fact then reaching the stage of attaining an Air Operator Certificate from the Uganda Civil Aviation Authority, for which much more stringent requirements must be met, including financial viability and evidence of sufficient capital to sustain at least a year of operation. That however, with current aviation fuel prices hovering at near record highs, will be a challenges when using aviation stone age fuel guzzlers in an age, when noise and air pollution becomes an ever greater issue for aviation regulators and global watchdog ICAO.
Watch this space and expect a hearing review from the days proceedings in early July.
CONTRAVENING SOUTHERN BYPASS LICENSE MAY BRING PROJECT TO A HALT
Following information received some weeks ago that the East Africa Wildlife Society, ANEW African Network for Endangered Wildlife and Dr. Paula Kahumbu were seeking to take government to court over the routing of the Southern Bypass through the Nairobi National Park, has NEMA now too gone on record. NEMAs Executive Director was quoted overnight in a mail from a regular conservation source in Nairobi to have threatened to withdraw the license granted if any of the terms and conditions would be altered by government or disrespected by the contractors. George Wahungu reportedly said: The Kenya National Highways Authority is expected to adhere to the conditions of the licence and hence ensure that there is no encroachment of the Nairobi National Park during the construction of the Bypass which was issued in February 2011 and specifically prohibits any encroachment of national park land. Government however two weeks ago took a cabinet decision to permit the route to cut into the park land and carve out at least 150 acres, some sources claim it will be more in fact, while beyond the park the equally protected Ngong Forest is said to be even more affected. Similar plans also emerged last year over plans leaked to the media of attempts to have a bypass highway around Nakuru routed through the Lake Nakuru National Park, which equally saw emotions running high at the time.
Conservationists see their case as a litmus test of being able to stop government, this one and future ones, to be categorically stopped from touching even one square inch of that land, as it would set the precedent for future incisions into park land for either leisure projects at the edge of the park or housing estates, where the sheer value of the land so near the capital would have developers salivate over the prospects of making an absolute fortune of it. Social networks like Twitter and respective Facebook pages are awash with comments, overwhelmingly opposing the use of park land while equally though questions are asked where the bypass should be routed to avoid the park and yet be financeable. Questions galore and few answers until very likely a court will decide and the decision then be appealed to the highest court in Kenya. Watch this space.
KEMPINSKI CONFIRMS JUNE 12TH MEDIA BRIEFING FOR KEMPINSKI VILLA ROSA NAIROBI
Lashley Pulsipher, the Dubai based Kempinski Hotels Regional Director of Public Relations for the Middle East and Africa, will be in Nairobi in 10 days time to hold a media briefing on the progress of the upcoming Kempinski Villa Rosa Nairobi on June 12th, at a venue and time still to be announced.
While no opening date has been announced as yet, Lashley is expected to provide details on that issue too when she meets and briefs the local and regional media representatives, besides giving the hard facts on the new hotels services and facilities but also Kempinskis planned luxurious tented safari camp on a private conservancy adjoining the world famous Masai Mara.
The luxury hotel group is known to be keen on expanding their presence in Africa and after the grand opening in March of the Kempinski Seychelles Resort on the main island of Mahe at the site of the former Plantation Club has now set eyes on opening their Kenya properties.
Watch this space for upcoming additional information, in particular the proposed opening dates for what is expected to become one of Nairobis new flagship luxury hotels. Visit www.kempinski.com for more information.
KENYA AIRWAYS ADDS 10TH E 190 TO FLEET
Kenya Airways has confirmed the delivery of their 10th Embraer E190 jet, configured with 12 business class and 84 economy class seats, this being the last of 3 leased from the Air Lease Corporation or in short ALC.
The new jet will greatly assist the airline in adding more frequencies but also expanding destinations with Kilimanjaro coming on line in early July in a codeshared operation with partner Precision Air. .
The E 190 has taken the pressure off the airlines fleet of B737-700 and -800 used to key destinations in Africa and is now a regular visitor to such places as Bujumbura or Kigali, Entebbe but even Addis Ababa, where the 2×2 configuration in the economy cabin and the 2×1 in business class have been accepted as an acceptable layout on flights of between 1 and up to 3 hours.
The jets are also used, alongside the 3 E170s on routes to Mombasa, Kisumu, Malindi and soon Eldoret giving their local rivals still using older equipment now a run for their money in terms of inflight comfort.
From July onwards are a further 9 E190s expected in intervals of one a month until March 2013 when a batch of newly ordered B737-800s will be delivered, boosting medium haul destinations across Africa where by the end of 2013 Kenya Airways intends to connect every commercial and political capital with Nairobi.
Happy Landings to the new bird, its crews and passengers.
LEOPARD BEACH RESORT AND SPA SUFFERS FIRE DAMAGE
The Chui as the Leopard Beach is fondly called amongst friends of the resort last night suffered fire damage to the makuti roofs near the main building, when around 02.15 a.m. the fire alarm was sounded by the night staff.
The resort is undergoing its annual spring cleaning and modernization at present, as every year for the past 11 years since veteran hotelier Chris Modigell joined the owners, and no guests were affected therefore.
According to a firsthand report from Diani Beach the fire was extinguished with the help of its own inhouse trained security team supported by a state of the art fire hydrant ring line, the valuable assistance of the Ukunda airstrip fire truck and neighbouring resorts staff also trained in fire response, preventing greater damage to the structures. Group 4 Security too provided assistance though the Kwale County Councils fire department was reportedly as non responsive as ever, prompting a few choice words being uttered by another source called to corroborate the story.
The famous bars Marios and Marcos bars makuti roofs were also affected but damage to both facilities was very limited. The linen stores and laundry and some offices nearby however suffered greater damage, nothing though which cannot be replaced, and while the planned re-opening on 29th June, an annual event when the Chui make a re-appearance on the market sparkling new and fresh for another year of near full house occupancies, may have to be pushed, the resort is due to announce the anticipated dates very soon.
Fire adjusters from the insurance company are already on site and foul play has been ruled out as far as present investigations confirm, leading to a short circuit as the potential source which might have triggered the blaze.
The 150 room, suite, cottage and sea side villas resort is presently adding 28 garden and forest villas of 2 to 3 bedrooms each with their own pools, bringing the total number of rooms then available to 225, and also adding a 6thFusion restaurant. The Leopard Beach Resort and Spa has been consistently voted as Kenyas leading South Coast resort in both international and local selections and is a crowd favourite to many who appreciate that the Chui never looks tired or worn as is the case in many other resorts.
No one was injured in the fire and clearing up work has already commenced, again aided by the fact that the resort was closed at the time for its annual dose of adding sparkle back to it. Visit www.leopardbeachresort.com for more information and details, when available, on the projected re-opening.
KENYA AIRWAYS PUSHES SHARE RIGHTS ISSUE ANNOUNCEMENT TO JUNE 06TH
Regular sources were tightlipped at Kenya Airways head offices in Embakasi / Nairobi over the true reasons why the expected media announcement over the performance of the share rights issue was suddenly postponed by a week to 06th June. There is speculation in the market that the airlines financial advisory team is locked in talks with institutional investors from Kenya, the region and further abroad, to potentially absorb any share rights which may not have been taken up during the main sales period in April this year.
Launched with great fanfare and expectations, President Mwai Kibaki was Guest of Honour at the Kenyatta International Conference Centre in Nairobi for the function, there have been both expressions of hope for an oversubscription of the issue inspite of adverse market conditions with continuously high interest rates in Kenya, which made individual investors perhaps back away from this unique opportunity to outright skepticism if indeed the minimum success threshold of 70 percent take up would be significantly exceeded.
It is however understood from contact made in financial circles at the launch ceremony that an agreement has been reached to extend the deadline at which either an irrevocable bank guarantee or Letter of Commitment must be received by the airline for the take up of share rights, has been pushed to the 11th of June, while on the 06th of June, when the announcement of the share rights issue success will be made, the airline is also expected to announce their annual financial results in Nairobi at a major press conference.
The airlines information booklet issued at the start of the sale of the share rights, provides for other investors to take up more than their share or buy on the open market should unsold rights remain and it could be as much as 23 percent of those still seeking new owners according to one source demanding strict confidentiality, who claimed that the issue had reached a 77 percent success rate, 10 percent above the threshold set ahead of the exercise. The same source also insisted that the airline was close to concluding a deal with an international investment group but found itself out of time vis a vis the initially set announcement date of 30th May, much to the disappointment of the media and the financial markets which had keenly looked forward to this date.
On further investigation it was also learned that the trading date at the Nairobi Stock Exchange for the new shares, which was due to commence on June 14th, has subsequently also been pushed ahead to June 21st to cater for the negotiations to conclude.
Share values in Kenya Airways had at the crucial launch briefly gone below the 14 Kenya Shillings at which the rights were offered but have recovered significantly since then, spurred two weeks ago by the announcement that Virgin would withdraw from Kenya by September, leaving the hugely important route between Nairobi and London Heathrow to archrivals Kenya Airways and British Airways, although KQ is expected to absorb most of the 15 percent market share Virgin enjoyed until the announcement.
There is broad agreement that Kenya Airways shares will be a sound medium to long term investment and the growth plans of the airline include a huge fleet expansion from presently 35 aircraft to 119 aircraft by 2021/2 including dedicated cargo aircraft which would be needed to back up plans to fly to 115 destinations worldwide by then. The funds now raised by the share rights issue will be used to leverage the financing of new aircraft, pay commitment fees and in particular use up to 150 million US Dollars for the required payment to the US IMPEX Bank for guaranteeing the purchases the airline has pending already with Boeing and the added acquisitions needed to meet the 10 year targets as formulated under their new strategic Plan Mawingo.
Watch this space for regular and breaking news from East Africas vibrant aviation scene.
KENYA TOURISM STANDS TOGETHER TO FACE AFTERMATH OF NAIROBI INCIDENT
Key stakeholders from the private and public sector as well as association leaders have stood up to be counted yesterday and condemned the criminal masterminds and perpetrators of the bombing of a shop on Moi Avenue, which injured according to the latest figures some 27 people, some still in critical but stable condition.
While in Kenya during the past two weeks it could be ascertained that the arrival numbers for Q1, compared with last years record breaking performance, reduced from 313.691 to 312.258, probably also still caused by events since August last year, which prompted a full scale military engagement from Kenyas armed forces against militant Islamist terror groups which previously roamed Southern Somalia at will and perpetrated a number of cross border attacks into Kenyan territory. With the Lamu anti travel advisories however largely lifted a few weeks ago, as was reported here, the mood of cautious confidence has been restored in the sector, though no one is happy with the governments reduction by 5 percent of the annual budget for tourism marketing, which after inflation has been factored in can amount to up to 20 percent less in real term spending power compared to 2011/12.
Senior association leaders have voiced critique and are said to be in talks with government over re-evaluating its position and add extra funds, especially now that the Nairobi incident of Monday will further impact on sectoral performance.
Said one regular and trusted source on phone before leaving Kenya yesterday: This blast, even so no one was killed, highlights our problems to provide universal full security everywhere at all times. Resorts, hotels, restaurants take it very seriously and you have seen the level of security in place at all the coast resorts, at the Nairobi hotels. Remember last we talked not one tourist visitor came to harm in 2008, not in any of the events since August but for the one foreign resident and the one couple shot and abducted from Kiwayu by foreign based intruders. When something happens in Kenya the foreign media often make us look like a hooligan country full of violence. Compare with the UK and their violent crime rate for instance. The foreign media all the time have a field day with us and I exclude you and eTurboNews.com because you always show the facts and not take that insane pleasure others do to bash us. But that apart, we have a struggle at hand in Kenya to match last years figures and will probably miss them by a bit. The other issue is that we really want to see a firm commitment to the March election dates for next year and not wake up one morning and it is December suddenly. We must be allowed to have the high season run uninterrupted and then have the elections fall into the low season period where it will do less impact. The biggest issues now are two, to have government commit more funds for marketing of tourism, start the construction of the Mombasa International Convention Centre and focus on market diversification and secondly we internally must work on product upgrading. When someone says some of the beach resorts are tired, it is true. We need innovation and changes. Over the past years we had one major new beach resort open, Swahili Beacb in Diani, but several others closed for various reason. One burns but is not rebuild, the others go into receivership and close and other pretend they renovate during the low season but close for lack of business. We have exceptions of course, you just saw some when you were in Mombasa last week, so you know which ones are doing ok but we as a sector must face up. Traffic in and out of Mombasa is a nightmare, traffic in and out of Nairobi especially from JKIA is a nightmare. The road to the Mara is a nightmare. So let us meet our challenges internally and gather our leaders and frankly talk about the tourism we want for the future and act on recommendations made there and let us find the funds to promote more, like Egypt and South Africa for instance. They are spending mega bucks for Egypt to recover from the revolution and South Africa has been spending on marketing since before the World Cup in 2010. If we in Kenya want to succeed, we must invest and invest wisely and a lot. I wish you could come over more often and talk to our associations and with KTB and share your experience because you travel all over the region, have worked in the sector and taught in the sector and we need such resource persons to set us on the right path.
It is understood that tourism minister Dan Mwaze did meet with tourism industry representatives yesterday in Nairobi to discuss the situation and what measures government could take in mitigating the effects but only time can tell what will actually be done as opposed what the industry wants to see done. Watch this space.
NAIROBI BLAST LEAVES CITY SHAKEN
According to a phoned in report, while on the road in Kenya, did just after 1 p.m. today an explosion take place in a building along Moi Avenue in the centre of Nairobi, injuring at least 27 people who were, according to the Nairobi based source, admitted to the Kenyatta National Hospital for emergency treatment with several, word has it at least four, were critically ill. Their condition was not known nor was information available from police sources if anyone had been killed in the blast.
The explosion, cause presently unknown, was powerful enough to shake neighbouring buildings and police then ordered a mandatory evacuation of nearby buildings and pushed curious onlookers back to a safe distance.
There is widespread speculation in Nairobi, and in Mombasa for that matter, that the latest blast is one in a series of similar incidents, since Kenya went into hot pursuit of Islamic terrorists from the Al Shabaab militia, which has abducted and killed foreigners inside Kenya with near impunity before a full scale invasion of the rebel strongholds in Somalia went underway on the ground, by naval units and in the air. Al Shabaab in such cases is the first and most plausible culprit organization but at the moment can other causes such as a gas leak not be entirely ruled out. The Kenya Police Commissioner did himself and his credibility no favour when he was quoted by local media to have blamed an electrical explosion, asking Kenya Power and Lightning to investigate, while at the same time his antiterrorism unit already combed the debris for any possible evidence of explosives and for other clues. Hearsay reports, but attributed to eye witnesses in the area at the time, speak of a fireball emerging from what seems to have been an apparel shop and several of those injured are reportedly being treated for burns too.
The neighbouring Mt. Kenya University too was evacuated as a safety measure until clarity has been achieved on the cause of the blast and the likelyhood of further explosions occurring.
Kenya tourism is undergoing the annual low season traffic reduction and with widespread violence in Zanzibar over the weekend, during which Christian churches were attacked and burned, reported her earlier in the day, it is a matter of reading the tea leaves what impact this incident will have on Kenya and East African tourism in the short and medium term.
Statements from the Kenya Tourist Board and the Ministry of Tourism are expected later on when more facts are at hand, though it should be pointed out that security precautions, as witnessed once again today when returning from safari to Mombasa, are strict and substantial, aimed at keeping any mischief away from resorts and restaurants and other places frequented by tourist visitors or large numbers of people. No tourists have come to harm in the past in any similar incidents in Nairobi and Mombasa but it is deeply regretted that Kenyans were those once again making up the victims. Watch this space.
HALLER PARK BAMBURI 167.000 VISITORS IN 2011 AND COUNTING
(The entrance of the Bamburi based Haller Park north of Mombasa)
Mombasas Haller Park has since its inception in the late 1970s, when the Bamburi Cement quarries looked like moonscapes along the Mombasa Bamburi road, extensive spaces bare of any vegetation at all, been transformed into a mini garden of Eden and a habitat for some 240 species of birds, over a dozen large mammals, reptiles and even an active Tilapia fish farm, which helps to financially sustain the growing operation of the park while catfish, lungfish and tilapia are also found in the extensive interconnected pond system which traverses the park.
What started as the Bamburi Nature Trail in the second half of the 1970s, and in 1999 renamed to specifically recognize the extraordinary conservation efforts made by Dr. Rene Haller and his relentless battle to overcome prejudice and opposition to his project, is today a site of global renown. Recognized time and again the Haller Park now is a prime example of how the visual and ecological devastation caused by surface mining can be overcome and turned into a biodiversity hotspot, given the resources and time needed to develop a strategy, carry out the necessary research and then get on with it.
The main part of the park measures more than 200 hectares while the nearby Forest Trails add a further 400 hectares to the rehabilitated area, and as the quarrying expands, eventually these green areas will grow further still.
Dr. Haller started in a small and compact way, experimenting with a number of trees attempting to replant the empty quarry sites before eventually using the unique adaptive qualities of the Casuarina tree, aka Whistling Pine, to start a process which within twenty years showed significant results and now, after nearly 35 years, is an example and text book study of what can be accomplished in the field of restoration and rehabilitation of environmental capital sins.
(Karima Nyinge, in charge on site of the Haller Park operation)
Karima Nyinge took an entire afternoon until closing time at 5 pm to explain the various stages of rehabilitation, from receiving a mere empty quarry site, as pictured above, to the final product as seen during a 3 kilometre walk about, which included the commercial fish Tilapia fish farm, the more recently established reptile park, the Baobab Pavillion meeting facility and the feeding sites for the hippos, oryx and giraffes where tourists can see these animals close up and personal. The oldest part of Haller Park now shows a mix of trees, as the non indigenous Casuarina had prepared the ground and conducive environment to plant local species of trees, a process gradually introduced to the areas more recently rehabilitated, as and when there is enough humus on the bare rock floors to actually sustain seeding, rooting and growth.
(This picture at the heart of the Haller Park shows diverse species of trees, shrubs and bushes)
The introduction of wildlife was seen as crucial to the commercial success of the Haller Park but also added on its own to the growth of the park by keeping vegetation growth controlled and through the selection of compatible species no predators were introduced nor have any been sighted which might have gained access from beyond Mombasa to the unique ecosystem was value added and the various efforts to enhance the forest setting enhanced by natural means. Adult tourists pay a mere 400 Kenya Shillings, or about 5 US Dollars for entrance, children pay less and school groups are often admitted for free to encourage and promote conservation, and with last year over 167.000 visitors entering the park, this makes for an impressive income, all plowed back into the park operation and further rehabilitative measures.
Haller Park, when staying along the north coast resorts, has become a must see attraction and the cooler climes inside the forest makes visitors the normal coastal heat and humidity almost forget, as they stroll through the well kept network of paths and tracks, on their own or accompanied by one of the parks guides to explain the history and biodiversity as it now presents itself. In fact, the nearby Forest Trails is often used for cycling across the 600 hectares of rehabilitated quarries, or for larger functions for which beach resorts have often taken advantage of the developed areas which can be used for party tents, only at Forest Trails of course as the main Haller Park is strictly for conservation and educational purposes while the Forest Trails are embracing some commercial aspects too now to raise much needed funds to carry out the ongoing work as more empty quarries are handed over to them.
Visit in person when in Mombasa, a half day or full day trip no one this correspondent spoke to ever regretted or pay them a virtual visit via www.lafarge.co.ke/wps/portal/ke/4_A_3-Haller_Park
KENYA WILDLIFE SERVICE DRIVES UP TO 1.000 ELEPHANT INTO TAITA HILLS AND TSAVO
A chance meeting with Samuel M. Rukaria, Community Warden for the Taita Hills area, allowed to get some intriguing insights of the challenges KWS and the communities living near the park boundaries of Tsavo East, Tsave West and the Taita Hills Conservancy are faced with.
Though scheduled to return a group of Kenyan journalists KWS had invited to witness the exercise back to Voi, Samuel took the time and answered some key questions on the combined air and ground operation, which was evident during the past days spent at the Sarova Taita Hills and Saltlick Lodges.
eTN Q: Why in the first place did up to 1.000 elephant escape from Tsavo West?
Samuel Rukaria A: Tsavo West is still suffering from very dry conditions after the long drought we had in Kenya. The elephant find little water and food and then try to use their old migration corridor towards Lake Jipe and across into Tanzania or up to the Taita Hills reserve to go look where they find pasture. The increase in population in former buffer zones has now caused increased human wildlife conflict when the elephant come out to search for food and water and therefore KWS was alerted to come to the assistance of the local people to drive the elephant back into safe zones.
eTN Q: How many were actually coming to the Taita Hills Conservancy and how many returned to Tsavo West, and how will that help when there is no food or water for them.
Samuel Rukaria A: First we think that as many as 800 elephant went to Taita Hills where they have water and food and space to give them enough range. About 200 went back to Tsavo West and we were quick to put immediately an electric fence up for which KWS had made preparations. We have also already started to dig for water which can then be pumped by wind or solar pumps to give the animals enough water. Now they cannot get out very easily and our patrols are monitoring them. When we are able to give enough water even during the dry periods and drought, the animals can find enough food in the end.
eTN Q: What manpower and equipment was needed for this exercise and how much did it cost KWS?
Samuel Rukaria A: KWS used one fixed wing aircraft for spotting, one helicopter to guide the elephant away from populated areas and we had 5 sections of 6 personnel each plus another 5 vehicles with staff working together. We concluded today but are still monitoring and KWS spent about 2 million Kenya Shillings here.
We think we accomplished our mission to maybe 95 percent even if the community may for some reasons have other opinions.
eTN Q: What are your biggest challenges in this area to deal with such and other problems caused by rampaging wildlife?
Samuel Rukaria A: We need to do more community sensitization on the need to also protect our wildlife because that is a resource for tourism. We are working with communities to promote changed farming methods and changing crops to for instance Alovera or beans instead of just maize which the elephant love. We have included latest research results and are helping communities with beehives which are now known to keep elephant at a safe distance and give communities income when they sell honey. We try to teach them to pool community land for wildlife conservancies and embrace eco tourism as a source of sustainable income and Kenyas Vision 2030 says it is agriculture and tourism which are the back bone of our economy. Some politicians are working with us and others just use us for negative propaganda but we are on the ground with the people and have learned what they need and relations are better when they see how KWS responds to emergency calls. We now help to protect crops, property and livestock and hope that by fencing crucial parts of the park boundaries we can achieve that.
At that stage did Mr. Rukaria have to rush off to return the local journalists to the town of Voi, excusing himself and taking his leave after having literally ambushed him on the way out of the Sarova Taita Hills Lodge. Thanks to a competent and committed conservation partner though for taking the time to talk to eTN about the challenges KWS faces in areas with growing human / wildlife conflicts.
Meanwhile did Mr. Willy Mwadilo, Sarovas General Manager for the two lodges, favourably comment on the operation and welcomed the news that as many as 800 more elephant had been driven into the 28.000+ acres Taita Hills Game Sanctuary as the conservancy is known, as in his words the added game sightings will undoubtedly enhance the safari experience of guests coming to the two lodges, on a classic Safari Inn with amenities like a Spa, swimming pool and tennis courts while the Saltlick Lodge is what can be termed a contemporary tree hotel, built on stilts and overlooking two water holes which in particular during the dry season are an assembly point for big and small game, birds and insects to the delight of visitors who are either perched in their seats up on the top level of the lodge or are at the ground floor level lounge to get a close up look of elephant, buffalo and often lions just 30 metres away. Watch this space and visit www.sarovahotels.com for more information on these two magnificent lodges and their private game reserve.
MINISTERIAL STATEMENT SEEKS TO REASSURE THE TOURISM INDUSTRY
Tanzanias recently appointed Minister for Natural Resources and Tourism Khamis Kagesheki, yesterday issued his media statement to the situation on Zanzibar, where violence swept the old Stone Town on Friday and Saturday while other parts of the island came under siege on Monday, as suspects were produced in court and charged.
The statement, read out by Deputy Minister Lazaro Nyalandu, said in part: This was just an isolated incident that has been brought under control by government. There is peace in Zanzibar as we speak. There were no reports of destruction of hotels or attacks on tourists.
That part of the statement raised more than a few eyebrows as far from being isolated the same radical group was last year blamed for firebombing bars and restaurants as they oppose the selling of alcohol. The brought under control bit of the statement also evaded elegantly that it took security forces two days to quiet down the rioters in the old Stone Town and then faced another outbreak at a different part of the island as they were guarding the law courts en masse. Sections of stakeholders also mentioned to this correspondent that it was their direct action and communication amongst each other to keep the tourists in the resorts and bring back excursions already on the road when the news of the riots spread, nor did the statement admit that three churches were burnt, though indeed no tourism facility on this occasion.
Zanzibar, as has the entire Tanzania, were long an accepted role model for different religions living peacefully side by side in the spirit of tolerance and mutual respect and the burning of churches, intended by the radicals to set one religion against another, was widely condemned though Christian church leaders called for calm and urged their supporters not to be tempted by retaliation.
At least one senior stakeholder from Zanzibar in regular contact with this correspondent spoke of the sectors fear of future repeats and of tourism being targeted outright by the group for maximum impact, calling for much more stringent measures by security to ensure that there is continuous protection around resorts and tourism hotspots while also vowing to increase internal security measures to prevent any incidents happening inside resorts.
With the current low season in full swing the sector has not been overly busy but the media coverage of the incidents has thrown some clouds over the future.
The Minister was reportedly swift in blaming the international media for overstating the situation in Zanzibar but in turn must suffer the consequences for trying to downplay on the situation and conveniently leaving out of his statement past criminal incidents blamed on Uamsho, which leader by the way was arrested yesterday and charged with a range of offences. Mainland sources commended this move as the radical Islamic group is also reportedly working to undermine the union between Zanzibar and the mainland, seeking separation and the establishment of an Islamic hardline state, two scenarios which are vehemently opposed by the government of President Kikwete whose CCM ruling party had since independence been promoting unity and tolerance and in the past stepped down hard on dissent. Watch this space.
FRESH CHURCH BURNING ON ZANZIBAR AS RIOTERS CHARGED IN COURT
At least thirty rioters were charged yesterday in courts of law in Zanzibar, following their arrest over the weekend, when mobs incited by sectarian talk stormed two Christian churches and burned them down. More are expected to appear in court today and though several were granted bail, investigations continue into the promoters of the uncharacteristic violence perpetrated against other religions. However, on other parts of the islands sporadic riots erupted yesterday again with much of the police and security force securing the court buildings and surrounds, and notably was another church burned down near Mpendae, before security forces were deployed to arrest and disburse the mobs. Levelheaded leaders from the mainland but also from Zanzibar have condemned the sectarian violence, saying it is not what Tanzania stands for and attributing it solely to the radical group known as Uamsho, which has been preaching separation from the mainland and the establishment of an own state of Zanzibar, ostensibly then ruled by them to establish a radical regime.
Across the East African Community was the outbreak of violence condemned and while in Kenyas capital the even more radical Al Shabaab terror group appears to have detonated a bomb in a shop along Moi Avenue, the mood everywhere is determined to root out extremism of any form and have the peaceful coexistence of religions in Tanzania and elsewhere in Eastern Africa reaffirmed.
Zanzibar was long suffering from political divisions but the present government of unity which has brought the long time opposition on board, had taken much of the previous sting out of day to day politics and given hope that radicals could be contained.
Tanzanias Home Affairs Minister Emmanuel Nchimbi, now on Zanzibar to resolve the issue through talks, has been clear when he said that no violence would be tolerated hence in order to protect ordinary people and their possessions and more important prevent an economic meltdown should tourism cut and run, leaving Zanzibars much fancied resorts empty, as has been painted as a worst case scenario by sections of stakeholders yesterday when in touch with this correspondent. Everyone has a great role in maintaining peace and stability. We need peace for ourselves and for visitors including tourists who contribute to the economy he said before adding Let us work together and avoid mixing Islam with criminality. I believe Islam does not allow to attack bars, restaurants and non believers. Let us hunt for the criminals.
The response from senior private sector tourism sources was muted though as they are continuing to monitor the situation, with added concerns now that the violence has spread to other parts of the island yesterday, making excursions by tourists to the islands attractions somewhat more difficult in terms of security. It is understood that resort owners and managers are in frequent contact amongst themselves and with security organs and are advising tourists to either stay within their resorts or else exercise utmost caution when venturing out.
The Executive Director of the Zanzibar Tourism Commission also echoed the concerns and advice to the people of Zanzibar when he called on them to help bring the criminals to book and work hand in hand to keep tourism a thriving business from which the island would benefit.
ZANZIBAR RADICALS OPPOSED TO UNION WITH MAINLAND CAUSE WEEKEND CHAOS
In what has been described as acts of frenzied madness have radical Islamists attacked at least two churches in Zanzibar over the weekend, setting them on fire while engaging in running battles with security forces, which were rushed to the scene to deal with the outbreak of sectarian violence, amidst demands to remove Zanzibar from the union Tanganyika under which the United Republic of Tanzania was formed two years after independence. Senior members of the Uamsho radical movement were arrested as were scores of others from amongst the rioters, and tourism sources from Zanzibar have expressed their serious concern over the safety of tourists, now that the threshold of burning Christian churches was crossed. Last year the same radical group was accused to have organized attacks on bars, clearly with the aim of introducing a radical form of Islam to the island, banning alcohol and turning tourist resorts into empty shells, in what has in the past been a moderate and tolerant Islamic society on the Spice Island. All of yesterday were tourists kept in their resorts as heavily armed riot police and other security organs were deployed in the ancient Stone Town, where the usual hustle and bustle of shops and street vendors bargaining with tourists had come to a standstill.
Uamsho, a Swahili word in short for the Association for Islamic Mobilisation and Propagation has demanded a referendum to leave the union and members in the past were reported to have vowed to use whatever means necessary to force the issue, clearly not ruling out violence as seen this weekend.
Tanzania, hitherto one of East Africas most peaceful countries with not one internal uprising or coup attempt, is reeling from the level of violence reported from Zanzibar and the tourism industry has already raised concerns and asked for immediate assurances from government that the safety and security of tourists would be guaranteed at all times while in turn informing overseas tour operators of the event and pointing out that not one tourist has come to harm as the immediate reaction from resort and hotel managers kept the visitors in the resort and made sure they would not be caught up in the street clashes. Said a regular source from Zanzibar in response to queries raised overnight and awaited before dispatching this report: The attack on two churches and burning one completely and one partially is the worst I have seen. It crossed the line in the sand because the majority of Muslims in Zanzibar was always tolerant of other religions and vice versa. If this radicalization is now spreading we are worried that the next thing they do is burn a resort or a restaurant or bar or night spot where tourists would normally go. The weekend has changed the game for Zanzibar tourism and we need to sit and strategize the way forward and how we can prevent tourists getting caught or targeted by such criminals. We shall also sit with government to map out a response about how TTB is dealing with this and how we can get extra security to beef up our own in the resorts. Tourism minister Khamis Kagesheki is also expected to issue a statement about the incidents later today as clearly the events shocked the political establishment in Dar es Salaam with the degree of violence and the targeting of Christian churches. Watch this space.
NEW TOURISM BILL TO BE SENT TO PARLIAMENT FOR CONSIDERATION
Rwanda is putting final touches on a new tourism bill, which is expected to be sent to parliament for consideration and debate before the end of June, it was learned from a regular source in Kigali.
The success story of tourism in Rwanda has become a matter of national pride and equally a matter of regional envy, as the sector has recorded phenomenal growth in recent years, spurred by private and public sector standing together when promoting the country and the introduction of a range of new tourism products, where once upon a time only gorilla tourism was being talked about when the name Rwanda came up.
The formal launch of the Congo Nile Trail in November last year, the unique canopy walk at Nyungwe Forest, the introduction of birding trails through areas outside the national parks and setting the stage for Gishwati Forest to become the countrys fourth national park all have hugely contributed to putting Rwanda on the global map. Additionally have new airlines started to fly to Kigali, existing airlines expanded their frequencies and most important has RwandAir, the national airline of Rwanda, undergone a major transformation in recent years, positioning itself as a prime choice to connect the region and the continent to The Land of a Thousand Hills. This correspondent has often coined the country as Rwanda Incorporated for the coordinated and centrally engineered effort to propel the country, risen since 1994 like a Phoenix from the ashes of the genocide, into the 21st century and connection by fibre optic cable to the international information superhighway has further assisted the country to engage in e-commerce and stay in the spotlight.
Committed conservation efforts, in particular in the forestry sector, have gained global recognition and for sure the admiration of this correspondent, as the target of restoring a 30 percent forest cover by 2020 are fully on track to be accomplished. Said the source from Kigali in an overnight mail: It is time to formalize the sector with a dedicated tourism bill. You got one in Uganda, and so has Kenya and Tanzania and we needed one too. Tourism has become the single most important sector or our economy and Rwanda is investing in human resource development to provide skilled staff to the industry. We have been inviting new investments like the new Marriott Hotel and new lodges and resorts along Lake Kivu are planned. We need a conducive legislation to provide a good legal environment for this and then of course to regulate the sector which is to promote quality and best practices. It is a logical progression.
Rwanda is set to host the 08th Kwita Izina Festival of naming the young born mountain gorillas on June 16th and the forthcoming visit for that event will permit to further gauge opinions and expectations tied to the new tourism bill. Watch this space.
RWANDAIR FORMALLY ANNOUNCES BERT VAN DER STEGES APPOINTMENT
News broken here 2 weeks ago about Bert van der Stege joining RwandAir from Arik Air, has now been formally confirmed by the Rwandan flag carrier when a formal statement was released this afternoon.
In fact, Berts designation was upped from the initial General Manager Commercial to the more common and also more appropriate Commercial Director, considering the wide brief of responsibilities he now shoulders.
Again, it is a warm welcome to Bert and the full statement of RwandAir is shown herebelow:
RWANDA DEVELOPMENT BOARD GIVES BACK TO COMMUNITIES
Ms. Rica Rwigamba, Head of Tourism and Conservation at the Rwanda Development Board, has in a statement released yesterday underscored how over 1.4 billion Rwanda Francs was spent during the past 8 years in support of community based projects for the provision of water, sanitation, schools and other social amenities. By law RDB is required to give back a 5 percent revenue share to the communities neighbouring the currently three national parks of Volcanoes, Nyungwe and Akagera and according to Rica over 220 projects have since the inception of the scheme been financed and completed. The annual disbursement grew from an initial RWF 41 million in 2005 to RWF 256 million this year, as arrivals to Rwanda grew to 908.000 visitors in 2011, generating an estimated gross revenue of US Dollars 252 million for the country. She also attributed the schemes benefits to a significant reduction of poaching and encroachment of parks as the communities now act as watch dogs besides the rangers and wardens to keep the gorillas and national parks safe. In Akagera in particular the communities are now protected by an electric fence from straying animals which in the past not only raided farms but also destroyed other property and caused injuries and loss of life.
The annual naming of young born gorillas, Kwita Izina, will be held this year on June 16th outside Ruhengeri / Musanze at the park head quarters, preceded as every year by a number of community based activities, bringing the spotlight once again to The Land of A Thousand Hills where conservation is not just preached but actively practiced across the land. Watch this space for live updates from Rwanda in two weeks time.
RWANDA GUIDES SIT FOR EXAMS PART ONE OF FOUR
While in Kigali it was learned through a number of contacts that the Rwanda Safari Guide Association has yesterday for the first time offered their members to sit for exams for Bronze Status, the entry level for recognized guides to be certified according to both regional and international standards. Encouraged by the support of the Rwanda Development Board and the Private Sector Federations Tourism Chamber at least 100 new trainee guides will be able to understudy and read up on topics before later in the year also undergoing examination. Those who excelled in yesterdays exams will be able to progressively sit for their silver, gold and platinum standards, the latter of which would certify them to be on top of their profession, commanding not just very much higher fees but effectively showing visitors that Rwanda now has well trained personnel working in tourisms front line.
Kenya presently has the best developed system through their professional safari guide association and their efforts have paid significant dividends by injection greater competence, knowledge and skills into the guiding profession while other countries like Tanzania are still working on modalities of how best to define common standards of training and certification, while in Uganda it was the Uganda Safari Guide Association which pioneered the first training sessions and exams years ago when being offered support by the EUs Uganda Sustainable Tourism Development Programme.
RDBs Tourism and Conservation Department under Rica Rwigamba has actively promoted human resource development and skills transfers into the sector to produce more qualified local staff, able to more efficiently entre the workplace or else improve their knowledge while already on the job somewhere.
In a related development is the final countdown now underway for Kwita Izina 2012, which will see a nearly week long programme of activities and conservation meetings culminate in the naming of the new born mountain gorilla babies in Musanze / Ruhengeri on Saturday 16th June, when live tweets and updates will come from the foot hills of the volcanoes which tower over the festival grounds. Watch this space.
South Sudan News
ANOTHER NEAR MISS AS CHARTERED AIRCRAFT FORCED TO RETURN TO JUBA
Reports from Juba International Airport by a regular source from there have confirmed information obtained through other channels yesterday, that indeed another plane, carrying a minister in the Juba government was forced to return within minutes of leaving the airport for the town of Aweil in Northern Bahr el Ghazal state. A number of additional ministry officials were on board with the minister and escaped with a scare, when leaving the plane on the tarmac as it had landed in Juba to ascertain the nature of the problem.
Incidents of this nature, including a series of minor and major incidents, have become seemingly common in Southern Sudan as operators appear to lack sharp safety oversight due to a lack of sufficient competent personnel being available at this time, as the country nears its first anniversary of Independence on July 09th this year.
The incident is being investigated to establish if faulty maintenance was to blame for what was described as a mechanical failure or if an error by the pilot may have been responsible.
Many aircraft now operating from Juba across South Sudan are leased from neighbouring countries from operators which are out to make a quick buck and a series of mishaps have cast doubt over the standards applied in terms of oversight and regular checks by safety inspectors.
A few months ago a UN chartered plane had a crash landing and at the end of March a Feeder Airline plane had a landing mishap as it has been put at the time at the Wau airfield, causing extensive hull and undercarriage damage but no loss of life. Considering the aviation safety record the previously united Republic of the Sudan had, this seems to have come home to roost in South Sudan too, making it all the more important to improve all aspects of regulatory oversight now that the new country is the latest member of ICAO, the global aviation watchdog body. Watch this space for regular and breaking news from Eastern Africas aviation scene.
MAURITIUS CARNIVAL DIFFERENT VIEWS AND DIFFERENT NEWS
In what must have been a communication from a supporter of embattled MTPA chief Karl Mootoosamy an opinion was expressed to this correspondent, which shows the growing lager mentality of those close to Karl and his inner circle. A broadside of allegations was fired off against the Seychelles Minister for Tourism Alain St. Ange with expressions ranging from he is running circles around Mauritius over what business did he have to meet our media and turn them against us to he is using the Vanilla Island bla bla bla to form a coalition against Mauritius and challenge our leadership besides some other rather unprintable utterances. This outburst appears to have been inspired by Minister St. Anges recent presence as Guest of Honour at the Madagascar International Tourism Fair, where he called upon fellow Vanilla Islands to stand together and work together to promote travel into the entire region and seek ways and means to more effectively connect the islands by air, something the forthcoming Routes Africa Conference also intends to address. While in Madagascar Minister St. Ange also got support from other Vanilla Islands to hold a special meeting of this marketing cooperative in the Seychelles on July 11th, an idea promoted and supported by La Reunion, Mayotte and Madagascar. This meeting will take place alongside the RETOSA Board meeting, the ICTP Annual General Meeting and the Routes Africa Conference, from which Air Mauritius seems to be as conspicuously absent as was the MTPA from the Carnival International de Victoria back in March.
All this goes to show the increasing division and disagreements between sections of the Mauritius tourism industry, many of whom have expressed their concern over MTPA trying to engage in a Don Quichotte like fight with the Seychelles at huge cost to the Mauritius taxpayers without achieving any meaningful contribution to raising the islands international profile but rather sullying it by being accused of Copy and Paste practices, indicating a regime at the tourism promotion authority gone bankrupt of their own original ideas.
Wrote a regular source from Port Louis: They first copied the Creole Festival which was staged in Seychelles and that was by any measure a costly flop for us. I have followed your articles on Seychelles and how they turned tourism around since 2009 when St. Ange was brought on board to revive STB. Seychelles Tourism, at least according to you in past articles going back to 2010, suffered of a bureaucratic regime with no new ideas and St. Ange reformed all of that. Next I remember the old regime was pushed out and St. Ange made CEO when it became clear he had the Midas touch the way you put it once and inspired change. Now he is even the Minister for Tourism so he must have done his job very well at STB.
Since he came Seychelles has been in the media and you call it a juggernaut and it is true. He did what we should do in Mauritius and here I am saying copying this strategy would be good for us. Use Mauritius citizens abroad with links to the media and tourism to be our eyes and ears and mouthpieces on the ground. Use motivated and skilled Mauritius citizens to staff key tourist offices abroad and do the job like the Seychellois are doing. They do not use a very expensive agency to tell the public in the main producer markets what we should tell them, what we know best, which is how beautiful Mauritius is and why tourists should come here. We have to use the media more effectively and I think you are a good example of how your portrayal of Seychelles in eTurboNews and on your blog has helped to put Seychelles in the spotlight. And I also agree with some of your articles about Air Mauritius when you wrote that past cooperation in the region between all three major airlines could have saved them all. That is now way beyond us but at least we should seek a strategic partner for Air Mauritius and stop pretending we can rescue that airline on our own. Again, Air Seychelles was given marching orders by the government in Victoria and the results are beginning to show with a revival now that they have Etihad as partner.
We need fundamental change in our tourism promotion set up and the way we do things and not look for enemies where we should look for friends and allies.
From a media release obtained it seems that Hills Balfour was tasked to promote the carnival festival, due to be held in a few weeks already with minimum time for preparation, but has enlarged the brief to include a week long shopping festival on Mauritius, a vain attempt to once again copy the hugely successful shopping extravaganzas for instance held annually in Dubai, where most important prices are vastly lower than on Mauritius and where in particular Emirates provides special fares at much more affordable rates for that purpose than what a ticket to Mauritius costs. Added the same source when specifically asked about this turn of events: We are not a shopping island but a fantastic beach destination. We cannot compete for consumer goods prices with Dubai for instance as you asked. Emirates gives a big extra baggage allowance for people coming to their annual Dubai shopping festival and there is no sign Air Mauritius has put out special fares just five weeks ahead of the event or is doubling the baggage allowance for visitors to carry their things home without paying the very high extra baggage cost. Has MTPA maybe finally figured out what a terrible mistake they have made and are now trying to sell the idea as a shopping carnival? Whichever way, it is bound to flop.
What is patently clear here is that there are serious divisions within Mauritius tourism and whether ethnicity does play the role it has been suggested to this correspondent it allegedly does is almost paling by the impact of fragmenting the industry into camps and thus preventing a united line, a united stand and a united concept to promote the island abroad. Watch this space as the clock ticks down now towards the June 28th to July 05th period during which the carnival was to be hosted and the shopping festival is now being pushed as a supplement if not substitute.
MADAGASCAR PRESIDENT HONOURS SEYCHELLES ST. ANGE FOR HIS WORK
(Seychelles Minister for Tourism and Culture Alain St. Ange seen here at an interview with this correspondent)
The Minister of Tourism and Culture of the Seychelles, Alain St. Ange, was honoured at the end of his stay in Madagascar, where he was invited as guest of honour to open the annual international tourism fair, allowing him to throw his weight behind the Madagascar effort to return as a destination amongst the Vanilla Islands.
St. Ange has since his appointment as Minister in early March this year, and in his previous position as CEO of the Seychelles Tourism Board, left out no opportunity to promote the Vanilla Islands concept amongst fellow islanders in the Indian Ocean, to strengthen where individual destinations struggled and had to overcome adversity is was the case with Madagascar but also to exploit the magnificent range of destinations available in a relatively confined area. The success of brining La Reunion on board as co-sponsor for the annual Carnival International de Victoria was seen as a crucial waypoint in further adding weight to the marketing cooperative of fellow Indian Ocean island states. His efforts and achievements over the past years was recognized by President Rajoelina, when he bestowed upon St. Ange the honour of Commandeur de lOrdre National de Madagascar, formally handed over on his behalf by the islands tourism minister in Jean Max Rakotomamonjy in a ceremony before all assembled guests with honour guard and all. Minister Jean Max said on the occasion: Your work and your support is assisting Madagascar Tourism find its rightful place. For this we are thankful and we count of your continued personal involvement. We thank you for being in Madagascar for the International Tourism Fair to express solidarity for the islands tourism industry to which a clearly emotional St. Ange, surprised by this unexpected recognition, responded: I can only said that I remain committed to the Indian Ocean Vanilla Islands concept and that I will work with the six islands of the Indian Ocean group to ensure we all see success for our respective islands tourism industry.
Only three months ago did La Reunion equally recognize St. Anges single handed effort to unite the Vanilla Islands to form a strong coalition of the willing to promote travel from around the world to the islands of La Reunion, Madagascar, Mayotte, Comoros, Mauritius and his own native Seychelles.
Alain St.Ange was responsible for inviting La Reunion to be co-host alongside the Seychelles for the 2012 Carnival International de Victoria and this had helped La Reunion to be more visible in front of a large bank of press coming from the four corners of the world. At the press briefing at the Kempinski Resort, the day before the official opening of the Carnival International de Victoria, the Indian Ocean Vanilla Islands Carnival, after promotional video clips of Seychelles and La Reunion were shown to the seventy plus press gathered, Alain St.Ange spoke about La Reunion as the Indian Ocean island that offered Swiss like mountains and a extinct volcano. Seychelles and La Reunion complement each other as ideal twin-center holiday options St. Ange, then still CEO of the Seychelles Tourism Board said as reported here at the time by this correspondent who witnessed the joint presentation.
None other than President Didier Robert himself, the President of La Region La Reunion, led his islands 100-plus delegation to the carnival in Seychelles, accompanied by Pascal Viroleau, the Head of the IRT (Ile de La Reunion Tourisme).
Both Seychelles and La Reunion form part of the six islands Vanilla Islands region in the Indian Ocean, and both these islands at that time reconfirmed their willingness to continue to cooperate in the field of tourism promotion as they agreed to continue to seek to convince the other islands of that block to also embrace the Carnaval International de Victoria, the Indian Ocean Vanilla Islands Carnival, as the event that can increase visibility of the region.
The presentation of the Certificate of Merit Ambassadeur Ile de la Reunion was made in Berlin Germany to Mr. St.Ange by Mr. Azeddine Bouali, a Member of the La Reunion Tourism Board in the presence of Mr. Pascal Viroleau, the Head of the La Reunion Tourism (IRT) and other officials from La Reunion tourism.
Alain St.Ange at that time said that he was honored to have been awarded this Certificate of Merit by La Reunion. We had agreed to work together to strengthen our region and increase its visibility as an important tourism region where diversity exists. Inviting La Reunion to be a co-host of the carnival was to help our region have a bigger carnival, but at the same time help put La Reunion in the forefront in the eyes of the press, and to get them more known in the world of tourism. They have appreciated our effort, and it pleases me. Seychelles always believes that a strong region will ensure a more consolidated tourism industry for all our Indian Ocean Islands Minister Alain St.Ange had said.
Seychelles, La Reunion, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mayotte and Comoros all form part of the Indian Ocean Vanilla Islands Group. The Islands have undertaken joint marketing initiatives to increase their regions visibility. Last year that Vanilla Islands Group organised an airline meeting in Mauritius to discuss with all airlines serving the islands of the Indian Ocean about the way forward. Since that Mauritius meeting much has changed in the world of aviation and in the individual situation of all the airlines (Air Seychelles, Air Mauritius & Air Austral) of the Indian Ocean Vanilla Islands. Pascal Viroleau of La Reunion as Head of the IRT (La Reunion Tourism), while also in Madagascar for the international tourism fair, had last week proposed an early follow up meeting in Seychelles in Julyto be held alongside the upcoming ICTP Annual General Meeting, the RETOSA Board Meeting and the Routes Africa Conference, all of which will be held in the Seychelles in early July. Watch this space.
SEYCHELLES ST. ANGE GUEST OF HONOUR AT MADAGASCAR TOURISM FAIR
The Minister for Tourism and Culture of the Seychelles, Alain St. Ange, was invited by the Madagascar government as guest of honour to formally open the islands International Tourism Fair, as Madagascar is trying to re-emerge from the political cold it found itself in over political events 2 years ago.
St. Ange, in his usual engaging style, praised the cooperation between the Indian Ocean islands working hitherto hand in hand under the Vanilla Island marketing concept and made it clear that cooperation in todays economic climate was the sensible and logical choice for the islands instead of individually facing the same problems but without the safety net others could hold out.
Quoting in part from his address availed to this correspondent, Minister St. Ange said:
On behalf of President James Michel, the President of the Republic of Seychelles, the current President of the Indian Ocean Commission the message is to the you Minister Jean Max Rakotomamanjy, and to the exhibitors and friends of the tourism industry I simply say all the very best with the 2012 edition of the International Tourism Fair Madagascar 2012. Madagascar along with Seychelles, La Reunion, Mauritius, Mayotte and Comoros launched the Vanilla islands grouping because we all saw merit in unifying ourselves to get our region more visible and known. Today Madagascar is promoting a Tourism Fair for our Region and I stand here as a display of our support for the unity of our islands and for their effort in staging a event that can and that will bring visibility to our region, to the Vanilla islands. Seychelles is also doing the same through the annual Carnival International de Victoria which was co-hosted this year with La Reunion again in that same spirit of togetherness to get our region more known. We need all our islands to find a theme on which to stage a regional event which we can all support. We cannot be an island onto ourselves. We need each other, our region needs all of us and the Vanilla islands depends on unity of its six islands. It is with this frame of mind or mindset change needed in some cases that we will overcome the difficulties we are having to contend with because of the economic woes in our traditional main tourist markets. The policy of working in isolation and safeguarding only your little patch is no longer sustainable as a policy. The world is moving fast and as a Region we need to be on board, and we must ensure that we do not miss the boat. I am in Madagascar because we, in Seychelles, we believe that we need to show support for Madagascar in their endeavour to create a Tourism Fair for Magagascar. But also a tourism fair for the Indian Ocean Vanilla Islands expressing the position of both the Seychelles government and of his ministry in regard of cooperation within the Indian Ocean islands versus block headed competition of the 70s command economy style.
Notably was reference avoided to what must have been a trigger to some of these comments, the attempt by MTPSs Karl Mootoosamy to Copy and Paste Seychelles festival success in what has been largely perceived as the reaction of a bruised ego and a last ditch attempt to safe his own, under growing pressure, tenure some say has now become almost untenable.
Present at the fair opening were senior ministers from the Madagascar government and top diplomats, on whom St. Anges diplomatic side stepping of the issue they expected to be addressed were not lost. Present were the Madagascar Minister for Tourism, Mr Jean Max Rakotomamonjy, Mrs Elia Ravelomanantsoa, the Madagascar Minister for Culture, Dr Johanita Ndahimananjara, Madagascar Minister for Health, Mrs Lantotiana Rakotomavo, Vice President for Madagascar Superior Council for Transition, Eric Koller the President of the Office National du Tourisme de Madagascar and Vola Raveloson, the Director General of his Office, Frederic Pierret the Executive Director of the WTO among many national dignitaries and members of the Diplomatic Corps.
Watch this space as Madagascar is aiming to reclaim its position as a nature tourism destination with in particular their national parks and the various Lemur species attracting the most attention.
AIR SEYCHELLES PLAN FOUR FLIGHTS A WEEK TO JOHANNESBURG FROM 2013
Information has come to light that the Seychelles national airline intends to double their presently two flights per week between Mahe and Johannesburg to four from January next year, when more aircraft will have joined the fleet. Due to arrive first is an Airbus A330-200 to be followed by an Airbus A320, with a second A330-200 expected to join Air Seychelles either late in 2012 or first thing in the new year.
It could not be established if at that stage the route will be served with the A320 as currently the A330 is being used to fly to South Africa, an important market from the African mainland for the archipelago.
Meanwhile has Routes Africa announced that more airlines have signed up to participate in the event which this year will take place at the Kempinski Seychelles Resort on the main island of Mahe. Confirmed for the July 08th 10th the meeting is taking place alongside the meeting of the RETOSA Board, which brings together the Tourism Ministers of the SADC region. Airlines confirmed so far include even fast growing RwandAir, which is set to accelerate their planned network rollout with new destinations according to new General Manager Commercial Mr. Bert van der Stege, who however was not quite ready yet to spill the bean bag on where exactly they were planning to go next after revealing just 10 days ago that Mwanza, Tanzanias lake side city on Lake Victoria, would become destination 14 for them. Notably is Kenya Airways, aka The Pride of Africa still missing from the list as are a few others like Egypt Air, Air Uganda but also Air Mauritius.
The latter is thought to be kept out of the meeting over growing undercurrents seen in recent days since it became known that MTPA had done a Copy and Paste job on the Carnival International de Victoria, widely perceived as a doing the dirty backstabbing on the Seychelles, now making it nearly impossible to look them into the eye from anywhere close up.
South African Airways
Mega Maldive Airlines
Saudi Arabian Airlines
Expect updates in the run up to the Routes Africa 2012 Conference and on conference results and new deals struck.
KEEP SEYCHELLES SAFE SAYS TOURISM MINISTER, WE DEPEND ON TOURISTS
As the murder trial on Mauritius is now underway, where two suspects are standing trial over allegations of having killed British tourist Michaela McAreavey in her hotel room, the Seychelles tourism establishment left no opportunity pass last week and this week to publicly promote the concept of further improving safety and security for the visitors to the archipelago by calling upon the public to appreciate the value tourist bring to the country in terms of foreign exchange, investments, job creation through the sector and via secondary and tertiary employment and the goodwill satisfied tourists take back home with them.
This campaign for public awareness and the need to keep our visitors safe and out of trouble is not linked to what is going on right now in Mauritius. Yes, of course it has been in the news that the trial is now underway but we have always promoted amongst our people to be friendly to visitors and look after them if they get lost somewhere. We know that internal peace in Seychelles is crucial for our success, and government is having many initiatives underway to help young people to build a career. STA is offering more study places than before and when the new academy is ready we think we can meet manpower demand through graduates. There are start up business schemes available to build a business, from guest houses to fishing trips, guided tours to the Morne National Park and so much more. We are looking at arrivals now by end May and if the projections are right we will again up our numbers compared to a year ago. For 2012 Seychelles hopes to attract around 200.000 visitors, and in comparison to others small here is beautiful We are not and never will or can be a mass destination because sustainability is at the centre of what we do here. Occupancies will rise when we reach this number and every year we hope to add little by little until we have reached a number were sustainability meets demand. To achieve that we must not forget that our visitors must be safe and secure when here with us and that is the reason why the topic was raised, not because of what goes on somewhere else. We do not exploit others woes but follow our own strategies said a regular senior source on the islands when asked if the timing of the tourist safety and security campaign was purely coincidental or deliberate.
Seychelles Minister for Tourism and Culture Alain St. Ange in turn had this to say in a public statement availed to this correspondent: This is one of our important unique selling points. The world at large knows we are a peace loving people. The world at large knows we remain not only safe, but very safe. This asset we must all defend and we must all stand together to safeguard. He then went on to explain government policy vis a vis tourism and employment opportunities: Our President wanted to extend a hand to our people at large to enter the world of tourism. He said this as he launched the Seychelles Brand of Tourism. This brand of tourism for Seychelles by Seychelles is to ensure that the industry that remains the pillar of our economy is consolidated for the long term. The tourism business in Seychelles must not become only for big businesses, every Seychellois who so desires must see themselves in the industry not just as employees, but also as players, as business men and women. Everyone involved, everyone so implicated will defend his or her industry before ending with an example of how tourists are safe in Victoria even at night: Last year and again this year at the Indian Ocean Vanilla Islands Carnival, known as the Carnival International de Victoria which is jointly staged by Seychelles and La Reunion we saw several people including visitors sleeping in Victoria after the street party and they did so without fear because of the safety label we continue to enjoy. This we must never lose as the peace loving mid ocean islands of Seychelles. Minister St. Ange would not be drawn however into discussing the recent announcement by one Karl Mootoosamy, Head of the Mauritius Tourism Promotion Authority, that they would stage a rival carnival festival within weeks of the announcement being made last weekend, baffling the tourism sector both at home in Mauritius and abroad, where it is largely felt that MTPA had ran out of ideas and was grasping at straws in a desperate Copy and Paste attempt to upstage the Seychelles. Understandably would the Minister St. Ange not wish to add fuel to the fire raging in the public domain and on social networks over MTPAs move but going by feedback from Mauritius itself it seems a hugely controversial decision, and being made as the murder trial is underway it was also felt that it was a timed smokescreen to divert international attention away from the trial, unsuccessfully as it appears. Watch this space to get regular updates from Seychelles Another World.
Crucial evidence due to be heard in #Mauritius later today as British DNA expert flies in to testify at Michaela #McAreavey murder trial.
INTER ISLAND FERRY TURNS FIVE
(The Cat Cocos as seen during a past visit to the Seychelles)
The high speed ferry between the Seychelles main island of Mahe to the archipelagos second island Praslin over the weekend celebrated 5 years in operations, five years of commercial success and five years of taking tourists and Seychellois to and from the main islands, including La Digue, which is served by a smaller version of the catamaran and crosses between Praslin and La Digue within about 20 minutes. The cost of a trip is different for tourist visitors and locals, and unlike Air Seychelles which a few months ago removed the lower fares for Seychellois and now charges one uniform fare, residents on the islands pay less compared to tourists, a welcome gesture and financial relief to the people in times of inflation and economic challenges.
The one hour trip, especially the early morning departure, are regularly fully booked as tourist visitors stream across to Praslin for a day trip, visiting the Vallee de Mai to see the fabled Coco de Mer, to tour the islands legendary beaches, or, upon prior arrangement play a round of golf on the Constance Lemuria Resorts championship 18 hole course.
It was also learned through a regular source that the company has decided to purchase a second large high speed ferry to not only meet growing demand but also permit for more charters, when corporate groups from the islands want to give their staff a unique outing or when tourists as part of an incentive group travel require exclusive services, at a cost of course to them and an added profit to the ferry owners.
Over 100 Seychellois are employed by the company, from skippers over engineers to service staff on board and of course ticketing and sales personnel and administrative staff at the offices in Victoria. Owned by Mr. Joe Albert, who is also the principal proprietor of La Digues leading resort Domain de lOrangerie.
Visit www.seychelles.travel for more information on the archipelagos resorts, hotels, guest houses, private villas and self catering establishments and how to get from one island to the other. Happy Birthday Cat Cocos and until we meet again.
AND in closing today, as many times before, interesting stories from The Livingstone Weekly by Gill Staden:
In Memoriam we all mourn when we lose one of our friends, or fellow eccentrics as Gill describes it, a group I also belong to for many a moon already, RIP Bob though we never met we seem kindred souls.
It was with great sadness that I heard of Bobs death at the weekend. Bob who was known as Bob the Birdman, was one of Livingstones great characters who enchanted everyone with his love of the bush, especially the birds which he photographed, taped their songs and could call from the trees.
Bob came to Zambia, I think, in the 1970s under the tsetse control programme and it was then that his love of the African bush developed. His favourite pastime was just walking through the forests listening and watching for any wildlife.
In around 2005 I joined a group of Livingstonians and we all travelled to Liuwa Plain. It was the oddest collection of eccentrics, and Bob was one of the most eccentric. On the way up we stopped at a lodge and were chatting to the owner. Bob wasnt listening to the chat he was listening to the trees. Suddenly he said: Can you hear the Narina Trogon? Listen. We listened and looked but could hear or see nothing. Bob put on a face and whistled the Narina Trogon came to a tree nearby so that we could all see it. The bird was very confused as he was looking for another bird and Bob said: Have you all seen it now. We mustnt upset it too much; we must let it go.
Bob was always juggling pairs of glasses. I have seen him with three pairs of glasses on the end of his nose as he switched them around to see at various distances. On one occasion I was walking with Bob on Siloka Island as he joined in the waterbird count. Bob had, I think, two pairs of glasses on at this point and was wandering through the trees intent on reading some notes. I looked over at him and noticed that he was just about to walk into an elephant. Bob, I said in a loud whisper, looo ook out! Bob looked up and noticed the huge bull elephant. Oh, he said, and walked off still filling in his notes.
Bob was part of a generation who just loved Africa for being Africa. He never worried about politics or money. He just loved the wild areas and, more than anything, he loved to pass on his knowledge and passion. We will miss him dearly.
From Bird Watch Zambia, not ZOS
It is not quite the same and I am sure we will use ZOS for many years to come, but
Zambia Ornithological Society has become BirdWatch Zambia.
Not all birds liked the photo shoot after ringing
Pictures made by Annette
Sad news from Sabie Game Park Mozambique. We have had two rhino on the property for a couple of weeks. These rhino have been guarded every day by game guards and our highly experienced anti poaching unit manager.. In addition we have had aerial support in the form of a Bantam micro light. They were left unguarded for a few hours while moving units around on last Sunday afternoon and were never seen alive again. They were found today – both shot 200 meters from where they were last seen. A formal application to capture these rhino and hold them in a boma for safe keeping was turned down.
This capture operation was fully sanctioned by our neighbours in South Africa – Kruger National Park. Its too late now. A sad day indeed.
Could this be the remains of the last two rhino in Mozambique? A distinct and resounding yes! Please Share it with the world !!