ALDABRA ATOLL ‘GETS CONNECTED’
The lesser known ‘other’ but nevertheless unique and in fact second to none UNESCO World Heritage Site ‘Aldabra Atoll’ in the Seychelles, managed by the Seychelles Island Foundation, has now been ‘connected’ to allow VOIP calls via Kokonet, a service provider tapping into an existing internet connections to allow voice calls to land lines and mobile phones. Located over 1.000 kilometres from the main islands of the archipelago the ecosystem is ‘occupied’ by a permanent research team from the SIF, but also hosts guest researchers and is open for a chosen few to visit as tourists, who however have to stay on board their yachts and ships off the shores overnight to protect the fragile environment of the atoll and have the least possible impact on bird and aquatic life forms. Gone are the days that connections depended entirely on short wave radio or the expensive satellite phones since an internet dish for up- and down links was established on the island but VOIP connections are novel and allow both office communications as well as private calls for the resident researchers and other staff to call home once in a while.
Several others of the outer and more remote islands, unable to get linked via the Seychelles main GSM mobile systems, have also signed up with Kokonet to go high tech, used by guests staying in small private resorts on these solitary islands but also for the staff working there.
Way to go to stay connected.
PARLIAMENTARY COMMITTEE LOCKS HORNS WITH TOURISM INDUSTRY
Safari lodge and camps, tour and safari operators in Tanzania expressed their concern yesterday when it emerged that the parliamentary public accounts committee had reportedly ‘cancelled’ the current concession and royalty fees charged by TANAPA after claiming that it generated a huge loss for the country and waving the magic ‘corruption’ wand around.
Apparently the members of parliament sitting on the committee felt fit to assume powers of ‘directives’, something which commonly rests with the executive and not the legislators in such a case, and adding one more when demanding that TANAPA’s insurance contracts also be cancelled, again alleging corruption.
Operators have immediately denounced the ‘directive’ as illegal and un-constitutional, also pointing out that the last round of fee increases for park entrance and concession / royalty payments was arrived at after a lengthy consultative exercise between private and public sector, and that while TANAPA put proposals up for discussion the negotiated results were arrived at fairly and kept a balance between the need to generate income for the wildlife body and the effects on the cost of safaris which the market could absorb.
Said one regular and quite outspoken source in Arusha to this correspondent: ‘some of these parliamentarians really do not know much about how our sector works. They have made an alliance with a few TANAPA board members who tried to show off by claiming government was robbed of billions of revenue. The truth is that some of them are suspected to try for better remuneration for themselves which the present income structure does not allow. They think if they multiply fees they swim in money and can ‘eat’ but that shows no regard for what prices the market can tolerate. We do not live in isolation, we are not the only country offering safaris. Yes, Tanzania has a unique position and very good parks but if we become too expensive safari clients will go and visit other countries. You in Uganda should know, if you would suddenly charge 1.000 dollars for a gorilla permit, that your market will drop completely. Some in TANAPA wanted to raise the per night fees on royalties and concession fees to something like 50 US Dollars per tourist staying there, and that would have been a tenfold increase. Tariffs are reviewed at regular intervals, there is a mechanism in place for that, but increases must be gradual with all aspects of impact considered. Some of our parliamentarians are just seeking cheap popularity and wave the placard of corruption, corruption around for their own ends. Have they even consulted us, the private sector, when they talked this issue, not that I am aware of, to whatever they said is arbitrary and one-sided’.
Watch this space as the ‘battle for the fees’ unfolds.
KENYA’S HOTEL GRADING TO BE ‘EYEBALLED’ BY ANTI CORRUPTION BODY
The Kenya Hotels and Restaurant Authority’s unfolding grading exercise, long delayed for lack of funding but now finally confirmed to commence by the end of March, will be subject to oversight by the Kenya Anti Corruption Commission following pending complaints by sections of the hospitality industry. Previous ‘awards’ of star rating has often drawn severe criticism from within the sector, that some establishments were ‘over rated’, prompting swift allegations of corrupt practise and influence peddling. While restaurants and hotels have the opportunity to challenge the findings of the inspection teams and demand a ‘second opinion’ to have ‘unfair’ results reviewed, little can be done at present against ‘over rating’ as competing hotels and resorts do have little chance to contest star ratings thought to be ‘too high’.
Subsequently has Hon. Najib Balala, the Minister for Tourism in Nairobi, directed the involvement and oversight of the exercise by the KACC to be sure of an independent outcome reflecting reality on the ground. The star rating can be an important tool to market a property and will undoubtedly support Kenya’s drive towards higher quality tourism products and moving away from the wrong image of being a ‘mass tourism destination’ only fit for cheap charter tourists.
Results of the nationwide grading of hospitality businesses are expected by the last quarter of 2011 in time for the high season.
MORE ATTACKS ON UWA RANGERS AT MT. ELGON
Mt. Elgon National Park remains a hot spot for conservation and the staff of Uganda Wildlife Authority are putting their life on the line day in day out, as the latest news from the East of the country confirm. One ranger was seriously injured in an attack by suspected encroachers and poachers, who set on him with pangas and spears while also using dogs to attack and chase away the game rangers.
Mt. Elgon is regularly in the news, sadly so, and as a result suffering as a tourism destination, when stories break over encroachment, fights, devastating and deadly landslides, which tend to scare tourists away. Said a source in UWA: ‘this is our biggest problem park we have in the country. We have often made representation to government about the issues, but the incitement by politicians continues. They promise people land to resettle them inside the park. The park boundaries were reviewed a few years ago after a long consultative process and then demarcated. But encroachers in league with criminals and poachers keep removing the boundary posts and markers and when we try to chase them out of the park they run to politicians for help and claim it was their land. Poaching is another big problem there, and so is illegal logging of tropical trees. Encroachers also do not know the dangers of cultivating on steep slopes and during heavy rains which are common on this mountain landslides can just swallow up a whole village. This happened last year, then government was quick to evict people from those parts of the park but they keep coming back. This is a battle conservation cannot win without political support. Mt. Elgon is a crucial water tower for the East of the country. Deforestation and illegal logging spoils it and then, during dry season times, the water in the streams dries up and everyone comes running ‘why why’ but the truth is, they were told time and again that what UWA does in the park is for the good of everyone. It is also a transboundary park we share with Kenya and therefore has good tourist potential. But everytime such news come to the media we are losing out on visitors. Once a Belgian tourist was killed there and it finished tourism almost completely that year. As long as gangs of poachers are free to roam because they have political godfathers protecting them, what can we do’.
UWA’s main motto speaks of conservation for generations but in the case of this park the question must be asked here where government stands on this issue and what, if any effect on policing boundaries and managing the park the recent upheavals at UWA had on their capability to robustly carry out their mandate.
Watch this space.
BANK OF UGANDA SEIZES LIBYAN SHARES IN TROPICAL BANK
No sooner had the formal announcement been made that Uganda would fully comply with the UN resolution to freeze the assets of Libya’s faltering dictator Gadaffi et al, did the Bank of Uganda react and seized the Libyan shareholding in Tropical Bank.
Compelled two weeks ago already to issue public statements that ‘the bank is safe’ to avoid a run on it, the government’s acceptance of the UN resolution reportedly brought relief to the halls of Uganda’s central bank as it finally could step in to restore consumer confidence in the bank by direct intervention.
The Libyan Foreign Bank owned nearly 100 percent of the shares in Tropical Bank, previously known as Tropical Africa Bank, and as was customary during Gadaffi’s heydays what was Libya’s was his for all practical purposes. The Bank of Uganda went a step further and relieved all Libyan appointees and nationals in management of their positions and appointed bankers to take over the day to day running of Tropical Bank with immediate effect,
This now sets the stage for a much wider scenario to unfold in coming days, as the Laico Lake Victoria Hotel, Uganda Telecom, the National Housing Corporation and a number of other investments too are in the cross hairs of the respective regulators and government oversight agencies for similar action. It was learned late Friday that the Libyan board members – for all purposes cronies of Gadaffi, subject to the UN freeze order too and as guilty as himself in looting their country – and Libyan appointed management staff are said to be in a state of panic following the events at Tropical Bank yesterday.
Watch this space for further updates in particular at Laico Hotels, which will also have a likely trigger effect on hotels and resorts in Kenya, Rwanda and the rest of the continent.