TOURISM, AVIATION AND CONSERVATION NEWS from the Eastern African and Indian Ocean region
A weekly roundup of reports, travel stories and opinions by Prof. Dr. Wolfgang H. Thome
Get daily breaking news updates instantly via Twitter by following @whthome or read the daily postings on my blog via: www.wolfganghthome.wordpress.com
Third edition August 2011
GOVERNMENT OFFICIALS FAIL TO FIND ‘DEGRADED MABIRA AREAS’
Following contradicting statements from State House officials, that ‘only degraded areas of Mabira Forest will be given away for sugar cane farming’ has an effort to show Ugandan journalists those degraded areas failed miserably, when a team led by the minister for environment failed to identify any such areas. After the minister beat a hasty retreat, NFA officials on condition of anonymity shared information with the scribes present at the trip, claiming that Mabira had ‘no degraded areas’ following replanting and forest restoration over a number of years since the last ‘Mabira Give Away’ disaster.
Wide opposition has in the meantime formed across the political spectrum in Uganda against any part of Mabira to be given to the Mehta Group, and talk is already emerging again of a consumer boycott of any products by the industrial group, should they not themselves step away from ever using any part of the gazetted forest. Other sources pointed at Rwanda’s policy of re-forestation where ‘degraded areas are being restored’ instead of being given away for sugar cane plantations. Said a regular contributor with good insight into the political processes in Uganda: ‘The president is right in a way that we need to expand sugar production. He pointed at the North of the country where wrangles over land and land ownership have prevented the Kakira Sugar company from starting a 20.000 hectares plantation. That issue needs to be resolved because it will also affect commercial farming for food crops if it is permitted to prevail. There is also the issue of land owned by the Prison Department in Masindi, where Kinyara Sugar has expressed interest to lease or acquire it to expand their production. If the Prison Department is not using that land, they should allow someone else to use it. However, if the Prison Department does use the land the public needs to be told what they are using it for and then arrangements should be made to compensate them adequately so that they are not losing productivity. As to Mabira, I think the president may have been given wrong facts about it. It is also not wise to turn an allegedly degraded forest part into a sugar plantation but to undertake every effort to restore that area of the forest. Mabira is a crucial water tower for Uganda. It is to my understanding also part of an agreement with the World Bank to leave it intact as an offset for other actitivies they financed for Uganda. Presently the country is already facing enough hardship over the economic situation and government is not well advised to open more conflicts with civil society over Mabira. In fact, government will be playing into the hands of the opposition if they go ahead with the Mabira issue. The international damage then done to Uganda’s reputation will be major and we should avoid that. Government should look at tourism to accrue benefits from Mabira. We read your articles about the Rwandan forests and exemplary policies in the Rwanda Eye magazine and you have made a good case for keeping the environment safe for future generations. I think common sense will prevail and Mabira may still be left alone as government by consensus is better than government by confrontation. There will be consultations starting even later today and even from within the NRM there is wide spread opposition to this element of the president’s plan, I think they can agree on the North, on Masindi but not Mabira, but let’s wait what the president will be told by his own party’s MP’s.’
No one however wanted to comment or further explore why in the presidential speech the issue of terrorists was raised, seemingly in connection with the Mabira conservation lobby, which blew the entire affair into the global domain where environmental groups and conservation bodies are now starting fresh petition sites and are lobbying for support against any attempt to dissect Mabira or take any part of it away for sugar cane farming. Watch this space as this issue is turning into a major agenda item on Uganda’s political calendar.
CHOGM SINS CONTINUE TO HAUNT THE PERPETRATORS
The scandal is simply not going away and CHOGM, once a darling word to boost hotel capacity and create infrastructure along the Entebbe to Kampala corridor of the greater metropolitan area, has become synonymous with corruption, police investigations and prosecutions by the Inspector General of Government.
The latest media reports again centre around the former Minister of State for Tourism, Serapio Rukundo, whose decision to take all the proposals made by the national Hotel and Tourism Training Institute towards training for the summit and capacity building and then engaged foreign partners at a multiple of the projected ‘in house’ cost had already at the time caused furious arguments, before it was even known that the ‘training’ proved useless and ineffective for the purpose. Sidestepping and ‘cold storing’ HTTI, located at the Crested Crane Hotel in Jinja, also damaged the long term future of the institute as all capacity building measures proposed in the comprehensive document submitted to government by the HTTI principal and board at the time had outlined the benefits of training both at the institution as well as having ‘mobile’ training units dispatched into the CHOGM hotels to teach ‘on site’ to workers who could not be spared by their employers. A Ugandan registered ‘human resource’ company, participating in the alleged swindle, also disappeared from the scene, as did the owners, when questions were first raised at committee levels of the last parliament and it became clear that there was a prima facie case building up for taking the matter to court.
However, while still in office Mr. Rukundo managed to fend off such action, but when losing his parliamentary seat in Kabale and being retired from cabinet, the tables were finally turned.
It is understood that CID officers are now actively searching for documentary evidence about the sequence of events how this alleged swindle happened, how the ‘partners’ were selected in a non-competitive and non-bidding fashion, why a government owned institution which in fact had developed all the scoping documents and draft curricula in detail were pushed aside and what if any benefits came to those who were meant to be trained. As it is coming to four years in November since CHOGM was held in Uganda, a high profile event which benefitted the country greatly in terms of exposure and publicity abroad, action finally seems to be taken against those whom the public accounts committee of the last parliament pin pointed at the time, only to be overruled in the plenary session which gave a broad absolution to all at the time. Yet it seems, the office of the IGG, already prosecuting the former Vice President, clearly thinks that this ‘absolution’ was worthless and is building up case files before issuing arrest warrants and bringing the culprits to justice. Watch this space, as this unsavory saga continues.
STATISTICS BUREAU DROPS INFLATION BOMBSHELL
Figures just released by the Uganda Bureau of Statistics, in conjunction with the Bank of Uganda put the annual inflation trend for the month of July 2011 now at 18.7 percent, bringing it to an 18 year high with no end in sight.
Inflation even in Kenya has now gone above 15 percent but in Uganda it is also combined with the lowest level of the value of the Uganda Shilling, which has last weekend fallen to below the 2.800 mark versus the US Dollar. Across the region have the effects of high international fuel prices driven inflation and drought has affected harvests to the point of having the UN declare a famine in parts of the Horn of Africa and the Eastern African region. This spells badly for already hard hit consumers, as increased fuel prices translate instantly into even higher food prices, a crucial element in the monthly spending budget by ordinary people.
Political attempts to belittle the problem have only fuelled anger and given the leading opposition figures fresh impetus, who have already vowed to resume their ‘walk to work’ protests which a few months ago caused major disruption to life in and around Kampala as well as key municipal centres across the country. Said a leading safari operator when questioned on the impact of the inflation on his business: ‘We quote in US Dollars and Euros, not in Uganda Shillings. So our rates are stable in foreign currency but we are still faced with all local cost escalating month by month. Fuel, food inputs, spare parts have all increased so whatever we get more for our dollars by higher exchange rates is also being consumed by higher prices. New equipment, new vehicles for instance, need to be paid in hard currency. We are lucky to earn hard currency but for others they need to find the shillings to make up for the gap now. But our main problem for Uganda tourism is marketing. Our neighbours are doing more, spending more and are united between private and public sector. In Kenya especially the sector associations are drivers of dialogue and development, but here we lack that sort of structure. In Tanzania the hotel association is issue driven, here they go for owners individual objectives and interests. In Uganda we need to come together as a whole group and give government our principle demands and tell them what it will cost them to propel tourism ahead. Our sector has a great deal of potential but for 20 years we have not fully exploited it. That should change now that we have our own ministry again. But let me also say that political events have not helped and if opposition wants to walk again the international TV stations will show our own riots and not those in London. That puts potential visitors off and travel warnings then also play a part. Inflation here in Uganda combines with power outages, high cost of production because of long access from the sea ports and people find it hard to make ends meet. Government has not come forward to show positive action and compassion, they have confrontations with traders, oil companies and now we hear a section of Mabira Forest is being given away again. I think we are heading for some very tough times now’.
Sentiments voiced across society and visible in social networks where in particular on Twitter and Facebook the ‘Uganda networks’ are buzzing with comments about inflation, the economic situation and of course everyone’s prime topic, POLITICS.
Adds this correspondent in closing: there is still no time like the present to visit the ‘Pearl of Africa’ as part of a safari to Eastern Africa.
NEW BATTLE FOR MABIRA LOOMING
President Museveni’s recent erratic form in dealing with the economic fallout of the Euro zone crisis and the sharp rise in global crude oil prices, over inflationary trends and the ongoing devaluation of the Uganda Shilling but also with the business community at large over renewed power rationing and other issues, has in the eyes of conservationists and the global green lobby just been topped when he announced that he would revive the ‘Mabira Forest give away’.
Sugar prices have more than doubled in recent weeks, and while the East African Community has sanctioned the waiver of import duties, currently up to 25 percent of the value of a sugar shipment, relief for hard hit wananchi across the country and the region will take a while to percolate down to lower sugar prices.
Notably, the beneficiary company, Mehta in Lugazi, has the worst track record of productivity of the major sugar producers, with the market being led by Kakira Sugar owned by the Madhvani Group and followed by Kinayara Sugar, leaving the Mehta’s trailing by far.
Conservationists have immediately vowed to pursue all available options, from mobilizing international resistance to peaceful protests to court action, in Uganda and at the East African Court of Justice in Arusha, to prevent a quarter of the forest to be given for free and turning an intact tropical rainforest into sugar cane fields. Some also took great exception to be equated with terrorists and rioters, phrases reportedly used in the president’s speech a few days ago when making his stand known on the forest. Said a regular source from the conservation fraternity in Kampala to this correspondent: ‘We are defenders of our environment, not terrorists. We do not riot in the streets but calmly explain the downside of cutting 8 or 9 thousand hectares of forest in favour of sugar cane. Our carbon footprint as a country will be greatly affected to the worse and carbon trading for Mabira will be limited to a smaller area, denying the country foreign exchange. Tourism to Mabira will be affected too, especially an award winning eco lodge (Mabira Forest Lodge) as the planned sugar fields will almost come to their doorstep. Our government should take a leaf from Rwanda where they are restoring forests at a fast rate to reach 30 percent forest cover by 2020 again. There they are turning forests to national assets, tourism assets and here our big man wants to give forests away for free. We should remind him [the president] that he should help Kakira Sugar to get land for sugar plantations in the North where land wrangles and land grabbing has halted a big sugar project for Kakira over the past years. If our government could have resolved this issue the country would produce a lot more sugar already, so that is one of the solutions we shall push for. And then there is the whole issue of our government reacting too late to lower the taxes and duties for imported sugar. That was proposed weeks ago already, so what were they waiting for. To use this failure now, their own failure, as a reason to cut Mabira by over a quarter of its size is preposterous and you should put that in your news articles’.
The Mabira issue made headlines four years ago when demonstrations in Kampala turned violent following questionable police deployment and tactics, resulting in deaths, injuries and destruction of property but sustained pressure from abroad and within Uganda made government abandon the plans for a free gift to what is principally one of the worst run sugar companies in the country. Global petition sites were swiftly attracting tens of thousands of signatures and this too is expected to be revived quickly now, giving Uganda once again negative publicity the country, and in particular our tourism sector do not need. The World Bank too will be watching these latest declarations with keen interest as Mabira Forest is part of a greater ‘deal’ struck with the Ugandan government as mitigative measures, and being a key water tower in these days of climate change and extreme weather patterns government may well have to review the situation along those lines and eventually opt for alternatives, leaving the Mabira Forest alone.
Watch this space for follow up reports on the renewed Mabira saga, as the slogan ‘Leave Mabira Alone’ is being revived.
GORILLA KILLERS FINED LESS THAN 20 DOLLARS
The Kanungu magistrate’s court has come into the cross hairs of conservationists from Uganda and further abroad, when in a misguided act of sentencing it fined three professed gorilla killers 50.000 Uganda Shillings each, which is less than US Dollars 20, yes TWENTY.
Gorilla tracking is one of the most important elements in Uganda’s tourism industry and attracts high end tourists from around the world who travel to the two Ugandan gorilla parks of Mgahinga and Bwindi, where a single tracking permit costs 500 US Dollars, besides transport, accommodation and meals while on safari. The conservation fraternity was shocked a few weeks ago when news broke that three men were arrested red-handed by park rangers after killing a silverback gorilla. Within days the culprits had appeared in court where they were charged and when the case came up for hearing, the media were well represented yesterday. However, the decision by the magistrate to only fine the criminals instead of jailing them, and a measly 50.000 Shillings each, is sending the wrong message out to the poachers. While the magistrate has been called incompetent, inept and even ‘an accomplice to poaching’, it is often outdated laws which prevent stiffer sentences as also seen in Kenya and Tanzania. The conservation fraternity in East Africa has been demanding minimum sentences of at least 10 years in prison, where possible with hard labour, for commercial poaching and fines aimed to bankrupt the poachers as well as the middlemen financing their bloody handiwork, but until now not one of the parliaments has effectively brought appropriate amendments to existing laws, which would and could act as a deterrent.
Leading conservationists have in messages to this correspondent overnight lamented the ‘poor judgment’ by the magistrate and called for a judicial review of the case by higher courts, saying ‘this decision is paramount to encouraging poaching in Uganda. When someone kills one of our prized mountain gorillas, we need provisions in law similar to committing manslaughter. Fining poachers simply no longer is in the public interest and the magistrate erred in giving such a ridiculously light sentence. The magistrate in fact should resign as the verdict is a disgrace on the entire judiciary and has outraged everyone to do with conservation. A tourist pays 500 US Dollars to see gorillas and the poachers were fined a combined 55 US Dollars equivalent for their despicable crime.’ Watch this space to learn if the judiciary will act upon this lightest of sentences and the outrage it caused and what impact this judgment has on poaching in the country in the future.
CHELI & PEACOCK’S ‘ELEPHANT PEPPER CAMP’ GETS THIRD EVER GOLD RATING BY ESOK
One of Kenya’s tourism success stories over the last 26 years, Cheli & Peacock, has yet more reason to be proud of their extraordinary achievements, now that Ecotourism Kenya has awarded their Elephant Pepper Camp a gold rating status, only the third such ever granted to a rated property.
The Elephant Pepper Camp, owned and operated by Cheli & Peacock, is situated on a wilderness area of over 3.500 square kilometres on the ‘Mara North Conservancy’ and is a fine example what a trained eye for a location, and a company philosophy for the ultimate quality and service delivery can achieve. Congratulations on this superb achievement and recognition to Liz, Stefano and all their staff!
(Picture courtesy of Cheli & Peacock, featuring the ‘Honeymoon Tent’)
KENYA RED CROSS VENTURES INTO THE HOSPITALITY SECTOR
When last week the MP for Wajir South, one Muhammed Sirat, was thrown out of parliament in Nairobi by the Speaker, it became wider public knowledge that the Kenya Red Cross Society was in the business of investing in sustainable and viable projects to secure a regular income towards its many charitable activities. Sirat, called a ‘brainless attention seeker’ by one of his colleagues on condition of anonymity, had tried to smear the Kenya Red Cross and Red Crescent Society by attempting to accuse them of misusing donations to build a business empire, before then accusing other MP’s of trying to silence him, prompting his ejection from the chamber for his misconduct.
Fact is that the Kenya Red Cross and Red Crescent Society depends presently on an overwhelming scale on donations by well wishers and from international organizations, to carry out their work for emergency relief services, clinics and towards their public health programmes. Donations however depend not only on the good will of givers but are like much else subject to economic cycles. Inflation in Kenya presently runs at over 15 percent according to the latest figures available, fuel prices are as of today up again and the economic outlook remains clouded inspite of positive underlying factors. Hence have strategists within and close to the Red Cross and Red Crescent Society in Kenya decided to enter into business ventures, namely the hospitality sector, which over the years has persistently paid dividends and earned returns. While these businesses itself are taxable, the income generated for the Red Cross will go towards financing their humanitarian programmes, opening a second axis of funding much needed considering the demand on the Red Cross’ services, especially during this period of drought, or considering the influx of refugees from Somalia for instance.
In Nairobi the Red Cross Society is involved in the Red Court Hotel, as it is already in Nyeri where a sister facility is in operation, but more ventures are planned for Kisumu, Eldoret and Malindi according to information available on their website. Another high class property is due to open in Nairobi before the end of the year too, to further expand the society’s investments. Be sure to watch this space when their new hotel opens its doors, expected to be in December 2011, and then read all about their ambitious plans and what prompted them in the first place to enter the hospitality business to finance their humanitarian work.
TYRE BURST EXPOSES NAIROBI’S VULNERABILITY
A burst tyre on a Jetlink plane coming from Eldoret in Western Kenya once again exposed the vulnerability of Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, as the jet ‘got stuck’ on the runway after landing. While passengers were swiftly and efficiently evacuated the plane was surrounded by emergency service vehicles, bringing air traffic to a temporary halt. Flights into JKIA were put into a holding pattern while departing services had to be delayed, with aircraft ready to take off returning to the terminal.
The plane was eventually towed from the runway and new tyres fixed before it later resumed flights again, but industry observers promptly pointed to the airport’s key deficiency, having only one runway. While a second runway and taxiway is planned as part of JKIA’s expansion over coming years, for the time being, whenever there is an incident on the single runway, inbound traffic has to be diverted to other airports in Kenya or the region, costing operators dearly and disrupting passenger itineraries, especially for those with connecting flights. Entebbe International Airport is presently the only major airport in the region with two runways, although the second one is too short for many of the larger modern planes though regularly used by in particular light aircraft and the UN’s turbo prop aircraft based at their Entebbe Africa operation base.
Said a regular aviation source from Nairobi in a communication overnight: ‘This was a relatively light problem, as tyres can be replaced easily and a plane then towed, but in case of a more serious incident on the runway, Nairobi may be shut down for long hours or even days. In this day and age this is not acceptable. Kenya depends on constant availability of JKIA for cargo and passenger flights. KAA has failed the industry in so many areas, power outages, construction delays and lack of foresight. The aviation industry has for many years demanded a second runway to be constructed, to allow for more traffic and to create redundancy in case one runway has to be closed. But everyone can see what is happening at KAA. First it was a case of patronage and nepotism and now it is a case of incompetence, plain and simple. Our government must wake up to reality and listen to the aviation operators, not their bureaucrats many of whom are useless. The construction of a second runway should begin immediately, yesterday was a reminder what problems a closure of Nairobi can bring. It will disrupt Kenya Airways at the expense of for instance Ethiopian during JKIA closures. It will disrupt tourism and trade because you cannot tell people to divert to Mombasa and then come by road to the capital. It will disrupt flower and fish exports and produce will go to waste and our partners abroad will not tolerate a disruption in their supply chain. It is good government is building a lot of roads, but considering that they built a white elephant airport in Eldoret, they should have invested in JKIA instead first before embarking on that project.’
Other aviation sources in Kenya have in the past demanded that KAA’s board and management be sacked after a series of power outages which brought traffic repeatedly to a halt in recent months and that the contractors working on the airport expansion be instructed to work around the clock to speed up completion of new buildings and aircraft parking spaces. Nairobi is recognized as East Africa’s premier aviation hub but has for long suffered from overcrowding and is of late struggling with slots too, as more and more airlines ideally would want to fly to Nairobi but came to realize that congestion and operational problems as seen yesterday again need to be resolved first. Watch this space.
LAST OF THE GULF GIANTS FINALLY ADDS NAIROBI
Information was confirmed overnight that Etihad, the last of the airline ‘Big Boys’ from the Gulf region, is now finally also set to add Nairobi to their growing network, following in the footsteps of Emirates, Qatar Airways and Gulf Air. Etihad is due to commence daily flights from April 2012 onwards between Abu Dhabi and Nairobi, offering of course a complete range of network connections to travelers from Kenya when they connect in the capital of the UAE. They join, in addition to their full service brethren mentioned before, the Gulf’s first low cost carrier Air Arabia, which flies from Sharjah to Nairobi and there is also speculation that Fly Dubai may add Kenya too in due course, as they take delivery of more aircraft and expand their reach from Dubai into a 5 – 7 hour circle of destinations they can comfortably reach with their NG 737 aircraft.
Etihad though, as a full service airline owned by the government of Abu Dhabi, is of course reaching out to the growing number of business and tourist travelers from the Gulf region itself and from across their growing network, pursuing the same principal strategy as successfully executed over many years by Emirates or Qatar. By the time of going ‘to press’ no details were available on the type of aircraft used by Etihad, so watch this space for future announcements.
KENYA TOURIST BOARD CHAIRMAN ‘DESERTS’
Michael Joseph, appointed less than 9 months ago as Chairman of the Kenya Tourist Board, was yesterday reported to have quit his job for ‘greener pastures’, after landing himself a World Bank appointment, richer in pickings for sure than serving Kenya’s tourism sector as chair of the tourist board.
Joseph, who had made a name for himself as Safaricom’s first CEO, was hoped to successfully step into the gap left by the departure of tourism guru Jake Grieves Cook, but left reportedly little behind to be proud of during his short lived tenure. Notably he continuously ignored emails for instance from this correspondent, inspite of eTN giving Kenya a great deal of positive exposure, not exactly a commendable method of dealing with key media organizations while in charge of promoting Kenya as THE tourist destination in East Africa.
Said one regular source from Nairobi in an overnight mail: ‘Michael, after initially being very enthusiastic about his appointment, soon changed tune. I think he realized that tourism is a complex industry and not quite like mobile communications. From within the board and management of KTB there has been covert criticism of his lack of vision and input to shape the future of Kenya’s tourism industry. Of course, following someone like Jake [Grieves Cook] was never easy to start with but there was a growing feeling in recent weeks that Michael had run out of steam. Maybe he was more concerned about landing himself a very lucrative appointment somewhere else and used the KTB chairmanship as a springboard, combined with his waning fame as Safaricom CEO. In that company the new man swept out a lot of deadwood and reorganized the company, which under Michael also went a bit stale in the end. For us in tourism it is not good news of course to see a chairman go like that and we only hope that the minister will consult with the industry to identify and appoint someone with knowledge from the sector who does not need to take a graduate course in the tourism industry affairs first.’
Others asked to comment would not immediately do so before first establishing through their own channels what exactly prompted Michael Joseph to throw in the towel and tender his resignation with immediate effect, citing according to a KTB source ‘a lot of travel in his new job which will keep him away for much of his time’ – a commonly cited ‘reason’ when fed up with something and wanting to desperately get out of one appointment and accept a substantially richer one elsewhere. Tourism Minister Najib Balala has reportedly accepted the resignation already, clearing the way for the recruitment of an individual hopefully with better tourism credentials and a track record of NOT quitting when the going gets tough. Best wishes to Mr. Joseph for his future? Not really, according to key stakeholders in the tourism trade, Good Riddance more likely!
SWISSPORT PROFITS PROMPT CALLS FOR GREATER COMPETITION
The announcement by Swissport last week of a 44 percent rise in profits for the first half of their financial year to approximately 2.6 million US Dollars has swiftly brought critics to the scene, demanding that new licenses be issued to applicants wanting to provide ground handling services at Dar es Salaam and Kilimanjaro International Airports. ‘This is evidence that the market is being milked dry by a monopolist’ said a regular source from Tanzania’s aviation industry before adding ‘These profits come on the back of very high fees. Look at Entebbe, it is the same thing, one big monopolist and a much smaller competitor with no real impact on anything. Only in Nairobi is there real competition and charges for handling are a lot lower than what we must pay here. We often wonder what deal there is between the Tanzania Civil Aviation, Tanzania Airport Authority and Swissport to keep competition out of business for so long’.
Shareholders of Swissport however are said to be smiling – the Tanzanian government holds a 49 percent minority share in the company which may explain their reluctance to have a competitor licensed – as the dividend proposed is twice that of 2010. Watch this space.
NEW LOUNGE OPENS ITS DOORS AT KANOMBE INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT
The international airport in Kigali now finally has a premium passenger lounge again, following the opening of the refurbished and modernized facility last week. Expanded to cater for up to 54 passengers at a time the new lounge is available for airline passengers flying business or first class, or else are ready to part with 25 US Dollars in cash as an ‘entrance fee’, subject to space availability at the time.
Equipped with high speed wireless and wired internet access the lounge will provide premium passengers with the facilities they expect while waiting for their respective flights to be called, being waited upon by re-trained as well as newly recruited staff offering a wide range of snacks and drinks. The new lounge was built by Kuwait based National Aviation Services under a concession given to them by the Rwanda Civil Aviation Authority. The official launch of the new lounge was conducted by Rwanda’s infrastructure minister Albert Nsengiyumva in the presence of the RCAA Director General Dr. Richard Masozera, the NAS CEO from Kuwait Hassan El-Houry and Mrs. Rosette Rugamba of Songa Africa, who introduced and facilitated NAS to Rwanda. Well done Rosette for this extraordinary effort!
AVIATION STAKEHOLDERS MEET IN KIGALI
An East African Community sponsored meeting of aviation regulators and operators in Kigali was on Friday discussing the way forward to finally harmonize all regulations governing the industry and liberalise air transport across the five East African Community member states.
Air operators have for long called the bluff of the EAC’s commitment towards opening the skies over East Africa and accused regulators to ‘hang on to their little fiefdoms’ at the expense of operators, requiring a duplication or multiplication of approvals and permits which due to the high cost involved keeps air transport unnecessarily expensive.
The introduction of CASSOA, the Civil Aviation Safety and Security Oversight Agency, was supposed to streamline approval processes and validate licenses and permits across the EAC but non tariff barriers and politically inspired ‘foreigner paranoia’, most visible in one of the member states at the expense of the four others, have defied the full purpose and benefit to percolate down to the operator levels so far, who only bear the added cost so far without reaping any benefits.
EAC officials, also increasingly frustrated by national ‘stonewalling’ have now taken the initiative to consult with stakeholders, so that eventually, with other protocols coming into place, flights within the region can once again be operated as ‘domestic’ services and no longer require ‘international’ procedures and processes.
Air operators asked about their expectations however were skeptical of the ‘fast track’ EAC officials envisage for the liberalization of the aviation sectors across the region, until a single civil aviation body is once again created, represented in each country by ‘branches’ rather than autonomous CAA’s. ‘Only when the national civil aviation bodies pool their resources and share infrastructure, manpower and facilities, and drop their often arrogant claims that only a national body could serve the regulatory interests best, will we make progress. And as long as we from Uganda are treated like foreign airlines when applying for clearances to fly for instance to Tanzania, there is no breakthrough in sight. Aviation is all about speed and when we are condemned to wait for 48 or more hours for clearances, and often denied permission to fly for instance tourists straight into the national parks, then the advantage of speed by using an aircraft is defeated. Look at Fly 540 for instance. They had to form companies in Kenya, Tanzania and here in Uganda too, instead of having one set up in any chosen member state of the EAC. This means their entire set up is triplicated and that costs a lot of money with no added benefit but for CAA’s to collect fees to do the same job their colleagues across the border already did. Claiming it is in the interest of aviation safety is frankly misleading, because if that argument is made, they basically say their colleagues are useless and cannot be trusted so the same procedures must be done over and over again. It is all about the fees and inspectors getting their 5 day per diems. We told the EAC of these things and if at last someone noticed it is for the better. Let us wait and see, they have held too many such meeting to remember and nothing much has come out of it for us operators.’ Watch this space for regular updates and breaking news from the Eastern African and Indian Ocean aviation sectors.
South Sudan News
NEW INTERNATION DIALING CODE / INTERNET DOMAIN FOR SOUTH SUDAN
It was learned overnight that the International Telecommunications Union has allocated the country code 211 to the new Republic of South Sudan, which will become effective on the 15th of December this year. Until then the currently used 249 code will remain in place, which after the 15th of December will be exclusively used by the Republic of the Sudan.
Mobile operators will also inform their clients, locally, in the region and around the world of this important change, which will further pave the way into the post independence period of the new country.
At that time the link of Gemtel, South Sudan’s first mobile communications company established soon after the CPA was signed in January 2005, will also cease to use their current 0477 prefix, which links it to a gateway in Northern Uganda – ostensibly chosen at the time to prevent the Khartoum regime’s security operatives to listen into phone traffic to the South – and commence the use of 097.
Meanwhile it was also confirmed that the South Sudan’s web domain was selected a ‘Dot.ss’ which will now progressively replace the ‘Dot.sd’ which has been jointly used with the regime controlled areas in the North of the formerly united country. Selected website of the Government of South Sudan have already migrated to the new domain and more, as well as business sites, are expected to follow soon.
It was also learned that membership applications for joining global bodies like ICAO are also being processed to make the aviation sector also fully independent and de-link it from its former oppressors, where in particular the civil aviation body made life for airlines difficult wanting to fly to Juba. When the Republic of South Sudan has finally joined ICAO, and in fact other global bodies too, all matters pertaining to aviation, like bilateral air service agreements, need to be re-filed and re-formulated to honour the principle of ‘reciprocity’ between signatory countries.
The bright side of independence, no longer needing any permission from the erstwhile slave masters and being able to determine their own future.
SEYCHELLES MARKETING INNOVATIONS EXTEND TO ‘VANILLA ISLANDS’
Information was received overnight that the exceptionally successful efforts of the Seychelles Tourist Board to market the archipelago across the world by using both traditional as well as social media have now finally been extended to the ‘other’ Indian Ocean islands, brought together under the tagline ‘Vanilla Islands’.
It involves a cooperative effort by Seychelles, Mauritius, Reunion, Mayotte, Madagascar and the Comoros and the main launch of it is due in September at the Top Resa tourism trade fair in Paris / France.
The islands are now ‘visible’ via Twitter when following @LesIlesVanille or on Facebook through this web link: https://www.facebook.com/Les.iles.vanille
ISLA MAURICIA JOINS THE AFRICA TRAVEL ASSOCIATION
ATA last week accepted the membership application of Isla Mauricia, as the first private sector member from the island, and hopefully opening the door for more members to join one of Africa’s foremost promotional bodies, based in New York. That would lead to the option to create a formal chapter of the ATA on Mauritius, where private and public sector could then partner with ATA to promote the island’s tourism attractions in particular in the US and Canadian markets, where a huge market potential exists but is hardly tapped into until now.
Details about Isla Mauricia are found via www.isla-mauricia.com or else follow them on Twitter via @isla_mauricia where regular updates on the ‘going ons’ about Mauritius’ tourism industry can be found. Other regular event updates also come via @constancehotels, two good sources about news from this Indian Ocean island, considering that Mauritius’ tourism has not fully embraced the new media or worked the press in a similar fashion like other ‘vanilla islands’ have in recent years. Constance Hotels and Isla Mauricia, clearly ahead of the pack.
AIR MAURITIUS POSTS MORE LOSSES
Information was received during the week that Air Mauritius had to post another loss, almost identical to the same period of the last financial year, of over 11 million Euros or almost 16 million US Dollars. The airline reportedly blamed the repeat on slower than expected demand and the impact of substantially higher cost for aviation fuel and one source conceded that the outlook was ‘challenging’ for the rest of the current year in view of the fallout of the Euro zone crisis vis a vis holiday patterns from key European markets to Mauritius.
Only recent were suggestions floated by the Mauritian hospitality industry to allow more flights into the island by foreign airlines to match seats to the number of available beds and thus support higher occupancies. The government in Mauritius however is renowned for its protective stand vis a vis their national airline and is now faced with a stark choice, to stay protectionist and risk the wrath of hoteliers and resort operators for lack of clients or else follow in the footsteps of the Seychelles, which has opened the skies for foreign airlines and will by the end of this year have 25 frequencies per week alone from the Gulf area, from where Emirates will be double daily, Qatar daily and Etihad will have started with initially 4 flights per week. Watch this space.
Meanwhile has a legal case against the airline’s former CEO Sir Harry Tirvengadum stalled once again, as Sir Harry was reportedly in no condition to face trial over allegations of embezzlement of company funds during his 12 years at the helm of Air Mauritius. The next attempt to schedule a hearing will be in four months during which more medical reports are expected to ascertain Sir Harry’s health status.
TOURISM OFFICIALS QUIT OVER POLITICAL UPHEAVALS
Two senior officials in the Mauritius Ministry of Tourism and Leisure, the Director General of the Tourism Authority and the Director of the Economic Intelligence Unit, resigned earlier in the week following the departure of the Mauritius Socialist Party from the coalition government and the resignation of the minister of tourism. Reports speak of the individuals showing loyalty to their former minister who appointed them and their lack of connection with the newly appointed minister from a different party.
The resignations come at a bad time for Mauritius tourism, which has been struggling to keep up the pace of activities compared to fellow ‘vanilla island’ Seychelles, which has been capturing the headlines and become a media darling over the past 2 ½ years. While Mauritius arrival numbers are overall substantially ahead of Seychelles, it is the market perception which has let Mauritius down and with the media focus changing in recent years promoting and marketing holidays in Mauritius had become ultimately more challenging.
The ‘vanilla islands’ are known to cooperate in the international area to promote cruise tourism and generally holidays to the Indian Ocean islands but Mauritius has also been lagging behind in aviation developments, as the government there is fiercely protective of national airline Air Mauritius as the expense of allowing more foreign airlines into the country, while the Seychelles has opted for a more balanced approach to allow in particular Gulf based airlines greater access, resulting in record arrivals numbers for the past two years. Watch this space for further updates as and when available.
And in closing today’s edition once again some interesting and highly recommended reading material from ‘further down South’ as I call Gill Staden’s location on the continent – in Livingstone / Zambia to be precise:
Book Signing – Beyond the Victoria Falls
I have done a couple of book signings during the week. I have also sold quite a lot of books. If you want a copy, please let me know. I only have a limited number available, although I can order more if there is sufficient demand.
Victoria Falls Safari Lodge, hopefully, will be hosting me for a book signing this coming week or the following one. I will let everyone that side know the exact date when it is finalised. The plan after that is to do a run through Kasane and Katima Mulilo.
So far, the comments on the book are good and I think a lot of people will find it useful for their travels around the Victoria Falls.
Upgrades of Zambia’s Airports
For those of you who haven’t been to the airport recently, there is a huge structure going up near the control tower. This is a new concourse and international departures terminal. It is the first of three phases of development at Livingstone which will be followed by Phase two – a new arrivals terminal complex for international passengers, a drop-off zone and walkways. The third phase will be for new ground handling equipment and self check-in kiosks. Phase one is expected to be complete by April 2012.
In the meantime, Lusaka Airport is also being upgraded, as well as Mfuwe and Ndola.
About 10 years ago, I can remember one of our business/manufacturing experts saying at a meeting that Lusaka and Zambia should become the centre of trade for South/Central Africa. He said that it was ideally positioned to become the hub of trade for the region. It would appear that LeighFisher, the American consultants for the National Airports upgrade, have come to the same conclusion; their fee being US$750,000. They foresee Lusaka as a major business and cargo port and, if this happens Lusaka Airport could become an ‘airport city’ – a development which is seen at other major airports around the world.
And, for my tuppence worth, at the present time, Zambia is seen as the most expensive destination in our region, it is therefore unlikely that it could become any sort of hub. If we could rationalise some of our business ways by reducing the number of obstacles and costs of doing business in Zambia, then it would be possible. And it is not only the cost and obstacles to doing business. It is things like arriving at the airport in a vehicle, having to stop while a man with a mirror on a trolley rolls the mirror under the car to check that there is nothing hidden underneath.
Livingstone should become a regional tourist hub. Most of our tourists have to fly first to Johannesburg and then fly back to Livingstone. It takes 1 hr 45 minutes to fly between the two places. In these days when air travel is so expensive, it would make sense that flights from Europe stopped in Livingstone (or Vic Falls Airport) and then continued on to Johannesburg. This will only happen if our government is pro-active and works with private business to promote it.
Luangwa Eco Awards
South Luangwa Conservation Society has set up an awards programme for the eco credentials of the lodges in the area. After completing a questionnaire, each lodge is inspected and then the Inspection Team evaluates them. The team considers:
Protecting, conserving and investing in the environment
Minimising and reducing wastes
Encouraging linkages with local communities and supporting community projects
Responsible use of natural resources such as land, water, energy, timber, firewood, etc.
Providing direct financial benefits for conservation projects
Education to tourists, staff and the local community
According to the evaluators, each lodge can be given gold, silver or a bronze award for their efforts. The first winner of an Award is a Silver for Flatdogs Camp. Flatdogs has worked hard on their environmental programmes within the camp and in the surrounding community. So a big congratulations to them.
United Nations World Tourism Organisation
Livingstone and Victoria Falls Town have jointly prepared a bid to host the General Assembly meeting for the World Tourism Organisation in 2013. The meeting hosts over 1,000 delegates from 186 countries and would certainly be a boost for our area.
Putting the two towns together makes the venue possible with the necessary conference facilities at Zambezi Sun and Elephant Hills. Combined, too, we can provide enough accommodation. It certainly would be a stunning venue … let’s hope we win.