PRESIDENT BLASTS TOURISM BOARD
President Museveni used a meeting held at State House Entebbe earlier in the week to discuss his presidential tourism initiative to lay heavily into the strategy and mindset of the Uganda Tourism Board, which he accused of making mistakes, claiming it lacks seriousness and originality.
UNDP has been searching for a consultant to help UTB develop a new outlook, marketing strategy and policy for the coming years, due to start work by the end of April, but considering that tourism organizations in neighbouring Kenya and Rwanda, even as far as the Seychelles, came up with award winning strategies in house, it is a telling sign that the countrys president needs to spell out what has been an open secret in the corridors of the tourism industry in the country.
The president minced no words when he mocked UTB as the Uganda Temporarily Board, accusing them of killing tourism instead of promoting it.
In fairness though, and here several key stakeholders felt that all the facts should be looked upon in subsequent conversations and mails, it is government after all which has kept UTB on a hamstrung budget, barely enough to meet recurrent expenditure, with hardly enough money to attend a handful of tourism events abroad, unlike the countrys main competitors which attend tourism trade shows, hold road shows and cram events around the world.
It was also pointed out to this correspondent that neither the existing tourism policy nor the existing tourism law have been fully implemented, with special mention of the tourism levy which was meant to help finance a re-organized UTB and allow it to effectively compete on level terms with its main competitors.
Said a regular source: The tourism board had this coming for a while, because they are like a rudderless ship or a ship without captain. But government is as much at fault. They appointed the tourist board chief, they appointed the board members and they the same government starves the institution of money. They have been doing some one off events in the past and made a lot of fuss about it but what is required is consistency. None of those past activities has seen any follow up and the action, and the money spent, like a few years ago on a CNN campaign, just evaporated. You keep writing about Seychelles and how they have reversed the rot of a few years ago, and I can only go by what you wrote, but it seems they are doing a lot better by engaging with the media, with airlines, with the private sector and they are succeeding. Kenya is also a good example, their KTB is everywhere something happens and so is Rwanda. If I compare ourselves with the biblical figures who got the talents to work with, we put our talents and opportunities into a dark corner instead of turning them in to profit. We have too many attractions, too many unique sights, the lake, the rivers, the mountains and all and yet, the world looks on us like a gorilla destination only. Others have diversified, we have not lived up to our potential. The Lonely Planet made us the worlds top destination for 2012, this year it is the 50th anniversary of our Independence, and where are we with the preparations. If anything happens it seems to be a state secret but we more suspect that little unique and creative is coming from it. UTB needs change, UTB needs money, the Ministry needs money but our government is big in lip service and very small in funding the sector.
Harsh words from the President and a critical view from a key stakeholder who attended the meeting at State House, but echoed by a number of others since. Quo Vadis Uganda Tourism time to own up, shape up or ship out? Time will tell which way to go, but it has to happen fast as the October 09th Independence Day is now only just over 5 months away. Watch this space.
Archive for April, 2012
PRESIDENT BLASTS TOURISM BOARD
AIR SEYCHELLES BENEFITS FROM ETIHAD LINK
The linkage between Air Seychelles and Abu Dhabis national airline Etihad is starting to bear fruits as from the beginning of May new, initially wet-leased aircraft, will come on line for Air Seychelles.
The twice weekly flights between Mahe and Mauritius will be operated from 02nd May on an Etihad Airbus A320, the aircraft type eventually expected to join the Air Seychelles fleet for good, when crew training has been completed and the range of added destinations been determined, which is still undergoing final analysis.
The longer haul flights to Johannesburg will in May be operated by an Etihad Airbus A330-200 as will the flights between Mahe and Abu Dhabi, where Air Seychelles has been using their B767-300 under a code share arrangement with Etihad.
A regular source in Victoria has indicated that by latest end of May more clarity will have been achieved over the way forward for Air Seychelles in regard of the type and number of aircraft they will operate in the future, as well as on new destinations, in particular a potential nonstop flight from Mahe to China, which has turned into the fastest growing market for the archipelago.
Etihad earlier in the year took a 40 percent stake in Air Seychelles and seconded a management team comprising the CEO and CFO to the airline, after a deal was struck on political level between President James Michel and the Ruler of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Al Nahyan, who enjoy a personal friendship which led to this extraordinary bail out at the time. Watch this space as more news become available.
AIR TANZANIA LAUNCHES WEBSITE FOR BOOKINGS
The launch of Air Tanzanias new website earlier in the week has raised another storm of comments, when it became known that the airlines acting CEO had in his comments said it would make bookings easier for passengers wanting to fly with Air Tanzania. It shows that airline lives in cuckoo land. They have no planes so what bookings do they expect, for flying carpets made in their workshops asked one regular source from Dar es Salaam sarcastically while another source accused the airline of outright dishonesty in their presentation: There must be standards for advertising and making false claims or giving false impressions should be called what it is, a lie. They show an Airbus A320 with the heading FLY DAR ES SALAAM ARUSHA. This is the aircraft which has been singled out by the parliamentary committee to have been riddled with mischief and has been stuck in France for years because a multi million US Dollars bill has not been settled. This leaves the Tanzanian tax payer again in fear that more good money meant for schools and the health sector and social services will go into that bottomless pit called ATCL.
It was later on ascertained when visiting www.airtanzania.co.tz that the airline had indeed inserted a picture of a plane it does not have on its registry, a move clearly misleading the public, as is the destination network which in the absence of a single operating plane shows 6 destinations within Tanzania, none of which is presently being served however.
At the same function the airlines acting CEO was also quoted to have said ATCL was intent to acquire up to 3 planes on lease from Egypt, without however saying how this would be financed. It is a known fact that lessors judge the lessee wishing to enter into a contract by past financial performance and meeting obligations and then base advance payments, security deposits and monthly lease fees on such an assessment, which leaves ATCL of course on the bottom of the pack. Considered not really credit worthy, with a huge burden of unpaid bills and years of outstanding ticket refunds hanging over ATCLs head, the airline also defaulted outright on payments in the past as the Airbus saga well shows, as it did only a few months ago requiring a major government bailout when the Q300 aircraft was under threat of being auctioned for nonpayment of the bills for maintenance.
So by all means visit them on their Facebook page, also new, via www.facebook.com/AirTanzania or follow them on Twitter via @AirTanzania or visit their new website, but as to bookings, leave along paying for services, just be extra careful and watch this space as more chapters are added on a regular basis to this never ending story.
KENYA AIRWAYS RIGHTS ISSUE COMES TO AN END WHERE TO FROM HERE
As the four weeks long Kenya Airways share rights issue offering is coming to an end on Friday, with current subscription levels a tightly guarded secret by top management and their financial advisory team and participating financial institutions, results will likely to filter through in coming days, when either targeted leaks or formal announcements will bring out the particulars, of how East Africas largest ever share offering has performed in the East African market places.
Meanwhile though it is worth it to give an overview of what Kenya Airways intends to do with the money they now raised, as incidentally the companys finance director Alex Mbugua in two recent sessions with investors from Uganda at the Kampala Serena Hotel, the last one yesterday, also outlined once again.
Dubbed Project Mawingu, the airlines 10 year strategic plan is nothing short but being the most ambitious ever developed by an African airline, aimed to more than triple the fleet over the next 10 years and adding some 60 destinations in over 30 countries to the network. 24 of these new destinations will be served with wide body aircraft and the revolutionary new B787 Dreamliner will be at the heart of this development, with the balance of wide bodied planes being made up of the equally advanced new types of the B777.
(Kenya Airways Dreamliner image, courtesy of KQ Corporate Communications)
While the bulk of the long haul expansion is eyeing China, the Far East and India, Europe, North and South America too are on the drawing board. Dehli is being launched with a B767 in May this year already, but both China and India will see a significant upping of destinations and frequencies over the coming years.
Information availed by the airlines corporate communications department shows that besides connecting every political and commercial capital in Africa by the end of 2013, there is more to come from The Pride of Africa:
For 2013/14 an upping of frequencies is envisaged for Dehli, while another Indian destination, Bangalore is due to come on line, as is Kuala Lumpur, further cementing the South South connection. In 2014/15 new targets are Beijing, Sao Paulo and Berlin, while for 2015/16 Toronto, Abu Dhabi and Shanghai are penciled into the destination planning sheets. On goes the march in 2016/17 financial year with Chengdu, Chennai and Perth, and the following year 2017/18 it is Chongqing, Hyderabad and Washington DC. Ahmedabad, Xiamen and Moscow are planned for 2018/19 and in 2019/20 are Kunming, Dhaka and Seoul on the drawing board. This is to be followed in 2020/21 by Hanoi, Prague and Urumqi, at which time Kenya Airways will serve all 5 inhabited continent with a fleet of 107 passenger aircraft the plan is to have at least 12 more dedicated cargo aircraft in operation at that time too and a range of 115 destinations, most of them in Africa and the key destinations around the world.
Intriguingly all these developments seem mirror imaged at Ethiopian Airlines, which while presently having an edge with more international long haul destinations has of late yielded ground in Africa to Kenya Airways. By choosing the Embraer E190 as their regional workhorse aircraft, Kenya Airways has been able to release more of the B737-800s into the continental and Middle East network expansion, besides key routes which are operated by wide bodied B767 and B777, in part to cater for a growing volume of cargo too. Here comes to a showdown not just the competition between the two airlines on its own but between Kenya Airways partners in Sky Team and Ethiopian Airlines partners in Star Alliance, bringing the number one and number two in the global aviation alliance business head to head. Finally has the world of aviation taken notice of Africas potential and while Star Alliance with three member airlines in Africa, South African Airways, Egypt Air and Ethiopian has a certain edge in terms of aircraft, hubs and distribution capabilities, Sky Team will not be far behind considering the plans of their key African ally Kenya Airways, and their partners flying already to Africa, or planning to, under codeshare arrangements.
The following graph shows the planned fleet development, and what role the Embraers and B737NGs are due to play in the region and on continental routes while the plans for wide bodied aircraft give notice of intent where Kenya Airways aims to be when Project Mawingu is completed by 2020/21. Does one even dare to dream beyond that date well, according to usually well informed sources the airline already has started to gather data and information to look into the time frame up to 2030/31, evidence that Kenya Airways has arrived, East Africa has arrived on the global aviation scene and is her not just to stay but to grow and claim their own.
Meanwhile though have the last two days of the current share rights issue of Kenya Airways arrived, the last chance for those still pondering what future their investment in The Pride of Africa will hold for them. Well, if we are to believe that we in Africa indeed CAN and WILL achieve in equal terms and measure what others elsewhere in the world have accomplished, there is not time like the present to get on board, with shares and of course in person. Watch this space.
10TH EXTRAORDINARY HEAD OF STATE SUMMIT OF EAC TO DISCUSS JUBAS MEMBERSHIP
Ministers preparing in Arusha for the Saturday Head of State Summit have confirmed that they have formed a joint verification committee to assess the state of readiness for the South Sudan to join the East African Community as soon as possible, following a formal application by the new country soon after attaining independence. Some of the criteria used by the EAC are geographical vicinity, i.e. adjoining any of the member states, good governance, democracy, rule of law, social justice and observance of human rights. Also required are a range of harmonization measures to be introduced by the new applicant vis a vis economic reforms and legal as well as regulatory issues, to ensure that a level playing field exists when a new member is finally admitted.
The Head of State Summit in Saturday will according to a regular source in Arusha look at the recommendations the ministerial meetings will have produced but it is also expected that the wider implications of the war mongering from Khartoum will be discussed. Last year did the East African Standby Brigade, and organ of military cooperation between the EAC countries, carry out exercised inside the South Sudan and Uganda has already gone on record that they will come to Jubas aid, should an all out war threaten to inflict another genocide on African people. The rhetoric in Khartoum, speaking of the Southern population as insects which need exterminating, is strikingly similar to the rhetoric used in the run up to the 1994 Rwanda genocide when the frenzy of incitement called out to kill the cockroaches and in doing so is very likely to have the EAC countries stand as one by Juba as these threats are in a wider context also linked to not just grabbing South Sudans oil but also greedily eyeing the water sources of the Nile upstream, on which Khartoum Sudan depends entirely.
Already is South Sudan present at all key meetings of the EAC organs and at summits as observers, a status not lost on their Northern neighbours in Khartoum, who have been on a war path for months now trying to repossess the Souths oilfields and whose own application to join the EAC was earlier in the year rejected for not meeting key criteria of membership, and that not just referring to not having a common border with any of the EAC countries but a range of other totally incompatible traces of regime character too.
In this regard it is noteworthy that another blistering commentary by Eric Reeves is now being circulated widely amongst the who is who in the East African Community, putting into perspective the Chamberlainesque appeasement efforts of the UN, the US, the EU and the African Union, which has all but encouraged Khartoum to continue its aggression, war rhetoric and ethnic cleansing of African populations when ever will the world learn from past mistakes.
Find Eric Reeves latest commentary right here for further information:
Scandalous International Hypocrisy on Sudan
April 23, 2012
The stench of hypocrisy and expediency is in the air wherever one turns in assessing international responses to recent events in Sudan. The deeply imbalanced reactions to the seizure of Heglig by the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) give us our starkest picture to date of how selective and tendentious the world is prepared to be in creating a narrative for the present multiple crises that threaten war in Sudan and South Sudan. And in their attempts to achieve a factitious "even-handedness," various actors—including the UN, the U.S., the AU, and the EU—have encouraged Khartoum to believe that it has somehow gained the diplomatic, even moral upper hand. It is difficult to imagine a more dangerous response to have encouraged, and the currently ongoing offensive military actions against South Sudan by the regime’s Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) stand as stark confirmation.
Notably, international reaction has worked to encourage the most vehemently bellicose language on the part of Field Marshal and President Omar al-Bashir, who has very recently declared that (northern) Sudan is now essentially at war with South Sudan, and that Khartoum’s military ambition is to destroy the "insect" government in Juba. We have heard such language of racial contempt many times from al-Bashir’s regime; in this instance it is difficult not to recall the infamously ubiquitous calls in Rwanda in 1994 for the destruction of Tutsi "cockroaches."
Certainly during the widespread ethnic slaughter in Kadugli (South Kordofan), beginning in June 2011, we repeatedly heard reports of similar racial contempt. "Yusef," a Nuba from Kadugli, told Agence France-Presse and The Independent (UK) that he had been informed by a member of the notorious Popular Defense Forces (PDF) that they had been provided with plenty of weapons and ammunition, and a standing order: "He said that they had clear instructions: ‘just sweep away the rubbish. If you see a Nuba, just clean it up.’ He told me he saw two trucks of people with their hands tied and blindfolded, driving out to where diggers were making holes for graves on the edge of town."
This racial contempt and hatred, combined with a jihadist rhetoric, has already proved a potent brew in Khartoum, where on Saturday (April 21) various news agencies have reported the destruction of the Presbyterian Evangelical Church. Following an incendiary sermon by a nearby Muslim cleric during Friday evening prayers, hundreds of Muslims attacked and destroyed the church. Reuters offers the most authoritative account:
"Hundreds of Muslims stormed a Christian church complex used by southerners in Khartoum at the weekend, witnesses said, raising fears that recent clashes between Sudan and South Sudan were stoking ethnic tensions in the city. The attackers ransacked buildings, knocked down walls and burned Bibles on Saturday, Youssef Matar, secretary general of the Presbyterian Evangelical Church told Reuters."
"The attack on the church came a day after South Sudan’s army pulled out of the key Heglig oilfield, an area it seized from Sudan in the worst violence between the two countries since secession. Sudan quickly declared victory over its former civil war foe, prompting widespread celebrations in Khartoum. A Muslim preacher known for fiery sermons took advantage of the excited climate to call for ‘jihad’ against Christians during Friday evening prayers, prompting hundreds to attack the church complex the next day, Matar said."
The attack represents a terrible precedent in Khartoum, especially given the ineffectual presence of security forces:
"’No one could believe it. Nothing like this has ever happened before,’ Matar said. While Sudan is known for long and bitter conflicts fuelled by religious and ethnic animosity, communal violence in the capital is relatively rare. But communities also live separately for the most part and distrust between them often runs deep. Ethiopians, Eritreans and Indians, as well as Christians from Sudan and South Sudan, use the church, Matar said. A Reuters witness on Sunday saw smoke rising from some of the trees on the church compound, and security vehicles waiting nearby."
( Reuters [Khartoum], April 22, 2012) (emphasis added)
We should expect to hear very little about this terrible incident from the unctuous UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon or other feckless international actors, certainly no condemnation commensurate with this state-sanctioned attack on a place of worship. What we may sure of, given the details of this dispatch, is that this assault was tacitly sanctioned by the regime’s security forces, who in turn have no difficulty discerning what they are to do in restraining, or allowing, racially and religiously motivated attacks on Southerners.
In fact, the ethnic culling of Southerners has been looming for many months, and on April 8 became regime policy, stripping as many as 700,000 "Southerners" of their nationality solely on the basis of ethnicity. No internationally recognized standards for de-nationalizing citizens have been observed or even promulgated. And yet again, there has been no urgent or appropriately forceful international condemnation of this ruthless policy of de-nationalizing those judged ethnically "Southern."
Sadly, our best guide to the world’s responses to Khartoum’s current multiple violations of international human rights and humanitarian law can be discerned in previous perfunctory responses to cross-border aerial assaults on South Sudan, going back to November 2010. These attacks include multiple, deliberate bombings of civilian targets, including the refugee camp at Yida (Unity State) on November 10, 2011. International response has been equally indecisive in the face of Khartoum’s campaign of ethnic annihilation by means of starvation in northern border states, a campaign that has been underway in the Nuba Mountains for over ten months and in Blue Nile for almost eight months. Khartoum’s campaign is a ghastly reprise of the genocidal assault on the Nuba in the 1990s, a fact that seems to inform almost none of the present desultory discussions about the future of these people, even as heavy and isolating seasonal rains are impending.
Of a piece with the this perverse diffidence is the refusal to credit fully the massive evidence of atrocity crimes committed by Khartoum’s regular and militia forces in Kadugli, including definitive evidence of mass graves that may hold many thousands of Nuba—evidence that includes both substantial satellite photography and eyewitness accounts gathered by a wide range of sources, including the UN human rights team present in Kadugli in June 2011. Skepticism on this matter by the Obama administration, and special envoy Princeton Lyman in particular, has been a shameful episode in U.S. Sudan policy, which has been conspicuously misguided from the beginning of Obama’s presidency.
There is a grimly revealing and familiar history leading to current international failures, one that may be readily traced. Certainly at key moments in the build-up to Khartoum’s military seizure of Abyei (May 20-21, 2011) the international community refused to condemn the clearly impending assault—or to respond subsequently with anything approaching the misguided fervor that has defined international reactions to SPLA actions following SAF military assaults originating in Heglig. There has been, for example, no meaningful demand that Khartoum demilitarize Heglig, or allow deployment of a UN buffer force, as requested by Juba as the basic condition for its military withdrawal. Instead, there has been merely rhetorical posturing; and again the Obama administration—and President Obama himself—have seemed especially culpable, particularly in light of earlier deeply misguided administration efforts to compel Juba to "compromise" further on the nearby Abyei region (fall 2010).
At the time, such efforts—by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, special envoy Scott Gration, and part-time envoy and prevaricator Senator John Kerry—attempted to foist on Juba more "compromises" than were already embodied in the Abyei Protocol of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA, 2005) and the ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) on Abyei’s boundaries (July 2009). Nor, we should recall, did the U.S. object meaningfully when the findings of the Abyei Boundaries Commission were peremptorily rejected by Khartoum (July 2005), or when Khartoum’s regular and militia forces mounted a brutal assault on Abyei town and its surroundings (May 2008). Failures of U.S. policy in Sudan have been thoroughly bipartisan, despite the critical U.S. role in securing the CPA.
Given the tense history of the region, SAF military seizure of Abyei represented an extraordinary provocation, as did the consequent forced displacement of more than 100,000 Dinka Ngok into South Sudan. Juba did not respond militarily, and yet watched in deepest anger. For the international community was in effect sanctioning the permanent displacement of these indigenous people; certainly in the significantly reduced area defined as "Abyei" by the PCA, the Dinka Ngok were unquestionably the only "residents" and thus the only ones guaranteed (by the CPA) the right to vote in the self-determination referendum scheduled for January 9, 2011.
Encouraged by misguided U.S. policy expediency on Abyei, Khartoum all too predictably refused to allow the Abyei self-determination referendum to take place. Unsurprising, given its previous diplomatic posture, the Obama administration largely ignored this abrogation of the Abyei Protocol, evidently in the interests of preserving at all costs the self-determination referendum in the South. Southerners, for their part, may be forgiven for believing that the U.S. justified such acquiescence before Khartoum’s unilateral decision on the basis of Juba’s "refusal to compromise" yet further on Abyei in fall 2010.
With its unerring nose for hypocrisy, Khartoum watched this history of Abyei unfold over a period of six years and calculated—all too accurately—that there would be minimal consequences for a final abrogation of the Abyei Protocol. And after its military seizure of Abyei, the regime also calculated that it could sign an agreement on June 20, 2011—committing it to withdraw its forces from Abyei with deployment of an Ethiopian peacekeeping brigade under UN auspices—and then simply renege on the agreement, also without consequences. Yet again, this cynical calculation proved all too accurate.
If we turn from these obtuse and expedient responses to Khartoum’s annexation of Abyei—and annexation is precisely what the international community has countenanced, despite various pro forma objections—and examine in this context the international response to the SPLA’s retaliatory and defensive occupation of Heglig—from which it has now withdrawn—it is impossible not to be struck by the radical asymmetry.
Certainly the leadership in Juba has taken stock of what has transpired over the past ten days, and is even now re-calibrating what it can and cannot count on from the international community. The Southern leadership has seen its extraordinary military forbearance over the past eighteen months essentially dismissed, even as Khartoum continues to test that forbearance by means of ever more provocative actions ( multiple sources report SAF attacks across a range of territory in Unity State today). These re-calibrations by Juba will be tough-minded, fully prepared to encounter future international hypocrisy, and even more determined to protect the territorial integrity of South Sudan. Certainly the international community will no longer have the influence it had even a month ago.
Khartoum of course is also recalibrating its military policies, and the largest conclusion the regime has drawn is that it may continue its longstanding military policy of aerial attacks on civilian and humanitarian targets in the sovereign territory of South Sudan without meaningful consequences, and that it can continue is campaigns of annihilation in South Kordofan and Blue Nile. The regime has been persuaded, on the basis of ample evidence, that even South Sudan’s putative friends regard "sovereignty" as one thing for Khartoum and quite another for Juba.
It is hard to see a greater encouragement to war.
Many questions have been asked since the beginning of the month about Helicopter Seychelles, and if indeed the message now seen on the company website will stick, or only be temporary, which reads:
Helicopter Seychelles regrets to announce it has ceased operating commercial flying services.
No further reservations will be accepted. For inquiries regarding existing bookings, please call (+248) 4385858.
We apologise for any inconvenience this may cause and wish you safe travels.
In service for 20 years before the sudden end, or perhaps temporary end only, was announced early in April, Air Seychelles was a regular sight in the skies over the islands of Mahe, Praslin, La Digue the latter only reachable by air via helicopter and a number of other islands, private, exclusive and hidden from prying eyes of the paparazzi of this world like North Island, where guests are whisked to straight from their international flight from the main airport, to arrive and depart in near anonymity as they prefer.
In mid 2010 it was reported here that Helicopter Seychelles was in merger talks with its main rotor wing competitor Zil Air, and after initial success to bringing the two operations together, for cost savings and other financial considerations, the short lived marriage equally suddenly broke up again and the two companies were back at competing terms. Helicopter Seychelles underwent a fresh auditing process by the Seychelles Civil Aviation Authority, before being granted their Air Operator Certificate or in short AOC, which permits operations to commence under a set of strict rules and regulations CAAs set in compliance with ICAOs binding requirements. With operations resumed, the airline continued flights, and though no financial details could be ascertained, there was speculation over the bounced merger and the impact on the companys balance sheet and bottom line and the fact that the available operating capital was bleeding away.
Then came March 2012 and at least three known incidents took place, which made the company issue a public statement to which the SCAA reacted sharpish, the resulting in the announcement that the company would not just suspend but cease operations.
What happened was that according to an impeccable source with deep insight into the aviation sector in the Seychelles, two of the three helicopters of the company suffered engine malfunctions, leading to an emergency landing of one of the crafts near the companys main hangar at Providence. While no passengers were on board, the heli was returning from dropping off passengers in Praslin, the skids were seriously damaged and the tail rotor did touch the water. No one was injured but the helicopter was due to undergo major repairs of course. Only days later did the companys second helicopter suffer an emergency landing while on a ferry flight to South Africa, when due to another engine malfunction it had to land in Madagascar, raising the red flags amongst the safety oversight inspectors at the SCAA. Both incidents are under ongoing investigation by the SCAAs personnel and no final report has been filed by the time of going to press with this article.
Helicopter Seychelles then announced a temporary halt to operations, stating their intent to introduce new equipment before resuming flights again, but with the SCAA seeking answers and compliance assurances that was apparently not going to happen just that easily.
Subsequently the two following and clearly conflicting statements were issued AFTER the incidents, first the one by Helicopter Seychelles and then by the SCAA as shown below:
22 March 2012
Dear Trade Partners
OPERATIONAL SUSPENSION FOR HELICOPTER FLEET UPGRADE
For 20 years, we have operated a safe flying service under the watchful eye of the local aviation regulator, the Seychelles Civil Aviation Authority, and with your enthusiastic support. We are very proud of our unblemished safety record and commitment to upholding the highest standards of flying performance, aircraft maintenance and customer service.
In light of a few minor incidents recently involving our helicopters, and all without personal injury, we have decided today to suspend our flying operations briefly pending an operational safety review and complete replacement of our existing fleet.
We are taking this decisive action in full consultation with the SCAA to ensure that the safety of our passengers and crew is never compromised. It underlines our absolute commitment to maintain safety as our foremost priority. We seek to preserve Seychelles’ international reputation as an environment where aviation is conducted to the very highest standards.
With immediate effect, we will temporarily cease to operate all aircraft from our existing fleet. This will necessarily cause a brief interruption to our operational commitments to you, which we deeply regret and for which we offer our very sincere apologies. However, we expect the hiatus to be short-lived and we ask for your patience while we introduce new aircraft to service.
In the coming days, a new aircraft will join Helicopter Seychelles’ fleet, providing a new level of luxury charter service to the nation’s inner islands. The fresh arrival – S7-NMK – is the very latest model Bell JetRanger BIII and is expected to receive certification imminently.
Next, we are taking steps to acquire a second and larger single-engine helicopter to carry greater payloads of passengers and luggage. It will be equipped with a rapid re-configuration facility to support medical evacuation flights, with stretcher carrying capability.
Meanwhile, in the coming weeks, we expect to further underline our safety credentials by achieving confirmation of full compliance with the latest European maintenance safety standards which have been adopted in this country. The award of the EASA Part 145 certification will clearly demonstrate our uncompromising engineering standards.
Our company remains fully committed to providing a commercial helicopter flying service for Seychelles well into the years ahead. As such, several projects are in progress to re-align our offering to fit better the present and future needs of our clients.
We re-entered a difficult market in November last year with an operation and aircraft fleet which met every technical and regulatory requirement. We did so with awareness that we had your encouragement and committed support. We remain extremely grateful for that.
With the actions we are announcing today and our future commitment to safety, new investment and fair pricing, we would ask for your continued confidence in us.
Thank you for your attention and we look forward to continue building good relationships with each of you in the weeks and months ahead.
Capt Matt Hayes
CEO, Helicopter Seychelles Ltd
To this the Seychelles Civil Aviation Authority responded with a counter statement which in part reads:
SCAA clarifies its position with regards to comments made in Seychelles Nations and other publications
After several references and queries made in the press related to Seychelles Civil Aviation Authority (SCAA) following Helicopter Seychelles Limited (HSL) decision to stop their operation, the Authority would like to clarify and state a few facts in relation to the cessation of HSL operations.
With regards to Helicopter Seychelles, it is to be noted that following a rigorous 7 month certification process, SCAA issued Helicopter Seychelles with an AOC on 8th November 2011.
Helicopter Seychelles informed SCAA in writing on 21st March 2012, that following three incidents, they were suspending operations temporarily.
On the 29th March 2012 Helicopter Seychelles sent a "Trade Communiqué" by email to trade partners announcing that it is recommencing operations with full backing of SCAA, quoting:
"The SCAA is satisfied that our aircraft, our pilots, our engineers, our operational support team and maintenance facilities comply fully with their rigorous requirements. They do not judge us lightly and rightly so". The Authority would like to confirm that this Trade Communiqué was issued without prior knowledge of the Authority and the statement made without consultation with SCAA.
Following discussions with HSL relating to the incidents and mitigating actions that had been implemented since then, the Authority agreed for HSL to resume operations.
On 30th March 2012 the Authority suspended HSL AOC in view of certain lapses in regulatory compliance.
On the 04th April the Authority was formally advised by the HSL Accountable Manager that HSL would with immediate effect be ceasing operation and trading as a company.
In a second Trade Communiqué again without consultation with the Authority, dated 03rd April 2010 Helicopter Seychelles also referred to "the extremely demanding requirements of the Seychelles CAA". The Authority would like to state that the regulatory regime that Helicopter Seychelles is subject to is the same as that other operators are subjected to and comply with minimum standards set forth by the International Civil Aviation Organisation.
However one now looks at it, one thing is certain that Helicopter Seychelles is no longer operating and for all purposes, unless an airborne knight in shining armour with deep pockets appears at the horizon and flies to the companys rescue, the era of HSL has after 20 years come to an end. Many will see this with regret, on personal grounds of relations with the management and staff of HSL, others out of fear that a newly created monopoly will impact on fares and tariffs for island hopping, scenic flights and air transfers, and yet others out of sentiment that a regular sight in the skies over the archipelagos islands is now gone for good.
What remains to be said is continued happy landings to Zil Airs fleet of helicopters and fixed wing aircraft news on the introduction of the latter was also broken here and a sad good bye to Helicopter Seychelles, for now that is.
MISGUIDED AUDIT REPORT CONTINUES TO UPSET SEYCHELLES TOURISM INDUSTRY
Not long ago did I file an article here over the allegations made in a report by the Seychelles Auditor General about audits of the Seychelles Tourism Board, which at the time instantly roused the passion of the private sector, condemning in particular the British consultant who wrote the draft report as well near incompetent while also suspecting that he was party to a hidden agenda to sully the shining image of STB.
A letter was since then written by the Seychelles Hospitality and Tourism Association, a key stakeholder in the countrys sectoral set up, to express their own and very different view on the affair, which in the interest of full and balanced reporting is being reproduced here:
Seychelles Hospitality and Tourism Association
Tuesday 24th April 2012
Mr Barry Faure
Seychelles Tourism Board
Dear Mr Faure,
Re: Seychelles Tourism Board Performance Audit Report of the Auditor General – December 2011
On behalf of the Seychelles Hospitality and Tourism Association, we have seen with surprise the Performance Audit Report completed by the Office of the Auditor General in December 2011. We feel we need to place, through you and through the press, our comments on the report because we have been mandated to lead this Tourism Board by us being part of the four private sector board members in the seven men STB Board. We feel that we have no option but to defend through the press our involvement on the STB Board because the Auditor General chose to do just that, in publicizing his Audit Report. As a private sector controlled board we remained as we still remain today, conscious of the need for us the countrys private sector, to guide the Tourism Board in its operation of the industry with a policy of ease of doing business and to be business friendly.
We need to start by placing on record that this private sector controlled Tourism Board with Alain St Ange as CEO came into being only on the 10th August 2010. Seychelles was at that time suffering with a drop in its visitor arrival numbers and this prompted us, as the countrys tourism industry representatives to work with the CEO of the board on the need to catch up on lost time to ensure that the countrys accommodation establishments and the national economy did not suffer as a result of the consequences of the then widely predicted reduction in visitor arrival numbers. The tourism industry wanted to see a tourism board that would commit to work out side civil service norms, and as such move away from the bureaucratic approach with meetings and paper documents to a more practical and hands-on approach.
We have to record points made under key findings and recommendations incorporated in pages 3-7 of the Audit Report:
1. We feel that the presentation of those points and the way they are portraying the facts give the wrong impression of those facts. These points we have discussed at our board meetings, it is important for us as the SHTA to again put our comments on record and to alert all concerned about our observations.
2. We agree with the fact that the Seychelles Tourism Board had been operating since 2005; without a formal strategy and poor management of its financial resources, but this was pre the new private sector controlled Board and its new Management.
3. We agree with the fact that no certified financial statements were produced as duly required by Law, since those of 2004, 2005 & 2006 being certified in 2009 and 2007 & 2008 to be certified in 2011, 2009 & 2010 to be certified in 2012. However we have to state clearly the fact that the Statutory Auditors did not exercise their role, as Statutory Auditors, for this not to happen and to continue for such a long time. The new Seychelles Tourism Board and its management recognized that anomaly and immediately took the decision to request that an external audit firm be recruited to prepare accounts for all those deficiencies of the past which had been allowed to exist unabated.
4. We note the point of frequent changes in CEO and Financial Controllers but it is important to again point out that since August 2010 after the new Board and management took office only one CEO and Financial Controller have been in office until the report submitted by the Auditor General.
5. We do not agree with all that is being said regarding the standards and inspection as this area, as we have said over and over again, had been drifting towards a real bureaucracy which did not help and sustain the development and maintenance of the tourism and hospitality service industry. The Tourism Board is not the agency with the power in this domain. The Tourism Board remains the advisory agency working alongside the Licensing Authority. The SHTA believes that this is an area that will require a mindset change by many in Seychelles, but the work priority at the Tourism Board led by the SHTA has to be to protect the countrys economy first and foremost. The era of big brother syndrome in the inspectorate needed to stop and this is what the SHTA had pushed for. Guests security is safeguarded by the Health Inspectors and the Fire Brigade Agents, as the private sector led Tourism board pushed to stop meddling in management of establishments, but to instead work with all establishments to ensure they remain open and operate with success for the benefit of our countrys economy.
6. This role of the Seychelles Tourism Board was relooked at under the control of the new board:
a. First priority was to boost Marketing to sell the Seychelles, after working to regain crediblity in the market place.
b. Second priority was to have the Tourism Board reorganized as a competent and able body so that it would bring immediate results for the country.
c. Third priority was to clean the Financial Management side of the Tourism Board and so as to produce Certified Accounts.
7. We have to openly state that we regret the absence in this report of the fact that:
a. The Government of Seychelles, starting with the President of the Republic who had the responsibility of the tourism portfolio, took the decision of appointing a new chairman of the Board, a new private sector driven Board and a new Chief Executive Officer, in August 2010, to restart a new Seychelles Tourism Board to be better managed, more dynamic and much less bureaucratic.
b. The CEO, with the Boards Approval and the Ministry of Finances assistance searched and found rapidly a new Financial Controller, to rapidly put the Financial side of the House back in order; one of its priority being to compile and prepare the financial accounts and statements for 2007-2010 which is why a private sector firm was hired.
c. The CEO, working with the office of the president who held the portfolio for ourism presented a new strategy, encompassing the Seychelles Brand of Tourism that would help claim back the countrys tourism industry.
8. We do not agree with the proposals made in the report on the overall inspection concept as the countrys tourism trade wanted to abandon the bureaucratic and punishment routes to arrive to a more service and assistance oriented approach to the business, as we strongly believe that the private sector controlled Tourism Board is created and funded to Cater a Service to the Business, and certainly not to impose on them more bureaucratic red tapes.
9. We do not agree with the concept of having a fee to be charged to the tourism businesses for inspection purposes. This inspection is for the issuing of a license which is payable already.
Finally we need to remind you, Mr. Chairman, of the Government Management Audit Report completed in August 2010 which we have all sighted as members the STB Board. This report speaks a different song to what has been issued by the Auditor General.
Our controlled Tourism Board has been faced with repositioning Seychelles without Air Seychelles on European Routes and assisting in searching for airlines that will provide direct air access to our country. We remain a long haul tourism destination competing to retain a fair share of the tourist market. Today we have seen an increase in airlines serving Seychelles. This has and will help the country, but the task is to ensure no repeat of the past occurs. Easy come easy go is often the approach of airlines if the country cannot generate enough business for their general marketing to pick up and to give them the business. Seychelles has been down this path before and saw the loss of British Airways, Lufthansa, Air France, Alitalia and South African Airways to name but a few. This is why the SHTA has pushed for open lines of communication with our airlines and this is also why we go out to work with our airlines to market the country.
The SHTA has been advocating for more funds to market our country and not the approach being advocated in the Auditors Report, as this will only crucify the Seychelles Tourism Industry and in so doing derail the countrys economy.
Mr Faure, as Chairman of our STB Board, on behalf of the private sector members of the Board we say that we disassociate ourselves with that Audit Report and find it full of flaws and misguided analysis. We feel that it generally lacks the understanding of the tourism industry.
Louis DOffay (Mr)
Mr James Alix Michel – President of the Republic of Seychelles
Mr Alain St Ange – Minister for Tourism and Culture
Mrs Elsia Grandcourt – CEO; Seychelles Tourism Board
In conclusion, one can only wonder how this was allowed to happen in the first place, unless done with a fair degree of malice and ill intent, and for certain this consultant will find a number of black marks against his name, best not to try and get another assignment in the Seychelles, where he stepped on all the wrong toes and sang in all the wrong tunes with total disregard to the reality on the ground, a reality about which the global media rave over as a shining example of how tourism marketing should be conducted.
Watch this space if there are any more twists and turns in this saga.
PRASLIN SO NEAR AND YET SO DIFFERENT
Considering how much I travel and the often luxurious and exotic places I visit, it has to be very special to be remembered a few weeks or months down the line, since then overshadowed by new experiences, sights and sounds but the Seychelles are just that place which keeps lingering in my mind.
The main island of Mahe, home to the worlds smallest capital city, Victoria, is full of activities and being the largest of the 115 islands most of the countrys renowned resorts are found there.
There is no argument that Mahe is at the heart of the Seychelles, with the port, the international airport, government ministries, businesses, banks, university, sports stadium, the main hospital of the country and an array of restaurants offering something to every palate and every pocket.
Yet, there are another 114 islands out there to discover and when I wrote a few weeks ago about a visit to the island of La Digue, some of my readers instantly got back to me asking how do we get there and answers of course given readily and with enthusiasm.
What I left out then was an equally interesting visit to the island of Praslin, the second largest island of the archipelago, just under an hour by the high speed ferry from Port Victoria or about 15 minutes flight on the Air Seychelles domestic services which leave from the international airport.
When one arrives by ferry, something most travelers do, the crossing in good weather offers grand vistas of the surrounding islands, as Mahe remains behind and becomes smaller and smaller, and when entering the port of Praslin it is instantly evident that this island is rather different from Mahe. Leisure boats are moored off shore, ready to take guests for a day trip to some of the islands which cannot be reached by the larger ferries, or even take them for overnight trips, with plenty of opportunities to wade ashore to some of the smaller islands, do some diving or snorkeling, have a picnic under palm trees at a beach or do a spot of fishing to enhance the dinner menu.
Praslin is known for some spectacular beaches, like the Anse Volbert shown below, one of my personal all time favourites, and of course the more fancied Anse Lazio which has found its way into the top 10 of global beach locations. Resorts are dotted along the shores but also higher up on some of the hills, with spectacular views over the ocean at sunrise and sunset. There are no traffic jams, unless counting getting into the harbour parking when the ferries come and go, and life on Praslin is definitely a few notches slower compared to Mahe, but no less friendly for that matter. Less pace means more time for the essentials of a holiday, long strolls on the beaches, leisurely meals at the resort or else in one of the many restaurants, or perhaps a round of golf at the award winning Constance Lemuria Resort, the only one in the Seychelles with their own championship course.
Fans of Mahe will say there is a lot less to do on Praslin, but truly, that depends on the objective of a vacation and what one individually understands about a lot less or a lot more in terms of holiday experience. I for instance stayed at the Black Parrot Suites / Coco de Mer which has its own nature reserve on the hill behind the resort, worth exploring as is the generally much wilder interior of the island. With the highest mountain standing at only 1.100 feet, adventuring around the foot paths and little roads and tracks is a lot more fun, less demanding and offers more solitude than similar walks in the Morne Seychellois National Park on Mahe, where with its growing popularity one inevitably encounters more hikers. Not so on Praslin, where space seems to be ones own still across large sections of the island and especially when the day trippers from Mahe have gone back.
Best known in terms of nature reserves on Praslin is of course the Vallee de Mai, located almost at the centre of the island and a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1983. A visit to this treasured forest is a must see for tourists and remains to this day the most visited natural attraction on the entire archipelago with day trips from the main island of Mahe filling the early morning ferry every day. They all come to the park to see the home of the fabled Coco de Mer, an intriguingly shaped coconut which has all but become a national symbol for the Seychelles. Kilometres upon kilometres of well maintained tracks await the visitors, with view points and park benches along the way to allow for a rest, or to change the batteries in the cameras or just to sit and let this close up feeling of being in an ancient forest sink in. Multilingual guides are available to explain the ancient fauna of the forest and when standing still, as I did I visited in the afternoon when most of the tour groups had already departed and few voices disrupted the silence one can hear the wind rustling the leaves of the palms high above, an almost eerie sound at first, before the backdrop of bird song is then joining into this mighty soundtrack only nature pure can produce.
The park is managed by the Seychelles Island Foundation, which also manages the more distant, almost 1.150 kilometres distant to be precise Aldabra Atoll, often described as the original Garden of Eden, which receives a generous share of the proceeds generated by entrance fees at the Vallee de Mai.
The Coco de Mer nuts can be purchased, including the required export permit and certification of being legally bought, important as the government is cracking down on poaching or illegal harvesting of the prized nuts, and only a few weeks ago were several individuals arrested red-handed, when found to have illegally entered the park to cut the nuts off the trees. Dr. Frauke Fleischer-Dogley, CEO of the Seychelles Island Foundation, said at the time: Poaching is one of the most serious threats to the continued existence of the Coco de Mer. Continued theft of Coco de Mer nuts will eventually drive the species into extinction unless action is taken to stop it. The SIF staff did an excellent job to detain the suspected poachers and assist the police on the crime scene. Im very happy with the work they have done and with the rapid response by the Praslin police and I hope that the case be successfully followed through to prosecution. The Coco de Mer and the Vallée de Mai are vitally important to Praslins tourism industry, are unique symbols of Seychelles and are a natural wonder which need our protection. I hope that all agencies involved can work together with the help and support of the people of Praslin to protect and conserve this incredible species.
Threatened by acts of poaching by local criminals and of late also by periodic fires due to less than average rainfall, the Coco de Mer has recently been uplisted from vulnerable to endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in the organisations most recent update of its Red List, which evaluates the conservation status of biological species, going to show how unique and rare this example of pristine nature really is. Worth a visit anytime, whether staying on Mahe, Praslin, La Digue or any of the other inner islands within easy reach by boat and ferry, or air.
And in honesty, when I often say Seychelles, truly Another World I should actually say Seychelles, truly made of many worlds.
The archipelago can be reached by air, 13 times a week with Emirates via Dubai, 7 times with Qatar Airways via Doha, presently 6 times a week, rising to daily flights in July with Etihad / Air Seychelles from Abu Dhabi, 4 times a week with Ethiopian Airlines via Addis Ababa, 3 times a week with Kenya Airways via Nairobi and by Condor once a week from Germany. Get more information on the Seychelles range of islands and attractions by visiting www.seychelles.travel
MICHAEL OTIENO LEAVES RWANDAIR TO GO INTO AVIATION CONSULTING
RwandAirs widely respected Manager Corporate Communications and PR, Michael Otieno, has reportedly left the airline after nearly 3 ½ years as one of the public faces of the airline, but not without some pride over the achievements he says were made by RwandAir during his tenure.
He cited in a fare well email to this correspondent his involvement in creating INZOZI, the airlines inflight magazine which in the past featured several articles contributed by this correspondent too, the preparation of the Dream Miles frequent flyer programme, the introduction of a secure payment platform for passengers booking on line and purchasing tickets with credit cards, the initial re-branding of the airline and, one of his most exciting assignments, being part of creating the interior of the B737-800s the airline bought last year.
He described working with local, regional and world media as a thing which gave me a natural high and true to his form he was ever available, at any time of day or night, to answer questions and respond to enquiries, making his airline always appear in their Sunday best. Creating a Twitter handle for RwandAir via @Rwandair1 too was part of his brief and the swift replies gave Twitter users contacting the airline via this social network the confidence that using this avenue of communications was actually working. Needless to say, the airline also established a Facebook page for fans of RwandAir and the traffic on the page speaks volumes for its acceptance in the market.
I wish Michael well in his future career and be sure to read of the appointment of a successor right here, where breaking and regular news from East Africas exciting aviation market are told.
TOURISM STAKEHOLDERS MINCE NO WORDS OVER ROADS AND WATER
A tourism stakeholder meeting earlier in the week at the Sarova Whitesands Resort and Spa once again focused on the perennial challenges the industry at the Kenyan coast is faced with, poor roads, congestion at the Likoni ferry and a lack of enough water, amongst other issues. Mohammed Hersi, in his capacity as Chairman of the Mombasa and Coast Tourist Association, was reported to have said: Mombasa needs immediate help. This is the gateway to East Africa and must have good infrastructure, a demand echoed by a number of comments received from participants, keen to expose their daily challenges and attract the attention of government and of the Mombasa City Council. Hersi, in his professional capacity the Regional General Manager Coast for Sarova Hotels, went on to demand that the road from the airport of Mombasa into the city be repaired immediately. Another regular source from Mombasa said in an overnight mail: We need that road from the airport directly to the South Coast. There is a lot of potential for more resorts and tourism facilities at that side but getting there through the Likoni ferry is a nightmare. But like the road from Narok to the Masai Mara, we only hear a lot of promises and still work has not started. Then we have the issue with water. There is a big shortfall between supply and demand and even after the pipeline from Mzima Springs has been fully upgraded, we still need more water. Government has not shown us how they intend to deal with this and we are not seeing any investments in that sector. If tourism is to grow as we hope for, the resorts need water, the entire coast needs water to run businesses and homes. We also need a regular and stable supply of power at rates resorts can afford. No resort at the coast can operate without air conditioning, so we need more powerplants to cater for more demand. But the first impression when tourists come to Mombasa, is the road from the airport into the city. It is shameful how that part of the road has been neglected and how visitors are shaken up in their busses and cars. Tourism is a very big business for the coast but major investments in making Mombasa attractive are lacking. And then there is still no clear date for our elections. Our overseas partners keep asking about it because they want to be prepared. After the last elections in end 2007 that is understandable. We are almost in May now and still have no date? As a sector we are concerned that work until the elections might slow down and we cannot afford to stand still. Our competitors are not wasting time so Kenya also has to keep up the pace.
It was also reported that some of the participants dared the prime minister, who was at the same time on a visit to the coast to prop up his flagging political fortunes in Mombasa after he sacked the hugely popular former tourism minister Najib Balala, still an MP for one of Mombasas constituencies, to stand in the queue at the Likoni ferry to understand what commuters are going through on a daily basis.
Watch this space for regular updates from the tourism sectors in Eastern Africa and the latest developments from each country of the East African Community.