Archive for December, 2010

Tourism News from the Eastern African and Indian Ocean region, Fourth edition December 2010

TOURISM NEWS from the Eastern African and Indian Ocean region

Reports, Travel Stories and Opinions

By Prof. Dr. Wolfgang H. Thome

Twitter: @whthome

Blog: www.wolfganghthome.wordpress.com

End of year (Fourth) edition December 2010

 

Uganda News

BREAKING NEWS

YELLOW FEVER OUTBREAK REPORTED FROM NORTHERN UGANDA

It was learned overnight that over the festive season cases of Yellow Fever were reported from remote parts of Northern Uganda. The Minister of Health, in conjunction with the World Health Organization and the CDC have already dispatched a large team of doctors and nurses to the area, to contain the spread of the mosquito born disease and vaccinate the affected population.

As the outbreak area is sufficiently far away from the country’s national parks and other tourism attractions, there is no immediate danger to tourists already in country or expected to visit in coming days, but it is very important that visitors do have a valid Yellow Fever vaccination certificate, for their own protection as well as for being asked at entry points to produce a current document. Once the vaccination has been administered, it normally lasts for up to 10 years before requiring a new ‘shot’. For intending visitors to the country, please refer to the website of the Uganda Tourist Board / Tourism Uganda for updated information via www.visituganda.com.

The last such Yellow Fever outbreak dates back some 40 years and was swiftly contained too inspite of more challenging logistical problems in those days. Only recently was an outbreak of plague reported in the country, also from distant areas of Northern Uganda, but that too was swiftly brought under control and has now been fully contained, with no new cases reported over the add on incubation period.

 

CHRISTMAS CAROLS AT THE SERENA

Christmas Eve was celebrated at the Kampala Serena Hotel with traditional carols, performed by one of the city’s most popular choirs, and the staff served that quintessential eggnog and mince pies, getting the hotel’s patrons into the right mood for the season to the sounds of universally known Christmas songs.

Elsewhere in the country the safari lodges and upcountry hotels reported largely ‘full house’ – as did incidentally the resorts at the coast – hosting visitors from overseas but also locals and in particular the expatriate community, most of whom had been streaming out of the city to take a short break. Unlike in many parts of Europe and North America, it was of course no white Christmas but we were thankfully also spared the icy temperatures which go along with it. It is this correspondent’s hope that you all enjoyed a peaceful Christmas season in the midst of family and friends and that the Christmas spirit prevailed over the ‘commercial’ aspects which have crept into the celebrations over the past decades.

And now with all due haste towards the New Year 2011 and another 12 months of weekly reports from the Eastern African and Indian Ocean region’s hospitality, aviation, tourism and conservation developments.

 

INTERCONTINENTAL TO MANAGE NEW ‘SHIMONI’ HOTEL

Indications have firmed up in recent weeks that Intercontinental Hotels will be managing the hotel which is due to be build on the ‘Shimoni’ land, controversially allocated to the owner of Kingdom Hotels – and in the process displacing a large primary school and teachers’ training college’ – before Kingdom then defaulted on their obligations and eventually disposed of the site to new owners.

It does appear that construction will now finally go underway under the new owners in 2011 – it was them in fact who put up the information about IHG on their company website – and when the 5star facility is ready it will be known as the InterContinental Hotel Kampala. Some good news finally that this long saga is coming to a good end after all.

 

Kenya News

JKIA GETTING TOO HOT FOR IVORY SMUGGLERS

Customs and security organs at Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport showed that their vigilance over Christmas was as high as ever, when they arrested a woman, reportedly travelling on a Thai passport while in transit from Mozambique. Her baggage, routinely scanned and subjected to sniffer dog inspections while on the ground, was found to contain two elephant tusks and over 100 pieces of carved ivory like bungles and necklaces. She was identified as the owner of the luggage in the transit lounge and then arrested and will this week be produced in a magistrates court to be formally charged with the offence. If and when found guilty she can expect a lengthy prison sentence, hopefully stiff enough to deter smugglers of blood ivory and other animal products like rhino horns from other parts of Africa to stop flying via Nairobi, as chances of detection of their contraband cargo and baggage contents now becomes ever more likely.

Only two weeks ago was it reported here too that two Singaporeans of Chinese descent were arrested in Nairobi, who have since appeared in court and are also awaiting trial and lengthy prison sentences once found guilty. The conservation fraternity owes the Kenyan customs and security services a big thank you for their vigilance and growing record of detection of illicit shipments.

In a related development it was also learned that the Executive Director of the Kenya Wildlife Service Dr. Julius Kipng’etich got a special Christmas gift in form of a new 3 year contract, after doing good work on the job, generally considered as a ‘hot seat’ due to the magnitude of challenges going along with wildlife conservation and enforcement and the growing human / wildlife conflict due to burgeoning populations in particular around national parks and game reserves. Well done Julius and best of luck for your new term of office.

 

NEW ‘CONSERVATION’ FEES COMING INTO EFFECT ON JANUARY 01ST

The new park entry fees proposed by the Kenya Wildlife Service some time ago, arguably against strong opposition by large sections of the tourism sector including KATO (Kenya Association of Tour Operators), will come into effect in the new year and will be renamed into ‘conservation fees’, probably to make the new charges more palatable.

The ‘top parks’ like Amboseli and Nakuru will set foreign non resident visitors back by 75 US Dollars a day during the high season period, while during the low season (April – June and November – mid December) charges will be lower, as they will be during the shoulder seasons.

Resident foreigners too will have to pay more while citizens of Kenya and the Eastern African sister states will enjoy the ‘lowest’ entry fees, as is the case in Uganda too, while reports from Tanzania still speak of ‘problems’ when Kenyan and Ugandan citizens ask to be given citizen rates, especially non  African passport holders it appears from a number of such reports.

A KWS source, asked not to be identified by name, is quoted as having said: ‘ conservation is an expensive undertaking and tourism attractions around the world cost big money to get into, like going into Disneyland or some of the European ‘safari parks’, so it is not unreasonable for us to charge higher fees. It should be appreciated that we are now only doing what lodges and resorts are doing all this time, we differentiate between low, mid and high season and when visitors come in the low season the charges reflect this. It is during those times of the year we want more visitors to come to our parks, to Kenya, just as the hotels and lodges want the same thing. I believe we are on the same wavelength and the extra income we project will help us with anti poaching, better patrols, better infrastructure and generally better services’.

The neighbouring countries of Tanzania, Kenya and Rwanda however continue to charge the same tariff throughout the year, although it is understood that they are in contact with KWS and once sufficient data on the new fee structure have been collected and interpreted, they too might switch to a seasonal structure for their own park entrance fees. Watch this space.  

 

Tanzania News

POLICE STATION BURNS DOWN BUT SECURITY ASSURED

It was learned that over the Christmas holidays a police station some 50 KM from the main ‘stone town’ of Zanzibar burned to the ground, following an electrical malfunction within the premises. Prompt enquiries however showed that no one was hurt in the incident and police continued to patrol their area of operation without interruptions, supported by logistics from other stations further away. This was done to ensure that no mischievous elements could take advantage of a vacuum in law enforcement while the populations enjoyed the long holiday weekend.

Security around beach resorts, the airport and the famous ‘stone town’ had already been increased to ensure that visitors from abroad, but also locals were safe over the festive season, in particular as warnings against visits to Eastern African countries and Zanzibar persist amongst otherwise ‘friendly nations’. Thankfully for the tourism trade most potential visitors disregard such warnings and visit the safari parks and sunny beaches anyway, but in turn expect local law enforcement to do all they can to ensure their safety and security during their stay.  

 

AIRSTRIP NEAR ‘KLEIN’S CAMP’ CLOSED BY TANZANIAN AUTHORITIES

A regular source from Arusha passed the information over the weekend that the airstrip serving ‘Klein’s Camp’ has been closed by the authorities. ‘There is more than meets the eye’ said the source in a phone conversation, adding ‘there were these issues with the manager of that camp being wanted by police when tusks had disappeared from a dead elephant found nearby, and then there are people in Tanzania who might even want to close that camp for being too near to the Kenyan border. The Bologonja border crossing as you know remains closed for commercial traffic between Kenya and Tanzania, and there are hardliners who would best like to put a big fence and throw away the keys’.

This part of the Serengeti is the ‘transit route’ for many of the wildebeest returning from their annual migration into Kenya’s Masai Mara and huge columns of animals can be seen annually when making their way back in to the Serengeti while moving South again to the low grass plains between Ngorongoro and Serengeti. The area is also earmarked as a transit corridor for a planned highway across the park, itself a hugely divisive and controversial project, which has brought the Tanzanian government and international organizations like UNESCO, WWF, AWF, IUCN, IFAW and others head to head with their pro and con arguments.

Said another Arusha source on demand of strict confidentiality: ‘some people in the security organs have tried to explain the closure is in the interest of national security, but we all know, that is a pure smoke screen for some ulterior motives and machinations behind the scenes. What national security issues trouble us along the common border with Kenya I wonder and are there not mechanisms to deal with such through the EAC headquarters? Many of my colleagues in the tourism sector are asking the same things but like with the highway question, raising such matters openly can land you in jail here in Tanzania. We suspect there is either a conflict of interest with some bigshots, or attempted extortion but the reasons being leaked to us are not holding water’.

Airlines regularly flying to the strip were not immediately ready to comment on the development, as one aviation source said: ‘this is a bit sensitive and we cannot openly argue with security organs, but we will make enquiries and see if this can be resolved amicably’. Watch this space for future updates as Tanzania self-inflicts yet more negative news on its tourism and conservation sector.

 

Rwanda News

AKAGERA NATIONAL PARK BUFFALO KILLS VILLAGER

The need to fence of sections of the park, a project earmarked under the present joint venture between African Parks and the RDB – Tourism and Conservation, has been re-emphasized last weekend, when buffalos from inside the park strayed into neighbouring farms and killed one farmer while injuring at least another three.

It is understood from an RDB source that the stray animal was later on cornered by wardens and other security personnel and shot, to avoid more such tragedies amongst villagers. Neighbours of the park have in the past in an exemplary fashion cooperated with RDB towards conservation, but such incidents are bound to bring up questions again on compensation when crops are destroyed by marauding animal herds or people come to harm or are killed, as was the case this time.

No immediate comments were however available as to the time frame to fence the crucial sections of the park to protect the nearby villages.

 

Seychelles News

AIR SEYCHELLES’ NEW TWIN OTTER ‘EN ROUTE’

Updated version for publication

 

Christmas eve saw ‘aviation Santa’s’ latest ‘gift’ for Air Seychelles being dispatched from the Twin Otter factory in Canada, when the very first state of the art, new generation DHC6-400 aircraft commenced a series of ferry flights with final destination of Mahe on 11th January 2011. This unique 13 day and 80 flight hours ‘adventure’ almost fell victim in Western Canada to the severe winter weather, which delayed the first take off by several hours, before finally leaving from the Victoria / BC airport to Churchill in central Canada. Equipped with extra fuel tanks, the ‘normal’ range of the Twin Otter was substantially boosted, a bonus for the operating crew of course. From central Canada the flight itinerary will then route via Frobisher Bay and on to the Akureyri field in Iceland, before reaching Aberdeen in Scotland and Altenheim in Germany.

Once these ‘legs’ are successfully completed, with all aircraft in-flight systems monitored very tightly, the onwards route will take the new aircraft to Greece, Egypt, Djibouti and Mombasa, before embarking on the last segment of the journey and ‘home’ to Mahe International Airport.

It was reportedly the first delivered ‘commercial’ aircraft of the new generation Twin Otter, besides the test aircraft, which earlier initial version was already an established workhorse for safari aviation in Eastern Africa and a reliable part of the HM fleet for decades, connecting the various islands on Air Seychelles’ domestic network. Therefore, though being a ‘small’ national airline in terms of number of aircraft and destinations, Air Seychelles nevertheless broke new ground and laid down the gauntlet to their competitors abroad and critics at home by boosting their domestic aircraft fleet, of course hugely important to carry passengers from the international airport to the outlying islands, in particular the very popular Praslin.

The aircraft has been painted in a distinct new ‘domestic’ livery reflecting the ‘Creole Spirit’, also of course the main slogan for the airline on international routes of course.

On arrival in Mahe the aircraft will be formally christened ‘Spirit of Curieuse’, following the airline’s tradition to name their fleet after the various islands of the archipelago and will then enter domestic service at the beginning of February 2011, joining up with a fleet of three other Twin Otters and one Short 360-300.

Communicated the airline’s Executive Chairman Capt. David Savy on the occasion to eTN: The acquisition of a brand new DHC6-400 Twin Otter aircraft is testimony to our commitment to our [tourism] trade partners. This is a very significant investment and is in the region of SCR 56 million rupees at a time when the airline industry is cash strapped’.

 

Southern Sudan News

INDEPENDENCE ‘ANTE PORTAS’

The referendum for independence in the Southern Sudan is quite imminent now, and word from Juba – the Southern capital city – but also from places like Wau, Rumbek, Malakal, Yei, Yambio, Torit and a range of other towns is that Africa’s youngest country is in the making now, able and willing to escape a militant Islamic regime which has oppressed and enslaved the South for generations and subjected them to the full brutality of anarchic laws, whips and guns. Key figures in the SPLM led government, and many from the civil service, are back in their home areas for the festive season, where they are understood to be engaged in daily ‘sensitisation’ of the population ahead of the January 09th referendum day, and few are expected to return to their work stations before the crucial vote takes place. Anyone travelling to Juba therefore, hoping to see senior government officials, make sure the appointment is ‘locked’ and the individual will in fact be available.

In a related development, interest in sending expeditions and adventure tourists into the parks of the South Sudan has also substantially risen, as the many direct enquiries to this correspondent show, all of which are duly passed on to the Ministry of Wildlife Conservation and Tourism. Watch this space as the countdown towards the independence referendum is ticking.

 

 

 

AND, in this last edition of 2010 some more material, from ‘further down South’, courtesy of Gill Staden’s ‘The Livingstone Weekly’ – enjoy reading about a variety of challenges and achievements in conservation, which are clearly similar right across Africa. And not to be missed, something ‘bizarre’ from Zimbabwe for the end of the year …

 

Another Hotel

From the Lusaka Times

 

American based Capital Corp Merchant Banking group has signed a US$15.4 million project with Zambian corporation Playland Limited to create the Cresta Mukuni Safari Lodge near the Victoria Falls.

The aim of the project is to build an internationally recognized 4-star Safari Lodge with modern facilities: amenities and conveniences which will cater for incentive groups from Europe and America with facilities that can also be used for local and regional markets in the European off-season.

Apart from hotel accommodations, the project would offer other timeshare facilities that will cater for both local and foreign clientele.

“The business concept of the project is strong, given the significant gap in the market for Safari and wilderness type high-end hotels in the Victoria Falls area where only 70 hotel rooms exist on the Zimbabwean side, and with limited conference facilities,” says Capital Corp Merchant.

In order to have a quick impact on the market and to enhance its position, Playland Limited has signed a management contract with Cresta Hospitality which is one of the biggest hospitality groups in southern Africa managing and operating 13 properties in Zimbabwe, Botswana, and Nigeria, to manage its property.

This will provide the development with the key personnel, marketing strategies, and implementation strategy needed to insure a smooth and efficient development.

Cresta Mukuni will be twinned with the famous Cresta Mowana Safari Lodge situated in the Botswana National Park, which has won major international awards.

I must say I have a bit of an issue with some of the facts in this story: namely: …  in the Victoria Falls area where only 70 hotel rooms exist on the Zimbabwean side, and with limited conference facilities,

From Lusaka Times

Zambia: 700 farmers invade Lusaka National Park

The Lusaka National Park which is set to be opened as the countries 20th wildlife reserve settlement this February has been encroached by over 700 small holder farmers.

This came to light yesterday when Tourism, Environment and Natural Resources Minister Catherine Namugala accompanied by Zambia Wildlife Authority (ZAWA) Acting Director General Jacob Chulu made an on spot check of the park.

Ms. Namugala expressed sadness at the development noting that it would delay the opening of the park.

She said it was unfortunate that ZAWA officers were complacent and allowed people to encroach the park.

Ms. Namugala has since directed ZAWA to completely fence the park to avoid further encroachment.

And ZAWA Acting Director General Mr Chulu said his officers have expedited the fencing of the park and assured that it would be completed by the end of this month.

Mr. Chulu said two thirds fencing of the 46 square kilometer park had been done.

He however said there was need for re-enforcement of manpower to effectively patrol the park to avoid further encroachment.

Mr. Chulu also disclosed that the park has over 250 animals of 11 different species and was expected to be restocked with more after the official opening.

And one of the farmers, Steven Banda who spoke on behalf of his group commended the minister and government for allowing them to continue with their farming and vacate the area after the next farming season.

He pledged that his group would comply by the directive to vacate the park after harvesting crops.

The over 700 farmers are from different parts of Lusaka including Chawama, Kamwala, Kabwata, Woodlands, Chilenje and the displaced Mahopo residents.

Zambia currently has 19 National Parks and 36 game reserves. The Lusaka Park will become the 20th National Park in the country once gazetted.

TOURISM BOARD OF ZAMBIA TO LAUNCH THE NEW BRAND OF THE COUNTRY’S TOURISM SECTOR BEFORE THE END OF THE 2ND QUARTER OF 2011

 

THE TOURISM BOARD OF ZAMBIA HAS PROJECTED THAT IT WILL LAUNCH THE NEW BRAND OF THE COUNTRY’S TOURISM SECTOR BEFORE THE END OF THE SECOND QUARTER OF 2011.  TOURISM BOARD OF ZAMBIA CHAIRMAN MR. TIMOTHY MUSHIMBWE HAS TOLD RADIO PHOENIX IN LUSAKA THAT THE RE-BRANDING PROJECT WHICH IS ONGOING IS A MAMMOTH TASK AND REQUIRES TIME AND APPROPRIATE RESOURCES IF AN EXCELLENT AND ULTIMATE GOAL IS TO BE ATTAINED.

AND MR. MUSHIMBWE SAYS THE BOARD TARGETS TO ACHIEVE THE 3 MILLION ARRIVALS BY THE END OF 2017 AND SUBSEQUENTLY INCREASE OVER 1.5 BILLION DOLLARS OF NEW INVESTMENT IN HOTELS, LODGES, TRANSPORT, FOOD SUPPLIES AND ANCILLARY SERVICES.

HE EXPLAINS THAT THE BROAD PLANS TO ALSO INCREASE BOTH TOURIST ARRIVALS AND THE VISITOR VALUE BY INCREASING THE LENGTH OF OVERNIGHT STAYS, EXTENDING THE TOURIST SEASON AND TARGET HIGH YIELDING MARKETS.

SPEAKING AT THE OFFICIAL LAUNCH OF LIVINGSTONE INTERNATIONAL UNIVERSITY OF TOURISM EXCELLENCE AND BUSINESS MANAGEMENT (LIUTEBM) IN LUSAKA TODAY, MR. MUSHIMBWE SAID CURRENTLY TOURISM INDUSTRY CONTRIBUTES ABOUT 2.8% OF THE G.D.P AND PLANS TO RAISE IT TO 5.4% BY 2012.

AND THE TOURISM COUNCIL OF ZAMBIA (TCZ) CHAIRMAN MARK O’DONNELL HAS POINTED OUT THAT THE COUNCIL WILL CONTINUE TO LOBBY GOVERNMENT AND ADVOCATE FOR FAVOURABLE POLICY CHANGE AND CONDUCIVE BUSINESS ENVIRONMENT TO REALIZE THE COMPETITIVENESS OF THE TOURISM SECTOR BOTH AT REGIONAL AND GLOBAL MARKET.

MR. O’DONNELL SAYS THE TOURISM SECTOR AT THE MOMENT FACES A NUMBER OF CHALLENGES SUCH AS LACK OF ACCESS TO AFFORDABLE CREDIT WHICH WILL HAVE TO BE ADDRESSED IF THE LOCAL TOURISM IS TO THRIVE IN THE FUTURE.

HE COMMENDED LIUTEBM FOR THE INITIATIVE STATING THAT THIS WILL HELP IN ADDRESSING THE HUMAN DEVELOPMENT CONSTRAINTS THAT THE TOURISM INDUSTRY IS CURRENTLY FACING.

AND SPEAKING AT THE SAME FUNCTION LIUTEBM VICE CHANCELLOR DR PATRICK KALIFUNGWA SAID THE PRIMARY GOAL OF THE UNIVERSITY IS TO MAKE SURE THAT THE GRADUATES BEING CHURNED OUT OF IT ACQUIRE THE NECESSARY CONFIDENCE, KNOWLEDGE, SKILLS AND PROFESSIONAL ACUMEN BEFITTING THE MARKET DEMAND.

AND LIUTEBM BOARD MEMBER CHARITY LUMPA THE LAUNCH OF THE UNIVERSITY WILL HELP EMPOWER THE INDUSTRY PERSONNEL WITH ALL KINDS OF MANAGERIAL SKILLS WHICH HAVE BEEN LACKING.

 

 

 

RESTAURANT AND BAR IN THE VICTORIA FALLS RAIN FOREST

A 120 seater restaurant, bar and merchandise shop has been established in the Victoria Falls Rain Forest. Victoria Falls is a National Heritage Site and one of the seven natural wonders of the world and the establishment of this commercial enterprise is in violation of the rules governing National Heritage Sites. The rules state that there shall be no further infrastructural development in the rain forest, apart from the upgrading of existing structures. It is also ruled that in a National Monument such as the Victoria Falls Rain Forest, there shall be no outlet that sells food and beverages.

In view of the number of people that the restaurant can accommodate, there will now be a greatly increased number of people wandering through the rainforest and there are not sufficient ablution facilities to cater for them.

Of greatest concern is the possibility that Victoria Falls Rain Forest is now in danger of losing its status as a National Heritage Site.

 

 

AND A WEEK LATER GILL SENT THIS FOLLOW UP TO THE STORY:

UNESCO endorses Victoria Falls Rainforest Restaurant

From Amazing Victoria Falls

THE United Nations Education and Scientific Organisation (Unesco) has endorsed the restaurant that was constructed at the entrance of the Victoria Falls rainforest (pictured), the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Tourism and Hospitality Industry, Dr Sylvester Maunganidze, has said.The development means that the World Heritage Status of the rainforest is not under threat from delisting.

Dr Maunganidze said the endorsement of the restaurant follows a decision by Unesco to send a secret mission into the country on Monday which he said found nothing amiss at the facility.
The restaurant has been closed for a month after the National Museums and Monuments (NMMZ) unilaterally took over the control of the rainforest from the long time managers, the National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (NPWMA).At the same time parks rangers were also booted out of office.

The two Government entities are fighting each other for control of the entrance at one of the Seven Wonders of the World which rakes in about US$7 000 daily and the restaurant was caught in the cross fire.
In an interview yesterday in the resort town of Victoria Falls, Dr Maunganidze said Unesco convened a meeting in Livingstone, Zambia, to discuss the conservation programme at Victoria Falls among other issues “Unesco had picked from the media that there were some fights around the restaurant with NMMZ claiming that the facility should not be there as it was in violation of Unesco protocol and that it was disturbing the skyline of the Falls.

“So out of that meeting, Unesco sent a secret mission on Monday to see the restaurant and the mission later reported that there was nothing amiss, adding that it was not interfering with the WHS.
“Unesco also had never complained about the restaurant as some elements in the local and international media were claiming,” he said.“Unesco even quoted a local non-governmental organisation that was raising the dust and one wonders on whose behalf they were raising dust. In fact, Unesco concluded that the restaurant was adding value to the Falls.”

He noted that Unesco and his ministry had no qualms over the operation of the restaurant noting that a directive by Vice President Nkomo for the status quo of the facility to remain should be followed.
“My ministry gave the operator Shearwater Adventures a licence to operate and would see to it that they re-open soon.“I am taking the matter up to Vice President Nkomo who gave a directive last month for the status quo to remain at the rainforest,” he said.Trouble started when NMMZ tried to control the Victoria Falls rainforest by elbowing out long-time managers NPWMA.NMMZ also forced the restaurant to close.

However, the Government took a position that the management of the rainforest reverts to the parks authority. The battle to control the rainforest has been raging behind closed doors for more than a decade.
The area was declared a national monument in 1932 and a national park in 1957 before Unesco designated it a World Heritage Site in 1989.


COAL MINING IN HWANGE NATIONAL PARK

I recently travelled to Hwange National Park and was dismayed to discover that on the road into Sinamatella Camp, you now travel through an ugly coal mining area. There are great deposits of earth alongside the road as well as heavy duty mine vehicles. We have also had reports that there are two more coal mines inside the National Park near Robins Camp.

CHINESE MINING IN THE MAVHURADONHA MOUNTAINS

Mavhuradonha means ‘place of the falling water’ and is a natural environment of great beauty with crystal clear water and fresh mountain air.
Residents of the area, however are desperately concerned about the illegal mining operations being conducted by the Chinese in their search for chrome. The Chinese are literally ripping up the beautiful countryside just outside the wilderness area but they are closing in fast.
According to reports, they are mining without prospecting orders or permits and no Environmental Impact Assessment has been done.
Further reports have been received that the Chinese are also starting mining operations in the Nyamaneche Game Park in Mvurwi. Apparently there were 9 rhino in the game park, 6 of which have now been poached. The remaining 3 were supposed to be relocated but it is believed that they too have been poached.

AND IN A RELATED DEVELOPMENT GILL ALSO SENT THIS DAMNING REPORT ABOUT CHINESE ACTIVITIES:

 

Chinese poachers slaughter rhinos 

From International Rhino Foundation

HARARE – Chinese poachers have been accused of killing six rhinos at a game sanctuary near Harare as incidents linking the spreading Chinese footprint in Africa to both rhino and elephant killings escalated.
The Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force said at least six rhinos were poached at the Nyamaneche Game Sanctuary this month, forcing the owners to move the three remaining rhinos to a safer location. ZCTF chairman Johnny Rodrigues suspects that a Chinese firm mining chrome in the area was behind the attack.
“There were nine rhinos at the sanctuary, six have been poached and they can’t find the other three,” Rodrigues told The Zimbabwean on Sunday.

“We believe it is the Chinese …they have some concessions here to build hotels and for hunting,” he said. The Zimbabwean on Sunday was unable to get comment on the matter from either the Chinese embassy in Harare of the firm accused of poaching rhinos.
Zimbabwe’s population of black and white rhinos was put at 3 000 in the 1980s but it has since been revised to about 700.  Decades of rhino conservation are at serious risk of being undermined by crime syndicates funded by the demand for illegal rhino horn, which is still used in traditional Chinese medicines. Last year the wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC found that Zimbabwe lost over 25 percent of its rhino population between 2006 and 2009 to illegal killing. This troubling figure includes 89 percent of all black rhinos killed on the continent.
Incidents linking the spreading Chinese footprint in Africa to both rhino and elephant killings have been escalating in recent years. Last week, a critically endangered black rhino was killed in the world-famous Serengeti National Park amid growing concerns that Tanzania’s warm relationship with China could lead to further problems with its precious pachyderms. In Southern Africa, there are increased reports of rhino killings in areas where Chinese newcomers are working and settling.
The rhino killings appear to be concentrated along the Mozambique-South Africa border, the eastern border of South Africa’s Kruger National Park, down to KwaZulu-Natal, and into Zimbabwe.
Illegal rhino horn is in highly sought after for use in traditional medicines in China and Vietnam, despite the fact rhino horn has been extensively analyzed and contains no medicinal properties.

 

And here comes the promised ‘bizarre’ one … and from where else but Zimbabwe … will sycophantic nitwits of this ilk ever stop or come to their senses – not likely!

From Radio Voice of the People, Zimbabwe

 

Bulawayo, December 14,2010 -A Zanu (PF) Bulawayo governor, Cain Mathema said he is pushing for the exhumation of Cecil John Rhodes remains in Matopo area which he accuses of blocking the rains.

Rhodes is buried at Malindidzimu hill in Matopo just outside Bulawayo.

“I wonder why years after independence of Zimbabwe his grave is still found there.  We are going exhume it and send it to Britain where it belongs.  Right now we are failing to get rains because of Rhodes’ bones buried at Matopo Hills,” Mathema told Radio VOP.

Mathema also said he is very angry with Rhodes’ grave and this has made him stop visiting Matopo area.

Rhodes was born in England on July 5, 1853 and was buried in Matopo on the 10th of April 1902.He was elected to the Cape Parliament in South Africa and by 1890 became Prime Minister. During this time, he actively pursued north of the Limpopo River. The result of his endeavours produced new British annexations: Nyasaland (now Malawi), Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia) and Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe).

Mathema added he wanted the David Livingstone’s stature in Victoria Falls removed and replaced by the one for President Robert Mugabe.

 

Tourism News from the Eastern African and Indian Ocean region, Christmas (Third) edition December 2010

 

TOURISM NEWS from the Eastern African and Indian Ocean region

Reports, Travel Stories and Opinions

By Prof. Dr. Wolfgang H. Thome

Twitter: @whthome

Blog: www.wolfganghthome.wordpress.com

Christmas (Third) edition December 2010

 

FLY 540 FINALLY TAKES TO THE SKIES IN ANGOLA

As the saying goes ‘better late than never’ applies here too, when a regular Fly 540 source confirmed that the airline has now commenced domestic operations. Presently a single ATR aircraft is being used to fly the route between Luanda and Cabinda as many as three times a day and other routes are to follow soon afterwards, just as soon as another two ATR aircraft are integrated into the fleet.

Operations were initially thought to start a long time ago but as Angola is under scrutiny by ICAO and its national airline faces a qualified ban in flying to the European Union over a range of safety concerns, the establishment of a private airline has been challenging to say the least, again quoting a regular Fly 540 source from their East African operations. ‘We had to source qualified staff, and then spend a lot of time training them to internationally acceptable standards to ensure a safe and secure operation in Angola. This took a lot more time than initially planned but we are now finally there, our colleagues are taking to the skies this week and we are happy for them and celebrate the youngest addition to the Fly 540 family.

It is understood that Ghana will be next on the schedule of expansion although Fly 540 has also applied for air service licenses in a number of other Eastern, Central, Southern and Western African countries, aiming to become a major continental player on domestic and regional routes. Most likely as a result of these imminent developments have major shareholder ‘Lonrho’ shares risen last week by over 4 percent.

In a related development it was also learned that TAAG, the national airline of Angola, presently allowed to fly under strict conditions and only with an approved aircraft into the EU, has lost engine parts soon after takeoff from Lisbon and the plane had to return to make an emergency landing. How this will affect their status in regard of flights from Angola to the EU remains to be seen but aviation observers are doubtful that they can retain their conditional approval and may go on the total black list once again. Watch this space for the latest updates from the aviation scene and watch whom you fly with.

 

Uganda News

TOURISM MINISTER UNDER RENEWED PRESSURE OVER UWA BOARD

The Attorney General’s Office last weekend published advice sought by government over initial plans to install a caretaker board, following the sacking of the majority of board members on orders of the High Court in Kampala for not being suitable nor qualified as required by the Wildlife Act.

The opinion of the AG’s office is such that the governing law does not provide for ‘care taker’ appointments but only for substantive appointments, and the minister – largely seen as responsible for the mess at the Uganda Wildlife Authority for his rash appointments – is now under pressure to offer stakeholders an acceptable solution, without being dragged back to court once more.

Be it as it may, and as reported here last week, donors and development partners, especially those who shoulder a huge budgetary support burden for UWA, are more than just a little concerned and have privately let it be known that they will deal with a more sensible and astute minister after the next elections, to work hand in hand with someone able to repair the damage done to the organisation. None of those this correspondent spoke with however was willing to go on record, as such could be interpreted as ‘interference in Uganda’s internal affairs’ as one source put it, irrespective of the money given to UWA as grants and soft loans. Watch this space as the UWA saga seems to drag over into 2011.

 

MV KALANGALA NOT BACK IN SERVICE BEFORE NEXT YEAR

The latest information obtained from the Ministry of Works and Transport about the hugely important lake ferry connecting Entebbe with the Ssese Islands, is that it will now take till new year before the vessel can return to service. Repairs took longer than anticipated – is the official tenor – but generally the public blames the mess on incompetent management and bureaucratic procurement rules, which hindered a swift conclusion of the overdue maintenance.

The latest twist in fact now is that the ministry is seeking a new concessionaire, and new maintenance arrangements, clearly expressing what the public knew for long, that the present deal was not working out and new ‘blood’ was needed to turn the fortunes of the ferry operation around.

This correspondent has for long, and initially against howls of outrage, suggested that the initially given repair dates and return to service forecasts were phantastically out of range and probably only meant to string the unsuspecting public along, until it became clear for all to see what was going on.

Lake travellers, in particular the ones wishing to go to the islands over the holidays, may therefore still need to take the far less lake canoes or else travel via Masaka and the Butagata ferry crossing.

 

AVIATION AGREEMENTS WITH UAE AND OTHER GULF STATES ‘ONESIDED’

African aviation sources have in communications with this correspondent pointed out that the ongoing rollout by Emirates in particular was not necessarily in the best interest of the affected, or as others would say ‘benefitting’ countries. Reasons were advanced that open sky agreements, which give Gulf, and other global carriers almost unrestricted access to key African countries, was a likely cause for national or regional aviation sectors not to develop as fast and as successfully as they should, because key routes were being taken over by foreign, non African airlines at the expense of such carriers as Ethiopian, Kenya Airways, South African Airways, Air Mauritius and Air Seychelles. Few observers in fact disagree with the sentiment, as the ‘battle for the African skies’ has moved from the primary competition between the mentioned leading African airlines to a dual competition, between themselves and their respective alliance backers on one side and Gulf based airlines on the other, with the latter – according to some – running away with a growing market share.

Few could argue that service levels, on the ground, in flight or in terms of new aircraft, is now a major factor, considering the orders and deliveries of new aircraft in place for Kenya Airways and Ethiopian, in comparison with Qatar Airways and Emirates for instance, but pricing levels and connectivity through the respective hubs are now playing an increasingly important role, and it is there that African airlines simply cannot offer a global network, as yet at least, compared to the Gulf based mega airlines. It is here in particular that ‘siphoning of traffic’ is most pronounced and most damaging. Watch this space.

 

EGYPT AIR WIDENS REACH TO JAPAN

Last week information was received that Egypt Air has operationalised a code share agreement for their 10 weekly flights between Cairo, Tokyo and Osaka with ANA, Japan’s successful international airline. Both being members of the global Star Alliance, the two carriers of course – as all other Star members – always seek to find synergy effects to save cost, and have clearly found it by code sharing on this route.

Information availed to this correspondent also tells the story that Egypt Air will be able to put their own flight numbers on ANA domestic services beyond Tokyo and Osaka while ANA in turn is expected to benefit in turn for flights into the MK network beyond Cairo, in particular into Africa.

Egypt Air presently flies 3 times a week between Entebbe and Cairo but is also planning to increase this number next year. Nairobi and Dar es Salaam are the other Egypt Air destinations in the region.

 

ETHIOPIAN CODESHARES WITH STAR ALLIANCE PARTNER AIR CHINA

Star Alliance partner airline Air China and Star Alliance applicant Ethiopian Airlines have signed an extensive code share agreement, which will benefit travellers on ET from all over Eastern Africa to their Chinese destinations Beijing and Guangzhou. The two routes have a total of 14 weekly flights at present, operated by Ethiopian Airlines, and Air China is now offering a range of mainland destinations beyond these two airports for the convenience of passengers connecting to their final destination under one ticket.

It was not immediately clear which African destinations Air China can now access in turn, but it is expected that the Africa network of Ethiopian is ‘open’ to them as a reciprocal measure, which would be good news for the East African tourism sectors as more Chinese visitors can now travel here with greater ease. Watch this space for breaking news (on Twitter via @whthome) from the Eastern African and Indian Ocean aviation sectors.

 

Kenya News

FLY 540 TAKES OVER EAST AFRICAN SAFARI AIR EXPRESS

The owners of EASAX, the first victim of the escalating fare war in Kenya, had a soft landing, when – following the initial wet-lease of their DC9 aircraft by Fly 540 – the region’s first low cost carrier put in an offer to buy EASAX lock stock and barrel. The transaction took place late last week, too late for the conventional media to pick it up and report about it. There are inevitably open questions, like if EASAX will be ‘integrated’ into the Fly 540 set up, or for the time being operated as a separate airline, but one thing is already clear that the move triggered intense speculation over the resumption of flights on the EASAX network, especially those to Juba, where Fly 540 is notably absent and to Hargeisa, which EASAX had already commenced again early last week as reported here, probably in the knowledge of new owners with deeper pockets coming ‘on board’.

This acquisition at first look seems to strengthen Fly 540’s market position, as the market has confidence in them as to their ability to weather intense competition, as witnessed in recent months when in particular Kenya Airways aggressively moved back into the domestic market, for long a domain of Fly 540, Jetlink and EASAX. However, Fly 540, having survived the first difficult years and now being present across Eastern Africa, is run by financially and operationally shrewd individuals who will be watching their bottom lines while undoubtedly taking instant advantage of such opportunities as and when they arise. Happy landings in any case, under the Fly 540 trademark ‘orange’ or the tail fin cheetah of EASAX.

 

KENYA AIRWAYS TAKES DELIVERY OF THEIR FIRST EMBRAER 190

Last week, as the airline launched their new, codeshared with Alitalia destinations Rome and Malindi, did KQ receive their first new Embraer 190 aircraft under a dry lease arrangement entered into with a US leasing company. The airline had previously purchased Embraer jets of the 170 type and now opted for the slightly larger 190’s, of which additional aircraft will arrive in Nairobi in due course. Kenya Airways is in a tight race with close rival Ethiopian Airlines to ‘connect Africa’ via their home hub in Nairobi, while ET is doing the same via Addis Ababa. As both airlines belong to different global alliance partners, KQ is now a member of SkyTeam while ET is ‘applicant’ to join industry leader Star Alliance in 2011, their successes are crucial for their code share and alliance partners, to cover Africa extensively.

Network expansion and increased frequencies however depend on having a reliable, cost effective and young fleet of aircraft available and while Ethiopian is  regularly adding more B737-800’s fresh from Boeing’s production line, Kenya Airways has opted to use more Embraers, which can be deployed to airports with shorter runways, like Malindi, Kisumu and others, or on regional routes where the traffic demand does not justify the use of the larger Boeing 737’s. Watch this space for regular updates from East Africa’s aviation sector.

 

AIR ARABIA TOO TALKS OF MORE FLIGHTS

The Sharjah / UAE based low cost airline, presently operating 4 flights a week between Sharjah and Nairobi, has just celebrated the conclusion of their second year of operation between the UAE and Kenya. On the occasion it was confirmed that from mid March 2011 onwards, the airline would add a fifth frequency between the two airports, as a result of risen loadfactors and a strong increase anticipated in demand. The airline was cautious in giving details of their passenger mix but it is thought that besides ‘expatriate’ Kenyans working in the UAE – always keen to get the best deal for their tickets – a growing number of passengers now originates from the UAE coming to Kenya on a vacation or on business, and that the constantly low fares, compared to the traditional full service carriers flying between Kenya and the UAE, had a major bearing on this. Well done anyway and many more happy landings to Air Arabia.

 

QATAR AIRWAYS IN NEW TERMINAL – AT LAST

Information was received that over the weekend the new arrivals terminal at the Doha International Airport was made operational and that all flights from East Africa to Doha / Qatar are now ‘landing’ there. In the past there has been some discontent over the facilities in Doha, which some travellers have described as ‘inadequate, considering the service levels of Qatar Airways’ and although a new mega airport will become operational in 2012, the airport authorities have obviously listened to the feedback they got. Competition of other airports in the Gulf area, especially the upcoming brand new mega airport in Dubai, may also have played a role to take some intermediate measures for the next two years, before a state of the art brand new airport can then hold its own against the other countries in the Gulf. After all, with Qatar claiming to be a 5 star airline, facilities on the ground too have to match this claim to quality, or else all efforts are in vain if one of the links in the value chain lets all others down.

 

BRIATORE TO BRING SARDINIAN RESORT AND SPA CONCEPT TO MALINDI

Disgraced former F1 team chief of Renault Racing, Flavio Briatore, appears set to invest megabucks in the Kenyan coastal resort town of Malindi, not far from the Malindi Marine Park, according to information received over the weekend. Planning for a top of the range resort complex seem ready to start construction at the end of quarter one next year, and the investment is, at least according to Kenyan media report, worth some 500 million Euros or at present rates over 650 million US Dollars, an extraordinary investment by any standards and certainly for Eastern Africa.

Briatore’s Malindi Spa recently was declared ‘best in the Africa’ by a leading travel and leisure magazine and has immediately brought the global spotlight back to the destination.

Briatore reportedly also owns a similar complex to the one now planned in Malindi on the Mediterranean island of Sardinia – home of the ‘Costa Smeralda’, a retreat for the very rich and very famous – and he is expected to bring many architectural and conceptual ideas to the Kenyan coast from there.

The recent start of flights by Kenya Airways between Rome and Nairobi, and onward to Malindi on their new Embraer 170 aircraft, will boost the planned investment as it offers Italian tourists instant connectivity when coming from Rome and wanting to take a holiday on the Kenyan coast.

 

KENYA’S TOURISM BUSINESSES COUNTING THE COST OF EUROPE’S WINTER

The flight cancellations and delays from leading European airports have taken their toll on East Africa’s tourism businesses too, as hundreds of passengers failed to leave their home airports to the destinations across the region, like Nairobi, Mombasa, Malindi, Zanzibar, Dar es Salaam, Arusha / JRO, Entebbe and Kigali, where they had booked for a Christmas holiday.

In the other direction were equally hundreds of residents stuck in East Africa, as their flights to Europe could also not take off due to the weather conditions in many parts of the UK and mainland Europe, for many taking away a chance to fly ‘home’ to see their families over the holidays. The situation is as of Tuesday very slowly returning to ‘normal’ but a backlog of passengers on both sides may have to wait for days to reach their final destination, as flights ahead of Christmas are normally quite full already, leaving only limited space to accommodate passengers stranded by the icy weather conditions.

It is here that a travel insurance, covering such risks, comes in not only handy but is absolutely required, as the passengers – while maybe not reaching their planned holiday destination – at least are not out of pocket and get refunds for hotels, resorts, flights and other pre-paid arrangements covered by an adequate policy from a reputable travel insurance company. Commiseration of course to all those who missed their visit to Eastern Africa’s beaches and national parks – and do try come again when the weather is better.

 

Tanzania News

BLACK RHINO KILLED IN SERENGETI AFTER COSTLY RELOCATION

The Tanzanian government has come under severe criticism when news emerged that one of the five Eastern Black Rhinos brought from South Africa earlier in the year, has been found dead with the horns removed by poachers. The news were greeted with dismay amongst conservationists from around the world, especially those dealing with the conservation of the rhinos in particular.

The five rhinos, a further nearly 30 are due to follow, were received with much fanfare and a huge PR campaign, and President Kikwete himself had travelled to the Serengeti to witness to offloading of the five rare rhinos from the aircraft upon arrival from South Africa. The entire exercise is expected to run into the hundreds of thousands of US Dollars in cost, to capture the animals in South Africa and then fly them in batches of 5 or 6 a time to Tanzania, with money coming from the Tanzanian government, donors and development partners, who had hoped to restore the rhinos to their original habitat.

Meanwhile though, plans by Kikwete, to build a highway across the migration routes of the Serengeti have created a global coalition against these plans, with key world bodies like UNESCO, AWF, WWF and others demanding that this plan be halted and the highway routed elsewhere. The Serengeti’s UNESCO World Heritage Status is subsequently now in danger, and Tanzania’s reputation as a conservation nation, has received deep dents and scratches abroad – especially in the crucially important countries where the tourists to Tanzania come from – over not just these plans but other mis-steps too.

During the last CITES conference in Doha did Tanzania apply to sell dozens of tons of ivory, a request refused and rejected by the forum, but instead of learning lessons from the ‘njet’ of the delegates at the CITES conference the former tourism minister and her mouthpieces cried foul, blamed some of their neighbouring countries for having ‘spearheaded an anti Tanzania campaign’ and vowed to submit a fresh application to CITES for the next global meeting. It was also learned recently that the Tanzanian customs department is trying to circumvent the CITES regulations and the expressed ban by auctioning off confiscated ivory, claiming only ‘raw’ tusks were falling under the ban but not ‘processed or semiprocessed pieces’. This has already been challenged by conservationists and their legal teams, pointing out that besides CITES other global regulation apply, which make shipping and exporting or importing such ivory illegal and subject to potential criminal charges, besides confiscation at the destination.

The slaughter of one of the rare rhinos also exposed glaring gaps in the protective mechanisms of TANAPA and other security agencies, as the animals, equipped with satellite beacons, are to have protection details nearby around the clock, and further translocations of rhinos may now well be held back, until Tanzania – already under fire for a lack of anti poaching and anti smuggling efforts in general – can show cause that they are both capable of providing budgets and manpower but also politically willing to ‘toe the line’.

It was also learned that sources in Germany are now asking questions about the donation of 2 million Euro worth of funding and equipment for TANAPA by the Frankfurt Zoological Society earlier this year, aimed to prevent exactly such slaughter by poachers, and TANAPA officials will have to answer precisely what measures they had put into place to protect the five Eastern Black Rhinos and ensure their survival, and where their plans and efforts failed and how the donated funds were spent.

One thing is for certain though, while we bemoan on an almost daily basis the ongoing massacres on rhinos and wildlife in general in Southern Africa, this was also a black day for the entire conservation fraternity in Eastern Africa.

 

MT. MERU HOTEL RE-OPENS IN GRAND CEREMONY

President Kikwete last weekend opened the Mt. Meru Hotel during a grand ceremony witnessed by owners, management, staff, the invited tourism fraternity, the business community and members of the diplomatic corps from Arusha and beyond. The hotel was closed for several years, following a change of ownership, to allow for a whopping 24 million US Dollar expansion, modernization and complete refurbishment of the once very popular hotel, which has housed many prominent visitors in past years. The Mt. Meru now features, according to the report from Arusha, 178 rooms and suites, including a Presidential Suite, and a range of restaurants, bars, meeting facilities and leisure options through the pool an health club.

While undoubtedly facing a stiffer competition within Arusha municipality, the location of the Mt. Meru, adjoining the golf course on one side and the main highway between Arusha to the international airport and Moshi on the other, and the vicinity to the International Conference Centre which is only a short drive away, will undoubtedly assist the hotel to recapture its former market share, but overall growing business and safari traffic will also cushion the impact of a ‘new’ hotel to all the others which over the years have sprung up or existing ones which have refurbished and renovated to stay on top of the ‘game’.

Fireworks illuminated the sky over Arusha for nearly 15 minutes in the evening, celebrating the re-opening of what used to be a landmark hotel and hopes to return to that status once its claims to be a five star hotel have been proven correct and accepted by patrons. Well done in any case and all the best in coming months and years.

 

ZANZIBAR ‘UPSET’ OVER MOU BETWEEN SEYCHELLES AND TANZANIA

There was bemusement as well as anger following Zanzibar’s complaints to the central government, objecting to a Memorandum of Understanding between the Seychelles government and its counterparts in what is commonly called the ‘United Republic of Tanzania’. However, the complaints, ostensibly over fears and subsequent allegations of losing beach vacation business to the Seychelles, showed little sign of ‘unity’ amongst the eternal protagonists, leaving regional observers bewildered to a point of asking ‘who is in charge of what there’.

The Seychelles have for a while now successfully promoted twin centre holidays and signed similar MoU’s with Kenya, South Africa and others, to have tourists vacationing in the Seychelles also consider extending their holiday and take a safari in East or South Africa.

While discussing the agreement recently in Dar es Salaam, aviation representatives were also looking at the establishment of direct flights between Tanzania and the Seychelles, presently only connected with the African continent via Kenya Airways and South African Airways (there are also of course flights between Mahe and Mauritius and La Reunion, two equally famous Indian Ocean island destinations). It is understood that Precision Air is considering to fly between Dar and Mahe, although the outbursts from Zanzibari tourism representatives are clearly not helpful to accomplish this – in the process leaving yet more room for complaints from different quarters that ‘only Kenya Airways via Nairobi’ offers such flights while bickering and individual misjudgements and greed prevent a greater integration of Tanzania tourism into the wider region.

Tourism observers, analysts and journalists dealing with travel topics however have dismissed the anger by Zanzibar as ‘out of line’ as well as ‘missing the point’, as the Seychelles offer a vastly different product from Zanzibar, or the mainland beaches, while also pointing at African Union efforts, SADC efforts – to which both countries belong – and other continental bodies to increase trade and travel between African countries. Said one journalist in regular contact with this correspondent: ‘I fail to see how an MoU, or flights between Tanzania and Seychelles, could damage Zanzibar tourism. The destinations complement each other, in fact can gain from such agreements as it is seen in the case of South Africa for instance. There the two have even extended their joint promotions into South America for the benefit of both destinations. Zanzibar, instead of seeing opportunities and taking advantage of them, is forming the proverbial ‘lager’ and whipping up emotions. Do my fellow Africans ever learn that we are now living and working in a global environment, and unless we cooperate and work hand in hand, it will be other continents taking the lion’s share of future travel. Already now Africa is the least travelled continent, and this we must change so as to tap into the travel budgets of Europeans, North Americans and affluent Asian nations – not make a public spectacle over inter African cooperation. If those complaining need culprits and someone to blame, let them start by assessing their product and markets first, see where Tanzania can improve and do better and not rush to judgement over cooperation African should be proud of.’ Harsh words but quite to the point.

 

Rwanda News

 

Mauritius News

AIR MAURITIUS GETS NEW AIRCRAFT

Information was received last week that Air Mauritius has taken delivery of a French built state of the art ATR 72-500 aircraft, which will be deployed on their network with immediate effect. It is the third such aircraft Air Mauritius is now operating on shorter routes out of their home base of Port Louis, where the use of their wide bodied jet aircraft is not financially viable but where demand for air travel nevertheless exists.

 

Seychelles News

22 YEARS IN JAIL FOR OCEAN TERRORISTS

The High Court in Victoria last weekend sentenced 9 captured Somali pirates to 22 years in prison for their various offences, after finding them guilty on all charges. It is understood that the convicts will be deported back to Somalia after serving their sentence. The court’s verdict was greeted with satisfaction amongst observers in court from the naval coalition, but also by their victims who were freed through a determined and robust reaction by the Seychellois coast guard, which tracked the pirates’ vessels, cornered them and engaged them, after being first fired upon by the hapless criminals. From around the Indian Ocean similar voices were recorded, all expressing their gratitude to the Seychelles’ naval forces, the naval coalition which provided tracking and surveillance support and the archipelago’s court system, which ignored the empty threats made from the pirates safe havens in Somalia and handed down hefty sentences.

The country’s determined efforts in this regard, recently bolstered by donations of navy patrol boats from India and the United Arab Emirates, were also not lost on key tourism ‘producer’ countries, as tourists coming from Europe and the Middle East have confidence that all humanly possible is actually being done by the Seychelles, at times in stark contrast with other countries which seem to believe more in talk than action.

 

Southern Sudan News

BOMBS AND THREATS AHEAD OF JANUARY INDEPENDENCE VOTE

Sources from the United Nations based in Southern Sudan have last week confirmed that the Northern regime in Khartoum’s airforce has indeed bombed parts of the semi autonomous territory, where residents are seeking independence of the slave like conditions imposed on them by their oppressors for too long.

It is not clear what the Antonov bomber aircraft were aiming for, or if they were only testing the Southern air defence system, or if – as on source in Juba speculated, they were destined for Darfur and completely lost their way enroute. However, what is troubling are the other ‘measures’ the regime is currently using, including court challenges by puppet organizations against the referendum commission, all aimed at delaying and obstructing the orderly conduct of the poll.

Militias thought to be on Khartoum’s payroll too have reared their ugly heads again as the Southern army is keeping a close watch on their activities to prevent any wider outbreak of violence, which might put the referendum on the 09th of January in doubt.

Information from Juba also tells the story of over 95 percent of the eligible voters having registered by the time the deadline had arrived last week, a further indicator how determined the ‘Southerners’ are to get their long awaited independence and form their own country free of the slavish conditions imposed on them as lower grade African citizens of the united Sudan.

Khartoum has since the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, in short CPA in Kenya in January of 2005 done little if anything to provide the Southern population with incentives to stay in the union, has allegedly stolen hundreds of millions of dollars in oil revenue due to the South and obstinately delayed and obstructed discussions on a formal separation over issues of water, oil, assets and debts while outright hindering the holding of separate referenda in places like Abyei and two other regions, which are also due to decide if they wish to belong to the South or remain in a Northern Sudan known to be hostile to all things African.

On a positive note though, the head of defence forces in Uganda, as have leading politicians in the East African region, left little doubt that they would back the Southern Sudan, should renewed conflict be initiated by Khartoum, for sure raising the stakes for the hardliners in the North who have their eyes on the oilfields in the South Sudan and want nothing better than get their hands on those too. Watch this space as the clock ticks down towards the January 09th referendum day.

Breaking News – Fly 540 takes over East African Safari Air Express

FLY 540 TAKES OVER EAST AFRICAN SAFARI AIR EXPRESS

The owners of EASAX, the first victim of the escalating fare war in Kenya, had a soft landing, when – following the initial wet-lease of their DC9 aircraft by Fly 540 – the region’s first low cost carrier put in an offer to buy EASAX lock stock and barrel. The transaction took place late last week, too late for the conventional media to pick it up and report about it. There are inevitably open questions, like if EASAX will be ‘integrated’ into the Fly 540 set up, or for the time being operated as a separate airline, but one thing is already clear that the move triggered intense speculation over the resumption of flights on the EASAX network, especially those to Juba, where Fly 540 is notably absent and to Hargeisa, which EASAX had already commenced again early last week as reported here, probably in the knowledge of new owners with deeper pockets coming ‘on board’.

This acquisition at first look seems to strengthen Fly 540’s market position, as the market has confidence in them as to their ability to weather intense competition, as witnessed in recent months when in particular Kenya Airways aggressively moved back into the domestic market, for long a domain of Fly 540, Jetlink and EASAX. However, Fly 540, having survived the first difficult years and now being present across Eastern Africa, is run by financially and operationally shrewd individuals who will be watching their bottom lines while undoubtedly taking instant advantage of such opportunities as and when they arise. Happy landings in any case, under the Fly 540 trademark ‘orange’ or the tail fin cheetah of EASAX.

Breaking News – Serengeti rhino, recently relocated, poached for its horns

BLACK RHINO KILLED IN SERENGETI AFTER COSTLY RELOCATION

 The Tanzanian government has come under severe criticism when news emerged that one of the five Eastern Black Rhinos brought from South Africa earlier in the year, has been found dead with the horns removed by poachers. The news were greeted with dismay amongst conservationists from around the world, especially those dealing with the conservation of the rhinos in particular. The five rhinos, a further nearly 30 are due to follow, were received with much fanfare and a huge PR campaign, and President Kikwete himself had travelled to the Serengeti to witness to offloading of the five rare rhinos from the aircraft upon arrival from South Africa. The entire exercise is expected to run into the hundreds of thousands of US Dollars in cost, to capture the animals in South Africa and then fly them in batches of 5 or 6 a time to Tanzania, with money coming from the Tanzanian government, donors and development partners, who had hoped to restore the rhinos to their original habitat. Meanwhile though, plans by Kikwete, to build a highway across the migration routes of the Serengeti have created a global coalition against these plans, with key world bodies like UNESCO, AWF, WWF and others demanding that this plan be halted and the highway routed elsewhere. The Serengeti’s UNESCO World Heritage Status is subsequently now in danger, and Tanzania’s reputation as a conservation nation, has received deep dents and scratches abroad – especially in the crucially important countries where the tourists to Tanzania come from – over not just these plans but other mis-steps too. During the last CITES conference in Doha did Tanzania apply to sell dozens of tons of ivory, a request refused and rejected by the forum, but instead of learning lessons from the ‘njet’ of the delegates at the CITES conference the former tourism minister and her mouthpieces cried foul, blamed some of their neighbouring countries for having ‘spearheaded an anti Tanzania campaign’ and vowed to submit a fresh application to CITES for the next global meeting. It was also learned recently that the Tanzanian customs department is trying to circumvent the CITES regulations and the expressed ban by auctioning off confiscated ivory, claiming only ‘raw’ tusks were falling under the ban but not ‘processed or semiprocessed pieces’. This has already been challenged by conservationists and their legal teams, pointing out that besides CITES other global regulation apply, which make shipping and exporting or importing such ivory illegal and subject to potential criminal charges, besides confiscation at the destination. The slaughter of one of the rare rhinos also exposed glaring gaps in the protective mechanisms of TANAPA and other security agencies, as the animals, equipped with satellite beacons, are to have protection details nearby around the clock, and further translocations of rhinos may now well be held back, until Tanzania – already under fire for a lack of anti poaching and anti smuggling efforts in general – can show cause that they are both capable of providing budgets and manpower but also politically willing to ‘toe the line’. It was also learned that sources in Germany are now asking questions about the donation of 2 million Euro worth of funding and equipment for TANAPA by the Frankfurt Zoological Society earlier this year, aimed to prevent exactly such slaughter by poachers, and TANAPA officials will have to answer precisely what measures they had put into place to protect the five Eastern Black Rhinos and ensure their survival, and where their plans and efforts failed and how the donated funds were spent. One thing is for certain though, while we bemoan on an almost daily basis the ongoing massacres on rhinos and wildlife in general in Southern Africa, this was also a black day for the entire conservation fraternity in Eastern Africa.

Tourism News from the Eastern African and Indian Ocean region, Second edition December 2010

Tourism News from the Eastern African and Indian Ocean region, First edition December 2010

TOURISM NEWS from the Eastern African and Indian Ocean region

Reports, Travel Stories and Opinions

By Prof. Dr. Wolfgang H. Thome

Twitter: @whthome

Blog: www.wolfganghthome.wordpress.com

First edition December 2010

 

RECOMMENDED ‘MUST READ’ REGIONAL MEDIA CONNECTIONS

For those readers with an interest in learning more about the going on’s in Kenya and Uganda, the current December / January edition of ‘The Eye’ is now available in print or via www.theeye.co.ug, a bumper edition aimed at telling those interested where to go and what to do across Uganda.

In Kenya it is the weekly ‘Kenya Buzz’ which has once again caught this correspondent’s eye, as they too now publish bumper editions on the web via www.kenyabuzz.com every week in the run up to the holiday season. They are especially adapt to finding little hidden gems at the coast and upcountry, often for self catering and therefore more budget friendly, but find out yourself by subscribing to the newsletters via alix@kenyabuzz.com or visiting their site regularly to find out ‘what’s on’ in Kenya.

And not to forget the ‘Travel News’ – only available in ‘e’, has also been published, this edition covering both December and January, and containing a wealth of information from Kenya and the region – subscribe via tony@triad.co.ke to be sure to get it on a regular basis, especially those of you with the freedom to plan a holiday in Eastern Africa, as much ‘insider’ information can be found in the magazine.

 

Uganda News

FLY 540 LEASES DC9 AIRCRAFT TO BRIDGE GAP

Information was received last weekend that the regional low cost carrier Fly 540 has leased two DC 9 aircraft, for the first time offering business class seats in any of their fleet aircraft, as the configuration appears to be 10 C and 70 Y. It is understood that the aircraft will be a stop gap measure until additional CRJ aircraft arrive to join the fleet, and to provide additional seats for the forthcoming peak season on flights between Entebbe and Nairobi, but also from Nairobi to Mombasa, Zanzibar and Dar es Salaam.

Fly 540 was according to reliable sources in Nairobi swift in getting hold of these two Kenya registered aircraft, previously flown by East African Safari Air Express and initially grounded when EASAX halted their own operations. It is also understood that the cockpit crews of B5 will be maintained on the flight deck, as will for the time being the cabin crew, while Fly 540 crew members attain the type rating on the aircraft to make deployment across the jet fleet ‘interchangeable’.

Passengers travelling with Fly 540 on these aircraft will now be able to enjoy wider seats in the front cabin, something no other airline besides KQ is presently offering on the route between Entebbe and Nairobi, as Air Uganda too uses all economy CRJ aircraft, unless their ‘stand by’ MD 87 is being used when demand exceeds the 50 seats on the CRJ. U7’s MD 87 has 20 C class seats and about 80 in economy class. Watch this space for the most current information on aviation developments in the Eastern African and Indian Ocean region.

 

EMIRATES TO WIDEN EUROPEAN NETWORK

A regular source a the Kampala office of Emirates – the award winning airline is currently flying daily between Entebbe and Dubai – has confirmed, that travellers to Europe will from next year have wider choices. The airline, according to the source, will in 2011 begin to offer a B777 service between Dubai and Geneva, initially four times a week from June onwards, before going double daily to the Northern German port city of Hamburg from September 2011. Emirates has in recent years established itself as a long distance ‘connection airline’ with a convenient hub in Dubai, where the airline regularly offers free overnights to passengers wishing to stop over. With an expanding global network almost every major airport on the 5 continents can now be reached by using EK and with the arrival of more ordered aircraft more destinations and frequencies can be expected to be announced.

 

AIR TRAFFIC CONTROLLERS NEXT EXODUS TARGETS

International airlines, especially those based in the Gulf region, have in the past made it almost a habit to snap up trained pilots, cabin crew and technical personnel from carriers in Eastern Africa to the dismay of local airlines who incurred heavy training expenses. Even ‘bonding’ has not fully stopped the outbound migration of such skilled individuals, as some pilots reportedly do receive ‘their money back’ from new employers, after quitting and paying off their ‘bond’, while yet others who decided the stay on successfully negotiated substantially better pay and terms and conditions from their employers – as repeatedly reported here in past editions.

The next aviation target group now appear to be the air traffic controllers, who like pilots, cabin crew and engineers are paid relatively little – by international standards that is – though of course have very handsome salary packages compared with the rest of the local labour market.

An upcoming shortage of ATC’s has according to a source in Nairobi triggered offers to such individuals to resign and sign up for lucrative contracts abroad, which would potentially leave the East African skies exposed should such a trend in the first place exist and then prevail. Training air traffic controllers, like is the case with pilots, is a lengthy and costly exercise and control tower staff are already working at near maximum capacity. Any reduction therefore could potentially leave screens unmanned and overwork the remaining staff, or see trainees turned out faster than should be the case. It is thought that the minimum time required to train ATC staff is three years but specialised training can push this to several more years before being fully qualified to work ‘alone’. Figures given by a source in Entebbe of air traffic control staff across the entire East African Community are less than 400 in the ‘best scenario’ while some put the figures nearer to the 300 mark, which if true underscores the need to not only actively recruit new trainees but also create a work environment and pay packages commensurate with their responsibility and skills.

Even if traffic across Eastern Africa is nowhere near the intensity of Europe or the key Gulf airports, it still needs to be conducted safely and securely which requires sufficient staff on duty, on call and as back up. Only recently was it reported here that the Ugandan air traffic controllers celebrated the anniversary of their global organisation and it is now better understood why the numbers of the ‘celebrants’ was relatively small in numbers.

 

WIKILEAKS REVEALS UGANDA WAS TARGET TOO

The ‘tell it all’ website WikiLeaks last week also published material about the US’ efforts to spy on Uganda and prominent Ugandans in recent years. Maybe it is flattering to be a target for such, but with the discovery of oil in our country the US seems to have a mighty good reason to getting hold of classified information from our part of the world and getting ‘into the heads’ of decision makers, being our professed ‘friends’ that is. Of course, Uganda was for the past two years also a non permanent, rotational member of the UN Security Council and spying on the Ugandan head of mission there, Ndugu Ruhakana Rugunda, must have been tempting considering the controversial issues coming before the council over the past two years. And while here in Uganda only ‘mutterings’ were heard from the American embassy, across in Kenya the current US ambassador had to formally apologize to the Kenyan leadership ‘for what was about to become public’, while it was also learned that president Obama had to call the Kenyan prime minister to calm the upcoming storm – at this moment only a fraction of the dispatches from Nairobi to DC has been published and those are already bad enough.

In retrospect I now see that it would also possibly explain the constant and unwavering efforts of certain US sponsored programme personnel in Uganda to get into my own head and get a range of information from me and about me, having been the public face and president of the sectoral national apex body of the country’s tourism industry and chairman of the national hotel institute for many years between 2001 and 2008.

All their often ‘helpful’ suggestions and offers, and often thinly concealed attempts to get their hands on flash disks or hard copies of discussion and strategy papers now appear in a new light and it will be difficult to ever again believe any of them, be it Peace Corps volunteers or project managers, that they do not have an ulterior motive for anything they ask and do and then report back every nuance, idea and expression to their masters in Langley or at ‘Foggy Bottom’. Not that they got much, if anything from me during those years but for sure it seems this was not for lack of their trying.

Well, WikiLeaks had bigger fish to fry and the outcries over ‘leaked secrets’ is surely as much embarrassment over being reported for what was said behind closed doors and in ‘confidential’ or ‘secret’ communications as anything else. Many of those comments now in the public domain are frankly fit for being uttered in bars after a few drinks, but not coming from so called ‘statesmen’ or ‘diplomats’ – no wonder they are so angry, almost like a stepped on rattlesnake. Let’s enjoy their ‘red faces’ for as long as it lasts and hope for more courageous ‘deep throat’s’ to come forward.

 

UWA’S WOES FAR FROM OVER AS DONORS WADE INTO CONTROVERSY

Key development partners and donors of the Uganda Wildlife Authority have now formally written to the Government of Uganda, demanding that UWA return to proper management and oversight immediately, following the shenanigans of the former board chairman and the tourism minister, which well near wrecked the authority in recent months.

It is understood that the World Bank, USAID and others have jointly written to the Prime Minister, being concerned and alarmed that the huge funds poured into UWA since its inception in the mid 90’s are put at risk. The matter, inspite of the former chairman’s regular utterances of preferably Latin phrases – which impressed no one of substance by the way – has been coming to boiling point when court sacked a number of board members, including the former chairman, for being eminently unqualified to hold such a position due to lack of qualifications in relevant fields. Court also denied an application for an injunction until the appeal against the ruling has been disposed of, leaving a vacuum at the top of the authority and impacting on UWA’s ability to perform their tasks and duties.

Meanwhile it was learned that a panel of ‘elders’ including former tourism minister Prof. Edward Rugumayo, an astute mind and gentleman if ever there was one in politics here in Uganda, and former UWA chairperson John Nagenda, are to step in for a couple of months, assisted by other eminent personalities in conservation, to bring UWA back to the ‘straight and narrow’ and permit work to resume, which should never have been interrupted in the first place. A damning indictment all this is for in particular the minister for tourism, aka the self appointed minister of crocodiles – quoting his own words a few weeks ago – who committed an absolute blunder when he appointed his personal friend and personal physician to chair the UWA board. Hence it is mega barbs for them and a big bouquet in advance to the care taker team.

 

ZIWA RHINO SANCTUARY FINALLY GETS TOP CLASS LODGE

The much in demand Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary, now home to 9 rhinos and more being expected it is understood, is finally moving to meet the demand for quality accommodation, as the construction of the new Amuka Lodge is now underway. Due to open towards the end of January of 2011, the new lodge will offer guests initially two cottages, with two bedrooms each, accommodating 8 adults comfortably. Also available at the time will be the main building with reception, lounge, restaurant and bar with a swimmingpool of course not missing. At a later stage two more guest cottages, also each featuring two bedrooms, will be added to allow Ziwa to accommodate up to 16 guests.

That notwithstanding, the present accommodation near the sanctuary headquarters will remain open for business for travellers on a tighter budget as will the bar and restaurant there, and as the two ‘units’ aim for a very different market both are expected to prosper as demand for visits to and overnights at Ziwa continues to grow. This being the only location in Uganda where rhinos can presently be seen and tracked on foot in the Ugandan wild it is without doubt that eventually most safaris visiting Murchisons Falls National Park will plan a stop at Ziwa for their guests to makes sure they do see the ‘Big Five’ in Uganda too.

 

FESTIVE SEASON GOES UNDERWAY

Invitations to ‘year-end’ cocktails at this time of the year habitually rain down on us as companies and NGO’s, but also governmental departments and authorities gather their faithful around them to show their appreciation. Hotels are recording a wave of last minute bookings keeping their F&B departments busy with such functions, while also preparing for the ‘proper thing’, i.e. the Christmas and New Year period, one of the busiest seasons of the year for their restaurant outlets.

Most hotels, starting this year with the Kampala Serena Hotel and followed almost an instant later by the Sheraton Kampala Hotel, have now released their ‘programmes’ for Christmas Eve, Christmas and Boxing Day and of course the biggest night of the year, New Year’s Eve.

Prices this year in such venues have – courtesy of a lower shilling value against the US Dollar and Euro – remained under the critical 100 US D mark, generally being in the 200.000 Shilling region per person in the ‘top of the pop’ venues, but in turn creative 7 (and more) course menus and a range of door prices and other goodies await the patrons opting for a night out.

Those wanting to spend one night or several in the comfort of one of Kampala’s top hotels will also not be disappointed as very special rates have been put on the market over the holiday season, most of which include free internet, free newspapers, a full breakfast buffet which in the case of the Serena and Sheraton amount to full scale meals, and of course the use of the in house health clubs and spas to work off the extra food rations consumed the night before.

Security, it is understood from impeccable hospitality sources, will be at maximum for the night, so any visitors to Kampala wanting to spend the night out, are reminded to arrive at their chosen venue early as vehicles and passengers will be subjected to full checks, and those coming late will stand in the queues to await their turn while inside the celebrations will have started already.

State security organs too have vowed to be on full alert for the festive season, in part because of the ongoing election campaign but mostly to keep revellers safe, in the city and upcountry alike.

Lodges have mostly put up the ‘fully booked’ signs for the key dates although some space in some lodges might still be available, as it has become fashionable to take the families for a long holiday weekend to the parks over Christmas and New Year. UWA has not yet released details on reduced citizen and residents rates for entry to the parks but in past years offered a 50 percent rebate as a present to the nation and to make it more affordable for those with the tighter budgets to come to the parks and appreciate the biodiversity Uganda has to offer.

 

AYA BROTHERS UNDER RENEWED SCRUTINY

The Weekly Observer ran an article earlier in the week, alleging a series of ‘gangland’ like labour practices as told by staff interviewed by the newspaper. The so called ‘Kampala Hilton’ has for years now been in the bad press and made negative headlines, over deadly accidents on site to court cases with the company’s own lawyers and of course the full mouthed statements, often bare of reality, by the owners and the endless delays in getting this hotel ready. Read the very latest revelations on this seemingly never ending saga here: www.observer.ug/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=11202&Itemid=59

 

SHILLING CONTINUES TO SLIDE

Inspite of spirited central bank intervention in recent days it seems that the Uganda Shillings is set to slide further still, to new record lows now reaching the 2.320 mark versus one US Dollar. The slide is alarming in a way as all imported goods reaching the shelves, including fuels, will have to be increased accordingly, and with crude oil prices now hovering around the 90 US Dollar per barrel mark in particular petrol and diesel, but also AVGAS and JET A1 will cost a lot more very soon.

It is thought that investors in financial instruments are largely responsible for this development, as are major international investors, who according to two sources in the financial services sector are presently snapping up dollars to pay dividends or selling off their portfolio in government and other securities. This trend, it has been suggested to this correspondent, may have something to do with the upcoming elections, but as those are generally considered to unfold peacefully, there should be no such panic at all.

Come what may, tourists coming to Uganda can suddenly discover just how much more their Dollar, Euro, Swiss Franc, Pound and Yen is worth and how much in terms of locally produced curios and souvenirs they can purchase, and how many beers they can drink without feeling the pinch.

 

Kenya News

KENYA AIRWAYS TURNS ON MORE HEAT WITH NEW STAND BY FARES

Undeterred by pending legal action and the sound of the collective teeth gritting in the industry has Kenya Airways just launched another volley into the aviation sector’s hottest route, when introducing a new stand by fare, at Kenya Shillings 3.000 return, all taxes included.

The other airlines on the route between Nairobi and Mombasa reacted with incredulity when first confronted by this correspondent with the breaking news a few moments ago, before claiming ‘I need to check this out first please before commenting’ – while ostensibly taking a deep breath and wondering what next would be cooked up by KQ’s marketing department.

The fare is available across the day, payable at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport and valid in economy class only, but with presently 10 flights a day between the two cities – there is speculation that over the peak period between just before Christmas and just after new year the airline may add yet more flights to cater for the expected traffic increase – there is ample opportunity to actually travel, if not on the next then the flight afterwards.

The fare wars have brought smiles to the faces of travellers and hotel and resort owners at the Kenya coast, as more and more people will be taking advantage of such fabulous offers while they last, while the accountants at other airlines will be scratching their heads and getting into strategy sessions to determine counter moves. Meanwhile so it does appear as if KQ’s new aggressive pricing and frequency strategy is bearing fruits as more and more travellers are making it on their flights between the coast and the capital, while the other airlines on the route are putting on a brave face, playing down the impact of these measures by ‘the Pride of Africa’ on their own flight occupancies and bottom lines.

The ‘battle for the skies’ has meanwhile extended to the Kisumu route, where KQ has just put an 8.800/- Kenya Shillings return fare on the market and increased their presence to 25 flights a week, serving notice here too to their competitors that they mean business from now onwards on the domestic market. Watch this space for the latest and most up to date information from the East African ‘skies’.

 

FIRST CASUALTY IN AIRFARE WARS IN KENYA

East African Safari Air Express, airline coding B5, has halted all flights in the face of ever stiffer competition in particular on their main routes to Juba / Southern Sudan and shrinking traffic to what used to be their ‘plum destination’ Lokichoggio / Northern Kenya.

The airline, which was operating aged equipment of the early generation DC9’s never managed to achieve what for instance their erstwhile partner and latter day rival Jetlink managed, to convert their fleet to modern day jets with superior operating parameters in particular as far as fuel burn was concerned, leave alone firming up market perception about ‘being on the move’ and not standing still.

Some weeks ago the DC9 fleet was effectively grounded in a last ditch effort to cause a financial turnabout, and substituted for two South African registered BAE 146. That however too did not stop the bleed apparently and ever more dismal loadfactors seem to have scared off the joint venture partners from South Africa. It is understood that when they withdrew their planes the end game approached rapidly for EASA and the halt of operations finally confirmed this.

In particular the route to Juba has in recent weeks become substantially more competitive, after Kenya Airways finally entered the frame and commenced daily flights between Nairobi and the Southern Sudanese capital, and together with Jetlink – they are operating twice a day in fact on their modern CRJ200 jets – they will undoubtedly try to see off other competition to this highly profitable destination. The use of EASA’s outdated, worn and far from state of the art aircraft was surely one of the many reasons why B5 in the end operated with what some say barely 30 percent load factor while those using newer jets operate well near with full house on every departure. On the Juba route this development also serves notice to other operators with old equipment, which is expensive to maintain, and the coming weeks will tell the story if others presently operating in Kenya will follow EASA to the exit.

In a twist of sorts, a senior Kenya Airways manager – now taken to court by Jetlink together with KQ itself – made comments last week about B5 not going to operate, but in a mistaken belief seems to have packaged EASA with Jetlink, which in fact not only operates but has just added new routes, and now faces a court case over libel. While we await the outcome of this case – some sources have indicated that KQ may wish to settle this out of court in view of the blunder by their employee – the aviation industry in Kenya is undoubtedly now facing a period of ‘survival for the financially fittest’, as Kenya Airways slug it out on the main routes between Nairobi and Mombasa, but of late also Nairobi to Kisumu, with Jetlink and Fly 540. Ever newer and ever lower fares, as reported yesterday when KQ launched a ‘stand by fare’ of 3.000 Kenya Shillings (1 US Dollar is worth about 80 Kenya Shillings) one way between Nairobi and Mombasa, inclusive of all taxes, make operations now only viable when combined with high loadfactors, and the next few months will let aviation observers and the general public know who has the fortitude of deep pockets and high loads and who else might have to face the inevitable and join EASA in the history books of Kenyan aviation. Watch this space for the very latest information on aviation developments in Eastern Africa and the Indian Ocean region.

 

JETLINK GETS CLEARANCE FOR ASMARA

Information was received from Jetlink, one of Kenya’s successful private airlines, that following the launch of their flights from Nairobi via Kisumu to Mwanza they have now also been cleared to commence operations to Asmara / Eritrea. This new destination will come hot on the heels of Hargeisa in Somaliland, a relatively stable breakaway part of Somalia seeking independence and recognition as an independent country.

The airline has also confirmed that they have signed interline agreements with such prominent global airlines as Emirates, Brussels Airlines and Qatar Airways, which will allow passengers on either airline to be ticketed through to their final destination and receive their bags, subject to customs clearing points, at their final destination.

 

TWO NEW CONFERENCE CENTRES FOR MOMBASA AND KISUMU

The Kenya Tourist Development Corporation, the governmental body to support the tourism and hospitality sector financially and through other means, has last week committed to construct two more major conference centres in Kisumu and Mombasa in coming years. This announcement was greeted with broad support from the sector, as it would allow Kenya to tap more successfully into the MICE market, presently dominated by the capital city of Nairobi, where several conference facilities, including the Kenyatta International Conference Centre are in operation.

Other parts of the country, in particular the lake side city of Kisumu, have seen little of mainstream tourism, leave alone MICE traffic, but with several airlines now flying multiple frequencies between Nairobi and Kisumu, and more hotels being planned, could well become another option for organisers of conferences, meetings and conventions.

The same can be said for Mombasa, where apart from hotel and resort conference facilities no ‘official’ conference centre of international stature exists as yet. Considering the existing hotel and resort capacity available along the ‘North Coast’, the addition of an international quality conference centre would support the tourism sectors’s ambition to make Mombasa a truly ‘year round’ destination and fill beds during the traditional ‘low season’ as well, when bringing conference tourists to the coast.

The announcements were fittingly made by Kenyan tourism minister Najib Balala while also officially launching a 700 million Kenya Shillings special fund available for the hospitality sector through the Kenya Tourist Development Corporation – another shot in the arm of the sector undoubtedly as this will make co-funding of new projects substantially easier for developers.

 

ECOTOURISM SOCIETY OF KENYA HONOURS CONSERVATION EXCELLENCE

Last week saw ‘green excellence’ recognised and rewarded, when the Eco Tourism Society of Kenya, in short known as ESOK, made the results of the 2010 ‘winners’ public.

Amongst the winners in the various categories were Game Watchers, an associate company to Porini Camps – itself a price winning company – which was declared ‘top of their class’ in the tour and safari operator group. It was also no surprise to see SafariLink announced as winner in the local airline category, as they are now operating in a ‘carbon neutral’ environment, having invested substantially in tree planting and forest restoration measures over the past years and having made ‘flying green’ possible for the first time in Kenya’s aviation history.

Other winners included the Severin Sea Lodge, a resort along the Bamburi beach of Mombasa’s northern stretch of beaches, and the Olonana Camp in the Masai Mara. The awards are now in the fifth year and have gained huge interest as the winners stand to gain substantially in terms of promotional ‘mileage’ after receiving the stamp of approval from the powers that be of the conservation fraternity.

Eco Tourism Kenya is also the one and only regional body at present to rate and grade performance parameters in terms of eco friendliness, making it nearly impossible to use the words ‘green’ and ‘eco’ in advertising material unless cleared by ESOK first, unlike in some countries in the region, where ‘green and eco’, together with ‘luxury’ are some of the most misused terms, often introduced in promotional material without any level of local, regional or international certification process and therefore aimed at hogwashing clientele into believing what is not ‘formally on record, audited, certified and documented’.

Meanwhile has another block of Masai grazing land been turned into a conservancy, courtesy of Game Watchers and Porini amongst others, connecting two other conservancies located along the Masai Mara Game Reserve boundaries, after the local elders and communities had come to appreciate the successes of those privately managed tracts of former grazing land. Well done to all the winners in all categories in Kenya and hopefully a stimulant to replicate such also in Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi.

 

Tanzania News

DIRECTOR GENERAL OF TANZANIA NATIONAL MUSEUMS PASSES AWAY

The sudden death last week of the Director General of the National Museum of Tanzania, Dr. Kayombo, left the institution in a state of shock and a vacuum, considering he has been at the helm of the institution since 1999, i.e. for over 11 years.

Over time he had developed close ties with international institutions, discussing the return of fossils kept abroad, and his Ph.D. studies in Germany – where some of the fossils are kept – came in handy to forge close ties with colleagues from Europe and the rest of the world.

Under the auspices of the national museum is also the site between Ngorongoro and the Serengeti – Olduvai – where the Leakey family had found evidence of man’s early ancestors dating 3.5 million years back. This ‘outlet’ of the national museums is much in demand by visitors from overseas, who however also visit the main museum as part of organised tours to Tanzania.

Condolences are expressed to the late Dr. Kayombo’s family, friends and work mates at the museum.

 

LACK OF ACCOUNTABILITY AND RECORDS FORCES 2 MIO US DOLLAR REFUND

The Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism, already in the bad book of donors and development partners over their vague stand about the hugely controversial Serengeti highway project, has come under added scrutiny last week, when news broke that Norway had demanded the equivalent of 2 million US Dollars in development aid back. The timing could not have been worse for the new tourism minister, who in his capacity under the ‘old’ government was the deputy minister of tourism and therefore politically also responsible for this mess, as global concerns and a wave of letters and emails about the highway project, and renewed controversy over Tanzania’s fresh application to CITES to sell ivory stocks, keep Tanzania in the spotlight of global conservation organisations and individuals.

Sources in Dar es Salaam have suggested that ministry officials were swift to downplay the impact of the ‘refunds’, and claimed fresh negotiations are already underway for more funding – but NOT saying that development partners will apply substantially strengthened rules and regulations, audit demands and compliance, which the present situation in the wildlife sector is not making any easier.

It was also downplayed that about half of the funds received under the scheme appear to have been spent on workshops, allowances and travel related expenses, while in other cases materials and equipment ordered were paid for but never delivered. This was leading in some cases to outright anger amongst the donors and development partners and their reluctance to ‘throw more good money after them’ as one source in Dar es Salaam put it, until substantially improved governance and transparency can be demonstrated by the Tanzanian counterparts. Ooops…

 

Rwanda News

25 YEARS ON THE WORLD REMEMBERS DIANNE FOSSEY

The fateful day, when Dianne Fossey aka the ‘gorilla lady’, was brutally killed at her simple cabin residence cum research station up the Rwandan mountains, is still firmly rooted in the memory of many who lived in East Africa in those days. It was a complete shock for most of us to learn of the news, as after all she was getting as well known then for her research on gorillas as is for instance today Cynthia Moss for her work on the Kenyan elephants and Jane Goodall for her work with chimpanzees. Had Diane lived on, having spent already nearly 2 decades with her research and care for the plight of the mountain gorillas, the three would have made an awesome trio of outspoken conservationists, amongst the many more of course there are and cannot all be mentioned by name.

The ‘Karisoke’ research centre and the Diane Fossey Gorilla Fund last Thursday celebrated Diane’s all too short life while commemorating the 25th anniversary of her murder.

Many prominent guests from the conservation fraternity, the Rwandan government, the diplomatic corps and civil society attended the gathering to support the cause and raised several million Rwanda Francs in the process, all of which will go to the Karisoke centre, founded by Dianne way back in 1967.

It is generally thought that in her death Dianne Fossey became a conservation icon and the subsequent film released in the late 80’s ‘Gorillas in the Mist’ popularised her work around the world and hugely helped in Rwanda’s eventual procative conservation measures being introduced to safeguard the animals and protect their environment. Tracking mountain gorillas today is at the core of the country’s tourism industry and the current RPF government is according the sector full support and has passed numerous laws and regulations towards environmental protection, maintaining the often fragile biodiversity and by doing so ensuring the long term survival of the endangered mountain gorillas in the Virunga mountains.

 

AKAGERA PARK RANGERS KILLED BY POACHERS

The menace of poaching has finally reached Rwanda too in its worst form, when reports reached early this week that two game wardens in the Akagera National Park were killed by poachers, while a third was critically injured in the shootout.

The team of wardens was reportedly on a routine patrol and found itself being ambushed by poachers, who have since evaded capture inspite of the massive manpower being seconded to the park by other security organs. Ms. Rica Rwigamba, head of tourism and conservation at the Rwanda Development Board, has acknowledged the incident and praised the park staff for their dedication to the point of giving their lives for the work they love, while also announcing that a major manhunt is now underway and hideouts and equipment of the poachers have already been found while tracking them.

By the time of dispatching this report one suspect has been taken into custody and is helping the authorities with their enquiries. Condolences to the bereaved families from the eTN team and a speedy recover to the injured ranger.

 

Seychelles News

DETERMINED ANTI PIRACY FIGHT REASSURES CRUISE LINES

Two major cruise ships visited the Seychelles’ main port of Victoria over the past three weeks, first the MV Bremen, operated by shipping and tourism conglomerate Hapag Lloyd, before the Seven Seas Mariner docked in Mahe last week.

The visits are signs of re-emerging confidence that the waters around the Seychelles ‘are safe’, following a series of convincing ‘victories’ by the Seychelles navy and coast guard against pirates attempting to hijack ships within the sovereign waters of the archipelago.

On at least two occasions it was reported that the  Seychellois naval forces had cornered and engaged hijacked ships and captured the pirates while freeing the hostages, serving clear notice of intent that pirates are due for an open ended hunting season and that the Seychelles ‘mean business’.

Cruise tourism across the mainland and island ports of Eastern Africa has in recent years reduced as fears over possible pirate attacks grew but these two visits show that promotional efforts by Port Victoria and the Seychelles Tourist Board combined with a determined patrolling and surveillance of the ocean waters by Seychellois and friendly nations’ forces was beginning to pay off.

Both cruise ships were given a full traditional welcome at Port Victoria when anchoring and the crews and passengers enjoyed the cultural performances given in their honour.

 

NEW CABIN CREW JOIN AIR SEYCHELLES

Air Seychelles last week passed out 18 graduates of their flight attendants course, after the new recruits had undergone a full schedule of training modules and passed their examinations. All of them were reportedly trained in an approved facility on Mauritius, regularly used by Air Seychelles for training of new personnel and refresher courses and mandatory training sessions of their cabin crew.

HM has in recent years increasingly employed Seychellois citizens across the board for their ground and inflight operations and the new staff are according to information from Mahe already deployed on international and inter island flights. At the same ceremony did the airline also recognise excellence amongst their staff with several awards to top performers

 

Southern Sudan News

EGYPT’S DIRTY TRICK CAMPAIGN AGAINST SOUTH EXPOSED BY WIKILEAKS

Water seems to be a key factor for the government in Cairo to stand against the independence desire of the Southern Sudan, as leaked documents obtained by WikiLeaks apparently showed last week.

The north African country depends overwhelmingly on the Nile waters and had an iron grip on the water ways following  the 1929 and 1959 treaties, which the British colonials forced upon the newly independent Eastern African nations.

Of late however have Eastern African countries denounced those treaties as outdated, dictatorial and not equitable enough, and have following prolonged negotiations with Egypt and the Khartoum regime put a new treaty on the table, to which Egypt in particular vehemently objected.

Documents seen on WikiLeaks now confirm that Egypt sees a newly independent Southern Sudan – a referendum on this question is due on 09th January – as a threat to their water safety, as Cairo thinks the Juba government will side with the other East African ‘water producers’ and their final share of Nile waters would be reduced. Hence it appears that Cairo used the ‘big guns’ when lobbying Washington to lean upon the Southern Sudan and accept a delay in their independence vote for as much as 5 years, a proposal shot down in the proverbial flames by GoSS officials based in the US.

Regular and well informed sources in Juba have however denied such allegations, citing ulterior motives by Cairo in support of the Khartoum regime, and affirmed that even a newly independent Southern Sudan would stand by the new treaty which the Eastern African countries of Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi, Congo DR and Ethiopia have put up for signature. Watch this space for future updates on this very controversial issue, as in particular for Egypt ‘water is life’, nothing less and nothing more.

 

SUDANESE POUND SLIDES FURTHER – SOUTH PREPARES FOR OWN CURRENCY

The Central Bank in Khartoum was last week forced to open the flood gates some little more, when adding a greater margin on the trading limits for foreign exchange bureaus dealing in hard currencies.

While the differential between the ‘black market’ and the ‘surcharge market’ has narrowed, it is still wide enough to keep the unofficial dealers in business, as the country continues to find itself short of Dollars, Euros and other major international currencies.

The premium, according to a source in Juba, is now nearly 18.3 percent over the ‘official’ rate band set by the Central Bank in Khartoum, making imports more expensive for the semi autonomous South and adding to calls to swiftly introduce their own currency, aligned to a currency basket including the East African currencies when independence finally comes calling.

Consensus right now is that following the independence vote on 09th January the ‘new’ country will officially become independent on or about 09th of July – a date long awaited by the equally long suppressed Southern population who were kept as second grade citizens by the hardline regime in Khartoum. Watch this space to learn more about development in the Southern Sudan, as the march towards full independence continues unabated.

 

 

 

And  in closing some material, as most weeks, courtesy of The Livingstone Weekly by Gill Staden:

 

News From Liuwa Plain via Robin Pope Safaris

Robin Pope Safaris, in their weekly newsletter told us about the work by the Zambian Carnivore Programme who are researching in Liuwa Plain. 

So here are a few updates from there. 

As it is the rainy season, the wildebeest have started to arrive on the plain from their northern haunts.   

The wild dog numbers are increasing with a new litter of 9 pups, the pack now numbering 18.  All are alive and well.  The pack has been named the Sausage Tree pack.  The team also found signs of another pack of wild dogs outside the park to the northwest in West Zambezi GMA.

The hyena are the dominant predator in the park, with 4 large clans.  Anyone who visits Liuwa is sure to see hyena on the plain. 

Excitingly there have been many sightings of cheetah, including a group of them that visited the Matamanene camp, home of the ZCP and Robin Pope Safaris.  The Zambia Carnivore Programme would like photos of cheetah in Liuwa during the past few years.  This will enable them to estimate the ages of the cheetah.  If you have any, please send them to ZCPLiuwa@gmail.com

Lady Liuwa, the lone female lion, is still well and spending time with her two male companions who were trans-located from Kafue National Park.  Unfortunately it does not appear that Lady Liuwa is pregnant. 

PUBLIC REACTION TO LODGE PROPOSALS IN MANA POOLS: CALL FOR MORATORIUM

WILD ZAMBEZI reported in its last newsletter that, less than a year after international outrage at Protea Hotels Zambia seeking to develop a 72-bed conference facility on the banks of the Zambezi River right opposite Mana Pools National Park and World Heritage Site, Zimbabwe’s cash-strapped Parks and Wildlife Management Authority has now asked stakeholders to ratify four new 24-bed lodge developments for Mana Pools on its own side of the river.  Three of these proposed developments are muted for sites along the eco-sensitive Zambezi river frontage and one inland.

The reaction of the local and international public who are familiar with Mana Pools and hold it dear to their hearts has been one of horror.  

Conservation groups, tour operators and visitors from all over the world who have written to express their views are almost universally against further tourism developments along the Zambezi River frontage in Mana Pools.  They believe that the proposed developments will result in increased volumes of visitors, staff, traffic, noise etc that will have major negative impacts on the sensitive ecology and wildlife of the narrow “floodplain” area.  The wilderness tourism experience that brings visitors to Mana Pools will also be diminished.  Indeed, a warning came from tourism-associated organisations in both Kenya and Tanzania that Zimbabwe should not fall into the same trap that these countries have done with regard to overcrowding national parks for maximum gain while ruining the tourism experience.

A number of people have suggested that Zimbabwe’s Parks Authority should rather concentrate on developing small-scale tourism facilities at selected sites inland of the floodplain area away from the river where impacts will be less.  Some suggestions have even been put forward for these locations.

Overseas tour operators who send international visitors to Mana Pools have expressed the view that Africa is already full of “luxury lodges” and that the attraction of Mana Pools is that it is different.  Its simple tented camps, they say, provide a unique “close to nature” feel which should be retained, in order to attract visitors seeking a wilderness experience – something which is increasingly valued in the modern world.  Several overseas tour operators went so far as to claim that they would no longer bring clients to Mana Pools if these developments were allowed to go ahead, because of the loss of wilderness. 

Some local visitors to Mana Pools feel that the addition of more private sector expensive and exclusive lodges will further diminish the ability of Zimbabweans to enjoy their national heritage at affordable rates.  They argue that operators should rather be encouraged to enter into Joint Ventures to upgrade the five existing Parks tourism lodges. 

The strong public reaction has resulted in an appeal for a moratorium on all new riverside developments at Mana Pools until the Park Management Plan (recently completed, but as yet unsigned by the Environment Minister) can be revisited in the light of these new proposals, which were not included or discussed during public consultation. The transparency and accountability of the Park planning process has come under criticism because of this and indeed, concerns have also been raised about the allocation of tenders for the proposed developments. 

Wilderness Safaris, who were named as one of the proposed developers, but have since withdrawn their proposal, are among those who believe that the planning process should be widened to include the whole Mana Pools/Sapi/Chewore World Heritage Site area, thus allowing for more flexibility and creativity in planning for tourism development throughout the middle Zambezi Valley. 

However, such an exercise will be expensive.  Zimbabwe’s Parks Authority currently has insufficient funds to effectively manage the protected areas under its jurisdiction.  In the current economic and political climate, creative solutions will have to be found.  In the meantime, though, the Authority is urged not to lose sight of the need to carefully balance its long-term responsibilities as custodians of a nation’s present and future heritage and the Zambezi valley’s globally-significant wilderness areas, with its short term desire to settle the bills. 

 

Breaking News – Air fare war in Kenya claims first victim

FIRST CASUALTY IN AIRFARE WARS IN KENYA

East African Safari Air Express, airline coding B5, has halted all flights in the face of ever stiffer competition in particular on ‘their route’ to Juba / Southern Sudan and shrinking traffic to what used to be their ‘plum destination’ Lokichoggio / Northern Kenya.

The airline, which was operating aged equipment of the early generation DC9’s never managed to achieve what for instance their erstwhile partner and latter day rival Jetlink managed, to convert their fleet to modern day jets with superior operating costs in particular as far as fuel burn was concerned, leave alone firming up market perception about ‘being on the move’ and not standing still.

Some weeks ago the DC9 fleet was effectively grounded in a last ditch effort to cause a financial turnabout, and substituted for two South African registered BAE 146. That however too did not stop the bleed apparently and ever more dismal loadfactors seem to have scared off the joint venture partners from South Africa. It is understood that when they withdrew their planes the end game approached rapidly for EASA and the halt of operations finally confirmed this.

In particular the route to Juba has in recent weeks become substantially more competitive, after Kenya Airways finally entered the frame and commenced daily flights between Nairobi and the Southern Sudanese capital, and together with Jetlink – they are operating twice a day in fact on their modern CRJ200 jets – will try to see off other competition to this highly profitable destination. The use of their outdated, worn and far from state of the art aircraft was undoubtedly one of the many reasons why B5 in the end operated with what some say barely 30 percent load factor while those using newer jets operate well near with full house on every departure.  

In a twist of sorts, a senior Kenya Airways manager – now taken to court by Jetlink together with KQ itself – made comments last week about B5 not going to operate, but in a mistaken belief seems to have packaged EASA with Jetlink, which in fact not only operates but has just added new routes, and now faces a court case over libel. While we await the outcome of this case – some sources have indicated that KQ may wish to settle this out of court in view of the blunder by their employee – the aviation industry in Kenya is undoubtedly now facing a period of ‘survival for the financially fittest’, as Kenya Airways slug it out on the main routes between Nairobi and Mombasa, but of late also Nairobi to Kisumu, with Jetlink and Fly 540. Ever new and lower fares, as reported yesterday when KQ launched a ‘stand by fare’ of 3.000 Kenya Shillings (1 US Dollar is worth about 80 Kenya Shillings) one way between Nairobi and Mombasa, inclusive of all taxes, make operations now only viable when combined with high loadfactors, and the next few weeks will undoubtedly tell who has the fortitude of deep pockets and high loads and who else might have to face the inevitable and join EASA in the history books of Kenyan aviation. Watch this space for the very latest information on aviation developments in Eastern Africa and the Indian Ocean region.

%d bloggers like this: