Archive for September, 2012

LONRHO set to partner with Sir Stelios to bring EasyHotels to Kenya


The emerging partnership between Lonrho and Sir Stelios, already evident in the aviation sector with the joint venture called ‘FastJet’, appears set to intensify when plans became known during the just ended Africa Hotel Investment Conference at the Nairobi InterContinental Hotel, that the two corporate giants were about to introduce the ‘Easy Hotels’ brand to Kenya.

Lonrho had sold their hotel interests to Fairmont, a brand of Kingdom Hotels, before then divesting of a number of other key holdings in Kenya, reducing their corporate footprint in East Africa considerably while maintaining if not increasing the same in West Africa. It is expected, that the hotel deal, which reportedly is valid for the entire continent, not just Kenya, will see a number of these branded hotels come up in future years, probably alongside the roll out of ‘FastJet, covering the destination cities the new airline is aiming to fly to. Information from Nairobi in fact speaks of an advanced stage of these plans with the first hotel already coming on line in the second quarter of 2013, though no specific location has been given at this time other than a wish list of places where the promoters are looking for suitable spaces or available buildings, if not operating hotels which could be acquired and converted. Watch this space for regular and breaking news from East Africa’s vibrant hospitality sector.

NEMA puts thumbs down on golf courses in national parks


In what has been described as a courageous move, opposing powerful business interests and almost outright defying the powers that be in Uganda, the National Environmental Management Authority has shown teeth when turning the thumbs down on applications to build a golf course inside any of Uganda’s national parks.

Concerns over the felling of trees, the introduction of alien grass species into the ecosystem and the substantial use of fertilizers, besides the high quantities of water needed to keep the greens and fairways in top shape, were some of the reasons reportedly cited in the NEMA findings, after studying the impact of the plans on both Queen Elizabeth and Murchisons Falls national parks.

President Museveni had expressed unusual interest in the two developments, but kept his own counsel several years ago when a broad coalition brining together the UWA board, management, conservationists and the tourism fraternity denounced plans to build a golf course on the Mweya peninsula. It was during the official opening of the Chobe Safari Lodge that the owners raised the golf course scenario again, once more ignoring past advice and moving to confrontation over it rather than opting to use the not too distant course in Pakwach, which could be turned into a championship development available for guests staying at both Chobe or Paraa safari lodges. Likewise, the hotel group was offered the option to get land at near Katwe town outside Queen Elizabeth National Park to construct a golf course but at the time declined.

Like with the ill advised attempt to hand over for free a quarter of the Mabira rainforest to the worst performing sugar company in the country, a company from which government in fact withdrew as a shareholder due to constant losses, to cut the forest and put 7.000 hectares under sugar cane while ignoring offers to lease available land at a cost, any golf course development would meet with stiff resistance from the conservation fraternity and the tourism sector. In fact it is very likely that it would lead to a concerted campaign on the global social and mainstream media to decampaign the promoters and embargo them, and the ‘Stop the Serengeti Highway’ movement is a good pointer just how effective the social media today are in exposing and opposing such hairbrained schemes.

Time will tell if common sense and reason will prevail or if indeed Uganda’s environment is, as government critics have time and again alleged, for sale to the rich and powerful. Some other projects, including one dissecting and decimating the Lutembe wetlands, has gone on to prove their case at least in part. That said, as in the case of Mabira, here too a line has to be drawn and a stand to be taken, friendships and close cooperation with both politics and business in other areas notwithstanding, so watch this space of what happens next, now that NEMA has spoken.

Drop in South coast occupancy shows worrying trend


Information received by a regular source from the Kenyan coast makes stark reading, as the occupancy statistics attached to it made for an average of only 43 percent in September. Variances though were significant, ranging from 15 to 75 percent occupancy, but worrying overall as by and large the figures were once again down from the previous record breaking year of 2011.

This belies the projections and announcements recently made by the minister of tourism, who according to another source from the coast ‘should look at our reality and stop living in a different world from ours’, after claiming the industry was in for 100 billion in revenues this year.

At the same time is additional information emerging that a Czech airline, operating flights from Hungary to Mombasa, is now also planning to halt their flights too due to a drop in demand. This, if ultimately confirmed, would add to the woes of coast hoteliers being able to have their European market offer enough flights and seats to fill the existing beds. ‘People should stop lamenting and look for business somewhere else, there are markets out there which we can tap into. Only yesterday you wrote that RwandAir is going to add a fourth flight per week between Kigali and Mombasa, so let us work with them to bring more visitors. They fly to a lot of places where business and holiday visits can be promoted’ said another source who on earlier occasions had expressed his personal opinion that there are opportunities in adversity but only found and exploited by thinking outside the box.

Seychelles Tourism Minister Alain St. Ange meets owners of small hotels


Alain St. Ange, Minister for Tourism and Culture of the Seychelles, has last week met with a delegation of small hotel and business owners along the ‘Golden Mile’ of Beau Vallon Bay to discuss a range of issue with them they had put on their agenda.

Small, often local business owners engaged in the tourism industry, often face a very different set of challenges and are often confronted with issues larger resorts are spared by the size of their land, perimeter fences and other measures to keep guests free from facing litter, loitering, noisy beach parties, speeding cars and the like.

The Minister, continuing the style he introduced when starting at STB as Director of Tourism Marketing a few years ago, welcomed the discussions and highlighted the ongoing stakeholder consultations to develop the ‘Beau Vallon Golden Mile’ for the benefit of local business as well as of tourists, turning it into a major asset for the island’s tourism industry. It is understood that a number of the meeting participants did in fact then attend the consultations over the ‘Golden Mile project’ yesterday, where proposals were discussed and advanced plans reviewed by stakeholders from a cross section of tourism related businesses but also residents of the area.

The Minister also advised those attending the meeting to form a committee relevant to their cause within the framework of the Seychelles Hospitality and Tourism Association, in short SHTA, where their interests could be represented by the archipelago’s recognized and indeed very influential industry body, rather than seeking to establish their own association. The Minister drew the parallel with La Digue tourism stakeholders which rather than starting an island association created a committee platform under SHTA where their interests are now looked after and represented at top level. While the Seychelles are for certain not free of problems, it seems that the movers and shakers in tourism leave no stone unturned to actually set out to solve them. Seychelles, truly Another World.

Congo’s wildlife rangers remain targets of militias


Since the stark news emerged from the lowland forest around Ituri, that militias had vented their anger and frustration on the ICCN headquarters in Epulu with a large scale attack, killing at least 6 staff or family members back in June, little seems to have changed for those on the ground, still under daily threat for their own safety and the safety of the animals. The over 100 personnel attached to the ICCN offices fled in terror, as the killers then set out to rape any woman still in sight before ransacking and looting the offices, finally torching buildings before leaving the scene. Up to now, from reports received, little if anything has changed for the survivors of the gruesome attack.

Ranger killings, even at the Virunga National Park, have become only too common by militias fighting regime troops or battling amongst themselves for control of mineral rich areas where slave mining is then introduced, seriously affecting the country’s ability to protect and preserve its precious wildlife.

At Epulu, in addition to wreaking the havoc already described, to the shock of the global conservation fraternity at the time, the internationally acclaimed and renowned Okapi Conservation Project was also wiped out as the goons mowed down the helpless animals held in shelters. 13 of the rare animals were killed and at least one more injured, leaving years of conservation work in tatters and ruins.

It is understood from a regular source from Goma, working in the conservation field, that their Ituri colleagues had been under growing threat and despite desperate pleas to Kinshasa for a troop contingent and extra security, that request was repeatedly ignored, making the regime almost an accomplice in the incident by neglecting and abrogating their state duties.

That suspicion was confirmed by the source, who on condition of absolute anonymity said: ‘Much of the fighting which is going on is not so much about political control but about control of mining, about their ability to poach rare wildlife. We suspect that in fact some government officials are paid off from the loot to keep a blind eye on these things. Where government troops are nearby, they too are open to take and get bribes because they are often not paid for months. This is getting worse by the day and is worse than the Mobutu regime was. If we raise such issues, we are threatened with deportation or worse. There is really no rule of law left in this part of Congo. We try with little means to keep conservation going, raise funds to build something and then it is looted or destroyed in seconds. When you wrote about the impact of piracy and how it affected the islands and the East coast countries of Africa, the world was affected too but there was a reaction. Here it affects us but the world is not bothered. The loss of the okapis is a big blow for the survival of the species. Let the world know what is going on there because it seems no one else is bothered’.

It is understood that the Okapi reserve was in fact put on the UNESCO World Heritage list some 15 years ago and declared ‘endangered’ not long afterwards. Combined with the regime’s responsibility to have the last population of the Northern White rhinos wiped out in Garamba National Park, when a ministerial ‘NJET’ at the very last moment brought the rescue to a halt, as an airlift was just about to go underway to bring the animals to the safety of a Kenyan conservancy, this leaves any resemblance of Congo’s commitment to wildlife conservation in doubt if not shreds. Congo oh Congo, whenever will this end?

RwandAir announces major schedule changes


In a press release overnight has RwandAir announced daily flights between Kigali and Dubai, effective from the onset of the airline’s ‘winter schedule’ and up by one from the previous 6 flights per week.

At the same time will Johannesburg be served daily, flights to Lagos be increased from the present three to five per week and Brazzaville and Libreville get a fourth weekly frequency.

Dar es Salaam will under the new schedule be served daily, while Nairobi, Entebbe but also Bujumbura will see three flights per day. Notably will the regional destinations of Mombasa, Kilimanjaro and Mwanza also see an additional flight, bringing both destinations to 4 per week. Most arrivals in Kigali have been scheduled to have either immediate or early onward connections into other network destinations, further improving connectivity for travelers choosing to fly RwandAir.

The airline’s CEO John Mirenge was quoted in the media release as having said: ‘We will be welcoming more travelers on board our national carrier. This is a major step in the development of the airline and the airport. Connecting through Kigali now becomes a real alternative for everyone’.

Watch this space for breaking and regular aviation news from Eastern Africa and the Indian Ocean islands.

RwandAir – A regional success story set to fly higher still


When on October 22ndRwandAir’s and in fact Africa’s first CRJ900 touches down in Kigali, undoubtedly first having performed the traditional low level fly-past, invited guests are likely to hear a range of announcements about the airline’s plans for new destinations and more frequencies. The sale of the carrier’s owned CRJ200 aircraft to a West African start up airline, held back such plans, and since the two aircraft departed from the fleet only on destination was added, Mwanza / Tanzania in July, to where a Bombardier Dash 8-100 is being deployed.

Within the space of not more than 2 weeks, perhaps even faster, the first CRJ900 will be joined by her sister-ship, bringing the RwandAir fleet again up to 7 aircraft and allowing the long prepared roll out of more destinations. Privy to some of the plans, but having been asked to hold the release of such information back for a little longer to prevent the ‘opposition to be tipped off too soon’ my sources do not need to bite their fingernails but can relax, for now that is. Today it is the secret of the airline’s success we will look into. Flights in recent months have revealed a startling trend, showing how past action plans are starting to mature and bear fruits. Flights from the West African destinations of Brazzaville, Libreville and Lagos, but also flights from Johannesburg and Dubai, discharge more and more passengers into the ‘transit’ channel of Kigali’s Kanombe International Airport, and where in the past few, at times none would connect somewhere else, this has suddenly become a significant element of RwandAir’s overall traffic.

Started by Michael Otieno, the airline’s former Corporate Communications and PR Manager, web based direct marketing had started to become a regular feature and with the arrival of Jackie Arkle, Senior Manager Marketing, e-Commerce and Loyalty Programmes, the social media are now abuzz with fares, special deals and target group focused offers, and not just to Kigali but emphasizing the network connections across Africa and into the Gulf. ‘The sale of the CRJ200 was an opportunity RwandAir could not miss. Traffic volumes had grown and the airline is intent to provide high quality air transport. This means a business class is essential in their jet aircraft. The time gap between early this year and October, lacking these two aircraft, surely posed a challenge for them. But when the new jets arrive, they are completely ready to integrate the two aircraft and from day one the expansion drive will resume. You have rightly observed the grown volume of transit traffic. Rwanda’s aviation vision is to connect our country to Africa and beyond, but also connect Africa and beyond with the rest of Africa. Transit traffic helps generate greater passenger volumes because after all, we are a small country. To growth comes with thinking outside the box. Too many airlines in the region are stagnating because they have not looked beyond their own point to point flying. RwandAir has a good strategy, are fully supported by government and have a budget line from them. Our national airline is a strategic asset, a tool the country uses very smartly. And when Wake [Former long serving Ethiopian Airlines
CEO] arrived as chairman of the board, those inside the airline talked of a new spirit, a new buzz, new confidence that there were no limits to what RwandAir could achieve’ said a regular aviation source from Kigali, affirming the observations made.

When the two jets are operational, it will not be long before the new destinations will see their inaugural flights launched and on select regional routes more frequencies added, and the present marketing offensive by the airline, showing attractive through fares from one end of the network to the other, will be stepped up some more. Growing transit traffic is also of course aimed to creating volumes, which can from 2016 onwards sustain the operation of two B787 Dreamliner’s which are due to come on line around the same time that the new international airport at Bugesera will be ready. Until then, improvements at Kanombe International will continue to provide better passenger comfort and facilities, to bridge the time gap until 2016, when Bugesera should be coming on line.

RwandAir has reportedly two added options for the CRJ900 aircraft type, with 75 seats in a two class configuration the right size to cover regional routes, and it is presently anyone’s guess what new deal will be struck with GECAS, Boeing directly or Bombardiers – they have their highly acclaimed CSeries go into service next year – to replace the two B737-500 when the leases come to an end.

Growing transit traffic volumes , besides regional point to point traffic to all major airports across Eastern Africa, will require a gradual fleet expansion to be able to feed enough traffic into intercontinental destinations, when the B787’s arrive, those to be deployed very likely to destinations in the Gulf, India and Europe of course. The location of Rwanda on the African continent makes it an ideal hub for connecting traffic and the people at the top, Mirenge and Wake and their team of fiercely loyal staf, will for sure scheme up a few more surprises, leaving a number of other airlines in the region trailing in their wake.

I may have my doubts on the impact of new low cost carriers, as after all their cost base, unlike in their present areas of operation in Europe, are literally the same as everyone else’s in the region, but I have no doubt at all that RwandAir will leave a widening net of jet trails painted to the skies over Africa and fly from success to success. Happy Landings.

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