Archive for December, 2012

2012 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

About 55,000 tourists visit Liechtenstein every year. This blog was viewed by  180,000 new readers in 2012. If it were Liechtenstein, it would take about 3 years for that many people to see it. Your blog had more visits than a small country in Europe!

Click here to see the complete report.

Final News Roundup of 2012 – from Eastern Africa and the Indian Ocean Islands

AVIATION, TOURISM AND CONSERVATION NEWS from Eastern Africa and the Indian Ocean islands.

A weekly roundup of breaking news, reports, travel stories and opinions by Prof. Dr. Wolfgang H. Thome

You can get your daily breaking news updates instantly via Twitter by following @whthome, join me on www.facebook.com/WolfgangHThome where the articles also ‘cross load’ or read the daily postings on my blog via www.wolfganghthome.wordpress.com which you can also ‘follow’ to get immediate notification when a new article is posted.

Fifth edition December 2012

 

I wish all my readers a very Happy, Healthy and indeed a Prosperous New Year 2013

Thank you for all your support over the months, for your feedback and very positive

comments and for the many contributions and tip offs received throughout the year.

2012 IN REVIEW – HIGHLIGHTS REMEMBERED

(Dedicated to my Muse)

Looking back on 2012 and the many trips across the region, to the Indian Ocean islands and as far as to the Gulf, some experiences stand out to be remembered and treasured while others are best forgotten.

Those best forgotten I shall not mention, leaving me the space to heap praise on those journeys which went flawless and at the time earned such descriptions as brilliant or out of this world.

The year started with a trip to Bahrain to attend the air show, after missing the Dubai air show a few weeks earlier due to conflicting assignments. Manama impressed me as the city where the ancient meets the modern, and my hosts from Gulf Air set hospitality standards which were hard to match by all which followed. That friendship continues to thrive, even though tough economic circumstances have since forced the airline to halt flights first to Entebbe and then to Nairobi too. Undeterred by Bahrain’s externally sponsored political troubles it is one place I would happily revisit, explore some more of its ancient history, attend an F1 race and of course the air show in January 2014.

Not long after that dream start into 2012, with yet more trips under the belt, came a repeat visit to the Creole island paradise of the Seychelles, to attend the second edition of the already famous Carnaval de Carnivals, the Carnival International de Victoria. The spectacle of the decorations, masks and costumes and finally the parade beat their promises by some and their carnival song 2012 is an earworm still coming back ever so often. The Grand Opening of the new Kempinski Seychelles Resort added spark to the visit and gave testimony to how far Seychelles tourism has come.

On my return I stopped over in Nairobi to check out the brand new Sovereign Suites in Limuru, just before its official opening. A few days allowed me to check out the menus, test the Spa, take walks to the private lake at the bottom of the sprawling property set in the green hills of Limuru and continue to get lost in the mega sized Presidential Suite I enjoyed, where I could have accommodated a village of my friends and then some. My predictions for that little gem came true and it is now a much sought after hideaway for the rich and famous away from prying eyes.

Trips chased trips, some still to be entered into my LinkedIn TripIt application, like the inaugural flight by Qatar Airways to Kigali in March and a return to the Kigali Serena Hotel, the new wing finally ready and sparkling. Another Rwanda trip followed for the annual naming of the young born gorillas in June – Kwita Izina. Fast friends were made with New Dawn Associates at the time, showing me their blend of culture | history | safari tourism while RDB asked me to name the first ever semi-adult female gorilla to have joined a habituated group from the wild.

Another return to the Seychelles dedicated to discovering the affordable side of tourism with stays at the Chalets d’Anse Forbans and the Les Pieds dans L’Eau Holiday Apartments before moving to the one and only Constance Ephelia Resort where 5 star perfection and nothing but perfection was celebrated by the resort’s outstanding team for the entire week I was there. This allowed to write a highly acclaimed and much read article on the other side of tourism to the Seychelles, the truly affordable side, where guest houses, B&B’s, self catering villas and chalets, holiday apartments and even home stays allow for a deeper insight of life on the archipelago, while the fancied resort in turn offer the best one can find on the globe. Seychelles is truly another world, not just a kick ass marketing slogan, though to the envy of others it is that too.

Across the year I frequently visit Kenya and two trips were dedicated to discovering both new and new/old properties. A writing trip took me to the coast to visit the Whitesands and the Leopard Beach, and side trips to Sarova’s Salt Lick and Taita Hills Lodges from where I explored the ‘Battlefields East Africa’, and a stay at the Satao Camp in Tsavo East, where I saw as much game as ever before in over 37 years of safaris to that park.

The Kenya Red Cross ventured into the hospitality industry to create sustainable income for their humanitarian operations and the brand sparkling new The Boma Nairobi for a while left me standing with my mouth wide open. Run by young veteran hotelier Mugo Maringa, The Boma proved to be, besides the Sovereign Suites, the additions of the year to the Nairobi hospitality scene and although I enjoyed their hospitality in the pre-soft opening phase I found no fault. A reunion after 20+ years with my friend Lynne Leakey could not have had a better setting, the food was simply mouthwatering and the rooms well appointed, leaving nothing to be desired.

From there I visited an ‘old friend’, the just re-opened Aberdare Country Club, 75 years old this year and with a multi million investment by new owners Marasa Africa – part of Uganda’s Madhvani empire – sparkling like brand new and yet the maturity only a well aged wine can produce. Sister property The Ark, deep inside the Aberdare National Park, also got a new lease on life but it was always the club which held the most attraction for me, never as stuck up as some of the more fancied neighbours, renowned for food prepared with no calories in mind and an olden days hospitality with some of the mzees in service still there since my Kenyan days.

I stayed at the Honeysuckle Cottage, now completely remodeled and modernized, the nights the playground for the dozens of peacocks uttering their eerie calls and the cup of early morning tea faithfully served at 6 am on the dot, just as dawn showed its hand behind the distant peaks of Mt. Kenya. A friendship renewed it was and I will be back for sure soon again.

On the home front in Uganda too showed itself from the sunniest and also from the upside down side.

The Aero Club in Kajjansi introduced acrobatic flying, using a classic Great Lakes bi plane and the ride with Capt. Howard Davenport turned me into an addict for adrenaline. Inverted flight, loopings, eights in the sky, spins and dives he does with his eyes closed, while mine were wide open to capture the scenes below hanging strapped in tight in the open cockpit as we went inverted over lake and land – the Wild Skies over Kajjansi I named that adventure.

And then there was my visit to Mabira and the RainForest Lodge, recovering from a nasty bout of malaria, rejuvenating body and mind. There is hardly a better place for accomplishing that, and GeoLodges Africa deserve more than just a pat on the back for the fine hospitality they accord their guests. Set under ancient trees, the 12 wooden cabins offer luxurious simplicity, solitude and the ability to become one with nature, so close are the tree branches to the verandahs and open windows. I often closed my eyes and literally merged myself with the old forest, the only noise being the bird calls, the rustling of the leaves in the breeze, the red tailed monkeys chattering in the tree tops and the whispered voices of the staff as they supplied a never ending flow of African tea. Of all 2012 had in store for me, THIS was the place where I left my heart, where I lost myself and where leaving was the hardest of all the kwaheris I had to say over the past 12 months.

A year to be remembered, a year which brought treasured memories and a year which in so many ways was a watershed. I can truly say tomorrow night, as at the stroke of midnight 2013 will be born, that I survived 2012, not just words but with a full meaning.

To you my readers, a fraternity grown to over 260.000 on my blog from around the world, I extend my best wishes and give you the promise of more exciting stories in the new year, breaking and regular news from the fields of aviation, conservation and all things tourism. Happy New Year, live life, a day at a time, as if there were no tomorrow.

QATAR AIRWAYS SUES AIRPORT CONSTRUCTION COMPANY FOR 600 MILLION US DOLLARS


In breaking news, just confirmed by Qatar Airways Director of Corporate Communications, was a price tag of 600 million US Dollars put on a law suit now launched against the joint venture construction company engaged to build the new mega airport in Doha.

Speculations were rife for a while now when an initial opening date by mid 2012 was shifted to late 2012 or early 2013 and regular updates on a possible opening date suddenly went altogether quiet.

The World’s only 5 star airline had banked on the new airport to be open, with new super sized lounges and transit facilities catering for the growing number of travelers now flying with QR via their Doha hub into the world. Increased aircraft deliveries, Qatar Airways was the Gulf launch customer for the new B787 Dreamliner, allowed for new destinations to be launched, all however resulting in putting increased pressure on the present airport facilities on the ground, which make it difficult for the airline to translate 5 star airborne experience into a similar top of the range standard on the ground. While Business and First Class lounges do meet the exacting standards travelers come to expect, increased congestion for economy class passengers has on a number of occasions been cited by passengers as not optimal, to say the least.

Outspoken Chief Executive Akbar Al Baker left no doubt over his anger and disappointment when he was quoted in the media release as having said: ‘We are extremely disappointed by the poor performance of LDI which has failed to carry out the contract in a timely manner which in turn has forced a delay of the opening of the New Doha International Airport by nearly a year. We have been badly affected as an airline with the delay impacting Qatar Airways’ expansion plans that include new aircraft deliveries and opening up new routes at the rate we want to and more importantly causing a lot of inconvenience to our passengers in addition to the revenue losses to the airline and its subsidiaries. Our subsidiaries have been also affected by this delay including Qatar Duty Free, the food outlets and the ground handling which had a negative impact on the revenues of the airline. The current airport we are operating from is already full to capacity with virtually no room to grow. We relied on moving to our new home, the New Doha International Airport this month, but this has not happened. Operational trials of the new airport have been ongoing since the summer as everything was in place, but incomplete airport lounges proved a serious setback’.

LDI’s contract within the 15.5 billion US Dollar project the new airport is expected to cost overall, was to construct airport lounges worth some 250 million US Dollars but the delays resulted in the entire project grinding to a halt and opening now moved to approximately mid 2013.

With currently 116 aircraft Qatar Airways serves globally some 122 destinations but upcoming deliveries are expected to push the fleet size to 170 aircraft and more than 170 destinations worldwide by 2015.

QR has in particular in Africa made an impact on the market, and though using a single aisle A320 aircraft for most destinations on the continent has convinced by superior inflight service, ground handling and wireless access on board. The current volume transiting in Doha of about 20 million passengers is set to rise on opening of the new airport to 28 million and will eventually reach nearly 60 million capacity when fully operational.

Watch this space as the breaking news will undoubtedly spread like wildfire among the aviation fraternity world wide as all eyes once again are focusing on Qatar Airways.

East Africa News

GOOD NEWS FROM EMIRATES AS NEW A380 TERMINAL MOVES TO TRIAL RUNS

 

I bring good tidings this Christmas’ did a regular source start the conversation yesterday evening, when wishing me a Merry Christmas. ‘Our new A380 terminal in Dubai is now being tested and we learned that two trials were done successfully. This is the first and only terminal in the world exclusively for the A 380. When it is open all our passengers from Uganda will connect to their A380 destinations through this new facility. We now have about 30 of these giant aircraft in service and still twice as many on order. The more of them we have, the more new destinations will be switched from the B777 to the A380. The new terminal is linked by rail to the rest of the airport and every passenger connecting from or to the big Airbus to their flights with other aircraft will use that connection. When the new facility opens next year flying with Emirates through Dubai will be the best experience one can have, wide body and then super wide body all the way’.

There was plenty of pride audible in this bubbling explanation and it was subsequently established that indeed two trials on the 15th and 22nd December had taken place with each involving well over 1.000 ‘actors’ doing their role play. Emirates brought Dubai Airports, DNATA, concessionaires, security, customs and immigration on board to carry out the trials to avoid an opening nightmare of the sort British Airways had a few years back when their new Terminal 5 opened the doors and chaos ruled for days at end.

Going by Emirates’ past performance, such as the recent multiple delivery of new aircraft establishing a new single day delivery record, the new terminal, when finally opened for the exclusive use by Airbus A380 aircraft, will be setting the stage for raising passenger capacity from about 60 million to about 75 million passengers per year, leaving plenty of growth potential for the Dubai national airline which continues to expand both destinations and frequencies across their global network. Be sure to watch this space for the announcement when the new Terminal # will be finally commissioned and then, perhaps give this award winning airline a chance to fly you across the world on an A380 and experiencing the new terminal close up and personal. Merry Christmas to you all.

Kenya News

TORRENTIAL RAINSTORMS HIT PARTS OF KENYA

 

Reports are streaming in from Kenya’s capital Nairobi, confirmed by emergency services passing on information on flooding in the city to motorists via Twitter, that large sections are suffering extensive flooding. Key roundabouts into the city centre, like at traffic hot spot Nyayo Stadium, are under water, sections of the Mombasa road to the airport are impassable, housing estates marooned and traffic subsequently at a standstill and piling up, where roads can no longer be safely passed.

The Kenya Red Cross, a leader in swift updates vis a vis traffic in Kenya, as well as in reporting accidents to make motorists aware of jams, has also named the Kisumu to Kericho highway, the Nyeri – Kiganjo – Nanyuki road, the wider Nyahururu area, the Embu to Meru road, the Muranga to Othaya road, the entire area between Kakamega and Mumias, the Nairobi – Limuru – Naivasha highway and Kabarnet – Iten – Eldoret as being of low to very low visibility due to low hanging rainclouds and torrential rain. Other parts of the country, including approached to key national parks, are equally affected.

Several accidents are also appearing on the time line of the Kenya Red Cross twitter handle with extreme caution advised due to the slippery conditions of roads and highways and waterlogged surfaces.

Other reports from travelers to the parks over the Christmas holidays also speak of partially heavy rains with some off the beaten track paths impassable. A university bus with 60 students on excursion to Tsavo East National Park had to be rescued, again attributed to a swift reaction by the KRC which alerted park authorities.

Travelers heading to Kenya though are reassured by the tourism associations that safari operators are closely working with police and emergency services to ensure that visitors from abroad are not heading into harms’ way while making extra efforts to ensure that safari itineraries are not disrupted. It is recommended though that any concerns be directed to the respective safari operators for up to date information, or else follow @KenyaRedCross on Twitter for instant updates.

A FULLY BOOKED ‘CHUI’ – BEST CHRISTMAS EVER

 

For many East Africans traditionally the Christmas holiday means going to the coast, taking time out, getting sand between the toes and the feet into the warm clear waters of the Indian Ocean, but for those lucky to get their booking confirmed at the recently re-opened Leopard Beach Resort and Spa aka Chui, they found a whole lot more than what they were probably expecting. Fully booked of course the resort was bubbling with activity, special events and the decorations reminded every one of the season, the lack of snow made up by the snow white beaches along the Indian Ocean shores.

After sustaining some serious fire damage earlier in the year, while closed for the annual spring cleaning, maintenance and refurbishment, the resort – risen from the ashes like a Phoenix – reopened on 12th December, at 12.12 pm sharp, and presented itself in an all new look.

For Chris Modigell, who became one of Kenya’s most eminent hoteliers since his arrival in 1976, the fire presented itself as an opportunity where others only saw damage and destruction, as a chance to not just rebuild like other less inspired characters would have done, but to inject creativity and vision into the process to produce something astonishingly new without losing the Chui’s hallmarks and traditions.

From the ruins grew new lounges, added restaurant spaces and shaded verandahs for outdoor dining but being the culinary guru he is, no one could begrudge Chris the extra attention to fine wining and dining.

In time for Christmas was the new Chaine de Rotisseurs ‘Chui Grill’ opened, all air-conditioned, all posh and far from hoi polloi, new furniture, new menus but the dishes prepared by the same team of seasoned chefs and served by a staff dedicated to make a meal at the restaurant an occasion to be remembered.

Chris was the first to introduce a grill room back in the late part of the 70’s at the Africana Sea Lodge, when conventional wisdom in most resorts at the time offered a weekly cycle of full board buffets, leaving those seeking some added culinary delights to venture outside and beyond. Since then, driven by a keen sense of innovation, product improvements and diversification, Chris’s fingerprints on the new grill room at the Chui are only bettered by the opening of his other brainchild, the Wines & Whiskers bar, where all of the resort’s 60+ wine selection is available, arguably the largest at any coastal resort in Kenya. As a vehement opponent of turning Kenya’s beach resorts into ‘all inclusive ventures’ – while nevertheless conceding that there is a place for those too, Chris and his team believe in offering their guests choices, admittedly at a cost, to enhance their holiday experience, including a la carte fine dining and the wines to go along with them. Add to that the indulgence with a fine Cuban cigar, available from a humidor – Chris himself enjoys his Davidoff’s after dinner – and location, room standards, food and beverage service, a renowned state of the art Spa and the tropical ambience all blend into a perfect vacation fit.

Three consecutive World Travel Awards as Kenya’s Leading Resort speak volumes as do past honours of ‘Best this and Best that’ from local and regional travel and leisure magazines, with trophies and plaques filling cabinets and walls at the welcome lounge where guests check in, check out, mingle and mix.

And as if this all is not enough, the addition of 28 private villas on the sprawling property, offering 2 or 3 bedrooms and a private pool for each of the Garden and Forest villas, will introduce a new dimension to the coastal holiday scene. Families or couples travelling together can on opening in a few months time enjoy the privacy of their own little compound, not overlooked by neighbours, serviced like the beach side villas at the main resort, room service available and a brand new dining concept in form of a fusion restaurant coming up too a stone throw away. A few minutes’ walk to the Spa, or the beach, or the restaurants and bars and lounges of the main resort, allow mingling and meeting but if not wanted, total privacy is assured. This will bring the overall number of rooms at the Leopard Beach to over 250, and yet will the wide gardens and long beaches never give a guest the feeling of being in a crowded, fully booked resort.

Unlike many other beach resorts, almost 40 percent of the resort’s guests are from Kenya, the Eastern African region or Africa, giving it a unique mix of nationalities only truly great resorts can showcase. Working with national airline Kenya Airways, and regional airlines like Air Uganda, the resort has captured a growing following, multiplied by word of mouth and the smart use of social media presence vis a vis Facebook and Twitter, providing those experiences of a sun, fun and sand vacation we all need once in a while.

The re-opening of the Chuiwas a Christmas present to Kenya’s upmarket tourism industry and being literally all now, only appropriate to with them a Happy ‘Maisha Marefu’ alongside the more customary Happy New Year.

Visit www.leopardbeachresort.com for more information, enquiries and bookings.

Tanzania News

TANZANIA WITHDRAWS CITES APPLICATION TO SELL IVORY

 

In what can only be described as a surprise move are news breaking that Tanzania’s government has withdrawn the application to CITES for the approval of the sale of 100 tons of legal ivory, which was due to be discussed and decided at the forthcoming COP in Bangkok, Thailand in early 2013.

The application was filed against widespread criticism by local, regional and international conservation groups, in a renewed effort to sell ivory stocks, even though the same application was voted down at the last CITES meeting in Doha. At the time did the CITES Secretariat in Lusaka compile a report, highlighting the shortcomings in anti poaching measures, clamping down in transit of blood ivory through Tanzania from other countries and improving key conservation measures. Recent seizures of major quantities of blood ivory in the Far East, traced back to Tanzania, also dented the reputation of the country further, making the application untenable, although at least one official in Dar es Salaam was reportedly claiming that the conditions set by CITES were impossible to meet for Tanzania at this time.

The Minister for Natural Resources and Tourism, Amb. Khamis Kagesheki, known for his no nonsense attitude, has during his time in office started to clear out corrupt and incompetent officers from the Wildlife Department, and, clearly rattled when the Hong Kong authorities named Tanzania as the source of the huge ivory haul impounded a few weeks ago, turned the heat on poachers by launching hitherto almost unprecedented crackdowns on smuggling routes. Several seizures in Tanzania over the past weeks confirm that the strong arm tactics are working and producing results, a move warmly welcomed by the conservation fraternity in the country. ‘Kagesheki means business. He commands respect, produces results and has been able to get cabinet to sanction tough action. I know you are highly critical of the general attitude of Tanzania over projects in parks and reserves but it has also been noted you speak well of our Minister. The last one fell because he got exposed to what he was up to but Kagesheki has changed things. He knows that tourism comes from consensus and from positive impressions about Tanzania overseas. So of course he knows what has to be done to reverse negative trends and PR. Withdrawing from the CITES bid is a good move in that direction. Maybe CITES can find a way to let legal ivory stocks be used when all proceeds are guaranteed for anti poaching and conservation. This is a political decision our country must make and then find allies to support us. Now these news have not been reported in Tanzania yet but I am sure we will hear about it after the holidays’ said a regular souce in an exchange of emails when trying to get comments over the Christmas holidays.

Undoubtedly this piece of breaking news will be a surprise Christmas present for Tanzania’s conservation fraternity and their supporters in the region and beyond, and it is hoped that his change of mind will spell the beginning of a new partnership between a ministry led by an enlightened minister and the country’s conservationists, willing to forge a new alliance to win the war on poaching against the wildlife terrorists. Watch this space

WILD DOG PACK GETS CHRISTMAS RELEASE INTO SERENGETI

 

Visitors to the world famous Serengeti National Park can now hope to see more of the rare and elusive wild dogs, aka painted or hunting dogs, after another group of 11 captured in the Loliondo area adjoining the park a few months ago were finally released inside the park.

Once roaming the plains in their hundreds, the numbers have shrunk mainly due to rabies and other diseases, a phenomenon seen at the time across all of Eastern Africa.

In Tanzania did Vodacom earlier this year pledge nearly half a billion Tanzania Shillings – reported here at the time their commitment was announced – allowing TAWIRI, Tanzania National Parks and the Serengeti National Park administration to embark on the ambitious project to restore earlier populations and make the species’ survival more viable.

Four months ago a group of 15 of this endangered species were set free in the park and are now seen regularly by tourists, while still closely monitored by SENAPA staff.

The project to restore wild dogs in adequate numbers is carried out by the Tanzania Wildlife Research Institute in collaboration with their colleagues from TANAPA and SENAPA, supported by the Frankfurt Zoological Society which has been linked to the Serengeti since the days of Prof. Dr. Grzimek who immortalized the park in his books and films ‘Serengeti must not die’.

TAWIRI’s Director Dr. Mduma was welcoming President Kikwete to the park last weekend to witness the occasion, confirming that in addition to the Vodacom funding State House too had given a donation of 30 million Tanzania Shillings in line with a pledge made by the president at an earlier visit to the park.

Surely a Christmas present of sorts for the Serengeti National Park and a piece of good news happily reported here.

Seychelles News

WIND POWER GOES ‘ACTIVE’ IN TIME FOR THE NEW YEAR

 

Seychelles’ tourism growth of 7+ percent in 2012 and a preliminary forecast of 3 percent in 2013 will be supported by a further 6 MW of power becoming available, as the connection to the two new wind power stations which were constructed in recent weeks, will be completed this weekend. Parts of Mahe will be off power on Sunday morning for the interconnection to be installed and made active, but feedback from tourism sources was enthusiastic about the news. New mainstream resorts but also a growing number of Seychellois owned guest houses, B&B’s and self catering establishments have named electricity and water as two key elements to their success, and growing demand across the islands for electricity have posed challenges to meet usage at peak times. Official policy on the archipelago now is the increased domestic use of renewable energy sources like solar panels and solar water heating while the hospitality industry too is investing in new technologies to go green and stay green.

The two windpower stations, financed by Abu Dhabi’s MASDAR, are thought to be pilot projects, adding an initial 11 percent added electricity into the grid of the main island but plans are underway to expand wind power generation and solar generation towards a significantly higher percentage in coming years to reduce reliance on expensive thermal power generation.

With tourism the economic mainstay activity on the archipelago, besides a thriving fishing industry, the Seychelles government has been working hand in hand with the private sector and civil society to capture future demand for both water and electricity, and the installation of desalination plants, donated by Abu Dhabi last year, has helped to increase capacity in one of these crucial areas, while the coming on line of the wind power plants will boost the other. ‘Tourism growth right now is mainly using available bed capacity. When occupancies are in average reaching say 80+ percent, future growth needs new resorts. The Seychelles has a ceiling on arrival numbers at some distant point in the future because our resources are finite. Locations are not unlimited so at one point in the future, when all good locations have been utilized, there will be no more new resorts on the beach side. But until that point is reached, the challenge is to have enough water, electricity and even skilled human resources to make for smooth operations. Getting another 6 MW will help to take care of rising demand for power. Good news at the end of a good year for tourism’ wrote a regular source from Mahe when passing on the information.

Meanwhile did the Chairman of the Seychelles Tourist Board Mr. Barry Faure, who is also the Secretary of State in the Office of the President, on Thursday welcome a Swiss couple, named as Herve and Clea, who were on a repeat visit to the archipelago, as the 200.000th visitors, giving them a VIP welcome and a giving them a range of presents and vouchers to enjoy extra goodies while on La Digue and Praslin. Visit www.seychelles.travel for more information on the islands attractions, the range of international resorts and privately owned accommodation.

Seychelles, truly Another World.

SEYCHELLES SET TO WELCOME VISITOR NUMBER 200.000

It is a befitting Christmas present for the Creole island paradise of the Seychelles that the 200.000th visitor to the archipelago is expected any time from now, a major event to be suitable celebrated at the Mahe International Airport in the presence of senior tourism and aviation officials.

It is the first time in the Seychelles history that over 200.000 visitors will have come to the islands, by air and by sea, to enjoy the warm hospitality, the pristine waters and beaches and the natural attractions found in terrestrial and marine national parks and nature reserves. This number represents over twice the total Seychellois citizens living on some of the 115 islands of the archipelago. Over half of the Seychelles is officially designated as a protected area, but tourists come not just for those wonders but also to participate in the many festivals and events which now dominate the annual calendar.

The Seychelles recorded an increase in arrivals of over 7 percent this year, up from 194.753 for 2011 and this is attributed to the determined campaigns of the tourism board and private sector efforts to open up new markets. Cooperation with airlines like national carrier Air Seychelles, but notably also Emirates and Qatar Airways, among others, has brought the global spotlight to the islands. Daily connections, 28 alone from the three main hubs in the Gulf, per week have put the Seychelles just one stop away from most points in the world and making it reachable for all those seeking that holiday of a lifetime, for those on a budget as much as for those with platinum credit cards seeking the best in hospitality there is. Exclusive island hideaways accessible by helicopter or yacht only offer some of the most exclusive honeymoon spots for the immensely rich and globally famous while elsewhere on the archipelago a young couple may tie the knot, organized by their resorts or beach side villas and also take home memories made in Seychelles, lasting for a life time.

Merry Christmas to my many friends on the Seychelles and congratulations to the country’s tourism industry for this remarkable achievement.

2012 in Review – The Highlights of a Travelling Life

2012 IN REVIEW – HIGHLIGHTS REMEMBERED

(Dedicated to my Muse)

Looking back on 2012 and the many trips across the region, to the Indian Ocean islands and as far as to the Gulf, some experiences stand out to be remembered and treasured while others are best forgotten.

Those best forgotten I shall not mention, leaving me the space to heap praise on those journeys which went flawless and at the time earned such descriptions as brilliant or out of this world.

The year started with a trip to Bahrain to attend the air show, after missing the Dubai air show a few weeks earlier due to conflicting assignments. Manama impressed me as the city where the ancient meets the modern, and my hosts from Gulf Air set hospitality standards which were hard to match by all which followed. That friendship continues to thrive, even though tough economic circumstances have since forced the airline to halt flights first to Entebbe and then to Nairobi too. Undeterred by Bahrain’s externally sponsored political troubles it is one place I would happily revisit, explore some more of its ancient history, attend an F1 race and of course the air show in January 2014.

Not long after that dream start into 2012, with yet more trips under the belt, came a repeat visit to the Creole island paradise of the Seychelles, to attend the second edition of the already famous Carnaval de Carnivals, the Carnival International de Victoria. The spectacle of the decorations, masks and costumes and finally the parade beat their promises by some and their carnival song 2012 is an earworm still coming back ever so often. The Grand Opening of the new Kempinski Seychelles Resort added spark to the visit and gave testimony to how far Seychelles tourism has come.

On my return I stopped over in Nairobi to check out the brand new Sovereign Suites in Limuru, just before its official opening. A few days allowed me to check out the menus, test the Spa, take walks to the private lake at the bottom of the sprawling property set in the green hills of Limuru and continue to get lost in the mega sized Presidential Suite I enjoyed, where I could have accommodated a village of my friends and then some. My predictions for that little gem came true and it is now a much sought after hideaway for the rich and famous away from prying eyes.

Trips chased trips, some still to be entered into my LinkedIn TripIt application, like the inaugural flight by Qatar Airways to Kigali in March and a return to the Kigali Serena Hotel, the new wing finally ready and sparkling. Another Rwanda trip followed for the annual naming of the young born gorillas in June – Kwita Izina. Fast friends were made with New Dawn Associates at the time, showing me their blend of culture | history | safari tourism while RDB asked me to name the first ever semi-adult female gorilla to have joined a habituated group from the wild.

Another return to the Seychelles dedicated to discovering the affordable side of tourism with stays at the Chalets d’Anse Forbans and the Les Pieds dans L’Eau Holiday Apartments before moving to the one and only Constance Ephelia Resort where 5 star perfection and nothing but perfection was celebrated by the resort’s outstanding team for the entire week I was there. This allowed to write a highly acclaimed and much read article on the other side of tourism to the Seychelles, the truly affordable side, where guest houses, B&B’s, self catering villas and chalets, holiday apartments and even home stays allow for a deeper insight of life on the archipelago, while the fancied resort in turn offer the best one can find on the globe. Seychelles is truly another world, not just a kick ass marketing slogan, though to the envy of others it is that too.

Across the year I frequently visit Kenya and two trips were dedicated to discovering both new and new/old properties. A writing trip took me to the coast to visit the Whitesands and the Leopard Beach, and side trips to Sarova’s Salt Lick and Taita Hills Lodges from where I explored the ‘Battlefields East Africa’, and a stay at the Satao Camp in Tsavo East, where I saw as much game as ever before in over 37 years of safaris to that park.

The Kenya Red Cross ventured into the hospitality industry to create sustainable income for their humanitarian operations and the brand sparkling new The Boma Nairobi for a while left me standing with my mouth wide open. Run by young veteran hotelier Mugo Maringa, The Boma proved to be, besides the Sovereign Suites, the additions of the year to the Nairobi hospitality scene and although I enjoyed their hospitality in the pre-soft opening phase I found no fault. A reunion after 20+ years with my friend Lynne Leakey could not have had a better setting, the food was simply mouthwatering and the rooms well appointed, leaving nothing to be desired.

From there I visited an ‘old friend’, the just re-opened Aberdare Country Club, 75 years old this year and with a multi million investment by new owners Marasa Africa – part of Uganda’s Madhvani empire – sparkling like brand new and yet the maturity only a well aged wine can produce. Sister property The Ark, deep inside the Aberdare National Park, also got a new lease on life but it was always the club which held the most attraction for me, never as stuck up as some of the more fancied neighbours, renowned for food prepared with no calories in mind and an olden days hospitality with some of the mzees in service still there since my Kenyan days.

I stayed at the Honeysuckle Cottage, now completely remodeled and modernized, the nights the playground for the dozens of peacocks uttering their eerie calls and the cup of early morning tea faithfully served at 6 am on the dot, just as dawn showed its hand behind the distant peaks of Mt. Kenya. A friendship renewed it was and I will be back for sure soon again.

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On the home front in Uganda too showed itself from the sunniest and also from the upside down side.

The Aero Club in Kajjansi introduced acrobatic flying, using a classic Great Lakes bi plane and the ride with Capt. Howard Davenport turned me into an addict for adrenaline. Inverted flight, loopings, eights in the sky, spins and dives he does with his eyes closed, while mine were wide open to capture the scenes below hanging strapped in tight in the open cockpit as we went inverted over lake and land – the Wild Skies over Kajjansi I named that adventure.

And then there was my visit to Mabira and the RainForest Lodge, recovering from a nasty bout of malaria, rejuvenating body and mind. There is hardly a better place for accomplishing that, and GeoLodges Africa deserve more than just a pat on the back for the fine hospitality they accord their guests. Set under ancient trees, the 12 wooden cabins offer luxurious simplicity, solitude and the ability to become one with nature, so close are the tree branches to the verandahs and open windows. I often closed my eyes and literally merged myself with the old forest, the only noise being the bird calls, the rustling of the leaves in the breeze, the red tailed monkeys chattering in the tree tops and the whispered voices of the staff as they supplied a never ending flow of African tea. Of all 2012 had in store for me, THIS was the place where I left my heart, where I lost myself and where leaving was the hardest of all the kwaheris I had to say over the past 12 months.

A year to be remembered, a year which brought treasured memories and a year which in so many ways was a watershed. I can truly say tomorrow night, as at the stroke of midnight 2013 will be born, that I survived 2012, not just words but with a full meaning.

To you my readers, a fraternity grown to over 260.000 on my blog from around the world, I extend my best wishes and give you the promise of more exciting stories in the new year, breaking and regular news from the fields of aviation, conservation and all things tourism. Happy New Year, live life, a day at a time, as if there were no tomorrow.

Breaking News / Qatar Airways launched record legal claim over delay in airport construction

QATAR AIRWAYS SUES AIRPORT CONSTRUCTION COMPANY FOR 600 MILLION US DOLLARS


In breaking news, just confirmed by Qatar Airways Director of Corporate Communications, was a price tag of 600 million US Dollars put on a law suit now launched against the joint venture construction company engaged to build the new mega airport in Doha.

Speculations were rife for a while now when an initial opening date by mid 2012 was shifted to late 2012 or early 2013 and regular updates on a possible opening date suddenly went altogether quiet.

The World’s only 5 star airline had banked on the new airport to be open, with new super sized lounges and transit facilities catering for the growing number of travelers now flying with QR via their Doha hub into the world. Increased aircraft deliveries, Qatar Airways was the Gulf launch customer for the new B787 Dreamliner, allowed for new destinations to be launched, all however resulting in putting increased pressure on the present airport facilities on the ground, which make it difficult for the airline to translate 5 star airborne experience into a similar top of the range standard on the ground. While Business and First Class lounges do meet the exacting standards travelers come to expect, increased congestion for economy class passengers has on a number of occasions been cited by passengers as not optimal, to say the least.

Outspoken Chief Executive Akbar Al Baker left no doubt over his anger and disappointment when he was quoted in the media release as having said: ‘We are extremely disappointed by the poor performance of LDI which has failed to carry out the contract in a timely manner which in turn has forced a delay of the opening of the New Doha International Airport by nearly a year. We have been badly affected as an airline with the delay impacting Qatar Airways’ expansion plans that include new aircraft deliveries and opening up new routes at the rate we want to and more importantly causing a lot of inconvenience to our passengers in addition to the revenue losses to the airline and its subsidiaries. Our subsidiaries have been also affected by this delay including Qatar Duty Free, the food outlets and the ground handling which had a negative impact on the revenues of the airline. The current airport we are operating from is already full to capacity with virtually no room to grow. We relied on moving to our new home, the New Doha International Airport this month, but this has not happened. Operational trials of the new airport have been ongoing since the summer as everything was in place, but incomplete airport lounges proved a serious setback’.

LDI’s contract within the 15.5 billion US Dollar project the new airport is expected to cost overall, was to construct airport lounges worth some 250 million US Dollars but the delays resulted in the entire project grinding to a halt and opening now moved to approximately mid 2013.

With currently 116 aircraft Qatar Airways serves globally some 122 destinations but upcoming deliveries are expected to push the fleet size to 170 aircraft and more than 170 destinations worldwide by 2015.

QR has in particular in Africa made an impact on the market, and though using a single aisle A320 aircraft for most destinations on the continent has convinced by superior inflight service, ground handling and wireless access on board. The current volume transiting in Doha of about 20 million passengers is set to rise on opening of the new airport to 28 million and will eventually reach nearly 60 million capacity when fully operational.

Watch this space as the breaking news will undoubtedly spread like wildfire among the aviation fraternity world wide as all eyes once again are focusing on Qatar Airways.

Seychelles first wind power plant gets connected to the grid this weekend

WIND POWER GOES ‘ACTIVE’ IN TIME FOR THE NEW YEAR

Seychelles’ tourism growth of 7+ percent in 2012 and a preliminary forecast of 3 percent in 2013 will be supported by a further 6 MW of power becoming available, as the connection to the two new wind power stations which were constructed in recent weeks, will be completed this weekend. Parts of Mahe will be off power on Sunday morning for the interconnection to be installed and made active, but feedback from tourism sources was enthusiastic about the news. New mainstream resorts but also a growing number of Seychellois owned guest houses, B&B’s and self catering establishments have named electricity and water as two key elements to their success, and growing demand across the islands for electricity have posed challenges to meet usage at peak times. Official policy on the archipelago now is the increased domestic use of renewable energy sources like solar panels and solar water heating while the hospitality industry too is investing in new technologies to go green and stay green.

The two windpower stations, financed by Abu Dhabi’s MASDAR, are thought to be pilot projects, adding an initial 11 percent added electricity into the grid of the main island but plans are underway to expand wind power generation and solar generation towards a significantly higher percentage in coming years to reduce reliance on expensive thermal power generation.

With tourism the economic mainstay activity on the archipelago, besides a thriving fishing industry, the Seychelles government has been working hand in hand with the private sector and civil society to capture future demand for both water and electricity, and the installation of desalination plants, donated by Abu Dhabi last year, has helped to increase capacity in one of these crucial areas, while the coming on line of the wind power plants will boost the other. ‘Tourism growth right now is mainly using available bed capacity. When occupancies are in average reaching say 80+ percent, future growth needs new resorts. The Seychelles has a ceiling on arrival numbers at some distant point in the future because our resources are finite. Locations are not unlimited so at one point in the future, when all good locations have been utilized, there will be no more new resorts on the beach side. But until that point is reached, the challenge is to have enough water, electricity and even skilled human resources to make for smooth operations. Getting another 6 MW will help to take care of rising demand for power. Good news at the end of a good year for tourism’ wrote a regular source from Mahe when passing on the information.

Meanwhile did the Chairman of the Seychelles Tourist Board Mr. Barry Faure, who is also the Secretary of State in the Office of the President, on Thursday welcome a Swiss couple, named as Herve and Clea, who were on a repeat visit to the archipelago, as the 200.000th visitors, giving them a VIP welcome and a giving them a range of presents and vouchers to enjoy extra goodies while on La Digue and Praslin. Visit www.seychelles.travel for more information on the islands attractions, the range of international resorts and privately owned accommodation.

Seychelles, truly Another World.

Happy New Year 2013

I wish all my readers a very Happy, Healthy and indeed a Prosperous New Year 2013

Thank you for all your support over the months, for your feedback and very positive comments and for the many contributions and tip offs received throughout the year.

Parts of Kenya hit by torrential rains

TORRENTIAL RAINSTORMS HIT PARTS OF KENYA

Reports are streaming in from Kenya’s capital Nairobi, confirmed by emergency services passing on information on flooding in the city to motorists via Twitter, that large sections are suffering extensive flooding. Key roundabouts into the city centre, like at traffic hot spot Nyayo Stadium, are under water, sections of the Mombasa road to the airport are impassable, housing estates marooned and traffic subsequently at a standstill and piling up, where roads can no longer be safely passed.

The Kenya Red Cross, a leader in swift updates vis a vis traffic in Kenya, as well as in reporting accidents to make motorists aware of jams, has also named the Kisumu to Kericho highway, the Nyeri – Kiganjo – Nanyuki road, the wider Nyahururu area, the Embu to Meru road, the Muranga to Othaya road, the entire area between Kakamega and Mumias, the Nairobi – Limuru – Naivasha highway and Kabarnet – Iten – Eldoret as being of low to very low visibility due to low hanging rainclouds and torrential rain. Other parts of the country, including approached to key national parks, are equally affected.

Several accidents are also appearing on the time line of the Kenya Red Cross twitter handle with extreme caution advised due to the slippery conditions of roads and highways and waterlogged surfaces.

Other reports from travelers to the parks over the Christmas holidays also speak of partially heavy rains with some off the beaten track paths impassable. A university bus with 60 students on excursion to Tsavo East National Park had to be rescued, again attributed to a swift reaction by the KRC which alerted park authorities.

Travelers heading to Kenya though are reassured by the tourism associations that safari operators are closely working with police and emergency services to ensure that visitors from abroad are not heading into harms’ way while making extra efforts to ensure that safari itineraries are not disrupted. It is recommended though that any concerns be directed to the respective safari operators for up to date information, or else follow @KenyaRedCross on Twitter for instant updates.

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