Archive for May, 2013

KWS launches country wide crackdown on poachers and illegal herders

KENYA WILDLIFE SERVICE ROLLS OUT NATIONWIDE ANTI POACHING BATTLE

Following the publication of details that another four rhinos were poached over the past two weeks, 21 overall this year already in Kenya, and at least 117 elephant butchered for their tusks – at least that is the officially confirmed figure which conservation sources claim could be substantially higher – has KWS earlier this week commenced a country wide manhunt for poachers. Compared to 2012, when 30 rhinos and 384 elephant were according to KWS statements killed, the upwards trend of the 2013 figures available until now shows that the menace from across Kenya’s southern borders and beyond has now firmly taken a hold in the country.

Major operations are now underway, hand in hand with other security organs, to hunt down the killers of 11 elephant massacred in the Tsavo area, where authorities blame illegal herdsmen who are at last being pursued now.

A year ago did this correspondent witness the presence of large herds of cattle inside Tsavo, and the camp manager immediately reported their presence to the relevant KWS offices, but according to reports nothing was done at the time and only now has the bitter truth sank in that the lucrative tourism industry could take a serious knock if KWS is not getting a handle on the poaching. In neighbouring Tanzania has a parliamentary report from mid last year put poaching of elephant at 30 a day, though opposition figures have since claimed that the real number may be significantly higher than that, and there, as in Kenya, have the alarm bells been sounded that, should the global syndicates trading in rhino horn and blood ivory not be stopped, it could have a similar economic impact on the tourism industries of the range countries as the piracy of recent years off the African coast impacted on the entire region. Parliament in Nairobi passed a motion last week asking the Kenyan government to add more rangers and increase financial penalties and introduce longer prison terms, while at the same time laying the blame squarely on the door step of China, where skyrocketing demand for ivory has fueled the poaching crisis in Africa.

For now though, as KWS and other security organs are combing the parks and pursuing suspects involved in the illicit trade, it is good luck to them, as they again put their lives on the line to protect Kenya’s priceless wildlife heritage.

Kenya Airways boosts Eldoret services

KENYA AIRWAYS SET FOR DOUBLE DAILY TO ELDORET

Information from Nairobi has confirmed Kenya Airways’ intention to commence double daily services between Nairobi and the Western Kenyan town of Eldoret, effective 02nd June.

Currently KQ operates 11 times a week on the route and the addition of three more flights on Monday, Tuesday and Sunday will bring the number to 14.

The airline uses Embraer jets on the route and offers both business class and economy class on all services.

The move signals Kenya Airways continued and almost relentless drive to effectively cover the domestic services from Nairobi to Mombasa, Kisumu, Eldoret and Malindi with enough departures to offer their clientele the choice of multiple daily flights, except for Malindi which has a single frequency per day, all aimed at increasing market share. Frequent flyer miles are rewarded on domestic flights too, giving KQ a competitive advantage over their local rivals which lack similar incentive and loyalty schemes. Visit www.kenya-airways.com for more information on schedules, fares, for bookings or to sign up to the ‘Flying Blue’ frequent flyer programme.

Will Qatar Airways’ pullout from Seychelles mark a turning point for Gulf aviation?

COMPETITION AMONG GULF AIRLINES PRODUCES FIRST FAULT LINES

The announcement by Qatar Airways to withdraw from the Seychelles route, a destination they have served uninterrupted since 2004, has sent out signals to aviation observers, that this may constitute a turning point in the hitherto relentless march of the three Gulf giants towards expansion, adding new destinations on an almost monthly basis.

Erstwhile Pan Arabian carrier Gulf Air were the first to pull the plug on destinations which their accountants said did not produce enough revenue to sustain the routes, subsequently leaving from Entebbe within months of a re-launch and later last year also from Nairobi.

Also today did news emerge that Etihad was reducing their flights to Sao Paulo from daily to three times a week, at least until end October this year, during which time a thorough evaluation of loads and revenues will undoubtedly be carried out to establish if more flights should be added again.

After publishing the news of Qatar pulling out of the Seychelles in September, Capt. David Savy, current chairman of the Seychelles CAA and former long serving CEO of Air Seychelles, came back with some important observations, he permitted to share here: ‘(I) would just like to enlighten you on a few issues and arm you with the facts and truth. Qatar operates an A319 seating 110 seats daily since December 2004. In fact they rushed to start a month ahead of EK who had announced commencement of services in Jan 2005. Qatar commenced with four weekly services using a narrow body A319 whilst EK commenced with 5 weekly wide-body A330’s. Let us remember that at the time Air Seychelles was still operating its B767’s on Europe. As I stated then and it is still true today we have far too much capacity for the number of visitors we pull in and the current hotel room occupancy. Clearly Qatar has been bleeding since commencement of operations and has decided that after 8.5 years of systematic loses it had to make a decision’.

There is subsequently speculation now if Qatar Airways might drop other destinations with similar patterns too, and perhaps strengthen their presence on routes where high loads do produce acceptable financial returns.

Capt. Savy then went on to say, with clear reference to Emirates’ recent statement that they would wish to move from 12 flights a week to a full double daily service: ‘It is true to say that EK’s announcement that it is moving to double daily with a three class service dwarfs QR’s offer. EK will offer 3626 weekly seats on a wide body compared to QR offering 770 seats on a narrow body. This is a staggering 4.7 times.

Another poignant reality is that whilst we have just over 400’000 one way seats on offer into the Seychelles per annum (all airlines) only about 250’000 are being occupied. This is a dismal overall load factor of 63% and you and I know that this is way below breakeven point.

What is really happening today is that the market is stabilizing and reality is sinking in, simple as that.

Likewise the room occupancy of all hotels combined is in the mid 60’s. Therefore the reality is staring us in the face. We need to create even greater demand for the destination although one must appreciate the work STB/Tourism is doing currently as well as Govt having significantly increased STB’s marketing budget.

Seychelles has to become even ‘sexier’ with a steady stream of new properties, upgrading of existing ones and overall better service delivery. It is ironic that certain persons or sector of the trade is conveniently deflecting the blame or pointing fingers whereas the real solution lies on the ground and primarily hospitality sector.

The airline community has done their fair share and [reality is] that when Seychelles can generate more demand to fill [the] planes and [there are] more new hotels even Qatar Airways will come back. There you are Wolfgang, this is the reality. As a country we may be shining compared to other Indian Ocean islands but not bright enough to retain all existing airlines and attract others. The day we accept this as a fact and stop the blame game we can make real progress. After all the market does exist. Mauritius and Maldives receive close to a million visitors a year and Seychelles a quarter of that number! We certainly do not need that many but a bit more than currently would certainly retain airlines.

David, correctly, also pointed out that handling charges only formed a relatively smaller portion of an airline’s cost when deciding for or against a destination, though Blue Panorama had cited this as one of their reasons last year when they pulled from the route after only a few months.

Another regular reader of my blog posted this comment, again worth repeating here, as after all it is now in the public domain: ‘Don’t think it’s because of the high cost, Qatar they got money and good load factor into sez. With etihad in full control of air seychelles QR know it will be difficult for them to defend themselves in the future, better leave now then leave later with some insult. And now big rumors circulating that ek is going to go double daily to SEZ, with air austral, blue panorama and now Qatar maybe Ethiopian is in the queue next it will be UAE domination in the aviation sector in Seychelles’.

There certainly now are growing indications that the main Gulf carriers are taking a fresh look at load factors and frequencies to certain destinations, and rather – like in the old days when money seemingly did not matter as growth at almost any cost was deemed an acceptable strategy – cut their losses now than bleed fund urgently needed elsewhere, in places where the returns are assured.

The clock is now ticking down on Qatar Airways’ flights to Mahe, and should Emirates’ make good of their intention to go double daily, it remains to be seen how Air Seychelles and partner Etihad will be responding, perhaps with added flights between Abu Dhabi and Mahe in what will no doubt be a tooth and nail fight over passenger numbers and load factors, now that QR has dropped the proverbial towel into the skies.

Emirates meanwhile, in a move to further boost arrivals to the archipelago, held a joint workshop with the Seychelles Tourism Board on 28th May at the Constance Ephelia Resort, Seychelles. The workshop saw the participation of leading tour operators from UK, France, Germany, Russia, and Denmark.

The Seychelles destination is an important one for Emirates and this explains why we regularly engage in activities to promote the archipelago across our strong network. The Seychelles is popular with Emirates clients’ but we need to sustain its visibility in key markets’ stated Oomar Ramtoola, Emirates’ Manager for the Indian Ocean islands before adding: ‘With 12 weekly flights to the Seychelles, Emirates is the only airline offering three classes of travel; First Class, Business Class and Economy Class to the archipelago. We consider ourselves as a long-term partner of the tourism industry of the Seychelles. Our partnership with the Ministry of Tourism and the Seychelles Tourism Board is a very fruitful one’.

In response did Mrs. Elsia Grandcourt, CEO of the Seychelles Tourism Board reply: ‘Air accessibility is key to the development of any tourism destination and the Seychelles Tourism Board seizes every opportunity to work with partner airlines such as Emirates to continue to develop the market. The Emirates / Seychelles Tourism Board summit is happening at an opportune time. It will allow the local partners such as destination management companies and large hotels to discuss market opportunities, exchange market intelligence and consumer needs and explore special deals and business ventures/opportunities with Emirates sales and pricing managers with tour operators based in Europe. A second summit will take place in June with tour operators based in Asia and other markets. It is important for us to include the core European markets, which we want to further consolidate, and the new emerging markets, which the destination is developing, in this summit to exchange ideas and continue to work together in planning the way forward’.

In February did Emirates and the Seychelles Tourism Board renew their Memorandum of Understanding which aims at jointly promoting the destination throughout the airline’s network.

Watch this space for regular and breaking news from the Indian Ocean islands’ aviation industry.

Kenya hit by nationwide power outage

KENYA POWER PLUNGES COUNTRY INTO DRAKNESS

Kenyan businesses were left reeling yesterday when the country was hit with the worst power outage since 2000, lasting for several hours before, very gradually, electricity supply was restored.

Political pundits immediately raised the question if foul play was involved in this major incident, which will cost the business community hundreds of millions of Kenya Shillings in damages and lost revenues.

Only days ago had Kenya Power, almost in a ‘in your face’ announcement shocked Kenyans when the company said it would halt new connections, ostensibly in reaction to Deputy President Ruto a week earlier denying Kenya Power an increase in tariffs. Such claims will no doubt be investigated swiftly, and the top brass of Kenya Power can brace themselves for a major political and society backlash, already ‘enjoying’ a reputation from which the bottom seems to have dropped out. KP shelved the current uniform connection fee and will only, according to a source from Nairobi, resume connections when allowed to charge cost recovery based fees, expected to be substantially greater than the present fee.

Business associations as well as consumer protection organizations immediately denounced the long outage with befitting words over the cost impact of the grid failure, which forced businesses as well as all the country’s airports into using their backup generators. Port operations in Mombasa were grounded as were many of the country’s hospitals, few of which have generators and fewer which can afford to buy the expensive fuel to keep the engines running for extended hours. City hoteliers and resorts along the Kenya coast too complained as they were also forced to run generators to keep aircondition and refrigeration units running.

Mombasa and Coast Tourist Association chairperson Mohammed Hersi, who is also the Regional Manager for Sarova Hotels, in charge of the 5 star Whitesands Resort and Spa and the Taita Hills and Salt Lick lodges, tweeted his upset over the incident as follows:

1. NTV Kenya @ntvkenya9h

NATIONWIDE POWER #blackout disrupts business as #KenyaPower blames technical hitch on the grid; says addressing the matter

Retweeted by Mohammed Hersi.

Expand

o Reply

o Retweet

o Favorite

o More

2. Mohammed Hersi.@hersimohammed9h

#ConnectedKe conf getting ruined by lack of power. @KenyaPower technicians get arrested by council guys for repairing lines without a permit

Tourists in hotels and restaurants were left wondering what happened when the power went just around 2 p.m. as many were still having their lunch, and speculated, together with the staff serving them, what had befallen the country, only to learn later on of a nationwide outage.

The new government of President Uhuru Kenyatta is expected to react sharpishly and take action against the state owned, monopolist power distributor to show that inefficiencies and incompetence will no longer be tolerated. Meanwhile has Kenya Power and its management been sufficiently ridiculed in the social media through comments made on Twitter and Facebook, enough to have their ears ring for the rest of the year.

A return to Nyungwe Forest National Park

NYUNGWE, A RETURN TO THE ENCHANTED FOREST

Few places fuel my imagination as does the Nyungwe Forest National Park, with over 1.000 square kilometres the largest still intact montane forest in Eastern and Central Africa. It’s unique location, adjoining Burundi’s Kibira Transfrontier National Park, makes it part of Africa’ largest continuous protected forest area. The park’s importance as a water tower is increased by the fact that it is home of the continent’s main water divide, from where the ultimate headwaters of both the River Nile and the Congo River spring. It is here that, depending on which side of the ridge the rain falls, it will drain into either the Congo or the Nile basin. And rain does fall aplenty across the forest, with annual rainfall in excess of 2.000 mm, making it one of the wettest places in Africa.

Nyungwe, made a fully fledged national park in 2004, has since then attracted an ever growing stream of visitors, who come to enjoy Eastern Africa’s first, and still only canopy walk. It was built at the same time as the Uwinka park reception centre, conveniently located on the main road through the park from Huye to Rusizi, formerly known as Butare and Cyangugu. The canopy trail through and above the treetops, some as high as 70 metres, is about 200 metres long and, the hike from and back to Uwinka included, takes approximately 3+ hours to complete.

(One of the Nyungwe trails takes visitors along the Kamiranzovu Trail to the waterfalls of the same name)

But, as previously explained, Nyungwe is much more than just the canopy walk. A network of trails has since been opened up, accessible from both the Gisovu side and the Gisakura side of the forest. From short trails, like observing one of the many Colobus colonies which take often less than an hour to hikes from 4 to 8 hours and the multi day hike across the entire forest, the variety and availability of easier and more challenging hikes now draw adventurers, forest lovers and seekers of solitude to Nyungwe. Besides the canopy walk, another 8 trails are now open and the 3 to 4 day Congo Nile Divide Trail has basic camping sites available where hikers can spend the nights. Arguably the toughest hike is the climb up to Mt. Bigugu, which depending on physical fitness, weather and trail conditions can take between 6 to 10 hours and takes those successful to the peak at 2.950 metres, the highest point of Nyungwe.

Once inside the forest visitors find a rich biodiversity, over 310 species of birds, many of them endemic, 13 species of primates, about 140 species of orchids, over 240 species of trees and 1.068 identified species of plants, including 250 endemic to the Albertine Graben.

Accommodation is available as far as Rusizi, less than an hour from the forest, or even the more distant Huye, but closer by does the Rwanda Development Board’s Tourism and Conservation Department offer basic overnight services at their Gisakura park sub-headquarters. Visit www.rwandatourism.com for more details about guiding services, available campsites and budget accommodation at Gisakura. A short drive from there is the Nyungwe Top Hill View Lodge, which offers a spectacular vista from the top of one of the taller hills, while the 5 star Nyungwe Forest Lodge, owned by Dubai’s Istithmar World and operated by Shamwari is definitely my personal favourite. Set at the very edge of the forest, inside the Gisakura tea plantation, the 22 villa rooms and 2 suites face the forest, which, when the lodge was built was the regulatory distance away but has since silently crept up towards the villas as if either to embrace them or engulf them, some of the branches just feet away now from the balconies. Visitors arriving during a hot afternoon are greeted with iced towels while those like me, arriving after nightfall when the temperatures have dropped into the chilly range, get hot towels to wipe the dust and the sweat of the journey. The cold fruit juice is happily replaced by a cup of steaming tea, a harbinger of the hospitality one can expect while at the Nyungwe Forest Lodge.

It is here that all creature comforts are met, and after a long hike into the forest await scented baths, hot showers with a water pressure putting many a city hotel to shame, a fully fledged Spa where sore muscles can find cure and then followed by fine cuisine and attentive service. Generously designed lounges with big open fire places invite for afternoon tea and of course those quintessential pre- and post dinner aperitifs and digestives. Coffee table books are available to leaf through and the lodge’s boutique has many of those available for sale, to take these priceless memories home and show off a little to friends and acquaintances, and give them the taste to visit too, if for no other reason but to get even. I am yet to enjoy staying at the Nyungwe Forest Lodge for more than one night at a go, but that is something I have promised the General Manager Jerry Were to take care of during a future return to the ‘Enchanted Forest’.

Getting to Nyungwe is made easy by RwandAir’s double daily flights from Kigali to Kamembe, which take just half an hour, and the lodge will arrange pick up and drop off, with one of their 4×4’s, at a cost of course. For those with plenty of loose change in their pockets, there is a helipad right near the lodge and flights by helicopter are available from Kigali’s Kanombe International Airport. Most visitors though at present still arrive by car from Kigali, a 225 km drive which, depending on the number of stops enroute to take pictures, or pay a much recommended visit to the National Museum in Huye, can be anywhere between 4 ½ hours to a full day.

This trip was jointly organized by the partners in the Ereka Group, namely www.newdawnassociates.com, www.eagle-ride.com and www.victoria-international.com with support from www.rwandair.com, www.rwandatourism.com and hospitality partners like www.serenahotels.com, www.nyungweforestlodge.com, among others.

Previous articles about Nyungwe can be accessed via these links: https://wolfganghthome.wordpress.com/2012/06/23/nyungwe-the-enchanted-forest-waiting-to-be-discovered-and-explored/

https://wolfganghthome.wordpress.com/2012/04/22/nyungwe-forest-lodge-the-gateway-to-the-enchanted-forest/

https://wolfganghthome.wordpress.com/2011/07/26/rwanda-conservation-news-a-visit-to-the-enchanted-nyungwe-forest-national-park/

Qatar Airways signals end to Seychelles flights

QATAR AIRWAYS ANNOUNCES PULL OUT FROM SEYCHELLES

Tourism industry sources reacted with shock and incredulity when news broke over the weekend that Qatar Airways, presently serving Mahe with a daily flight, using an Airbus A320, will be ceasing operations into the archipelago come September this year.

Sources on the island, probably for fear of repercussions when being associated with named quotes on this sensitive subject, were swift to point to the significantly higher cost of ground handling at Mahe’s international airport, which has in the past driven other airlines away, the last being Blue Panorama from Italy which left after investing heavily in promoting the route after Air Seychelles had pulled out of Italy in early 2012.

It is an open secret that several airlines have complained in the past about the very high cost of ground handling in Mahe. This adds a lot of extra cost and in comparison with other similar destinations we are very expensive.

It is something which has to be discussed if we are to try and keep Qatar Airways here. Losing a daily flight is not sending a good message to the market. Qatar is expanding fast to other destinations and they were offering a one stop service to Mahe from their network. This is negative publicity when we need it the least and we should try to find out what really made Qatar make this announcement. Maybe there is more to it than meets the eye’ said one of the regular sources when discussing the development.

Others were equally reluctant to be drawn into the discussion, expressing regret and hope that something could be done to keep Qatar Airways in the skies over the Seychelles.

Perhaps if Qatar pulls out, Emirates can step in and go to a full twice a day service, or Air Seychelles and Etihad could add more seats? I only hope that it has nothing to do with Qatar finding the partnership between Air Seychelles and Etihad was their main issue they had besides the cost of handling. Because if that has played any role in their decision it might reflect badly on other airlines thinking of coming here. It is a fine line we have to walk here, promoting tourism requires airline partners, and if there is even a slight notion that some partnerships are favoured over others, that could have a big impact on our marketing’ said another, expressing some worries which had come to the surface before. Three months and counting now for the exit of Qatar Airways, in what must have been a difficult decision for the airline otherwise set to expand and add destinations, not drop them. Watch this space for regular and breaking news updates from the Indian Ocean aviation industry.

Leopard Beach is joined by Swahili Beach in TripAdvisor recognition

LEOPARD BEACH IS JOINED BY SWAHILI BEACH IN ANNUAL TRIPADVISOR RECOGNITION

Two of Kenya’s leading beach resorts, the much acclaimed Leopard Beach Resort and Spa and the nearby Swahili Beach – the latter the first new hotel opened in December 2011 for over 15 years at the Diani Beach stretch of the south coast – have just received their TripAdvisor recognition for outstanding services, the Certificate of Excellence 2013. Mike Round Turner, who is heading the team at the Swahili Beach, in his communication spoke of a difficult few months, the sector has been going through but expressed his confidence that the future was looking up and shaping up with improved advance bookings. He said: ‘Bookings are looking strong and for the first time in months the tour operators are talking positively’, a sentiment shared by several other hoteliers this correspondent was in touch with in recent days.

Meanwhile, across at the Leopard Beach Resort and Spa things are also looking up, as – following the time critical rebuilding of the sections of the resort damaged by a fire almost exactly a year ago – the focus has now shifted back to the new villas. Construction of the 28 forest and pool villas was halted during the rebuilding of the main resort but has now resumed in full swing and the first phase of forest villas are expected to be open in September this year.

When fully operational, the 2 and 3 bedroom villas will add a further 73 rooms to the resort, which has been enjoying growing patronage from around the world and established itself as a regular contender for ‘Best’ among Kenya’s beach resorts. Notably will the coast’s first fusion restaurant also open at the time, with some of the staff already being trained in Thailand, to be ready to work their magic in the kitchen. Named ‘Lemongrass’ the restaurant will serve the guests staying at the villas but also for patrons from outside the resort, complementing the existing Chaine des Rotisseurs restaurant in the main resort complex.

In related news it was also learned that the Diani beach road, which connects all the resorts, has been re-carpeted with a new solid layer of tarmac, though it is still lacking paved sidewalks where tourists can safely stroll along to visit the shops and boutiques, as it does street lighting, a crucial element for those wanting to walk after dark.

Still, good progress with the resorts and congratulations to the two recipients of the TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence 2013.

%d bloggers like this: