Archive for September, 2013

Diani’s Indian Ocean Beach Resort is closing down today

IT IS TEARS AMONG STAFF AS THE INDIAN OCEAN BEACH RESORT CLOSES

(Posted 30th September 2013)

Inspite of upbeat noises by tourism marketers is reality today hitting home, as another South Coast resort, the Indian Ocean Beach Resort, closes its doors for lack of business.

Announced already a while ago by the proprietors, who also own and manage the Nairobi based Jacaranda Hotel, the Village Inn in Kiambu and the Lake Elementaita Lodge, that they would have to close down and make some 300 staff redundant, should the business climate not dramatically improve, the day has now come to see the last faithful guests leave, no new ones check in and the staff, many of them in a tearful good bye, for the last time clock out and leave the resort, with no re-opening date in sight.

Industry sources were swift to point out that this development did not come as a result of the recent Westgate calamity but that the writing was on the wall for a while now, as more and more charter flights withdrew from Mombasa, which once upon a time accounted for over 60 percent of Kenya’s tourism arrivals.

We can only reiterate our call for government to come up with rapid relief and concessions for the sector, for a new open sky policy for Mombasa to attract more scheduled airlines to fly to the coast and to really kickstart our recovery marketing programme which we needed before the elections – the last government failed our sector very badly here – and since the elections in March. We need to have VAT on tourism services removed which was recently introduced, we need affordable finance from KTDC to upgrade our resorts and innovate our product and we should consider to half our Visa fee again like we did in 2008. There are measures which can bring swift relief and others will take a while to take root but if we do nothing, then nothing will change’ said a depressed sounding regular source from the coast when asked to add his comments.

Diani Beach has regularly been voted as one of the world’s greatest beaches for holidays and yet have as many as 7 resorts closed over the past years and only one, the Swahili Beach Hotel, opened in late 2011. For now, and today, it is a very sad Kwaheri to the Indian Ocean Beach Resort and only time will tell if the ‘Ya Kuonana’ will one day be added and the resort can reopen and welcome the both new and old guests back.

Magical Kenya Travel Expo 2013 – more than just an exhibition

MICE SEMINAR ANNOUNCED FOR 17TH OCTOBER AT THE STANLEY HOTEL IN NAIROBI

(Posted 30th September 2013)

The Kenya Tourism Board is supporting a MICE Seminar organized by Reed Exhibitions in conjunction with EIBTM and SITE as part of their additional activities planned for their annual Magical Kenya Travel Expo 2013.

The seminar will take place on October 17th at the centrally located Stanley Hotel and has attracted several high quality speakers, among them Huw Tucket from SITE and Jill Henry, recently retired from the Sarawak Convention Bureau. Huw will speak on Global Incentive Industry trends, the different types of ‘rewards’ from cash to travel while Jill,who is also a former director of the Perth Convention Bureau will speak on “The Potential and Value of International Conference and Incentive Business for East Africa”….Finding a way to gain business in a competitive market and the role of the PCO in winning international conferences. Local tourism expert Tasneem Adamji will focus her presentation on how to prepare incentive proposals for East Africa and ultimately deliver a program.

The Magical Kenya Travel Expo 2013 will officially kick off on the 18th of October and run until the 20th of October, though the official programme for the event starts with the much awaited World Travel Award 2013 Ceremony on the evening of the 16th of October, followed by the full day seminar which is expected to be a sellout at a cost of Kenya Shillings 5.000/- per person. Interested parties can write to pa but urgency is recommended as few spots remain. For more information on the exhibition and the various activities lined up visit www.magicalkenyatravelexpo.com

Power cut hits Mombasa’s international airport

MOI INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT THROWN INTO DARKNESS

(Posted 29th September 2013)

Only weeks after a devastating fire at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi do the woes for the Kenya Airport Authority continue, as this evening their second most important airport, Moi International Mombasa, descended into utter darkness just before 8 p.m. local time. Standby generators failed to engage and passengers had to use their torches or mobile phones to light up their immediate neighbourhood, as operations came to a standstill and flights in and out of Mombasa were not possible during the outage as runway lights too went dark.

Concerns from stakeholders immediately focused on aviation security, as the entire complex was dark and apparently not a single stand by light was functioning in crucial areas when the lights went out, rendering staff unable to see what was transpiring at the entrance gates or elsewhere in arrival and departure terminals.

(Picture by Travel Guru @Njooro)

A picture received from a fellow Tweep provided instant proof of the surrounding darkness, which by initial reports on twitter lasted for at least 10 minutes before some few emergency lights came on, with no explanation given by KAA through social media or other means.

Yes a driver called when the lights went out. He had gone to drop off passengers and made sure the office was told right away in case there would be delays. How can the generators not come on immediately when the lights go out at the airport. Imagine a plane is just about to land or about to take off. Can the airport authority bosses finally wake up and do something about such operational failures? I remember when some time ago the airport could not operate at night because the runway lights had gone out for several days. It is dangerous and irresponsible’ commented a regular Mombasa based source when called about the incident.

It is now wait and see how and when KAA finds it fit to respond to queries raised on Twitter or through conventional channels as airlines and the general public want answers to this latest lapse.

Information about major hotel project in Juba comes to light

ROTANA MAY HEAD TO SOUTH SUDAN

(Posted 29th September 2013)

Information from a usually reliable source in South Sudan’s capital city of Juba has indicated that Rotana, a Middle Eastern hotel group with a sizeable and growing portfolio of hotels and resorts in several countries, may be heading to Juba in a joint venture undertaking. If and when finally confirmed, this would be the first international group of any pedigree to enter the South Sudanese hospitality market, which has so far been almost shunned by the big league operators. Several major players have in the past argued that the investment climate was far from right for them to put major resources into South Sudan, pointing to lack of incentives for investors, uncertainty over land ownership, outright or through leases, slow legislative and regulatory reforms to bring South Sudan to the level of other East African countries and a prohibitive foreign currency regime which does not allow investors to remit any dividends at will as well as may encumber servicing loans from foreign financial institutions for such projects. Absence of key double taxation agreements too were cited as were ongoing security issues named as a serious obstacle. In fact, two months ago did one leading East African hotelier based in Nairobi, when discussing the opportunities which South Sudan’s independence opened up for the hospitality sector, on condition of strict anonymity say: ‘If I cannot remit my management fees to Kenya, why should I send top level manpower there. How do I pay them. The downfall of Jetlink is for everyone fresh in mind. And besides those financial issues, there is the perception about security in South Sudan. They do little to address those perceptions and that is a big reason why tourism has failed to take off there. Too much red tape, too much uncertainty and neither is good for business. It is not just about opportunities, those are there but also about a well regulated and legally secure business environment’.

The Rotana project though seems well connected and local partners will no doubt have to take care of such issues as have been mentioned by others.

Located, according to the source, at an area of Juba known as Jebel Kujur, the hotel and a complex of serviced apartments and a gated estate for villas and residences, will cost at least 60 million US Dollars for the first phase but that figure may double when the next phase of residential developments goes underway following the completion of the main hotel project. According to the source construction may still start before the end of this year on a site covering about 27 hectares of land, and to support the information has the source included an artist’s impression of the proposed hotel, which Rotana will reportedly manage on opening.

More information will be sought on the occasion of a short return to Juba over the coming weeks, when hopefully also added details can be obtained about the state of tourism to South Sudan’s incredibly rich wildlife parks, and the facilitation of tourist visitors vis a vis the current red tape in place. Watch this space.

Uganda selected to host Rotary Youth Conference

KAMPALA SET TO HOST ROTARY INTERNATIONAL’S AFRICAN YOUTH CONFERENCE

(Posted 29th September 2013)

(District Governor Katongole making the announcement)

Rotary International – a global humanitarian organization, has planned five forums during the year 2013/14 for young professionals, youth, scholars, community activists and Rotary members. The aim of these continental conferences is to find ways of working in unity towards the common goal of making the world a better place. The forums, referred to as Rotary International Presidential Conferences, will be hosted by Rotary International’s President Ron D. Burton.

In Africa, Uganda has been selected as the host of the Rotary International Presidential Africa Youth Conference 2013 , taking place from 4th – 5th November, 2013. The conference will be held in Uganda’s capital city of Kampala at the Hotel Africana, under the theme ‘Engage Rotary Change lives: Taking Charge of the Future’.

Uganda belongs to the Rotary International District 9211, which after a major realignment some years ago, due to the significant growth of clubs in the region, was carved out of the former District 9200 and now covers Uganda and Tanzania. The head of this district for the year 2013/14 is District Governor Emmanuel Katongole. He said in a media release received overnight about the conference that: ‘… it is an immense honor for Uganda to host an event of this magnitude. It is also a global recognition of the work and selflessness of thousands of Rotarians in Uganda’.

The Rotary International President will arrive in Uganda on 3rd November 2013 and plans to hold meetings with senior government and business leaders, visit Rotary projects and chair the youth conference at Hotel Africana. Mr. Burton will also participate as a ‘Goodwill Ambassador for Rotary’ in the promotion of proper ‘Hand Washing with Soap’ at Kiwuliriza Primary School.

While in Uganda he will also distribute mosquito nets and reproductive health kits to expectant mothers and young children all of which are part of charitable activities and projects of the Ugandan Rotary clubs.

Outside Uganda, the Rotary International Presidential Africa Youth Conferences will be held in India for Asia

United Kingdom for Europe and in Brazil for the Americas. More than 2.000 participants are expected to come to Kampala from the Eastern African region and beyond to participate in the conference. A warm welcome to The Pearl of Africa goes to all the expected participants.

Weekly roundup of news from Eastern Africa and the Indian Ocean region, Fifth edition September 2013

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 news updates instantly via Twitter by following @whthome or join me on www.facebook.com/WolfgangHThome where the articles also ‘cross load’.

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. Reproduction of any material will require prior written consent and when consent is granted proper author’s credit.

Much of my material is published on www.eturbonews.com/africa – the global industry leader for e-communications to the tourism and travel trade.

This blog is powered by Smile Communications, Uganda’s first 4G LTE wireless broadband system

(Visit www.smile.co.ug or www.smilecoms.com)

Fifth edition September 2013

ONLY IN SOUTH AFRICA OR ELSEWHERE TOO?

(Posted 27th September 2013)

At the end of the 2013 World Tourism Day, and hot on the heels of my piece about Tanzania’s FastJet being refused to start operations over the obscure lack of some ‘documentation’ by the South African Department of Transport, emerged another story of the trials and tribulations of a fellow traveller, none other than renowned Karl Amman. Karl, a near lifetime resident of Kenya, a wildlife photographer par excellence, a conservationist and a tourism investor obviously got the wrong end of a stick, which officials apparently can produce at will to ‘hit’, proverbially speaking (hopefully) travellers whose documents, or appearance they do not like.

His harrowing tale of being caught in the sharp teeth of officialdom gone bonkers, not just wild, at the hands of South Africa’s finest at OR Tambo International Airport is worth featuring. And I do it at the risk of those very officials per chance reading my story and blacklisting my own name. So should I next time on arrival in Johannesburg be told to turn on my heels, after cooling them in lock up for a few hours, I would not be surprised at all. I, like Karl, would very likely make a nuisance of myself, wish I could grow 10 more arms to wave a dozen ‘birds’ at them at once before on return home let my pen do them justice, as Karl Amman did.

And in closing, after staging a successful FIFA World Cup in 2010 for which I applauded them as surely Karl did too – and by the way how many such cases went unreported back then – they are now aspiring to eventually host the Olympics? Really? NOT without a major retooling of those brains at OR Tambo first would be my reaction. Bad behaviour is just that, bad behaviour and such rotten apples must be removed or else risk having South Africa’s reputation dented and scarred. And for others with similar experience – let’s hear about them, right here!

Organized Anarchy at Oliver Tambo International Airport Johannesburg

My wife and I enjoy our visits to Cape Town and in the past few years have visited on average twice a year. We live on the slopes of Mt. Kenya in a rural setting and enjoy the urban aspects of the Cape’s waterfront

The invitation to present our Seychelles villa (Residence on the Rocks) at the ILTM at the Mount Nelson hotel provided an additional incentive to once again visit.

We were flying on April the 9th on South African Airways via Johannesburg. Arriving at OT Airport I was told by immigration that I had a problem because I did not have two empty pages in my passport. I was told I would be taken to a senior immigration officer upstairs who would decide if I could enter or not.

While waiting for the appointment I called my wife and told her to proceed to Cape Town on BA.

The immigration official looked at the passport and decided that whatever gaps were left were not good enough to place any entry and exit stamp. I did show my receipt for having ordered a new passport from the Swiss Embassy in Kenya which had not arrived yet and (attached) the two pages in the front of my passport showing that in the past the SA immigration authorities had no problem stamping on a page which had an already existing exit stamp from Kenya and then SA exit and entry stamps.

It cut no ice. I was told that I would have to return to Kenya on the next flight. I was not shown the corresponding immigration rules and I was not ‘read any rights’ or given any option to appeal to any third party.

I asked to call my embassy requesting the corresponding list of consular representatives in Pretoria. None was available. I had an international roaming modem and managed to get internet access and look up the number to call the Swiss consular official who talked to the immigration official. It made no difference, he kept typing away on a key board not showing much interest in what was being said by the consular official. I suggested that I could peel off one of the stuck in visas from a West African country and the result would be an empty page. I was told that this would be a major offense and my passport would become invalid with immediate effect. I then called a high level South African government enforcement contact that I was to due to meet on my return from Capetown to provide information on rhino horn trafficking which we had uncovered during an investigative film shoot in Vietnam. The immigration official talked to my contact and informed him to go via the ministry of home affairs (on a Saturday evening). I asked for several times about my checked in bag and I wanted to ensure that it was claimed or a record of my status was established in connection to it. I was told that SAA would deal with this issue

My passport was sealed in an envelope and I was told somebody would come and ‘sort me out’. My assumption was that I would be taken to the airport transit area to book my return flight – on the next SAA flight back to Nairobi (In the first instance SAA should have checked my passport in Nairobi and informed me of the missing two empty pages and as such, under IATA rules had the responsibility to get me back to Kenya).

The uniformed lady who came to pick up the envelope containing my passport and myself took me a level higher to what turned out to be a detention center.

The main access door locked behind me and could only be opened by a special code to be keyed in. I was taken to an inner office and asked to hand over all my belongings including my briefcase with my computer and a wide range of documents. Everything was taken out and thoroughly searched. Then came a very intense and unprofessional frisk search. Next my phone was torn out of my hand while I was on another phone call with the Swiss consular official in Pretoria updating him on developments. I was told my 5 min for phone calls were up. A pen was removed from my shirt pocket. The bag was locked up in a luggage room and the valuables sealed in a box. I was asked to sign the list of content which I refused.

A notice in the reception pointed out that the facility was run by a private contractor: ARM: Analytical Risk Management Aviation Security. The notice also stated:
"This is a restricted area. Any person entering these premises does so at his own risk. By entering these premises you hereby confirm and agree to comply with all the ARM rules as amended from time to time."

I pointed out that I did not want to be here that I had not agreed to be here, that I had not been read ‘any kind of rights’. At no point was I shown or explained the rules or regulations “I had to comply with”. I was again refused the phone to call my embassy, a lawyer or anybody else and I wanted to know what I was charged with or under which legislation I was being held. I was told that I was not to ask questions but to answer them.

I was then asked to enter a cell which had a metal grill outer door and a wooden one inside with a small window at eye level. I refused again for the above reasons and asked to make a police statement on what I now considered human rights violations.

A police contingent of four officers arrived. I explained the story and some long discussions took place in a local language with the ARM staff. The police officers made it clear they would not assist in throwing me physically into a cell and they did not consider two missing empty pages as a basis for such action. However they refused to let me file an official police report.

I then slept on the floor of the reception area, after being told I was not allowed to sleep on the seat/bench along the wall of the reception area (all this recorded by a CCTV camera right overhead with me regularly making statements of what was happening directly into this camera).

I asked for medication out of my checked bag. I was told it could not be found and that there was a flight at 10.10 am on Sunday on SAA on which I would be deported and that was when I would see my bag again.

There was a shift change the next morning and clearly the new arrivals were briefed and told to ensure that I would enter a cell.

This I had to do when I had to go to a toilet with the only such facilities being in an empty cell, the door was locked behind me. However there was then a phone call from the Swiss consul to ask about the status of the affair and I was allowed to go to the outer office to answer and after that I again refused to go into the cell.

The SAA flight departure time came and went and nobody came to pick me up and the answer from the attendants was there would be another flight in the evening.

I now asked to buy a ticket on Kenya Airways flying two hours later or a Middle Eastern Airline pointing out that I had just returned from Doha with entry and exit stamps and no problem concerning empty pages. I was told my dossier was with SAA and that was the only airline I was allowed to use.

By this time I had met a range of new detainees from Senegal, Ghana, Zimbabwe, Nigeria etc… Some in very similar situations as me having committed some kind of administrative offense they did not understand and were not explained, while others indeed were travelling on fake passports. Me talking to them was classified as ‘politicking’ and I was told to sit at the other end of the room and refrain from any further conversation with any party.

In the case of a very sophisticated Zimbabwean Gentleman who had arrived on SAA Airlink from Bulawayo I managed to assist. He had left his passport in the seat pocket of the plane and realized it when arriving at immigration. He was not allowed to go back and search for it and get it. He was locked up and everything taken from him. His wife and family were arriving from London and he was meant to meet them at arrivals but was not even allowed to make a phone call to inform them of his predicament.

He was informed that he had to go back to Bulawayo and get a new passport but to do so he had to buy a new ticket. He had a credit card but not enough cash and was told he would stay until he found the cash. I gave him U$ 300 and the SAA reps changed it for him and got him a new ticket.

Later in the afternoon of Sunday the day crew were getting ready for a shift change and clearly felt committed to have me in a cell for the incoming crew. The two guys on duty started dragging me by my legs and arms and tried to get me into the cell block behind a metal grill door. I managed to get my feet against the door frames and they gave up after five minutes of dragging, pushing and shoving (all underneath the CCTV camera).

Half an hour later they came again. This time they were more determined and aggressive and I got punched in the back of the head. The struggle lasted longer this time and I ran out of breath and started worrying about chest pains I was now experiencing. They realized I was struggling to breathe and that a more serious health issue was developing. They left me laying in the door way to the cell corridor and I had pulled the seat/bench from the reception area also into the doorway so the metal grill door could not be closed.

Again I lay there until the SAA staff came around 8 pm to pick me up. I was given back my belongings, my briefcase and my passport was handed to them in the envelope and the SAA official took me straight to the plane, walking me to my seat. He told me my checked bag with my medication; tooth brush etc. was on the flight and the baggage tag in the envelope with the passport.

When I landed in Kenya the passport was handed to the ground handling staff who passed it on to me after leaving the aircraft. There was no baggage tag and of course the bag did not show up on the belt.

The next morning I went to the Swiss Embassy to get an emergency passport. I got it in less than two hours (the same service had also been offered by the Swiss Council in Pretoria to the immigration official at OT airport, who refused it on the grounds that I was not to leave the immigration area and for a passport to be valid it needed biometric data which could only be taken at the embassy using specific equipment).

I flew back to JNB and Cape Town where I found my bag and attended the second day of the ILTM. I also informed the SAA sales staff in attendance about the wide range of shortcomings of SAA in the context of this saga. I told them that I would also inform all the travel agents and tour operators that I had not been able to meet on Monday and who had left their business cards on the table set up for these meetings, of what had transpired and send a copy of this report.

Overall, the message I received is that none of the staff members at immigration, none of the SAA representatives attending to me (or more accurately, not attending) and certainly none of the ARM staff ever tried to find a solution, nor showed any indication that they had ever received any kind of training in guest/passenger/visitor relations. What under normal legal circumstances would have amounted to a minor civil matter was classified and put in the same category as a criminal act. Except for the police officers who refused to throw me in a cell, there seemed nobody willing to look at that aspect or consider it as mitigating circumstance.

While I was not dragged behind a car (a case which shocked the SA public a few weeks earlier) their attitude was nevertheless to create as much inconvenience, humiliation and discomfort as possible. Several of the ‘enforcers’ I dealt with seemed to greatly enjoy this aspect of their power.

Myself and my fellow prisoners were all exposed to this attitude from the moment the first immigration official pinpointed a problem at the first passport check. (four Nigerians inmates concluded: “They do not want us here and will find something, so let’s go home.” In their case it had something to do with their vaccination certificates and not their visas or passports).

The physical interaction of trying to throw me into a cell I definitely classified as assault, and upon my return to Johannesburg filed the police report I had tried to file the day of my arrival.

I also reported the incident to the media and the Star Newspaper picked up the story. I had briefed them in our conversations that they would most probably encounter denial and fabrications concerning what had happened. In the printed story the allegation was that upon being checked into the ARM facility I had threatened the female attendant and pulled her on her shirt – an absolute lie. The media were not given the right to view the footage. When I checked with the police, after filing the report three days earlier, I was told that they had not been able to see the footage but were planning to do so.

I specifically requested again for the CCTV footage to be checked concerning the above allegations and my claims of having been assaulted.

My overall conclusion is that the South African problem with crime, xenophobia, and law enforcement goes a long way beyond ‘the big issue items’ one reads daily in the newspapers and it can surprise and catch up with any tourist or casual visitor on short or no notice. The procedures in place of then dealing with these issues seem to be far removed from international norms. (it was a first for me having visited over 120 countries).

Travel Agents and tour operators should be aware of these pitfalls and dangers and warn their clients or send them to countries which are more welcoming and more PR oriented.

East Africa News

KEMPINSKI EYES RWANDA AND OTHER MARKETS FOR EXPANSION DRIVE IN AFRICA

(Posted 28th September 2013)

Company poised to bring luxury hospitality to up-and-coming destinations around the continent’ according to Kempinski’s CEO Reto Wittwer.

Kempinski Hotels, Europe’s oldest luxury hotel group, has announced plans to expand its portfolio of luxury hotels in Africa. With two new properties opened in Kenya in 2013, Kempinski looks to add five more hotels to its African portfolio in the next year.

Upcoming openings in Africa in 2014 include the Kempinski Hotel Gold Coast City in Accra, Ghana and the Royal Maxim Palace Kempinski in Cairo, Egypt set to open early in the year, as well as a newly signed 450 key hotel in the future capital of Equatorial Guinea, Oyala. Additional plans are moving forward to open hotels in Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo by the end of the year.

At a press conference at the new Villa Rosa Kempinski in Nairobi, President and CEO of Kempinski Hotels, Mr. Reto Wittwer told reporters that following the company’s success expanding into the Middle East and China over the past twenty years, Kempinski expects its growing portfolio in key destinations across the African continent to become a major source of revenue for the company, as well as provide new sources for talent and talent development across the company.

Kempinski Hotels currently operates 82 hotels in 31 countries and has 37 more hotels under development worldwide. Congratulating the team of Villa Rosa Kempinski on the occasion of their recent opening Mr. Wittwer said: ‘We will continue our development strategy throughout the continent over the next few years, partnering with key players in Africa to secure the best locations for our luxury properties. There is a worldwide fascination with this region and we believe in the strength of places like Kenya as a destination. Our distinct brand of European luxury and operational know-how makes us a key player in all the markets we operate in, and we expect that our new property here in Nairobi will be no different. African hospitality traditions lay a great foundation for our global expansion here in Africa, and around the globe. Kempinski places a great emphasis on recruiting and retaining the best talent in the industry and the quality of candidates we are encountering in places like Kenya and Ghana, gives us great confidence that we will be able to deliver the service that we have built our reputation on over the past 116 years that Kempinski has been in operation’.

Kempinski currently operates hotels in Egypt, Djibouti, Chad, Seychelles, and Kenya. With five hotels set to open in Africa in the next year, Kempinski will hire more than 1500 people in the next twelve months, nearly doubling its current workforce on the continent, and will draw heavily on local talent in each destination.

Finding new talent, which will push us further in the future, continues to be our utmost priority’ said Mr. Wittwer before adding: ’We are looking for candidates who are interested in different cultures, speak various languages, share our passion for hospitality, and are looking for a bit of an adventure abroad. In addition to our needs in Africa in the next twelve months, our global expansion plans for the next five years will require an additional 12,000 new members of staff, and it is essential to attract and retain talented people who are dedicated to offering our guests the outstanding service that Kempinski is known for’.

No mention was made however about a possible return to Tanzania, where Kempinski at one stage managed three properties, a resort on Zanzibar, a game lodge in the Serengeti and a 5 star hotel in Dar es Salaam nor was Uganda mentioned where top quality hotels are still in short supply as more and more visitors flock to these two countries following the discovery of significant deposits of oil and gas, besides a thriving tourism industry.

More information about Kempinski’s recent and upcoming openings in Africa:

The five-star Villa Rosa Kempinski is located on Chiromo road, within the Westlands area in the heart of Nairobi. It is only a half-hour drive from Jomo Kenyatta International Airport and five minute drive to the Nairobi Central Business District. The new luxury hotel will consist of 200 spacious rooms and suites distributed over ten floors, including two Presidential Suites on the top floor. The hotel will feature three concept restaurants in addition to an all-day dining restaurant, a bar, and a cigar lounge.

Olare Mara Kempinski luxury camp is located in the beautiful Olare Orok Conservancy, which is home to some of the Mara’s largest lion prides. The property features twelve spacious luxury tents, which are built on elevated decks with private balconies that offer unhindered views of the Mara Plains and the Ntiakitiak River.

Kempinski Hotel Gold Coast City Accra set to open in early 2014 will offer 269 rooms, including 22 suites and two Presidential Suites and will feature include two restaurants, a lobby café with outdoor seating, a cocktail bar and lounge and 6,000 square metres of retail space. The 3,000 square metre Resense Spa (the first branded Resense spa in Africa) will offer 10 treatment rooms, a beauty parlour, a fitness centre, a yoga studio, an organic food bar, a 25-metre outdoor pool, two table tennis courts and two tennis courts. It will set new standards for luxury, quality and service across all of West Africa.

Set atop the budding desert hills of New Cairo and just minutes away from Cairo International Airport, the RoyalMaxim Palace Kempinski is due to open in early 2014 and will be beacon of grandeur and luxurious hospitality. Guests will enjoy cool breezes of desert evenings in lush open spaces, the aromatic flavors of signature restaurants, as well as the serenity of 244 spacious, stylish rooms and suites. Housing the largest ballroom in the Middle East the hotel is set to become the most sought after venue in the city for conventions and celebrations.

Kempinski Hotel Oyala, due to open in early 2014 will be the first luxury hotel in the city and marks the debut of the Kempinski brand in the future capital of Equatorial Guinea. The newly built hotel is made up of 400 rooms and 50 suites, modern meetings and conference facilities for up to 2,000, restaurants, lounges, spa and a championship golf course.

EMIRATES SCOOPS YET MORE AWARDS

(Posted 25th September 2013)

Information was just received that Emirates has won the prestigious ‘UAE Aviation Company of the Year’ award alongside the ‘UAE Company of the Year’ award during a ceremony held in Dubai. The vote for Aviation Company of the Year award came as a result of a panel of independent judges being unanimous in Emirates being the airline deserving the 2013 prize.

In contrast it was the readers of the hugely influential Gulf Business magazine and www.gulfbusiness.com who voted to lift Emirates to the top of the rankings UAE Company of the year rankings, way ahead of their nearest rivals for both honours.

Emirates has changed the way people travel in Eastern Africa, where the airline now connects Nairobi and Dar es Salaam double daily while Entebbe and Addis Ababa are served once a day, all with wide body aircraft. Most flights offer a full three class configuration, bringing travellers from across the region to Dubai where increasingly often they now have the option to fly on the Airbus A380, the largest and arguably most luxuriously outfitted commercial aircraft in the world to a growing number of destinations around the world. Hello Tomorrow!

Uganda News

UGANDA’S HIDDEN TOURISM SECRETS – UNVEILED ON WORLD TOURISM DAY

(Posted 27th September 2013)

There are rare occasions when one comes across a truly exceptional idea, initiative or voluntary undertaking, and when it touches on the very core of my professional interest, tourism, it can be sure to be showcased and given exposure, in local, regional and global fora. This I found of all days today, on World Tourism Day, and it gives me great pleasure to share my find with my readers, more so as I am shortly embarking on an extensive hiking trip to the very areas this book describes, the highlands around Kabale, Lake Bunyonyi – Africa’s deepest lake – and the route via Muko and Ruhija to Kisoro and Nkuringo. Those adventures I will be sure to share here too but for now a bit of a teaser, a bit of an insight into a part of Uganda so far known to few others then ‘Uganda specialists’. Enjoy!

Gorilla Highlands Interactive eBook: Among World’s Best

A unique interactive book from a village in southwestern Uganda has recently received a World Summit Award (http://www.wsis-award.org/winner/gorilla-highlands-109520130906). Produced by a volunteer team of top notch experts on Lake Bunyonyi and around the world, Gorilla Highlands (https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/gorilla-highlands/id562572902) has been declared one of the best five global electronic products in the field of culture and tourism.

In addition to being incredibly multimedia-rich, with astonishing photography, helpful videos, an extensive audio phrasebook and more, the book distinguishes itself from the mainstream travel guides in three key areas:

AN UNPARALLELED RESOURCE
Initially imagined as a tool for promoting cultural tourism in southwestern Uganda, the book has grown in scope and ambition. Its Travel Guide chapter provides frequently updated tourist information and is full of suggestions and ideas aimed at helping visitors enjoy a more rewarding experience. The regional focus gives a more detailed picture, unavailable in other more general travel guides. Additionally, Gorilla Highlands includes a unique In-Depth Companion that in itself represents the most comprehensive book about the region ever published. For those travellers aiming for a more meaningful experience than simply following the conventional trails, Gorilla Highlands therefore represents a significant step forward.

A CULTURAL PROJECT
The Gorilla Highlands Interactive eBook is part of a wider initiative by Studio Edirisa, the multimedia social enterprise behind the project, to invigorate southwestern Uganda through active promotion of its cultural and historical heritage. Within this, there is special emphasis on the importance of developing cultural self-respect as a means of empowering Ugandans.
By purchasing Gorilla Highlands ($14.99 on Apple’s iBookstore, available in 50 countries), you are acquiring a stake in a wider enterprise whose aims extend beyond the production of this book. Studio Edirisa has gathered together a team of professionals passionate about the region, who have links to its communities and offer expertise in various disciplines, so an archive of the region’s political and cultural history is being collected. With time, this project will go ever deeper and be expanded to other parts of Uganda and East Africa, to reflect the fact that the complex blend of cultural and historical identities in the region runs across national borders.

A DIFFERENT KIND OF TOURISM
Underpinning this project is a desire to remould the tourist experience to have more cultural resonance. Gorilla Highlands sees the people—not the world-famous mountain gorillas that it still devotes over 30 pages to—as the biggest attraction of southwestern Uganda. It guides a visitor towards an experience that is both respectful of local cultures and more profound because of that. A system of guided cultural trips called the Gorilla Highlands Trails (www.gorillahighlands.com/trails) has grown from the book project, and the vulnerable Batwa "Pygmies" communities (www.gorillahighlands.com/batwa) have been given special attention.

If you’re planning on visiting the region, why not contribute to this effort? You can help expand this network and create new links between Uganda and the wider world, thus giving more than just cash to the local communities. It’s also a great way of forging stronger connections with local people that will last long after you have returned home. If you are inspired by Gorilla Highlands to get involved, the project website (www.gorillahighlands.com) and the Facebook page (www.facebook.com/gorillahighlands) provide a platform from which you can jump in. Feel free to get in touch and say hello.

Gorilla Highlands is available on Apple’s iBookstore and readable on iPads and soon Macs too. An extension to other platforms is planned for 2014.

UGANDA AT 51 CELEBRATES WORLD TOURISM DAY

(Posted 27th September 2013)

Today will see the formal launch of the UN World Tourism Organization’s World Tourism Day in Uganda in the town of Fort Portal, located in the heart of a triangle of national parks at the foothills of the UNESCO World Heritage Site the Rwenzori Mountains, aka Mountains of the Moon. Within easy reach from Fort Portal are such natural wonders like the Semiliki National Park, the Semliki Toro Game Reserve, the Kibale Forest National Park and only a little further off the Queen Elizabeth National Park, making the seat of the Toro Kingdom an ideal base to explore the West of Uganda.

It has been a tradition in Uganda to celebrate the World Tourism Day in different locations, every alternate year moving out of the capital Kampala and showcasing the Pearl of Africa’s tourism attractions to the locals and foreign visitors alike.

With the main celebration this year out of the city have tourism gurus nevertheless made sure that Kampaleans get their fill too, as today will also see the launch of the Annual Tourism Expo in the extensive gardens of the Sheraton, with the main base at the hotel’s Lion Centre. The public will have three days to see what will await them as they try their hand in #TembeaUganda or exploring Uganda as the Kiswahili version translates to.

Also this weekend will the Kampala Serena Hotel host the Uganda Night on Saturday 28th, all part of this year’s World Tourism Day celebrations though in a wider sense also dedicated to Uganda’s upcoming 51st Independence Day celebrations. If you wish to discover more about Uganda, the Pearl of Africa visit www.visituganda.com the official website of Uganda Tourism, www.ugandawildlife.org the official website of the Uganda Wildlife Authority or for variety’s sake www.traveluganda.co.ug where arguably the widest range of tourism attractions and service providers are featured.

Kenya News

GIVE TOURISM A BREAK DEMAND STAKEHOLDERS

(Posted 27th September 2013)

What are presently just murmurs may yet grow into a mighty chorus, as tourism stakeholders are now taking stock of the impact of the Westgate attack last weekend, trying to evaluate the fallout as it gradually becomes more evident to them. While officials put a brave face to the situation, it is their job after all to be professionally upbeat, private sector stakeholders are now beginning to formulate proposals of how best the sector can be assisted to swiftly turn the flagging fortunes of in particular coast tourism around.

A leading tourism guru, with decades of industry experience under his belt, in several emails and phone calls today with this correspondent began to toss ideas around what could realistically be done on the fast track and in the short and medium term: ‘In 2008 we faced the situation together. Government reduced Visa fees to 25 US Dollars and perhaps now is the time to think along similar lines. We could limit this special offer till end year when the new tripartite regional tourist Visa comes into effect with Uganda and Rwanda. We could make Kenya userfriendly for families to come to our beaches by giving kids up to 14 a no Visa fee offer. We could waive Visa fees for expatriates from within the EAC so that they can be enticed to spend a holiday or a long weekend at the coast. We should talk to Air Uganda and RwandAir to put special packages on the market for our beach resorts.

VAT on tourism services should be revisited immediately to reduce the cost burden for tourists even further.

Airlines like Qatar Airways should be invited to sit with us and tell us what it takes for them to fly to Mombasa. There perhaps a time limited offer to other airlines with reduced navigation, landing and parking fees could help to have them review their commitment to fly to the coast. Kenya Airways should start think triangular flights from key places to touch down in Mombasa too. We need to look at every option we can find to make sure tourism gets a shot in the arm. And let me not forget, government, as you put it so aptly the other day, should write a big enough cheque for KTB to give them the required funds to blitz the entire world. WTM is not long away, the World Travel Award ceremony for Africa will be held in Nairobi in October so there are key events happening which we can use to really show flag. Some of my colleagues from Nairobi are now starting to see cancellations and drops in occupancy levels. What we have seen at the coast may extend to Nairobi and the parks too. I urge my fellow colleagues to ask government and KTB to come together for a national dialogue on the way forward. We in Kenya have faced challenges in the past, like in 2008. We overcame these trying times. Kenya Airways and the private sector organized at the time the biggest mega fam trip ever with journalists and travel agents from all over Africa coming to Kenya. We can do that again. The shoulder season has enough space in beach resorts and the lodges to bring travel journalists from all over the world to Kenya, invite the key tour operators and travel agents. I am sure other airlines will give free tickets for that purpose because if their load factors go down, they also lose. I see opportunities now to set a process of a vigorous campaign abroad into motion and now is the time to tell our government what the sector needs and that we need it NOW’ did the source say over several phone conversations spanning from mid afternoon until a short while ago.

Other industry stakeholders have indicated that latest by the time of the Magical Kenya Expo in October they think measures should have been agreed on to use that platform to announce a series of major activities aimed to revive the fortunes of Kenya’s tourism industry and help reach the goals set by government vis a vis arrival numbers and revenues. ‘Remember our President and Deputy President have set a high target with double digit economic growth in Kenya during their first term of office. If tourism does not perform, this will drag everything else down with it. Kickstart tourism and you will kickstart the entire economy’ wrote another source when exploring opinions among regular contacts. Watch this space to find out what exactly will be done and how this will unfold in coming weeks. Meanwhile visit www.magicalkenya.com for information about Kenya’s attractions on this World Tourism Day.

KENYA AIRWAYS’ AGM LOOKS AT FUTURE AS SHAREHOLDERS PUT 2012/13 BEHIND THEM

(Posted 27th September 2013)

Kenya Airways experienced an extremely difficult operating environment’ was the tenor of the airline’s Annual General Meeting held yesterday in Nairobi at the Bomas of Kenya.

While passenger numbers were slightly up to 3.664.884 during the 2012/13 financial year, which ended on 31st March, most other key indicators were down, some of them sharply as shareholders had to come to term with a significant loss and the immediate prospect of lower share values combined with no dividends for the year.

Average load factors reduced to 68.7 percent from last year’s 71.7 percent, prompting the Kenya Airways Group to reduce staff on a year on year comparison to 3.470 at the airline and 4.006 group wide, a reduction of 828 overall.

The results however did not stop the implementation of ‘Plan Mawingo’, the strategic 10 year outlook developed 2 years ago, and the fleet at the end of the FY stood at 43 aircraft (up from 34 the previous year) – with one more E190 already added since then and two more aircraft including a B777-300ER expected to arrive this calendar year – serving 62 destinations on domestic, regional, continental and intercontinental routes. The year also saw the Embraer E190 take over as the work horse aircraft in the fleet, now serving domestic and regional destinations including the Seychelles. Besides 5 Embraer E170 are presently 13 E 190 jets flying the Kenyan colours and more deliveries are due in 2013 and 2014.

Many readers will also be keen to learn about KQ’s plans to launch their own in house low cost airline Jambo Jet, which according to statements made by Dr. Titus Naikuni, CEO of Kenya Airways and Group Managing Director, will see flights commence in the first quarter of 2014, using aircraft presently in use by Kenya Airways and initially serving domestic routes, where KQ hopes to see significant cost savings as full service flights will progressively be supplemented if not eventually replaced by the subsidiary.

The mood at the Bomas was described as upbeat, as the performance indicators for Q1 of the current FY, the period April to June, was already showing marked improvements compared with 2012. This is giving hope that the Q2 will follow that trend and all eyes will be on the release of data for the July – September period in a few weeks time. The full financial statement and annual report are available in PDF format at the airline’s website via the following link:

http://www.kenya-airways.com/uploadedFiles/Home/Corporate_Information/Investor_Information/Annual_Reports/KQ%20Annual%20Report.pdf

ECOTOURISM KENYA NAMES WINNERS OF ECO WARRIOR AWARDS 2013

(Posted 26th September 2013)

At the opening of the Eco Tourism and Sustainable Tourism Conference in Nairobi did the Eco Tourism Society use the opportunity to reveal the names of the nominees and eventual winners for the various categories the organization recognizes year after year.

Congratulations to those who made it to the top this year and best of luck for all for being up there with the best next year again.

Eco-Warriors 2013 Nominees and winners

CATEGORY NOMINEES WINNER
Conservancy of the Year- Private 1. Borana Conservancy

2. Ol Pejeta Conservancy

Borana Conservancy
Conservancy of the Year- Community 1. Il Ngwesi Conservancy

2. Naboisho Conservancy

3. Ol Kinyei Conservancy

Il Ngwesi Conservancy
Ecotourism Enterprise of the Year – Lodge 1. Tawi Lodge

2. Severin Sea Lodge

3. Serena Mountain Lodge

Severin Sea Lodge
Ecotourism Enterprise of the Year- Tented Camp 1. Ol Seki Hemingways Mara

2. Elephant Pepper

3. Sarova Mara Game Camp

Elephant Pepper
Ecotourism Enterprise of the Year- Villas/ Holiday homes 1. Forest Dream Resort

2. Medina Palms

Medina Palms
Ecotourism Enterprise of the Year- Community Based 1. Camp Kenya

2. Kakamega Environmental Education Program

3. Porini Amboseli Camp

Kakamega Environmental Education Program
Ecotourism Enterprise of the Year- Tours&Travel 1. Cheli&Peacock Safaris

2. Gamewatchers Safari Ltd

Gamewatchers Safari Ltd
Ecotourism Enterprise of the Year- Airline 1. Air Kenya

2. Safarilink

Air Kenya
Eco-Rated Facility of the Year 1. Joy’s Camp

2. Sasaab Lodge

3. Sancuary Olonana

Sancuary Olonana
Ecotourism Partnership of the Year 1. Cheli&Peacock Community Trust

2. Sasaab Samburu

3. Basecamp Maasai Brand

Sasaab Samburu
Ecotourism Guide of the Year 1. Andrew Odhiambo-Kicheche Camps

2. Christopher Letur- Saruni Samburu

3. Derrick Nabaala- Base Camp Eagle View

4. Onesmus- Rekero Camp

Derrick Nabaala- Base Camp Eagle View
Ecotourism Journalist of the Year 1. Aby Agina- NTV

2. Carol Gatura (*Oyola)

3. Kimathi Mutegi- People Daily

4. Rupi Mangat- NMG

Rupi Magat – NMG
Ecotourism Student Innovation Award 1. David Mwabili& Billy Oyaro

2. Musau Makau

David Mwabili& Billy Oyaro
Ecotourism Training Institution of the Year 1. Amboseli Institute

2. Kenyatta University

3. Strathmore University

Strathmore University
Ecotourism Student Host Organization of the Year (Supported by Ecotourism Kenya) 1. Mlilo Community Tours&Safaris

2. Statunga Ecotours

Statunga Ecotours

NO ANTI TRAVEL ADVISORIES – YET

(Posted 26th September 2013)

The European Union has, for now at least, bowed to pressure not to issue some more of their infamous anti travel advisories following the Westgate Mall attack by a group of terrorists.

In the immediate aftermath of the tragedy did Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta ask foreign countries to refrain from issuing anti travel advisories to avoid further damage to the vital tourism industry, on which tens of thousands of jobs hinge and to which the bulk of Kenya’s foreign exchange earnings is tied.

The US and UK, but also the EU have in the past issued often crippling anti travel advisories, in the process locking horns with the Kenya government and the country’s private sector but in few cases were they moved to tone down leave along refrain from issuing them. A senior EU official has confirmed that the Europeans will provide additional intelligence information to Kenya with immediate effect, reportedly highly confidential data files allowing Kenyan immigration to identify immediately any flagged names and passports of suspects already wanted or under close watch by EU security agencies. This it is understood is over and above the regular Interpol updates which the Kenyans have linked to their immigration data base.

At the same time did the official confirm that no additional advisories would be issued for now, although he appealed to visitors to be vigilant at all times. This comes amid speculation – the Kenyan government has still to provide updated casualty figures and nationalities of the terrorists besides explaining some glaring gaps between the information given so far and narratives from escapees and survivors widely circulated through the global media – that at least some of the terrorists may hold nationalities of EU member countries.

Tourism stakeholders were swift to applaud this development but also appealed to the US and UK to follow suit, as in particular the UK was almost instant to prohibit travel to a zone along the Somali border extending once again almost to Lamu and elsewhere some 60 kilometres inside Kenya.

Information obtained from hotels, resorts and safari operators presently shows a mixed picture, with some information speaking of cancellations while others in rather vague replies preferred to use the more neutral, but also nondescript ‘we are still somehow ok’. The Kenya coast has already been taking a hit from reduced arrival numbers, largely attributed to the lack of seats to the coast with several charter operations significantly reduced compared to a year or two years ago. ‘When I hear such stupid utterances like made in Nairobi at a hotel conference the other day, that we at the coast have an overcapacity of rooms I can only shake my head. Two years ago we did not have enough rooms to meet the demand, so what has changed since then? What has changed is that airlines halted plans to fly to Mombasa like Qatar and Brussels Airlines. What has changed is that other airlines reduced their flights or combined them with Kilimanjaro or Zanzibar, reducing the seats available to the Mombasa market. What has happened is that some airlines have left the Mombasa route completely and others have given notice that they will do so soon. That is our main challenge, besides the need to improve our product and bring it in line with other top beach destinations. The issue is not what has been alleged that an all inclusive resort product has wrecked the market. In the Caribbean there are plenty of all inclusive resorts and it works there because their fundamentals are different. Their tourist boards get enough money, they have national strategies in place, they work hand in hand with each other through the Caribbean Tourism Organization while we have yet to conclude joint promotions with our neighbours. We lack the regional tourist Visa, we must stop to charge expatriates from our neighbours who want to come to our beach resorts Visa fees as long as they have work or residence permits. There is a whole lot of things we can do immediately to make travel to Kenya easier. But we also need to make it more attractive, which means our resorts must upgrade and modernize. Yet, the successor of KTDC [Kenya Tourist
Development Corporation] is not functional because they have no board and therefore cannot lend to Kenyan businesses at affordable interest rates. If resorts are to take out commercial loans, considering how they struggle to stay afloat and open right now, they would commit financial suicide. You can see, there are many issues which need sorting out and I hope this incident in Nairobi will fast track a candid dialogue between public and private sector of what we think has to be done to reverse the trend and fill our beds’ said a regular source from Mombasa in his response.

Leading tourism stakeholders and their associations will no doubt keep a close watch on the websites of foreign ministries, if any of them is breaking ranks with the EU and goes ahead with new more negative advisories. Watch this space for updates as and when more news become available.

THE SIEGE IS OVER

(Posted 24th September 2013)

The Kenyan government has in the past few minutes all but confirmed that the siege situation at the Westgate Mall is now over, with all the terrorists dead – while at least 10 suspects are in custody – and that security forces on site are now carrying out a final sweep of the entire building complex to establish if anyone who may have been in deep hiding can still be found, as well as to ascertain that no booby traps were left by the terrorists.

There has been intense speculation about the nationalities of the attackers, thought to be as many as 15 who stormed the mall last Saturday around 11 a.m. but the arrests elsewhere would also point to accomplices who may have worked with the terrorists from outside the mall.

What has become clear is that personnel from the UK’s Metropolitan Police were on site, likely from their anti terrorism unit, but also from Israel and the United States as Kenya has in the past cooperated closely with both countries on security issues.

The official number of dead confirmed by Kenyan government sources presently stands at 62 with over 175 injured but this figure could increase on both counts now that the hostage situation is finally over and figures can be updated. A number of foreign nationals were killed alongside scores of Kenyans, among them a member of the Canadian Embassy in Nairobi, with the UK confirming too that at least 4 of their nationals are among those who died.

Wire services and mainstream media will certainly now be in a position to give further updates in coming hours and days, while Kenya is taking stock of how this will affect the country.

Deputy President William Ruto flew back into the country from his trial at the Hague yesterday, after finally obtaining permission from the judges for an adjournment, something the prosecution appears to have objected to and appealed, mindboggling in the face of what has been going on in Kenya and lending further credence of bias and a personal vendetta perpetrated from the days of the former Chief Prosecutor Ocampo to the present office holder Bensouda.

We will be monitoring the reaction now from Western countries about how they handle this situation. If they slap us with anti travel advisories they must explain how we in Kenya, who joined the war on terror when our troops went into Somali in September 2011, on one side are an applauded ally and on the other should be punished with advisories which damage our mainstay service industry, tourism. Those who visited our beaches and were on safari during these calamitous days can confirm that they were all safe. The Westgate attack was the work of what now appears to be a well coordinated international group of terrorists which can happen tomorrow in a different corner of the world. It does not mean that Kenya suddenly is not longer safe to visit. I do not want to recall all the incidents in other countries, your own memory will be fresh on those but it goes to show that it is almost impossible to prevent such attacks. Al Qaida is a global threat and their local off spring everywhere in Africa and Asia need a global response. All nations are under threat from the big global powers to the smallest countries. Only together can the world rise to this challenge and fight them. Today it was Kenya, tomorrow it will be another country. Those who stood by us we will also stand by in their hour of need. Thank you for telling the world that Kenya is open for business, that conferences are going on, that our beach resorts have available beds and our safari lodges are ready to welcome our foreign guests’ said a regular Nairobi based source when discussing the issue on phone a few minutes ago, probably expressing the sentiments of the entire tourism industry. Formal statements from Kenya’s ministry overseeing tourism, the Kenya Tourism Board and leading tourism trade associations are expected to come in during the morning hours and will be given a platform here too, to reassure potential visitors to the country.

In closing, hat off to the Kenyan security forces who in a multi agency operation fought and defeated the terrorists, their international allies deployed on site and foremost the Kenyan people who stood together in near unprecedented solidarity and unity. Kenyans were raising over 40 million Kenya Shillings in the space of two days for the victims of the terror attack and donated blood via the Kenya Red Cross to a point that the blood reserve bank was almost unable to process all the donors.

In one of Kenya’s darkest hours her finest qualities of nationhood showed the spirit of Harambee once again, uniting Kenyans from all walks of life and from all political inclinations. THAT outcome defeated the intent of the terrorists, leaving Kenya stronger, rising from the calamity with a renewed spirit.

VISITORS FOR AFRICAN HOTEL INVESTMENT AND ECO TOURISM CONFERENCES ‘SAFE’

(Posted 23rd September 2013)

Participants of the Second African Hotel Investment Conference, due to go underway tomorrow at the InterContinental Hotel in Nairobi, the venue chosen for the second year running and the parallel running Eco and Sustainable Tourism Conference have been assured by Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary for East African Affairs, Commerce and Tourism Mrs. Phyllis Kandie, that they need not fear for their safety as all precautions were in place to guarantee successful deliberations.

Following the terrorist attack on one of Nairobi’s major malls, Westgate, did President Uhuru Kenyatta and CS Kandie echo the immediate sentiments of the tourism industry in the country at large, urging foreign countries NOT to issue anti travel advisories against Kenya, as it would only play into the intent and purpose of the terrorists, wishing to harm the country’s people and economy.

One delegate who arrived yesterday from Bangkok, was already in touch with this correspondent and wrote soon after reaching his hotel: ‘What a disaster, and a shame, but those of us who have come here for the African Hotel Investment Conference will insist on carrying on, for the future of both Kenya and African tourism, at this time’, a sentiment surely not lost on the host country and the organizers who will be taking heart that the spirit of defiance has by far outweighed that of runaway fear and despondency.

I am not aware that any delegates booked for AHIF and the Eco Tourism Conference have cancelled their trips. They are all professionals who want to attend their respective conferences and the venues have been given added layers of protection. Kenya in fact had protection in place in hotels, resorts, restaurants, major office buildings, government installations and even shopping centres and malls before this incident. When Westgate was attacked the alarm went out immediately through the chain of command and the response was literally instant. But the very large number of attackers and their ruthless use of weapons would make it difficult to defend any target anywhere in the world. There will be a thorough review of all our emergency procedures and of the way we allow access to such places like the mall and hotels but you are a regular visitor in Nairobi and know that not much more is possible and can be done short of deploying a platoon of soldiers. What I am sure of is that our government will strengthen intelligence gathering and surveillance but as such incidents over the past decade since 9 / 11 show, which happened literally anywhere in the world, there is ultimately no safe place any longer with such criminals in our midst. Please help to get the message out that Kenya, like our neighbouring countries in the EAC, is still a safe place to visit and we sure appreciate every tourist coming to our beaches or to the parks for the solidarity they show our country’ added a Nairobi based source yesterday late evening, after Mrs. Kandie’s appeal had been published and distributed to the media.

At this time of sorrow, Kenya needs her friends more than ever before and every token of support will be most welcome. Karibuni Kenya does remain a reality and Hakuna Matata it still is, bye and large anyway.

Tanzania News

DISASTER STRIKES ON LAKE TANGANYIKA

(Posted 28th September 2013)

A group of 15 children, who had travelled earlier in the week on Lake Tanganyika to participate in an immunization campaign, were among the victims when their returning boat was caught up in a storm and capsized.

Lake boats, as often seen on Uganda’s lakes too, are often overloaded and carry little in terms of safety equipment like offering life vests to passengers.

Government officials confirmed the incident and blamed the boat’s master for sailing into the eye of a developing storm. Arrest warrants have been issued, also for the owner of the boat, to bring those responsible to justice.

Tanzania has been suffering a wave of maritime disasters, on Lake Victoria and in the Indian Ocean where in particular the route between Unguja and Pemba, the two main Zanzibari islands, was at a certain stage notorious for vessels going down.

While efforts have been made to improve the regulatory and supervisory regimes for ocean going vessels, smaller lake boats on Victoria and Tanganyika are more difficult to regulate and supervise due to the often remote locations from where they operate. Condolences are expressed to the families and friends of those lost in this accident and it is hoped that well wishers and NGO’s dealing with maritime safety can come to the assistance of Tanzanians by providing life vests and other equipment like emergency beacons to improve water based transportation and make it safer.

FASTJET FALLS VICTIM OF SOUTH AFRICAN AVIATION AUTHORITY SHENANIGANS

(Posted 26th September 2013)

On the eve of FastJet’s inaugural flight from Dar es Salaam to Johannesburg, timed to coincide with the UNWTO’s World Tourism Day celebrations, has the South African aviation authorities thrown a spanner in the works by demanding ‘additional documentation’.

This is the archetypical form of officially keeping a competitor to government owned South African Airways out of the skies over South Africa, as SAA enjoyed a pure monopoly on the Dar es Salaam to Johannesburg route, charging fares at will and compelling those who could not afford their tariffs to fly via Nairobi or Kigali to reach their destination in South Africa at more reasonable cost.

Said a travel agent from Dar who apparently had booked a seat on the inaugural flight ‘I have no words. This is pure sabotage to give SAA a bit of a longer run to make us pay through the nose. The reaction in the market will be bad for them because no matter what they will say here, perhaps blaming ‘officials’, no one will believe them. They are the beneficiaries of the delay and their sales, when FastJet will finally be allowed to fly, will show them the market reaction for such bad practice’.

FastJet, which has released a media statement just minutes ago to explain to their disappointed passengers the reasons for the postponement, has understandably opted for softer words and refrained from apportioning blame, but no such restrictions apply here to this correspondent.

World Tourism Day is supposed to unite the world of tourism destinations and Tanzania also being a member of SADC truly deserved better treatment than now shown by these bureaucrats. Are they in league with their own monopoly airline on this route, could they not have asked for those documents weeks ago when all the other permits had been secured and do they indeed need several days to study what FastJet has more or less instantly submitted?

The suddenly reduced fare by South African Airways on the route to Dar, as the following web source shows, is more or less self explanatory and I share the sentiments by said travel agent, that the market will punish the guilty.

This is an utterly dark mark against the South African aviation authorities, trampling the spirit of SADC and of the Yamoussoukro Declaration with both feet, and wearing steel studded boots to add injury to insult. Shame on them both!

fastjet first international route temporarily postponed

26th September 2013– fastjet, Africa’s low cost airline, announces that its first international flight between Dar es Salaam and Johannesburg, previously scheduled to take place on Friday 27 September 2013, has been temporarily postponed.

This postponement is due to unexpected administrative delays caused by the South African Department of Transport this week making a very late request for additional documentation.

Although, fastjet delivered these documents without delay, the South African Department of Transport has said it will take several days to process these documents, thus delaying the start of fastjet flights on this international route. The delayed launch of this route is not expected to have any material effect on the financial performance of fastjet Tanzania.

Commenting on the news, fastjet Chief Executive Ed Winter said: “This postponement is very disappointing. Unfortunately however, administrative delays of this nature are not unusual in the markets in which we operate. Having complied with all the requests made of us and secured all the necessary licenses and permits in an extremely diligent and timely fashion, fastjet was led to believe that we were fully on-track to launch this route on the 27th September.”

fastjet would like to apologise to its customers for the inconvenience. All passengers affected by this delay will receive a full refund and assistance with re-booking a complimentary seat to fly within the next month.

South African based customers can contact fastjet customer services oncustomer.tanzaniafor any queries.

“Launching flights on this route remains a key priority for fastjet, and we are confident we will be operating on this service by mid-October, starting a new era of choice for passengers who continue to suffer inflated prices on flights between two of Africa’s largest and fastest growing cities” Winter continued.

Flights between the two cities will initially be operated by fastjet three times a week on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, increasing in frequency as soon as consumer demand dictates.

“fastjet has been on an incredible journey since we started flying domestically in Tanzania with a single A319 plane nearly 12 months ago between Dar es Salaam, Mwanza, and Kilimanjaro,” said Winter.

“Our Johannesburg route, where we will compete head-to-head with South African Airways to provide real value for money flights, represents the next step on that journey. Healthy and fair competition is vital in any economy and in any industry. Competition will bring choice and lower fares – a win-win for consumers,” he concludes.

POWER RATIONING RETURNS TO ZANZIBAR

(Posted 25th September 2013)

Power rationing has returned to Zanzibar according to reports received from the Spice Island following a series of technical faults discovered in the set up of the new 100 MW power cable link with the mainland, which was installed earlier in the year.

A source on the island confirmed that the power company has instituted a load shedding schedule which will allocate a greatly reduced electricity supply to households, businesses, restaurants and resorts, all of which now once again rely on their inhouse generators or solar power systems, of which not too many have been installed as yet due to the substantial cost of investments.

There is nothing we can do right now but suffer the consequences. We have learned of some technical faults which are apparently the reason, in the larger cable from the mainland. It worked fine for some time so I am a bit surprised this only came up now and wonder if it truly is the reason behind it. The power company yesterday said they now use the old smaller capacity cable to bring power in from the mainland. This could take until late October and it is costly for the hotels to run generators around the clock. But cooling systems must operate to keep food fresh and air condition in rooms is essential for tourists so there is no option. It is expensive for the hotels because diesel prices are high and there is no tax relief even, we have to pay pump prices. We would hope that in such exceptional cases government could allow for special measures for businesses but they did not listen over our complaints on some of the VAT and other budget issues, so why would they listen now. Households and small businesses are hardest hit because they cannot afford generators’ commented a regular contributor from the main Zanzibar island of Unguja.

Much of Zanzibar’s economy is driven by tourism, besides the more traditional export of spices, and prolonged power rationing is expected to eat deep into the bottom line of hotels, resorts and restaurants already battling a series of negative events in past months which impacted on the island’s reputation as a safe tourism destination. Watch this space.

Rwanda News

SMART KIGALI OFFERS FREE INTERNET ACCESS AT SELECTED KIGALI HOTSPOTS

(Posted 23rd September 2013)

Owners of smart phones in Kigali will have reason to smile as access to the internet, free of cost, is now rolling out across Rwanda’s capital city. In particular visitors from abroad will welcome the new service, which is being put into place in a coordinate action by Rwanda’s Utilities Regulatory Agency, the Rwanda Development Board, the Rwanda Hotel and Restaurant Association and of course the service providers, Tigo, Airtel and MTN which have divided the city into sections where they will provide the free service.

A list of hot spots will be available early in the week but will include key centres in the city’s business district, hotels, popular restaurants, the main Amahoro Stadium, the public library and even the international airport from the information now provided.

Rwanda is actively seeking to take the lead as East Africa’s primary ICT destination and has made major headway with their One Laptop A Child project, which introduces the use of computers and information technology already in primary school to have the next generation fully computer literate.

Only last week did RDB enter into a Memorandum of Understanding with Korean company Korea Telecom to bring 4G LTE technology to Rwanda and propel the country firmly into the latest technological standards.

Tourism is a main beneficiary already of our use of intelligent ICT services. Visitors get their Visa processed on line, they can book RwandAir flights on line, they can even construct their own itinerary and then make it reality by choosing a licensed tour operator on line. Being on line showcases the country’s attractions to the global web community and our rising visitor numbers are in large part a result of such initiatives’ added a member of the RDB Tourism and Conservation Department staff when passing the information. Can’t wait to try this out myself at the next visit to Kigali in October.

GOLF COURSE PLANNED NEAR KIBUYE

(Posted 23rd September 2013)

Plans to build a major golf resort in the Kivu ‘zone’, an area earmarked by Rwanda’s tourism planners at the Rwanda Development Board, have become known, adding a further attraction to this scenic part of Rwanda, already known through the Congo Nile Trail which spans from Cyangugu via Kibuye to Gisenyi, today known as Rusizi, Karongi and Rubavu respectively.

The proposed golf resort which according to some information will also be home to Rwanda’s first marina development, is expected to meet championship standards which would see the land of a thousand hills qualify to host Africa championship events besides a series of local events in which golfers can take part. Presently there is a golf course in Kigali but with the sport gaining in popularity, more courses are needed to meet the growing demand.

Rica Rwigamba, Head of Department for Tourism and Conservation at RDB, confirmed that such plans were at an advanced stage.

Rwanda last year embarked on a new zoning exercise for the Lake Kivu shores, identifying island and mainland areas of particular touristic value, which can be developed under a national tourism masterplan to add further attractions to the country’s already impressive range of sights which span from Akagera over Nyungwe to the Volcanoes national parks, birding areas and national forests like Gishwati, and of course the lake side of Kivu.

No specific time frame was given for the golf resort development which is however already shown on the RDB’s map for the Karongi area which is part of the available printed information about the country and one of ten such maps covering all parks as well as Kigali, cultural highlights and monuments as well as birding across the country.

Seychelles News

SEYCHELLES TAKES MARITIME SECURITY PRECAUTIONS TO THE NEXT LEVEL

(Posted 28th September 2013)

When some years ago, during an interview in his office, the Seychelles Minister for Home Affairs and Transport, at the time also holding the Environment and Energy portfolios, Joel Morgan made it plain that his country viewed any pirate attack on ships in their economic exclusion zone as a clear and present danger to the security of his country, many sat up and took notice how the Seychelles were against main stream opinion advocating armed responses and arming ships traversing her waters. Several successful rescue missions later, during which only one hostage was slightly injured, the world apparently had finally wised up and the international maritime community has now also made moves towards having armed guards on high value cruiseliners, oil tankers and container ships, though none has yet reached the level of the Seychelles, which again has taken the lead again.

Information from Mahe confirmed that all six ships belonging to the Seychelles Petroleum Company, are now protected by the Seychelles Vessels Protection Detachment, which operates under the auspices of the Ministry of Home Affairs as a special security unit.

According to a report from Victoria a formal demonstration of the skills intense training gave to the crews on board such ships took place earlier in the week, with a mock attack being staged and successfully repelled by the armed guards on the ship. The Seychelles depend on the timely arrival of fuel to propel thermal power stations and keep vehicles, ships and aircraft supplied with diesel, petrol and JetA1 aviation fuel, and the security of the fleet of tankers is paramount with national security overall. Officials reportedly commented that threat levels on the open ocean are still high and having armed security on board now, and the crews trained in emergency responses, has vastly improved the safety of such ships when sailing to and from the main port of Victoria.

International cruise lines too have started to come back to the Seychelles, and in fact are being encouraged by the newly launched Vanilla Island Organization to set up inter island cruises connecting the various members like Seychelles, Mauritius, Madagascar, Mayotte, Comoros, Reunion and the more recent addition of the Maldives, and secure and safe operations are a mandatory requirement to attract passengers to sail across the Indian Ocean with them similar as done in the Caribbean.

Cruise traffic is very important for the Seychelles. We proposed that international cruise lines establish itineraries around the Vanilla Islands. But there is also the market for yachts and large sailing ships which so often in the past visited us. During the peak of the Somali piracy problem, only a very few yachts came to visit and when one yacht was hijacked after leaving from Victoria it came to almost a standstill. Now that the international coalition naval forces have restored law and order on the high seas Seychelles again can welcome yachtsmen from everywhere. Our government’s move to arm our vessels is therefore welcome and if international cruise ships need such assistance the Seychelles is willing to assist’ said a regular source when passing the information on earlier yesterday. Seychelles, again taking the lead and others will undoubtedly follow, sooner or later.

FESTIVAL KREOL – A MONTH AND COUNTING

(Posted 28th September 2013)

The 28th edition of Seychelles’ Creole Festival will take place on the archipelago’s main island of Mahe from October 25th to 31st, turning the spotlight to the unique blend of Creole culture which makes the islands stand out through the beauty of the people, the colour of their traditional dresses, the spicy taste of their food and the swingy sounds of their music. Festival Kreol, though now rivaled by the success story of the Carnaval de Carnivals, the Carnival International de Victoria, has for long been the archipelago’s most important cultural festival, showcasing life on the islands from its sunniest side to a growing number of visitors who come from around the world to witness this colourful spectacle.

(A market scene in Victoria – Source Seychelles Tourism Board)

Visitors from Africa can travel by Kenya Airways via Nairobi or Ethiopian Airlines via Addis Ababa – which requires a Yellow Fever inoculation certificate on arrival – or with Air Seychelles / Etihad or Emirates from their hubs in Abu Dhabi and Dubai respectively. The no Visa policy of the Seychelles provides an open invitation to visitors from around the world, and in particular travelers from the African mainland will appreciate that for once they are welcome with no added questions asked. A range of accommodation, from the world’s most expensive according to a recent web survey – this being North Island – to very affordable bed and breakfast or self catering establishments will make sure that tourists can come to the Seychelles almost irrespective of the budget they have.

Details on accommodation can be found via the main Seychelles Tourism Board website www.seychelles.travel and through the links to Seychelles Secrets (www.seychellessecrets.com) and other affordable options of where to stay via www.seychelles.travel/en/plan_your_visit/budget_holiday_accommodation.php#

The Seychelles, in the words of their Minister of Tourism and Culture Alain St. Ange at a recent conference in Reunion, are friends with all and enemies of none, ready to welcome visitors from anywhere but especially from Africa to which the archipelago geographically and politically belongs … See you soon in the Seychelles, Another World.

Reunion News

REUNION – THE INDIAN OCEAN’S LITTLE KNOWN ‘WILD CARD DESTINATION

(Posted 24th September 2013)

(Reunion seen through the eyes of a local artist – at the Seaside market of St. Paul)

A week on La Reunion – a French island in the deep of the Indian Ocean, located between Madagascar and Mauritius – sounds like a dream come true and it was. The main reason for the visit, to cover the birth of the Vanilla Island Organization and the UNWTO Conference on Sustainable Tourism in Small Islands, while dominating the first few days, was almost relegated to a side show. I say that with the highest respect for the quality of those conferences, no quarrel there with speakers and panelists but simply because my hosts pulled out all the stops to make me forget those events – yes I blame them tongue in cheek – by laying on a programme of sightseeing and exploring the island which left out literally nothing and what was only a result of bad weather, but more about that particular trip later.

Already on the first day I was able to visit the Marsouin River, not far from St. Benoit, known for its white water rafting for those seeking to boost their adrenaline flow, but equally renowned for the setting of some cozy riverside restaurants, like the Les Letchis, which served genuine French food as one would expect to find it in the deep of rural France, in addition to which they specialized in plenty of drinks based on the rum which is produced on the island. The joke was making the round, to bring a tall bottle and 6 straws, leaving the waiters bewildered and our group of five scribes plus ‘super trooper guide Sully’ in stitches. Rum of course has a history on this island, where sugar cane still largely dominates agricultural production, and like on other tropical islands where sugar cane is grown, the production of rum has been going on since cane was first grown. If any item on my itinerary was in fact missing, it was a visit to a distillery or the ‘Saga du Rhum’ centre in St. Pierre, about which I had read up and where I had hoped for some sustained ‘rum tasting’ but evidently I was needed sober as were my colleagues, leaving this tasty morsel to discover at a future visit.

While at the Les Letchis, three helicopter landings took place, bringing groups of tourists to the restaurant for either rafting or for a meal, a sign how hugely popular and renowned the spot is – no one for sure would imagine taking a heli ride to a McDonalds nor would anyone in his true mind come to such an exotic tropical island to eat mundane fast food when the restaurants, bistros, cafés and eateries offer genuine French food with that unique blend and fusion of Creole spices and local recipes. A splendid outing it was for our group of people, Austin from Lagos, Christian from the City of Angels, Bea the wanderer between Canada and Palm Springs and Juergen from distant Hawai, who probably felt almost at home on an island with an active volcano. We enjoyed a mouth watering lunch at a scenic river side location and their lime juice concoction was, sine alcohol I should point out, refreshing both palate and mind.

On subsequent days, more of the island was shown to me, including a visit to and private tour of La Vanilleraie near St. Suzanne – you will have noticed that literally every town and village seems to be named after a proper Saint – which truly was an eye opener. Here a tradition of nearly 200 years of vanilla growing and processing has been maintained, grown ‘lovingly’ with each flower pollinated by hand using a little wooden peck, and once harvested processed and processed some more for over a year before sending the very highest quality vanilla to markets around the world.

(The stages of vanilla, from pollinating to harvest over processing to a very pricey commodity ready for shipment)

Little wonder then that across the island are items on sale, oils and spirits, pastries and even chocolate, flavoured with vanilla and by my own experience liberally used in cooking fine meals or as an ingredient to fuse in rum or other drinks. And there goes the explanation too, why the newly launched inter island cooperation has been named ‘Vanilla Island Organization’ for vanilla is grown not just on Reunion but also on Madagascar and several of the other member islands.

(Shop display at the La Vanilleraie in Sainte Suzanne, Reunion)

And then, travelling a well maintained but nevertheless narrow winding road, the journey led into the interior, driving from the bottom of steep rock faces to their top or near top before descending again into the next gorge followed by climbing up once more, ears popping like in an aircraft. Gushing water falls from the rock faces made for spectacular scenery, combined with the tropical vegetation, and yet, the moment a little village came into sight, I felt like teleported back into France, were it not for the pleasant climate and the tropical flowers in the gardens or the back drop of steep mountain peaks covered in vegetation unique to this Indian Ocean island. Hell-Bourg was, literally, the end of the road up to that part of the island, with more or less only hiking trails leading further into the interior and up the surrounding peaks.

The village could have been one of alpine France, down to the smallest details of architecture, but greatly enriched by the Creole fusion, the colours, building and roof shapes and of course the gardens with a symphony of colours nearly blinding the eyes. Like in France there were the shops, the post office, the pharmacy and the bistros where locals sat reading La Monde, blowing smoke rings into the air and drinking their favourite lunch time poison. A walk across the village, named after a former governor of the island who had himself a residence built up in the cool mountain air, built up some good appetite for lunch – a delicious spread of local dishes inspired by Creole recipes, and then making way for more strolls helping to digest after another case of overeating. The option of going canyoning however I passed for the moment, as full stomachs are perhaps not the best preparation for abseiling and racing down canyons, though it was well noted that this adventure sport too was available on the island besides of course paragliding and the famous rides by helicopter up the volcanoes rim or flying over the rugged breathtaking land- and canyon-scapes of the island’s interior. And then there is of course an entire range of water sports and ocean based activities, but more of that later.

(Visitors can get around the entire island, to literally every inhabited spot, by public bus transport, a way to explore the island’s shore lines and interior independently, and that includes major ‘adventure sport’ spots as seen above)

The conferences over, so was the stay at the centrally located Mercure Creolia Hotel, from where sweeping views across St. Denis, the mountain slopes and the open ocean were giving that dream vista every morning and even more spectacular at night with the lights blazing across the city. That morning though, the weather had turned rainy and gusty and the helicopter company was prompt to call in and cancel the flight up to the Piton de La Fournaise, where I was to land on the crater rim with my colleagues, enjoy the sight of live volcano before then making the way by the waiting bus towards the shores again.

Instead did Sully, our superb guide, think on the quick and rearranged the day, arranging a road trip by coach to our new abode across the island at the LUX Ile de Reunion Hotel.

A first stop in the morning was at St. Paul’s seaside market, which had just opened and was starting to fill up with the clients coming for fresh produce, flowers, bread and in fact literally anything else on a shopping list, this being an open air equivalent of Carrefour, just more colourful, more authentic and full of the scent of flowers and spices with a tangy twist of ocean air. The morning scenes, the sky blue and bright overhead by now – but too late to do the heli ride – enticed to walk, stroll, linger and take it all in, to be sure that the images remained firmly in my mind, allowing me to write the story with the passion I felt on side and the passion needed to make readers want to come and see this for themselves.

In fact, the images taken will speak louder than I could myself and will probably tell the story of Reunion as only a local could tell it …

The impressions from the market, the potpourri of colours, sounds and scents – the smell of freshly brewed coffee drifted across the stalls, mixing with the smell of flowers, spices, rum from a broken bottle which has fallen from a crate and the ocean air made for an experience one simply should not miss, and whether explored as part of an organized tour or on one’s own using the islands efficient public transport system, St. Paul is a must see place.

But it was not just the market but also the display of the island’s past, which I found in the early morning empty of tourists, with the locals hardly looking up at the statues or taking a glance at the battery of canons pointing to the open ocean, a reminder how the islanders were ever ready to defend their own.

The mix of the contemporary with the distant history, the blend between that typical way of French life with the Creole influence on the island and the back drop of high volcanic mountains covered with lush tropical vegetation is bound to leave a mark on a visitor. Highways as perfect as if teleported from France’s Mediterranean seaside run around much of the island and where the highways end perfectly good roads span the distance, allowing one to drive from St. Denis to the opposite side of the island at St. Pierre, where Reunion’s second airport, Pierrefonds, is located. From there it is easy to complete the circle around the island along the ocean side or else traverse the interior to St. Benoit and take another highway back to the capital.

(Map courtesy of www.reunion.fr – The Reunion Tourism Board)

On our journey of discovery went, stopping at the picturesque little town of St. Leu, where we could observe the paragliders come down from the surrounding mountain tops, surfers testing their skills, where we would explore the historic heart of town and for those who fancied it taste a cup of espresso French style, served with water and a biscuit, sitting on a road side café.

It was a perfect morning for a stroll in the park, literally, as much of the town’s ocean front was in fact a pedestrian zone and the locals would make use of it, sitting on park benches for a chat with a friend or walking more purposefully along the ocean front, dressed up with suits crossing paths with those in shorts and t-shirts.

Our ‘ad hoc’ road trip then took us for lunch to the luxurious ‘Palm Hotel and Spa’ at Petite Ile, perched on top of a high cliff overlooking the ocean, a five star resort France’s who is who reportedly had stayed at before and certainly one place I would have wanted to check in and enjoy the splendor of the resort’s villas instead of ‘just having lunch’.

Lunch though was a lavish affair and the curry prawns and the tuna fillet, just seared on both sides to make it perfect, gave me reason to ponder what a longer stay here would be like, enjoying the Spa, the extensive gardens and more of that mouthwatering food, served with the brightest and widest smiles of a service team going out of their way to please, even though it was ‘just for lunch’.

But as is the nature of such trips, there is always more to explore, another place to see and so it was a warm ‘au revoir’ from the General Manager and his staff, though of course I am hoping to turn this into the Kiswahili version of ‘Kwaheri Ya Kuonana’ with the expectation and hope to come back for a proper sampling sometime in the future.

On the journey went to St. Gilles, where the LUX Ile de La Reunion was to be the base for more adventures the following day. Cocktails at sunset made way for a dinner at the beachside, allowing tales to be told and new acquaintances to be made as many of the conference delegates too had opted to extend their stay for a few days to sample the island’s hospitality and experience the thrill of helicopter rides or watching whales and dolphins swim literally in tandem.

A bright morning made sure we would finally get airborne, after missing the trip to the ‘Piton de la Fournaisse’ the previous morning due to bad weather. Corail Helicopteres www.corail-helicopteres.com) was to take us up into the skies over Reunion for a flight into the interior of the island and it was even better than all the literature had promised it to be. Our hosts were giving us the full monty, the full tour, the best of the best, the tour of all tours by air which opened up the interior of the island. Mountain tops, covered with vegetation, some rising up like the teeth of the monster laying in deep slumber below, volcanoes long gone dormant, leaving their reminder on the surface that they might yet return one day, but hopefully not too soon of course. The inside of those canyons and gorges are in part inhabited now, and fertile as the many farms seen from the air showed. Roads hugging steep mountain sides were seen from above snaking their way in and out of the valleys, connecting people by road, but those canyons uninhabited up to today can only be reached by foot, and keen hikers are often taken by guides deep into those parts of the island, cut off from the rest of the world, exploring nature untouched by man’s hands.

Waterfalls galore, white water rivers, little lakes and rock faces a thousand and more feet steep give the taste to actually go down there and explore the core of the island on foot, after going by car as far as is possible before then disappearing into the foliage in search of exotic plants, shrubs, trees and birds.

Adrenalin junkies will definitely love Reunion and what is on offer there, from paragliding to flying in a micro light or a conventional light aircraft, the helis making their way right into the deep of the canyons, almost in touching distance to the rock face and yet keeping a safe respectful distance, white water rafting or the adventures of the open ocean, which awaited us next.

From the helipad we went straight down the long slopes of the mountain to the ocean side, to spend the rest of the day on the open ocean on a large catamaran, in search of dolphins and whales, regularly seen off the island’s shores.

Now a larger group of journalists, the cat nevertheless was spacious enough to find a private spot, look into the azure blue waters and almost become a philosopher, except, there were things to see and to capture, on film, not with the hooks of the fishing gear which too was at the ready.

It turned out to be a fairy tale ending of my last day on Reunion, as before dawn the next morning my return journey was to start, from Roland Garros International Airport in Reunion back to Entebbe. The images of whales and their young ones frolicking about, of dolphins staying always just a few yards ahead of the two bows of the catamaran as if daring us to catch them, the day out on sea with the volcanoes of Reunion always visible in the distance, the fellowship of equally well travelled other writers with the opportunity to talk shop for a while though never losing sight of the spectacle going on around us, was the icing on the cake. Reunion Tourism had truly outdone themselves, not just pulled out all the stops but done so in a way that everyone on this trip was to become their tourism ambassador.

The personal presence on many occasions, though not on board the catamaran, of Didier Robert, President of the Region of Reunion, and the top brass of their tourism board starting from CEO Pascale Viroleau, made it clear that they knew how to work the travel media and showcase their destination. With over 80 percent of the island’s visitors presently coming from mainland France, it is the declared intention of the island’s government to widen that scope and become more widely known around the world, their unique attractions talked about and the planes of Air Austral getting full with individuals who wish to find that quintessential bit of France in the deep of the Indian Ocean but at the same time experience the blend of Creole life which has left a mark on everything to a greater or lesser extent. Reunion, the ‘Wild Card’ as I put it before, certainly has what it takes to fulfill a tourist’s dream of a holiday on a tropical island, where the beaches are in contrast to many others often made of black sand, the resorts luxurious, the food distinctly French including the original baguettes and where in addition a range of adventure activities lure even the laziest beach bum off the sun chair to go out and explore.

The birth of the Vanilla Island Organization will add further spotlight on Reunion as part of a group of 7 islands, all located in the Indian Ocean but all so very different from each other. The biggest challenge for now is to increase connectivity by air but progress was already made during the meetings in Reunion and the tourism and transport ministers of the 7 will meet again in late October on the Comoros where this issue in particular will be discussed and the way forward mapped out. Air Austral, Reunion’s own airline, connects South Africa, Mauritius, Madagascar, Mayotte and the Comoros and from early next year direct to the Seychelles too, besides long haul flights to Paris, Chennai, Bangkok and Perth in code share with Air Mauritius.

Visit www.reunion.fr for more information on the island and www.air-austral.com for details on connectivity out of the airline’s destinations.

AND in closing today some more worthwhile reads taken from The Livingstone Weekly by Gill Staden:

A Suni Update

From Sun International

If you remember Suni was rescued in Livingstone by staff members of Sun International. The Elephant Orphanage was contacted and came down to Livingstone to collect Suni and take her back to Lilayi, the home of the youngest orphans. Suni had been hacked on the back and nerves cut. She still has problems with her leg …

Her physical condition continues to be an ongoing challenge, as she still lacks sensation from the knee down, consequently suffering from wounds on her feet, which are cleaned and re-bandaged daily. A daily foot soak in Epsom salt bath seems to be helping a lot with the swelling and infection. The Elephant Orphanage Project, under Rachael Murton and her team, continue to provide as much supportive and therapeutic treatment for Suni in the hope that given time, the extensive nerve damage she suffered will repair. However, none of that would be possible if it wasn’t for her custom made Elephant Boots, created with the incredible support of Suni’s Boot Making Team (Nigel, Dan and Mark) who have travelled internationally on three occasions to manufacture these best-fit boots. These boots have been expertly made with stainless steel and aluminum bases with polypipe, foam and leather splints and are strapped on with a variety of ingenious Velcro and leather straps – with the aim of helping Suni to regain a normal life and give her the second chance that she deserves. …

The Jewish culture of Trade and sustainability

Makweti Sishekanu

Having learnt from history that a larger part of the Livingstone economy has evolved from Jewish settlers in the Colonial era; one wonders how these naturally-intelligent people would treat deforestation today. This comes from the observation that the Zambezian teak (Mukusi) which made their timber logging a hub of their trading economy at the time, is almost completely extinct in Zambia. I am sure, they would resurrect to a shock to find the current state of affairs! That is if they were thinking sustainability which is a major theme today. But, what if this rapid deforestation was in their time … anyone guess what they would do?

Let’s explore a bit of the possibilities of what they would have done then…

1. Would they migrate to a different region of thick forests? That doesn’t sound like the Jews!

2. Buy off the forest-land with a lot of teak? Okay, that is close to what a Jew is capable of doing!

3. What if the land policy and forest management of the time would not allow them to do that?

4. They would have influenced policy in that direction? I don’t know!

5. Could they have started their own plantations for timber? That sounds more like a Jew!

Events on the Way

27-29 September: Enduro Ride. Victoria Falls Town

28 September: World Rhino Day

2-4 October: Fishing Competition. Kariba Town

26 October: Zambezi Kayak Festival. Livingstone

26-31 October: World Adventure Travel Summit. Windhoek

9 November: Fireworks at Acacia School

7 December: Car Boot Sale. Protea Hotel

These questions are critical because Livingstone is what it is today because of what the people who were there before did or did not do! That is a fundamental of sustainability…do not live your life as if you are the very last generation on this planet. Future generation will suffer or enjoy the consequences of whatever we are doing today. So, in everything we do, think or plan, can we please have the unborn generations represented in our board meetings!

Today, millions of tourists flock to Livingstone for what the place is…Imagine for a minute if the town was a desert today after all the ecological richness transmitted to us today? Who would honestly want to visit the Sahara Desert for tourism?

Due to their ability to see life at a long distance, Jews have a natural tendency to plan 100 years ahead. This is the secret of their success wherever they go. They would have taken one or two options above to conserve the Zambezian teak from extinction. This must also explain why environmental degradation is closely linked with poverty. The value we place in a commodity determines how much we can pay or how far we can go to conserve or preserve it. Simple; invest in what you desire to conserve.

Gill Comment: We do need to get organised in our forests. Many of the timber cutters in and around Livingstone have planted trees and have them in bags to be planted in the forests, but there seems to be little that the Forestry Department can do because of lack of resources. This is a serious issue which needs to be a priority. We need to replant our indigenous trees …

From the Zambia Weekly

Minimum wage to be sector-based

Government has succumbed to the fact that some labour-intensive sectors such as agriculture and tourism are struggling to pay the minimum wage. According to labour Deputy Minister Rayford Mbulu, Labour Minister Fackson Shamenda will “soon” issue a new statutory instrument outlining new sector-based minimum wages. In July 2012, government increased minimum wages by 67%, with back-dated effect, without prior consultations.

Back then Shamenda rejected sector-based minimum wages as being complicated.

Pay your visa by VISA?

Government has launched a point-of-sale pilot project for the collection of non-tax revenue at the Immigration Department at the international airports in Lusaka, Ndola and Mfuwe and at the Road Transport and Safety Agency in Lusaka, Ndola and Nakonde. Government has partnered with Barclays Bank to allow for electronic payment of government services on swipe machines in the selected areas, reported the Lusaka Times.

Gill Comment: What happened to Livingstone?

Minister busts corrupt police officers

Five police officers in Chipata have been caught red-handed by Eastern Province Minister Malozo Sichone at a roadblock on Airport Road with more than K3,000 collected from motorists without receipts. Sichone had been alerted to the (usual) scam by a minibus driver who had complained about being fined but not issued with a receipt. Sichone, disguised with a cap and sunglasses, then went to the roadblock in an overloaded minibus, which immediately got fined. The driver was asked to pay K100 but was not given any receipt. The five officers were found with a total of K4,300, divided between K500 collected with receipts, K3,000 collected without receipts and K800 of their own money.

Proflight goes to Tanzania

Proflight will launch a three-times-a-week Lusaka-Dar es Salaam route commencing on 23 October. This is the airline’s second international route, after it started servicing Malawi in June. Flights will leave Lusaka Monday, Wednesday and Friday, returning the same day in time to connect with Proflight’s afternoon flights to Mfuwe, Livingstone and Ndola.

Ten million bats. Two months to see for yourself. One place to experience it.

Up to 10 million straw-coloured fruit bats are on their way to Kasanka National Park in Zambia. Only seven hours from Lusaka and the Copperbelt, you can book yourself a front-row seat to this spectacular wildlife encounter. With improved and enlarged platforms overlooking the bat forest and a number of exclusive viewing hides, this year’s bat season promises to be the most breath-taking yet.

Accommodation is provided at the Wasa Lodge, where you can relax in your own lake-side rondavel and sample the cuisine from the Kasanka kitchen. Alternatively, explore our Luwombwa Camp by the river, or pitch your tent at one of our spacious campsites.

Featured in David Attenborough’s Africa series in January, the annual bat migration has become world-famous and we’re inviting you to see it for yourself.

Contact wasa to book now or get a quote, and start the countdown to your own mini-migration.

ZIMBABWE

Conservation for Africa Award

Clive Stokil a Zimbabwean, recently received a prestigious award from Prince William – the lifetime Prince William Conservation for Africa award, for his work as a conservationist in the Save valley of Zimbabwe. He has fought tirelessly to save the black rhino from the brink of extinction for 40 years.

Mr Stockil "is one of Africa’s great conservation pioneers, who long before many others recognised how critical it is to engage local communities in the conservation of their natural heritage," one of the Tusk Conservation Awards judges said.

Despite many setbacks, Clive Stockil has never wavered from his overall commitment to conservation." …

Kempinski keen on expansion across Africa

KEMPINSKI EYES RWANDA AND OTHER MARKETS FOR EXPANSION DRIVE IN AFRICA

(Posted 28th September 2013)

Company poised to bring luxury hospitality to up-and-coming destinations around the continent’ according to Kempinski’s CEO Reto Wittwer.

Kempinski Hotels, Europe’s oldest luxury hotel group, has announced plans to expand its portfolio of luxury hotels in Africa. With two new properties opened in Kenya in 2013, Kempinski looks to add five more hotels to its African portfolio in the next year.

Upcoming openings in Africa in 2014 include the Kempinski Hotel Gold Coast City in Accra, Ghana and the Royal Maxim Palace Kempinski in Cairo, Egypt set to open early in the year, as well as a newly signed 450 key hotel in the future capital of Equatorial Guinea, Oyala. Additional plans are moving forward to open hotels in Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo by the end of the year.

At a press conference at the new Villa Rosa Kempinski in Nairobi, President and CEO of Kempinski Hotels, Mr. Reto Wittwer told reporters that following the company’s success expanding into the Middle East and China over the past twenty years, Kempinski expects its growing portfolio in key destinations across the African continent to become a major source of revenue for the company, as well as provide new sources for talent and talent development across the company.

Kempinski Hotels currently operates 82 hotels in 31 countries and has 37 more hotels under development worldwide. Congratulating the team of Villa Rosa Kempinski on the occasion of their recent opening Mr. Wittwer said: ‘We will continue our development strategy throughout the continent over the next few years, partnering with key players in Africa to secure the best locations for our luxury properties. There is a worldwide fascination with this region and we believe in the strength of places like Kenya as a destination. Our distinct brand of European luxury and operational know-how makes us a key player in all the markets we operate in, and we expect that our new property here in Nairobi will be no different. African hospitality traditions lay a great foundation for our global expansion here in Africa, and around the globe. Kempinski places a great emphasis on recruiting and retaining the best talent in the industry and the quality of candidates we are encountering in places like Kenya and Ghana, gives us great confidence that we will be able to deliver the service that we have built our reputation on over the past 116 years that Kempinski has been in operation’.

Kempinski currently operates hotels in Egypt, Djibouti, Chad, Seychelles, and Kenya. With five hotels set to open in Africa in the next year, Kempinski will hire more than 1500 people in the next twelve months, nearly doubling its current workforce on the continent, and will draw heavily on local talent in each destination.

Finding new talent, which will push us further in the future, continues to be our utmost priority’ said Mr. Wittwer before adding: ’We are looking for candidates who are interested in different cultures, speak various languages, share our passion for hospitality, and are looking for a bit of an adventure abroad. In addition to our needs in Africa in the next twelve months, our global expansion plans for the next five years will require an additional 12,000 new members of staff, and it is essential to attract and retain talented people who are dedicated to offering our guests the outstanding service that Kempinski is known for’.

No mention was made however about a possible return to Tanzania, where Kempinski at one stage managed three properties, a resort on Zanzibar, a game lodge in the Serengeti and a 5 star hotel in Dar es Salaam nor was Uganda mentioned where top quality hotels are still in short supply as more and more visitors flock to these two countries following the discovery of significant deposits of oil and gas, besides a thriving tourism industry.

More information about Kempinski’s recent and upcoming openings in Africa:

The five-star Villa Rosa Kempinski is located on Chiromo road, within the Westlands area in the heart of Nairobi. It is only a half-hour drive from Jomo Kenyatta International Airport and five minute drive to the Nairobi Central Business District. The new luxury hotel will consist of 200 spacious rooms and suites distributed over ten floors, including two Presidential Suites on the top floor. The hotel will feature three concept restaurants in addition to an all-day dining restaurant, a bar, and a cigar lounge.

Olare Mara Kempinski luxury camp is located in the beautiful Olare Orok Conservancy, which is home to some of the Mara’s largest lion prides. The property features twelve spacious luxury tents, which are built on elevated decks with private balconies that offer unhindered views of the Mara Plains and the Ntiakitiak River.

Kempinski Hotel Gold Coast City Accra set to open in early 2014 will offer 269 rooms, including 22 suites and two Presidential Suites and will feature include two restaurants, a lobby café with outdoor seating, a cocktail bar and lounge and 6,000 square metres of retail space. The 3,000 square metre Resense Spa (the first branded Resense spa in Africa) will offer 10 treatment rooms, a beauty parlour, a fitness centre, a yoga studio, an organic food bar, a 25-metre outdoor pool, two table tennis courts and two tennis courts. It will set new standards for luxury, quality and service across all of West Africa.

Set atop the budding desert hills of New Cairo and just minutes away from Cairo International Airport, the Royal Maxim Palace Kempinski is due to open in early 2014 and will be beacon of grandeur and luxurious hospitality. Guests will enjoy cool breezes of desert evenings in lush open spaces, the aromatic flavors of signature restaurants, as well as the serenity of 244 spacious, stylish rooms and suites. Housing the largest ballroom in the Middle East the hotel is set to become the most sought after venue in the city for conventions and celebrations.

Kempinski Hotel Oyala, due to open in early 2014 will be the first luxury hotel in the city and marks the debut of the Kempinski brand in the future capital of Equatorial Guinea. The newly built hotel is made up of 400 rooms and 50 suites, modern meetings and conference facilities for up to 2,000, restaurants, lounges, spa and a championship golf course.