Archive for June, 2014

Borderless Borders – REALLY ?

DISAPPOINTMENT OVER COST OF VISA FOR EXPATRIATES LIVING IN EAST AFRICA

(Posted 30th June 2014)

Reactions were swift to come in when news spread over the weekend that expatriates living in any of the three ‘Coalition of the Willing’ countries of Uganda, Rwanda and Kenya will still have to pay Visa fees in order to be able to visit any of the neighbouring countries, a disappointing state of affairs and thought unhelpful to keep a significant number of travelers within the region, as expats in large numbers visit countries which do not require Visa from them like the UAE, the Seychelles or South Africa.

While at a cost of 100 US Dollars per Visa is the period of validity now extended to 6 months, this does not matter much for those who only wish to spend their local leave for instance at the beaches of Mombasa and not travel several times to and from one of the neighbouring countries.

Tourism stakeholders for long argued that such Visa should be given for free for expatriates holding a work or residence permit but it is now clear that the issue of revenue trumped the need to truly make the region an open area for tourist exchanges.

While officials tried to spin a positive effect into this latest announcement were tourism operators and in particular travel agents less hopeful as they had expected that the need for costly Visa, setting a family of four back by 200 US Dollars under the old regime and 400 US Dollars under the new regime, would be shelved. ‘The doubts you expressed here before were justified. If my clients now pay 100 Dollars each for a Visa, even if it is valid for half a year and they only need it once a year when they have their local leave, they will keep that money in their pockets and continue to fly to Dubai or to Jo’burg or to the Seychelles’ said a travel agent in Kampala before adding ‘If they really want more expats here to go to Mombasa, with all the hullaballoo going on there, they must give them a free entry because what we now read is a weak compromise which will serve little purpose. There will not be much uptake for that, perhaps business people regularly flying from Entebbe to Nairobi or Kigali but not for the target this was aimed for, families going for a beach holiday. They never listen!’.

Is change which brings no change really change one wonders? Back to the drawing board ladies and gentlemen, as duly registered expats after all pay taxes and deserve some better consideration. The spirit of an open, and as the promoters say Borderless Borders East Africa, here at least, is not very visible.

Seychelles and Sri Lanka intensify tourism cooperation

SEYCHELLES AND SRI LANKA SIGN TOURISM COOPERATION AGREEMENT

(Posted 30th June 2014)

The just concluded State visit by Sri Lanka’s President Mahinda Rajapaksa saw as many as six agreements being signed between the two island countries. Last weekend did President Mahinda open a new Sri Lankan High Commission in Victoria and President James Alix Michel also announced that the Seychelles were putting final touches to the opening of their own High Commission in Colombo.

Among the agreements signed was on to strengthen tourism ties and it is an open secret that the Seychelles are in support of Sri Lanka joining the Vanilla Island Organization as the destination with the most visitor arrivals last year of any of the Indian Ocean islands. A cultural cooperation agreement too was signed as were four others including one for cooperation towards widening the use of renewable energy.

This was the fourth mutual visit after a state visit by President Michel to Sri Lanka in 2012 and the attendance last year of the Commonwealth Summit in Colombo while this was President Mahinda’s second visit to the archipelago in the space of year.

Notable does Mihin Lanka, one of the two major airlines operating from Sri Lanka, fly nonstop to Mahe, allowing for easy connections without the need to transit through a waypoint. The air link has already shown a promising trend of greater business and tourism ties between the two islands and with the new agreements signed does the business community in both countries expect yet greater benefits.

For more information about the two tourism islands visit www.seychelles.travel and www.srilanka.travel

More trouble for Likoni ferry users?

MOMBASA FERRY USERS BRACE FOR ANOTHER STRIKE

(Posted 30th June 2014)

Trouble is written on the wall again for users of the Likoni ferry, when a strike notice issued in mid June expires next Friday and unless the ferry management manages to engage the union in another round of talks, the weekend may be ruined for commuters and tourists who have to use the ferry to reach their resorts on the famous Diani Beach. Labour relations between management and staff have long been contentious and often heated with regular and wildcat strikes grounding the ferries and stranding thousands of commuters and tourists, as if the periodic mechanical failures were not giving ferry users enough grief already.

The strike notice has once again led to renewed calls for the government to accelerate the long promised bypass road to the South coast, which is due to link both the international airport and the Nairobi to Mombasa highway directly to Ukunda and the beaches of Diani and beyond, avoiding the bottleneck of having to drive through Mombasa city and then stand in often very long queues before being able to cross the channel.

It was also learned over the weekend that the Leopard Beach Resort & Spa has fully reopened, after only their new residences were operating during the past two months, when the main resort underwent annual maintenance and general sprucing up once again. Hotel operators have according to reports received also urged both sides to sit down again and talk instead of having another strike inflict further damage to the already under strain hospitality industry at the coast. Watch this space for news updates on the planned strike as and when available.

Tourism industry meeting in Mombasa sounds strong warning to government

KENYA’S TOP TOURISM STAKEHOLDERS DEMAND THAT PROMISED FUNDS ARE RELEASED

(Posted 30th June 2014)

Anger is spreading in the circles of Kenya’s top tourism echelon as information has come to light that the promised 200 million Kenya Shillings for an emergency recovery marketing campaign have still not been released. The lack of funding has a growing impact on the ability of the Kenya Tourism Board to live up to its mandate and is leaving private sector stakeholders exasperated as to what the motives and reasons for the withholding of the funds may be.

We all know how this game is played. They [government of Kenya] want to dismantle KTB and submerge it into a bigger body. This is fundamentally the wrong approach but then, if you don’t give them the money, they cannot perform and that will then be used against them. Our cabinet secretary is supposedly on a goodwill tour to Britain and the US but what will that help us. Her speeches are not backed up by action, they never were. She talks of what government has done for the sector but we should remind her what that government has not done. It has not given KTB the money, little as it was to start with. The government has not lifted VAT from tourism services. The government has not lifted VAT on new aircraft and aircraft spare parts. Where are traffic rights for foreign airlines to fly scheduled flights to Mombasa. Where is the promised infrastructure for the coast, the by passes, the conference centre? The government has not given any indication that they will give our sector an own ministry back where the failed separation of functions like wildlife has been leading us from crisis to crisis. This government is all about words and not about action. What agenda do they really have, is there a real strategy how to revive tourism at the coast, is there a real commitment to do what it takes?’ asked a regular commentator from Mombasa where at present the Kenya Association of Hotel Keepers and Caterers is meeting for their annual symposium at the Sarova Whitesands Resort & Spa. Another source from Nairobi asked what the purpose was to gazette a crisis committee if their recommendations are not heeded and the demands of the industry are not met by the powers that be and the air is clearly getting thinner for the two cabinet secretaries in charge of tourism and of wildlife, who are increasingly seen as having failed their sectors, prompting calls for a change at the top.

Assurances contained in a speech by cabinet secretary Kandie read to the gathering did not evoke further confidence and heads were said to be shaking when the industry captains were told that the government felt their frustration and despair. ‘How do they feel our frustration and despair and yet sit on the money for several months now. Tourism should get 2 billion Kenya Shillings for marketing and they make 200 million look like a gift from heaven and then fail to even put that money in to the KTB account. Key demands made after the speech by President Kenyatta, when he was told his announcement was a good start but a lot more needed doing, are not being met. It is obvious that they are deaf and blind when it comes to tourism’ added another Mombasa based source who was at the meeting last week.

From all the comments and feedback received it is clear that besides staring at the possibly worst year ever for coast tourism, there is growing anger now among stakeholders.

Last week did Serena Hotels’ CEO Mahmoud Janmohamed appear on one of Nairobi’s leading radio stations, explaining the plight of the tourism industry and the instant reaction of listeners, who expressed their views on Twitter and on Facebook, spoke volumes of what the public at large also thinks about the dilly dallying of their government. As said before, time to shape up or ship out.

Is less demand from the US the reasons for Tanzania’s cut of hunting permits?

TANZANIA CUTS ELEPHANT HUNTING PERMITS BY HALF

(Posted 30th June 2014)

Information emerged from Dar es Salaam over the weekend, that the Tanzanian government, through the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism, has cut their annual hunting quota for elephant by 50 percent in order to help restore numbers of the largely decimated herds.

Over the past several years has Tanzania lost tens of thousands of elephant to poaching gangs with little intervention from a government which was either not aware or looked the other way, even when the extent of the problem was described by conservationists. It was only relentless pressure from abroad which made the country slowly own up to the crisis and started taking countermeasures on the effectiveness of which the jury is still out.

It is too little too late’ commented the source when passing the information before continuing ‘We have not heard about the list of 300 which was compiled by Amb. Kagesheki when he was minister. We have not seen any prominent names taken to court. But in fairness, cutting hunting permits is a good start though the final outcome should be to ban hunting altogether and turn all the hunting blocks into conservancies for the purpose of tourism. Countries which still support hunting will be the one’s hunted in the court of public opinion and in the social media and we should remember how damaging the anti Serengeti highway campaign was for us. The minister should also tell the public what the reduction means in real numbers, how many elephant hunting permits were given last year and how many will be given this year. And we also like to know if it is not the ban to import trophies from Tanzania into the United States which has reduced demand so that those permits are not taken up anyway any longer?

The announcements by the minister were reportedly made at a meeting with the American Ambassador to Tanzania during which Amb. Childress pledged more material support for anti-poaching and pro-conservation measures.

Special offers help sell tickets from Lubumbashi to Johannesburg

KORONGO OFFERS SPECIALS TO STIMULATE TRAFFIC

(Posted 30th June 2014)

Korongo Airlines, recently dealt a double whammy when first Congo DR was cited by ICAO for non-compliance and having to halt operations for a few days and then again when their base airport of Lubumbashi started to resurface their single runway’s middle section, causing a rescheduling of flights to be crammed into 4 days when the airport is now fully functional instead of a 7 day schedule, has come back at the market with special offers.

Passengers flying from Lubumbashi to Johannesburg – the present winter season there has seen some very attractive offers from hotels put on the market – can now expect an additional free baggage allowance over and above the already generous allocation. Business class passengers on Korongo flights to Johannesburg are given, with immediate effect until the 20th of September, an extra 15 kg’s, making it 65 overall while economy class passengers get another 10 kg’s for free, giving them overall 50 kilogrammes of weight, plenty for those who go to South Africa for shopping of all those things they lack in Lubumbashi.

Students, going to South Africa to study, are granted a 15 percent rebate on their ticket cost against production of the relevant study document. Korongo is a partnership between Brussels Airlines and local Congolese partners and fully complies with EASA standards, the safety regulations of the European Union, the only airline licenses in Congo DR to actually accomplish that. Happy Landings!

Congo raises Visa fees for Rwandans to 250 US Dollars

CONGO LASHES OUT AT RWANDA WITH NEW VISA FEES

(Posted 20th June 2014)

Following recent unsuccessful attempts to enter Rwandan territory by Congolese troops, which met with a resolute response by the Rwandan army and once more exposed Congo as a hostile aggressor, has the regime in Kinshasa now resorted to other measures to hit at the Land of a Thousand Hills.

It was learned yesterday that Congolese immigration at the main border crossing from Gisenyi to Goma imposed hefty fees on Rwandan traders and visitors, with the cost ranging from 30 US Dollars for students to 250 US Dollars for traders. Similar measures were already taken at the border post between Kamembe and Bukavu, seriously impacting on cross border trade.

Local contacts in Gisenyi immediately laid the blame squarely on the regime across the border, claiming it was a reaction to their failure to intrude into Rwandan territory and now using Visa fees to hit out at Rwandans, some 30.000 a day usually crossed from Gisenyi into Goma. Wrote one regular contributor from there in response to a request for a comment: ‘There is a mechanism under the Great Lakes region economic cooperation, whereby the imposition of Visa fees should be handled through a bilateral meeting. This has not taken place, this was a unilateral move by Congo. They should remember that their imports and exports to and from Eastern Congo depend on open borders and the free flow of trade. Their main entry points are in Goma and then in Uganda from either Ishasha, Mpondwe or via Arua. Imagine every one of their truck drivers has to pay 250 US Dollars when entering Rwanda enroute to Mombasa? That could derail their entire supply chain but then, it seems the regime does not think with their brains’.

Notably has in particular RwandAir benefited in the past from a sharp increase in passengers coming from Eastern
Congo and flying from Kamembe via Kigali to other Eastern or Southern African destinations, and as far as Dubai. It is this rise in traffic which is a major reason for the number of frequencies between Kigali and RwandAir’s only remaining domestic destination after flights to Gisenyi had to be suspended following security incidents from across the border in Congo. Perhaps it was in consideration of such circumstances that the Rwandan authorities were slow in reciprocating with a similar rise in fees at the Bukavu border crossing but this latest affront may well now trigger a wider response, based on the principle of reciprocity.

Foreign visitors are already paying high Visa fees when entering Congo from Rwanda and Uganda, something which has affected in particular tourist visits from the two neighbouring countries to the Virunga National Park and to the Nyiragongo volcano, besides the general security situation in Eastern Congo not being conducive to regular tourist visits. Militias roam the region almost at will, tolerated by the regime in Kinshasa and unchecked by the UN forces which have more often than not been accused of covert complicity in letting in particular the genocidaires continue their campaign. Congo oh Congo!

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