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East Africa Tourism

Wolfgang's East Africa tourism report

Wolfgang H. Thome  Jun 26, 2009

Sources from both Brussels and Kampala have confirmed that Lufthansa (LH) was given approval by the European Commission to go ahead with the acquisition of Brussels Airlines earlier in the week. LH will now formally take 45 percent of Brussels Airline’s parent company at an estimated 65 million Euros with the option of acquiring the balance of the shares in 2011. Concerns over competitive advantages were apparently resolved through certain concessions by the German airline such as yielding slots from and to Brussels on key services to Frankfurt, Hamburg, and Munich to new airlines or existing competitors on those routes.

The move will, however, add muscle to the LH family through SN’s extensive Africa network, where in particular, eastern Africa receives daily flights from Brussels, flying to such airports as Nairobi, Entebbe, Kigali, and Bujumbura.

Former general manager of Uganda Heritage Trails, John Tinka, has now reappeared in the Fort Portal, Kibale area working at the Kibale Association for Rural and Environmental Development, in short KAFRED. The community-based association has amongst its objectives, the aim to conserve biodiversity at the community level, promote eco-friendly tourism practices, and assist the local community to engage in sustainable business ventures. The nearby Bigodi Wetland Sanctuary is the first manifestation of KAFRED’s community engagement and on offer are guided nature walks taking anywhere between a few hours to a full day and an interpretive nature and village walks where the daily life of a rural African community unfolds in front of visitor’s eyes. Traditional home-cooked meals, using fresh local ingredients, are also available for visitors, as are dance and drama sessions performed by local artists – this requires prior booking, however. The local women’s groups produce curio items and handicrafts for purchase by visitors, bringing much-needed cash into the villages, while some families are available to open their homes and offer tourists a home stay. The Tinka family is at the forefront of this trend, of course, knowing intimately well what is expected by tourist visitors from his previous work in creating the Buganda Heritage Trail in Central Uganda.

KAFRED collaborated in their activities with the UNWTO, the UNDP GEF Small Grants Program, UCOTA (The Uganda Community Tourism Association), UWA, IUCN, Nature Uganda, and other international and local conservation and environmental NGO’s. Write to John Tinka for more information via

The National Environmental Management Authority has, late last week, launched a detailed breakdown of the changing environment in the country while at the same time also presenting to the general public the “Environmental Sensitivity Atlas for the Albertine Graben” and the 8th edition of the Uganda State of the Environment Report.

The more than 200-page strong book on the changes in the national environment has drawn a range of positive comments, and demands are being made for more of the publications to be availed to researchers, environmental groups, and the public at large. It contains detailed satellite images and dozens of photographs, permitting comparison to what used to be and what is now.

The Albertine Graben Atlas is a detailed piece of research work and provides an overview on resources, archaeological sites, and human settlements and their impact and also points out sites near the oil exploration sites, which are particularly sensitive to the impacts of the oil industry. It is here, in particular, that NEMA sounded warnings about the potential impact of oil exploration and that if the best international environmental methods are not used, great damage could result towards nature and wildlife conservation.

Finally, the State of the Nation Environmental Report, produced biannually since 1994, will be useful as a major planning, policy, and reference tool.

NEMA chose the theme, “Sustainable Environment for Prosperity” – fitting in well with the president’s election manifesto “prosperity for all.” Interested readers can find more information via

It was learned earlier in the week that UWA is planning a major event to celebrate the United Nations Year of the Gorilla 2009 some time in middle of July, and once more, as details are available, this column will update its readers. Watch this space.

The notorious Shimoni hotel development, which brought Kingdom Hotels into great disrepute in Uganda over the destruction of a leading primary school and teachers training college some years ago, only to then sit on their hands and ponder their options, is now finally going ahead. A new consortium has apparently been cleared by government following a legal opinion by the attorney general’s office, which appears to sanction the contracts between the new investors and Kingdom Hotels as legally binding. This should also put an end to the public spat, which erupted between company officials and the former Minister of State for Investment, now the Ugandan Ambassador in the UAE, Prof. Semakula-Kiwanuka, who had called one member of the new consortium a “briefcase company” at the time. Watch this space as the saga continues.

Recent reports in the media suggest that a takeover or buyout is now imminent for Gulf based Zain’s Africa network, which is a surprise since Zain themselves bought out Celtel not too long ago.

Zain’s network across Africa offers a unique single tariff when calling from any of their local networks, and roaming is free of charge as long as it entails calls within its own network, no matter where the calls are made from in Africa. This correspondent, being with the initial Celtel from the very launch in 1995, has seen the company change owners and branding several times over and has remained a committed client owing to the quality of the network and the full integration of their African operations. New owners are reportedly going to be the France-based Vivendi, and the figures floated for the takeover are in excess of 12 billion Euros, a cool profit considering that Zain had only paid some US$3.4 billion in 2005 when buying out the previous Celtel owners. Should the deal go through, it would be the second major French telecoms company after French Telecom, whose brand, Orange, launched just recently in Uganda and is also present in Kenya already.

Long suffering Kampaleans are now holding their breath, after the government, earlier in the week, tabled a new bill to dissolve the Kampala City Council and create a greater metropolitan area with a new administrative set up. Citizens of Kampala have been suffering of a mixture of incompetence, ignorance, arrogance, and a very fair sprinkling of corruption scandals, where pot holes are re-emerging faster than they are being filled and infrastructure crumbles, just as soon as central government has restored services at their own expense ahead of major international meetings.

The bill, as it is now tabled in parliament – though, of course, not yet passed – provides for a resident city commissioner and an executive director, both to be appointed by the president, while a new post of elected “lord mayor” is to be introduced, who would be elected as a figurehead from amongst the popularly and directly-elected councillors. It is also expected that the planning functions and infrastructural investments would be combined with surrounding municipalities as far as Entebbe and Mukono, to coordinate long-term development planning as the city and neighboring communities continue to grow together.

The Rwandan national airline has recently moved their airline offices from the Garden City Shopping Mall to Rwenzori Courts, near the offices of Brussels Airlines, which are located in adjoining Rwenzori House. Not long ago the two airlines sign a cooperation agreement, which now features Rwandair flight numbers on the code-shared service from Kigali via Entebbe to Brussels, operated, of course, by SN. Phone, fax, and other contact details remain the same but can be reconfirmed via or by visiting

Rwandair flies every morning and evening between Kigali and Entebbe, using both the CRJ200, as well as the Bombardier Dash 8 on its services. Flying time, depending on the aircraft used on the day, varies between about 35 minutes with the CRJ200 and just under an hour with the Dash 8. Light refreshments are served on board.

The privately-owned and largest Tanzanian airline will, at the beginning of July, commence scheduled flights from Nairobi to Mwanza, initially four times a week, using their proven ATR aircraft on the route. This will be good news for Mwanza residents who can now easily connect nonstop to Nairobi and then fly on to elsewhere in the region, across the continent to Europe and Asia, choosing from a wide range of airlines now frequenting Nairobi. The flights will operate on Monday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Tourist visitors may also be pleased about the new connections, as Mwanza puts the Grumeti sector of the Serengeti within easy reach by vehicle, opening up new routings and safari circuits.

An airline source in Kampala confirmed to this column that plans are underway to add more frequencies between Dubai and Nairobi, as the award-winning airline apparently intends to up their presently 12 flights a week to a full double daily, commencing later in the year when economic recovery has taken hold. This will be good news for tourism marketers and traders, as both passenger and cargo capacity will be boosted. The Gulf area attracts a lot of visitors from Kenya, while tourists take advantage of low airfares when flying via the various Gulf stopover points to Kenya and other east African destinations. Presently Qatar Airways, Oman Air, and Air Arabia offer flights from and to their home bases and beyond besides, of course, the best-known Gulf airline Emirates. Kenya has been attending the important Arabian Travel Market in Dubai for many years now, promoting holiday packages for Gulf citizens and their large expatriate community.

Information was received from Kenya that the European Union, already supporting sustainable tourism developments in the country, has offered a 160 million Kenya Shillings boost for marketing the country. It is understood that a deal is in the offing with CNN International to feature the country alongside its regular programs to draw attention to the destination and attract more visitors to the country. This will bring a sigh of relief to the marketing people having to sell the country, as after the reading of the budget, grumbles were heard from across the industry for not having enough funding to do the job.

A major meeting will take place in Nairobi in early August, when a 300+ strong delegation is expected to arrive from the United States, likely to be led by Secretary of State Hilary Clinton. The African Growth and Opportunities Act, passed under the Bush administration in its present format, will also bring ministerial delegations from across Africa to Nairobi to discuss the way forward and how best America can support efforts to stabilize the African economies and help them grow by absorbing more exports. However, it was already mentioned in the region by observers that recent action like the halt of the Delta Airlines flights to Nairobi upon Department of Homeland Security advice and existing (anti) travel advisories by the State Department need to be urgently reviewed if a true partnership is to take root in all matters of trade and the free flow of visitors for trade and tourism in both directions.

Both Kenya Airways and Ethiopian Airlines must now brace themselves for yet more delays on the delivery of their ordered B787s, initially dubbed “dreamliner” but now turned nightmare for Boeing and their faithful customers. News earlier in the week that Qatar Airways may, in fact, ditch their entire Boeing order in favor of Airbus models because of the mounting delays, must have shocked the Boeing management in Seattle, when the airline chairman blasted Boeing for “having lunches and dinners” while the problems on the factory floor went from bad to worse. Even ANA of Japan has now expressed their disappointment over the fresh delays, as they were to receive the very first B787 from Boeing with disappointment, of course, being the understatement of the month. Watch this space as the writing is up on the wall for Boeing now.

Proposals made by the Minister for Finance in Tanzania, while reading the 2009/10 budget, are apparently aimed at scrapping incentives for investors in the hotel industry, which so far provided for duty-free importation of essential items not locally produced. The Hotel Association of Tanzania reacted promptly by demanding that the incentives be kept in place in order to keep the sector not only competitive but also attract new investments to the country. The association demanded the proposals to be rescinded and sought appointments with the prime minister, the finance minister and the investment authority.

The Tanzania Association of Tour Operators also voiced their disappointment and concern over the budget measures proposed, which some stakeholders said would discourage tourists coming to Tanzania over the cost, while other countries in the region were busy removing cost elements to stimulate tourism sales.

Information was received that Serena Hotels will, effective July 15 of this year, add two properties to their management portfolio. The two safari lodges are located in southern Tanzania’s Selous Game Reserve, one of the largest game reserves in the world and home to a range of wildlife in a generally undisturbed environment. The Selous Wildlife Lodge and the Mivumo River Lodge will have undergone an upgrade and refurbishment to lift them to the standards of other Serena properties on the safari circuits across eastern Africa. The full range of services found in other safari locations will be available in the two latest additions to the Serena stable. This includes guided walks, bush picnics, game drives in their own vehicles with a guide totally acquainted with the area, river excursions, and, of course, the SPA treatment facilities now available in every Serena property.

Rwanda’s national airline is set to re-brand its image in the market by dropping the “Express” formerly contained in the business name and adding a new tag line, “Fly our dream to the Heart of Africa.” This column has, in the past, reported that the airline was developing a new 5-year business plan and a new strategic plan, and the results of this work will show in a range of actions expected to now unfold in coming months. The new RwandAir – incidentally sampled by this correspondent recently when flying to and from Kigali – is expected to become a premium full-service carrier in the region. A recent comprehensive code-share agreement with Brussels Airlines now, in fact, allows RwandAir to sell tickets to Brussels and beyond on their own tickets, substantially widening their scope.

A new online reservations and payment platform is also being launched, making bookings online not just possible but following the global trend to allow passengers direct access to making their own travel arrangements, should they so prefer. The new features will become effective in August this year. This will coincide with a new look website, also due out soon. Well done indeed!

Latest news from Khartoum now indicate that the regime has given notice to the EU that it is to withdraw from the Cotonou partnership agreement amendments signed in 2005 with the group of African, Caribbean, and Pacific countries. The move is likely to further isolate the regime in Khartoum and has already met with growing protests from the semi-autonomous region of southern Sudan, where the government in Juba was, in fact, seeking to intensify cooperation with the EU and other bilateral partners. Should the decision hold firm, U-turns are not unusual with the regime leaders in Khartoum, and it would give further impetus to a growing movement of secession in the south, which will vote on their independence in a referendum in 2011.

Reports from Juba, in fact, suggested to this column that it was Khartoum’s issues with the ICC, which prompted the decision after, in a global first, an arrest warrant was issued against a sitting president, accused of war crimes in Darfur. Available funding worth up to 300 million Euros is now in doubt, a heavy blow for those Sudanese in need of support to help reduce poverty in the country and bring health services and education closer to the people. Watch this space for updates.

Wolfgang's East Africa tourism report

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