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East Africa Tourism


Wolfgang’s East Africa report

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Wolfgang H. Thome  Jan 25, 2008

MORE GORILLAS, LESS INCOME
Uganda Wildlife Authority is facing some scrutiny over the income accrued from gorilla tracking permits, after news emerged that Rwanda is “harvesting” more money from primate tourism. Uganda at present only has four habituated gorilla groups available for daily tracking at Bwindi National Park inspite of hosting the numerically largest numbers of the primates within its two dedicated gorilla national parks. The fifth group in Mgahinga National Park is constantly under doubt as the gorillas regularly migrate across the border and can then not be accessed from the Ugandan side of the mountain forest. In contrast, Rwanda offers seven habituated groups for tracking per day. UWA expects to have two more groups habituated in about one to two years, but in the meantime there seems no short-term relief to bridge the gap between domestic and international market demand and the actual supply of permits. Gorilla tracking in Congo DR is also considered unsafe at present due to constant hostilities between former Hutu militias and other population groups camped in the vicinity of the park, while last year several of the priced animals were killed by poachers. This situation rules out the wider use of the Congo national park for tracking, leaving only Rwanda and Uganda as the main primate destinations in the region.

Rwanda is also said to be much more pro-active in the international market to promote their prized attractions, with annual high profile and publicity “adoption and naming ceremonies” for new born gorilla babies now in place, the last of which even brought President Kagame to the venue, a significant signal of top level support for Rwanda’s tourism industry.

The poor facilitation of the main marketing body for tourism in Uganda, the Uganda Tourist Board (or Tourism Uganda since its rebranding) is also said to be a major restraint in putting Uganda under the global spotlight as a green, eco friendly destination, since funds released to UTB barely cover recurrent expenditure, while Rwanda’s ORTPN (Rwanda Tourist Board) is comparably well-funded and has brought a record number of tourist visitors to the country in 2007. In neighbouring Kenya, due to the present adverse conditions, the tourism public sector is already seeking an additional 1 billion Kenya shillings for the current financial year to counter negative media reports and promote the country in key market places. However, government in Uganda has been notoriously intransigent towards UTB’s financial situation and going by past experience will only react far too late with far too little.

UWA has in the meantime set aside some 300 million Uganda Shillings (approximately US$180,000) for community projects near Queen Elizabeth National Park as part of their gate receipt sharing scheme, which benefits the people living in the immediate neighbourhood of the national parks across the country.

HEAVY RAINS ARE BACK
The unseasonal weather pattern, as experienced in the last few months of last year, is back with a vengeance and rains are pounding parts of Uganda once more. Areas flooded in 2007, which had the water seen drained off or evaporated under the scorching sun, are now again faced with the prospect of the same problem arising again. Road and bridge repairs have also been slow in coming, and the present rains are threatening the work done up to now. Combined with renewed fears over the supply of fuel, due to the damage done to the main railway line in Nairobi, which has left dozens of fuel and other trains destined for Uganda stranded, the weather is making access of fresh farm produce to the key markets in Uganda difficult. This can impact greatly on the economic performance of the country, where over three quarters of the population still live in rural areas and depend much on agricultural production and trade. Safaris to the national parks however are not presently affected by the weather, but it is always advisable to check with the respective safari operators or their trade association AUTO (auto@utlonline.co.ug) for updates prior to travelling to Uganda.

MIHINGO LODGE TO ADD HORSE BACK SAFARIS
This privately owned ‘boutique’ lodge just outside Lake Mburo National Park, which has now been in operation for over a year, is presently constructing stables for up to 8 horses. By the second half of 2008 the trials for horse back safaris should also have been completed and tourist visitors will then be able to take advantage of this latest addition to the range of tourism products in Uganda. It is expected that initially guided half day trips will be offered to guests but eventually full day or even longer outings are anticipated, all taking place outside the park in the scenic area surrounding Lake Mburo. The lodge already offers walks in the vicinity of the property, probably owing to the fact that it is located outside the park, with the morning walk being the most popular before the heat of the day envelopes the participants. Get more information about Mihingo Lodge at the lodge’s website www.mihingolodge.com or send a mail enquiry to their Kampala booking office via safari@mihingolodge.com.

Special East African residents’ rates are available for visitors from Uganda and the region to promote domestic tourism and the lodge is regularly booked on weekends by escapees from Kampala, who can cover the distance of about 230 kilometers from the capital city within a few hours drive on good tarmac roads to the turn off between Lyantonde and Mbarara (near Nyabushozi) and then on a good murram road to the lodge, which is only a few kilometres off the main road. Access to the national park itself is assured through a dedicated track, which allows for game drives into the park as guests desire.

The only other horse riding opportunity in the Ugandan “wild” presently exists along the upper Nile valley near Jinja, from where trips have been conducted for the past three years by Nile Horseback Safaris. For further information on itineraries contact Natalie at info@nilehorsebacksafaris.com or check out their site at www.nilehorsebacksafaris.com

HIMA CEMENT 50 MILLION DOLLAR EXPANSION LOAN WITHDRAWN
As has been reported in this column several times in the past, Hima Cement, which is owned by French multinational company Lafarge, had attempted to get a mining concession for the extraction of limestone within Queen Elizabeth National Park. While receiving some government support for this ludicrous proposal, the loan funding from the World Bank’s IFC is now likely out of question, as the bank itself has poured millions of dollars in loans and grants into the revival of the protected areas in Uganda for tourism and conservation purposes. As the mining of limestone is done by blasting into the rock layers, which is noisy and dust intensive, environmental campaigners raised multiple questions on the project impact on wildlife and game migration in and out of the park, since the area targeted formed a key migration route. Part of the adjoining areas are also said to be Ramsar sites, which enjoy special global attention and for which government had signed biodiversity conventions which stipulate vigorous protection required by the respective governments. The company’s project proposals however fell far short of internationally accepted mitigation standards as required by the World Bank. Sources from within the company denied however to have withdrawn the loan application on these grounds but at the same instance made reference to the use of company internal resources for the project, arguably to avoid the strenuous conditionalities attached to World Bank funding.

This turn of events opens another hotspot for Ugandan environmentalists, who already contested government’s decision over large tracts of Mabira Forest to be turned into a sugarcane plantation. The World Bank is also likely to demand from government to honour environmental agreements signed, if Lafarge / Hima will try to go ahead with their plans with particular reference to the Ramsar Convention and the Convention of Biodiversity, both of which Uganda signed. Watch this space for more news.

THE EYE ON THE WEB
Visitors interested in coming to Uganda and what is happening in the country can now take a sneak preview by visiting Uganda’s premier event magazine on the web at www.theeye.co.ug

The bi-monthly magazine, which is distributed free of charge to visitors in their hotels or through airline, travel and safari offices, gives information on hotels, lodges and restaurants, addresses of airlines and tour companies, important contacts like hospitals, doctors, shopping locations, suppliers, embassy and consular locations and most important for would be travellers honest reviews of new and existing lodges, camps, resorts, hotels and restaurants across the entire country.

GOVERNMENT TO WITHDRAW FROM CHOGM HOTEL PROJECTS
The Deputy Secretary to the Treasury has been reported to have given an assurance to the parliamentary committee on public accounts, that the investments made into the hotel sector ahead of Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) 2007 will be liquidated in due course, and government would regain the funds invested at the time. The initial idea was to boost hotel construction and have the much needed extra rooms ready in time for the summit. The divestment is subject to negotiations with the respective hotels and co-owners and may take some time to conclude. The assurances were accepted by the parliamentary committee in respect of the Commonwealth Resort in Munyonyo, where government had invested some 13.3 billion Uganda shillings (about US$7.5 million) in 2005. Parliament had in the past flexed its muscles through the public accounts committee about the “unauthorized” payments to private enterprises and opposition members of parliament had vowed to bring government to book over this and other financial engagements, such as the failed Victoria International Airways. Conceding a point by “recalling” the investment was therefore a smart move on the government side, now having to deal with less contentious issues which are arguably easier to settle.

‘KARIBU’ EAST AFRICAN TOURISM FAIR SET FOR 5 – 8 JUNE
East Africa’s premier tourism trade show Karibu Travel and Tourism Fair will take place once again at the Arusha fair ground from June 05th – 08th this year. The fair offers an opportunity for both buyers and exhibitors to meet and sample the latest additions to the product range across Eastern Africa. More details can be accessed at www.karibufair.com or by mail enquiry to info@karibufair.com.

Over 215 exhibitors from across the entire Eastern, Central and Southern African region participated last year, coming from some 15 countries and more are expected again for the 2008 event. The duration of the show was also extended to four days to allow enough time for interaction between visitors, delegates, exhibitors and buyers. This is a tourism trade show, held over the past decade in Arusha / Tanzania, not to be missed by anyone interested in the region’s tourism industry or offering tours and safaris to East Africa. The fair this year is seen to be of special significance and importance due to the development in Kenya, which has affected the entire region to a greater or lesser degree. Feedback and participation from overseas markets at the Arusha fair will be important for tourism operators across the region. It can help devise a successful strategy to counter the negative effects of the Kenyan post-election events and restore market confidence at a time when most needed. Taking place at the peak of the traditional low season for East Africa it will also allow the regional participants to take stock of where the industry now stands and what extra measures need to be taken to spur a full recovery.

KENYA AIRWAYS LIKELY TO BE AFFECTED BY 787 DELAYS
After owning up to what was obvious to industry observers but strenuously denied to this point by Boeing, it is now a fact that the production and delivery of the B 787 ‘Dreamliner’ is going to be delayed further. Boeing’s thinly concealed glee over the problems at Airbus with the A380 production has now turned into an own goal, as the new aircraft is facing at least a year behind the projected schedule of deliveries. Kenya Airways has a substantial order of B787 pending and the delays in delivering the aircraft to its launch customers may also impact on the delivery schedule for KQ. Inspite of the present problems in Kenya the medium and long term prospects for the country are still considered good and above African average and a swift recovery of KQ’s fortunes is expected once tourism goes underway again as seen over the past few years.

In a related development, Ethiopian Airlines too has the new B 787 on their order book and may also be affected in replacing their now ageing B 767 in a timely fashion and according to plans. No information could be received from either airline about possible compensation from Boeing over a delay in deliveries, but as seen with the A380, this scenario is becoming more likely as it could knock off some serious money from the agreed purchase prices. However, in a related development Air India has confirmed through a news bulletin that discussions are already ongoing with Boeing over compensation for their own delayed B787 delivery, a clear indicator that other airlines expecting deliveries of the aircraft too can expect the same treatment, a costly situation undoubtedly for Boeing with certain bearing on their profit expectations for the current and next financial year.

Wolfgang’s East Africa report
Image via wildlifeextra.com



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