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East Africa Tourism

Wolfgang's East Africa tourism report

Wolfgang H. Thome, eTN Africa  Jul 03, 2009

The breeding program at the Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary has the first success story to show for the million-dollar-plus investments undertaken through the Rhino Fund Uganda and its major sponsors when “Nandi” – one of the rhinos donated by Disney Animal Kingdom in Florida – gave birth last night to the first rhino calf born in the country for at least 30 years.

More details will follow in coming editions, but for the moment we are able to report that mother and baby are doing well. In fact, the little one has already learned to suckle.
No tracking will be possible around Nandi in coming months until the veterinarians have given the green light, although the other 5 rhinos can be visited, as they are in a different part of the sanctuary.

This correspondent, being the immediate past chairman of the Rhino Fund Uganda, offers his profound thanks to Angie Genade, executive director of the Rhino Fund Uganda; chairman Dirk ten Brink; the present board; and all the Ziwa staff involved in this wonderful success story.

Although no gender has been established as yet for the newly-born rhino cub, the names of “Obama” and “Michelle” have been proposed for consideration, but readers will have to wait a little longer to find out those details, as the mother Nandi continues to be intensely protective of the baby.

Angie also confirmed to the media that the sanctuary may, in fact, now at last receive the much more endangered Eastern Black species, following this first success in breeding, while more Southern White are also apparently on the way from South Africa. Uganda was, until the very early 80s, home to the now well nearly-extinct Northern White and the Eastern Black before both species were poached out of existence in the country under a dictatorial regime with no regard to the Ugandan people, leave alone wildlife conservation.

CNN International, now incidentally a partner of eTN, will, in fact, feature the Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary this weekend on “Inside Africa” at 15:00 and 23:30 on Saturday and 11:30 on Sunday, all times GMT.

Special packages are now available for golfers when coming to stay at the Kampala Sheraton Hotel. For the price of US$175, plus the respective taxes, guests will get accommodation in a superior room, a full breakfast buffet, transportation to and from the Uganda Golf Union 18-hole course in the heart of Kampala, and afterwards a complimentary visit to the Kidepo SPA at the Sheraton. Green fees are payable directly at the golf club and vary, depending on the day of the week, between US$5 - 7 per round, which in this day and age is a very affordable expense considering the location and layout of the course. The package is available immediately and valid until the end of December 2009. For more details, write to

Reports were found recently in the local media that Imperial Hotels, already owning and managing the Imperial Resort Beach and the Botanical Beach hotels in Entebbe, have now taken over the Golf View Hotel after the previous owner went into financial distress and had to sell the property to avoid foreclosure. This latest development will add muscle to Imperial Hotels, which is now without a doubt the largest hotel operator in Entebbe. The strategic location near the country’s single international airport and its vicinity to such places as State House, the Botanical Gardens, and the Uganda Wildlife Education Centre, will undoubtedly help the hotel group to attract extra business for their hotels. Imperial Hotels also owns and operates three hotels in Kampala – the upmarket Imperial Royale Hotel just above the Kampala Serena; the Grand Imperial Hotel just below the Sheraton Kampala Hotel; and their budget option, the Equatoria Hotel.

This column managed to get feedback from Derek Houston, who recently visited eastern Africa to make presentations towards an intensified MICE marketing effort. Here is what Derek had to say: “East African countries should target International Conference Business more aggressively.”

In the view of Derek Houston, Africa representative of EIBTM and who gave presentations recently in Kigali and Kampala, these are the main challenges for the east African tourist boards and private sectors in coming years to successfully market their MICE facilities.

He believes that Uganda and Rwanda are ideally placed to generate more international conference business, as both countries now have excellent conference centers, as well as a range of three- to five-star hotels to accommodate the delegates. He noted that ICCA (the International Conference and Convention Association) had stated that most international conventions were for 200-600 delegates, and, therefore, Rwanda and Uganda could easily cope with this number of delegates without undue strain on its infrastructure.

Uganda, he said, after CHOGM, had, however, missed a golden opportunity to promote itself as an international conference destination by failing to publicize the successful handling of this prestigious gathering.

Derek Houston pointed out that international conference delegates spend far more than leisure tourists. In South Africa, they spend US$1,400 per visit, compared to leisure tourists who spend US$700 per visit. In Spain, the figure is €1,500 compared to €857 per visit on average.
East African Countries should be targeting MICE business, because it brings in lucrative high-end visitors. A medium-sized conference will fill a city with valuable spin offs for city tours, restaurants, and curio sellers, etc. Conferences also generate increased employment opportunities and additional pre- and post-conference touring.

Derek Houston proposed to the tourism industry of Rwanda and Uganda that each country should take a small stand at EIBTM – the Global Meetings and Incentive event, which is held in Barcelona every year in December.

At EIBTM, east African exhibitors will be able to network with 8,000 conference organizers and incentive travel specialists and enjoy pre-scheduled appointments with key buyers. At EIBTM 2008, thirty percent of the trade visitors were interested in doing business with Africa.

"I had a very enthusiastic reception from both countries," said Derek, "and I am confident we will be able to put together a small stand for each country, with representation from hotels, conference centers, and tour operators who specialize in MICE business."
The Tanzania Tourist Board and the Arusha International Conference Centre have been exhibiting at EIBTM for the past three years and have sourced valuable leads from it's exposure to international associations, organizations, and corporate conference organizers.

The local Emirates office has given provisional information that the airline, once they have taken delivery of further A380s, will deploy the sky giant on the Paris route from February next year onwards. Presently, a twice-daily B777 is operated between Dubai and the French capital, but forward bookings have apparently been so successful, in spite of the global economic and financial crisis, that the use of the larger aircraft can be justified. Travelers on the daily Emirates flight between Entebbe and Dubai can look forward to flying the world’s largest and most-advanced aircraft to Paris, in addition to the present destination choices of London Heathrow, Bangkok, Sydney, Auckland, and Toronto.

It was learned earlier in the week that U7 will immediately extend their flights from Entebbe to Dar es Salaam once again to Zanzibar, in anticipation of increased holiday travel to the “spice island,” as Zanzibar is also known. Travelers now have three choices of flights again, directly with Air Uganda, with Precision Air via Kilimanjaro, and with Kenya Airways via Nairobi.

A new specialized safari company has recently started offering their services in Uganda, focusing almost entirely on river transportation on the Albert Nile, which starts its journey from Lake Albert towards the border with the southern Sudan at Nimule. The company imported “swamp air boats,” similar to the ones used in the Florida Everglades National Park, and this will allow their clients a unique perspective from the water on to the shores where birds and wildlife can be observed. “Bahr el Jebel” is the Arabic name for the “White Nile” – as the river changes name upon entering the Sudan, having been named the Victoria Nile and then the Albert Nile while making its way through Uganda. The safari company prefers to fly their clients from Entebbe to the Arua airfield on the scheduled services of Eagle Air before transferring them to their own safari camp on the shores of the river, from where all safari activities will commence. Traditional safari vehicles are based at the camp and are used for trips to the Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary and into Murchisons Falls National Park. Visit for more information.

The recent climb of crude oil prices, combined with a devaluation of over 30 percent of the Uganda Shilling over the same period of time, has resulted in sharply-rising fuel prices again. Diesel, from a low of about 1,600 Uganda Shillings per liter, is now touching the 2,000 mark again, while petrol prices have gone from a low of about 2,200 Uganda Shillings per liter into the 2,400 range.

Consult your safari operators if this will result in fuel surcharges becoming effective, as has been the case with the airlines, which also promptly raised fuel supplements to cushion the financial impact of the latest round of aviation fuel price increases for both JetA1 and AVGAS. Present pump prices are US$1.81 per liter of AVGAS and US$0.5706 per liter of JetA1.

As mentioned in last week’s column, the Uganda Wildlife Authority is planning to commemorate the UN Year of the Gorilla 2009 with a special celebration, while at the same time formally launching a new gorilla group recently habituated and now available for tourism purposes. The name of the new group is “Nshongi,” reportedly the biggest gorilla group ever habituated for tracking by tourists with over 30 animals. Gorilla tracking continues to be the most sought-after adventure foreign visitors are coming to Uganda for, although there is further scope, as often suggested by this correspondent in the past when still holding official functions within the tourism sector, to develop Uganda into a destination for primates since there are 13 other species found here besides the gorillas. Chimpanzee tracking is already part of the regular safari programs, but other primate types could also be habituated in their specific locations to widen the appeal Uganda has for its tourist visitors.

The planned date has now been shifted to August 15 to allow for wider participation and sufficient preparation time, according to UWA’s Lillian Nsubuga in information given to this column. Watch this space for program and activities updates, as and when those become available.

A recent routine police check discovered sacks of beans stuffed with ivory of various origins, supposedly to be smuggled into the country from the eastern Congo, where, of course, lawlessness is the order of the day. Poachers there operate literally unimpeded, but in the absence of access to international flights, they often try to smuggle their ill-gotten ivory via neighboring countries where it is then disguised in other export items and shipped to buyers, mostly in the far and south east. UWA commended their police counterparts for their vigilance, and a joint task force is reportedly investigating the master minds behind such schemes.

Uganda, after taking up her seat on the UN Security Council in January as a non-permanent member representing the African interests for a two year period, has now taken to the important position of chair of the UN’s most visible organization. The chairmanship revolves around the members of the Security Council on a regular pre-scheduled basis, but is, nevertheless, seen as both an honor and recognition for our country.

MTN’s latest gizmo was launched earlier in the week, when Uganda’s leading mobile telecoms company introduced Google SMS to their customers, free of charge for the launch period. Linked with Google Search, a text message will attract either direct answers or else links on the mobile phone from where further information can be retrieved. Notably, this column now also regularly appears on Google News after eTN signed a partnership agreement with Google a month ago, whereby editorial content from eTN reporters and correspondents is absorbed directly into the Google News web service.

The Ugandan electricity distributor Umeme, of course, a monopolist with all the traditional monopolistic hallmarks, was recently subjected to extensive raids by the Ugandan CID over allegations of substantial discrepancies over government subsidies – given to them to keep electricity tariffs affordable for average Ugandans – and their subsequent returns on the funds received. It was learned that their former CEO, attached to the company from his erstwhile employers ESKOM in South Africa, was also part of the ongoing investigations, and his residence was also raided and files and computer records were taken. Mr. Paul Mare recently resigned from his position with literally no notice, in spite of this being one of the best paid jobs in the Ugandan economy and was reportedly preparing to leave Uganda to return to South Africa when the sleuths struck. There is speculation in the local media over an alleged loss of up to 120 billion Uganda Shillings, incurred over a period of 4 years, as preliminary results of an ongoing forensic audit appear to reveal.

Meanwhile, Umeme inflicted a 50+ hour power outage on the area, where this correspondent’s main residence is located, showing along the way a growing indifference to the ongoing complaints by the area’s residents, while at the same time giving misleading time frames and causes of the outage, ranging from broken conductors, fallen poles, and broken wires, and including one which made it worth reporting – “the technicians are still struggling with the bees.” It is little wonder that Umeme is one of the worst reputed companies/organizations in the entire country, competing for top (or rather bottom) honors with such contenders as the Kampala City Council.

The Sheraton Toronto Hotel was selected by the trade fair organizers to hold a dedicated Africa travel trade show in Toronto on September 1-3 of this year, during which time African destinations can showcase their attractions to the major market place, which the Toronto/Montreal area constitutes. The organizers expect at least 100 exhibitors, including tourist boards, and hope for more than 5,000 visitors from the travel trade and general public to take advantage of the show. South African Airways has been named as one of the key sponsors – no accident there – as the country prepares for the FIFA 2010 World Cup, having just hosted a successful Federations Cup tournament. Seminars and networking sessions are planned alongside the main events.

Write to or visit for more information.

Kenya’s tourism sector is now engaged in an extensive marketing campaign in eastern Europe, covering Russia, Poland, and the Czech Republic. The intense advertising campaign is expected to last until August of this year, and it is hoped that large numbers of holiday visitors can be attracted to come to Kenya and the rest of eastern Africa from these new emerging markets. The remaining challenge remains air connections, and while a number of eastern European cities now connect into the Emirates network, which offers daily flights to Kenya and the rest of the region, nonstop flights from Moscow, Warsaw, and other centers would be the preferred option.

While Ugandan conservationists were overjoyed to hear about the birth of a little southern white rhino baby on the Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary, sadder news arrived during the week from Kenya. Apparently a rarer eastern black rhino was killed for its horns inside the Masai Mara Game Reserve, in spite of regular surveillance of the endangered species by a specialized rhino protection unit. Other reports also confirm an upsurge in elephant poaching outside the reserve’s boundaries in recent months, which all must be a matter of grave concern to the tourism fraternity, the conservation fraternity, and the managers of wildlife in Kenya, the Kenya Wildlife Service. There are now, according to usually well-informed sources, 37 rhinos left in the Masai Mara, and surveillance, intelligence gathering and active anti-poaching patrols have immediately been stepped up. When going to press, there was no news on any arrests yet over this case, while KWS and other law enforcement officers arrested an elephant poacher at Tsavo East National Park earlier in the week. From that front, nearly a dozen poachers have been arrested in recent weeks, while several elephants were said to have been killed for their ivory.

Air Kenya has re-introduced regular scheduled service from Nairobi’s Wilson Airport to the main South Coast airfield in Ukunda, following an upsurge in demand to deliver tourists by air. Over the past months, the ferry crossing at the Likoni entrance point to the Mombasa harbor was repeatedly disrupted, making an already longish journey last several hours longer and at times made departing tourists miss their flights. The new direct air service is thought to benefit the hotels and resorts along the South Coast, as visitors can now rely on swift delivery to their chosen hotel by hotel transport, which can collect the passengers from the nearby airfield. Air operators, however, are understood to have complained about the various states of disrepair at the airfield and demanded that the Kenya Airports Authority avail funds for a full rehabilitation of this key facility along the South Coast beaches.

News reached us that late last week, a small plane, while approaching the airstrip at Kiwayu Island, crashed on landing. While one of the occupants is said to have survived with injuries, another occupant was reportedly killed on impact. No further details were available at the time, other than that is was a private flight, apparently not chartered from one of the licensed domestic airlines in Kenya. Kiwayu is not far from Lamu and is a beach-side, privately-owned resort famous for its location, privacy, fresh sea food, and personal service.

It was learned earlier in the week that Micah Cheserem resigned from his seat on the board of directors of Kenya Airways, with apparent immediate effect. First elected to the board in 2003, the former governor of the Central Bank of Kenya served with distinction for the past 6 years, before being appointed a few weeks ago as chairman of the Capital Market Authority. This being a statutory body, overseeing the stock exchange in Nairobi, where Kenya Airways is also being actively traded, probably led to a potential conflict of interest between the two positions, arguably leading to the resignation from the KQ board. No information was available from the airline over the process to appoint or elect another board member to take up the vacancy.

The deadline for musicians and artists to perform at next year’s Sauti za Busara is now drawing near in order to permit the organizing committee enough time to once again put a program together, which in the past has drawn visitors from near and far and has catapulted this extraordinary festival to the top of African performing arts events. February 11–16 of next year will see the 7th edition of Sauti za Busara unfold in Zanzibar, and early reports indicate that rooms are selling fast for this period of time, making it absolutely mandatory to reserve rooms and airline seats as soon as possible to avoid disappointment. Write to or visit for more information, and most of all, make time to visit Zanzibar’s world-class music and arts festival next year.

This organization will hold a conference in Tanzania’s commercial capital of Dar es Salaam between October 25-30, bringing together friends of Africa from across the globe to appreciate the need to highlight heritage, customs, and cultures. It is reportedly the first time this meeting is being held on the African continent, and Tanzania will be looking forward to the influx of many delegates and visitors for the event.

A soft opening of the newly-built Dar es Salaam Holiday Inn has been set for mid July. The 124 room and suite hotel will be a welcome addition to the hotel scenery in Tanzania’s commercial capital, where increases in visitors have proved conducive to adding more hotel beds.

During a function late last week at the TANAPA headquarters, a new book was launched regarding the Selous Game Reserve, arguably the largest such conservation area in Africa. “Wild Heart of Africa” will undoubtedly help to promote tourism to the area, which is one of the last unexplored and least-utilized parks in the country. A large number of conservationists, wildlife managers, and development partners came to witness the occasion. The German Development Agency, GTZ, has been at the forefront of assisting TANAPA to develop the reserve. The Selous Game Reserve dates back to 1896 and was expanded to its present size in the 1920s. Only recently did this column reveal that Serena Hotels had taken management contracts for two safari properties in the Selous, which will undoubtedly add more interest for visits.

Those present also paid tribute to the late Dr. Allan Rodgers, who spent many years in the Selous carrying out research and who passed on a few weeks ago in Nairobi.

The Dutch development agency, SNV’s former program around Mto Wa Mbu near the Lake Manyara National Park to involve local communities in tourism activities, has obviously born fruit, as figures revealed last week reported a four-fold increase in visitor numbers over the past years. Cultural and community-based tourism activities are supporting elements for the more widely practiced wildlife and nature-based tourism activities in Tanzania and an important part of product diversification. Several other similar projects along the northern safari circuit have also grown from strength to strength, bringing income and a sense of ownership to the local communities, who were often bypassed by the main-stream tourism activities in the past. Well done.

The Zanzibar Tourism Commission recently added four more languages for the purpose of reaching wider markets for their tourism attractions. Chinese, French, Italian, and German are now featured alongside English as the spice island is intensifying efforts to position itself as an up-market Indian Ocean destination, located just off the coastline of the Tanzanian mainland.

Information was received from Juba, Southern Sudan’s capital, that the long-awaited ruling by an international arbitration panel, which both sides pledged to respect and accept the ruling of, is expected to be announced between the dates of July 15-20. It is now 4 ½ years since the CPA, or comprehensive peace agreement, was signed in Kenya, and the oil-rich Abyei state’s regional affiliation, either to the north or the south, was set aside at the time. Two other similar pending disputes exist, which is why the south is presently only comprised of 10 states, rather than the 13 originally demanded as part of the south. Watch this column for an update just as soon as the ruling is out and available.

Abyei, and the entire south, are due to hold a referendum in January 2011 to determine their future, either as part of a united Sudan or as a separate emerging nation. Sources in Khartoum have meanwhile given the strongest indication yet that the planned national elections will again be delayed by at least a further two months, the third such change in dates and evidence towards the widening rift within the regime over census results and the apportioning of constituencies between the south and the north.

Meanwhile, while visiting Libya, Southern Sudan’s President Salva Kiir received an astonishing reassurance from President Gadafi, who reportedly vowed to respect and support whatever choice the people of Southern Sudan will eventually make, when they vote in the independence referendum in January 2011. This, if correct, would be the first Arab and African head of state to give such an assurance, likely to raise the political temperature in Khartoum amongst the regime bosses.

Wolfgang's East Africa tourism report
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