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East Africa Tourism

Wolfgang's East Africa tourism report

Wolfgang H. Thome  Jul 10, 2009

In an effort to stimulate travel demand and add competitive distance between themselves and other airlines flying the same routes, Air Uganda has now started rewarding their regular travelers by giving them a free ticket after purchasing 15 tickets previously. In addition, to boost their re-introduction of Zanzibar as a destination, they are offering, for a limited period of time, a free ticket for children under 12, one each per paying adult in fact. This is thought to assist in selling more holiday packages to the spice island, as it permits parents to take the kids on a vacation at largely reduced cost during these challenging economic times. Package holidays to Zanzibar are also available through the airline; for more information visit

Uganda Wildlife Authority’s executive director Moses Mapesa recently confirmed that the former park headquarter in Queen Elizabeth National Park, located near the Mweya Safari Lodge on the Mweya peninsula, was to be largely scrapped and the area returned to its former state of wilderness. This, he said, would in particular apply to the staff housing units, the workshops, and yards. Moses Mapesa also confirmed that discussions were ongoing with the owners of the Mweya concession (Marasa Limited) over the partial use of some of the better buildings, like the residences formerly used by researchers and senior staff, but that no final decision had been taken as yet. He also confirmed the possible option that a new concession could be introduced for the use of those buildings, should the board of directors of UWA so decide.

The overall good news, however, is that the park headquarters, while technically still on park land, is now near the main road at the Kazinga Channel bridge in Katunguru, providing substantially better working facilities for the staff and moving the hustle and bustle of the park administration to the very edge of the park, leaving the core park area free for conservation and tourism purposes. Well done.

Information received from usually well-informed sources within Fly 540’s African operations head office in Nairobi, indicates that the airline is vigorously pursuing their ambitious expansion plans, which have apparently also been extended to Zimbabwe. For that market, domestic flights are planned, according to the source, and will cover Harare, Bulawayo, and Victoria Falls, before adding regional destinations like Lusaka, Lubumbashi, and Lilongwe, amongst others. A total of 9 African countries are expected to be on line by the end of 2010, including some in west Africa, where the major shareholders LonZim, formerly known as Lonrho, also have other economic interests.
In east Africa, the carrier now operates three separately licensed airlines in Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania – ludicrous from the viewpoint that the east African countries are on the way to closer economic cooperation and yet fiefdom struggles amongst the national civil aviation authorities continues to make separate licensing processes mandatory at a very high cost to the afflicted airlines, while CAA chiefs continue to argue over how to preserve their individual patches. This had led to a stifling of not just greater integration and sharing of the scarce human and material resources amongst the regulators but had also been to the detriment of air travelers who are denied the services of airlines registered, supervised, and operating across the border, which could increase fair competition and make air travel broadly more affordable.

Fly 540 presently has two daily flights from Entebbe to Nairobi, in addition to the operation of regional freight services with a dedicated F27 cargo plane, which is able to carry up to 5.5 tons. The airline is using ATR aircraft, which have a cost advantage on the domestic and regional routes over jet aircraft, although their cruising altitude and speed is slightly below that of jets.

Effective immediately, the Belgian flag carrier changed baggage configurations for passengers from Uganda. Economy-class travelers are permitted a maximum of two checked pieces of baggage, each weighing strictly a maximum of 23 KGs and measuring not more than 158 CM in circumference, while business-class travelers are permitted two pieces of checked baggage weighing up to 32 KGs each. No overweight checked luggage will be permitted. Passengers not meeting these guidelines will have to repack on site at the check-in, maybe even buy another suitcase at an airport shop (for astronomical prices), and then pay between 150-200 Euros in surcharges. Oversized pieces exceeding the limit of 158 CM will also attract a surcharge of 150 Euros. “Weight watchers” have finally arrived in Uganda, even if under the disguise of Brussels Airlines latest baggage containment measures, so travelers now stand warned. If traveling on other carriers, check current baggage regulations to be on the safe side and avoid substantial charges when checking in. It is understood that these measures will be effective for all of SN’s African destinations, including Kigali, Bujumbura, and Nairobi in east Africa.

One of Uganda’s largest private charitable foundations has invited their alumni for a meeting at Hotel Africana this week to build a strong network of graduates who benefited from the educational programs and scholarships awarded to deserving students. A new Madhvani Alumni Students Association was, in fact, launched during the meeting to facilitate intensified post graduate relations between beneficiaries of the various programs, as well as support them further in their careers.

These now also include students in the tourism and hospitality sectors, which makes it of interest to this column, of course – always in pursuit of better facilities and opportunities for training, manpower development, and skills transfers. Visit for more details.

Last weekend, coinciding with America’s Independence Day, marked the 33rd anniversary of the successful Israeli raid on the old Entebbe Airport. On that day, Israeli elite commandos rescued the hostages held by a group of terrorists, who had hijacked an Air France flight and then kept them at gunpoint with the help of Idi Amin’s goon squads. After freeing the hostages, except one who had been taken to hospital over a medical condition and who subsequently disappeared, the then Ugandan air force lay burning on the tarmac, the hostage takers were killed, and their Ugandan accomplices either scattered, were wounded, or had also died. Notably, the brother of the current Israeli Prime Minister, who was leading the raid at the time, became the only Israeli casualty, which makes Entebbe – besides these memories – also a place of remembrance for Benjamin Netanyahu. In today’s Uganda, these events are now only a distant memory, after the overthrow of Amin and subsequent defeat of the remaining dictatorial regimes by the NRA. Plans to make that area of the present Entebbe airport a proper memorial site and museum have, however, not yet born fruits.

The new East African Civil Aviation Safety and Security Oversight Agency, in short CASSOA, has started issuing certificates to various airlines, which had to undergo a fresh certification process, besides having to meet national certification requirements, of course. Kenya Airways is reportedly the first of the (mandatory) applicant carriers from the region to be so cleared, followed closely by their sister operation in Tanzania Precision Air, and reportedly Air Uganda, too, has met the criteria, although the airline has not formally confirmed the reports this column gathered from other sources.

Kenya’s greatest wildlife spectacle is now unfolding as the first of over a million wildebeest are presently arriving from their long journey through the Serengeti at the Mara River, which they are now crossing in tens of thousands. Tourists are treated to one of the greatest spectacles of nature, as the animals first have to jump into the river before swimming across and climbing the escarpment on the other side, while all along avoiding the giant crocodiles lying in wait to ambush them. Leading tour operators in Kenya report good bookings for accommodation in the Masai Mara for the coming months, while the great herds make their way across the game reserve like a giant lawn mower, feeding relentlessly before returning to the Serengeti during the September/October period, making the long journey back to the low-grass plains near the foot of the Ngorongoro crater, where they then give birth in another miracle of nature. Having seen the migration many times before in both Serengeti and the Masai Mara, this correspondent encourages readers to come and visit Kenya at this time of the year, while taking advantage of the special deals on offer right now by airlines and safari operators. Karibuni Kenya, the Masai Mara is expecting you!

A change has taken place at the top of the Kenyatta International Conference Centre (KICC), which was headed for half a decade by Philip Kisia. Having turned around the fortunes of the formerly run down facility and having positioned KICC as a top pick for MICE business once again, Philip is now heading to the Nairobi City Council as town clerk, the top administrative position at City Hall. This column is wishing Philip all the best as he turns his boundless energy and attention to city affairs and welcomes Ms. Jennifer Opondo, who succeeds Philip as the new managing director of the KICC. Jennifer is, of course, no stranger to the industry after serving for quite a while at the Ministry of Tourism before embarking on a successful spell with KTB, rising eventually to the post of marketing director of the Kenya Tourist Board. She is, therefore, bringing a wealth of contacts with her to the new position. Visit or write for further information, including subscribing to the KICC news letter, at

Sources at the heart of the Kenyan tourism industry have confirmed in turn what Ugandan tourism operators have been saying to this column: “We expect the impact of the H1N1 (swine flu) to be minimal; there are plenty of other reasons why people are presently a little cautious about traveling the world and coming to east Africa and that has to do with the economic and financial crisis fallout, not this flu pandemic.” The person, who wished to remain unnamed, also added: “No country can shut out this flu unless we all stop to travel and move and stay at home. I remember Mexico tried to halt movements for a few days, and it was not possible. People have to shop and go to work, and children must go to school; there is no way around it. Just as long as we get enough medication for battling this flu type it should be ok. And if at all we in Kenya are victims of this flu being brought to us from abroad, it was not bred here or started in Africa.”

Comments attributed to the KTB chairman Jake Grieves Cook, in fact, point to a lack of sufficient airline seats into Kenya as a major constraining factor at present, indicating that the ongoing proactive marketing of Kenya in foreign markets is showing the intended results, a hint for airlines looking at introducing larger aircraft, adding frequencies, or commencing services into Kenya for the first time, that this is the moment to do it.

Not soon after launching their flights between Mwanza, located on the shores of Lake Victoria and Nairobi, operating four flights per week, Precision Air announced that they will double that number shortly. Precision is Tanzania’s premier airline, privately owned between Tanzanian citizen shareholders and Kenya Airways, and now operates the largest fleet of aircraft in the country. They were recently re-certified by CASSOA (see related column item) and are fully compliant with IATA’s e-ticketing directives and its operational safety audits IOSA.

The added flights now give travelers daily options to fly to the eastern part of Tanzania and either do some fishing or enter the Grumeti sector of the Serengeti for their safari, avoiding an otherwise much longer journey via Arusha. In turn, the Mwanza business community can now fly to Nairobi for business on a daily basis, nonstop, compared to requiring connecting flights through Kilimanjaro International Airport.

The Chinese-built railway between Dar es Salaam and Lusaka, known as TAZARA, was a gift from China to Africa when it was needed most to create a strategic link between the east African port of Dar es Salaam and the safe haven for the Southern African liberation movements with bases in Zambia. This link was able to provide a supply line for the freedom fighters of Angola, South Africa, and Mozambique, all of whom at the time could rely on the support of both Zambia’s and Tanzania’s governments, with Tanzania, in fact, hosting a number of their training camps in a safe environment, as South Africa’s racist regime’s secret operations could not reach that far.

Over the decades, however, the “gift” was badly neglected by the recipient countries – Tanzania and Zambia – as the rail line deteriorated and rolling stock and locomotives aged, often beyond their economic lifespan. This caused major problems to keep the line up and running, and the company incurred growing losses over the years. Meanwhile, donor China has reportedly stepped in once more and will provide not just technical assistance but also a financial package of nearly US$40 million to recapitalize the railway company and upgrade the facilities.

Rwanda’s national airline, flying until not too long ago only once a day between Kigali and Entebbe, has earlier this week confirmed that on weekends they are now flying three times a day between the two airports, using either their Bombardier Dash 8 or their CRJ200 regional jet, which has reduced flying time to just over 30 minutes.
It was also confirmed to this column that effective July 15, a 7:00 am flight between Kigali and Nairobi will be introduced, but only on heavy traffic days. Visit for more information on their destinations and schedules.

As was predictable, the parliament in Juba has now taken a formal decision to reject what has often been termed as manufactured or doctored census results, which the regime in Khartoum published against the wishes of the southern Sudan leadership. Khartoum intends to use the rigged results to define the new electoral constituencies and the number of seats each region of the Sudan would get for the elections in 2010. This, of course, is a deliberate method of pre-rigging elections by denying people equal voting rights and representations in the national parliament, a move which will further fuel the now overt demands from members of the public and the political elite in the South to vote for independence come the referendum in early 2011. Watch this space as the southern Sudan moves towards this referendum, which will determine if it is to remain part of a united Sudan, under which the birthrights of the southern population continue to be trampled by a militant regime in Khartoum or if the south eventually becomes independent and can join up with the rest of the east African community, whereby the opinion of many, is where they truly belong.

Meanwhile, the just-ended AU summit in Sirte, Libya forced a non-binding resolution down members throats when recommending that the Khartoum regime leader Bashir should not be arrested anywhere on the African continent, casting once again doubts on Africa’s ability to decisively deal internally with crimes against humanity, war crimes, and associated ills. Some countries in Southern Africa, however, are said to be ready to carry out the ICC arrest warrant should Bashir dare to set foot on their soil, even after not openly opposing the AU resolution at the time, although in the aftermath of the summit wide-spread criticism was voiced around the world over the cavalier attitude of the AU towards alleged war criminals – not Africa’s finest hour!

Information was received earlier in the week that a UN chartered Antonov 28 cargo aircraft crash landed when the landing gear collapsed upon touchdown. While reports were sketchy, it was confirmed from two sources within the aviation fraternity in the Sudan, that apparently some of the crew got injured, although there were luckily no fatalities this time. Aircraft from the former Soviet Union have for long been a source of concern for the aviation sector in Africa in particular, as – owing to their cheap prices - Antonovs and Iljushins were widely used before growing fatal accident numbers compelled more and more civil aviation authorities to ban them from their skies.

Following his first visit to the continent a few weeks ago, when President Obama came to Egypt to address the Arab and Muslim world, this weekend will see him come to Africa proper when he arrives in Ghana. His keynote address is expected to deal largely with US relations in coming years with Africa, and the continent will be listening closely to the new goals and objectives of his administration. There is some disappointment in Kenya, of course, that Obama, whose late father was a Kenyan, would not go there first, but political differences with Kenya seem to have been the main cause of choosing Ghana over the east African nation. It is, however, expected that Kenya is on a future visiting schedule to the continent. Kenya is already benefiting in tourism terms from increased publicity and promotion of Obama’s roots, and US visitors are an important segment for arrivals to the country and, in fact, the entire region. So for now it is welcome to President Obama to the African continent proper before eventually telling him “Karibu Kenya” when visiting our region.

Wolfgang's East Africa tourism report
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