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Travel and Tourism in Africa

East Africa Tourism Report

Wolfgang H. Thome, eTN Africa  Aug 28, 2009

As reported in the last column, a Cessna single-engine plane had made a forced landing on the main road from Masaka to Kampala, when encountering at the time unspecified mechanical problems. According to a press release by KAFTC (, the problem was caused by “excessive fuel venting from a fuel cap exacerbated by bad weather in the area,” prompting the instructor pilot to set the plane down on the main highway as a precaution. An inspectorate team from the Ugandan CAA, which arrived on the scene within hours of receiving the report about the incident, expressed satisfaction with the plane’s airworthiness and mechanical condition and then permitted a road take off to return the Cessna to Kajjansi, after adding some more fuel.

It was also pointed out by the company, that the pilot in charge at the time has over 8,000 hours of flying time under his belt and is employed as the Aero Club’s chief instructor. KAFTC has, since its formation in the early 90s, not suffered a fatal accident in its operations and is generally considered a safe airline to use for domestic charters, operating most of the oil companies’ flying requirements. A source from the oil industry, in fact, spoke highly of the air charter company and complimented the pilot’s skills resulting in a safe outcome.

The national water company admitted defeat, earlier in the week, when taken to task over the perennial water shortages in many parts of the city, which recently also extended to the posher areas of Kampala. A spokesperson for NWSC was quoted in the media as saying that rationing was now the only solution as “draught and lake pollution” finally took its toll on the water company’s ability to produce enough water for the city. This, however, has been known to the water company for some time now, and insider talk has it that problems other than the ones admitted to may be responsible for the sharp worsening of the situation in recent weeks.

Meanwhile, related articles in the local press immediately highlighted that increased lake pollution, a long-known and growing problem, is now putting over 40 million people living along the shores of Lake Victoria at risk for their livelihoods of fishing and agriculture. Lake Victoria is the second largest fresh-water lake in the world, for long thought to be inexhaustible, but overfishing and pollution have started to drive home the message that even this huge resource is only finite and if not properly protected and managed, could go the same way as Lake Chad or the Caspian Sea, a development which could prove catastrophic for the tens of millions of people around the lake and, of course, those downstream the River Nile, which springs from Lake Victoria and flows through Lakes Kyoga and Albert before making its way into southern Sudan.

The Uganda Golf Open Championship will play out this weekend at the Entebbe Golf Club with participants from at least 8 countries now confirmed. About 200 players with handicaps of 7 or below have been entered, while for the subsidiary matches, still a handicap of at least 14 will be needed.

The competition is sponsored by Uganda Telecom, always visible on the golf courses around the country with weekend sponsorships, complemented by Nile Breweries, Pepsi Cola, and MidCom, a telecom supply and equipment company.

Information released during the week indicates that the Uganda CAA has nearly completed the purchase of additional land in the vicinity of the airfield in Kasese, with nearly all affected land owners having received compensation already. The CAA expects that only less than two percent remain outstanding, before the expanded area can then be fenced and secured.

CAA intends to lengthen the current strip to about 2,500 meters and tarmac it completely, which will then permit, if needed, to land a B737 or similar aircraft once the work has been finished.
In addition to the runway expansion, a new terminal building will be constructed and a night landing lighting system installed to permit round the clock operation at this strategically located aerodrome. Kasese is on the foot of the Rwenzori Mountains and near the Queen Elizabeth National Park, but also close to the Congo DR border. Some of the local reporting again caused outbursts of laughter amongst the aviation fraternity, when a newspaper article suggested that Kasese would, after the expansion, be able to receive aircraft up to the size of a B767, which is capable of carrying up to 680 passengers.

A full-page, four-color advertorial was placed in the local print media early in the week by Ethiopian Airlines, trying to reclaim lost ground in public perception that they are no longer the Pan African airline, a standing they seem to have lost to Kenya Airways over the years, if not by fact, at least in the court of public opinion.

ET has in the recent past, clearly neglected its PR work and marketing in key markets, allowing the public perception to relegate them to second or third spot in the continental aviation scene, a placing not supported by the fact of its network and fleet size, as it could not match the well-oiled PR machineries of its main competitors. This development took place in spite of impressive financial performances in past years, but pure financial and operational results alone are not enough it appears. However, probably recognizing its errors in the arena of public opinion, ET has now thrown down the gauntlet to other African airlines to restore their place in the heart of the traveling public. It must, however, be pointed out that its media releases and information updates are a far cry from the material sent for instance by Kenya Airways, South African Airways, and such regional airlines like Fly 540 or RwandAir.

Information received from the Uganda Tourism Board indicates that a binding contract has been signed for attending this year’s World Travel Market, taking place in London from November 9-13. Write to for more information and to make appointments in advance with trade fair participants from the Ugandan tourism industry. A sizeable delegation from the Ugandan private and public sector is once again expected to attend the 30th anniversary WTM exhibition to promote Uganda’s tourism attractions to the world.

Fitch Ratings last week upgraded Uganda’s economic outlook from previously “stable” to “positive,” while at the same time also reaffirming the country’s international credit standing as a sound “B.” More related information can be obtained from the Bank of Uganda web site where the full details have been published via or by writing to

Work of the late David Pluth will be exhibited at the Emin Pasha Hotel in Kampala’s Nakasero suburb from September 23-30. The late David passed away while on assignment in Rwanda in June this year, and this column broke the news at the time to a shocked tourism and conservation fraternity in eastern Africa, where David had many admirers for his outstanding photographic work.

The executive director of the Uganda Wildlife Authority has taken the bull by the horns during the week when he came out swinging with a full-page narrative article in Uganda’s leading daily, the New Vision, rejecting allegations and email campaigns over the present oil exploration in the Murchisons Falls National Park. This issue has been a topic in past column editions, but when recently and belatedly, the matter was taken by some safari operators to sections of the media to apply public pressure on UWA, the organization reacted boldly and put the record straight. The full response by Moses Mapesa can be accessed through the New Vision web edition under this link:

Information was received during the week that UWA has, under its gate receipt sharing scheme, distributed over 450 million Uganda Shillings to communities neighboring the Murchisons Falls National Park. At least 6 districts adjoining the park were named as beneficiaries during a meeting between UWA and the beneficiaries at the Paraa Safari Lodge. The communities involved were, however, urged to provide detailed accounts of how the funds would be spent to alleviate fears that some of the money for community projects and developments would be misused and misappropriated.

The Ministry of Works and Transport during the week reaffirmed that the main highways through the country would be moved to dual-carriage status in coming years, starting with the main connection between Kampala and Entebbe, while also starting work on the Kampala-Mukono-Jinja highway. There have also been suggestions to eventually have a dual-carriage highway across the country from the borders with Kenya to the Rwandan border, but this may, according to this column’s assessment, still be a very long time away.

Local media reports indicate that not long after former general manager Rahul Sood left the hotel, following the sale of the property to new owners, mayhem broke out at the hotel. Rahul Sood had generated very high occupancies for his former owners and developed a strong following among the business community for seminars, workshops, and functions, but when he moved to the Imperial Hotel Group as area general manager in charge of the group’s three Entebbe hotels, he apparently saw his loyal customers move with him. Subsequently, a drop of food and beverage business, as well as occupancy, may have contributed to the alleged termination of about two dozen staff, which appears to have prompted them to stage a strike. The hotel’s well-acclaimed Thai chef apparently also fell foul of the new owners, who are likely to see their fortunes shrink yet further as a result of the fall out and negative publicity of the industrial action taken against them.

Allegations made by some of those on strike, which reached this column, also spoke of attempts by the new owners to replace competent Ugandan workers with Kenyans, a development – if found true – would be likely to further incense the situation. Said one source in a message to this columnist: “We have alerted our union and the immigration department; there is no way that we should be sacked, and the Kenyan owners bring their own nationals when we can do the job. This is not possible in Kenya, we would be deported if working there, but Kenyans have swamped the hotel sector here and it is not fair and not legal.”

A nationwide census took place during the entire week in Kenya, attempting to establish the real number of Kenyans now living in the country and also confirm the latest demographical distribution of populations, their primary residence, and compile other relevant data permitting government to plan the provision of services across the country. Tuesday was declared a public holiday to permit the bulk of the people to stay at home and be counted, although the census was expected to extend across the week until the end of August. It is understood that tourist visitors present in Kenya at the time were also counted alongside the Kenyan population, as were expatriates and business visitors, by the nearly 150,000 enumerators. Once results are out, which is expected to take several months, look no further than this column for an update. It is, however, anticipated that the Kenyan population is going to touch, if not exceed, the 40 million mark, almost doubling the figures over the past 20 years.

Notably though, it appears that Kenyan living abroad, like many do in Uganda, are missing out in this year’s census as no arrangements are in place to conduct a census through the Kenyan High Commission.

It was learned earlier in the week that the latest B777-300ER aircraft delivered to KLM will enter service this week with a commercial maiden flight to Nairobi, Kenya. The first proper flight is due on Friday, August 28, when the aircraft will formally enter service. The new B777 has been painted in Sky Team colors to promote the alliance across the KLM network. According to KLM sources, three more of this aircraft type are still expected to join its fleet in the coming months. KLM codes shares all flights on the Amsterdam to Nairobi route with Kenya Airways as part of its close cooperation.

Sections of the Kenyan hotel fraternity have spoken out against rising costs in order to keep their lights on, in the face of power rationing inflicted upon them. This column had in the past reported that hydro-electric dams had to reduce power output or even shut down as a result of the drought conditions hitting Kenya again. The shortage of electricity has been compounded by a shortage of water, partly caused when the pumps cannot function during power black outs and also by dwindling supplies. Subsequently, most of the hotels and resorts are now using their generators again to keep the lights on, the fridges and deep freezers working, and the air condition running in guest rooms, however, at a substantial added cost, considering the price of diesel and the absence of any tax or excise duty relief from government. While this has not yet affected the tourism trade along the Kenyan coast, hoteliers have nevertheless expressed their concern should the situation persist, as in particular, the inflated cost base could compel them to raise their tariffs, although it is hard to imagine in this present economic environment that has seen prices fall in order to keep the tourists coming to the fabulous Indian Ocean beaches along the Kenyan coast.

A new commuter airline by the name of ALS started scheduled flights from Nairobi to Kisumu earlier in the week, using a Bombardier Dash 8 aircraft seating 37 passengers. ALS joins the route in competition with Kenya Airways and Jetlink, both of whom operate daily jet aircraft services, while Fly 540 presently uses ATR aircraft for this particular route. All the three airlines operate from Nairobi’s main international airport, Jomo Kenyatta.

The main difference, however, is that ALS operates from Nairobi’s Wilson Airport, nearer to the business district and the main residential areas, making it easier to reach and more convenient to return home from, considering the often-snarling traffic towards JKIA and vice versa.

ALS will, according to information at hand, offer a daily morning and evening service, although a third mid-day flight may be introduced, depending on market conditions.

ALS’s management and owners also appealed at the launch ceremony to government to reduce taxes and levies on domestic flights, claiming that such fees add at least 50 percent to the basic fare for passenger tickets, while busses plying the route do not face such prohibitive fees. One of the owners at the launch intimated that if government really wants to support and expand domestic aviation services, it has to reduce the cost of doing business quite substantially – a notion fully supported by this column.

The cost of the two-and-a-half day strike by sections of the KQ staff is now beginning to emerge, as figures of as much as 600 million Kenya Shillings, or US$7.6 million, are being floated in the regional media. The cost of rebooking stranded passengers on other airlines, loss of revenue, and loss of customer loyalty, combined with hotel accommodation for transit and checked-in passengers when the strike took hold, caused a further financial setback for the airline, which was already struggling with a substantial loss carried forward from the last financial year. Operations are meanwhile said to have returned to pre-strike normal, and the passenger backlog has been cleared by concerted efforts between staff and management.

Criticism was also heaped on the Minister of Transport for having sat on his hands while the strike action started and took hold, with one parliamentarian accused him of having “slept on the job.” While denying these charges, claiming the government has no say over a private company, the minister seems to have forgotten that not only does the Kenyan government hold a 26 percent share in the airline, but that he himself eventually stuttered into action on the second day of the strike when he threatened government intervention to bring the industrial action to an end.

A safari lodge located in the Grumeti Sector of the Serengeti has recently introduced horseback riding into the bush for tourists, accompanied by experienced guides and trackers to ensure a safe environment. Unlike in safari vehicles, the tourists can actually ride through the savannah, off the vehicle tracks, and come closer to the wild animals than viewing them through the roof hatches of its 4x4s from the distance of the road or track, where off-road driving is not permitted.

Reportedly, some 18 horses are now trained for the unique safari experience, which is available from the three upmarket safari camps of Sasakwa, Faru Faru, and Sabora, all owned and operated by the same company holding the concession.

In the same area, some neighboring community residents, however, are arguing that the investors’ contracts should be terminated, because they are not able to access a river inside the protected area to water their livestock, while also claiming that relations with the investors are not good. Someone claiming to speak on behalf of those villagers also reportedly said that residents were not involved in negotiating the contracts between the government authorities and the investors.

The company, meanwhile, pointed to its existing contract, duly executed under existing law with competent governmental authorities and the provisions of the respective conservation laws, of which area residents are aware and subject to. Enforcement is also said to be done by governmental wardens and rangers, but the company conceded that there may be misconception by the villagers, while other sources point to agitators and incitement as the cause of the strained relations. A further comment attributed to the company also points out that area residents are not shareholders nor can they expect profit shares or other hand outs from the concessionaire as they may have been led to believe. Not a good foundation for being good neighbors. Watch this space for updates.

An amendment to the existing law is soon to be introduced, which, when passed, will finally offer residents living near the country’s national parks, compensation packages for damages caused by wildlife to their farms and livestock. This was revealed by the head of ORTPN and deputy CEO of the Rwanda Development Board Mrs. Rosette Rugamba last weekend while visiting the Virunga National Park in the company of the UN Ambassador for the Year of the Gorilla Mr. Ian Redmond. Mrs. Rugamba also confirmed that a new wildlife policy is in its final drafting stages and will likely be presented to cabinet for review within two months. The new policy will address shortcomings detected in the past when dealing with human/wildlife conflict and likely propose wider sharing of proceeds from tourism to the local communities living around the national parks and game reserves.

The Rwanda Office for Tourism and National Parks, together with private-sector stakeholders, once again attended the British bird fair last week, promoting bird watching as an alternative to the country’s main attraction of gorilla tracking. Rwanda is home to nearly 650 bird species, several of them endemic to the “land of a thousand hills,” and the gazetting of the Nyungwe National Park has undoubtedly added to the tourism sector’s range of attractions they can now offer to tourist visitors.

Only recently RDB/ORTPN hosted a sizeable number of specialized agents and operators for bird-watching tours to Rwanda and took them around the main parks and reserves where unique birds, like the red-collared mountain babbler, the shoe bill stork, the ring-necked francolin, and others can be seen with ease.

Talks resumed during the week between the main protagonists in the Madagascar political crisis in Maputo, the capital of Mozambique, where former president Chissano is again chairing the meeting. The conference was earlier thrown into doubt when fresh demands from some of the participants were reported in the media, but it appears that former president Chissano put his foot down and disallowed any changes to the agreed positions at the end of the first meeting round. The powerbrokers are now tasked to name a prime minister, three deputy prime ministers, and a cabinet of 28 ministers to oversee the country’s transition period before fresh elections will be held in about 15 months. Several former presidents of Madagascar and the two main opponents will try to reach a final conclusion on their talks, which started earlier in the month with a landmark agreement that they now have to make operational. Meanwhile, it was confirmed from a source in Tananarive that occupancy of flights to the island have markedly improved since the principal agreement was reached and that tourists have indeed started to return to the island.

East Africa Tourism Report
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