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Travel And Tourism In Africa

East Africa tourism report

Wolfgang H. Thome  Sep 24, 2009

Sheraton’s long-serving director of sales and marketing, Ms. Janet Mzigo, announced late last week that she will be leaving the hotel after 5 years at the helm of the marketing and sales department. For the time being, Janet will relocate to her home country of Kenya, following the sudden passing of her father, where she will be concentrating on family affairs before undoubtedly re-emerging once again in a couple of months in a similar or even elevated position in the hospitality or wider tourism industry in eastern Africa. Said Janet in her last meeting with this correspondent before departing for Nairobi: “I think my big achievement was to empower my sales team who are now able to act under their own initiatives to meet Sheraton Kampala’s business targets. I learned a lot during these five years, and I made a lot of friends in Uganda and even more business contacts, and that is the sad part of going back to Kenya, to leave them all behind. Once I have taken care of family affairs, I will be back in the industry; there are lots of untapped opportunities in eastern Africa, especially in Uganda. Who knows, I may even be back here one day. Otherwise, it is for now ‘kwaheri ya kuonana’ from me.” Farewell Janet and all the best in your future endeavors. Watch this space for the upcoming announcement of a successor by the Sheraton Kampala Hotel.

One of Kampala’s favorite weekend getaways, Bulago Island, has reportedly been taken over by Wild Places Africa, a sister company of The Uganda Safari Company. The island resort has already been closed, with immediate effect, for ongoing renovations, refurbishment, and upgrading by one of Uganda’s premier safari property companies, and is, according to Jonathan Wright, CEO of Wild Places Africa and TUSC, going to reopen before Easter 2010. According to Jonathan, the island resort will then offer 12 brand new deluxe rooms near the beach but will maintain its charm and appeal to the Kampaleans wanting to get away, while also offering the expected level of comfort and luxury for tourist visitors from overseas seeking a few days on an island on Lake Victoria following a safari to the most enchanting places in the country. Wild Places Africa presently owns and manages the luxurious Emin Pasha Hotel in Kampala, the Apoka Safari Lodge in Kidepo Valley National Park, the Semliki Safari Lodge in the Semliki Game Reserve (formerly Tooro Game Reserve), and the globally-renowned Clouds at the edge of the Bwindi Gorilla National Park. The Bulago owners - The Lake Victoria Sailing Company - also announced that they presently have three residential plots for sale, 1 acre each at a cost of US$60000, a price due to rise to US$100,000 once the new Bulago has gone operational next year and more facilities and infrastructure, like a brand new marina, have been added. Watch this space for progress reports from this upcoming jewel on the lake and when Bulago reloaded reopens for business next year.

After signing a concession with Eco Trust recently, Geo Lodges Africa confirmed to this column that they will embark on a new lodge project at the foothills of the Rwenzori Mountains. The company already manages such illustrious properties as the Rain Forest Lodge deep inside the Mabira Forest, the Nile Safari Lodge at the boundary of the Murchisons Falls National Park, the Jacana Safari Lodge at Lake Nyamusingire/Queen Elizabeth NP, and a property recently taken under management at Buhoma/Bwindi. Further updates will be given as and when available from the company.

Tullow Oil, one of the licensed exploration companies, announced late last week a major new find of oil beneath Lake Albert, possibly more in that location alone than at all test drilling wells in Uganda combined. The new find has promptly raised the stakes for Uganda’s desire to refine crude oil within the country to use domestically, as well as export white fuels and lubricants to other countries in the region. The latest discovery is thought to bring confirmed discoveries to above a billion barrels.

The annual Chimp 4x4 Challenge last weekend produced an astonishing financial result, considering the event had been postponed from a week earlier due to the riots in Kampala. Over 71 million Uganda shillings were raised from sponsorships and direct contributions, all of which will now go towards chimpanzee-related projects and added conservation measures. The participants found the 4x4 course tough going, as rains had soaked up the entire area and got many vehicles stuck, needing rescue from onlookers, who ended up mud-caked but visibly happy. Talk about man and his cars - no pun intended - as several lady drivers performed well enough to relegate some of the boys to “also runs.”

A new mobile phone company, I-Tel, has gone online earlier this week with the prefix 076, making it the sixth such operator licensed and operational in the country. Early bird Celtel, now known as Zain, was joined by MTN before the former national monopoly company UPTC transformed into UTL and added mobile services to its landline business. In more recent years, Warid joined the market before France’s Orange added yet another internationally-connected service to Uganda. With the sixth company now operational, it is thought that market saturation will be reached in due course. The company has gone live in reportedly some 38 towns and urban centers already connected, and its call charges are by far the cheapest in the market, in some cases charging only half of the current rates. Visitors to the country can purchase SIM cards at a nominal fee to stay connected as the presently most affordable rates, until the other operators begin to react to the newcomers.

Following ministerial and delegation visits to emerging tourism markets in Russia, eastern Europe, and the Far East earlier in the year, KTB has embarked on attending tourism consumer trade shows in these countries in order to diversify and reduce the risk of mainstream market places like the UK, Germany, Italy, or the US, leaving safari lodges and coastal resorts with empty beds. Plenty of activities are lined up for the new CEO of KTB in the coming weeks!

Following media reports last week over the likely delay of the delivery of the new ferries for Mombasa, the Kenyan government has refuted the allegations of any problems. It was, however, confirmed that the CEO of Kenya Ferry Services had been sacked, following the misappropriation of more than 580 million Kenya shillings meant to pay for the ferries. The Kenyan Transport Minister also confirmed that a full audit was underway to establish where the money went. He also left open the option that that “the money was not stolen” but used for alternate purposes without authority. The public, however, remains skeptical about the envisaged delivery dates as one source from Mombasa said to this column: “Let’s wait and see.” In fact, the Mombasa and Coast Tourist Association chairman Capt. Johnny Cleave and his counterpart of the Kenya Association of Hotelkeepers and Caterers coast branch both voiced concern over the potential delays, calling it a blow to investor confidence, in particular in the tourism sector, which depends on a reliable ferry connection to have tourists reach the main beach resorts south of Mombasa.

The men held by Puntland authorities over the exchange of some 23 alleged pirates previously on remand in the Seychelles against some three Seychellois citizens were freed last weekend and returned to Kenya. The use of such negotiators or facilitators is highly controversial but has, in this case, had a positive ending, besides 23 pirates escaping justice and likely continuing to pursue their criminal activities. It is not known if any further ransom or fines were paid to secure their release, which will be welcome news to their families and friends.

Information reached this column that the Serengeti District Council recently licensed a proposed new lodge outside the Serengeti National Park on adjoining land to be built by an indigenous Tanzanian hailing from the area. Nyigiha Holdings has received all the necessary permits from the local administration to set up a new lodge on a 50-hectare concession area at Natta Mbisso village. The new lodge, once completed, will provide much-needed jobs for area residents, and district officials have already called for suitable youths to be trained in hospitality courses. The same officials also expressed their hope that the new tourism facility will assist in reducing poaching in the area, once neighbors of the new lodge will see the benefits of safari tourism and understand the need to protect wildlife.

The ongoing discussions over the potential return of several dinosaur skeletons, brought to Germany nearly a hundred years ago when Tanganyika was still a German colony, have drawn in expert opinions in regard to the risks of returning the exhibits to Tanzania. In the past, German museums have invested heavily to provide a temperature- and humidity-controlled environment for the skeletons to preserve them in their present state, but experts are concerned that in the absence of similar facilities in Tanzania the exhibits may suffer irreparable damage if brought home. Sources from within the Tanzanian government are also cautious over raising expectations. Digging up more skeletons from the known sites has for the time being been ruled out as a result of the technical demands of such an undertaking, and the government is presently considering other ways to make the site accessible to tourist visitors without causing damage to the area. In comparison, Egypt has in the past successfully repatriated exhibits but only after investing in museum infrastructure and technical facilities, which convinced the previous owners of antique and ancient items held abroad to return them into a guaranteed safe museum environment in Cairo.

The next edition of the World Economic Forum on Africa will take place in Tanzania’s commercial capital of Dar es Salaam next year from May 5-7, 2010. The forum was initially thought to take place in Nairobi/Kenya following preliminary agreements between the organizers and the Kenyan government, and no reason could immediately be ascertained why the changes were made. However, what is of importance is that this meeting for economic focus on Africa is taking place in eastern Africa in 2010, giving the region the opportunity to showcase investment and tourism opportunities at a time when the integration of the East African Community member states may have advanced a notch further, making the region even more attractive for large corporations to invest in for instance mining, agro processing, transport, and tourism.

The Rwandan national airline has launched special offers to attract more passengers during the present “shoulder-season” period. For as little as US$399, travellers may fly from Kigali to Johannesburg, while a flight to Kilimanjaro/Arusha will cost US$250 for a return flight, Nairobi for US$199 return, and Entebbe for US$150 return; terms and conditions apply.

Affordable Seychelles was en vogue in Paris during the week, in particular as French is widely spoken on all the islands making up the archipelago. New partnerships with big airlines are expected to yield more arrivals to the country through more frequencies, and destination management companies, hotels, and activities organizers were all in attendance to reposition the Seychelles away from the perception of being an expensive destination towards being a very affordable destination, even for families with kids – a market many hotels and resorts now cater to with added-value packages. Air Seychelles, the national airline, was also in Paris, and initial reports indicate an upcoming booking boom as interest in the offerings of the Seychellois team was quite intense. The Islands are also known for arranging spectacular weddings, as well as catering to honeymooners, attracting many couples from around the world to the exotic Creole islands a thousand miles away from everybody in the middle of the Indian Ocean.

A new board was appointed last week by President James A. Michel for the Seychellois national airline, comprising three governmental and three private sector representatives, besides the company’s executive chairman, who remained in his position. Following the first meeting of the new board, its new objectives were outlined, which include support to the country’s tourism sector. In spite of the now outgoing global economic and financial crisis, the airline has maintained its operations to all key markets of holiday makers coming to the Indian Ocean Creole Islands and using the national airline. A recent audit report on the airline’s operations and finances was also discussed by the new board, which will now carry out the implementation of the recommendations made by the auditors to further strengthen and improve the airline’s performance.

Last week saw the launch of the Seychelles’ first ever university during a ceremony at State House in Victoria/Mahe. President Michel was formally installed as the first chancellor, as is still tradition in many countries in Africa. vice chancellor and president of the new “ivory tower” is Dr. Rolph Poyet, assisted on the board by eminent personalities from the University of London, the University of Malta, the University of Reunion, and a number of other senior academicians, all aimed at making the new university a success story. Much of the Seychelles cabinet and senior judicial figures were also present at the function, emceed by none other than Alain St. Ange, director of the Seychelles Tourist Board and eTN ambassador. Most notably, tourism-related courses will be taught at the new facility, i.e., a BSc course in Business Administration with tourism and hospitality specialization and a BSc course in Tropical Coastal and Marine Science, both courses important to the country’s tourism sector. The tourism and hospitality specialization is a year three component and available for students already on campus since the 2009 academic year. The University of Seychelles started off with 55 enrolled students, a figure that is bound to rise over the coming semesters. Twinning programs are in place with the University of London, which will permit students to graduate with documentation from both universities. Tourism is the main economic activity across the islands, besides fishing, and trained manpower is the key for future sustainability of the sector based on well-skilled Seychellois staff.

Several freshly excavated holes were recently discovered at Mare aux Cochons in the Morne National Park, triggering an official investigation into what or who would have dug the pits. The holes were reportedly about 4 feet in diameter and depth and located around other caves in the same park area. No further information was available at the time of filing this report.

As part of career guidance week, the Civil Aviation Authority in Victoria announced the creation of a cadet scheme as part of its vocational training approach to attract young Seychellois into the ranks of its staff. The SCAA also announced two full scholarships at the recently-launched public university to fill upcoming vacancies in its various departments, once the young beneficiaries have graduated from their BSc in Civil Aviation Management courses. The campaign is a further effort to empower young citizens with the right skills and education to fill positions otherwise occupied by expatriate staff.

East Africa tourism report
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