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Travel And Tourism In Africa

East Africa tourism report

Wolfgang H. Thome, eTN  Nov 25, 2009

The Kampala office of Brussels Airlines is in high gear to prepare for the formal joining of the airline of Star Alliance, the global industry leader of airline alliances. Initially started by Lufthansa and United Airlines, the group grew swiftly, and when Brussels Airlines joins on December 9, the value of membership by frequent travelers under the Miles and More program will yield rich benefits for the various categories of membership. Options of even wider network connections, use of more airport lounges for the airline’s Business Class travelers or those with enough miles to their credit, priority check in, choice of seats, preference for stand-by bookings on full flights, and a lot more will ensure customer loyalty more than ever, leave alone the enhanced options to earn and burn miles under the frequent offers sent to card holders by email. Brussels Airlines in Kampala apparently plans a major PR, sales, and marketing offensive around the time of the formal entry of SN into Star to brief travel agencies, corporate accounts, the diplomatic corps, the business community, and last but not the least the all important travelers on what’s new when flying with SN to Brussels and beyond. Meanwhile, the airline also reiterated its code share arrangements with RwandAir on the route to Kigali and with Air Uganda, which permits passengers from Juba to join SN flights, while passengers from Entebbe can travel with Brussels Airlines via U7’s Nairobi evening flights on those days when SN does not serve Entebbe directly. The airline presently flies 4 times a week between Brussels and Entebbe, but under the code share arrangement with Germany’s Lufthansa on this route, there is expectation and hope that SN will add more flights in the coming seasons.

As Air Uganda turns 2 this week – Happy Birthday on this occasion – it has been ascertained that the U7 flights from Entebbe to Mombasa starting on December 1 are going to be nonstop and will operate with CRJ aircraft every Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday afternoon. This will allow passengers from Uganda to avoid changing flights at the crowded Nairobi airport and fly straight in and out of the Moi International Airport in Mombasa, where customs and immigration procedures are taking place for travelers to and from the Kenyan coast. The special start-up promotion will offer a ticket at US$299 per person return, plus regulatory taxes and related charges of US$130, making it a total of US$429 overall. A companion fare is available for the time being, where a spouse booked at the same time and on the same flights only pays the regulatory taxes and related charges of US$130 for the return trip, i.e., a couple traveling together will then only pay US$279.50 per person, which constitutes quit an extraordinary value and makes holidays to the coast rather more attractive than they have been. It is understood that Air Uganda will work together with Serena Hotels to offer package deals for the Mombasa Serena Resort and Spa, but other probably even more eye-catching offers from a large number of resorts and hotels along the Kenyan coast will undoubtedly now open new options and generate fresh interest in visiting the white sandy beaches along the Indian Ocean shores. What remains to be done in this direction is to drop visa requirements for duly-registered expatriates in Uganda and other EAC member states wishing to spend holiday time in Kenya, to more effectively compete on the overall package cost and related expenditure with other destinations like South Africa or the Gulf, where most of this target group requires no visa at all.

The Ugandan Civil Aviation Authority, which also manages the Entebbe International Airport, advertised late last week for bids to be submitted to carry out spot repairs on runways 17-35 and 12-30, while at the same time also repairing taxiways B, C, and D. For more information, write to . Bidders must attend a mandatory pre-bid meeting in person or by authorized representative on December 10, 2009 – note that no time was given in the public notice – while final bids must be submitted to the CAA not later than December 22 with a bid security of 5 million Uganda Shillings. The public bid opening is set for December 22 at 10:35 am at the CAA head office board room, and bidders’ representatives may attend.

There was overwhelming support across Uganda’s [and southern Sudan’s] political circles late last week, when news emerged from Washington that the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee has agreed to the new LRA Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act of 2009, which will permit the Obama administration to engage more directly in supporting the Ugandan government and its allies in its fight against the rebel terror group. In recent years, the LRA has been decisively defeated in northern Uganda and progressively been pushed first into the Congo and then the Central African Republic, but the terrorists continues to pose a threat to populations there and in southern Sudan, requiring a final military push to root them out and afford them a final chance to either lay down their arms and surrender or risk being killed on the battlefield, where in recent weeks several commanders met this fate after hot pursuit by Ugandan special forces. The US is already active in northern Uganda with a range of programs and project activities undertaken by USAID, and once the bill is passed by both houses and signed into law by President Obama, humanitarian and other assistance, including sharing of intelligence reports and military cooperation, can then be formally availed not just to Uganda but also the southern Sudan, the Congo DR, and the Central African Republic. Recently, the US’s Africa Command met in Kampala while a comprehensive military war game was being executed in northern Uganda by selected contingents of the 5 armies of the East African Community.

Last weekend, the heads of state of the five East African Community member states signed the long-awaited protocol for a common market into effect, providing the legal basis for the free movement of labor, goods, and services between Uganda, Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, and Tanzania. Effective January 2010 the internal customs tariffs will reduce to zero, and from July 2010 onwards, the provisions of the newly-signed protocol will become effective, ringing in major changes for the eastern African people. Beginning in mid 2010, four of the member states will permit the use of ID cards for citizens when crossing borders, except Tanzania, which has asked for more time to get ready. The East African Community, now 10 years old, is expected to develop into a major regional trading block with a common currency and also hopes to develop a stronger voice on the international diplomatic scene, while the emerging domestic market of over 120 million people across eastern Africa is already showing results in largely increased trading volumes between the five countries, keeping prosperity in the region at the expense of lesser growth of imports from further abroad. During the summit in Arusha, President Kikwete of Tanzania also assumed the annually rotating chairmanship of the EAC, taking over from President Kagame of Rwanda.

ATO's (Flight Training Schools) in Uganda have just been told that for any student to log flight time they first must be in possession of a student pilot’s license (SPL). The issuance of this SPL certificate can take weeks and months with the loss of applications, the need for a separate security check, and the obvious miscommunication and loss of document possibilities between CAA and the security body. The new Uganda Civil Aviation Regulations apparently require this, and the CAA is now enforcing it and disallowing any flight time done by students during their interminable wait for the SPL. This means that before an ATO can start flying with a student, if he wants to log that time, there will be a delay of unknown duration while the application is processed. This basically kills off flight training in Uganda for all but the very patient. It certainly takes away any attraction of a trial lesson in that the student can no longer log this 30-minute flight, and when all fired up and excited from the trial lesson, they will now have to wait weeks and months to begin training. This will effectively reduce the number of people wanting to start training. Flight training schools are now struggling for survival in Uganda, despite the fact that there is demand, and the airlines are crying out for new Ugandan pilots. Willing students (who can afford it) will now have to go elsewhere in the world, get their licenses, and then come back home for a validation. Of course, with no students, the flight school back in Uganda will be shut so they will have no planes to fly when they get back. It is not clear where the Ugandan CAA thinks Ugandan pilots will come from. Adds this correspondent, sadly this seems another case of regulatory incompetence and lack of understanding regarding how the industry functions, leading to a stifling of initiative. The report predictably attracted the acid comments of leading members of the aviation fraternity in Kajjansi: “If our CAA keeps going that way, they will in the end destroy general aviation and have nothing left to regulate – nada, nothing, nix,” and, “We [would] like to know what they are up to and why no one in government seems to bother to supervise those supervisors; they will regulate general aviation to its death bed.” (Story from the newsletter of the Aero Club of East Africa, courtesy of Harro Trempenau)

The Bulago Island private villa, which offers 7 self-contained bedrooms for a getaway from Kampala, will likely open early next year, probably within the month of January, according to owner Alison Porteous. The cost for the entire villa, room only, is US$350 per day, and catering can be arranged on request. Located at the edge of the island on a high cliff, the views across the lake from the main terrace can be enchanting and only add to the charm of the property. Contact for more information and bookings. Arrival on the island is either by air from the Kajjansi airfield – a single engine flight takes less than 10 minutes including taxiing - or by boat which, depending on the pickup point, takes anywhere between 45 minutes and one hour. The later than anticipated opening, caused by the apparent need to resolve legal issues with the new management company of Bulago Island Lodge, was partly also caused by some work delays, and the new property will miss the all-important festive season bookings. After a sneak preview, this columnist can assure readers that the wait will be well worth it, as this little gem will offer guests whatever it is they come to the island for - a romantic wedding, a honeymoon, a birthday or anniversary celebration, a family reunion, or simply to leave the hustle and bustle of the city behind for a couple of days.

The annual game of where to go and what to do during and over the festive season is once again on, and judging by the number of emails this correspondent received in recent days, it seems that the global economic and financial crisis has truly sizzled out. For general information, ideas, and inspiration, visit , , and where readers can find all the special events listed over the next few weeks and can get contacts and addresses of the better- and lesser-known places at the Kenya coast, upcountry, Uganda, and Rwanda. Air Uganda has also confirmed that its fares will not be raised over the festive season, so east Africans have all the means at hand to celebrate Christmas or the New Year at an exotic place in the region with their friends and relatives. And, up to the immediate run-up of the peak period, i.e., December 20 until January 4, extraordinary deals are available from coastal resorts and in lodges and safari camps, just waiting to be taken advantage of and yet leaving enough money in the purse to put thoughtful and generous gifts under the Christmas tree.

Across eastern Africa it was the telecommunication companies, taking first position as “most respected company,” but Kenya Airways – looking back at a year of challenges dealt with well – came a remarkable second in Kenya, serving notice to its competitors, the business community, and the stock market of its intention to make 2010 once again a financially successful year. The annual event is supported by PriceWaterHouseCoopers and the Nation Media Group, which seeks to establish, every year, the most respected companies after sampling the opinions of chief executives of major regional companies and business associations. The award ceremony was held last weekend at the Nairobi Intercontinental Hotel.

Several intending participants of the recently-ended World Travel Market in London fell afoul of obstinate British consular officials when their visa applications, now dealt with through Nairobi, were rejected and no time was left to appeal unless at extra cost. It is not the first time that such fate has befallen Ugandans, with the most ridiculous case known to this correspondent having been the denial of a visa for the owner of a major lodge and safari business for reasons of not having sufficient funds and lacking family and business ties [the rejection came on a pre-printed template letter]. The fact that the family owns a major business concern in Uganda and that two family members hold honorary consulships for reputable countries apparently did not matter and neither did the fact that the individual had studied in the UK and had a previous visa without infringing any of the terms and conditions. The belated apology by the High Commission did little to appease the tourism fraternity at the time, but as these cases keep happening, in spite of the Uganda Tourism Board reportedly sending participants details in good time to the High Commission, only confirms suspicions that the British visa system is allegedly at least partly based on quotas and rejecting bona fide applicants is almost a must to meet those alleged quotas. Meanwhile, those denied a visa have blamed the UK authorities for their loss of potential business, having made appointments with clients in advance and called upon WTM organizers to either assure bona fide participants to be granted a visa or else risk losing patronage in favor of other travel trade fairs in countries with a less aggressive attitude towards applicants for a visa and the ability to deal with applications in Kampala and not through arbitrary and distant administration structures perceived simply to put the benchmark for applicants even higher.

The Kampala Skal Chapter 611 has confirmed that its annual year end fellowship will take place on Saturday, December 5, 2009 at the Kampala Serena Hotel. Visiting Skalleagues are welcome but should inform the club in advance to make arrangements for them and reserve a table or seat, due to limited space being available for this high-profile event. It is advisable to send an email to or to book participation in advance. Special hotel accommodation rates and airport transfers can be arranged by Skal Kampala for visiting members from other clubs on request. The cost for the dinner is Uganda Shillings 50,000 per person, equivalent to about US$27.50 at current rates.

The Emin Pasha Hotel will this week commence a photo exhibition, showing some of the outstanding work done by the late David Pluth, who traveled eastern Africa, and Uganda frequently and documented his sightings in a series of remarkable pictures. David passed away earlier in the year while on assignment at the Nyungwe National Park, a great loss to all his family, friends, acquaintances, and clientele in the entire region. The exhibition is aimed not only to remember David but also to raise funds for the USPCA through the sale of his pictures.

A huge debt of gratitude is owed to the venerable Captain Harro Trempenau, outgoing chairman of the Aero Club of East Africa and president of IAOPA Kenya, for a decade of dedicated service at the helm of the Aero Club, his advocacy, and his enthusiasm when battling often ignorant and at times outright incompetent regulators on behalf of the entire aviation fraternity. Harro had been on the managing committee of the Aero Club from 1994 before being elected to the chair. At the forthcoming AGM of the Aero Club, Harro will make good on his promise from last year to retire and can take a proud bow when undoubtedly those present will give him a standing ovation for a job not just well done but a job he excelled in. Harro’s frequent bulletins, a source of detailed information about aviation issues in Kenya and the region and also inspiration to many and in particular to this correspondent, will continue and will also be written by his successor in the future. Most notably, Harro will concentrate in the coming months and years to further promote and develop the Orly Airpark on the Athi plains, where he intends to spend more time flying and skydiving while enjoying retirement. Stay well and stay in touch Harro; there is still so much more to do and the young upcoming aviators need a role model of your stature. Happy landings, wherever you go.

There are over 50 light sport aircraft, non-type certified aircraft, microlights, home-builts, and gyrocopters flying in Kenya, and these recreational aircraft are not clearly understood by the KCAA. On the whole, they are regarded the same as "normal" fixed wing aircraft and subject to intense scrutiny by KCAA inspectors. In most other countries, these recreational aircraft are either self-regulating or subject to a different (more relaxed) set of rules. Over the past eleven months, as part of the KCAA/Stakeholder Committee on the Domestication of the KCARS, the recreational aircraft pilots have been working on proposals to KCAA to adopt best practices for regulating these aircraft sensibly. Recreational Aircraft Regulations from many other countries were studied by members of the group (Gai Cullen, William Carr-Hartley, Alexis Peltier, and others). The gliding community and balloonists also participated in this exercise under the umbrella of the Aero Club of East Africa. Last week, at a joint KCAA/Stakeholder Meeting, the recreational flyers showed a PowerPoint presentation that highlighted the issues, the complexity of the recreational aircraft types, and some suggested solutions. On the whole, their suggestion is to adopt the "South African Model" where the CAA and the Light Aircraft Groups are now self-regulating under the auspices of the Aero Club of South Africa. The Aero Club of East Africa has expressed an interest in playing an active role and assisting KCAA in the issue of licences and permits for this category of aerial vehicles. The Committee on the Domestication of the KCARS also viewed a presentation by Captain Anthony Scott, who showed that the KCARS in its present form are effectively too complex, grammatically flawed, and should be reformatted in an "outline system" that is in conformity with the regulations in other countries (e.g., Part 61, Part 95, Part 135, etc.). He showed a PowerPoint presentation that contained: an overview of the current KCARS regulations, status of impediments during implementation and missing regulations; example of format used by the New Zealand CAA; possible solutions of above impediments taking the NZ experience; benefits of carrying out a "reformatting" exercise of the KCARS; and proposed timelines. It is hoped by the committee that through a reformatting, the KCARS can be streamlined and made workable and user-friendly. (Story from the Aero Club of East Africa newsletter)

Orly Airpark is now the most secure airport in the country, entirely surrounded by a 5,600-meter electric fence and guarded by the company’s own security force. A borehole has been drilled, and seven houses and a dozen 300-square-meter hangars have already been erected. Many challenges were overcome during the implementation, including construction of a 2-kilometer, all-weather access road, a bridge across a river, an internal distributor road, a water distribution network, and staff housing. Most recently, the Aero Club of East Africa, a Shareholder of Orly Airpark, opened its branch Club House there with great fanfare, as Minister for Security, the Hon. Dr. George Saitoti, cut the ribbon. All members of the club can now use this facility and spend time in an aviation-friendly environment, flying microlights, homebuilts, gyrocopters, and model aircraft, or pursuing skydiving. Members must bring their Aero Club membership cards along. They can sign in a maximum of four visitors at any one visit. It is recommended that members punch the following phone numbers into their handsets and that they pre-announce their arrival at Orly to Enoch or Daniel (Enoch: +254723774712, Daniel: +254735604199). Please note that the Aero Club's Club House at Orly is only open to members, initially only on a self-catering basis. Please bring your own drinks and food if you wish to hold a picnic there, inside, or on the veranda. Soon they will introduce barbecue facilities, charcoal, and drinks. Much remains to be done. Several projects and improvements are on-going at Orly and plans for the future include additional houses, “Bamburiblocking” of runway 10/28, hangars, an airport lounge, a second runway, a “mains” electricity connection, aircraft maintenance facilities, and much more. A major flying school is also in the works as Orly will absorb a significant amount of flight training traffic from Wilson Airport, where the students now find significant challenges in their learning curves. (Story courtesy of Harro’s Aero Club of East Africa newsletter)

The two African countries signed a Memorandum of Understanding between each other last weekend towards a closer cooperation in tourism development matters. The agreement was signed for the two governments by the Moroccan Tourism Minister Mohamed Boussaid and the Kenyan Tourism Minister Najib Balala in Nairobi. In the more recent past, Kenya has also signed similar agreements with South Africa and the Seychelles with the aim to promote two center holidays.

It was learned earlier in the week that gliding courses are presently underway in Kenya at the Congrieve airstrip near the Soysambu Conservancy next to Lake Elementaita in the Rift Valley. A two-seater glider is available for those wanting to try their hand on engineless silent flying, and experienced instructors are at hand for those wanting to have a taste as well as for those doing the complete course. Accommodation is available both on site and nearby, and interested parties can contact Alan Binks at or Christian Strebel at for details and bookings of available slots. The training courses run up to December 6 and started last weekend.

Under the East African Community initiative to promote domestic and regional air services, the Tanzanian CAA has confirmed that funds have been secured and set aside to begin work in 2010 on the existing Mpanda and Sumbawanga airfields. The work, once completed, will provide better facilities for air operators and passengers and can offer the right incentive to smaller airlines to commence regular flights to and from those parts of Tanzania. This would benefit tourism, as well as domestic trade and commerce-related travel. Mpanda’s strip will reportedly be upgraded from murram to tarmac to make it an all-weather field, will get a terminal building, and will be fenced. Sumbawanga should see major maintenance work as well in the next financial year, although tarmacking the strip will probably only be done in 2011 due to lack of sufficient funds next year. The EAC initiative to improve publicly-owned aviation facilities specifically excludes private projects, like the proposed but harshly-criticised new international airport in the Serengeti district. When inquiries were made, it was established that the TCAA was rather more keen to see existing airports like Mwanza or the Arusha municipal aerodrome upgraded and where necessary, expanded, which one regulatory source said would be “sufficient for growth of tourism- and commercial-based aviation.”

Information received from sources attending the Commonwealth Head of State/Government Meeting in Trinidad and Tobago’s capital Port of Spain have given the clearest indication yet that the assembly will formally accept Rwanda’s pending application to join the international group as a full member. Three other east African nations - Uganda, Kenya, and Tanzania - have historical ties with Britain and have given their backing to Rwanda. The “land of a thousand hills,” as the country is affectionately known, amongst the friends of this tiny nation has, in recent years, switched from French largely to English as the main language of transaction and teaching in schools and other teaching institutions, although Kinyarwanda, the local language, continues to play an important role as the means of communications between Rwanda’s people and is also an official language. Once a member, Rwanda can benefit from not only the networking of Commonwealth nations but also take advantage of joint development initiatives. The last CHOGM was held two years ago in Kampala, Uganda and President Museveni is expected to pass on the chairmanship to the Trinidad and Tobago head of state during the forthcoming summit, opening on November 27 in Port of Spain.

The KIE has announced that they will add 5 masters degree courses to its present degree program, most notably one related to the tourism sector. Starting in January 2010, the institute, in conjunction with the Indira Gandhi National Open University, will offer an MA degree in Tourism Management, aimed to further support the growing sector in Rwanda and create added skilled manpower at a higher level, capable of effectively managing the tourism industry in coming years. Supported by the Indian government, the Indira Gandhi National Open University is partnering with African universities to promote tertiary education and cooperation and presently supervises some 1.5 million students in affiliated programs abroad.

Yet another hotel, reportedly under expansion but without all the prerequisite licenses and permits, has received an order from the Kigali City Council to raze the present added construction. Of late, there have been several reported such cases across Rwanda, making one wonder what investors are doing by starting work on site before receiving all required permits, and what authorities in turn are doing to ensuring that investments in the sector are all sanctioned, licensed, and safe from belated demolition orders. Rwanda is aiming to substantially increase hotel room capacity in coming years, but such reports are not helpful to attract more international investors and achieve this objective.

Torrential rains over the Virunga Mountains have resulted in the main road from Ruhengeri to the Cyanika border post being washed away, after first submerging the wider area. Eventually, the road bed partly gave way, leaving only a section of the highway standing, which is now closed to traffic until the waters have receded. Added reports from the region also speak of greater challenges for tourist visitors tracking the prized gorillas, as rains have made walking and trekking rather more difficult, a situation well known to this correspondent who tracked twice this year and had to struggle with wet conditions. The present el Nino induced extra heavy rains are expected to peak in December but will continue until at least February, according to the latest reports from the Meteorological Department in Entebbe released earlier in the week. Parts of the east African region have been badly affected, suffering from cut roads, collapsed culverts, and broken bridges, while several communities have suffered landslides or seen their crops washed away by flash floods.

Information received last Thursday afternoon from Goma indicates that an MD80 aircraft owned and operated by locally-incorporated airline CAA and apparently coming from the Congolese capital Kinshasa, overshot the available runway and ended up in a section of lava, which buried part of the airport several years ago in the aftermath of a volcanic eruption nearby. Since the 2002 eruption, sections of the runway and airport are unserviceable and remain buried under 10 and more feet of volcanic rock but all efforts by pilots to have the debris cleared and the full runway restored have been in vain. European funding has at least helped to clear about 400 feet of runway space, as requested by the UN operation at the airport, but without that extra space, this could have been another deadly episode in Congolese aviation. The nearly 120 passengers on board of the MD80 mostly escaped with a major scare although some 20 passengers are reported to have been injured, either when the plane hit the volcanic rocks or while evacuating the aircraft. Congo DR has an atrocious air safety record and has suffered major crashes in recent years, including one in Goma last year when a plane taking off crashed into a crowded market adjoining the airport. Pilots and other airline personnel this column has spoken to in Entebbe, who frequently fly to Goma, have confirmed that the runway is simply too short for larger planes, especially when they come in heavy. All Congolese airlines presently appear on the EU blacklist, which prohibits them from flying into and across European airspace.

East Africa tourism report
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