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East Africa Tourism


Wolfgang’s East Africa tourism report

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WOLFGANG H. THOME  Feb 15, 2008

KAMPALA AERO CLUB SUSPENDS TRAINING FLIGHTS
The ongoing shortage of AVGAS has now claimed a further victim amongst the aviation fraternity. The only Ugandan private pilot training facility at the Kajjansi airfield’s Kampala Aero Club and Flight Training Centre has halted pilot training for the time being, owing to the acute shortage of AVGAS fuel, which their Cessna 172 trainer aircraft require. Commercial operations are also at the edge, as stocks have now run so low that only key regular clients can count on getting their flights into the air, while ‘casual’ sightseeing and other less essential air travel has been postponed for the time being. Aviation sources from Kajjansi speak of possible imports of AVGAS from Tanzania’s Lake Victoria airport of Mwanza, but red tape and usual bureaucracy are making a swift solution difficult. However, KAFTC’s Cessna Grand Caravan fleet continues to operate normally as these aircraft run on Jet A1, the common aviation fuel for jet- and turbine-engined aircraft.

Other domestic airlines and private aircraft owners also suffer of an AVGAS supply shortage for their piston-engined small and light aircraft and confirmation of charters now depends on the level of urgency demonstrated by clients, at least until regular supplies have been restored.

This situation will have a severe impact on the financial performance this year of the few Ugandan domestic scheduled and charter airlines and a leading aviator said his sector felt ‘abandoned by government’. He claimed that attention seems focused on getting enough fuel for the international airlines coming to Entebbe, rather than giving equitable attention to the smaller and mostly indigenous owned airlines, which operate from both Entebbe and the Kajjansi airfield and require a different fuel type.

No confirmation on the status of training flights and fuel supplies for the East African Aviation Academy in Soroti could be obtained, as no single person approached for a situation report or a statement would be prepared to comment, neither on nor off the record.

UWA STATEMENT CALLED ‘HOGWASH’ BY SOME STAKEHOLDERS
Following the killing of a Belgian woman tourist on Mt. Elgon, Uganda Wildlife Authority called a press conference to try and explain the circumstances. According to press reports published, UWA’s executive director admitted that the spot was known for some time to be frequented by cattle rustlers and criminals, speculating over who ‘could have done it’. Sections of the tourism private sector took grave exception with the press report of the statement, saying that if UWA had known of such problems, then why would their guides and rangers have taken the tourist to that spot for an overnight stop. They also said that they suspected complacency and a level of incompetence and took further issue with UWA’s statement, that ‘all tourist sites in Uganda are safe’. Said one leading safari operator to this correspondent: ‘one death is one too many. UWA and others in charge of park security should stop looking for excuses. Trying to explain this away in such a contemptuous fashion is an insult to the victim. If UWA had known this to be a trouble spot and that criminals are hiding in the park forest, then why wait for this to happen and then crying over spilt milk. I suggest they are afraid to act in a timely manner, because they fear political repercussions in the context of past eviction actions they took at Mt. Elgon park and the tourist now paid the price for this. The director should have concentrated in the past on what should have been done to prevent this incident and not now assume the CID role and speculate who could have done it’

Members of the Belgian community in Uganda also expressed anger aimed at, what a leading figure amongst them called an ‘inept statement if the press report is accurate’, ‘full of contradictions’ and aimed at ‘exculpating’ the institution of blame and liability. He went on to say that his organization had in the past faithfully and generously supported tourism activities and developments and felt ‘very much let down’ by this incident.

Subsequently, tourism to Mt. Elgon, in any case not a front runner in terms of numbers for both domestic and international visitors – inspite of its scenic beauty – is expected to take a setback and safari operators in Uganda and tour operators abroad will be keeping a keen eye on the situation to see if actions will match the words which are too often and too casually spoken after such events.

HOTEL DEVELOPER IN FINANCIAL TROUBLE
The main proprietor and promoter of the building site hotel along Entebbe road – projected to become the Protea Entebbe Hotel – has ran into a severe financial storm, as Barclays Bank Uganda has taken control of a number of his properties, including his downtown shopping mall, over an alleged defaulted loan of some 4.7 billion Uganda Shillings, equivalent to nearly 3 million US Dollars. The hotel venture, due to have been ready for the Commonwealth Summit last year, has been gobbling up money for construction and loan finance, while the awaited CHOGM guests failed to materialize, as the hotel then, as it does now, resembles the building site it still is. The size of the project, given by the owner as reaching 1.000 rooms, shopping malls and other amenities half way between Kampala and Entebbe, has also mind boggled industry observers, one of whom described the project as ‘developing cuckoo land’.

The financial implications of the seizure of assets by the bank is expected to also have repercussions on the hotel project’s progress, which has already been visibly slow in past weeks already.

The receiver appointed by the bank has given a deadline to clear all outstanding interest on the loans, fees and the principal amount owed by March 14th or else auction off the seized assets to clear all debts.

The proprietor, a Mr. Joseph Behakanira, denied the charges however and vowed to start a legal defense to overturn the bank’s decision and seizure of his properties.

NEW EDUCATIONAL INITIATIVE UNDERWAY
An EU funded educational initiative was launched during the week, when the F+U University Group / IBA University from Germany signed an agreement with Makerere University to start cooperation, also extended to the University of Dar es Salaam, the University of Nairobi and Moi University in Kenya. Named ‘East African Academic Alliance for Curricula in Logistics and Tourism (EA3CLAT) the 500.000 Euro project is aimed at reviewing existing tourism and hospitality curricula across the region in universities but also at other tertiary institutions like Uganda’s national Hotel and Tourism Training Institute. This will be done in conjunction with the regional academia and the private sector and past efforts by HTTI to redevelop a skills based curriculum will be used as a foundation for the process in Uganda.

It was observed during the signing, that much of the tertiary education in the hospitality and tourism sector at universities is presently theory based and requires additional practical input, to make graduates more employable. Employers in particular have long criticized the lack of practical skills of degree holders, resulting in added expenses to retrain the newcomers to the workforce.

The notable exception in this is the national hotel and tourism training institute, which is fully committed to a curriculum rooted in practical training of the students to give them ‘hands on training’, resulting in all graduates from HTTI finding employment in the sector and the hotel school in fact being unable to produce enough quality certificate and diploma holders.

The project will also facilitate training of selected participants, i.e. lecturers and instructors, in Germany at the participating institutions to promote in particular the ‘dual system’ of education practiced in Germany for vocational and skills programs. Internships for the best students are also available.

The head of the F+U University Group was part of the visiting German business delegation which came to Uganda and Rwanda last week as part of President Prof. Horst Koehler’s state visit to East Africa, underscoring the importance of private public partnership to meet development goals.

PARLIAMENT PICKS ON LACK OF UTB FUNDING, PASSES TOURISM BILL
Following persistent complaints in the local media over the pathetic funding for the Uganda Tourist Board and the previous failure to pass the new Tourism Bill and subsequent regulations, the parliamentary committee overseeing the sector has now also voiced concern over these issues. The MP’s called upon government to better facilitate the sector and pour more resources into marketing the country, while debating the report of the sessional committee and its recommendations about the tourism bill. It does so appear that the bill was then passed in parliament but further details are being sought to ascertain this fact. If correct, and once assented to by the President – as required by law – the bill would trigger new regulations to be issued for the sector and create a tourism development levy, besides causing the restructuring of the Uganda Tourist Board / Tourism Uganda into a private sector driven and more proactive organization, also taking care of licensing, monitoring and enforcement of regulations for the entire sector.

KENYA AIRWAYS BAGS WINE AWARD
During the annual Sky Award ceremony Kenya Airways came globally a respectable third behind Singapore Airlines / Qantas (joint second place) and Germany’s Lufthansa (category winner) for their excellent choice of champagne for inflight service in their much lauded business class.

This follows special efforts last year to select a new range of wines and champagnes to accompany the airline’s applauded in-flight meals, and tasting sessions to gauge passengers’ tastes and feedback. The Piper Heidsieck NV from France hence made all the difference with the judges and gave ‘The Pride of Africa’ another exhibit for their trophy cabinet.

The airline is also expected to contest for the top honours again in the regional recognition of excellence annually held by TN East Africa, the leading regional magazine for travel, leisure and life issues.

FLY 540 STARTS REGIONAL FLIGHTS
Kenya’s low cost airline Fly 540 has now commenced work daily flights to Juba, Southern Sudan as part of their regional expansion. This adds more capacity to the route, on which several other Kenyan airlines already fly, with the notable, and hard to explain exception of Kenya Airways. They are Jetlink, East African Safari Air, Marsland Aviation and African Express. The latter is also flying in codeshare with Royal Daisy Airlines between Nairobi and Entebbe already via a wet lease agreement with Royal Daisy. It could not be ascertained if Delta Connection is still on the Juba route.

More flights into the greater East African region are said to be planned for later in the year by Fly 540. Certainly flights between Nairobi and Entebbe would be most welcome as recent route upstart Air Uganda has broadly failed on the expectations to bring fares down to a more affordable level. Fly 540 has recently signed a major purchase agreement with French manufacturer ATR for 8 more of their aircraft to allow for this expansion and 4 of them are due for delivery in 2008 already. Watch this space for emerging news.

RWANDA AIMS AT 50,000 TOURISTS FOR 2008
The Rwanda tourism sector is intend to increase tourist arrivals for the current year to 50,000, in spite of the present problems caused for the entire region by the Kenyan post election situation. In 2007 tourism has replaced Rwanda’s traditional exports as the leading foreign exchange earner, exceeding projections and proving the general theory right that tourism can indeed – if properly structured and facilitated – become the region’s undisputed number one economic activity. ORTPN, the Rwanda Office for Tourism and National Parks, together with a sizeable private sector delegation, will attend ITB where it will once again showcase the ‘Land of a Thousand Hills’ from its sunniest side. To make appointments for meetings at the Rwanda stand please contact rosetterwandatourism@rwanda1.com.

RWANDAIR PRIVATIZATION STILL PENDING
While a request for comments from the airline was not responded to it could nevertheless be established, that the exercise has not been concluded in January, as was widely expected. Informed sources confirmed under cover of anonymity, that Rwandair’s review of the proposals took in particular issue with the types of aircraft floated by the two remaining bidders. Meridiana, an airline based in Italy, had proposed to introduce some of their own aged MD 87 series, but Rwandair had disposed of a similar model some time ago due to the cost of operation of this particular aircraft type in favor of a Boeing 737-500. There is also negative perception in the region about such ‘investors’ bringing old equipment and peddling it as ‘state of the art’ as does the travel market not appreciate the use of old aircraft, when regional giant Kenya Airways has a truly modern fleet in operation.

Brussels Airlines too ran into predictable questions when they initially offered to use the BAe 146, which the airline is progressively retiring from the European fleet. Again, this particular aircraft type is not considered suitable to the climatic operating conditions and elevations across Eastern Africa, nor would it allow non stop flights from Kigali to Johannesburg.

A decision is now expected in coming weeks, after updated proposals are being reviewed at present, though no precise timeframe is available from the airline. Meanwhile, application deadlines for several advertised positions for personnel were extended this week to allow for more applications to be submitted to the airline’s offices in Kigali, Entebbe, Kilimanjaro, Bujumbura, Johannesburg and Nairobi.

Wolfgang’s East Africa tourism report



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