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East Africa Tourism

Wolfgang’s East Africa report

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Wolfgang H. Thome  Feb 29, 2008

The national fuel reserve is to get an additional 10 million liters of petrol and 20 million liters of diesel to avoid a repeat of the crippling shortages caused by the violence inflicted upon Kenya by election loser Odinga’s street mob and gangs, when all transit routes were subsequently shut down. The African hinterland nations (Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Eastern Congo and Southern Sudan) all paid a heavy price when imports and exports were delayed for weeks. Kenya in turn is also expected to loose valuable port activity to Dar es Salaam, to which – subject to capacity – a great deal of the goods flow will be switched in coming weeks and months to avoid a repeat of the January scenario. There was no word however about reserves for kerosene, heavy fuel oil, aviation fuel JetA1 and most important the ever short supply of AVGAS, on which much of the domestic and charter aviation sector depends.

The move was welcomed by the business community and civil society at large, in particular as the stale mate in Kenya’s political talks has revived fears of yet more violence and a repeat of the transportation problems encountered in January, when few if any trucks and trains could reach Uganda.

African telecoms giant MTN sponsored the one and only UB40 concert in East Africa last weekend, with the crowd reaching some 35,000 in Kampala’s Lugogo cricket ground and many remaining outside due to lack of tickets but still able to listen to the sound from inside the stadium. The ground breaking concert was also the very last one of the English group in its original composition, as the lead singer has now left UB40 to start a solo career the after Kampala concert. The group had arrived earlier in the week on Emirates from previous engagements of their world tour in the Far East and Pacific region and reportedly spent some time on charitably activities as well as taking in some of Uganda’s spectacular sights before returning to Europe.

Fans from across Eastern Africa traveled to Kampala for the music event, cited to be the biggest ever in the Ugandan capital. The Saturday night event drew the 300 who is who of Kampala in the ‘platinum’ section with back stage access, while some 5,000 revelers crowded the special ‘gold’ section and some 30,000 spectators filled the remaining stands to capacity. The musical success of the event, organized by the local MTN company, is likely to bring more globally recognized performers and groups to Uganda and possibly the wider East African region. However, there were some negative vibes from the 300 platinum ticket holders over problems with the promised shuttle vehicles from the parking to the venue, the substitution of the envisaged dinner with canapés and bites and the promised back stage access after the show for interaction with the band, who had been whisked off to their hotel. It also appeared that the distance from the stage became an issue for holders of the most expensive tickets, but ultimately the fun of UB40’s last show in its original set up outweighed those points of organizer’s neglect.

Ahead of the upcoming Easter holidays Kampala’s oldest five-star hotel, recently completely refurbished, rebuilt and modernized, has put their annual Easter packages on the market. The arrival (see related column item) of Fly 540 on the Entebbe – Nairobi route has also added scope to market such package holidays in the wider region. Kenya holidays from Uganda are already marketed aggressively by Declan Peppard’s TravelCare making use of the Fly 540 flights which offers very attractive excursion fares to promote travel in the region. These packages offer flights via Nairobi to the Masai Mara or the Kenya coast (Mombasa, Malindi and Lamu) with convenient connection times in Nairobi, unlike other upstarts which can only offer point to point flights and yet pretend to be the aviation Wizard of Oz.

Regulatory charges and visa cost, however, continue to be a deterrent for the expatriate population across Eastern Africa, many of whom continue to rather fly to the UAE or Southern Africa, where they have to pay no fees for tourist visa. This is unlike in Eastern Africa, where a trip covering the entire region (Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Rwanda) for a family of four can easily add US$1,000 in visa fees and airport taxes to the holiday budget. Kenya in particular under the present circumstances is therefore called upon to scrap Visa fees for East African residents and the East African community ought to fast track a regional Visa for visitors from abroad to add incentives towards restoring tourism arrival to the levels of Kenya’s pre-election and pre-violence performance.

The long awaited and much needed, for both trade and tourism, road between Kabale and Kisoro – located in the border triangle between Uganda, Rwanda and Congo - in the extreme South West of the country, will now take three more years to complete, according to a press report attributed to the project manager Mr. Inbar Giora of SBI Construction. The road construction, always promised and regularly delayed in the past, started some time last year when sufficient finance had been secured from the African Development Bank. The new delay will undoubtedly add negative feelings amongst tour operators using the route regularly as well as area residents, who depend on the road to send their produce to the urban centers and receive their own supplies of fuel and assorted other goods.

The road, considered as one of the most scenic in Uganda, offers spectacular views through the bamboo forests towards several of the main volcanoes located just across the nearby border in Rwanda and also offers some of the less frequented nature reserves to visitors keen to explore the forests, swamps and wetlands for a rich variety of birds, butterflies and an extraordinary flora.

Kisoro, under the World Bank’s PAMSU program, benefited through a ‘district tourism development plan’ which was enhanced by the EU UGSTDP program with feasibility studies and more concrete proposals, how local residents could partake in the growing tourism business. Watch this space!

The ongoing, and long drawn out negotiations in Southern Sudans’s capital Juba between the Ugandag government and the LRA terror rebel group have now resulted in a renewed truce agreement and the signing of a formal peace agreement could be just weeks away. However, the rebels refused to accept the 06th March date offered by the Ugandan side, as they had failed to get confirmation from their on the run leadership. The LRA has so far failed to assemble its thinning ranks at the two designated meeting points and there are ongoing reports that the bulk of their remaining men, and of course their slave abductees, continue to move towards the Central African Republic, where they are carrying out their usual crimes and inflict terror on otherwise peaceful populations unprepared for such goons. While there is sentiment in Kampala ‘the further away they go the better’ there is also anger about their negotiating tactics, twists and turns and hardliners in Kampala are spoiling for a final showdown with the depleted rebels, should the present agreement bounce. Not much different from Savimbi, Kony has previously left each and every opportunity go unused and ultimately the same fate may await him too. His rebel ranks have shrunk due to many recent defections, encouraged by the ongoing amnesty program by the Ugandag government and by the open and transparent negotiations and consultations by the Ugandan side. On the positive side, with peace settling in across Uganda’s North, economic development and also tourism are on the upswing in the area, hopefully creating much needed jobs and business opportunities for the long suffering Acholi people and their equally affected neighbors.

In fact, latest news obtained from the Southern Sudan indicate that Kony has added yet more pre-conditions to signing a final peace accord, such as retaining arms and the International Criminal Court having to drop their indictment against him and several of his killers. This latest change of mind is again delaying the prospect of an early conclusion of the long lasting conflict after nearly two years of negotiations. The ICC has indicted the LRA leader on crimes against humanity and war crime charges and fully expects to have Kony arrested and handed over for a full trial at The Hague.

Some 18 companies and of course the Uganda Tourist Board/Tourism Uganda will attend the forthcoming biggest global tourism show in Berlin / Germany in early March. There is however still an issue with government releasing sufficient funds (speak any money) for UTB to pay for their travel and stand services. Uganda’s tourism marketing agency has been notoriously short-funded for years and has struggled to make ends meet, living on meager handouts since its main support line, the EU funded Uganda Sustainable Tourism Development Program, expired in mid 2007. As previously mentioned in this column, government had also failed to seek an add on program or specific intervention from its development partners, leaving UTB financially nearly incapacitated. This led some time last year to the resignation of the marketing body’s chairman Roni Madhvani in obvious disgust. In spite of parliament passing the new tourism bill last week, which will allow for the introduction of a tourism development fund levy, this is expected to take up to another 18 months to operationalize, as the relevant regulations first need to be passed and a mechanism of fund collection be established. The private sector has already made it abundantly clear that collected funds need to go directly to the beneficiary body and not first go to the consolidated fund at the treasury, where the likely scenario will be that only a fraction of the money collected may go back to the tourism sector. This in fact prevented previously the introduction of the marketing levy and the training levy under related legislation (HTTI Statute and UTB Statute – both of 1994), as no agreement on collection and funds administration and disbursement could be reached then. Appointments with the Ugandan delegation can be made via, attention of Mr. James Bahinguza, CEO of Tourism Uganda.

The first Bombardier Q300 has early this week transited through Entebbe on its ferry flight to Tanzania and the second Q300 is due for delivery next week, in late March to be followed by a leased Airbus A320, before their newly ordered additional Airbus aircraft are due to be delivered in a full fleet renewal exercise. By doing so Air Tanzania seeks to reclaim lost market share in the domestic market and restore a full regional and domestic schedule. It goes to demonstrate that airlines in the region, as initially practiced by Kenya Airways, do not need cheap, old fuel guzzlers and sky howlers to make a commercial success of their business and that well managed airlines with capacity to develop and implement a strategic vision can indeed afford to use modern aircraft.

In a related aviation development Tanzania’s Precision Air will also shortly commence flights from Tanzania to Luanda/Angola and Lubumbashi/Congo to cater for the growing demand by businesses intent of trading with Tanzania and in particular Dar es Salaam port, which managed to position itself as a reliable alternative to Mombasa during the recent upheavals in Kenya.

Tanzania is set to host some major tourism events in Arusha over the coming months, including the annual Karibu Tourism and Travel Trade Show before the annual Africa Travel Association congress re-visits Arusha, and the added capacity and capabilities of Air Tanzania will well enhance the options for visitors to see the Indian Ocean islands, the beaches along the mainland coastline and the national parks through pre- and post-congress tours.

Wolfgang’s East Africa report

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