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East Africa

Wolfgang’s East Aftica tourism report

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Wolfgang H. Thome  Jun 13, 2008

The Uganda Wildlife Authority is in the process of consultations with tourism stakeholders at present with the aim to reviewing entry tariffs and related charges like aircraft landing and parking fees on airfields not controlled and managed by the Civil Aviation Authority (Pakuba/Murchisons Falls and Kidepo). A spokesperson for UWA mentioned that the increases sought would be in line with tariffs charged in the wider region. Entry fees for Ugandan citizens are also said to be under review. There, however, appears some confusion over the definition of foreign registered vehicles with sections of the tourism fraternity advocating that vehicles registered within the East African Community member states be treated as non-foreign as economic, social and political integration moves ahead. More information can be obtained at or via

The Uganda Wildlife Authority hosted an investment breakfast for business, conservation, tourism and civic leaders at the Protea Kampala Hotel in which a range of newly developed investment opportunities were presented by UWA executive director Moses Mapesa. In an hour-long presentation, he touched on new products like hot air ballooning, house boats on lakes and new concession sites in some of the lesser known wildlife reserves either adjoining the main national parks or in areas still waiting to be opened up for tourism. The deputy chief of the Armed Forces, Lt. General Ivan Koreta, also assured the attentive audience of ongoing proactive efforts by the country’s security and intelligence services to prevent any trouble for visitors to the national parks – and the country as a whole – through their close involvement with the SWIFT rapid deployment and protection force, which is a ‘joint venture’ of specially trained UPDF personnel and UWA ranger units.

There was a lively debate following the presentations, before Tourism, Trade and Industry Minister Janet Mukwaya, who made one of her rare appearances and delivered various responses to issues raised from the floor. Not all, however, to the satisfaction of the questioners.

The hotel sector is now faced with the government’s implementation of the highly controversial hotel tax at the beginning of July, after it was introduced during the budget reading a year ago. The levy, said to be benefitting the treasuries of municipalities, townships and of course the Kampala City Council, will cost guests an extra between 500 Uganda shillings up to about 3,500 Uganda shillings, depending on the grading of their hotels.

The hospitality sector has been fighting the charges and demanded, that any levy on hospitality and tourism products must be spent on sector specific benefits, if a sector specific tax is introduced. The hotel owners pressure group however did not specifically say what services they had in mind. Some hoteliers have already vowed to continue resist the charges and mobilize their respective members of Parliament to scrap the new tax, or else ensure that through an amendment of the tax bill the collections will to towards the sector’s own needs. Sources amongst the hotel owners also blamed the Ministry of Tourism, Trade and Industry for not firmly enough coming out on their side and dragging their feet in seeking a more palatable solution for the new tax if not shelving it altogether.

While the heavy rains are ongoing in parts of Uganda, Rift Valley Railways have nevertheless made progress in repairing the damaged rail section between Jinja and the Kenyan border. Due to flooding in the area the railway was severely damaged when culverts collapsed several weeks ago. The line closure interrupted the transit of imports and exports through the Uganda/Kenya railway system to Mombasa and forced a switch to both road and the use of the rail link from Kampala’s lake port via rail ferry to Mwanza and then on to Dar es Salaam. However, reports have now been released from RVR that repairs are nearing the end and that from next week onwards rail traffic will resume. This will bring relief to railway users who had to shoulder substantial extra cost over the past month when diverting their goods to expensive road transport. Other points along the railway are presently also being investigated for potential flood damage and a railway spokesperson added that where necessary old culverts would be replaced too in coming weeks to avoid further line disruptions in the future.

Meanwhile, a key bridge between Rukungiri and Bushenyi districts was swept away a few days ago after torrential rains pounded the area and caused the river to swell to dangerously high levels.

While most airlines in the region, of course led by Kenya Airways (which was compliant as the first in the region), have now completed the mandatory migration to e-tickets, not all carriers have completed the move as yet. Rwandair was the latest airline to beat the June 1 deadline, but smaller commuter airlines continue to issue the traditional paper tickets as the technology still proves expensive and traffic on their feeder routes may not yet justify the expense. Air Tanzania too is reportedly fully on ‘e’ now as is of course Tanzania’s main private airline Precision Air.

Some 26 airlines were recently given new or renewed licenses by the Kenyan Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) for scheduled and non scheduled operations within Kenya, in the region and on international routes. Presently some 150 airlines are holding air service licenses, of which about 50 are for scheduled operations in and out of Kenya, while the rest are thought to be domestic operators and non scheduled passenger and cargo services. The aviation sector is facing one of its hardest years since 9/11, having to cope with a possible global recession, rising inflation around the world and rocketing fuel cost.

Kenyan CAA Chief Executive Chris Kuto during the meeting was also reported to have reminded air operators to strictly adhere to international safety standards, to report incidents promptly or otherwise face possible suspension or cancellation of their licenses. It could not be immediately established if these comments were prompted by specific concerns and events and aimed towards individual air operators or if they were of a more precautionary and general nature.

News have reached from Kisumu, that a meeting between several government ministers, Kenya Airports Authority top management and nearby communities turned rowdy, when agitated neighbors demanded ‘compensation for the land taken from them’ when the airport was initially constructed before the country’s independence in 1963. These outrageous and clearly politically inspired claims were promptly rejected by all of the participants from the government and KAA side which in turn prompted thinly concealed threats from the community participants against the airport and staff working there. It appears that at least some of the nearby residents were emboldened in their threatening posture and behavior by their political leaders, including their area MP. The situation is now threatening to delay the expansion works of the Kisumu airport and may as a worst consequence lead to shelving the project. Western Kenya has been struggling to catch up with much of the rest of the country over major infrastructural projects and developments, and these latest antics by sections of the community will not help to instil confidence and get commitments towards such capital intensive projects from central government nor from key foreign investors, some of which have also run into similar problems recently.

Aviation sources in Dar es Salaam have confirmed that Qatar Airways has now switched to a larger A320 aircraft from the previously used B737, which is adding about 1.000 more seats per month on the route and also allows a greater cargo uplift capacity. The move comes in the face of strong demand for travel between Tanzania and Qatar, where many passengers now connect via Doha into the growing Qatar Airways network.

The management of the Dar es Salaam ‘Royal Palm Moevenpick’ announced recently that they were set to build and then manage a new 5 star hotel in or near Arusha over the next two years. Undoubtedly this decision was taken to strengthen the brand’s presence in Tanzania and offer their clientele a top-level hotel in Arusha but also to widen its reach across Tanzania. This major town in Northern Tanzania, soon to become a city it is speculated, is home to the East African Community headquarters (at the Arusha International Conference Centre), presently hosts the UN special court for the Rwanda genocide and is of course the ‘safari capital’ for the Northern circuit, all conducive factors for new hotel investments. Watch this space for breaking and emerging news.

A Tanzanian airforce helicopter, reportedly used by the country’s security services for aerial surveillance during the Leon Sullivan Summit, crashed and burned earlier in the week on the way back to Dar es Salaam not far outside Arusha, killing all passengers and crew. No cause for the crash was imminently available as air accident investigations continue. Condolences are extended to the families of the victims.

Following the receipt of a major grant from USAID, the Government of Southern Sudan (GoSS) has now advertised for contractor’s prequalification, in which construction companies from the region can register and apply. Final tenders for the work scope are expected to be out within a matter of weeks, once prequalification has been concluded. The road, some 192 kilometres long, is a key traffic artery from Southern Sudan’s capital city to Uganda. The Ugandan government has also committed funds to repair and upgrade the road from Gulu via Atiak to the border near Nimule, and when construction on both sides of the frontier is complete the journey time can be cut down to less than a day’s travel by road. This will boost commerce, trade and travel substantially between the Southern Sudan and Uganda, which is already a Southern Sudan’s main trading partner and also the predominant transit route for goods moving between the Indian Ocean harbors of Dar es Salaam and Mombasa via Uganda to Juba and the rest of the Southern Sudan.

Wolfgang’s East Aftica tourism report
Photo by Nelson Alcantara

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