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East Africa tourism

Wolfgang’s East Africa tourism report

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Wolfgang H. Thome  Jun 20, 2008

One of the best-known brand names in Uganda’s hospitality industry, the Windsor Lake Victoria Hotel in Entebbe, is now reported to changed its name to Libyan Hotel, possibly reflecting their new ownership vested in the Libyan Africa Investment Company (LAICO). However, marketing circles in Uganda have swiftly denounced the move blaming the new owners of “knowing nothing about brands and tradition” and throwing out a well-known age old brand name for self glorification.

It is expected that the general public will continue to refer to the hotel as the “Lake Vic” irrespective to the new owners’ desires, as it has been fondly nick-named by its many patrons over the decades. This is something the new owners may struggle to come to terms with as being the market reality in Uganda.

One other hotel operator in Entebbe was smiling with glee when talking to this correspondent about the development. He said: “If they want to mess up their name that is good with all the rest of us, we will exploit it. Just look at their renovations, they took over 10 years and still do not compare with new hotels in Entebbe, they changed so many managers and had many problems with strikes, let them learn their lesson the hard way if they do not know better, we others shall appreciate their mistakes.”

The Association of Uganda Tour Operators (AUTO) during their recent Annual General Meeting elected new office bearers. New chairperson is Mr. Henry Okecho and vice chairperson none other than adventure travel guru Cam McLeay, proprietor of Adrift Uganda. Others on the board include well-known safari and tour operator pundits like Jane Goldring, Amos Wekesa (who is also vice president of tourism apex body UTA), Mohit Advani and industry veteran Boniface Byamukama, amongst others. All the best to the new board for the many tasks ahead of them and in particular many thanks to former chairman Mel Gormley of Classic Africa Safaris, who steered the tour and safari operations sub sector from strength to strength in recent years.

In the face of rising fuel prices and escalating airfares cum fuel surcharges, another regional bus service from Kampala was launched recently with 12 buses seating 44 passengers each. The present destinations are Nairobi, Juba and Kigali but the company intends to add Bujumbura / Burundi in the near future as well as Gisenyi on the border between Rwanda and Congo. Fares are said to be competitive in comparison to other bus ticket prices of existing operators but as demand grows for affordable fares there seems no end at present to new operators entering the market or existing companies adding new buses to their fleets.

While meeting mourners at the Nairobi home of the late Home Affairs Assistant Minister Lorna Laboso, the speaker of the Kenyan Parliament called for the sacking of senior KCAA officials and the overhaul of the Civil Aviation Authority. He blamed complacency and demanded that KCAA immediately publish a register of air worthy aircraft, while recalling the air accidents over the past years which cost the lives of several Ministers and Parliamentarians. Time and again was the competency level at KCAA questioned in the past when such major accident occurred and doubts continue to linger now that another air accident robbed Kenya of a senior and junior minister. His demands were also mirrored by similar sentiments being expressed from the aviation fraternity, one of whom told this correspondent under assurance not revealing his identity. He said: “Aviation is not a matatu (accident prone commuter taxi) business and should not be run like one either, safety is absolutely paramount.”

Delta Airlines, a partner of Kenya Airways through their mutual Sky Team membership, has now reportedly moved their intended flights to Nairobi further into the future. Prior to the post election violence in Kenya, the inaugural flight was due to have taken place already, but owing to the market down turn in the wake of the violence, Delta then decided to launch a few months later than initially planned. This, however, has now, according to aviation sources in Nairobi, been postponed once more and the launch of the much expected flights, said to be initially three a week between a yet to be confirmed gateway in the US and Nairobi, will now not take place before some time well into 2009. Watch this space.

Acts of vandalism are blamed by the Kenyan offices of Rift Valley Railways for the closure of the railway line between Nakuru and the Ugandan border, which took effect earlier in the week. Kenya’s post election violence already has caused the line to be interrupted twice, when political hooligans allegedly aligned with Raila Odinga’s ODM party, uprooted the rails near Nairobi. Only last month was a section of the railway in Uganda swept away after torrential rains and the repairs were just concluded, allowing rail traffic to flow again earlier this week. The renewed disruption of services on the Kenyan side does not spell well for RVR or for Ugandan importers and exporters. All cargo will now again need to be hauled by road, which, in light of record fuel price levels, had become more and more expensive in recent months and added to the already stiff transportation cost our landlocked country suffers from. The Ugandan government is said to be in fast tracking talks with Tanzania to increase the capacity of rail traffic on the route from Dar es Salaam via the Mwanza ferry port to Port Bell, the lake harbor of Kampala on Lake Victoria as an alternative rail route, but shifting major tonnages from one rail system to another will by any standards not be easy, as ferry capacity is said to be severely limited after one ferry sank two years ago and the other one involved in the collision is still under repair.

Whatever security measures RVR has presently in place is clearly not enough to protect the railway and its assets and installations. The company, already under scrutiny by the Kenyan and Ugandan government over their performance since taking control of the Ugandan and Kenyan railway system, will have a hard time to now live up to the concession agreement, which seems shakier than ever before.

Questions were raised in parliament about the exorbitant charges levied on airlines by the Kilimanjaro Airport Development Company (KADCO), which is managing the international airport between Arusha and Moshi, Tanzania’s main safari gateway for visitors from near and far.

Already in the past were complaints lodged against the company, when they were alleged to have conspired in moving domestic and regional traffic from the Arusha Municipal Aerodrome to JRO at the expense of such airlines like Precision Air and other air operators dealing in air safari flights. The Tanzania Airport Authority since then has to maintain the airfield with little revenue to show for while the privately owned KADCO is taking cream and milk from their “monopoly” at Kilimanjaro International Airport with little return for the government. While no specific figures were tabled in parliament, the government minister responsible for aviation acknowledged that he was aware of the complaints and was keen to get to the bottom of the long lasting and ever more urgent opposition to the situation. The initial contract signed for duration of 25 years in 1998 was also found to be detrimental to the Government of Tanzania and a specially formed committee, which needed urgent re-negotiations, identified nearly 50 clauses. The key issue of “exclusivity,” however, remains contentious, as KADCO seems unwilling to yield on this point, which may eventually result in the deal being revoked by the Tanzanian authorities. Air operators using the Kilimanjaro International Airport are expected to join the protest and lobby for a reduction in charges to be more comparable to what airport in the rest of the region are charging.

The Rwandan government has approved plans to transform the capital city Kigali into a modern metropolis in coming years, able to sustain growth for the next decades. The blueprints include a complete overhaul of the water and sewerage systems, creation of by-passes to have long distance traffic avoid coming into the city itself, road improvements and new construction, provisions for social services and planned new estates to avoid any up-springing of slum areas as so often seen around the continent. The plans were reportedly drawn up by a US-based consultancy firm and once implemented the city will shine in a new light. Already, in comparison, Kigali is a very clean city – Rwanda has banned all types of polythene bags to protect their environment – and the new measures will surely keep Kigali at the top of their class of African capital cities.

Ahead of the gorilla naming festival starting this weekend on June 21, Kwita Izina has the ORTPN, Rwanda’s Office for Tourism and National Parks, inaugurated several community facilities worth over 400 million Rwandese francs. The health centers, class rooms, water storage tanks and a community lodge were all paid for by a revenue share scheme, aimed to benefit communities neighboring national parks. This concept strengthens ‘ownership’ sentiments and percolates tourism income directly to those in most need around the parks. ORTPN Director General Rosette Rugamba also announced at the handover that a further 140 million Rwandese francs will be spent in coming months to create yet more such facilities, underscoring government’s commitment to improve their partnership with the villages and parishes bordering parks. Twenty gorilla babies born over the last year are due to be named in this fourth edition of Kwita Izina. (1 Rwandese franc=US$0.0018)

Wolfgang’s East Africa tourism report
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