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East Africa Tourism

Wolfgang's East Africa tourism report

Wolfgang H. Thome  Jun 26, 2008

The value of the US dollar against the Uganda shilling has now dropped into the 1.550/1.560 bracket although it is understood that Central Bank intervention is now imminent to boost the dollar value once again. Exporters have been complaining bitterly about earning less in shillings, which makes meeting their production cost difficult if not impossible. Only weeks ago the currency still traded in the 1.700+ region and the change is hard to explain, as the US currency did not fall that sharply on the international market during that period. The drop in the dollar value may also have an influence on any safari packages quoted in US currency and would be travelers are well advised to check with their respective tour operators on any imminent changes in quotations. The Ugandan currency over the same period also appreciated notably against the euro, the UK pound, the Swiss franc and the Japanese yen, making visits to Uganda considerably more expensive should the trend not reverse in due course.

Hotels charging guests in US dollar rates are also said to be considering a way out of the situation and maybe express rates in the future in Uganda Shillings, but going by the wild fluctuations in recent years we will probably then see another reversal again some way down the line.

The Uganda Wildlife Authority has now announced that the deadlines for applications / tenders for two of the recently advertised concessions opportunities were extended to the 11th July this year. One of those still available is for a fishing concession in the Karuma Wildlife Reserve along the river Nile while the other one is for the development and management of a tented camp in the Ntoroko area of the former Tooro WR, now called Semliki Wildlife Reserve. International bids are welcome but require some local assistance to obtain the hard copies of bid documents and to make the required cash payment of the prerequisite fees.

More information can be obtained via or by visiting the UWA website at

The Saudi Arabian owned company, under which diversified interests’ also fall Kingdom Hotels – owners and operators of the prestigious Fairmont and Moevenpick brands – has now bought into the Saudi kingdom’s first private airline NAS Air, when taking over a 30 percent stake in their mother corporation NAS from Abraaj Capital, also of Saudi Arabia.

NAS Air, first licensed by the Saudi aviation authorities in late 2006, presently has some 5 aircraft operating but expects to have a fleet of at least 18 by 2010. NAS itself is said to have over 150 aircraft on order, most of them thought to be for leasing on to other Gulf carriers and airlines from around the world. No figures were available on the value of the acquisition as yet. Here in Uganda it is hoped, that this will not have a financial impact on their plans to build a luxury hotel in Kampala, where only recently – after years of waiting – their 17 acre site was fenced up in preparation for construction.

News have reached from Juba and Khartoum, that Sudan Airways’ licence and AOC were suspended by the Sudanese aviation regulators for initially a month, following the crash of their A310 recently upon landing in Khartoum. While thankfully most of the passengers and crew survived the flaming inferno of the burning plane, some 30 passengers and at least one crew member lost their lives. This means that effective immediately Sudan’s national airline cannot operate a single flight until the end of the suspension, which sources from Khartoum say may in fact be extended, if Sudan Airways cannot satisfy the regulators’ directives. There is open speculation over the causes of the suspension but the crash has certainly not helped, if indeed other reasons caused the regulator’s nearly unprecedented step.

Contacts known to this correspondent within Sudan Airways’ circles have politely declined to be drawn into the debate and refused to make any comments.
Meanwhile in Kenya accusations are flying towards the KCAA for having licensed the crash pilot, whose records suddenly are made look dubious by latest revelations in the media and hushed talk within the aviation fraternity at Wilson Airport, how he could have obtained a CPL (commercial pilot’s license) within an apparently very short period of time after completing his initial PPL (private pilot’s license) course. It now appears that, in spite being on VFR operations mode (visual flight rules) the pilot was flying through thick clouds on the fateful day which is not permitted under VFR and air traffic control hence did not communicate as extensively with the pilot as would otherwise be the case under IFR operations. It could not be ascertained if the pilot was indeed even cleared for IFR operations or was only checked out for VFRs. The aircraft in question also seems to have suffered a previous accident while in Kenya and it is alleged that subsequently the registration was changed. The plane was initially imported from the United States and there are now also belated questions on discrepancies of data between what was in the American documents and what now appears in the Kenyan documentation.

Pressure on the Kenyan CAA meanwhile continues to grow and changes at the helm and across the organization are no longer ruled out in coming weeks and months.

Rift Valley Railways has now belatedly clarified, that the forced line closure between Nakuru and Kisumu would not affect traffic to Uganda after all. While the Kisumu branch line remains closed due to theft of rails and sleepers, traffic to Kampala by rail is now possible again following the re-opening of the line in Uganda. Heavy rains had swept culverts away some weeks ago and repairs were concluded late last week. However, RVR’s Kampala office had at the time failed to respond in a prompt manner regarding the impact of the Kenyan line closure, showing further evidence of their eroding relations with the media after being hammered by sections of the East African media houses over their performance since taking control of the Ugandan and Kenyan railway systems.

In the past two years some partial aerial game counts were carried out, one notably by renown conservationist Dr. Richard Lamprey – whose father was the first Principal of the institute now known as Mweka Wildlife College near Moshi in Tanzania – but no full count of all areas yet has been established todate. GoSS, the Government of Southern Sudan, has now decided it needs a comprehensive aerial and ground count to support their wildlife policy, under which some 5 national parks and 13 game reserves have already been restored, since the government was put in place in 2005. It is understood that IFAW, the international fund for animal welfare, has pledged nearly 100.000 US Dollars towards the exercise.

GoSS is also embarking on an ambitious target to train sufficient numbers of game rangers to guard its national resource base, which in time to come should be able to offer yet more options for wildlife safaris in Eastern Africa. GoSS is also seeking funds towards demarcating the parks and reserves while also restoring infrastructure like bridges, roads and tracks to allow increased tourism use of the areas. The biggest ‘Southern National Park’ at present is said to be over 23.000 square kilometres large and should form the back bone for the newly emerging tourism sector in coming years.

As part of the Kwita Izina festival activities, ORTPN – the Rwanda Office for Tourism and National Parks – has unveiled a statue of two gorillas in the centre of Kigali near the City Council offices. Gorilla tracking is a key activity in Rwanda’s tourism industry and the monument will be a permanent reminder for visitors and residents alike of what natural treasures Rwanda’s mountain forests hold.

Elsewhere in the country other activities marked the festival celebrations, like bike races and football tournaments, involving the local communities in the conservation activities of the Rwandan government.

Most lodges and hotels in the country were fully booked during the festival which attracted thousands of Rwandese as well as hundreds of visitors from the region and from overseas. The festival itself was an overwhelming success. Since the inauguration of the festival four years ago 85 young and new born gorillas were ‘named’ and attracted major contributions towards wildlife conservation in general and gorilla protection in particular. Key guests at the main ceremony were the Rwandan First Lady and the country’s prime minister, adding political high profile to the event. Details of the 2009 Kwita Izina festival will be available from ORTPN in due course for potential participants and sponsors.

Wolfgang's East Africa tourism report

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