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East Africa Tourism

Wolfgang's East Africa Tourism

Wolfgang H. Thome  Jul 07, 2008

The ongoing encroachment into the country’s wetlands and their conversion into agricultural use land like flower farms is taking an ever increasing toll on the biodiversity, which had made Uganda hitherto a leading nation around the globe. Following earlier reports in this column it has now again been reiterated that Uganda’s national bird, the crested crane, is facing near extinction and that established numbers have more than halved in recent years. Less than 20,000 of the species are now thought to be left, approximately a quarter of the bird population some 20 years ago.

This correspondent can vouch for this trend as breeding pairs of crested cranes, in the past regularly seen from his residence at Lake Victoria, have disappeared, as have other bird species like love birds, the African grey parrot and palm nut vultures while other species prevalence, including sunbirds, weavers and fish eagles, has greatly reduced. Having been able to identify some 150+ species of resident and migratory birds inside and from the property up to the late ‘90s, this number has now shrunk to only about 100 or so regular bird species sightings, a situation repeated across many areas of the country, where the fast growing human population has left its heavy footprints.

Poaching, capture for illegal export, egg collections and illegal keeping of birds in cages at upmarket expatriate residences are further causes for the loss in bird variety near urban areas, besides wetland encroachment. Nothing much appears to be done however right now by government to halt and reverse the situation, which can within years have a grave impact on bird tourism.

The Uganda shilling is now trading again in the low 1,600 range vis-à-vis the US dollar after hitting a long time bottom last week, which at one stage threatened to breach the critical 1,500 level. Other foreign currencies traded in Uganda have also gained in value again. Banking experts attribute the relatively volatile fluctuations in recent weeks to a generally narrow market where a single major transfer, for instance of donor funds, can easily rock the proverbial boat and lead to substantial fluctuations of currency value. Travellers are advised to consult local contacts or visit leading Ugandan news websites like where they can get the daily average exchange rates prominently displayed on the front page of the web edition.

Disturbing news were reported late last week that the intended give away of 7.200 hectares of prime rain forest to the Mehta sugar barons is not off the table after all, as members of government had publicly declared in the run up to the Commonwealth Summit late last year. There is now suspicion that these declarations were only made for PR purposes and to avoid candid questions being asked by members of the Commonwealth with a truer commitment to environmental protection and conservation. The news article, published in the Daily Monitor, can be sourced in full at the following web address:

Should the reports prove true, government is likely to generate fresh controversy and likely loose support amongst those of its supporters who are committed to conservation and the protection of natural resources. The plans to flatten a quarter of this ancient rain forest in favour of a sugarcane plantation have raised the heat of the debate and in fact cost lives, when demonstrations in Kampala against the plans in April last year turned rowdy. The greed of the Mehta family appears to know no bounds as alternative land has been offered to them at a cost, which they refused hoping for a free give away of the forest by government to them. Meanwhile, environmentalists and the conservation fraternity from Uganda, the region and further abroad are now already brainstorming what to do next to protect this priceless resource for future generations and not have it sacrificed for short-sighted and short-lived objectives.

Kenya’s tourism minister Najib Balala has used a symposium held by the Kenya Association of Hotelkeepers and Caterers (KAHC) to express his dissatisfaction with the present grading system in place, which was hitherto carried out by the Hotel and Restaurant Authority. The minister as much accused HRA of lack of capacity to do the job, throwing serious doubts on their past judgements when awarding star rating to hotels, lodges and resorts. The minister further demanded that an independent and competent body be tasked with hotel grading in the country, a move that caused cautious reactions from the hotel body and its members, some of whom asked no changes to be affected without involving the industry body. International travelers and industry personnel have often wondered how some hotels were able to put five-stars above their entrance, when international standards such as the one’s used by the International Hotel and Restaurant Association, were suggesting a lesser rating.

Only recently had the same minister used a different forum to demand of Kenyan hotels to renovate and upgrade their hotels, some of which he blamed for not having invested for nearly 20 years, so that the country could match the quality other competing destinations now offer their international clientèles.

The development comes hot on the heels of news emerging from Nairobi, that global hotel brands like Kempinski, Sheraton, Marriot and Accor are keen to enter the Kenyan hospitality market, which would be a welcome shake up of what is often described "complacent" players in the market so far.

While Kenya is still considered in the region as the most advanced country in hotel grading, travelers to Uganda are often dumbstruck when arriving at a “five-star” hotel, only to discover that the reality is far from the expectations. This correspondent recalls comments made at opening of a certain hotel some years ago in Entebbe, when it was not only pronounced as five-star but the owners then topped it with promises to raise the standard to “seven-star” rating, something which by IHRA standards simply does not exist, nor was ever thought possible by this particular brand of hotel management and ownership.

The region over the past years developed classification and grading standards which are now applicable by all East African Community member states, but the implementation in Uganda (and some other countries) is lagging behind and clients will have to suffer the often misleading advertising of “luxury” services, when the owners frankly have no concept at all what “luxury” really entails and what a “five-star” hotel has to offer in terms of facilities and service levels, to be awarded this certification of quality.

Following the successful IPO of Safaricom, Kenya’s leading telecommunications’ company (nearly 600 percent oversubscribed) the management of the Nairobi Stock Exchange NSE has now decided to remove TPS Serena and introduce Safaricom instead and an index stock. Normally it takes at least a year to effect the introduction of a new listed company into the index, but Safaricom was fast tracked and granted an exemption by the NSE board of directors “to pay heed to ensuring fair sectoral representation,” quoting NSE chairman Jimnah Mbaru. “It is in light of the significant impact it has occasioned in market capitalization and trading activity at the bourse,” he added.

The NSE stock index comprises 20 firms and provides a key daily indicator on the stock exchange development in Kenya for the rest of the world. It is of course hugely prestigious to be amongst the index listed companies as it reflects on market value, market standing and market appreciation of the selected company, and it is equally perceived rather negative to be removed from this elite club of index companies as is the case here.

Other new firms introduced were Athi River Mining, a leading cement manufacturer in Kenya, and East African Cables, which were replacing two other companies no longer judged to be representative or suitable to be included in the index listing. The companies removed from the index however still trade on the exchange it is understood but no longer in the premier position as an index company.

It is also understood from sources in Nairobi that long serving Serena marketing director Peter Mbogua has left the company at the end of June. Serena, as other hotels in Kenya, was financially hard hit during the post election violence between January and March this year through loss of occupancy in their hotels and lodges, which had also extended to their Tanzanian operation as the fall out spread into the region.

The NSE development has raised a number of questions across the region as to the real reasons why TPS Serena was removed from the top 20 list of index companies in Kenya and the subsequent implications for their shareholders but no answers have been forthcoming so far.

The recent arrival of two new turbo prop aircraft has now allowed Tanzania’s national airline to resume services on domestic routes, which they could previously not serve due to equipment restrictions. Dodoma is Tanzania’s political capital – Dar es Salaam is the commercial capital – and requires regular air connections between the two cities to facilitate easy travel of politicians, since many ministries are in fact located in Dar. At the same time of the announcement the airline also appointed a new general sales agent in Dodoma, Antelope Safaris Ltd., to represent their interests and facilitate ticket sales and bookings. Flying time between Dar and Dodoma will take approximately 1.5 hours on the Bombardier built Q 300.

Meanwhile, the Tanzanian government has expressed its displeasure over charging certain services in US dollars, probably aimed at airlines, travel agencies and landlords, while the Tanzanian shilling is the legal tender in the country.

Government sources were quoted to have vowed to “stamp out the practice” which they termed “illegal” in the face of market realities.

It was reported during the week that Tanzania’s premier private airline has welcomed back 4 staff who were deployed over the last year at the ATR factory to train in aircraft maintenance ahead of the delivery of more of the advanced turboprop aircraft. The airline is also sponsoring several more staff for the final stages in qualifying as ATR pilots, which is a commendable move looking at the massive cost involved to reach the stage for commercial flying on scheduled airlines. In spite of the start of global lay off’s of pilots due to fleet adjustments and the retirement of aged jets, there is still a looming pilot’s shortage on the global stage, thought to worsen over the next years as in particular Middle Eastern airlines are enticing qualified pilots to join their growing fleets.

Information was released by the developers of the new Moevenpick Resort in Arusha about the location and concept of their planned project. A 100-acre estate between the international airport and Arusha, near Usa River, will be the location for the 200 suites and rooms resort and an 18-hole championship golf course is also due to be part of the construction and development. This will add much needed upmarket facilities to Arusha, as will the inclusion of a conference facility large enough for several hundred participants. Several restaurants, bars and an all inclusive state of the art Spa will also be part of the new hotel. Moevenpick expects to strengthen their standing in Tanzania with the new resort and has expressed interest to further expand in both Tanzania and the region.

A joint venture hotel and tourism school opened last weekend in Kigali, owned by the Canadian based ‘Consortium Canadien de Development Touristique et Hotelier en Afrique (CCDTHA) and the Rwandese Ministry of Education. Tourism in Rwanda has in recent years firmly established itself as a leading economic sector and the Rwandan government was keen to establish its own tourism and hospitality training institution to train qualified manpower instead of sending students abroad at a high cost.

The East African Community member states met in Kigali / Rwanda for their annual summit, at the end of which President Kagame assumed the chairmanship of the regional body for the next year. Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Burundi and of course Rwanda are the present five member states making up the EAC. The political meeting also coincided with a major investment conference held in Kigali, during which Rwanda showcased itself as a democratic nation with a legislative and regulatory framework and an enabling business environment conducive to overseas and regional investments.

It was also learned from summit sources that the much hoped for regional tourist visa was delayed once again as the respective ministers had apparently neither done their homework nor taken the challenges of the tourism sectors in Eastern Africa, following the Kenya crisis earlier in the year, into account. A common Visa is thought to open up the entire region by making multi country visits more affordable and enticing visitors to stay longer in East Africa. The idea of such a common Visa was first formally submitted to the East African Community Committee on Tourism and Wildlife by this correspondent in 2001 in his then capacity as President of the Uganda Tourism Association, but 7 years of intense lobbying have not yet born any tangible results. This development prompted calls from the tourism private sectors for their respective ministries overseeing immigration to wake up and shape up.

Wolfgang's East Africa Tourism
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