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East Africa Tourism

Wolfgang's East Africa tourism report

Wolfgang H. Thome  Jan 15, 2009

Indication is that a lack of ‘approvals’ from the political oversight and the powers that be has delayed the operations start of Skyjet, which was generally expected by early January, after the airline had passed all regulatory hurdles and secured their AOC. Murmurs at the airport in Entebbe are that this may be a ‘play,’ similar to what has often been seen when new airlines in the region wanted to start flights into Nairobi, to keep the airline’s B737 off the profitable Juba route for a while longer.

However, with Royal Daisy Airlines apparently no longer on the route – they halted operations months ago when their 30-seater Embraer 120 went into heavy maintenance – there is definitely an opening for a second regular operator now that Eagle Air only flies three times a week via the Southern Sudanese town of Yei to Juba, making the journey with them substantially longer and hence less attractive for Juba travelers from and to Entebbe.

Said one senior aviation expert in Kampala to this correspondent, preferring anonymity for fear of repercussions: ‘Uganda can do with more activities in the aviation field, but how does one attract more investment into the sector in Uganda when officials first promise you the lot, and after your money is spent and all prerequisite steps have been taken, they then let you wait with an aircraft sitting on the ground and a lot of salaries to be paid against no income. They are simply not serious, and word has gotten out to potential investors what to really expect. When the first helicopter service started from the International Hospital, they could not get medivac flight permissions late in the afternoon or at night; even so, that heli was properly equipped for night operations, citing obscure ‘security reasons,’ The owners lost a lot of revenue, and although they are now back, they sent the aircraft to South Sudan at the time so they could pay their bills. Even our own Ugandan cargo airline with about eight DC10 and other cargo aircraft, DAS Air was allowed to collapse, and now foreign cargo carriers completely dominate that market in Entebbe. It is a disgrace, really, but comes as no surprise; that is how our fellows operate and behave. As a Ugandan, I am sad about this, and as an aviator, I am madly angry with those responsible’.

Going by conventional wisdom, once the airline has finally received the ‘nod,’ it will still take between 2 and 4 weeks to get their marketing and sales activities into gear to ensure a decent load on their flights, so February presently seems the best bet if anyone would want to put money down. However, the busy pre- and post-holiday season, when first flights from Juba were fully booked and now flights to Juba are equally full again, is lost for Skyjet to their financial detriment. Watch this space for updates.

A roaming buffalo, reportedly coming from inside the Lake Mburo National Park, has injured nearly a dozen or so villagers in the neighboring area of Mbarara. The rampaging beast was eventually shot but only after inflicting serious injuries to people in its path. No immediate comments were available from the Uganda Wildlife Authority nor was it clear from media reports who killed the beast.

The delays in commencing work on the Eldoret – Kampala oil pipeline are now coming to an end when the company announced the start of work by the end of March or early April this year. Recent fuel shortages – some say artificially created to cream off huge profits – and bottle necks in the transportation of fuel by road to Uganda and beyond, have given sharp reminders to the consumers that reliable and cost-effective means of bringing fuel to Uganda have to be developed if the economy and public transport are to be running smoothly.

Once the pipeline is ready, fuel products, except heavy fuel oil, will be pumped directly from the port of Mombasa to Uganda, leaving road transport to deal with peak demand only. However, the regional hinterland countries like Rwanda, Burundi, Eastern Congo, and Southern Sudan will be able to pick their fuel from the depots near Kampala, also giving them a break on transportation costs and border formalities, as they, too, then no longer need to go to Kenya to collect their fuel supplies.

The new pipeline is majority owned by Libyan state company Tamoil (51 percent) while Kenya and Uganda hold the balance of the shares. The 340 KM pipeline is expected to cost nearly US$100 million. Tamoil won the concession in a public bidding process in mid 2006, and the exact circumstances of the delay until now are still not entirely clear; also the political situation in Kenya a year ago has been partly blamed for the slow pace.

Latest news from Kenya, however, now casts doubts on KPC’s ability to secure or service loans for the construction project on the Kenyan side of the border as the company got deeply engulfed in yet another massive scandal, which also cost their CEO his job while driving the company to the brink of bankruptcy. The company, in a crooked scheme devised by company personnel, apparently released fuel products to one non-intended beneficiary (whose CEO fled to India when the scandal broke) to the tune of over 125 million liters of fuel worth some 7.6 billion Kenya Shillings or nearly US$100 million – no wonder Uganda and beyond suffered hitherto inexplicable fuel shortages when their ordered stock was fraudulently diverted.

Travel agents and airlines were busy informing would-be travelers to the United States, effective January 12, 2009, that even if they are citizens of countries enjoying the so called ‘Visa Waiver,’ they will now have to register ‘on line’ several days ahead of their intended travel dates to be sure that they can enter the US on arrival. Stark, and reportedly at times rather graphic warnings, were given by travel agents and airlines that travelers may be detained upon attempted entry or be sent straight back home, if this registration is missing. Would-be travelers without home or office access to the Internet (yes they still exist) will have to visit an ‘Internet Café’ or get assistance at their travel agent or the airline offices.

And expatriates in Eastern Africa thought that the hassles of getting a Visa to visit our East African neighbors was a headache, yet they only have to fill a form and pay the fee on arrival and, presto, they are admitted as visitors, albeit US$50 per person poorer.

As to ‘at the spur of a moment’ visits to the Big Apple, no longer my friends; how one yearns for the good old days.

The ferry services at the coast, taking traffic from the Mombasa island to the ‘South Coast’ at the Likoni harbor crossing, have once again incurred the wrath of the business community. Only a few days ago, one of the ferries again was out of service, causing delays of several hours for commuters, business people, and tourists wanting to either reach their hotels further down the coast or else coming to the city for a day of shopping or returning to the airport for their flight home. New ferries are on order, apparently, but delivery is still a way off, and every breakdown causes huge backlogs of traffic on both sides of the harbor opening.

The ferry company has, as usual, expressed their regrets, but for a change, now promised the introduction of a ‘fast lane,’ which tourists can probably use to ensure they do not miss their flights home or else take hours on end to reach their hotels after a long flight from Europe. Watch this space for updates.

Just before going to press, more bad news emerged from Nairobi, that the CEO of Kenya Airports Authority (KAA) had been sent on ‘forced leave’ by his board, just weeks before his present term of office is coming to an end and probably pre-empting his request for a contract renewal. This is another casualty in the extended tourism industry since mid last year, when first the CEO of the Kenya Tourist Development Corporation was fired by the Minister of Tourism, before his erstwhile colleague at the Kenya Tourist Board followed him into the doldrums.

KAA has been under fire for some time over allegations of improprieties over the renovation and expansion of the country’s main aviation gateway Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi, but also over constant wrangles with the air operators at Wilson Airport in Nairobi, the state of other aerodromes and airports, and more recently, over their failure to provide transport from the terminal to planes parked on the apron (see story on Kenya Airways introducing their own busses).

Mr. Muhoho is often seen as a close ally of President Kibaki, and the present wrangles and sharp differences in the coalition government, seen as an attempt to further curb the presidential powers, may well be one of the reasons behind the sudden decision. While KAA had in recent years improved the financial performance, it was also subject to enquiries and scrutiny during Mr. Muhoho’s tenure, not something an airport operator of this magnitude would otherwise prefer.

Sarah Obama, the paternal grandmother of president-elect Barack Obama, earlier in the week traveled to the United States where she will witness the swearing in of her grandson as the 44th President of the United States of America on January 20.

The journey started last Sunday at the Kisumu airport, from where she took a Kenya Airways flight to Nairobi, connecting via Europe to her final destination of Washington DC.

She carried tribal leadership gifts for her famous grandson according to the Luo tradition, consisting of a fly whisk (instead of the traditional spear, which she was apparently told was a ‘no no’), a shield, and a three-legged stool, which are traditionally bestowed by the clan when an individual rises to become a leader.

Barack Obama has in the past repeatedly visited Kenya and his late father’s home village and area, getting well acquainted with his African roots and Kenya. In fact, all of Eastern Africa is now looking forward to him being sworn in as President, knowing that there will be a friend of Africa in the White House, but – adds this correspondent – a friend who will demand improvements in governance and best practice from his African counterparts, if the friendship is to become and remain mutual.

In any case, the spotlight during his presidency will always shine a little, or more, on the home country of his father, and tourism to Kenya and Eastern Africa will undoubtedly benefit from the attention his global fan club will give to his ‘roots’ – no harm intended of course to Hawaii, where he grew up.

The Rwanda government has announced that the construction of a 27 MW hydro-electric power plant will start shortly. Tapping into such renewable energy sources, which are literally carbon neutral once in operation, will be welcome news to the country’s tourism and conservation sector, but also for the commercial sector at large, as the new power plant, once ready, will add 50 percent capacity to the country’s energy needs. Environmental and economic impact studies have been carried out and have been sanctioned by the relevant public bodies. Rwanda is taking pride in being a green and eco-friendly tourism destination.

Just as we were going to press, news was received from Kigali that the telephone-numbering system will change from the previous 8-digit to the internationally adopted 10-digit numbering system. As the change seems imminent, consult your business contacts in Rwanda to get the details so as to stay in touch and not loose contact with the ‘Land of the Thousand Hills.’

The Ministry of Wildlife Conservation and Tourism (MWCT) has confirmed that they will hold their final workshop next week in Juba, where the new draft tourism policy is to be presented to stakeholders from the public and private sectors for briefing and adoption. The work has been ongoing for over a year due to constraints at the Ministry. Once the tourism policy has been accepted, it will form the foundation of the Southern Sudan’s return as a safari and adventure destination. It is understood that a new tourism draft law and regulations are also being worked on by a team of consultants appointed by MWCT.

The Southern Sudan holds a significant potential for safari tourism and adventure activities, like white water rafting, but it remains still untapped until infrastructure and security issues have been adequately addressed.

Alain St. Ange, eTurboNews’ regular contributor and leading tourism and hospitality personality from the Seychelles, was last week appointed as vice chairperson of the Seychelles Tourist Board where he will oversee marketing and funding. Alain was, at the same time, also appointed as a member of the board of directors of the Seychelles Civil Aviation Authority. Congratulations galore for this achievement.

Wolfgang's East Africa tourism report

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