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East Africa

Wolfgang's East Africa tourism report

Wolfgang's East Africa tourism report
Image via jetphotos.net

By Wolfgang H. Thome | Feb 06, 2009

SKYJET INAUGURAL ON FEBRUARY 1
Sunday, February 1, saw the commencement of commercial operations by Skyjet Uganda with their first flight from Entebbe to Juba. The airline now offers a morning flight every day with their Boeing 737-200 aircraft, leaving Entebbe at 09:00 hours and returning from Juba at 11:00 hours with a flight time of 1 hour. The first flight left Entebbe International Airport with 58 passengers, including several in first class, an encouraging number for the airline. The aircraft also carried “loose” cargo parcels destined for Juba, as well as newspaper deliveries and other urgent shipments, being the first service in the morning out of Entebbe to Southern Sudan’s capital.

The onward route to Khartoum will commence in due course, once the operation to Juba has taken root in the market. Happy landings to them and keep watching this space for updates.

RHINOFUND UGANDA UPDATE
The Rhino Fund Uganda has recently confirmed Mrs. “Angie” Genade as their new executive director, based at the sanctuary some 110 miles out of Kampala en route to Murchisons Falls National Park. Angie took up her position some months ago, but board business took a while to make the appointment formal and final.

Visitor numbers to the Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary have, in 2008, again risen beyond expectations, and the forecast, in spite of the global economic crisis, seems even better for 2009. With accommodation available near the Rhino Fund’s main offices at the sanctuary, overnight visitors have also increased, while day visitors can now have lunch or snacks every day in the scenic surroundings of the sanctuary. A pool and tennis court and other improvements to accommodations and existing facilities are being added for the comfort of visitors - an investment sure to pay off in coming years.

Two of the female rhinos on the sanctuary are reportedly also “expecting” according to the RFU chairman Dirk Ten Brink, which will, in months to come, make welcome additions to the present 6 rhinos found on the nearly 18,000-acre property.

The Rhino Fund has very recently also updated their website at www.rhinofund.org , which will be welcome news for “e-visitors.”

KINGDOM HOTELS ALLEGEDLY “DUMP” UGANDA
News has emerged, through an article in the ‘Weekly Observer,’ about the long-pending hotel project that Kingdom Hotels was planning for the Ugandan capital of Kampala. The nearly free gift of 17 acres of prime land given by the government in 2006 to Sheikh Alwaleed of Saudi Arabia, caused the displacement of over 1,000 pupils and a large number of teachers and teachers’ trainees, when the Shimoni Primary School and Teachers Training College was hastily demolished to make way for the Sheikh’s 5-star hotel, which has not materialized.

This column regularly provided updates on the project status, and it seems we may now likely close the books on Kingdom Hotels (ad)venture in Uganda, should the report – not as yet reflected in any of the other newspapers – be true.

In contrast, the hotel group spent hundreds of millions of US dollars to acquire the former Lonrho Hotels in Kenya, where after they embarked on a massive rehabilitation and upgrading exercise for the Norfolk Hotel in Nairobi, the Mount Kenya Safari Club, the Aberdare Country Club, The Ark, and the Mara Safari Club.

In a related development, the local media mentioned that the Sheikh probably lost billions of dollars in the write-down of share values during the ongoing financial crisis; not that anyone would shed any tears here in Uganda - according to public comments to radio call-in shows and letters to editors.

Kingdom’s lawyers in Kampala meanwhile have placed adverts in the local dailies denying that their client was pulling out, calling the Observer story “manifestly untrue.”

GLOBAL FINANCIAL CRISIS PUSHES INTEREST RATES UP
Unlike most Western economies, where central banks have lowered interest rates to near zero to stimulate lending and to kick start their struggling economies, commercial banks in Uganda have started raising their prime lending rates once again - in some cases reaching 20 percent. Ordinarily, commercial loans for most clients are then subject to further risk adjustments and other considerations, pushing interest for loans to near 30 percent, which is unaffordable in most cases and is creating a further financial crunch for the business community.

Meanwhile, exports of traditional and non-traditional commodities seem to have slowed down, reducing foreign exchange inflows and remittances from Ugandans in the Diaspora, which also appears to be substantially down as they are faced with harsh economic realities in the country where they work.

Pressure on the Uganda Shilling against the major world currencies is, therefore, ongoing, and financial experts are predicting a further slow depreciation beyond the 2000 mark. This will be good news for Ugandan exporters getting more Shillings for their products, as well as for tourist visitors who will find their Dollars and Euros buy them more local goods and services, hopefully adding to the attraction of visiting Uganda by making it more affordable

KAJJANSI NEWS UPDATES
The Kampala Aero Club and Flight Training Centre (KAFTC) confirmed that they have placed an order for a Jet Ranger helicopter, the first on their fleet of otherwise fixed-wing commercial and training aircraft. Their new administration building is also in advanced stages of completion and will be ready for occupancy by about Easter this year, if not earlier. The present offices will then be exclusively used for checking-in clients, as a passenger lounge, and for members of the Aero Club, vastly improving the available facilities. The car park next to the main entry gate now also appears in a bright new light after establishing formal parking bays and keeping the grass neatly trimmed. The company’s principal owners, Capts. Jeremy McKelvie and Russell Barnes, have also spoken of the bright outlook for commercial charters in Uganda, largely fueled at present by the oil exploration companies. Tourist charters have, however, also increased during the financial year 2008. One of their main challenges in 2009 remains sourcing affordable AVGAS and getting the AVGAS fuel facility in Kajjansi up and running, something Shell Uganda has been promising for years now. (See last week’s column item on the troubles air operators have with Shell.)

Meanwhile, next-door neighbors Ndege Juu have confirmed their order for a second Pilatus aircraft, a single-engine, turboprop aircraft with pressurized cabin, allowing for comfortable cruising altitudes and avoiding the usual afternoon bumps in the lower airspaces. Their presently US-registered first Pilatus aircraft is, while operating under US license, awaiting registration in Uganda, a process apparently taking longer than anticipated. The Ndege Juu offices are also being enlarged right now to make more space available for the growing number of staff. A recently-acquired crop-duster aircraft is presently undergoing major maintenance in their own hangar before being commissioned back into service in a few weeks time.

The owners of the Kajjansi airfield, Mission Aviation Fellowship (MAF), are also reportedly going to build a new larger hanger near their existing facility, a sign of confidence in the future of general aviation in the country and at Kajjansi in particular. Visit the following websites for more information about the Kajjansi airfield operators: www.flyuganda.com and www.ndegejuu.com

AIR UGANDA ADDS KHARTOUM
The daily flights to the Southern Sudan’s capital operated by Air Uganda are now twice a week, continuing from Juba to Khartoum, under an arrangement with Marsland Aviation, which is based in the Sudan. The airline flies daily late morning from Entebbe to Juba, and the two onwards flights to Khartoum can be boarded in both Entebbe and Juba. Marsland reportedly operates all their other flights between Khartoum and Juba directly with their own aircraft, although regular travelers on the route seem to prefer Air Uganda’s MD 87 and in-flight services.

EMIRATES ADDS AUSTRALIA TO THEIR A380 DESTINATIONS
The local office of Emirates confirmed earlier in the week that the airline has started using the A380 aircraft for their flights from Dubai to Sydney. Ugandan passengers can connect on the daily service from Entebbe via Dubai to Australia and reportedly also New Zealand and experience the superior in-flight feeling on the world’s largest passenger aircraft. Initially, service will operate three times a week, and in May, the A380 service goes daily - subject to timely delivery of more of the giant aircraft. That alone will make many travelers from Uganda choose Emirates, besides the attractive duty-free shopping facilities in the new, dedicated Emirates terminal at Dubai International Airport.

“MAMA SARA” BACK IN KISUMU
US President Barrack Obama’s paternal grandmother has reportedly returned to her home village in the Nyanza Province of Kenya, after witnessing her grandson sworn in as the first African American president in US history. She returned to a hero’s welcome back home and will undoubtedly be at the center of family reunions in the coming days and weeks, when the tale will be told many times.

Many safari and touring companies are already working on adding the home area of Obama’s late father to their itineraries, providing a pilgrimage place for his global fan club. A warning, though, for “stalkers” and persistently intrusive global media teams - the provincial administration and the Kenyan government have sharply increased security in the area to provide protection to the family and allow them some privacy on their land and residences.

KENYA IN FRESH FUEL CRISIS
Another fuel shortage is gripping Kenya within weeks of the previous crisis, once more prompting long queues of motorists seeking to refill their empty tanks. No immediate reason was given in the Kenyan media, but speculation is rife that a dispute between fuel companies and the Kenya Pipeline Company may be at the core of the problem. KPC is engulfed in a raging scandal over the disappearance of fuel reserves owned by various companies in favor of a single fuel dealer, and KPC staff is accused of having been at the center of the fraud. There is also speculation over the state of the main refinery in Mombasa, which sources say is off line due to damage done to equipment during power spikes and fluctuations in mid January. This correspondent adds his concern over the shortages once again extending into the African hinterland nations, all of whom are overwhelmingly dependent on their fuel supplies via the Indian Ocean port of Mombasa and who are watching the developments in Kenya with growing anxiety.

Leading tour and safari operators are unlikely to be much affected by the situation as they often have fuel stored in key places, ensuring a smooth holiday experience for their visitors from abroad.

KENYA AIRWAYS INCREASE PASSENGER NUMBERS
In spite of the ongoing challenges posed by the global economic and financial crisis, Kenya Airways has added more passengers in the last quarter of 2008, mostly on their domestic, regional, and African services, where it has established a strong position as a Pan African airline. The Kenyan domestic market improved their numbers even after the airline dropped their flights to Lamu. In 2007, KQ carried just fewer than 730,000 passengers in the fourth quarter, and in 2008, the numbers were well above 740,000. This development does not come entirely unexpected, as passengers - in view of the collapse of airlines elsewhere - seem to take the safe route when booking their flights and paying their fares in advance, to be sure their airline of choice still exists when travel commences. The strong position of ‘The Pride of Africa,’ being part owned by KLM/Air France, seems sufficient assurance for would-be travelers that not only do they fly, but they will continue to do so beyond any doubt.

The airline also issued a “profit warning” as the bottom line economics continue to be challenging for the company. KQ, however, is still expected to turn in a profit overall, an achievement as global airlines, according to IATA statements, are expected to loose billions of dollars as a result of the fuel price increases of last year and the world-wide economic crisis.

SAUTI ZA BUSARA IS UPON US
Zanzibar’s famous music and art festival is now just around the corner, and undecided, would-be visitors had better make their arrangements fast if they want to be part of East Africa’s premier cultural event. The sixth edition of the festival is taking place between February 12 and 17, and visitors can spend time on the spice island, both prior and afterwards, for a great holiday. Daily flights to Zanzibar are available from Nairobi on Kenya Airways and Fly540, from Entebbe twice a week on Air Uganda, and daily on Precision Air via Kilimanjaro and Dar es Salaam, while international visitors arriving in Dar can connect with Air Tanzania or Precision Air from Dar, plus a number of smaller commuter airlines flying between Zanzibar and the mainland. Don’t miss it, and if you have to give it a pass this year, come next year.

MOSHI GETS NEW HOTEL
The Tanzanian municipality of Moshi, located at the foot of Mt. Kilimanjaro, has a new hotel in the township’s center on the verge of opening. The locally-owned, three-star facility is due to be formally commissioned before Easter this year and will, when fully functional, offer 30 rooms and other facilities. The whole area around the mountain, including Arusha, fondly called the “safari capital of East Africa,” has undergone a boom of sorts in past years with new hotels, lodges, and resorts being built to participate in the tourism boom. Many climbs up Mt. Kilimanjaro start in the vicinity of Moshi, and the main international airport is just a couple of miles away, making it easy for visitors to reach their destination.

NEW WILDLIFE BILL FAILED
The controversial new wildlife bill sent not long ago to Parliament in Tanzania, was saved from being torn up and thrown out completely by returning it to the committee stage, where a substantial re-write is now expected to take place. Several days of sharp exchanges on the floor eventually convinced government to withdraw the bill from further discussions and will now have to work overtime to incorporate the multitude of demands for changes made by parliamentarians, who objected in great detail to much of the draft bill. Watch this space for updates.

GREATER VIRUNGA TRANSBOUNDARY MEETING
February 6 will see another effort in trans-boundary cooperation take place between Rwanda, Uganda and the DR Congo about conservation and wildlife management issues. Ministers responsible for tourism, wildlife, and related matters of the three countries, as well as key representatives of the three wildlife management bodies, will meet in Kigali’s Novotel for this purpose. The meeting is a follow up of the July 2008 conference on the same issue and is expected to produce a legally-binding document, which can then be implemented by the three governments. The Greater Virunga Transboundary Executive Secretariat is coordinating the meeting.

CONSERVATION VETERAN HAILS RWANDA’S EFFORTS
Dr. Georg Schaller, who first tracked the mountain gorillas in the Rwandan forests in the 50s of the last century, has returned to the country to participate in a commemorative event organized by ORTPN during the last week in Kigali. The 76-year-old researcher and conservationist thrilled his listeners with his tales while recognizing the sterling job done by ORTPN over the past years in protecting the habitat of the gorillas, promoting responsible and environmentally-sustainable tourism, and thus ensuring the long-term survival of the “gentle giant.” Also present at the ceremony was Mrs. Chantal Rugamba, deputy CEO of the Rwanda Development Board and head of ORTPN for much of the last decade, who has devised and overseen the return of Rwanda tourism to the world stage. Well done Rwanda and Chantal, for succeeding where others faltered.

‘KWITA IZINA’ SCHEDULE NOW AVAILABLE
The main event of the now annual “naming ceremony” of recently-born gorilla babies has been set for June 20 and will be held at Musanze district, formerly known as Ruhengeri district. 2009 has been designated by the UN as the “year of the gorilla,” and the celebrations cum festival will, therefore, this year be of special significance for Rwanda. Contact ORTPN for details on the festival activities via public_relations@rwandatourism.com .

ZAMBIAN CHIMP REFUGE APPEALS FOR HELP
The privately run “Chimfunshi” Wildlife Orphanage has appealed for support to keep the refuge open and operating, as has been the case for the past 25 years. The animal shelter has specialized in offering a home to nearly 100 chimpanzees, mankind’s closest relative in the animal world, but their upkeep is costly and income has dwindled, making the organization depend on the donations of well-wishers and, hopefully, international supporters. For details on how to contribute, email chimps@coppernet.zm or chimps@talkingtravel.co.za . And for those interested in learning more about travel to and across Zambia, visit www.thebestofzambia.com . Enjoy!

GADDAFI UNDER FIRE AT AU SUMMIT
No sooner was Libya’s Gaddafi elected as the Chairman of the African Union, did he once again proffer his controversial political plan for a sole African government, an idea which had been both rejected outright by other African countries or was received with lukewarm interest in the past. It was Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni who stood up at the AU Summit and reiterated his earlier opposition to the ideas, which are clearly not ripe in any shape and format at this time.

Other leaders attending the summit in Addis Ababa also reportedly took exception to Gaddafi’s desire to be crowned “King of Kings,” a title allegedly bestowed upon him by traditional rulers from across Africa. In fact, a summit of 200 of such traditional kings and chiefs was canceled in January by the Ugandan government, a day before it was due to be opened at the Commonwealth Resort in Munyonyo. One of the reasons given by the government was that Uganda’s traditional kings were, under the constitution, not permitted to take part in political meetings. The late cancellation reportedly caused friction between Libya and Uganda, whereas previously the relations were described as cordial and even friendly.

President Yoweri Museveni is a proponent of first making regional blocks more active and filling them with benefits for the people of Africa, before even looking at a continental government. Towards this end, the Ugandan president recently hosted the first ever tripartite meeting between the East African Community, COMESA, and SADC, a move hailed as progressive and forward looking and promising conclusions and declarations to be made to integrate the regional blocks further and establish a stronger bargaining position towards the WTO and other international bodies.

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