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East Africa Tourism

Wolfgang's East Africa tourism report

Wolfgang H. Thome  Mar 06, 2009

No sooner had Ash Wednesday come, concluding the traditional carnival season in Europe and, of course, in South America’s carnival capital Rio de Janeiro, did the Sheraton Kampala staff start their preparations for the upcoming Easter season. Their monthly newsletter for March already advertises special room packages for visitors and also the special Easter menus one can expect after completing the ‘Lent’ period in the Christian calendar. Of course, there is no standing still in the hospitality industry at all, especially not the ever-busy Sheraton Kampala Hotel. Preparations are now entering high gear to give Kampaleans everything to look forward to when Easter Sunday eventually comes around.

As this column goes to print today, consultations are unfolding in the eastern Ugandan municipality of Jinja at the Crested Crane Hotel, also the seat of Uganda’s national Hotel and Tourism Training Institute. The Uganda National Roads Authority is calling on governmental bodies and all interested parties and stakeholders to put forward their observations, contributions, recommendations, and even objections to the plans to build a second bridge over the River Nile, aimed to secure long-term strategic access from one part of the country to the other. The present bridge carries all imports by road coming from the Kenyan border across the river and the hinterland nations of Burundi, Rwanda, eastern Congo, southern Sudan, and to an extent even western Tanzania depend on the bridge link.

The old bridge was commissioned in 1954 when the Owens Falls hydro-electric dam was formally launched. Increased traffic volumes now require alternatives and fall-back options to safeguard supply routes. The government of Japan is funding the design for the new bridge, the necessary consultative exercises, and has already given indication that they will also be a major source of funding for the construction of the new bridge, expected to start some time in 2010.

Recent media reports in Uganda speak about increased anxiety amongst safari operators over a drop in new bookings and cancellations of already-confirmed holiday trips. The main markets for Uganda are the United States and the UK, both of which are greatly afflicted by the economic downturn and the global financial crisis. No information was available, if at all any, of the tourism trade organizations having made specific requests and/or detailed proposals to government regarding how to support the sector and see the tourism industry through potentially hard times. Meanwhile, the Kenyan treasury has released an extra 250 million Kenya Shillings to the Kenya Tourist Board last week to be spent on a global marketing campaign aimed to attract new visitors to Kenya and keep hotel, resort, and lodge occupancies above loss-making levels.

Meanwhile in Uganda again, the Safari Guide Association has just advertised a special course for senior tour guides with sufficient experience in their chosen field. Up to twenty applicants will be admitted to the 2-week training session, which will take place during the first two weeks of May. At least one of the tourism associations is thankfully looking ahead and will try to capture market share through better services and higher skills of those staff members spending the most time with tourist visitors. It was learned that course guidelines and recommendations of the World Federation of Tourist Guides will be applied. Well done indeed Herbert Byaruhanga and the executives of the Uganda Safari Guide Association.

While a number of other safari companies presently seem to indulge in gloom and doom talk, UWPS is busy creating new products to attract tourist visitors to Uganda. As already mentioned in the previous column, where an active and participatory safari had advertised to assist in capturing zebras for relocation, the company is now also seeking paying participants to carry out a census of hippos and crocodiles along the Albert Nile, which stretches from Lake Albert to the border with southern Sudan. Participants can expect to fork out at least US$3,741 for the arrangements in Uganda (plus airfare, of course, and expenses of a personal nature) and can look forward to an unusual trip along the mighty River Nile while spotting and counting crocs and hippos.

The company has, besides its unusual safari business approach, also signed a long-term concession and management agreement with the Uganda Wildlife Authority, according to information given on their website, to manage and restock the Ajai Game Reserve and parts of the Kafu River basin, a combined area of over 1 million hectares of African wilderness. New safari camps in those areas are also upcoming, so watch this space for emerging news on this creative and innovative approach in Uganda for tourism and conservation activities. For more information, visit .

Ongoing pressure from the business community and civil society – with government perceived as doing little or nothing to reign in the greed of the fuel companies – has now compelled the fuel companies to gradually reduce prices. Diesel, while still in the 2.200 UShs bracket upcountry, has now come down to the low 1.800 range in Kampala, which is less than a US dollar, while at peak times it had reached some 2.600 UShs per liter. Petrol, however, is still trading in the 2.500 UShs range, or about US$1.30 per liter but expected to also reduce in coming weeks, finally reflecting the international market prices, which Ugandan fuel companies have conveniently ignored over the past months in search of extracting maximum profit from the consumers. The reduction in fuel prices has also slowed inflationary pressure, and the index may well slip back into the single digit bracket by the middle of the year.

Almost 15 years after declaring Uganda a polio-free country, a single fresh case was discovered in the north of the country, likely brought in from across the international border where the health care regime is less stringent and, in fact, largely absent. Rotary International, through the clubs in Uganda, together with the WHO, had long vaccinated babies and children across the country for free to eradicate the disabling disease, which turned into a success story when the WHO declared Uganda polio free in the mid 1990s.

The latest case found has immediately triggered a 25 district massive inoculation exercise, covering the entire area surrounding the find, and a further 25 districts are due for the activity soon afterwards. It has been pointed out that visitors to Uganda are not likely to come into contact with the infected person, although medical recommendations apparently suggest refresher doses every 10 years.

The value of the Kenya Shilling continued to drop on poor economic data and falling remittances from Kenyans abroad, until now a backbone of foreign exchange flows into the country. Tourism and export earnings also continue to struggle causing the Kenyan currency, for the first time since 2004, to fall through the psychologically important 80 = 1 US dollar threshold earlier in the week. Other regional currencies, too, are under pressure for the same reasons. The development is likely to give visitors better value for their money in eastern Africa but will also give exporters greater earnings in their home currency versus the US dollar and the Euros, while, of course, also making all imports dearer for the local markets.

Information has been availed to this correspondent that Kenya Airways may in due course begin flights to Botswana and Namibia, possibly as an extension combined with their daily Nairobi – Johannesburg services. The airline presently serves over 30 destinations across Africa, seen as the load factor backbone for many of their international services, in particular to the Gulf, India, and south Asia, when passengers connect in Nairobi for their final destination. Flights to Congo Brazzaville, also a new destination, are set to commence in late March from Nairobi and will operate initially three times a week.

Meanwhile, AFRAA, the association of African Airlines, met last week in Bujumbura, Burundi for their regular meeting, having selected the venue at their last sitting in Nairobi. No details were available on the agenda and proceedings at the time of going to press.

This most important private sector aviation association in Kenya will be holding a user-friendly workshop for members of the aviation fraternity on April 2 at the Aero Club of Kenya at Wilson Airport, to give up-to-date information to members about aircraft leasing and financing, a crucial issue in these days of the global credit crunch. Information can be obtained from both KAAO and the Aero Club in Nairobi for potential participants.

Following the much-criticized relaxation of the ivory sale ban under CITES rules in southern Africa last year, poaching in east Africa has been on the increase in recent months as predicted by many experts and conservationists. In particular, in the Tsavo area of Kenya, at least five elephants were found butchered and had their tusks removed in recent weeks, while the authorities also made some arrests of suspected poachers and recovered automatic arms and ammunition.

Whenever in the past the CITES rules were relaxed in favor of the southern African states, who periodically advocate vocally for the relaxation of the bans, this had an immediate impact on eastern Africa, from where illegal ivory is then said to be clandestinely shipped to the very southern African states with relaxed rules, before the loot is then allegedly ‘integrated’ into stockpiles there and made ready for ‘legal’ trading. Only recently did this column also report on poaching in the Amboseli area of Kenya, lending more credibility to claims and allegations that this is indeed an organized development with godfathers in high places and connections to Southern Africa, ever ready to feed the lust for ivory in the south east Asian market. Watch this space for updates.

A stakeholder workshop organized by the East African Civil Aviation Safety and Security Oversight Agency in Arusha last week lamented the lack of skilled personnel in the aviation sector due to short supply of training facilities and poaching of qualified staff to accept better-paying jobs abroad. The main public institution in eastern Africa for aviation training, the East African Aviation Academy, also known as the ‘Flying School’ in Soroti ,Uganda, was found to be lacking in equipment, facilities, and budgetary support from the governments in the region, although it remains ideally placed to train aircraft technicians and pilots. The lack of domestic and regional training capacity is now forcing many wannabe pilots to train abroad at a multiple of the cost involved in getting their licences at home.

A blind man from Munich, Germany made history recently when climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro and reaching the top peak, ‘Uhuru,’ the highest point on the African continent. The tour was organized in Germany by well-known Hauser Expeditions, while locally the guides were provided by Snow Cap Limited, a climbing outfitter based in Moshi, Tanzania. The climb was accompanied by a specially-trained German guide from Hauser Expeditions and ably supported by over a dozen porters and local guides, who accompanied the blind man to the top of the mountain and explained the landscapes and scenery as they went along. This man proved that his disability was no impediment to achieving his long ambition. Well done!

No sooner had Rwandan troops left the Congo, compelled to do so when the limited time-frame military operation ended without fully achieving its objectives to disable and destroy the infamous Hutu militias, did MONUC report that the scattered killer militias were returning to their former bases and had already taken over territory again and have immediately resorted to punish what they call collaborators, i.e., innocent people who had shown their delight when the joint offensive drove the militias away from their areas.
The Congo army, now without the active support of Rwanda, again appears incapable or unwilling to tackle the militias directly and MONUC has again taken the stand of reporting matters rather than acting robustly on events. Calls are already re-emerging within the region to permit Rwandan units back into the Congo without a time limit to once and for all remove the Hutu militia menace, which has been a constant threat to regional stability since fleeing Rwanda in 1994 after carrying out one of the worst acts of genocide in modern history.

Meanwhile, Uganda’s UPDF and southern Sudan’s SPLA operations in north eastern Congo continue in their search for the ICC-wanted Joseph Kony and his LRA remnants, although several LRA commanders have, during the cause of the two-month-old operation, been killed, captured, or surrendered. Kony’s remaining men are, however, reportedly receiving fresh support from the regime in Khartoum in violation of agreements and declarations made by Bashir, a further sign that – like in Darfur – the Khartoum regime simply cannot be trusted to behave in an internationally-acceptable manner.

Overall arrivals for the Comoros Islands, by passengers arriving from abroad by air, stood at 133,577 for the year 2008, with the strongest month being July, when 18,250 passengers entered the island nation. Arrivals solely for the purpose of tourism, as defined by the UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), however, remain lower than expected, partly caused by the lack of tourism-quality accommodation on the islands. No information could be obtained on the planned project by Dubai World as a result of the present global economic and financial crisis, which also saw the Gulf states, in particular, Dubai, substantially affected.

Airlines presently flying into Moroni are Yemenia, Kenya Airways, Air Tanzania, Air Austral, Air Madagascar, Comoros Aviation, and Inter Isles Air.

Wolfgang's East Africa tourism report

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