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East Africa Tourism

Wolfgang's East Africa tourism report

Wolfgang H. Thome  Mar 20, 2009

Eagle’s chief executive officer Capt. Tony Rubombora has confirmed to this column that his company is in the process of constructing a large hangar in Entebbe. The first phase is due for completion by late this year. The new maintenance facility is capable to receive jets commonly used in the region for the various checks and repairs, such as the Boeing 737, both Classic and NG or the MD 87, and can, of course, also cater to the variety of turbo-prop aircraft used by Entebbe-based operators. Eagle is flying a number of LET 410 19-seater aircraft, and those will in the future also be receiving full service “in house” rather than being sent abroad for heavy maintenance. The project is said to cost at least US$3 million for the construction of the facility, with equipment like tools and the spare stores costing in addition to this price tag.

Entebbe has been lacking a large facility of this size, although AirServe has a hangar which can accommodate light-single and twin-engine aircraft and partly take larger aircraft, however, with the main body of the plane remaining outside.

Eagle’s latest project will undoubtedly enhance the standing of Entebbe in the region when completed and operational. It was also learned that Czech manufacturer LET is about to commit to make Entebbe their African manufacturer’s maintenance base, also using the Eagle hangar. LET 410 aircraft are widely used in Africa due to favorable operating parameters – and being a 19-seater aircraft not requiring a mandatory cabin crew under present regulations.

Information was received from usually reliable sources that Fly 540 Uganda will commence scheduled cargo operations from Entebbe to Juba and Goma from April 2009 onwards, using their converted F27 freighter aircraft, which can uplift up to 6 tons of loose and small-palletized cargo at a time. Alongside these operations, the airline will then also progressively launch their passenger operation, using ATR 42 aircraft, again from Entebbe to Juba, Kigali and Goma, with the possible addition of Bujumbura and selected eastern Congo destinations at a later date. Capt. Tony Pettinger is in charge of the Uganda operation based in Entebbe. Flights from and to Nairobi will continue to be operated by Fly 540’s Kenyan operation. Visit for more information about the airline.

As witnessed during a recent working visit to the Kajjansi Airfield – located between the city and Entebbe – KAFTC’s (Kampala Aero Club and Flight Training Centre) new office building is now getting ready for occupancy. As reported some weeks ago, the company has grown in leaps and bounds in past years and requires more dedicated office space, while the present offices cum lounge will then be converted into a check-in and dedicated passenger lounge facility during the week, and on weekends the Aero Club members will have the use of the facility. A swimming pool and BBQ area also permits for family outings, parties, and cocktail functions, allowing attending visitors to closely observe light aircraft from the C172 Trainer to the Cessna Grand Caravan landing and taking off, something kids (and adults alike) seem to enormously enjoy.

The Uganda Air Operator’s Association (UAAO) was overlooked when sending out invitations for the regional aviation consultative workshop in Arusha taking place today. Even for the preparatory workshop some weeks ago, it seems that the Ugandan operators were not invited at all. While the Kenyan and Tanzanian air operator associations received their due invitation on behalf of their membership, the Ugandans did not receive any information on the workshop – not from their own Civil Aviation Authority nor from CASSOA directly. When the information, however, leaked to the Ugandan aviation fraternity, their stoical comment was: “so what is new?” The opinion was often voiced that for some of the regulator’s staff, the actual aviation industry is more or less a nuisance to deal with, although, of course, regulators only exist because there is an aviation sector in the first place. Mega barbs for CASSOA and their Ugandan “accomplices” in this omission.

Weddings have always been a favourite pastime for Ugandans, the bigger and the posher the better, with all events filmed from the early morning to the last “after party” to have records for future generations and, of course, the location is always key to success. The Sheraton Kampala Hotel has now re-launched their wedding and (pre) honeymoon packages, where couples holding their wedding in the hotel’s grand ballroom, can enjoy a couple of days to recover from the wedding stress in style before setting out for the honeymoon proper later on. The packages include the royal treatment with red carpets, rose petals on the bed, a special gift for the bride, wine in the room, full use of the spa with selected treatments, breakfast – if so wanted served in the room, and finally an airport transfer when the couple eventually sets out to fly to their chosen destination for time out before real life catches up with them. The packages start from US$420 per person, using a superior room while suites go at a slightly higher price. Weddings for visitors from abroad can also be arranged with sufficient advance notice, should they wish to get hitched at the Pearl of Africa.

Other hotels famous for their weddings in Kampala are the sister hotels Speke Resort and Commonwealth Resort in Munyonyo and, of course, the Kampala Serena Hotel. However, it must be said that weddings can also be arranged at the main safari lodges and leading safari camps, just as long as this is prepared for well in advance.

In addition, the Sheraton is also cognizant of the hard times the economy has fallen on and is now offering a 10 percent rebate for the time being on selected meeting packages available at the hotel’s numerous meeting rooms and venues.

Meanwhile, the Sheraton Kampala Hotel was very recently honored by the Federation of Uganda Employers as Employer of the Year 2008 – congratulations.

Well-known Ugandan personality Andy Roberts has recently launched new tourist maps for visitors, but also frequently traveling residents of Uganda. The full color maps give an overview of the entire country and also contain detailed smaller maps of several of the country’s key national parks like Murchisons Fall, Queen Elizabeth, Bwindi (gorilla) and others.

Leading safari operators, like Classic Africa Safaris Uganda, have purchased the maps in bulk, with their logo and company information printed on the inside and outside sleeves, and reportedly they are given to them for their clients on arrival in a gift pack.

Andy is also presently working on the updating of the Bradt Guidebook for Uganda, the latest edition of which is also due out soon.

The maps are on sale at such places like the Aristoc Bookshop’s branches in the city and the various outlets of the Banana Boat gift shop for about 10.000 UShs or approximately US$10. Well done, Andy!

The Ranch on the Lake, a hotel developed in the early/mid 90s and for a short while under south African management at that time, has never been blessed with good business fortunes, partly because of the location way out of the city, an access road passed along the main city rubbish dump for a long time before it was closed, but also for the misnomer architecture and quality of the buildings and finishings when the hotel had started up. It was, therefore, no surprise to industry observers, that the struggle for the bottom line eventually saw the hotel change hands several times, until Cementers, the main construction company for the Kampala Serena and later on for the Entebbe International Airport extension, bought it outright.

They have now employed Symbion International, arguably one of the finest architectural firms in eastern Africa – who also were the architects for the Kampala Serena Hotel – to draw up a master plan for the complete reconstruction and redevelopment of the property. The objective is to create a 5 star fully-loaded resort on the shores of Lake Victoria, some 20 odd kilometers from the city center, which will include a marina for easy access to lake-based activities and also a golf course in the final phase of the redevelopment. The latter two facilities are also likely to draw Kampaleans to the site for weekends and off days, as they can likely moor their boats there but also play what is to become a championship golf course. Usually well-informed sources within Serena are coy over constant murmurs that they will, upon completion of the project, take over the management, so watch this space for future news updates.

Following relentless public pressure, the main intersection of the Northern Bypass at Namboole national stadium opened last weekend. For the last couple of years, the main road leading from Kampala towards Mukono and Jinja had been blocked by construction work, causing a lengthy detour around the main stadium complex. This detour route claimed many accidents, when in particular trucks tipped over in sharp corners along the steep incline of the road. The detour also caused regular traffic pile ups along routes from and into the city. Roads authority spokesmen, also at the time, informed the that they are now actively looking for faults on the main bypass road where cracks are said to be opening up already, with the intent of bringing the Italian contractor to book. The opening of the intersection, while the rest of the road remains closed, was also specifically ruled out as a formal handover, which will come at a later date to be determined by the roads authority.

Another large shopping mall is nearing completion and is due to open on the Easter weekend in April this year. The former Centenary Park, located below the golf course, is now no longer recognizable as a park after it was progressively carved up to make way for shopping centers, hotels, and a previously-planned green zone, which is now, however, littered with an assembly of not always nice looking buildings serving as restaurants and yet more shops. Most notably will be the new mall house Kenyan supermarket giant Nakumatt, whose arrival in Uganda is likely to trigger an immediate price war with the more established chains like Shoprite from South Africa and Uchumi also from Kenya, who set up shop a couple of years ago. Good news for shoppers but not so good news for the city’s green zones.

The proposed mini refinery has now been cleared by NEMA, following the public hearings which discussed the environmental impact reports for the facility. It appears that the developers were, amongst other mitigating measures, compelled to construct a new road around the Kaiso-Tonya wildlife reserve, avoiding constant heavy traffic passing along the direct route through the game area and subsequently cutting the reserve into half, displacing wildlife and effectively nullifying all past conservation efforts and game relocations in the area. The construction site will also now be located at least two kilometers from the nearest permanent river, which is also a result of NEMA directives to mitigate the impact of the refinery on the environment. Due to the delays in securing the approvals, oil production and processing is now expected to commence some time in 2010 and not in late 2009 as was initially thought. However, the outcome is well worth the wait.

Controversy is arising from a decision reported in the local media by UWA to permit hunting, including for the rare leopard, at the Pian Upe Game Reserve. A permit to shoot a leopard reportedly goes for 8 million Uganda Shillings or about US$2,000, a pittance compared to what the same animal can raise over a lifetime with park entrance fees by visitors shooting pictures with their cameras instead of killing the elusive cat with guns.

The Pian Upe Game Reserve admittedly has not raised much in terms of park entrance fees in the past, but that is squarely laid at the door step of government for not providing good roads to the area or keeping an airfield in good shape and in compliance with CAA regulations. Security concerns, too, have kept visitors from that area and continue to make it most difficult to even reach such famous parks as Kidepo Valley National Park by road, keeping the cost out of reach of most when having to fly there.

Pian Upe is located in an age-old game migration corridor, which expands across a large tract of land in eastern and north eastern Uganda, which originally extended to Mt. Elgon. This corridor also includes the Bokora and Matheniko game reserves, although there is now no further reserve left between there and the Kidepo Valley National Park.
This decision by UWA will undoubtedly end up in yet another heated debate amongst conservationists and proponents of hunting, more so as UWA persistently delays to publicly discuss the findings of the pilot-hunting project, which is, of course, the biggest miss-description as what was sold to the public, tourism sector stakeholders, and the conservation fraternity as a pilot project, has seamlessly migrated into a hunting activity proper.

A remarkable cooperation between German and Ugandan athletic supporters created the Lake Victoria triathlon, which is due to be held for the first time ever on March 22. The event is taking place in Entebbe and requires participants to swim for 1 KM, then cycle for 30 KM, and finally run for 10 KM. More information can be accessed via email at or their website The event is supported by Hash House Harriers, the Ugandan adventure company Adrift, and sponsored by Moonberg Breweries and Rwenzori Water.

Information has been released that all flights from Brussels to Frankfurt, Berlin, Hamburg, Hannover, Nuernberg, and Stuttgart operated by Lufthansa and Brussels Airlines will be code shared effective the end of March. Flights from Brussels to Munich are due to follow soon afterwards. This will enhance the connectivity for Brussels Airlines passengers from their east African destinations of Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, and Kenya, now having extra choices for their onward journeys beyond Brussels.

Last weekend saw US$1 trading at around 2.040 Uganda Shillings, a further devaluation of the local currency. This is attributed to falling remittances from Ugandans abroad, lower sales of flowers and fish to the traditional markets in Europe as a result of the global economic and financial crisis, and falling revenues from tourism, where several safari operators have painted a gloomy picture of late when talking to this correspondent. The development is, however, also thought to increase inflationary pressure on the Ugandan economy as most imports are sourced in US dollar currency, which will likely drive local prices up in coming weeks.

The air operators in Uganda using AVGAS for their light aircraft continue to bemoan the pricing of the commodity in the country, which seems very much in excess to say Kenya and Tanzania, even when considering a reasonable add-on for the extra transport element. When vehemently protesting recently to Shell, the main supplier of the fuel type, it was all but admitted by them that the fuel was overpriced. A source from Shell was then found to have said in response to some emails from the air operators: “There are so many factors which determine what prices we charge and are location specific.”

Information was received from usually well-informed sources at the Emirates office in Kampala that the airline apparently intends to drop the A380 from the daily Dubai – New York service and replace it with a B777-300ER. In turn, the airline is planning to deploy the two A380 aircraft on to their Toronto and Bangkok services, an interesting move considering the appeal of New York as a business and tourism destination. No reasons were given for the anticipated changes due to take place some time in April this year.

Following inquiries in this respect it can now be confirmed that, the official website of Skyjet, is now indeed operational. The airline also changed flight times for their Sunday and Friday flights, when they leave Entebbe at 3:00 pm for Juba (ETA 4:00 pm) before returning from Juba to Entebbe at 5:00 pm (ETA 6:00 pm). According to airline sources, this was done in accordance with customer demands. On all other days, the aircraft is leaving Entebbe at 9:00 am and returning to Entebbe at noon.

In what many industry observers termed “a blatant and premature attempt to pre-empt the accident inquiry” the South-African owner of the ill fated Iljushin 76, which crashed last week on takeoff from Entebbe, floated his idea of washing his hands by offering “a missile strike” as an explanation for the crash. CAA sources, however, insist that the tower already spotted fire in the engines soon after the aircraft became airborne and none of the witnesses reported having seen a missile streaking towards the plane, which would have been visible in the night sky.

Meanwhile, specialized divers and equipment were brought into Uganda to assist in tracing the wreckage of the plane and recover the black boxes from the lake bed. CAA sources have also cautioned against drawing premature conclusions about the crash causes without having collected and examined all evidence first.

During the week, a recently-developed railway master plan was presented in Nairobi for the east African railway systems to radically overhaul the networks and operations in coming years. A stakeholder meeting in Nairobi discussed the plan. It was noted that there is now broad agreement within the EAC member states that at present, the railways in Tanzania, Kenya, and Uganda are under performing and, thereby, contribute to road congestion and expensive transport tariffs for imports and exports. This column has in the past reported that Rwanda is now set to link the land-locked country with the Tanzanian railway system at the proposed dry port of Isaka and eventually link even Burundi and the eastern Congo to the railway line from Dar es Salaam. The Ugandan railways are equally set to extend the line into southern Sudan, creating the link with the biggest east African port of Mombasa.

The cost of a visa will be halved, from the end of March until at least the end of the year, to US$25 for most visitor nationalities, while children up to the age of 16 will be admitted for free to the country. This is a further reaction by the Kenyan government to the drop in tourist arrivals in the country, offering an incentive to would-be travelers by reducing such charges and leaving visitors to decide where to spend their money while holidaying at the Indian Ocean beaches or in the safari parks.

This has immediately prompted calls to once and for all do away with any visa fees for expatriates duly registered in the east African region when they come to Kenya to spend holiday time. This has been a bone of contention for a long time and has driven expatriate families in droves to destinations beyond the EAC such as the UAE or South Africa, where no expensive visa is required for them to enter, leaving them often with several hundreds of dollars in extra spending money.

Other countries in the region are still said to be pondering their next moves, but recent announcements on increases in park entrance fees should also be re-thought, as should the regional Civil Aviation Authorities and Airport Authorities reconsider slashing airport taxes, landing, parking, and navigational fees to make flights to east Africa also more affordable.

Following reports in last week’s column, when the Kenya Tourism Federation all but accused NEMA of abdicating their mandate to protect the environment by approving excessive developments around the Masai Mara Game Reserve, an obscure grouping of land owners from the area in question suddenly appeared on the scene, accusing KTF of meddling and their members of exploitative contracts, only interested to perpetuate their hold on existing businesses at the expense of newcomers and land owners. Yet, experience shows that governmental bodies under public pressure and scrutiny, often use proxy groups they covertly sponsor to deflect allegations and create another theatre of activity to draw public attention away from their own woes. This can clearly not be ruled out in this case and if found to be so, would obviously put NEMA even deeper into the bad house. No comment could be obtained from NEMA over allegations that they were ignoring the 2005 moratorium of new developments in the Mara until a thorough scientific review could be compiled, reviewed, and adopted in regard to the long-term impact of the mushrooming new lodging facilities across the area.

The Masai Mara, a fraction of the size of the adjoining Serengeti, is said to have in excess of 120 accommodation facilities with some 4,000 beds in total spread across the reserve and on adjoining land, while the Serengeti ecosystem, a multiple of the Masai Mara size, has a fraction of those numbers.

The new Kenyan no-frills airline, OneJetOne, was reported last week to be under scrutiny together with the Kenya Airports Authority over recently-leaked plans to give them the old Embakasi airport terminal for re-development, which has rejected any suggestions that the deal was done underhandedly. The company, in fact, insists that they obtained their rights legally as the deal was advertised in the local media for tender. Other airlines and industry observers, however, contest this, claiming that the so-called tender was obscure and did not raise nor project the scope now envisaged by OneJetOne and that KAA, therefore, failed to disclose intent and purpose.

Other aviation fraternity sources, in fact, claim that it is KAA’s primary duty to develop the airport and create the long overdue domestic terminal at the old airport side and are accusing the authority of abdicating their duties in favor of obscure deals that are in favor of one, yet unproven, player in the field.

The Kenyan procurement oversight body has also, during the week, reportedly criticized the process, saying no application was ever received from KAA to clear the tender, and in the absence of such, the deal was invalid. Hence, the matter is likely to end up in court eventually, and KAA could once more have egg all over their executives’ faces, while allegations of corruption will simply not go away. Watch this space for updates.

For the third year in succession, the Rwanda stand at the ITB won the Best African Stand award, a resounding vote of confidence for ORTPN, their staff, and all the exhibitors coming from Rwanda. Namibia and Kenya came in second and third, respectively, in the rating of the judges. Rwanda also hosted, once again, the “East Africa Cocktail” to assist in the promotion of the east African region as one destination with many attractions. Rwanda is the present chair of the EAC. Ugandan State Minister for Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities, Hon. Serapio Rukundo, reportedly gave the keynote address during the by-invitation-only cocktails for the global travel trade and selected media houses.

Congratulations to The Land of a Thousand Hills and their tourism promoters for a job, once again, superbly done.

ORTPN, now operating under the Rwanda Development Board, is in the final stage of drawing up and new master plan for tourism in the country. The 10-year plan is intent to making Rwanda the leading destination in east Africa, and going by ORTPN’s track record in recent years, this objective can be achieved. Towards the end of last week, a consultative session was held by RDB for the tourism sector, although many key stakeholders were, of course, attending the ITB tourism fair in Berlin at the time. The plan addresses such key components as institutional framework, human resource development, investments in the sector, research, and marketing so that the sector can be reshaped in a holistic manner. General infrastructural developments like roads and bridges will also be addressed alongside this, to ensure that the designated 7 areas for tourism developments can be reached with ease. In spite of the current global economic and financial crisis, Rwanda is targeting over 1.1 million visitors for 2009 and expects to earn some US$225 million from direct expenditure by visitors. It is understood that further consultations will take place in coming weeks before a final tourism master plan will be formally launched.

Meanwhile, in a further supporting effort to increase arrivals to the country and provide skilled manpower, last week Rwanda last also relaxed visa and arrival regulations when it removed work permit and residence permit fees for east African community citizens who come with expert knowledge to work in Rwanda. Citizens from beyond the EAC will also enjoy a substantial reduction of work permit and residence permit fees, which is in stark contrast with some other countries in the region, which have recently raised such fees in search of more revenue.

The Rwandan national airline very recently started scheduled flights between Kigali and Gisenyi with their turboprop aircraft, after market research revealed growing demand for the route. The technical evaluation earlier on was very positive in regard to the landing strip’s condition and existing facilities at the aerodrome, which now includes a modern fire-fighting vehicle.

The Belgian flag carrier, which became a member of the Lufthansa family a few weeks ago, has confirmed that they will operate an additional flight each week to Kigali between early June and the end of September this year. The airline will use their Airbus A330 for the operation, which in addition to the increased passenger capacity, also provides more cargo space on the route between the two countries. The extra flight will operate on Sundays from Brussels and will route via Nairobi on the way back to Belgium. Other traffic days are presently Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. Brussels Airlines, at the same time, announced a substantial increase in the free baggage allowance for passengers, which will give travelers in economy 46 KG and those in business class 64 KG for checked luggage. This constitutes great value for money by Brussels Airlines in these days of the credit crunch and economic downturn. Meanwhile, some other airlines are trying to be clever by siphoning money out of passengers’ pockets through the most extraordinary new charges and fees. In contrast, SN continues to provide a full meal and drink service on board, screens the latest films, and pillows and blankets remain a standard service available for passengers, while providing flat beds in their front cabin (business class). Says this correspondent, SN obviously remains committed to treating their passengers in the best tradition of classic European-style flying. SN’s joining with the Lufthansa family will undoubtedly add great value to the LH Group by bringing an extensive African network into play, where LH has previously been either absent or had withdrawn services in the past.

Information was received from sources in Rwanda that the passenger terminal at Kanombe International Airport is now due for a thorough overhaul and upgrade in the coming months and years. Growing passenger numbers recorded at the airport and more airlines now flying in and out of the country, have prompted the decision by the Rwandan government and the airport operator to go ahead with the plans. A spokesperson for the Ministry of Infrastructure also confirmed that the work at the airport would be done in several phases to minimize inconvenience for passengers and staff.

At least four poachers were arrested earlier in the week in Jonglei state near the town of Bor, after being found with 10 poached antelopes and reed buck. The gang was remanded in jail awaiting trial where state wildlife officials involved in the hunt for the poachers and their arrest are due to give evidence. The culprits can expect long prison terms, as the government of southern Sudan and state governments are aiming at reviving wildlife-based tourism and will not tolerate anyone’s attempts to sabotage those plans through illegal hunting and poaching. Jonglei state is home to the Boma National Park where the migration of the white-eared kob originates from and much is expected in particular of this park in the revival of tourism in southern Sudan.

Visit: or for more details and online registration. Egypt Air, a member of Star Alliance, is offering special fares to congress participants from across their network, and while in North Africa, remember that east Africa is only a few more hours flying time away and equally keen to see you!

Wolfgang's East Africa tourism report
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