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East Africa Tourism Report

Wolfgang's East Africa tourism report

Wolfgang H. Thome  Mar 26, 2009

This correspondent retired earlier in the week from the position as chairperson of the German (speaking) Business Association in Uganda after serving out his term of office. The GBA Uganda has, over the past years, participated actively in visits of governmental and business delegations from and also to Germany, Austria, and Switzerland to promote mutual growth of business ties, investment, trade, and tourism. GBA also actively engages with the respective diplomatic missions from the ‘old countries’ to encourage closer cooperation with the business sector, while constructively working hand in hand with such local organizations as the Private Sector Foundation Uganda, the Uganda Manufacturers Association, and the Uganda National Chamber of Commerce and Industry. New chairperson is Ms. Brigitte Koehler of Roko Construction, one of the best reputed construction and technical consultancy firms in the country and also home of the Swiss Consulate in Uganda. The AGM took place at the Metropole Hotel in Kampala, which has established itself as ‘the’ meeting place of GBA for regular lunch get-togethers with the membership.

The SKAL International Kampala Chapter, now in its 16th year, also held the AGM during the week at the Metropole Hotel, celebrating another financially and socially successful year. This correspondent participated in the meeting as the ‘oldest’ SKAL member of the club, having joined SKAL initially in Nairobi in 1978. With 30+ years under the belt of continuous SKAL membership, and having started the Kampala club in the early 1990s, this member is now enjoying the social functions and get-togethers more than ever before without the challenges of holding any office. Newly-elected president is Mr. Rahul Sood, general manager of the Metropole Hotel, who was declared winner of the elections by this correspondent, who acted as returning officer. Congratulations to Rahul and his newly-elected team and all the best for the next year. SKAL Kampala meets at changing locations in the city every last Wednesday of the month and contact details are available on the relevant pages within .

The air crash off Entebbe two weeks ago took another twist a week ago when the Russian owner made wild allegations in South Africa, that he suspected a missile to have been fired at his aircraft when it was taking off from Entebbe around 5:00 am for Mogadishu, Somalia with supplies for the AU peace-keeping forces. All aviators this column contacted since then completely rubbished the theory, more so as the Russian owner had specifically referred to the American-built Stinger missile being used, which is not known to be available to terror groups or militias, unlike the Russian-built SAMs, a more likely tool for such groups. Aviators preferring anonymity also suggested an ulterior motive of the owner to deflect the public scrutiny from his own track record in the airline business, when he made the presently baseless allegations and accusations.
In any case, while accident investigators and the Ugandan CAA did not rule out nor, in fact, rule in any likely cause of the crash, which is standard procedure until the investigations are complete; informed speculation in Uganda’s aviation sector is rife over maintenance issues connected with the aircraft’s crash. This cautious attitude, however, did not prevent several government officials from condemning in the strongest possible terms the Russian’s utterances, which one official, preferring to remain unnamed, described as ‘crackpot.’ Meanwhile, in the latest development, foreign divers have reportedly found the tail section of the crashed plane and are making efforts to retrieve the wreckage for further inspection.

Aficionados for news from eastern Africa can now write to to be included in the weekly mailings of Kenya Buzz, which updates readers on not just what is happening in Kenya on a weekly or monthly basis, but they can also find recommendations for new properties to visit and new and old restaurants for places to eat. Even discounts are periodically offered to readers of Kenya Buzz. Needless to say, that there is much to read about art, exhibitions, theatre, dance, music, and all other elements which make Kenya the destination it is today. This new e-Guide will undoubtedly help to promote domestic tourism in Kenya, but the wider the reach of Kenya Buzz, the more information about the country will get to potential visitors.

In a move thought to trim competitors’ gains on the Nairobi route, namely Fly 540 Aviation and Air Uganda, the Kenyan flag carrier has now, for a limited period of time, dropped the cost of a return ticket to US$160. This rate, however, is subject to a range of regulatory fees and charges, which is almost as much as the ticket itself. Regulators are now also coming under pressure to reduce such extra cost by reducing landing, parking, and navigational charges plus airport taxes, in order to make flying overall cheaper and keep the airlines in business. This issue has long been a bone of contention, and while airlines have lowered their fares, the regulators have shown little sign of flexibility and maintained their hard line fee stance.

“We are sidelined by the KAA and have not been involved in their strategic planning for the past six years” were some of the damning comments made last week by KQ’s chief executive Titus Naikuni, when raising the pathetic situation of growing congestion at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, Kenya’s main gateway to the world. Over the past two editions, this column had highlighted another controversial deal proposed by the Kenya Airports Authority, trying to give the Embakasi old airport side to a totally unknown new company for redevelopment, while Kenya Airways and other domestic air operators for that matter, continue to wait for the establishment of a dedicated domestic terminal at that very location.

According to Mr. Naikuni, KQ is now regularly forced to park their B737s and their Embraer 170s, used for domestic and regional flights, near the VIP State Pavilion where they not only have to bus their passengers at their own expense from and to the terminal – KAA has failed to provide apron transportation – but the parking area is also lacking underground re-fueling facilities.

Kenya Airways, the single biggest user of JKIA, seems sidelined by KAA even over their planned further expansion of maintenance facilities near their head office, also located at the old airport side in Embakasi, adding more questions yet about KAA’s dubious behavior. Instead of supporting either their national airline or an existing proven operator in their plans, they opted for OneJetOne, a company still to fly a single hour of commercial flight and who, however, have a former Transport Ministry Permanent Secretary on their board of directors.

Shrill sounds predictably also emerged from the KAA offices, when their outgoing CEO George Muhoho also tried to whitewash the controversial tender, not that the general public and other airlines would give much credence to such utterances.

The annual domestic tourism exhibition at Sarit Centre is now on in Nairobi, lasting from March 25 until March 29. The main target group will again be Kenyans and the expatriate community living in Kenya but also the wider east African market, to promote travel to the Indian Ocean Beach resorts in Malindi and Mombasa. Safari lodges and camps, too, are offering special deals during the traditional off season and much hope is vested in the fair’s impact on the market to make up for the current drop in international arrivals. Many properties, in fact, extend their low season special rates now equally to Kenyans and citizens of other east African countries to attract more regional arrivals.

Kenya Airways, fondly known as ‘The Pride of Africa,’ together with the Kenya Tourist Board, the Kenya Association of Tour Operators, and leading hotel, lodge, and resort operators will be hosting up to 250 key decision-making tour operator staff, as well as travel journalists starting in early April in order to promote travel to Kenya from across the region and the wider African continent in search of new markets. This activity is aimed to make up for the drop in arrival numbers from the traditional markets in Europe and North America from where, however, invitees will be flown to Kenya to sample the country’s wide range of attractions and see for themselves that ‘Hakuna Matata’ has indeed returned to east Africa’s tourism locomotive, and the destination should be vigorously promoted. This combined effort will no doubt be intensely monitored by the other east African nations who may well have to come up with similar initiatives in order to also stimulate travel to the entire region. However, the timely short-noticed announcement will give Kenya a competitive edge during this year’s low season in promoting their own safaris and beach holidays and build on their performance at the ITB tourism fair in Berlin earlier in the month when Kenya was awarded a second runner- up spot for ‘Best African Stand.’

However, that said, it is without a doubt that when Kenya is doing well, the entire region benefits – so cooperation with the Kenyan effort would be well advised and coordinating other similar initiatives can only be good for all of eastern Africa.

As reported in the past in this column, the ferry service between the Mombasa Island and Likoni on the south coast mainland have been erratic at times and often caused tourists to miss their flights and caused commuters to arrive hours late for work. A statement obtained today, however, now gives hope to the coastal population of better times ahead as two brand-new ferries are due for delivery by end of this year. By mid of this year, some 90 percent of the work will have been completed at the shipyard in Germany where the ferries are being built, and once the outfitting is complete, they will start their journey to east Africa. Each ferry is expected to carry up to 60 vehicles and some 1,500 passengers on each crossing, easing the pressure on operations, which have for too long depended on vessels aged beyond their expected lifespan. Watch this space for updates.

A new tourism association was formed recently in Kisumu, Kenya bringing together the Kisumu city council, hotels, restaurants, lodges, local safari operators, curio sellers, and local guides to promote new safari circuits in this part of Kenya, hitherto somewhat neglected by the mainstream tourism activities. The Lake Victoria Tourism Association is planning a three-day tourism exhibition some time in May to bring buyers and other interested parties to Kisumu’s fair ground. The area has become globally known as the paternal home of US President Obama’s father, and the tourism sector is trying to cash in on increased visits of curious fans. Besides this newly-found attraction in the area, there are, however, several national parks and game reserves within easy visiting distance from Kisumu, putting tourism in western Kenya on a sound footing beyond the Obama presidency.

The legislative assembly at the East African Community headquarters in Arusha has started consultations in the region over a proposed new Tourism and Wildlife Management bill due to govern regional tourism promotion in the future. The bill was introduced by private members last year, and its objectives have already raised controversy in the region. The first round of consultations in Kenya was, in fact, poorly attended with many senior stakeholders in the public and private sectors claiming to have been ignored and not given invitations. In Uganda, an association official eventually demanding not to be named asked: “How do you know these things, and we in office have no idea about it at all? There is something wrong with the system in Arusha if you can find out, and we were never told” – a statement the individual preferred to withdraw when realizing that he would be quoted.

Information further received from the EAC in Arusha indicated that the new bill was to be put on the schedule soon for EALA members to vote on after some amendments and ‘harmonization’ were incorporated in the draft bill.

A rapidly-spreading fire earlier in the week burned the Paradise Resort to ashes, after an apparent mishap in their kitchen started the chain of events. The Makuti (palm thatch) covered roofs promptly went up in flames, and strong winds spread the fire across the entire resort before then also engulfing the neighboring Oceanic Bay Resort where burning debris was blown on to their roofs. Fire brigades had to be sent in from Dar es Salaam as the Bagamoyo area reportedly lacks sufficient fire-fighting equipment, a grave omission considering the general risks involved for tourists and local visitors in hotels using such local materials for building. Nearly 400 staff in the two hotels are now looking at an uncertain future and are likely to be laid off, at least until the owners of the two resorts decide on rebuilding, although one of the owners has made some overtures to the staff of possible re-deployment in his other hotels without giving, however, a firm undertaking to that effect.

Plans by Egypt Air to resume flights to Tanzania later in the year are reportedly on course. The Egyptian flag carrier will fly four times a week between Cairo and Dar es Salaam using one of their new B737-800 aircraft, seating 16 passengers in business class and up to 144 in economy class. Egypt Air is now reportedly in talks with their Tanzanian counterparts about code shared operations between Tanzania and Egypt, from where passengers can then connect into the global ‘Star Alliance’ network to which Egypt Air now belongs.

Egypt Air previously flew only once a week to Dar es Salaam but stopped the operation in 2004 when no suitable aircraft was available at the time to operate the route. The renewed flights are clearly aimed to capture connecting passengers and feeding them into onward flights from Cairo to Europe and the Middle East and Asia, a proven formula for other airlines carving out their niches across eastern Africa. A most obvious target would be the traffic base of Kenya Airways and Middle Eastern airlines flying to Tanzania. Watch this space for updates.

The Tanzanian airport handling company has reportedly suffered a three percent decline in revenue during 2008, handling several hundred flights less than in 2007. This also resulted in a reduction of their net profits by several hundred million Tanzania Shillings. The company last week explained that this was caused by the global economic problems and also the reduction of Air Tanzania flights and their flying ban at the end of last year. Cargo handling in 2008, however, had increased sharply according to company sources. It was also learned that Swissport was granted a renewal of their operating license for Class One airports for a further 5 years, after meeting all the required criteria set by the Tanzanian Civil Aviation Authority and the airport operators.

Triggered by the downturn in fortunes of the tourism sector across the region, the private sector is now becoming increasingly vocal in offering and demanding solutions to reduce the cost of holidays. In Tanzania, earlier in the week, the private sector was insisting that the cost of a Visa be lowered, apparently in a move similar to the one Kenya had taken two weeks earlier. The Kilimanjaro Association of Tour Operators is also demanding a revision of recently increased tariffs by TANAPA for park entrance fees, and it was also learned that safari operators have reduced their tariffs in response to changed market conditions.

In Uganda, too, the sector is hoping for governmental intervention, but little, if anything, from sector associations has reached the local media in regard of detailed, or in fact any, proposals being made by the sector towards competitiveness vis-à-vis regional countries.

It appears the problems at Air Tanzania will not end anytime soon, now that their regular aviation fuel supplier, Total Tanzania, Ltd. has filed suit against the airline to recover over US$1 million in outstanding bills and accrued interest, which in spite of governmental and airline assurances, remain unpaid. Doubts are now hanging over the airline’s future, with financial suitors in this day and age of the global economic and financial crisis shying away from them. The airline may now be seen as a high-risk investment, in particular going by the experience with trade unions’ reactions in past crises. The airline had suffered a crippling flying ban over documentation issues it had with the TCAA from the end of November until the end of January and has since then only resumed domestic flights, leaving the profitable regional flights to Kenya Airways and Precision Air. Meanwhile, however, Precision Air is going from strength to strength in cementing their market share, and Kenyan airline Fly540 has also formed a Tanzanian offspring thought to commence operations soon, similar to their Ugandan venture.

Zanzibar’s main culture and music festival drew record crowds once again, and musicians and artists from across eastern Africa and the rest of the continent attended the extravagant week. Festival organizers have since thanked all participants and the media for their support in promoting the annual event and coming from far away to show their crafts and perform their tunes. Over 500 visitors also participated in the survey undertaken to gauge satisfaction, and the response was superbly positive. While some 78 percent of the festival visitors came from Zanzibar and the Tanzanian mainland, 5 percent came from the rest of Africa and 17 percent came from overseas, a remarkable achievement and proof that the festival is now a truly permanent fixture in the annual tourism calendar of Zanzibar and Tanzania as a whole.

The 7th edition of Sauti za Busara will take place February 11-16, 2010, and all those interested in participating or visiting should make early arrangements for their flights and hotel bookings to avoid disappointment when booking too late. Applications for active participation are due on July 31, 2009 to be assured of a place for 2010. Send your enquiries to or visit for more details and information. Asante Sana – the Kiswahili expression for many thanks - to the organizing committee and the authorities in Zanzibar for a job very well done again.

Cognizant of the economic hard times the region is also falling on, in line with global developments, the Rwandan hospitality sector has now resorted to introducing a 20 percent rebate for east Africans traveling to the country. ORTPN, in conjunction with the Rwandan Private Sector Foundation, has even raised the spectrum of rebates reaching 50 percent in the forthcoming low season to attract extra visitors and regional tourists to the Land of a Thousand Hills.

Disgruntled war veterans from the SPLA, as well as a number of active service personnel on strike, blocked the main road from Juba via Nimule to Uganda earlier in the week after not receiving salaries for several months. The disruption of traffic across the frontier immediately led to a pile up of trucks and passenger vehicles on both sides of the border, also halting the delivery of supplies to Juba and other southern towns. Southern Sudan’s President Gen. Salva Kiir rushed to the scene and addressed the angry soldiers and veterans while promising swift payment of their arrears. In fact, it was learned that funds were released shortly after the meeting. Traffic has since very slowly started again across the normally very busy border crossing. Sources from Juba also confirmed that hotel occupancies have taken an immediate hit as travelers by road from Uganda opted to stay away. It was also learned that the expulsion of a large number of NGOs from Darfur had an effect on occupancies in Juba, as events in the two areas are apparently quite interlinked.

As reported in this column some weeks ago, the Congo government had prematurely directed Rwandan troops to leave their territory after a joint campaign to smoke out the Hutu killer militias, who after the 1994 genocide, withdrew into the Congo. For a long time they enjoyed safe haven in the near lawless east of the country, but when thousands of Rwandan troops crossed the border earlier in the year, they were, for the first time, engaged in real combat and got the worse of it, hastily withdrawing deep into the jungle. Satisfied that the job was done by displacing the militias from their erstwhile bases, Congo then asked Rwanda to pull their troops out. Within days, however, the killers returned and wreaked havoc once again on the innocent villagers in the area and reportedly singled out anyone related to Tutsi origins.

A similar situation arose last week in the north east of Congo, when the Ugandan troops, hunting for the LRA and their ICC-wanted leader Joseph Kony, were also asked to leave Congo again. Within hours, the remnants of the LRA not yet rounded up or cornered by the determined UPDF and SPLA forces came out of hiding and in retaliation killed dozens of Congolese villagers who were left to the protection of the Congolese army and the UN’s MONUC troops. Those, however, have a notorious track record of not actively engaging these militias and rebels and leaving Congolese citizens without protection once again. Maybe next time Rwandan and Ugandan forces are permitted under approved mandate into the Congo, they will actually be given enough time to finish their jobs in Congo and not find themselves sent back home at the whim of a hapless regime in Kinshasa whenever it seems politically opportune.

Wolfgang's East Africa tourism report
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