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East Africa Tourism

Wolfgang's East Africa tourism report

Wolfgang H. Thome  Jun 12, 2009

Considering the depletion of forests across eastern Africa, and in particular in Uganda, a gloomy picture was painted in the local media last week while commemorating world environment day. Going by the facts, Uganda seems to have suffered of a reduction of forest cover across the country by 80 percent over the past one hundred and twenty or so years, while between 1988 and 2009 a reduction by nearly 50 percent occurred. The present forest cover stands at slightly over 3.2 million hectares, according to recently-published statistics. However, the impact of the reduction of forests is now being widely felt, as many rivers and streams have started drying up outside the rainy season, and flooding, including flash floods, was on the increase in recent years. This is attributed to the soil’s inability to absorb large quantities of rain after being stripped of trees.

Tree planting and reforestation, including commercial plantations, is an expressed governmental policy in Uganda, but there are lingering doubts about the intensity of the commitment and the enforcement against encroachment and illegal logging. The Uganda Wildlife Authority and the National Forest Authority are both faced with having to counter attempts of ever-growing groups of people to settle inside forests under their jurisdiction and off the record often complain that political interference makes their tasks more difficult, especially in parks like Mt. Elgon, amongst others.

As less than 10 percent of Ugandan households have access to electricity, the use of charcoal is widespread, even in the urban centers, contributing heavily to deforestation. Delayed hydro-electric plants in Uganda, producing more affordable electricity, are thought to be one of the root causes for the alarming rate at which forests are encroached and destroyed as the expansion of the national electricity grid and bringing affordable power to the rural populations now lags behind the projected and politically-demanded growth rates. If no serious action is taken by government to arrest and reverse the trends, gloomy forecasts predict that by 2052, no forests at all will remain – a catastrophic development, if found to be true.

Notably, though, neighboring Rwanda has made remarkable strides towards reforestation, as forests there over the past 15 years have increased by half – a most commendable effort by this small and hilly eastern central African country.

The revenue share from gate receipts of Kibale National Park, due to the surrounding communities, is estimated to have reached 100 million Uganda Shillings, which UWA is now distributing to nearly 30 parishes bordering the park. Revenue sharing is enshrined in the UWA statute and is a major source of community development around and near the country’s national parks. Well done UWA.

The Speke Resort and Conference Centre at Munyonyo, near this correspondent’s residence, will be the venue for this prestigious meeting, which brings together potential investors and the business community from Asia and Africa. Set to take place between June 15-17, the high-profile meeting is expected to be formally opened by none other than President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni with the “who’s who” of Uganda’s business community and relevant government offices expected to be in attendance. Tourism investment opportunities in Uganda are reportedly also high on the agenda, aimed at attracting more funding and cooperation in the industry.

Set in some of the finest gardens in Kampala, the Sheraton Kampala Hotel has long attracted newlywed couples to take wedding and group pictures within the well-manicured grounds. The hotel has now specifically targeted mid-week wedding functions and is offering a substantial 15 percent discount for parties between Monday and Thursday, days normally less popular compared with Friday and Saturday dates. In addition, the hotel is offering a 10 percent discount for wedding parties in 2010, as long as an early booking has been made before the end of 2009 and the required deposit been paid. This applies to functions within the hotel, as well as outside catering provided by the Sheraton. Anyone intending to tie the knot, should visit for more information.

True to commitments made under the auspices of the East African Community, the five member states read their annual budgets on June 11, just after this column went into print. The tourism sectors in Uganda, Kenya, and Tanzania are not exactly holding their combined breaths, as the facilitation for tourism marketing is expected to be far below the sector’s needs and expectations. While this is a matter of bad habits in Uganda, where the government has rarely lived up to the commitments made verbally to the sector, in Kenya the issue has raised the proverbial temperature in the political arena between private sector and government, when plans emerged most recently to reduce the budget, compared to the previous financial year, by up to 70 percent. In Kenya, however, KTF made concerted and very public efforts to bring their arguments into the public domain, while in other countries the respective industry voices were rather hushed and/or invisible.

In contrast, Rwanda seems the exception in the region as governmental assurances that tourism is indeed a priority sector have, in past years, regularly been followed by adequate budget allocation, lifting the tourism industry rapidly to the near top of the economic performance in the country. In spite of the present global economic crisis, therefore, Rwanda is expecting yet better figures and performances in 2009, arguably at the expense of those other regional countries cutting down in marketing instead of increasing spending and activities.

Derek Houston recently visited Kampala, in addition to other east African centers, to update local tourism stakeholders on upcoming trade shows, tourism marketing events, and, of course, the need to participate and take advantage of such opportunities and keep the destination visible in the global marketplace in the midst of a global recession and hard selling by many competing destinations. Particular emphasis during the presentations was paid to MICE business development opportunities. Visit for more information.

The exhibition manager of the Kenya Tourist Board received global recognition on behalf of KTB when at the recently-concluded IMEX tourism trade fair in Frankfurt, Germany he was handed the prestigious IMEX Academy Award for serving Kenya’s interests well in promoting meetings and exhibitions. The MICE market is now of major importance in Kenya’s effort to achieve economic recovery by promoting MICE tourism activities. Congratulations for this achievement to KTB for its second major award in as many months, having recently been crowned Best Tourist Board in Africa by the Good Safari Guide at a ceremony in Durban, South Africa.

A new board was elected during the recent annual general meeting of the Kenya coast’s tourism private sector body. Capt. Johnny Cleave is the new chairman of MCTA, assisted by such deputies as Khalid Shapi and Mohamed Harunani, all well known to this correspondent from his days at the Kenyan coast. During the AGM, a change was introduced, when a board trustee was chosen for the first time. Long-serving (now) immediate past chairman Kuldip Sondhi retired during the AGM after heading the MCTA for 8 years and was reportedly given a standing ovation by those present and an award from the Kenyan Minister of Tourism for his achievements and efforts for the tourism industry. This column joins the applause for Kuldip Sondhi for a job well done during some of the most trying years for Kenya tourism after 9/11 and the notorious year 2004/5 and wishes him well in his future endeavours. Asante Sana Bwana.

Having gone to court over the alleged infringement of their name rights, the Court of Appeals in Nairobi has now ruled on an interim order that local Delta Connection, formed several years ago (in 2004) when the American Delta Airlines were hardly known in east Africa, must give up the use of the name and find another title. In fact, during the week, the airline re-branded at reportedly substantial cost and launched their new name, D Connection, which will likely again be rubbing the nose of the mightier non-starter Delta Airlines while complying with the court order. Some sources in Nairobi mentioned that amongst the clients of the airline the old name will not die out soon anyway. D Connection flies daily between Nairobi and South Sudan’s capital city of Juba.

The main appeal still remains to be heard, but meanwhile, the airline has moved promptly to strike out Delta from all their stationary, public images, and their regulatory documentation and replace it with a single “D.” In spite of this win in court, Delta Airlines of the United States remains absent from the east African skies after their planned inaugural flight was cancelled last week with hardly enough notice to stop dignitaries from driving to the airport for the welcoming ceremony.

Following the annual spring cleaning and work during the low season, Rivertrees, one of Arusha’s premier safari inns located at the Usa River between the international airport and Arusha proper, is now open again for visitors. Visit or write to for bookings and related information.

President Obama’s first visit to the African continent last week had many east Africans glued to their television sets to see and hear the speech “live.” Indeed, the regional newspapers were full of letters to the editors commenting on and praising the Obama address, which was aimed to engage the US with the Muslim communities and countries around the world but notably also in Africa. Adds this column that the excellent words now need following up with equally excellent action.

Wolfgang's East Africa tourism report
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