East Africa and Indian Ocean tourism report


March 2010 will see the launch of a new rafting product by Nalubale Rafting, offering for the first time an 8-day trip down the Victoria Nile. The 300-kilometer run down the river and across Lake Kyoga will open new opportunities for rafting aficionados. Grade 5 (and lesser) rapids, papyrus swamps, and stretches of meandering river will make the week-long trip interesting, as will the changing landscapes and different camp sites every night. The very first trip will go at US$1,200 per person, considering it is still sort of a trial run, while subsequent tours will sell at about US$2,200 per person. The price includes all meals and drinks, overnight in the “fly camps” or on the rafts, and the required gear like life vests and helmets. It is recommended that every client makes arrangements for travel insurance directly with a company of his/her own choice. Every tour member will be expected to participate in the various chores, which includes rowing, cooking meals, setting up overnight camps, and washing dishes. The trip will commence just below the Owen Falls dam in Jinja and end above the Karuma Falls, from where the participants will return by vehicle to Jinja. The expedition will be led by Reuben Connolly of New Zealand, who has over 9 years of international and local experience as a river guide and who has already done exploratory work on the new route. Write to thomas@nalubalerafting.com for bookings, itinerary details, and related information.

The Mihingo Safari Lodge, located just outside the Lake Mburo National Park on private land, has confirmed that they have signed a concession agreement with Uganda Wildlife Authority to extend its horseback safaris into the national park proper with immediate effect. Up until now, the guides took tourists to areas around the lodge, but still outside the park boundaries, which were frequented by game, giving a real safari experience from an unusual angle. This way of seeing game is now being extended into the park, and Mihingo even organizes overnight trips with all meals taken at scenic picnic spots while the clients, guides, and horses for that matter, stay at a specially-prepared camp site overnight. It is gradually becoming more common now that walking safaris and even horse riding inside the protected areas of eastern Africa are being permitted by the wildlife management bodies, a trend which had taken root in southern Africa a very long time ago but took until now to break down the resistance of traditionalists among the managerial cadres, who could only think inside the box, i.e., permitting daylight game drives and shutting out walks or night game drives. It is, therefore, important to not only acknowledge the initiative of Mihingo Lodge to introduce horseback safaris to make visits to Lake Mburo National Park more exciting, but also commend UWA for its acceptance of new products demanded by the market. Mihingo presently has 7 trained horses and 4 Ethiopian ponies available for riding safaris, and while the one-, two-, and three-hour excursions will still stay outside the park boundaries, due to the time involved to reach areas rich with game inside the park, the half-day, full-day and over-night trips can now, as clients wish, go into the national park. Visit www.mihingolodge.com for more details or bookings.

As the big hotels in Kampala have already done, the Sheraton earlier in the week released its festive season program, including an offer for an over-night stay on the December 31 for US$125 per single room or another US$25 for a second person, inclusive of a full American breakfast, the use of the spa and sports facilities, and the all-important, late checkout – as late as 1500 hours. Should anyone wish to consider spending either Christmas or New Year’s in Kampala, this is undoubtedly one of the places to be. Write to reservations.kampala@starwoodhotels.com for bookings. Other popular hospitality hotspots in the city and its environs for the festive season are the Kampala Serena Hotel, the Speke and Commonwealth Resorts in Munyonyo, and the place with the best view over the lake and city, Cassia Lodge on Buziga Hill, which just celebrated its second birthday.

Information was released by the Ministry of Health, that Uganda has been selected as the first African country to participate in an extensive vaccination trial against the Marburg and Ebola virus, in cooperation with international health institutions and the CDC. The Makerere University Walter Reed Project will take the research lead in Uganda and will be using the same vaccines, which are presently also being tested in the United States. The general public and visitors to Uganda were assured that the vaccines do not contain any virus particles and do not cause the hemorrhagic fever.

Local media had a field day again last week when reporting on an incident involving the plane of southern Sudan’s President Salva Kiir Mayardit. While gathering speed during the take-off run, the aircraft had one of the front tires deflate, which then prompted the crew to abort the take off, bringing the plane to a controlled halt and disembarking the passengers in an orderly manner before changing the tire. Local scribes portrayed the incident in flowery language, the better ones’ speaking of mishap or alternatively those lacking any knowledge of aviation about a “plane crashes in Gulu,” while the simple truth was far from the sensational reporting used with the clear aim to sell more papers the next day rather than sticking to the facts. Southern Sudan’s President Kiir returned back to Juba later that day without further problems, after the Ugandan government provided a plane for his journey, while the aircraft involved in the incident was being repaired. President Kiir was in Uganda to discuss bilateral issues with President Museveni, who had left earlier that morning to fly to Entebbe and on to Trinidad and Tobago for the Commonwealth Summit, which took place in Port of Spain last weekend.

Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA), which was opened in 1978 to relieve the old Embakasi Airport – now the home base of Kenya Airways – has since long exceeded the limits of passenger and aircraft movements it was initially designed for. The airport is now handling nearly 5 million passengers per annum, twice the number it was meant to process, and regular users will affirm that during rush hour, now lasting most of the day for that matter, passengers have to push their way through the ever-growing crowds and lounges are often filled to capacity, the public areas filled to the brim – made all the worse whenever flights are delayed. The controversial expansion of the airport terminal however – with many allegations made in the early stages of the planning and tendering process – now at last seems to be set to go underway in December, after a Chinese construction company was selected to carry out the work, which is expected to last approximately 2 years. When complete, the expanded airport will be able to handle about 10 million passengers per year, twice what it is now doing, while there will also be added aircraft parking areas catering for growing traffic. There has, however, been no word about a second runway, as JKIA presently depends on a single runway, while future growth of air traffic may soon require a second one to be used concurrently or even as an alternate, should the present one be unserviceable. It is not clear at this time if Kenya Airways will go ahead with plans to build its own terminal, which would most likely also handle its Sky Team alliance partners KLM and Air France and which could provide facilities for both international and domestic operations from under one roof, avoiding the lengthy trek from international to connecting domestic flights, and vice versa, as is presently the case, instead of leaving that to the other airlines to cope with. It was mainly KQ’s success, which in recent years added to the ever-growing numbers and the all-important transit passengers from the wider region and western Africa, which is of special concern to Kenya Airways, as poor transit facilities and crowded public areas can be perceived badly by connecting passengers and may prompt them to opt for other airlines flying to and from their originating airports across west Africa.

Information received from Dar es Salaam indicates that the difficult process of laying off redundant staff from Air Tanzania is at last going ahead. It was reported to this column that about 160 staff were given their documentation and final package payments, after this was agreed between the company’s management and the worker’s union representatives. Prior to the exercise, the airline had over 300 workers on its payroll, yet operations had dwindled to almost nothing and little revenue came into ATCL’s coffers, while the monthly obligations continued to constitute a financial drain on the company. Several efforts were made in past years to first reinvigorate the airline, then find a suitable financial partner, but all efforts so far failed, partly caused also by the difficulties investors expected with unions over demands to meet outstanding payments to workers, potential pension liabilities, and the general loss in market share, which was more and more taken over by private airlines now licensed and flying from Tanzania. Is this ATCL’s swan song? Time – and this column – will tell.

The present expanse of the Lake Manyara National Park in Tanzania is set to grow from about 330 square kilometers to nearly 650, encompassing the entire lake. Presently, only a section of the lake is under the management of TANAPA, while the other half remains outside the park. Some farms and, in particular, mines must now first make way for the park expansion, a task made difficult by the issue of compensation for miners and mine owners, some of whom reportedly still have operating licenses valid until 2014, and consultations are presently ongoing to attempt to find a solution without any side having to resort to force. Lake Manyara is famous as one of the few locations where tree climbing lions can be found; the other places in east Africa being the Ishasha sector of Queen Elizabeth National Park and Kidepo Valley National Park, as observed and documented in the past by this correspondent. Many visitors coming to the northern circuit stop over at Lake Manyara, before proceeding to the Ngorongoro Crater and the Serengeti, where accommodation is available on top of the escarpment with sweeping views across the lake and this part of the Great African rift. No dates have been given at this stage as to when the new boundaries will be enforced and the mines and farms will be closed down, although it has already been confirmed that one village in particular will remain where it is at present.

“We need to put ourselves on the map,” was the underlying tenor of discussions at the tourism stakeholder forum, held some days ago in Mwanza, the lakeside municipality on the shores of Lake Victoria. The recent addition of scheduled flights by Precision Air, linking Mwanza directly with Nairobi – and for several years now with Entebbe, too – has brought renewed hope and enthusiasm to Mwanza’s tourism stakeholders, now hoping to promote the municipality and nearby attractions with greater ease and tap into the tourist dollars. The two-day meeting and workshop was made possible through the cooperation of the Mwanza Municipal Council, Dutch development agency SNV, and supportive tourism companies, among others. The Serengeti National Park can be reached with ease from Mwanza by air, making it attractive for tourists to fly in from Nairobi and Entebbe and board their connecting charter flight to one of the lodges and safari camps, but Lake Victoria also holds tourism attractions, which have yet to be tapped into. Diversification and the addition of new products and attractions will hold the key in future years for sustainable tourism developments in new areas of Tanzania to stay attractive for repeat business.

A combined anti-poaching operation by game department rangers, police, and army units has apparently nabbed over 70 alleged poachers inside and outside the game reserve, while recovering elephant tusks, hippo teeth, and other trophies, plus poaching tools used to trap and kill the animals. Weapons and ammunition were also seized. The apparent success of this operation has also prompted government to extend such swoops to other areas where poaching was found to be rampant, in order to contain the menace.

Information was received from Dar es Salaam that the planned relocation of rhinos into the Serengeti, aimed to nearly double the present population numbers to attain sustainable breeding groups, is on course and due to commence in April next year. This column had, in the past, reported about these plans and will continue to provide updates.

The annual Kilimanjaro marathon will, according to sources in Arusha, be held in March next year. No dates could be ascertained yet, but this column will publish the details just as soon as they are available. This sporting event joins a host of other major long-distance races in the region, like the recently-concluded annual MTN Kampala Marathon, which attracted 17,000 participants from Uganda, the wider region, and from further abroad.

The public debate over the opening or continued closure of the Masai Mara-Serengeti border post at the Sand River has taken another turn deeper into the mud, when a source from Arusha – hastening to request anonymity after eventually realizing what he had just said and understanding it would be published – made it plain to this correspondent that the continued closure was in the interest of the Tanzanian safari operators. Not having requested an “off the record” conversation, this column can happily report the content of his argument with the Kenyans, while granting the wish of anonymity in view of the individual’s standing in the safari sector in Tanzania and the repercussions an open naming would most likely have. The source said: “The Kenyan tour operators know we cannot open that border. They have kept the same predatory attitude, which we suffered before EAC broke up in 1977. We cannot allow that ever again. Even with the new EAC now operating, this border closure will never be negotiable, because otherwise the Kenyan operators will just swamp us again. They will come in for one day only or two, and leave their rubbish behind and disturb nature with a lot of traffic.” When this column inquired if there wasn’t a mechanism available to ensure that “day trippers” would not be allowed through and if vehicles entering at Bologonja could not be compelled to exit Tanzania say in Namanga, the answer was: “We know our brothers across; they will find ways and means to sabotage this. Our officials can also be bribed, so we must keep that border closed forever.” When probed further about the impact of Tanzanian safari vehicles coming all the way up to Lobo Safari Lodge and the border area, the response was: “But we are less in numbers than what Kenya traffic would bring, so for us, it is ok to go there; our few cars are not chasing the animals away or creating the traffic jams around lions we can witness in Masai Mara every day.” In further comments, it was also all but admitted that: “It is for these economics, we cannot yield and give way from our position. All the other issues like environment and protection are secondary; it is the fear our business will be taken over by Kenyans which motivates us.” Adds this columnist: now that the proverbial cat is truly out of the bag, let’s see what the future holds.

Intelligence provided to the Tanzanian security forces led to a successful ambush, when at least 5 armed robbers were attempting to raid some upmarket safari camps owned by Grumeti Reserves earlier in the week. Police and other security operatives laid a trap for the robbers, after further details were obtained about their identity, routes, and intended targets from area residents. In the ensuing fire fight, the robbers resisted arrest and began firing on police. All five occupants of the car were eventually shot dead and no injuries were reported on the side of the police. It is understood that further investigations are ongoing to ascertain if any more people were involved in the planning of the attempted robbery, but meanwhile the Tanzanian security forces are to be commended for their swift and decisive reaction, which prevented serious repercussions for Tanzania’s safari tourism to this particular area of the greater Serengeti region.

This company is now seeking to recruit a new CEO who, according to the details found in the EastAfrican, will be responsible for overseeing the hospitality, conservation, and community relations aspects on behalf of the Singita Management Company. Write to robyn@radarrecruitment.com for more details, if interested. Singita Grumeti presently owns and operates three lodges, namely Sasakwa, Sabora, and Faru Faru, all located along the western corridor of the Serengeti National Park.

A new resort development in Zanzibar, spread over 32 hectares of land, is seeking senior staff to join them ahead of the planned opening in late 2010. The property, when completed, is due to offer over 60 villas for its guests, all with private pools, and is reportedly located inside a coconut grove with a beach frontage of over 1.5 kilometers. The top-of-the-line resort development will also offer state-of-the-art spa facilities in conjunction with a leading international cosmetics group, and is aiming to create Michelin-star-rated dining. Those interested in applying for any of the senior positions on offer, should either write to info-zanzibar@theresidence.com or visit www.theresidence.com for more information, or else write a letter to The General Manager, The Residence Zanzibar, P.O. Box 2404, Zanzibar, United Republic of Tanzania.

A new 5-star property, estimated to cost about US$60 million, is apparently in the offing for Kigali, following the ground breaking earlier in the week. The hotel, to be comprised of 240+ suites and rooms, is expected to be managed by Marriot Hotels, adding another illustrious hospitality name to the region and joining such other global hotel groups like Kempinski, Intercontinental, and Hilton. The entry by Marriot is also thought to be an opener for them as it may well eye not only more management contracts for existing properties when they come up for grabs at the end of its contractual periods, but may also muscle into the market by vying actively for the development of new hotels, resorts, and safari properties. Dubai World had previously signed a contract to do exactly this in Kigali, plus establish an adjoining golf course, but the deeply financially-troubled, state-owned corporation of Dubai is not expected to become a major player in the regional hospitality market anytime soon, while they undertake financial restructuring and have to learn like everyone else to live within a limited resource envelope.

The Rwanda Development Board/Tourism and Conservation, has announced that the country is now represented on Twitter and on Facebook under the following links: http://twitter.com/TravelRwanda and www.facebook.com/TravelRwanda . Friends of the country and those interested in visiting “the land of a thousand hills,” can stay in touch through these media and through regular weekly tourism reports via www.www.eturbonews.com/africa .

With the arrival of the airline’s own CRJ200 aircraft now imminent – some sources speak of a matter of days before the first of the two aircraft purchased from Germany’s Lufthansa will arrive in Kigali – the airline has formalized its capital requirements and obtained a long-term loan facility with the PTA Bank. The funding will pay for the two CRJ aircraft, which comes with complete spare and maintenance packages and may also be used to purchase additional aircraft or at least pay the required deposits. It was also confirmed that RwandAir intends to also acquire a 130 to 160-seater aircraft by the middle of next year, which will then be deployed on the route to Johannesburg and to other destinations where the 50-seater CRJs are considered too small to cater to demand. The Bombardier built CRJs will join a Dash 8 turboprop, all of which will be deployed on the present domestic and regional routes to Kilimanjaro, Entebbe, and Nairobi while also permitting network growth and added frequencies during high-season travel months.

Last weekend, the national airline of Rwanda announced the resumption of, initially, twice-daily flights to Nairobi. The remaining destinations, as two weeks ago reported in this column, will remain unchanged although the timings have been amended. Johannesburg flights presently remain off line but will resume once the airline’s own CRJ aircraft, recently purchased from Germany’s Lufthansa, have arrived. Visit www.rwandair.com for more information.

The government of the Seychelles launched a dedicated anti-piracy unit last week, which is to protect the archipelago’s shipping links, hunt for pirates trying to enter Seychellois waters, and counter any threats to the country’s security. The commandos, specially trained for the purpose abroad, will reportedly be deployed immediately, adding a further measure against the menace of the sea terrorists besides the material and logistical support the Seychelles already gets from friendly nations participating in the naval coalition against piracy around the Horn of Africa. In recent weeks, attacks on ships have again intensified and calls have been growing stronger that the naval coalition at last shows some teeth and actively engages and hunts down the pirates, not just at sea but also by denying them safe havens in Somalia and disrupting their international network of informers, money handlers, planners, and suppliers. Legislation in many countries, from where shipping companies have been affected, permits certain preventative actions under existing anti-terror laws, and what else are these pirates but ocean terrorists? In fact, earlier in the week, the unit recorded its first success when the Seychelles coast guard arrested four suspected pirates in an operation during which several others were also caught by naval coalition vessels and handed over to the Seychelles authorities for prosecution.

Following the re-launch of the Seychelles tourist office in London and the archipelago’s participation in the WTM last month, a number of branded taxis were launched by the Seychelles vice president, who is also the minister of tourism, aimed to promote the destination to the general public in London. It was confirmed by STB sources, that several of the unique-looking taxis are now driving through the streets of the capital promoting holidays to this exotic Indian Ocean island destination. Meanwhile, it was also learned that CNN’s Richard Quest is planning to produce a special focus program about the Seychelles in early 2010. In line with his field of expertise, this will undoubtedly focus heavily on tourism and the other mainstream economic activity of the archipelago.

The Wildlife Clubs of Seychelles have just completed its anniversary celebrations in Victoria, the capital of the archipelago, looking back at 15 years of service to environmental conservation and educational programs aimed at schools and society at large, while at the same time looking forward to keeping the focus on the challenges ahead in coming years. Formed in 1994, the NGO has become a beacon of environmental and conservation steadfastness and plays an important role to preserve and protect the biodiversity of the islands’ natural resources, both on land, as well as in the sea.

A group of judges, drawn from such diverse African countries like Mauritius, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Burundi, Rwanda, and Sudan met in the Seychelles last week to discuss crime prevention against illegal trade in species and plants and how the judiciary can support conservation activities and objectives. Host country Seychelles has a comparably good record, and, in fact, in recent decades, managed to have some species removed from the endangered list as a result of strict enforcement and legislation with teeth, but other countries appear not so lucky, as – according to expert presentations at the forum – up to 30 percent of the African flora and fauna are under threat. This occurs through unchecked pollution or criminal violation of relevant laws, smuggling, poaching, and environmental degradation and deforestation, to name but a few root causes of this lamentable trend. The Seychelles chief justice, Ugandan Frederick Egonda-Ntende, also addressed the meeting and underlined that while many countries have relevant legislation on their statute books, many governments do not strictly enforce them, as they appear preoccupied with politics of the day and their economic challenges, overlooking that an intact environment is a prerequisite for development. The Seychelles, depending on tourism and fishing as major factors of the national economy, takes pride in protecting the flora and fauna both on the islands, as well as underwater, and participants of the meeting took positive impressions back home with them after touring around a little as part of its social program.

A well-known travel guide published in the UK, has given the top five beaches of the world status to Anse Georgette on Praslin Island. Anse Lazio, holding this position for several years previously, appears to have been overtaken by the lesser-known but nevertheless stunning beach, overlooked by the golf course of the Lemuria Resort, which can only be accessed by guests staying at the resort, ensuring continued tranquillity and isolation. This may be the reason why rare turtles are using the beach for laying their eggs, as they are not disturbed by visitors. The other top beaches are, according to the same guide book, located in Samoa, Vietnam, Mozambique, and India. Well done Seychelles – small is beautiful!

The FIFA World Cup draw in Cape Town this weekend will bring global attention to the continent, as the participating countries will at last find out which opponents they have to play in the group stages, from which the winners and runners up will advance to the knock-out stage. South Africa has previously staged world cup finals in Rugby and World Championships in Cricket, amongst other disciplines and continental football events, but the World Cup is the first truly global event to come to Africa. Southern and eastern African countries are busy trying to cash in on the forthcoming travel craze by football supporters and are hopeful to capture some of this market with pre- and post-World Cup tours. The chosen venue of the draw is also of special significance to Africa as it takes place on Robben Island, where Africa’s best-known son, Nelson Mandela, was imprisoned by the South African apartheid regime for the best part of his life, but from where he, in the end, emerged victorious to lead his country into a new era after the apartheid regime was compelled to hand over power to a new government elected by all people irrespective of their race, origin, color, or creed. It was, in fact, Nelson Mandela who tirelessly campaigned with the South African Football Association to bring the World Cup to Africa, and in no little part, he is credited for having made this possible. Well done, Madiba, and hopefully South Africa will stage a memorable tournament next year.

A lake steamer, primarily used for the transportation of timber and logs, went down on Lake Mai Ndombe last weekend in bad weather, about 400 kilometers northeast of the capital Kinshasa. The ship also carried passengers, for many of whom it was the only opportunity to get to their destination, but reportedly the vessel was not licensed for transportation of people. Sketchy reports indicate that over 250 passengers seemed to have survived the sinking, while many others remain unaccounted for. Transportation safety has often been criticized as poor, if not completely absent, from the official vocabulary in the Congo DR, and both the number of air accidents, as well as shipping disasters, are evidence enough that governmental departments and officials responsible for such issues have to do substantially more to improve the situation.