Wolfgang’s East Africa tourism report


Wolfgang’s East Africa tourism report

True to their ilk, hotel owners have, early in the New Year, began to whine and complain again about the 2 percent local hotel tax, which was introduced at budget time last year. Suffering from a larger capacity of rooms, many of which were built ahead of the end of the 2007 CHOGM Summit with very substantial tax and duty remission, hotel rates have progressively started coming down, although they are in comparison with, for instance, Nairobi, which is still expensive. Yet, in Nairobi, the city hotels charge VAT, CTL (Catering Training Levy), and build in the service charge element, regularly reaching the 30 percent margin of add-ons. It will be interesting to see what the hotel owners will resort to next, when the proposed tourism development fund levy will be introduced, aimed to finance the operations of the financially-well, near-crippled tourist board and other intended beneficiaries.

January 26 marked the annual 23rd liberation day celebrations since 1986, when the National Resistance Army, led by Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, marched into Kampala and drove out the last of the dictatorships, which marked post independence Uganda’s politics until then. After ruling initially for 10 years under the ‘Resistance Council system of governance,’ the country then went to the polls in 1996. This took place under a new constitution and President Museveni has since then won three elections, allowing the National Resistance Movement Party to continue staying in power. The country’s next general elections are due in 2011, and the President has already given some indication of standing again, should the NRM nominate him as their candidate, as is widely expected by political observers.

Uganda has seen a remarkable economic recovery since 1986, when the country’s infrastructure and the manufacturing and service industries were virtually destroyed by incompetent and corrupt dictators and their cronies, and Uganda’s tourism industry has made a full come back since the early 1990s. At that time, a new investment code and new economic policies came into place, which allowed an annual GDP growth of in average over 6 percent. Uganda, fondly called ‘the Pearl of Africa’ or alternatively ‘Uganda – Gifted by Nature,’ now offers world-class hotel and meeting facilities in Kampala and Entebbe; has been host of a large number of regional, continental, and international meetings and conferences; and can rightfully claim to be one of the most scenic and evergreen countries in Africa, worth a visit any time and made possible by a multitude of daily intercontinental flights from Entebbe to the rest of the world. Congratulations to the President, the government, and the people of Uganda.

The popular horse-riding safaris out of Bujagali Falls along the upper Nile valley have taken a prominent place amongst the adventure activities in the area. Overnight trips along the Nile normally stay at ‘The Haven’ (www.thehaven-uganda.com), a German owned and managed, small but fine, resort on the Nile, but 2- or 3-hour and full-day riding trips are also popular. Pre-bookings are essential. Write to them for details on available trips, bookings, and rates or visit them at their website: [email protected] and www.nilehorsebacksafaris.com

The Malaysia inspired ‘South – South’ meeting under the auspices of the Commonwealth Secretariat has selected Uganda once again to be host to the summit, after first hosting it in 2001. Former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamed was the ‘creator’ of the meeting, which first took place in Malaysia and has since then moved to other Commonwealth countries in alternate years. The meeting is expected to bring together an estimated 1,000 delegates and government delegations from participating countries and will be held in Kampala during the month of July 2009.

The national association of professional environmentalists, in short NAPE, has earlier in the week published a half page response to the NEMA review of the EIA and related submissions for the Tullow Oil proposed mini refinery in Western Uganda. It was pointed out that allegedly the required consultative period of 21 days was arbitrarily shortened to only 11 days, preventing widespread ‘counter consultations’ and sufficient time for experts to extensively study the published documents. It was further alleged that, for instance, the Uganda Wildlife Authority, amongst other key stakeholders, were not involved in the consultations when the EIA was prepared. Watch this space as another battle for the environment seems looming on the horizon.

The air operators in Entebbe and Kajjansi using AVGAS for their fleet of light aircraft are once again up in arms over the pricing of AVGAS, in particular Shell, the main supplier of the commodity in Uganda. Information received shows that a liter of AVGAS in Uganda is at least US$0.35 more expensive than at Nairobi’s Wilson Airport. This difference cannot be explained, as tried by Shell, by the added transportation cost between Kenya and Uganda, leave alone the fact that AVGAS regularly runs short and has even run out altogether on occasions in the past. A liter of AVGAS presently sells just under US$2 in Entebbe/Kajjansi, while the same commodity costs Kenyan airlines US$1.60 for non-contract clients. The same applies for AVGAS prices in Tanzania, most notably at Mwanza airport, also located on Lake Victoria. The Uganda Association of Air Operators have squarely laid the blame for this situation on Shell’s supply chain and pricing policy.

Fuel companies in Uganda have shamelessly exploited motorists in past months, when their pump prices have only very slowly reduced from the all time high, as crude oil had touched the US$150 mark last year before falling back to a fraction of that cost. While there are mitigating factors, like the reduction of axles from 4 to 3 on the trucks and trailers, lowering the carrying capacity, this still does not add up to the fact that consumers and the general aviation sector are being milked dry by the suppliers over pure greed for profits. There simply is no other viable explanation or reason.

The aviation companies in Kajjansi have now warned that the price differential in fuel cost between Kenya and Tanzania on one side and Uganda on the other side is progressively pricing Ugandan airlines out of business when competing for the same contracts and business as their neighbors, and some of the more outspoken aviators are blaming Shell Uganda for what appears to be a ‘hidden agenda.’ Shell was not available for comment at the time of going to press.

The Kenyan government has now moved towards adopting the TSA, or Tourism Satellite Accounting system, as recommended by the UNWTO, allowing for capture, processing, and interpretation of tourism-related economic data along internationally-accepted lines. This will allow for better comparison of Kenya’s tourism sector performance, vis-à-vis the main competitors, and on a global scale. A visitor and sector survey, split into two parts, will go underway soon to collect data from sources hitherto not tapped.

Uganda had been advised years ago to adopt TSA but has not substantially moved towards that goal for reasons best known to the Ministry of Tourism, while two visitors’ expenditure surveys were carried out under the EU-funded former Uganda Sustainable Tourism Development Program. Sad to see others now do what we had the opportunity to do years ago.

Although the report of the Justice Porter Commission of Enquiry into the stealthy sale of the Grand Regency Hotel in Nairobi was already delivered in November 2008 to the president, details are only now starting to emerge as government tried to keep the report under wraps. The main blame is laid on the door of the Central Bank of Kenya governor for his hasty disposal of a national asset under his care – the hotel had been under receivership for some time prior to the sale – and the secretive, non-transparent manner in which the give-away sale was conducted. The former minister of finance, who left office over the scandal but was recently re-appointed to a different cabinet position, was largely absolved of blame, but the commission’s report nevertheless had suggested he should accept some responsibility. General consensus in the Kenyan media and amongst the people is that the hotel was greatly undervalued and some sort of ‘deal’ was struck when selling the hotel to the Libyans who now run it. In fact, sections of the Kenyan media speak openly of ‘deliberate deception’ by the Central Bank chief, lack of honesty, and good faith.

The report, however, stopped short in demanding that the sale be cancelled, a rather unsatisfactory end to one of too many scandals in Kenya according to sentiments made available to this correspondent. The Kenyan public is now also demanding that the full report be published to draw their own conclusions as to culpabilities of those thought to be responsible.

It was learned from sources in Dar es Salaam that Air Tanzania has finally, last Friday, taken to the skies again after a break of nearly two months. The airline had the AOC suspended by TCAA over alleged discrepancies in ‘documentation,’ but no specifics could ever be obtained for this action, which saw Tanzania’s national airline almost driven to financial ruin.

When flights finally resumed yesterday, it was also announced that ATC would, for the time being, only serve domestic destinations like Arusha/Kilimanjaro International, Zanzibar, Mwanza, and a few other places, while carrying out feasibility studies and taking a fresh look at its regional and international routes. Hence, flights from Dar es Salaam and Kilimanjaro to Entebbe will continue to be suspended, and under a code share agreement, be operated by Air Uganda.

On the first day of operations, few passengers opted to fly with ATC, as travelers were initially sceptical if the airline would indeed resume flights, but pre-bookings for coming days appear to be significantly up again as the news settles in amongst potential travelers and travel agents alike.

The development is largely credited to the intervention of the Tanzanian President who gave the green light to the treasury to bail out ATC and ensure that sufficient funds were available to see the national airline through the ‘passenger draught’ until load factors had stabilized once again.

ATC is also reportedly seeking consultants to develop new strategies and a fresh and realistic business plan before re-entering the regional and international routes.
Management, in press releases and direct contact with the media, again underscored the fact that their aircraft had been and continued to be fully airworthy, and the suspension of their AOC had been caused ‘by reasons other’ than safety aspects. Says this correspondent: ‘Happy landings once again.’

The annual East African tourism trade show in Arusha, ‘Karibu,’ has recently announced that bookings are being accepted early this year to allow participants to plan ahead and secure the space they are seeking. As was the case in previous years, the available exhibition space is expected to sell out fast. Write to the fair management via [email protected] for more information or visit their website for online bookings at www.karibufair.com . Last minute bookings, it was pointed out, may disappoint would-be participants when their preferred space is no longer available or, in fact, the entire exhibition sold out.

The proposed railway line from Ishaka in Western Tanzania to Kigali has taken a further step forward when Rwanda, Tanzania, and Burundi signed a formal Memorandum of Understanding about the establishment of a ‘dry port’ in Ishaka and the construction of the railway line to connect their landlocked countries to the Indian Ocean port of Dar es Salaam. The agreement was reached under the auspices of the East African Community in Arusha where the transport ministers met for a scheduled consultative session. Early news of the plans was reported in this column several months ago, beating other media to the ‘door,’ courtesy of reliable sources in Kigali. The rail link will reduce reliance on the port of Mombasa and, more important, make import and export transportation cost more affordable.

Meanwhile, Rwanda will celebrate ‘Hero Day’ on February 1, commemorating those who laid down their lives in achieving liberation from the oppressive and brutal Hutu regime.

One of Rwanda’s ‘sacred sites,’ the genocide memorial in Kigali, is now due to be expanded. The added wing will become the home of a new research facility, the ‘School of Genocide Studies,’ and also house a screening room where visitors can see archived films about the 1994 genocide. The study capacity is limited to about 50 students on campus at any given time. The Genocide Memorial is one of the most-visited places in Kigali where governmental and non-governmental delegations, as well as individual visitors pay their respects to the victims of the senseless mass murder of Tutsis and moderate Hutus in 1994. It is thought that about 300,000 genocide victims have been laid to their final rest in the Gisozi suburb of Kigali.

Information was received that the Southern African Tourism Expo will be held May 2-4, 2009 in Livingstone/Zambia. The exhibition will bring together national tourist boards and a range of targeted businesses advertising their services, plus, of course, the all important ‘buyers.’ Contact: [email protected] or visit www.southernafricatourismexpo.com .

Zambia’s premier travel magazine has recently produced its fourth edition, again a superb piece of ‘art’ in promoting travel to Zambia. A wide range of reports, accompanied by excellent pictures and, of course, an equally-wide range of ‘tidbits,’ makes mouth-watering reading. The magazine’s website offers an excellent overview for ‘distant’ readers who have not been able to subscribe to it and can be accessed via: www.travelzambiamag.com or via www.travelafricamag.com . Nothing, however, beats holding one’s own copy in hand, reading it from front to end, and allowing oneself to be carried away by dreams of travel to the unique national parks in Zambia.

The ongoing efforts by the Government of Southern Sudan’s Ministry of Wildlife Conservation and Tourism to scientifically establish game numbers and distribution of animals across the South, which are assisted and financially supported by international wildlife conservation NGO’s, have yielded yet more interesting results. Within the ‘Sudd’ – arguably the world’s largest wetland, several thousand elephants were found deep inside the ecosystem, away from danger and relatively safe from hunters and poachers. Several parties involved in the ‘census’ have given indication that as many as 4,000 elephants could be roaming the ‘Sudd,’ providing more attractions for future visitors.

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