Wolfgang’s East Africa tourism report


Wolfgang’s East Africa tourism report

Long serving director of Food and Beverages at the Kampala Sheraton Hotel, Mr. Kwashie Gbedemah is moving into the Gulf region for Starwood Hotels, having in recent years turned around the hotel’s F&B department and having injected a new lease of life into the service and kitchen brigades. He and his team are credited for matching the service and quality of food at the hotel with the revamped rooms and public areas, making the Sheraton once again a focal point in Kampala for the business community and socialites alike.

Ghana born Kwashie will be succeeded by Eric Wendel, who is returning to Kampala for a second innings as Director of Food & Beverages after serving some time further abroad and more recently on the Arabian Peninsula in similar positions with Sheraton. It is a very fond ‘Kwaheri ya Kuonana’ for Kwashie and his family, who will be much missed by staff, guests of the Sheraton and their many friends in Uganda and an equally warm ‘welcome back’ to Eric.

The Golden Leaves Apartments, which are owned and managed by the Sheraton Kampala Hotel and just across the road from the main hotel complex, have now been equipped with wireless Internet access, which is free for residents. Normally used by longer staying clients requiring a little more space, residents of the apartments enjoy full access to the Sheraton’s other facilities, including pool, tennis, squash and the Kidepo Gym and Health Club. All facilities got a face lift prior to the Commonwealth Summit in November last year, making the apartments one of the most sought after places in the city and free internet connectivity will only add to their appeal.

The soon to be fully regional low cost carrier, already incorporated and licensed in Kenya and Uganda, has now packaged special offers in combination with their flights. Ugandans travelling to Kenya can book not only their tickets with Fly 540, the most affordable in the market at a cost of US$79 (plus huge regulatory charges) between the Entebbe and Nairobi, but also get hotel accommodation in the bargain. Heritage Hotels in Kenya are the first to have teamed up with Fly 540 to achieve generally more affordable travel across the region, but other hotel, resort and lodge companies are expected to follow suit soon. Fly 540 has also reiterated that they will soon establish more destinations across the region, offering their client more and better choices for air travel.

Most national parks, game and forest reserves have already for a while now been able to receive signals from one or more of the mobile phone operators in the country, with the notable exception of the Kidepo Valley National Park. This has now been rectified through the ongoing roll out of telecoms services by leading operator MTN. The latest ‘connection’ will benefit communications between the UWA head office and the park head quarters in Kidepo but also make communications easier between Kampala and the Apoka Safari Lodge, which until now had to rely on radio communication and costly satellite phones. Another beneficiary will be the Civil Aviation Authority, which operates the airfield in Kidepo and has staff permanently stationed in the park. The air field is also designated and gazetted as an international entry and exit point for charters from across the region, and phone access is going to be helpful for aircrews, passengers and CAA staff in case of any delays or technical problems arising but also to obtain weather reports and field conditions prior to take off to the park.
Visitors to the park and the lodge will be relieved also to now have access to national and international phone systems, which will undoubtedly help to improve security in the entire park area and immediate neighborhood.

A coalition of environmentalists and conservationists has now filed suit in the Kampala High Court against Hima, a subsidiary of Lafarge of France, for their aggression against nature in Queen Elizabeth National Park. This took place after ascertaining that the company had indeed gone on site inside the gazetted park area and began preparations to create an open quarry area for lime stone, with all the sad consequences for nature and biodiversity – a Ramsar site adjoins the proposed dig – taken in their stride for profit reasons. The case, should in fact an injunction be granted, may substantially delay Hima’s plans or even force the company to shelve the quarry altogether, while in the international arena efforts are underway to expose the owners, directors and management of Lafarge in a ‘name and shame’ exercise, which often in the past succeeded in Europe and North America to compel companies to become compliant with environmental global best practise, something neither Lafarge nor Hima presently seem to endorse.

The case is of particular irony, as the World Bank has in the past financed conservation efforts in the same park through their PAMSU program, for which nearly US$40 million were spent over the past decade to support conservation and eco friendly tourism developments. The World Bank Group in fact declined Lafarge’s and Hima’s applications to finance their ill considered and largely thought misguided plans, although Hima some time ago made public comments, that they had withdrawn the loan application to the IFC, the World Bank’s private sector lending arm, in an effort to save face.

Regional Bus has now began a daily return trip by road from Kampala to Juba at the present cost of Uganda Shillings 75,000 per person, one way. The busses leave from the Regional Bus depot at 2:00 am very day and are scheduled to arrive in Juba at 16:30 hrs, i.e. the late afternoon of the same day. Permits to cross into Southern Sudan are said to be available at the border on arrival at a fee of about US$50 but it would be advisable to obtain Visa in advance of travel from the Southern Sudanese diplomatic mission and consular offices in Kampala near the Fairway Hotel. The daily return trip from Juba then commences the journey in the early morning at 7:30 am and is normally back in Kampala by 23:00 hrs. The bus has a seating capacity of 60 passengers and can also carry parcels and some other small loose cargo upon prior arrangements.
The Regional Bus Service depot is located along Johnstone Street at Arua Bus Park, where many domestic bus services into the North of the country are also operating from.

Tanzania’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism has now acted to tighten the status of this prized forest reserve and designate it a nature forest, which will in the future rule out human activity other than eco friendly tourism and research. Only last year was a primate species discovered in the forest and the reclassification of the forest will undoubtedly strengthen the Southern safari circuit. Residents of neighbouring villages to the forest appear to have been consulted in length over the status change and agreed to the new measures to protect their environment and profit in the future from tourism activities.

In further news from Rwanda’s national airline, the carrier is now seeking consultancy services for the development of a 10-year strategic plan and a five-year business plan. This is the clearest indication yet that earlier intentions to seek a strategic partner may have been put ‘on ice’ or even shelved altogether. Rwandair had with the help of the IFC, the private sector lending arm of the World Bank, advertised two years ago for partial privatization, but this process has never been concluded nor any explanation offered by the airline as to the delay of selecting a suitable partner. One of the remaining two ‘bidders’ was Brussels Airlines, a company of real substance with extensive experience in aviation, having emerged from the former Sabena and the SN Brussels / Virgin Europe merger, which has the most extensive network from Brussels to Africa and currently also serves Kigali several times a week. However, SN’s attempt to introduce BAe 146 aircraft, presently being phased out from their European fleet, has not helped their bid, as these aircraft are thought to be unsuitable for the routes and type of operation Rwandair conducts across their network. In contrast the other bidding company was considered by industry analysts, and individuals closely connected to Rwandair, to be of even less consequence in the process. That company is operating a relatively aged and outdated fleet in Italy, was trying to pass on such aircraft fossils to Rwandair and is anyway said to be financially struggling with their two airline adventures in West Africa. Interested consulting firms and suitably qualified individual consultants are invited to contact the airline’s head office in Kigali via [email protected] or obtain further details through www.rwandair.com

After both countries joined the East African Community last year, a major infrastructural development is to go underway soon, with a new state of the art highway being built to connect the two nations better and facilitate easier movement of passenger and cargo traffic.

Some US$355 million have been secured for the project which is supported by the African Development Bank and other multilateral lenders and agencies. The new highway will follow existing routes, which along several sections will see the rehabilitation and improvement / enlargement while in some sections an entirely new road will be constructed.

Rwanda has embarked on a major infrastructural development program since the country rose from the ashes of the 1994 genocide and has become a model country in Africa and a ‘darling’ of Western development partners. Burundi in contrast will have a way to go to achieve similar stages of modernization and rebuilding, although the last active rebel group has now reportedly agreed to a negotiated settlement with the government in Bujumbura.

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