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Travel News

Wolfgang’s East Africa tourism report

Written by editor


As intimated some weeks ago, Uganda – on behalf of Africa – was standing for elections to become a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council for the next two years. During the vote late last week Uganda gathered 181 votes out of a total of 192, a very sound, if not outright overwhelming vote of confidence about the standing this East African nation nowadays enjoys in the international arena.

Uganda’s term will commence on 01st January 2009 and run until 31st December 2010. I congratulate and salute the nation for attaining this great honor.

Figures finally released to the media by the Uganda Bureau of Statistics for 2008 overall arrivals were now given as 883.230, putting the “magic” one million arrival mark within reach over the coming years. No details on earnings from tourism however were available as yet and neither were any quarterly or half year figures for 2008, so watch this space.

“Up with the bird” is the plain translation from Kiswahili into English and also the name of Uganda’s latest domestic airline, now based at the fully refurbished ‘Old Terminal’ at the Kajjansi airfield. The small airline is specializing in banner advertising, but is also offering sightseeing flights and even charters. The principal promoters of the new airline – licensed in March and recently awarded an AOC under the sharply tightened new CAA rules – are Capt. Emma Carter, who used to fly several years for the Kampala Aero Club and Flight Training Centre, and Tim Cooper, who is the co-owner of Bulago Island.

The young airline is presently operating a Fuji FA-200 but planning to add more aircraft in due course. Visit their website at for more information.

Following alarming reports in the local media over shrinking forest cover across the country, some good news were received from areas surrounding Kibaale national park. Information availed to this column indicates that some 150.000 indigenous tree seedlings were planted in recent months with the support of the National Forest Authority. NFA sources also say that over the past three years nearly a million indigenous tree seedlings were planted countrywide in an effort to restore forests.
Ugandans, bringing the first major job bonanza for qualified young people.

The global financial fall out has now also reached Eastern Africa, where the currencies have taken a hit. In Uganda alone the value of the shilling versus the dollar has plummeted in an unprecedented way from the mid 1600 range some weeks ago to nearly 2000, as remittances from Ugandans living and working abroad are reducing and orders for exports like flowers, fruits, vegetables and fish are slackening from the main consumer markets in Europe. The trend is thought to benefit tourist visitors however, who will get more value for their dollars. At the same time however the value of the Euro and the UK Pound has equally dropped, reflecting the global trend in currency markets.

Frustration is setting in with motorists in Uganda as fuel prices remain high in spite of a sustained fall of the price of a barrel of crude oil on the international market, now down over 60 percent since nearly touching 150 US Dollars a few months ago. Fuel companies however have not passed on the savings to consumers, while they were swift in raising prices at the pumps when the crude oil price went rocketing.

The Kenyan Tourism Minister last week announced plans to look into the establishment of a tourism business council, which would be expected to advise government from time to time on matters concerning the sector’s development as well as current affairs and matters arising. The promise was made during a tourism policy consultative workshop, which was aimed at advancing the new Kenyan tourism policy towards its completion. The workshop also discussed the status of the tourism draft legislation, which would bring the Kenyan tourism sector’s legislative framework into the 21st century.

During the proceedings the minister also intimated that the pending new telecommunications bill would also cater for e-transactions, which would allow credit card payments for bookings and tourist services in Kenya in a regulated and secure way.

Uganda published her tourism policy in 2003 and finally passed the new tourism bill earlier this year, after it was inexplicably kept pending since 2005 without much progress in between. The tourism industry in Uganda is now also awaiting the new regulations to be promulgated by the minister, which should have happened shortly after the bill was signed into law by President Museveni. No sound reasons could be established however why the regulations are not published yet and what is again holding up a crucial component governing the sector’s development.

Mfangano Island in Lake Victoria is the location of a recently opened cultural museum, celebrating the Abasuba traditions in a formal setting. The effort is part of Kenya’s drive to diversify tourism and open up new circuits and attractions for the expected visitor boom resuming after the post election violence early in the year. Should Senator Obama win the US presidential elections on November 03, the area – Nyanza Province – is expected to rake in tourist Dollars and Euros from curious visitors, as Obama’s father hailed from the area and part of his “Kenyan” family still live there, making it a unique ‘tourist attraction’ for Obama’s global “fan club.”

This weekend will see Air Arabia, a UAE based low cost carrier, starting their long awaited flights between Sharjah and Nairobi, adding pressure on fares on the lucrative route to the heart of the Gulf. Presently Kenya Airways, Emirates and Qatar Airways are flying to various destinations in the Gulf region from Nairobi, but with Sharjah only a few kilometres from Dubai, the new flights are thought to become an instant success with money conscious travellers.

Vintage Africa has now signed an agreement with global e-marketing giant Expedia to market products from Kenya and the wider East African region. Hotels like the Nairobi Hilton and the hotels and lodges of Fairmont Kenya can now be accessed via Expedia, which increases global exposure and helps selling the East African region around the world.

Politics are suspected to be preventing Fly540 to bring low fares and reliable services into the Tanzanian market, for the time being at least. Issues arising from restrictions placed through the bilateral air services agreement seem to suggest that all available slots from Kenya are taken up already, and Tanzania being rather notorious in erecting non-tariff barriers for airlines from the region appears to stick to their guns not allowing Fly540 on the route. The airline however seems to have also lodged an application in Tanzania to obtain an air services license and commence operations from there, as they have successfully done in Uganda already.
That all said, the intransigence of regional aviation regulators, as often mentioned in this column before, is legendary and their approach to integration is largely one of holding on to their little fiefdoms instead of opening up the regulatory regime across the East African Community. The Yamoussoukro Agreement on aviation, but also the respective clauses of COMESA (Tanzania is a member of SADC and therefore not bound by COMESA rules) should dictate a more proactive regulatory regime, but at least for the time being the bureaucrats seem to think otherwise.

Reports have surfaced in Tanzania that the two leased B737 aircraft are due for heavy maintenance any time soon, putting the schedules of the airline in doubt unless they can secure replacements in good time. Information from usually well-informed aviation sources in Dar es Salaam also indicates that the two aircraft’s leases are due for renewal too or else the Boeings may have to be returned to the lessors abroad.

The company’s board of directors has now put much of the blame for the company’s precarious financial and operational position on the CEO (since suspended), accusing him during the week of misappropriation of up to 10 billion Tanzania Shillings. The company has been in the news of late over a series of misfortunes, overshadowed by the developments over the Rift Valley Railway Corporation at the time, which meanwhile seems back on the straight and narrow after a total overhaul of management, board and shareholders, which included a substantial reduction of former lead investor’s Sheltam of South Africa’s overall shareholding.
The Tanzania – Zambia Railway however is now reeling from the impact of the financial losses and the board, also presently seeking a strategic investor, is now seemingly hell bent to blame someone. A strike also reportedly erupted last week but was quelled when the board gave in to worker’s demands and re-instated the acting CEO whom they also sought to get rid of.

The railway was built by the Chinese government in the late 1960s and assumed operations in the mid 1970s.

Information was received last week that over 250 Zanzibaris have been registered as significant investors in the tourism industry, putting more local interest into the sector. No data on the type of these investments or the value of the investments could be obtained at the time of going to press but it is evident that more and more local investors have of late committed themselves to the tourism industry, reducing the reliance on foreign investments.

The architectural drawings for the new Kigali International Convention Centre have been completed, it was revealed earlier in the week in Kigali. Construction for the centre, which will also include a hotel, shopping arcades and an office park, is due to kick on in February 2009 and expected to take two years towards completion. The centre will be able to cater for meetings, conferences, conventions and events with up to 2.500 participants at a time.

Meanwhile it was also learned, that Rwanda will only pass a half year budget for the period of January until June 2009, where after they will move their annual financial year, in line with other East African Community countries, to the July – June period.

As indicated in this column some weeks ago, Rwandair has indeed now commenced flights again from Kigali to Johannesburg, operating three times a week at present. Sources from within the airline however did confirm that more flights could be added in coming months, subject to traffic growth on the route. Rwandair had to book their passengers to South Africa over the past six months on other airlines, often connecting through other airports. The same source did however not comment on the date for the announcement of the airline’s partnership with Fly540 Aviation, which is according to unconfirmed information nearly ready to sign. Follow this column for regular updates on aviation news from the entire region.

The Ministry for Wildlife Conservation and Tourism has now formally signed a contract to develop their new tourism legislation and subsequent regulations, aimed to provide a comprehensive framework based on which development partners and donors can then assist in institutional capacity building to put the re-emerging sector on a sound growth path.

The ministry has already, with internally generated resources, started to document some of the main attractions on DVD to eventually prepare a marketing tool for the promotion of tourism, first in the region and then further abroad.
Presently however there is no tourism marketing body in place and wildlife management is still part of the ministry itself, rather than operating in an autonomous or semi-autonomous setting as most counterparts in the region now do.

After the initial contractor for the new terminal building in Juba at the international airport was ‘sacked’ – other sources allege they simply disappeared after obtaining some substantial payments, a new search is going on to find a new contractor. Work meanwhile has come to a standstill on the new passenger terminal located right next to the present terminal, which is now overcrowded whenever more than one flight arrive and depart at the same time.

The much utilised bridge across the river Nile in Juba, one section of which had collapsed over two years ago when an heavily overloaded truck brought part of the structure down, has now been re-opened for traffic in both directions. During the period of repair traffic was strictly one way regulated, slowing down entry into the city as well as traffic leaving Juba. The main road across the bridge leads to Nimule, before crossing into Uganda, thus forming a major supply route for Juba and the rest of the Southern Sudan.