Wolfgang’s East Africa tourism report

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Fleeing the madhouse in the city caused by the final stage of the Orange Telecom launch, this correspondent enjoyed a more peaceful environment in a forest not too far from Kampala, joining a small but very dedicated group of birders in search of less common or even new birds.

Having chosen to stay away from the main event at the Mabira Forest also proved to be the right decision, as there were no speeches and no “officialdom,” – just pure unadulterated joy to search for birds in a pristine forest environment. Instead of having to listen, wanted or not, to blaring music and endure hyped-up crowds during the usual Saturday shopping trip to the city, it was wind rustling the leaves of the trees, bird song, and other natural sounds one can expect in a tropical forest. The results of the national bird-watching day will be released by the organizations involved in the event once all the sighting records have been compiled.

Special recognition, meanwhile, goes to the Uganda Wildlife Authority and the National Forest Authority for granting free entrance to the parks and forests managed by them for the day to encourage larger numbers of visitors for the event and take an interest in bird watching. Uganda is home to about 1,040 species of recorded resident and migratory birds and can boast to be a leading destination for ornithologists from around the world.

The German-based owners of the Lagoon Resort, also described as the “closest get-away from Kampala” in Lake Victoria, have opened pre-bookings for June 20-21, when in northern Europe, celebrations traditionally take place to make best use of the longest day and the shortest night of the year. Beyond the Arctic Circle, in fact, the sun does not set that night, but here in eastern Africa, day and night remains relatively constant with only minor variations during the year.

The invitation is aimed at the diplomatic corps and the expatriate community in Kampala used to the concept of partying the short night away. Participation, including safe parking near Munyonyo, boat transport, and a massive buffet, will set revelers back some 60,000 Uganda Shillings or less than US$30 or 20 Euros. Visit www.ug-lagoonresort.com for more details or write to them via [email protected] for bookings and accommodation rates.

The latest and fifth addition to the mobile networks in Uganda held a street carnival last weekend, concluding its official launch activities. Numerous floats were paraded through large parts of the city before ending up at the Lugogo Cricket Ground for the evening activities and concert. Subsequently, the town was literally painted in their trademark color, and the crowning event was a late evening concert featuring Shaggy, to the delight of the crowds. Orange is a brand of France Telecom and is now available in both Kenya and Uganda.

The award-winning, Dubai-based airline recently announced that their special fares, mentioned in this column some weeks ago, will remain in place until June 27, when the expected high season starts again. Travel from Entebbe to New York, for instance, will cost US$1,250 plus, of course, an array of regulatory charges imposed by regulators and airports, while flights to India and the far and southeast of Asia are also on offer. Visit www.emirates.com/ug for more details on destinations and available fares, terms, and conditions.

Unlike most other agents in Kampala, who try to catch a potential traveler’s eye with lower, non-inclusive fares and then load fuel surcharges and regulatory fees on to it once they have their hooks in the client, Simba Travelcare again showed their competitors that honest advertising pays off. They recently advertised excellent fares on KLM to European and North American destinations, inclusive of all the nasty add-ons. The agency also put special packages to South Africa on the market for the famous Blue Train, again inclusive of all the add-on charges, prompting this column to give this agency special recognition for advertising standards now common in Europe but sadly not in our part of the world yet.

The Aya Group, known best for their regular public statement acrobatics over the planned Hilton hotel development, felt compelled during the week to hit the public with a full-page, four-color advertisement on the group’s activities, appropriately titled, “Keeping the Promise – Delivering on Development.” Looking back, however, over the past years and missed deadlines in regard of the hotel construction and completion dates, they are certainly not shy to re-write history. Watch this space for updates.

The Centenary BBQ Lounge at the lower Centenary Park was the venue for this month’s Skal Kampala meeting, again filling the venue to capacity. The club’s executive promoted the forthcoming annual congress, to be held in Budapest, Hungary later in the year, and Brussels Airlines got a round of applause for offering reduced fare tickets to Skalleagues (AD 75) and spouses (AD 50). Member Marinka Sanc George, a native of Hungary but long-time resident in Uganda, made a passionate appeal to visit her old country and participate in a pre- and post-congress tour put together by her. Skal President Rahul Sood arrived directly from the airport, having only returned from his annual leave shortly prior, a sign of the commitment and drive the new club executive professes towards the club. This correspondent’s table, which also included past president James Rattos of the Sheraton Kampala Hotel and the Austrian Honorary Consul, amongst others, won the top prize for scoring the highest number of correct answers, with each of the winners walking off with a fabulous prize sponsored by the local branch of South Africa’s retail giant Game.

Next month’s fellowship will take place at Hotel International on June 24, starting at 7:00 pm.

A Fly540 airline source in Nairobi has recently confirmed that the carrier has finally obtained an air services license in Angola, which has been pending for some time. The company is presently working towards obtaining their Angolan AOC before commencing domestic passenger flights with initially two ATRs. Once their operation has been fully established, a further two ATRs are due to be delivered to Angola to expand routes to both domestic and regional destinations. Fly540 is part owned (49 percent) by Lonrho Africa, a multinational conglomerate with trading, mining, industrial, and agricultural interests across the African continent.

Angola, like some other African countries, has been plagued by poor air safety records, and the arrival of a quality airline will undoubtedly help improve on those statistics and permit safe air travel with modern turboprop aircraft – not in scary, stone-age aircraft built in the former Soviet Union, which have cost so many lives across the entire continent in recent years, mostly due to lack of competent maintenance and poor training.

As briefly mentioned in the last column, this informative web site about tourism, aviation, hospitality, and a wide range of related issues, is now active under www.safariwire.com. Items from this column will also be featured there on a regular basis, aimed to promote visits to Kenya and the eastern African region, while broadcasting positive news.

The Kenyan social news and events website and news broadcast has gone a step further and is, effective immediately, offering a print version – including advertising – for their growing readership. A weekly print run of 20,000 copies will be available initially and is free for readers and distributed at key vantage points. Visit them at www.kenyabuzz.com for more information of what is happening in Kenya from the coast via Nairobi to upcountry. Congratulations to them on this ambitious step forward and best of success.

The Kenyan government has advertised for applications to fill the vacant position of chief executive officer of the Kenya Tourist Board, following the premature departure of Dr. Achieng Ongonga late last year. He is now in court, facing corruption and fraud charges, together with an erstwhile board member and another alleged accomplice in the scheme, the former Ministry of Tourism permanent secretary Rebecca Nabutola. This column has substantially reported on these past events. The adverts were published yesterday, and applications were invited from qualified Kenyans. The board of directors of KTB is headed by Jake Grieves Cook of Gamewatchers and Porini Safari Camps. No decision is expected before a full vetting of applications has taken place and short-listed candidates have been extensively interviewed, to avoid a repeat of Dr. Achieng’s antics while holding the trusted position.

Word from a reliable source has it that Fly540 Tanzania’s operation is about to take off, with the first flight between Dar es Salaam and Nairobi due for July 1. The airline will use their traditional ATR turboprop aircraft for the service, a proven performer on the short and medium distances in the region, and only marginally slower in their point-to-point speed compared to the jets commonly used – in particular, the boarding and deplaning is faster and more convenient for passengers and requires no stairs.

The pre-launch activities also include a full-scale presence at the Karibu Travel Fair in Arusha in early June, promoting the flights between Nairobi, Zanzibar, Kilimanjaro and – soon afterwards – Dar es Salaam.

Meanwhile, it was also learned that Fly540 Kenya will begin flights from Nairobi to Lodwar in Northern Kenya and, coinciding with the maiden flight, will come with some famine and medical relief donations, which undoubtedly will be much appreciated by the population in the draught-stricken area. A total of 9 free cargo flights on the airline’s Fokker 27F will be operated to permit the Kenyan Red Cross to deliver much-needed supplies to the area. The daily passenger flights will route from Nairobi via the western Kenyan municipality of Kitale at the foot of Mt. Elgon to Lodwar and then back to Nairobi.

Swiss born photographer and writer David Pluth passed away last weekend at the Nyungwe Forest National Park in Rwanda, while on assignment in the country. David has been a long-time friend and supporter of this central eastern African nation, where in 2003, he produced the first ever national tourism brochure for Rwanda. He was also connected to the National Geographic Society and had his photographs published in several books. His friends in Rwanda and around the world were left stunned by the sad news, and this column expresses sincere condolences to the late David’s family and friends.

Former media mogul and philanthropist – he gave US$1 billion to a UN Foundation – Ted Turner last week did a remarkable “triple” when tracking two different gorilla groups on two subsequent days in the Parc de Virunga before then tracking the Golden Monkey. Turner was on a high-profile, 5-day mission to Rwanda, where the Diane Fossey Gorilla Fund is also a beneficiary of his donations. Before leaving the country, Ted Turner also met with President Paul Kagame in Kigali.

The Rwanda Office for Tourism and National Parks, now part of the Rwanda Development Board, has commenced marketing the Kwita Izina in the wider region, remarkably kicking off the campaign with a full-page color advert in the “East African,” the EAC’s leading business and political weekly newspaper. This marks the start of a period of increased PR activity and sensitizing the regional tourism and conservation bodies on the work done in Rwanda to protect the endangered mountain gorilla, while ensuring that the prized animals pay for their keep through carefully-managed habituation programs and income generated through tracking.

Meanwhile, Ugandan sources have continued to moan over not having habituated enough gorilla groups yet, thus yielding revenue to neighboring countries, a thinly-concealed reference, of course, to Rwanda’s success story. This is indeed a challenge for the Uganda Wildlife Authority to ensure that gorilla groups not yet used for tracking can be gradually habituated to allow for regular rest periods of groups. It also adds numbers as, even in these economically-challenging times, gorilla tracking remains a tourism activity much in demand by the global market place.

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