Wolfgang’s East Africa tourism report

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During his current nationwide poverty alleviation tour, President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni last weekend formally opened a new, privately owned airfield just outside the Southern or ‘Ishasha’ sector of Queen Elizabeth National Park at Kihihi. While visiting the Kanungu district, part of which also includes the access gateway of Buhoma to the Bwindi gorilla national park, he took the time from his busy schedule to see Mr. Garuga Musinguzi’s resort hotel just outside Queen Elizabeth National Park. The new all weather airstrip will ease aerial access to the park as the UWA owned park airfield at Ishasha is not long enough to cater for larger twin-engined large aircraft, a situation now resolved by the new field, just a few kilometers from the park gates. At the same time the field will also offer relief to the rather trickier landing strip at the Kayonza tea factory, which was in the past used to fly tourists to Bwindi. Mr. Musinguzi, for long the main financier of the opposition Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), was also welcomed back by the president into the National Resistance Movement (NRM) fold, when President Museveni announced his return to the ruling party.

The national environmental management authority has come under sustained criticism by the environmental and conservation lobby over their approval of Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA)’s without carrying out proper research. The accusation was made during a Nature Uganda public talk at the Uganda Museum late last week, when in particular the destruction of Cycad forests just outside Queen Elizabeth National Park was highlighted. Almost all of the ancient forest is just outside the park area and was due for cutting down to make way for a hydro-electric power plant, which location was highly criticized earlier in the year by conservationists. It was said then as it was reiterated now, that the developer had not done sufficient research into alternative locations for their power plant at the lower end of the Mpanga River, which could and should be built with lesser impact on the Cycad forest. The National Environment Management Authority (NEMA), in turn was blamed for rubberstamping the EIA submitted to them with equally insufficient research into the submissions. Watch this space.

As has been observed for a while now, all construction activities related to the controversial construction of a new hotel on top of Nakasero Hill in central Kampala has stopped again, in spite of regular full-mouthed statements by the owners, who seem richer with words than with cash. According to sources from the site, no new materials have arrived to advance construction for a while now, leaving the clouds of doubt hanging over the ill-fated project.

In a related development, Kingdom Hotels has also so far shown no signs of commencing construction after fencing off their site some months ago. The prime 17 acre site was given to them by government to construct a hotel for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting last year but after displacing a leading city primary school with nearly 1,000 pupils and the adjoining teachers training college and then dismantling the buildings, nothing at all happened causing angry outcries from the public over the hotel company’s failure to do anything with their “gift” so far.

The executive director of the Rhino Fund Uganda (RFU), Mrs. Heidi Cragg, has given notice that she intends to return to South Africa for family reasons by the end of September. Heidi put the sanctuary at Ziwa back on level keel after the clouded departure of her predecessor, who had only served a few months before becoming involved in an altercation with a staff member and then leaving literally overnight, deserting the sanctuary and work in progress. Heidi has during her nearly two years at Ziwa made substantial progress in relations with donors, development partners and the tourism industry and visitor numbers to the Rhino Sanctuary are now at an all time high. RFU Chairman Dirk ten Brink confirmed to this correspondent that a new Executive Director will be appointed shortly after an intensive search for a successor. Visit for more information on the activities of RFU and how to support it, and watch this space for the new appointment to be announced in due course.

The light aircraft crash earlier in the year in which all passengers, including two government ministers, and the pilot were killed while en-route to Western Kenya, was blamed by the air accident investigators on the lack of experience by the pilot and subsequent mistakes by him which led to the crash. The Cessna 210 aircraft was reportedly in good condition and all equipment functioning as prescribed. The pilot was reportedly not well acquainted with the terrain en route and the plane crashed due to judgment errors during VFR operation.

Reports have been received that Kenya Airways (KQ) has formally applied for a second daily flight between Nairobi and Kigali to add much needed extra capacity to the route. The airline presently flies only once a day between the two capital cities. It is expected that KQ will use their new Embraer 170 aircraft to operate the flights but this has not yet been confirmed. Once the flights commence operations Kenya Airways will become the number two airline after Rwandair in terms of flights in and out of Kigali. It was also learned that KQ was considering the launch of flights to Congo Brazzaville after a new bilateral air services agreement was signed between the two governments earlier in the week.

Rwandair in the meantime is seeking to employ a Chief Operating Officer in an ongoing effort to restructure the airline and expand its capacity and operations. In another twist of events it was also learned that Air Uganda’s Commercial Director will be leaving the airline after serving for less than a year as the upstart was dogged with challenges since its inception. Watch this space.

Paul Allen, who founded Microsoft together with the better-known Bill Gates, has been paying a visit to the Kenyan coast with his private luxury yacht during the week. While the cruise liner was anchored off the ‘old Mombasa’ waterfront it attracted large crowds on shore trying to get a glimpse of the ship and its owner. Paul Allen and his entourage meanwhile visited the sight and reportedly took regular trips with the ship-based helicopter to the nearby national parks. The visit was undoubtedly a boost for Kenya’s efforts to revive its tourism industry as it gives a clear signal to would be visitors that the country is safe and sound once more.

In a further effort to make Kenya more attractive as a tourism destination, Kenyan Tourism Minister Najib Balala recently called for a waiver of Visa fees for children accompanying their parents on a holiday to Kenya. The cost of visa, often criticized in this column as making visits to the region too expensive, can run easily into the US$200 region, when visiting just one country as a family of four, while visiting the entire region can set a family of four back by a multiple of that amount. Kenya has already made re-entries easier for tourists, who also visit a neighboring country within the East African Community (EAC), by granting free re-entry, but overall the problem requires a joint solution within the EAC to more fully exploit the tourism potential of the East African countries.

Air Tanzania, Tanzania’s national airline, presently undergoing a fleet renewal program and on the way to revive its fortunes, has been struck by some misfortune during the week. The airline’s Boeing 737 suffered from engine damage when taking off from the lakeside airport of Mwanza, reportedly after sucking in an object from the runway while trying to take off. The resulting engine change has to be carried out by the lessor of the plane but the aircraft remains grounded until the new engine has arrived and been installed and the plane then re-certified for flight operations. At the same time both of the airline’s new Bombardier Q 300s were also grounded, when one of the two aircraft encountered nozzle problems while the other had a cockpit windowpane crack. Both of the aircraft are awaiting the spares, which should get them back in the air later in the week. Meanwhile, operations with ATC’s Airbus A320 continue uninterrupted although the domestic schedule has been thrown into some disarray as a result of the three aircraft being temporarily unserviceable. Air Tanzania is expected to resume their full schedule later in the week.

Dozens of passengers were reported stranded in Kigali yesterday following a yet unspecified incident with a Kenya Airways plane on landing. There are unconfirmed reports that the plane collided with an electricity pole and that subsequently the plane did not proceed with its journey to Nairobi to allow engineers evaluate any damage to the aircraft. The plane was reportedly coming from Bujumbura and was to pick up passengers in Kigali en-route to Kenya. No injuries were reported to any passengers or crew on the plane by the time of going to press and no damage report was available either.

Having seen the success story of Rwanda’s tourism revival over the past decade, Burundi has now set its sights on making tourism a major part of the national economy in coming years. President Pierre Nkurunziza last week launched a coordinated campaign towards this end in Bujumbura’s Hotel ‘Club du Lac Tanganyika’. The President spoke of the positive impact tourism can have on environmental protection and in particular praised the values of ecotourism. Although geographically a small and densely populated country, Burundi nevertheless has three national parks as well as some nature reserves and monuments and most notably a Ramsar site where the Rusizi River enters Lake Tanganyika.

A regular reader of this column sent an email last weekend from New York City expressing disappointment over the absence of the scheduled A380 from Dubai to New York. Having booked this particular flight to experience the comfort of the giant Airbus for the first time, the traveler was taken aback when the aircraft was substituted against a Boeing 777. Said the traveler in the mail, “At least they did not cancel the flight and I got to New York, but I was so excited with the prospect to fly on the A380 and then bitterly disappointed.”

It was subsequently learned that the aircraft at the time was used for training purposes but it was later discovered that additional maintenance work was required, causing further A380 flights to New York being operated with other equipment over the coming days.

October 30th has been chosen to hold presidential elections in Zambia. The unscheduled exercise became necessary following the passing of President Mwanawasa some weeks ago. The late President will be remembered for his support to the Africa Travel Association by the tourism fraternity around the world, but also for his fight against corruption and for standing up to his neighboring dictator Mugabe, whose ‘re-election’ he did not recognize. Assurances have been given that the elections will not have any impact on tourist visits to Zambia, where in the past elections have been held in a generally peaceful environment.

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Editor in chief is Linda Hohnholz.