Saturday 31 March 2018

RUSSIA: Aeroflot To Commence Moscow To Dublin Flights

Aeroflot, the Russian state-controlled airline, is to launch a direct flight from Moscow to Dublin even as Ireland’s relations with the Kremlin chill following the expulsion of one of their diplomats.

A source at the flagship Russian carrier said a decision had been taken in Moscow to proceed with a direct flight although the company has yet to decide when it will commence and its frequency.

Aeroflot, which is controlled by the Kremlin, has an almost 50 per cent share of the Russia’s domestic market.

A direct flight to Dublin could lead to an acceleration in trade and tourism between the two countries.

Industry sources were unable to say whether the scandal over the poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and the subsequent diplomatic fallout would affect the timing of the launch.

However, there is confidence that it will not be derailed by the current tensions.

A delegation from the Dublin Airport met senior Aeroflot management in Moscow late last year to seal the deal, and an Irish Government source indicated that an announcement on a flight would be made very soon.

Alexander Bogachev, former head of procurement for Aeroflot, is understood currently to be helping Enterprise Ireland-backed companies win tenders with major airlines.

And GTLK Europe, the Kremlin’s leasing arm in Dublin, has a portfolio of $1.5 billion in assets based out of Ireland and could be tapped to provide Aeroflot with the necessary aircraft .

GTLK, which has raised $1 billion in financing in Ireland over the past two years, says Aeroflot is its biggest client.

Irish government agencies have been lobbying hard in recent years to secure a direct flight to Moscow and will be hoping it helps a recent resurgence in trade with Russia, which was badly hit by sanctions over the Kremlin’s interference in the Ukraine conflict.

The increased focus on Russia appears to be paying off, with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade estimating the value of Irish exports to Russia at €500 million last year, an increase of almost 40 per cent.

The direct link will make it easier for Irish investors to see for themselves that Russia is a place where they are welcomed and can make money, provided they don’t check in any political bias with their luggage, said Chris Weafer, the founder of Moscow consultancy Macro Advisory.

Dublin Airport is always in talks with potential new airline customers about launching new routes to and from Dublin, however we never comment on whether or not we are in discussions with a specific airline, said Paul O’Kane, a Dublin Airport spokesman.

Apart from Valletta in Malta, Dublin is the only capital in the European Union not served by a regular direct flight from Moscow.

Aeroflot previously used Shannon as stopover to the US and the hope in Government circles is that an Irish airport can once again become a Russian aviation hub.

In 1978, Aer Rianta approached Aeroflot with a proposal to store Soviet Aviation Fuel at Shannon for use on the Soviet airline’s transatlantic services.

By the early 1980s, more than a thousand Aeroflot flights a year were clocked through Shannon as the Russian carrier routed other transit flights via Ireland.

Aer Rianta’s co-operation with Aeroflot led to the opening of a string of duty-free shops in airports in Moscow and St Petersburg.

Irish investors were among the pioneers during Russia’s new era of perestroika in the 1990s.

Aer Rianta forged the way by opening duty-free shops, bars and hotels in Moscow through a joint venture with the Russian airline Aeroflot.

Many small to medium sized enterprises, involved in everything from hairdressing to butchering, followed to take a chance in what they called the Wild East.

The refuelling at Shannon ended after Aeroflot acquired longer-range aircraft, while the 1998 rouble crash and default by the Russian government forced most of the Irish community to abandon Moscow.

S7, the privately-owned Russian airline, started flights to Dublin in 2008 but scaled back after the economic crisis. The carrier only schedules weekly flights now during summer months.

Ryanair was granted permission by Rosaviatsia, Russia’s federal air transport agency, in 2013 to fly but never exercised the right.

Tourism chiefs will be hoping the start of Aeroflot flights will lead to a bonanza in revenues from Russians, many of whom have fond association with Ireland

Russians have a particular affinity with Ireland, especially since Aer Rianta ran the first foreign currency and the first airport duty free shops.

An Irish bar, the Shamrock on New Arbat, was the first foreign bar to open in Moscow, said Weafer, who has been based in Moscow for 20 years.

If attendance at the St Patrick’s Day parade is a good guide with plenty of Russians dressed in green the new air link should bring a lot of Russians curious about the country they have adopted so fondly at home.

The Russian carrier, which says its classic Soviet emblem of a winged hammer and sickle now represents a smile has undergone a transformation in recent years.

Its fleet is among the youngest in Europe, its business class is considered top-notch, and it has sent its flight attendants back to school to learn to smile.

The company has also been a leading sponsor of Manchester United and the team’s official carrier since 2013.

In April last year, Aeroflot was named number one Business Class globally by TripAdvisor, the travel planning and booking site.

That gong came just after Brand Finance, the business valuation and strategy consultancy, named Aeroflot the world’s strongest airline brand.

Tourism Observer

UNITED KINGDOM: Russian Plane Searched In London, A Blatant Provocation Says Russia

The search was reported on Friday afternoon. The Airbus returned to Sheremetyevo Airport in Moscow in the early hours of Saturday after completing a round trip.

Today, we have witnessed another blatant provocation by the British authorities, the Russian Embassy in London said in a statement. This kind of event is extraordinary.

Confusion arose over who did the search. UK police were involved, but the London’s Metropolitan Police denied a role on Twitter.

Russian diplomatic mission later said the plane had been boarded by border force and customs officers, who ordered the crew off in violation of existing rules.

After long talks conducted by an Embassy officer the captain of the plane was allowed to stay, according to the mission.

Russia’s flagship air carrier Aeroflot described the search as a violation of the world practice of carrying out such inspections. It said UK authorities had forced the crew off and isolated the captain in the pilot’s cabin.

After the search was over, the British officers refused to provide any written document that would specify the reasons for their actions, their legal foundation and their outcome, the Russian Embassy said.

The Embassy tried to contact the UK Foreign Office to clarify the incident and inappropriate behavior of British officials but without success.

It then sent a diplomatic note demanding explanations.

The plane’s pilot, who spoke to Russian media shortly after landing in Moscow on Saturday morning, said British officers were looking for illegal items.

Several people turned up with a dog and told us they needed to search the aircraft for items prohibited for carriage by air, Vitaly Mitrofanov told Rossiya 24 television channel.

The pilot said he stayed in the cabin while the officers were on board and was unaware of what they were doing most of the time. This was against common rules that require crew to accompany inspectors.

I wasn’t allowed to see what they were doing. Under our rules, an inspector is to be accompanied by crew members, Mitrofanov said. “

We agreed to this after consulting the consul and air security so that we could proceed with the flight.

The Russian Embassy blamed the incident on UK’s overall hostility toward Russia following a spat over a former spy’s poisoning.

We will carefully analyse what has happened.

At this moment, we have no other explanation but that the incident at Heathrow is in one way or another connected with the hostile policy that the UK government is conducting with regard to Russia, the statement read.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova suggested that the search was ordered by UK authorities to cover up for their lack of progress in the poisoning probe.
Yulia Skripal
Russia has demanded proof of its guilt in a murder attempt at Sergei Skripal and his daughter.

We cannot rule out this being another provocation by the UK authorities that they need in order to save, by all means, their truly tarnished reputation in connection to the so-called Skripal case, Zakharova said.

Ties between Russia and the United Kingdom soured after a former Russian spy and his daughter were found slumped on a park bench in Salisbury on March 4 with symptoms of poisoning.

London blamed Moscow for the suspected nerve gas attack and expelled 23 Russian diplomats.

Russia denied the claims and reciprocated the expulsion earlier this week.

The UK government is considering allowing Russian officials to visit Yulia Skripal, who is recovering in hospital along with her father Sergei after a nerve agent attack.

Ms Skripal is understood to be conscious and talking after she was poisoned with novichok while visiting her father in Salisbury.

Police are treating the poisoning as attempted murder. The attack has provoked a worldwide diplomatic spat as Western nations have joined the UK in expelling Russian officials in response.

Mr Skripal, a former Russian spy, has been in a critical condition since 4 March.

The Russian Embassy in London said in a tweet on Friday that it insists "on the right to see" Ms Skripal, who is a Russian citizen.

A UK Foreign Office spokeswoman said: "We are considering requests for consular access in line with our obligations under international and domestic law, including the rights and wishes of Yulia Skripal."

Meanwhile, Russia has told the UK it must send home just over 50 more of its diplomats in the ongoing tit-for-tat row.

Russia has already retaliated against Britain for the UK's expulsion of Russian intelligence agents by ejecting 23 British diplomats over the attack on the Skripals.

On Friday, the UK's ambassador to Moscow was told London had one month to cut its diplomatic contingent in Russia to the same size as the Russian mission in Britain.

On Saturday, Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said that meant Britain would have to cut a little over 50 additional diplomats in Russia.

We asked for parity. The Brits have 50 diplomats more than the Russians, she said.

It came after Russia claimed UK authorities searched one of their planes at a London airport in what they called a blatant provocation and threatened to board British planes in retaliation.

The Russian Embassy in the UK said in a statement: Today, we have witnessed another blatant provocation by the British authorities.

Border Force and Customs officers have searched the aircraft that was conducting the Aeroflot flights 2582 / 2583, Moscow - London - Moscow.

This kind of event is extraordinary.

They also alleged British officials had tried to search the plane in the absence of the crew.

The Russian embassy added: "Of course, we will carefully analyse what has happened. At this moment, we have no other explanation but that the incident at Heathrow is in one way or another connected with the hostile policy that the UK government is conducting with regard to Russia."

The Russian ministry of transport later said: "If there is no explanation, the Russian side will deem the actions towards our plane as illegal and also reserve the right to take similar action against British airlines."

Russia is continuing to expel other foreign diplomats in a tit-for-tat response to countries across the world sending home Russian diplomats in solidarity with Britain following the nerve agent attack in Salisbury.

Russia faces mass expulsions of its diplomatic staff around the world, with more than 150 sent back from 25 countries, and NATO.

Ambassadors from a number of other nations, including Germany, Italy, Poland and France, were also summoned by Moscow's foreign ministry.

Sixty Russian diplomats expelled by the United States were due to return home on Saturday, Moscow's envoy said.

In total, 171 people will leave the country, with two Russian planes being provided with one making a brief stopover in New York to collect 14 families.

Tourism Observer

KENYA: No Shorts Or Bikinis Entertained As Tourists Rush To Lamu For Easter Holiday,

Lamu is experiencing a boom in both domestic and international guests who are flocking the Archipelago for the four-day Easter Holiday.

Lamu County Executive for Tourism, Trade and Industrialisation Dismas Mwasambu says they have recorded a 20 percent increase in the number of tourist bookings in hotels.

Mr Mwasambu says local tourists from Nairobi, Mombasa, Kilifi, Watamu and Malindi have been flocking the region since the beginning of the week.

The number of international bookings were minimal and attributed the situation to the security status of the region.

Mr Mwasambu thanked the National Government for making Lamu safe again, but insisted on increased patrols during Easter.

We are set for the Easter holiday. Guests, mostly domestic, have arrived while others are on the way. This year’s Easter holiday has shown positive signs in as far as tourism response is concerned, he said.

Meanwhile, security has been beefed up across Lamu County as visitors stream in.

Lamu County Police Commander Muchangi Kioi said security officers have been deployed on Lamu Island, Shella, Manda and the border areas of Lamu and Somalia.

The commander said police patrols have also been enhanced, especially on the Lamu-Garsen route.

He also promised a 24-hour security system in all locations and public places.

I am assuring both the locals and tourists of adequate security measures before, during and even after the Easter celebrations.

We have enough police officers who have already been posted all over the county, on our roads and the far places of Kiunga and Ishakani border of Lamu and Somalia to ensure the Easter period progresses smoothly and peacefully. There is no cause for alarm, Mr Kioi insisted.

He urged locals to be vigilant and report any suspicious individual or activity.

The county security boss also appealed to the public to cooperate with security officials to ensure safety and peace.

Lamu or Lamu Town is a small town on Lamu Island, which in turn is a part of the Lamu Archipelago in Kenya.

Situated 341 kilometres (212 mi) by road northeast of Mombasa that ends at Mokowe Jetty from where the sea channel has to be crossed to reach Lamu Island.

It is the headquarters of Lamu County and a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Lamu is Kenya's oldest continually inhabited town, and was one of the original Swahili settlements along coastal East Africa, founded in 1370.

The town contains the Lamu Fort on the seafront, which commenced construction under Fumo Madi ibn Abi Bakr, the sultan of Pate, and was completed after his death in the early 1820s.

Lamu is also home to 23 mosques, including the Riyadha Mosque, built in 1900, and a donkey sanctuary.

Lamu Town on Lamu Island is Kenya's oldest continually inhabited town, and was one of the original Swahili settlements along coastal East Africa. It is believed to have been established in 1370.

Today, the majority of Lamu's population is Muslim.

The town was first attested in writing by an Arab traveller Abu-al-Mahasini, who met a judge from Lamu visiting Mecca in 1441.

In 1505, the Portuguese invaded Lamu, forcing the king of the town to quickly concede to paying protection money to them.

The Portuguese invasion was prompted by the nation's successful mission to control trade along the coast of the Indian Ocean.

For a considerable time, Portugal had a monopoly on shipping along the East African coast and imposed export taxes on pre-existing local channels of commerce.

In the 1580s, prompted by Turkish raids, Lamu led a rebellion against the Portuguese. In 1652, Oman assisted Lamu to resist Portuguese control.

Lamu's years as an Omani protectorate during the period from the late 17th century to early 19th century mark the town's golden age.

Lamu was governed as a republic under a council of elders known as the Yumbe who ruled from a palace in the town, little exists of the palace today other than a ruined plot of land.

During this period, Lamu became a center of poetry, politics, arts and crafts as well as trade. Many of the buildings of the town were constructed during this period in a distinct classical style.

Aside from its thriving arts and crafts trading, Lamu became a literary and scholastic centre.

Woman writers such as the poet Mwana Kupona famed for her Advice on the Wifely Duty had a higher status in Lamu than was the convention in Kenya at the time.

In 1812, a coalition Pate-Mazrui army invaded the archipelago during the Battle of Shela. They landed at Shela with the intention of capturing Lamu and completing the fort which had begun to be constructed,.

They were violently suppressed by the locals in their boats on the beach as they tried to flee. In fear of future attacks, Lamu appealed to the Omanis for a Busaidi garrison to operate at the new fort and help protect the area from Mazrui rebels along the Kenyan coast.

In the middle of the 19th century, Lamu came under the political influence of the sultan of Zanzibar. The Germans claimed Wituland in June 1885.

The Germans considered Lamu to be of strategical importance and an ideal place for a base. From 22 November 1888 to 3 March 1891, there was a German post office in Lamu to facilitate communication within the German protectorate in the sultanate.

It was the first post office to be established on the East African coast; today there is a museum in Lamu dedicated to it: the German Post Office Museum.

In 1890, Lamu and Kenya fell under British colonial rule. Kenya gained political independence in 1963, although the influence of the Kenyan central government has remained low, and Lamu continues to enjoy some degree of local autonomy.

In a 2010 report titled Saving Our Vanishing Heritage, Global Heritage Fund identified Lamu as one of 12 worldwide sites most On the Verge of irreparable loss and damage, citing insufficient management and development pressure as primary causes.

While the terror group Al Shabaab kidnappings placed Lamu off-limits since September 2011, by early 2012 the island was considered safe.

On 4 April 2012, the US Department of State lifted its Lamu travel restriction. However, two attacks in the vicinity of Lamu in July 2014, for which Al Shabaab claimed responsibility, led to the deaths of 29 people.

Lamu's economy was based on slave trade until abolition in the year 1907. Other traditional exports included ivory, mangrove, turtle shells and rhinoceros horn, which were shipped via the Indian Ocean to the Middle East and India.

In addition to the abolition of slavery, construction of the Uganda Railroad in 1901 which started from the competing port of Mombasa significantly hampered Lamu's economy.

Tourism has gradually refuelled the local economy in recent times, and it is a popular destination for backpackers. Many of the locals are involved in giving trips on dhows to tourists.

Harambee Avenue is noted for its cuisine, and has a range of stores including the halwa shop selling sweet treats and miniature mutton kebabs and cakes are sold at night.

Coconut, mango and grapefruit and seafood such as crab and lobster are common ingredients. The town contains a central market, the Gallery Baraka and Shumi's Designs shop, and the Mwalimu Books store.

The oldest hotel in the town, Petley's Inn, is situated on the waterfront. Other hotels include the American-restored Amu House, the 20-room Bahari Hotel, Doda Villas, the Swedish-owned Jannat House.

3-storey 23-room Lamu Palace Hotel, Petley's Inn, the 13-room Stone House Hotel, which was converted from an 18th-century house, and the 18-room Sunsail Hotel, a former trader's house on the waterfront with high ceilings.

Mangroves are harvested for building poles, and Lamu has a sizeable artisan community, including carpenters who are involving in boat building and making ornate doors and furniture.

The town is served by Lamu District Hospital to the south of the main centre, operated by the Ministry of Health. It was established in the 1980s, and is one of the best-equipped hospitals on the Kenyan coast.

China has begun feasibility studies to transform Lamu into the largest port in East Africa, as part of their String of Pearls strategy.

The town was founded in the 14th century and it contains many fine examples of Swahili architecture. The old city is inscribed on the World Heritage List as the oldest and best-preserved Swahili settlement in East Africa.

Once a center for the slave trade, the population of Lamu is ethnically diverse. Lamu was on the main Arabian trading routes, and as a result, the population is largely Muslim.

From respect to the Muslim inhabitants, tourists in town are expected to wear more than shorts or bikinis.

There are several museums, including the Lamu Museum, home to the island's ceremonial horn called siwa.

Other museums are dedicated to Swahili culture and to the local postal service. Notable buildings in Lamu town include:

Lamu Fort is a fort in the town. Fumo Madi ibn Abi Bakr, the sultan of Pate, started to build the fort on the seafront, to protect members of his unpopular government.

He died in 1809, before the first storey of the fort was completed. The fort was completed by the early 1820s.

Riyadha Mosque, Habib Salih, a Sharif with family connections to the Hadramaut, Yemen, settled on Lamu in the 1880s, and became a highly respected religious teacher.

Habib Salih had great success gathering students around him, and in 1900 the Riyadha Mosque was built. He introduced Habshi Maulidi, where his students sang verse passages accompanied by tambourines.

After his death in 1935 his sons continued the madrassa, which became one of the most prestigious centres for Islamic studies in East Africa.

The Mosque is the centre for the Maulidi Festival, which are held every year during the last week of the month of the Prophet's birth. During this festival, pilgrims from Sudan, Congo, Uganda, Zanzibar and Tanzania join the locals to sing the praise of Mohammad. Mnarani Mosque is also of note.

Donkey sanctuary, Since the island has no motorised vehicles, transportation and other heavy work is done with the help of donkeys. There are some 3000 donkeys on the island.

Dr. Elisabeth Svendsen of The Donkey Sanctuary in England first visited Lamu in 1985. Worried by the conditions for the donkeys, the Sanctuary was opened in 1987. The Sanctuary provides treatment to all donkeys free of charge.

Lamu is home to the Maulidi Festival, held in January or February, which celebrates Mohammed's birth. It features a range of activities from donkey races to dhow-sailing events and swimming competitions.

The Lamu Cultural Festival, a colourful carnival, is usually held in the last week of August, which since 2000 has featured traditional dancing, crafts including kofia embroidery, and dhow races.

The Donkey Awards, with prizes given to the finest donkeys, are given in March/April. Women's music in the town is also of note and they perform the chakacha, a wedding dance. Men perform the hanzua a sword dance and wear kanzus.

Lamu Old Town was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2001, based on 3 criteria:

The architecture and urban structure of Lamu graphically demonstrate the cultural influences that have come together there over several hundred years from Europe, Arabia, and India, utilising traditional Swahili techniques to produce a distinct culture.

The growth and decline of the seaports on the East African coast and interaction between the Bantu, Arabs, Persians, Indians, and Europeans represents a significant cultural and economic phase in the history of the region which finds its most outstanding expression in Lamu Old Town.

Its paramount trading role and its attraction for scholars and teachers gave Lamu an important religious function in the region, which it maintains to this day.

In 2011, proposals were being advanced to build a deep-water port which would have much greater capacity in terms of depth of water, number of berths, and ability for vessels to arrive and depart at the same time than the country's main port at Mombasa.

The song Lamu by Christian singer Michael W. Smith is inspired by the island. In the song, Smith refers to Lamu as an island hideaway the place we soon will be a rebirth from life's demise where the world is still.

The song is about running away from life's problems.

Lamu is the setting of Anthony Doerr's short story - The Shell Collector - from his collection of stories by the same name.

Tourism Observer

SWAZILAND: Good Reasons To Visit Swaziland

2018 is an exciting year for Swaziland, dubbed 'Africa in a nutshell' as it celebrates its 50th year since independence and King Mswati III's 50th birthday.

The '50/50' celebrations in April will be the undoubted highlight of the year but the country's stunning scenery; fascinating cultural experiences, thrilling safaris and exciting adventure activities are available all year round.

As 2018 is such a significant year for this charming Kingdom, over the coming months we’re going to deliver 50 reasons why Swaziland should be at the very top of your travel bucket list.
The month of April in particular brings a number of reasons to visit into sharp focus, so we’re starting with 5 reasons to go right now.

1. Swaziland celebrates its 50/50 in April – 50 years since Independence and 50th birthday of King Mswati III.

In true Swazi style, the celebrations on 19 April will be spectacular, attended by numerous neighbouring African heads of state, but also open to visitors.

2. The new Hilton Hotel opens in Mbabane in April. A newly-built luxury hotel and the first big international chain hotel ever in Swaziland, this is a very significant step in Swaziland’s tourism development

3. Although April is classed as a tourist low season, the weather is perfect with temperatures between 16-25C - ideal for exploring.

4. A number of tour operators launched new Swaziland trips at the start of the year that are now up and running, including a 5-day Overnight Trail on horse back with In the Saddle.

5. It’s Marula Season. Between February and mid-May Swaziland celebrates the harvest of the Marula fruit. Lots of festivities and lots of Marula beer being brewed.


It is Swaziland’s variety of attractions in its small area that is its greatest asset.

It is the mixture of beautiful landscapes, fascinating wildlife, and rich culture that combine to make this small country such a wonderful place to visit.


A tiny country with a big heart and warm, friendly people aptly describes Swaziland – a country that is one of the few remaining Executive Monarchies in Africa and embraces and upholds its own unique and ancient traditions.

Both the monarchy and the people of Swaziland actively maintain and preserve a remarkable cultural heritage that is probably unmatched anywhere in Africa.

Visitors can get a better idea of traditional African culture here than pretty much anywhere else in the region.

What is seen, including spectacular festivals and energetic dances, has not simply been resuscitated for the tourist dollar but is the real deal.

The famous Umhlanga or Reed Dance and Incwala are traditional ceremonies that involve tens of thousand of Swazis, and attract visitors from all over the world.

But traditional attire, ceremonies and dancing are to be found throughout the country at all times of the year.


Swaziland's rich variety of landscapes and habitats gives it a profusion of fauna and flora, with the sheer number of species being mind-boggling by most European standards.

The country is not large enough to offer lots of big game experiences, but it has some 17 protected areas which are home to a very wide range of species, including the sought after Big 5.

As well as being one of the best places on the continent for rhino safaris on foot as well as by 4x4 and to see both black and white rhinos.

Swaziland is also the perfect place to get to grips with many smaller creatures often overlooked on safari elsewhere, and it is a bird-watcher’s paradise.


With the exception of desert and sea, every geographical feature of Africa’s terrain is found within Swaziland.

Magnificent mountain scenery with rivers, waterfalls and gorges; unique rock formations which are among the world’s most ancient; lush and fertile valleys, plus typical African bush.

From west to east, Swaziland moves from mountainous Highveld, though Middleveld to Lowveld, and then rises again to the Lubombo mountains.

Altitudes vary from 21 to 1800 m (70 to 6000 ft) – yet the country’s east and west borders are less than 200 km (125 miles) apart.

Arts & Crafts

Swaziland has a remarkably impressive range of traditional arts and crafts with many of its products now found in trendy ethnic boutiques around world.

Throughout the country men and women are at work creating the finest handicrafts that are so popular with visitors.

Creative basket ware in vibrant clours, wood and stone carvings, glassware, exquisite candles, batik items, jewellery – all uniquely Swazi.

In many places that they are on sale, there is also chance to see the craftspeople at work and marvel at their intricate skills.

Many are socially responsible outlets which provide both income and empowerment for their craftspeople from poor rural communities.


Swaziland’s mountains, valleys, rivers and other natural wonders make it the ideal choice for those seeking adventure, and even high adrenaline experiences.

In addition, the rich culture allows for less adrenaline-fueled activities.

All activities in Swaziland are available year-round, but for some suggestions of what to try when, have a look at our Swaziland Calendar, and don't forget all the Events that go in in Swaziland each year.

Cultural Activities

With Swaziland’s rich culture and strong traditions, this is a wonderful country to partake in some fascinating cultural activities.

The monarchy and the people of Swaziland actively maintain and preserve a remarkable cultural heritage, allowing visitors to get a better idea of traditional African culture here than pretty much anywhere else in the region.

What is seen, including spectacular festivals, has not simply been resuscitated for the tourist dollar but is the real deal.


If there is one thing that Swaziland is known for around the world it is the magnificent traditional festivals that the country hosts- particularly the Umhlanga (Reed Dance) and Incwala ceremonies.

Both are living cultural events that, bar the odd wristwatch and mobile phone, have hardly changed in two hundred years.

Visitors are allowed to watch, but neither ceremony makes any concession to tourism; even the precise dates are not published in advance, being dependent on the vagaries of ancestral astrology.

The main events happen at the royal parade grounds at Ludzidzini but the mood of celebration sweeps the nation.

Visitors to the country around the time of the events will doubtless see wandering bands of warriors or maidens decked out in full regalia as they head to or from the festivities.

The modern event that has gained an international reputation in far fewer years is the Bushfire Festival – a performing arts festival held every May.

Swaziland’s annual calendar is a mix of traditional and modern events


The many Game Parks and Nature Reserves across Swaziland protect a vast variety of animals. From the magnificent Big Five to warthogs, antelope and reptiles, Swaziland is home to numerous of Africa’s wild animal species.

The emphasis in Swaziland is to provide visitors with a more intimate wildlife experience in areas of natural beauty, and to allow them a certain amount of freedom to explore on their own terms.

This is no place for mass tourism and convoys of vehicles but instead, walks to learn about the bush and track rare species like black and white rhino.

As well as traditional 4x4 and walking safaris, some of Swaziland’s reserves can also be explored by mountain bike and on horseback.

In a number of the reserves visitors are free to move around independently, without the need for a guide or ranger.

There are even self catering options amongst the accommodation that allow you to be in charge of your own safari lodge in the bush.

There aren’t many places in the world where you can head off for your own bike ride and encounter zebra and bushbuck along the way, or take a stroll to see the giraffe before settling down to your own bush barbeque.


Some 500 species of bird have been recorded in Swaziland. This puts it roughly on a par with France (517) or, more locally, the Kruger National Park (505), and is a remarkable tally for such a tiny, landlocked country.

This comes from its diversity of habitats, with several very different bird communities occurring side-by-side.

Outdoor Activities

With the massive variety of Swaziland’s natural landscapes, it’s no surprise that there is a wealth of outdoor activities available in this small, beautiful country.

The scenery can be explored on foot, by bike, on horseback and even by quad bike. And there are a even a few rivers and dams/reservoirs allowing for boat trips.

Adventure Activities

Swaziland’s mountains, valleys, rivers and other natural wonders make it the ideal choice for those seeking adrenaline activities.

It has built reputation for a variety of thrilling adventure activities that once again belies its small size. These include Caving, Canopy Tours, Climbing, Abseiling, Tubing and White Water Rafting.


There is no shortage of ways to keep fit and active in Swaziland. As well as the Outdoor Activities and Adventure Activities covered elsewhere, there are a number of sports on offer, including Fishing, Swimming, Golf, Tennis, Squash.

Gyms, spas, yoga and team building are also covered here. The best places to find most sporting facilities are Swaziland’s various Country and Golf Clubs – legacies of the country’s colonial past.

Water Sports

As a land-locked country, Swaziland has no coastline that would allow for the variety of beach activities and watersports found in neighbouring South Africa and Mozambique.

It does have a number of dams/reservoirs, and some magnificent rivers, that provide the opportunity for a few water-based activities, but these are covered elsewhere.

- Boat Trips can be found under Outdoor Activities

- Swimming and Fishing can be found under Sports

- White Water Rafting can be found under Adventure Activities

In today's retail society, shopping is an ever more popular activity. Swaziland has a handful of modern malls, but the country's best shopping experiences come from the traditional handicrafts on offer.

Swaziland has a remarkably impressive range of traditional arts and crafts with many of its products now found in trendy ethnic boutiques around world.

Throughout the country men and women are at work creating and selling the finest handicrafts that are so popular with visitors.

Tourism Observer

Friday 30 March 2018

KENYA: Emirates Has Not Canceled Flights Between Nairobi And Dubai, General Miguna Miguna Forced On Board

General Miguna Miguna
Emirates Airlines on Thursday denied claims of flight cancellations attributed to a lawyer representing deported lawyer and politician Miguna Miguna.

The airline maintained its flights between Nairobi and Dubai were on schedule contrary to the allegations posted on lawyer Nelson Havi's official Twitter page.

Emirates’ flights between Nairobi and Dubai continue to operate as scheduled, said the airline.

Dr Miguna on Thursday morning deported to Dubai aboard a EK722 Emirates flight following his detention at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) since his arrival on Monday at 2.30 pm.

In sworn suit documents, Dr Miguna’s lawyers claimed the self-proclaimed National Resistance Movement (NRM) general had been held incommunicado in a toilet at Terminal 2 at the airport and that his Canadian passport had been withheld.

Self-declared 'general' of National Resistance Movement (NRM) Miguna Miguna has confirmed his lawyers' claims that he was drugged before being deported to Dubai on Wednesday night.

In his first Facebook post on arrival in Dubai, the lawyer on Thursday morning said he very sick and needs urgent medical attention.

“I was dragged, assaulted, drugged and forcefully flown to Dubai,” he posted.

“I woke up in Dubai and the despots are here insisting that I must travel on to London.”

He added, “I’m sick. My ribs and body is hurting all over. This is a travesty of justice! I need medical treatment. I need urgent help here.”

Dr Miguna accused an officer he only identified as Mr Njihia for threatening him and remained adamant that he would not leave the airport.

I want to take a flight only to Nairobi. Nowhere else!

Lawyer Cliff Ombeta, who represented Dr Miguna, on Wednesday night claimed that his client was sedated, handcuffed and taken away.

The airport was on police lockdown on Wednesday night, with police in full combat gear attacking journalists and lawyers who attempted to access Dr Miguna.

The lawyers had gone to the airport to serve court orders directing his release when they were roughed up.

Some sources claimed the exit Dr Miguna, the self-declared ‘general’ of the National Resistance Movement (NRM), a wing of the Nasa that was formed to champion resistance against products of firms deemed friendly and financiers of Jubilee government, was facilitated by Canada.

Canada was very strict on flying rules which General Miguna Miguna obeyed.

The lawyer holds Canadian citizenship and has denied government claims that he acquired it after ceasing to be a Kenyan in 1998.

Dr Miguna, who ran for Nairobi governorship in Kenya's August 8, 2017 General Election and has two homes, one in the capital and the other in Nyando, Kisumu County, insists he is a Kenyan by birth.

Lawyer and National Super Alliance (Nasa) activist Miguna Miguna landed in Dubai and refused to leave the international airport.

The self-declared general of National Resistance Movement (NRM) was kicked out of Kenya on Wednesday evening in breach of three High Court orders.

In a video recording posted by Gatundu South MP Moses Kuria, who appeared to have boarded the same flight with the fiery lawyer, Dr Miguna is seen arguing with a security officer telling him to kill him if he wants.

Do whatever you want to do, kill me if you want, I don’t fear death…so do whatever you want, Dr Miguna is heard saying while seated at the airport’s arrival bay with his luggage.

The airport officer is heard offering a wheel chair to ferry Dr Miguna to the security office.

I don’t want. You don’t respect human rights, Dr Miguna is heard shouting the officer down.

The self-declared general of National Resistance Movement (NRM) is seen trying to make some calls as the security officer pleads with him.

So far, there has been no official statement on the second deportation from the government.

Dr Miguna's social media accounts earlier indicated he was being held in a toilet at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport's Terminal 2.

Through his Facebook account, Mr Kuria claimed to have landed together with Dr Miguna in Dubai.

This morning at Dubai International Airport I bid farewell to the leader of the breakaway Eastern Suburbs of Toronto, NRM General Miguna Miguna, who completed a successful 4-day state visit to Kenya, posted the MP, a staunch supporter of Jubilee and President Uhuru Kenyatta.

Aboard Flight EK 722. I can positively confirm that we have all nationalities on this flight, including a very bald headed Canadian.

Tourism Observer

Thursday 29 March 2018

RUSSIA: Qatar Airways Buys 25% Stake In Vnukovo International Airport, One Of The Largest And Busiest

Qatar Airways has bought a 25 per cent stake in one of Moscow’s largest airports for an undisclosed sum as the company attempts to overcome the Gulf blockade of the emirate.

Akbar Al Baker, chief executive of Qatar Airways, said on Monday that the airline expected the deal on Vnukovo to be concluded within the next eight weeks.

The airport, Russia’s third-largest, served 18m passengers last year and is used by the government for official travel. Businessman Vitaly Vantsev and partners own a 74.9 per cent stake of Vnukovo.

Mr Al Baker did not say whether he was buying from Mr Vantsev, but Russia’s state property management service said it had no plans to privatise its 25 per cent stake.

Qatar’s emir, Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, visited Moscow on Monday for a bilateral meeting with Russian president Vladimir Putin, a vital international partner, as the blockade by Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries continues to harm the emirate’s economy.

Until the blockade was imposed in June, Qatar Airways had bucked a downturn in Gulf airlines’ performance, posting net profit growth of 22 per cent to $541m in the 2016 financial year.

But the blockade immediately closed off 18 destinations and while Qatar has refused to quantify the impact, it is likely to be incurring huge costs on rerouting aircraft.

The airline has gone on the offensive, acquiring stakes in Hong Kong’s Cathay Pacific and Italy’s Meridiana to boost traffic.

Qatar has invested significantly in Russia in recent years. Qatar Investment Authority, its sovereign wealth fund, bought a 25 per cent stake in St Petersburg’s airport in 2016 for €238m together with the $10bn state-run Russian Direct Investment Fund, which co-invests with foreign investors in Russian companies.

Later that year, the Qatar Investment Authority, headed a consortium with commodities trader Glencore that took a 19.5 per cent stake in Russian state-owned oil company Rosneft for €10.2bn.

The consortium then struck a deal in September to sell 14 per cent of Rosneft to mysterious Chinese commodities house CEFC for $9.1bn, with much of the financing coming from Russian state bank VTB.

However, that deal is under threat after Chinese authorities detained CEFC founder Ye Jiaming last month and Chinese state-owned conglomerate Citic, which is wary over US sanctions against Rosneft and its chief executive Igor Sechin, considered taking a stake in the company.

Glencore has said it still expects the deal to close in the second half of 2018.

Tourism Observer

VIETNAM: Bamboo Airways To Acquire 24 A321neo Aircraft

Vietnam’s FLC Group has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Airbus for up to 24 A321neo aircraft for future operation by Bamboo Airways.

The agreements were signed in Paris by Trinh Van Quyet, Chairman of FLC Group and Eric Schulz, Chief Commercial Officer, Airbus during the official visit to France of Nguyen Phu Trọng, General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Vietnam.

Bamboo Airways is set to begin operations in 2019 with aircraft on lease from third party lessors before taking delivery of the aircraft covered by today’s MOU with Airbus.

The carrier will focus on linking international markets to Vietnamese leisure destinations, as well as on selected domestic routes.

After evaluating carefully the competing products, FLC Group and Bamboo Airways have selected the A321neo as the most efficient option for our new operation, said Trinh Van Quyet.

The A321neo will enable us to combine comfort, efficiency and the right capacity for our planned services, which will primarily serve fast growing leisure markets in Vietnam.

We are proud that the A321neo has been selected by FLC Group, said Schulz. This decision once again underscores the position of the A321 as the aircraft of choice in the mid-market segment with its additional capacity and the very lowest operating cost.

Vietnam is one of the most vibrant economies in South East Asia and we are proud to play a key role in helping to develop the air transport system in this fast-growing market.

Meanwhile, Airbus Helicopters UK has defied market conditions with a new high of 14 civil aircraft booked in 2017, demonstrating a year-on-year average growth in the civil market of 36% since 2013.

As a result, the company has reinforced its position as UK market leader with 46% of the civil and parapublic market.

This follows the company’s long-term commitment, made in 2015, to invest in increasing its industrialisation in the UK; an Airbus home country.

As a home country, it is Airbus Helicopters’ role to invest in current and future UK-based rotary wing solutions and technology for the benefit of customers at home and overseas; in this way helping to make the UK and Airbus Helicopters more competitive on the global market said Colin James, Managing Director Airbus Helicopters UK.

Furthermore, by leveraging on our civil business know-how we are helping to drive efficiencies into the UK defence helicopter market he added.
2017 has seen continued growth in the commercial market, including the export to an undisclosed European customer of two H125s in border security configuration, an area where Airbus Helicopters’ UK design team is recognised as having a world-leading capability.

In addition, the company welcomed the order for four, heavily customised H125s for Qinetiq and which will be used as the new single-engine helicopter for the Empire Test Pilot School.

The company also received orders for six new aircraft, a mix of single and twin-engine helicopters, in the private and business aviation segment, a core part of the company’s UK market and the result of the UK team’s expertise and offering in this sector.

Since becoming the European hub for the newly launched Airbus Corporate Helicopters (ACH) last year, the company has set up an integrated sales network across Europe and inaugurated a new private and business customer facility at the company’s Oxford-based headquarters.

The company’s success in the defence market was marked by achievements with UK Military Flying Training System (MFTS), where Airbus Helicopters UK delivered 25 H135 Juno – the highest number of H135s ever delivered to a single customer in a year.

As aircraft service provider to UK MFTS, the company has now established its presence at RAF Shawbury, operating out of two hangars and where fully trained personnel are able to provide full maintenance and logistics support for the 29 H135 Juno helicopters.

Similar facilities have been set up at RAF Valley to support the three H145 Jupiter helicopters based there.

In addition, in late 2017 the company signed the £100m Puma 2 Follow-on Support Arrangement contract with the option for an extension until the currently planned out of service date of March 2025.

As a result, Airbus Helicopters continues to strengthen its partnership with the UK MoD, ensuring a strong and sustainable base for the future growth of Airbus Helicopters core activities in the UK.

Since the company’s commitment in 2015 to increase industrialisation in the UK, Airbus Helicopters UK has expanded its teams, services and operations on all fronts.

In support of the growing business and commitment to customers, the workforce has grown by more than 50% over the last four years.

New services have been established to support maintenance for the latest, Helionix-equipped Airbus helicopters, while a new Helionix training simulator, at the company’s Oxford-based headquarters, helps pilots familiarise themselves with the full spectrum of advanced avionics and auto-pilot suite.

Furthermore, following the launch of the company’s first UK research and development projects in 2015,helicopter blade research through the Aerospace Growth Partnership and light, malleable armour through the Defence Growth Partnership.

2017 saw two new UK R&D projects approved, firstly on the use of virtual and augmented reality in maintenance operations and secondly on autonomous deck landings.

The launch of these projects is scheduled for 2018 and will see Airbus Helicopters work closely with UK Government, industrial and academic partners to develop these capabilities

Today, Airbus Helicopters is by far the largest supplier of turbine helicopters in the UK including 100 helicopters operating with the Ministry of Defence, 100 per cent of the UK police helicopter fleet, as well as the majority of aircraft flying in support of the UK’s critical national infrastructure.

Tourism Observer

BAHRAIN: Qatari Jets Intercept Two UAE Civilian Planes In Bahrain

Qatari fighter jets flew near to two UAE-registered civilian aircraft passing through Bahrain, forcing the captain of one of the flights to alter course to avoid collision.

The incident was reported on Monday by the General Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) of the United Arab Emirates, which warned of the dangers posed by the Qatari jets.

It described the development as an infringement of Bahrain’s airspace. The decision showed disregard for the safety of flight plans of aircraft as notified to the International Civil Aviation Organisation, it said.

A statement that this act was preceded by two similar actions has been filed with the ICAO.

In the earlier incidents, Qatar fighter jets harassed UAE military aircraft on three occasions, while its airforce also intercepted two Emirati civilian airliners on January 15, which led the UAE to file a complaint at the UN.

Brig Gen Helal Al Qubaisi of the Armed Forces said a Qatari jet approached a UAE F-16 on December 27 last year.

They claim the aircraft violated Qatari airspace. It didn’t, Gen Al Qubaisi said. They jeopardised lives.

The other two military incidents, on January 3 and January 12, involved a UAE Twin Otter aircraft and a C-130 cargo plane.

The UAE has lodged a complaint with the UN against Qatar after its jets intercepted two Emirati civilian aircraft while on routine flights to Bahrain.

The head of the Emirates’ General Civil Aviation Authority, Saif Al Suweidi, said at the time the first UAE civilian aircraft, identified as an Emirates flight, was intercepted at 10.30am and the second at 11am.

Both planes landed safely in the Bahraini capital and were able to complete their return flights without incident. Qatar denied the claims.

The complaint was in the form of a note submitted to both the UN Security Council president and the UN General Assembly president.

It said the interception was a threat to safety of the civil flights and a breach to the rules of international law.

Tourism Observer

KENYA: Kenya Airways, Air France And KLM In Partnership - Higher Fuel Costs Reason For KQ High Losses

Air France has formally joined the Kenya Airways and KLM joint venture (JV), as the French carrier launched direct flights between Nairobi and Paris.

The new agreement, which was signed Monday, allows passengers to connect to 26 and 57 other destinations beyond Nairobi and Paris, respectively.

Air France, which merged with KLM in 2004, will operate three weekly flights between Nairobi and Paris.

The airline will fly the latest-generation Boeing 787 on this route, the Dreamliner with 30 seats in Business class, 20 in Premium Economy class and 225 seats in Economy class.

Air France, KLM and KQ customers will also reserve flights operated on a code share basis by one of the three airlines on Amsterdam and Nairobi routes following signing of the partnership.

We are back on the Nairobi and Paris route because of the growing economic ties between the two countries.

To date, we have over 80 French companies that have selected Nairobi as their regional hub and this is one of the many opportunities we are looking to tap.

Our latest route will serve to strengthen our African routes, said Air France, senior vice president Africa, Frank Legre.

The agreement allows the three carriers to conduct concerted marketing and sales activities, align and coordinate pricing of tickets as well as exchange of staff in select areas.

KLM and KQ entered into a master co-operation agreement in 1995, which has seen them share revenues on certain routes based on a pre-determined ratio after deducting expenses.

We are accelerating our offensive on the long haul flights by forging partnerships and new alliances. We are set to unveil new routes and partnerships soon said Air France, Executive Vice President, Customer Division, Anne Rigail.

Meanwhile, Kenya Airways is set to introduce a more spacious but higher-priced Economy class on its nine Dreamliner aircraft in a bid to grow its revenues.

The national carrier, known as KQ by its international code, says it will increase the recline angle and legroom on 27 seats currently assigned to Economy class and charge up to Sh10,200 more for the convenience.

KQ made the announcement Wednesday when reporting that its revenue for the nine months to December stood at Sh80.8 billion and that its net loss for the period was Sh6.1 billion.

Any time one of the aircraft is grounded for an extended period, we shall make the necessary adjustments to the first three rows in Economy, said Vincent Coste, KQ’s chief commercial officer.

Customers can book these seats for between $50 and $100 depending on the season and length of the flight.

Airlines have over the years increasingly paid more attention to business class customers who pay significantly higher than their fellow passengers on the same trip.

Offerings such as bars and lie-flat beds aimed at increasing the cabin space for this special set of passengers have, inevitably, disenfranchised those who sit in Economy class.

KQ is now looking to book extra ancillary revenue from this new offering which it says has proved successful including among its partner airlines such as KLM and Air France.

Dreamliners are the commonly used aircraft on long-haul routes such as Europe and the upcoming one to New York hence KQ’s decision to retrofit for extra comfort to woe customers.

This aircraft has 30 seats in Premier World or Business class and 204 in Economy.

At the moment, the airline charges between Sh3,100 and Sh11,780 for passengers in need of seats with extra legroom, with the cost varying depending on the length of the flight and your loyalty programme ranking.

National carrier Kenya Airways’ shareholder value has moved into positive territory riding on last year’s balance sheet restructuring that reduced its annual debt payment obligations, leaving room to revamp its operations.

KQ’s equity position stood at Sh417 million in the nine months between April and December 2017 compared to negative Sh45 billion in the year to March 2017, according to a financial report that was released.

The change in fortunes follows a complex restructuring of the business that saw Kenya Airways main creditors, 10 commercial banks and the government convert Sh44.2 billion loans into equity to save it from total collapse.

Financial results that were released on Wednesday, however, show that Kenya Airways is still a multi-billion shilling loss-making operation that produced a Sh6.08 billion loss for the nine months to December 2017.

The results do not have a comparable period because KQ has changed its reporting period from March to the calendar year.

Michael Joseph, who chairs the company’s board, said the change in reporting cycle has been done to sync the airline’s books with those of stakeholders such as travel agents, financiers and lessors.

We are now concentrated on the industrial restructuring of the business, which includes finding ways of increasing our revenues and keeping costs at a manageable level, he said.

KQ’s precarious equity position that left it with less assets than its debt load meant that if it were to be liquidated, shareholders would be left with nothing.

Kenya Airways’ total debt now stands at Sh139.6 billion compared to total assets of Sh140.1 billion.

The airline made loan repayments of Sh9.1 billion during the period under review, a significant drop from the Sh25 billion paid out in the full year to March 2017.

Despite this improvement in its leverage, the carrier posted a loss for the nine months to December mainly driven by a 14 per cent increase in fuel costs and a 20 per cent drop in customer numbers.

KQ airlifted 3.4 million passengers during the nine months to December earning Sh80.8 billion in revenues but its operating costs consumed Sh79.5 billion.

Sebastian Mikosz, the airline’s chief executive, said attention is now turning to route expansion, cost optimisation and improvement of service delivery.

Top on the list are the direct and daily New York flights set to commence in October and which Mr Mikosz expects to boost KQ’s revenues by between eight and 10 per cent.

Kenya Airways (KQ) has posted a Sh6.1 billion net loss for the nine months to December as it announced a change in its financial calendar to sync with the calendar year.

The national carrier's management has attributed the loss position to higher fuel costs and the negative impact of a prolonged electioneering period.

Fuel costs, which went up 14 per cent in the period, remain the biggest challenge to KQ's profitability.

However, the airline is optimistic of 2018's outlook amid a planned rollout of daily flights between Nairobi and New York this October, non-stop flights to Cape town and direct flights to Mauritius.

Chief executive Sébastian Mikosz said the full financial impact of the new US route will be felt in 2019, adding he expects a revenue boost of between 8 and 10 per cent.

The firm will be recalling its Dreamliner from Oman Air to serve this long haul route.

Kenya Airways will, in partnership with its European partners, roll out economy comfort class on all aircraft in the next 12-15 months as part of its strategy to increase revenues.

Michael Joseph, KQ's chairman, said Wednesday at an investors' briefing that Polish consultants are still part of the team alongside consultants from other countries, adding that focus on the Polish misplaced.

Tourism Observer

PHILIPPINES: Grab-Uber Merger , Most Employees Just Want To Know What Happens Next.

There has been much discussion about the Grab and Uber merger and its implications for consumers, taxi operators such as Comfort, and relatively less discussion of the impact on Uber and possibly Grab drivers.

At the outset, it should be noted that comment on this makes the critical assumption that the merger will be approved by the Competition Commission.

Should regulators reject the merger, the following arguments will be moot.

There has been much talk about how the merger will affect innovation.

The most impactful innovation in this space was the use of smartphones to offer ride sharing services.

It dramatically increased the transport options available to consumers and, in some instances, offered better prices, both of which led to higher consumer welfare.

In return, the ride sharing companies formed a number of alliances with traditional transport providers GrabTaxi, UberFLASH - which further improved consumer choices, and also introduced additional services such as food delivery, e-wallet facilitating payments, and financial services through alliances.

The drivers and other delivery partners e.g. restaurants for UberEats formed another key group of stakeholders that benefitted from the emergence of these services.

They could utilise their time or assets e.g. cars, motorcycles, bicycles or personal mobility devices or PMDs to earn some extra income.

In other words, the shared ride companies offered business model innovation but other than the first big innovation, the rest were incremental additions to the first important idea.

Before we discuss whether the merger will lead to higher or monopolistic prices, it may be useful to remember that the intense competition between Uber and Grab was akin to a land grab.

In their zeal to acquire a larger piece of the business, the companies were probably doing unsustainable levels of discounting and subsidising.

With or without the merger, the discounting was bound to stop at some point in time, probably as early as next year, because of Uber’s planned IPO.

So it is likely that the only effect of the merger might be to advance the discontinuation of an unsustainable level of discounting and subsidising.

Even leaving the discontinuation of deep discounting aside, we should not be unduly alarmed about the loss of consumer welfare because of high prices for the simple reason that there is a cap on how much the new Grab can raise prices, especially in Singapore.

Singapore has a good public transport system and a taxi system that doesn’t charge high fares. Consumers will switch to these alternatives well before the new Grab starts charging monopolistic prices.

Let us now turn to how the merger will affect innovation and welfare for other stakeholders such as drivers and partners, such as restaurants.

I believe that the impact will be much less than is commonly believed and am sceptical about the merger’s detrimental impact on innovation.

In fact, as noted above, it may be a stretch to call some of these product extensions as innovations and there are a good number of providers offering these innovative services.

For instance, e-wallet services are being offered by many players, including SingTel. In services such as food delivery, there are several delivery options, besides the shared ride service providers, making the impact of the merger even less.

Given the low barriers to entry in this business and the low switching costs for consumers, more entrants may enter in the future as well, leveraging on the existing delivery network, a ready supply of cyclists, motorcyclists and PMD owners.

On March 28th, homegrown carpooling app Ryde announced it would be launching RydeX, its new private-hire car service, as part of its growth expansion strategy.

Even after the merger, Grab will continue to innovate.

Its competition with Uber was only one of the reasons for trying new strategies and offering new services.

Other reasons include enhancing its profit streams by leveraging its consumer base to sell multiple services e.g. GrabPay to customers or insurance to Grab drivers and leveraging its skills in technology e.g. matching riders and drivers. Both these motivations will remain powerful, post-merger.

Drivers may be one key group who may lose out because of the merger. The new Grab may need fewer drivers. The intense competition between the two providers lowered the prices of their services and increased demand.

When prices become higher they could have headed higher even without the merger, the demand might fall.

This is very much a part of the dynamics of competition. Entrants are attracted by the possibility of making profits, leading to excess supply and shakeout before a market discovers its equilibrium.

The Grab-Uber merger should therefore be seen from a dispassionate perspective.

Most analysts and observers overestimate the extent of innovation happening in this space and incorrectly label product extensions as innovations.

It is also incorrect to assume that whatever is happening today e.g. discounting would continue indefinitely, without the merger.

As a believer in free choice and markets, I have few concerns about the merger. In a free market system, there is no reason why any party including governments should stop Uber from selling its Southeast Asian business if it chooses to do so.

The argument that it would lead to monopolistic prices is flawed.

Because of sheer volume, not all former Uber drivers will be onboarded by Grab on April 8.

Come April 8 when the Uber app shuts down, not all 20,000 to 24,000 of its drivers would have transitioned to Grab, its former rival which would take over its defunct operations.

In a press briefing on Wednesday, March 28, Grab Philippines Head Brian Cu said that they have started the so-called onboarding process of Uber drivers since Monday, March 26.

However, because of the sheer volume of ex-Uber drivers transitioning, Cu said they would have to extend beyond the April 8 shutdown.

“We've been processing endlessly, tirelessly since yesterday all Uberkads or Uber partners who come here and we will continue doing this all the way up to, even after the Uber app is turned off because I'm not sure everyone can be here before April 8, Cu said in a mix of English and Filipino.

Cu said that all those who operated under Uber, as long as they were part of the masterlist submitted by Uber to the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB), will be activated on their platform.

Cu said they will not accept new operators.

Meanwhile, LTFRB Board Member Aileen Lizada assured the commuting public that fares will not be raised with Grab’s acquisition of Uber.

Grab cannot increase its fare on its own. We know their range. We monitor them. Any request for fare hike goes through a hearing, where commuter side is heard, where NEDA (National Economic Development Authority) helps us.

Grab knows how serious we are with violations as we fined Uber before, Lizada said.

Cu added that the increase in Grab's available drivers will also mean demand will be met better.

With the increased supply base, it’s easier to allocate, meaning surge will not be as frequent as it used to be, he said.

Although fares right now may not increase given the merger, Grab Philippines and Uber earlier submitted petitions to increase fares due to the tax reform law. The hearing is set on April 3.

Lizada also said that Grab will not monopolize the transport network vehicle services industry.

She said that other potential transport network companies have submitted applications to the LTFRB before but they are just waiting for them to complete their documents.

If you say that there is no competition, soon there will be. Owto, Lag go, and Hype had applied to be TNCs,she said.

Once all requirements have been submitted, Lizada said the regulatory board will deliberate if they will be accepted.

Many Uber drivers were confused by the situation.

At Grab’s onboarding site in Quezon City, Ruggo Rivero and Olga Diaz said they only found out that the Uber app will shut down on Monday.

It was very confusing for us. We only knew about it two days ago. As partners, we would have appreciated if we knew about this earlier given that Uber has not been meeting its target profits, Rivero said in a mix of English and Filipino.

With limited time in their hands, Rivero said he had to give up a day of driving just to finally process his papers. I could’ve driven now as surge pricing is higher but here I am now.

However, Rivero sees a light at the end of the tunnel with better income coming from his driving.

Well, I guess I’ll be earning more with Grab than with Uber. Olga earns more than I do when she drives for Grab. But at the end of the day, for us it’s all about service, he said.

On Monday, March 26, Uber announced that it decided to sell its operations in Southeast Asia to Grab. In turn, Uber will receive a 27.5% stake in the business.

Uber has found itself in PR hot water following multiple reports of employees and partners being impacted by the move.

In multiple media reports, Uber employees were reportedly told to clear their belongings and go on paid leave.

A video of Uber employees packing up was also leaked online. In a previous statement to Marketing, an Uber spokesperson refuted claims over job cuts, and added that both Uber and Grab are committed to putting their people first as part of this transition.

Grab’s spokesperson added that Uber employees, including its leaders, in its Southeast Asia operations will be offered employment in Grab.

Meanwhile, Uber employees whose coverage is wider than Southeast Asia will continue to work in Uber.

Grab later clarified once more that Uber employees were not communicated with due to the lack of access to contact information.

The stir surrounding the fate of Uber employees also did not go unnoticed by other technology companies, with several reportedly contacting employees in both digital and support functions for job opportunities, reported BT.

A quick check by Marketing also found a LinkedIn post by Fave’s head of people Audra Pakalnyte giving a shoutout to Uber employees looking for new career opportunities.

Partners of Uber were also impacted by sudden news of the merger, with Lion City Rentals (LCR) announcing on social media that the company and UberHUB would be closed until further notice.

LCR is Uber’s wholly-owned car rental subsidiary in Singapore, which taxi company ComfortDelGro has a 51% stake in. It later followed up by revealing that it is still seeking more clarity from the Grab and Uber merger.

The move also saw the abrupt drop out of Uber and UberEATS from Lazada’s LiveUp loyalty programme, which currently offers users discounts and rebates on services such as Lazada, RedMart, Netflix, Taobao Collection, Uber and Uber Eats.

Meanwhile, F&B partners with UberEATS had also expressed concerns over the merger and what it means for them in terms of new contracts, commissions and delivery radius, an ST report said.

One F&B partner also claimed in the report that these details were not discussed as of yet.

Industry players Marketing spoke to agreed that both Uber and Grab could have communicated better with employees and partners, despite the uncertainties of the acquisition.

While details of the acquisition should be kept closely guarded, Uber should have collaborated with trusted senior leaders to enable them to communicate with their teams, Lina Marican, managing director of Mutant Communications said.

For Lars Voedisch, principal consultant and MD of PRecious Communications, the move to communicate the move in this manner seemed rushed.

This is because mergers or takeovers of directly listed companies usually have a clearly prepared communications plan ready for multi-channel outreach and cascaded information layers.

To me it looks like a rush job decided on highest management and investor level to finally get it over and done with.

But without sufficient empathy applied to look at the immediate impact it has on the wider community of employees, drivers, passengers etc.

Recalling Uber’s past scenarios with poor PR, it was shocking that more emphasis was not put on planning and executing the communication better.

The communications also came across as cold and lacking empathy and that the takeover is a poor example of an M&A execution from a communications perspective.

As rumours regarding the takeover were out in the news for weeks, staff and drivers should have been notified first once the deal was finalised.

Staff needed to be informed in a humane and respectful manner.

Think about how the situation must have looked from an Uber employee’s perspective.

Asking them to leave within two hours and going to a Grab town hall a day later could make staff feel chased off and then ordered to the new boss. .

A town hall meeting jointly-hosted by Uber and Grab in the morning would have been a lot more personal than an email, allowing employees to ask questions and squashing doubts and rumours.

As a response to negative rumours, Grab was put in defence mode as they had to explain how they had no access to communicate with Uber employees.

It was also important to pick the right channels to communicate with F&B vendors and drivers. This will leave no room for speculation and third-party communication from the likes of ComfortDelGro.

The key learning point here is viewing the acquisition through the eyes of employees.

This is because employees would likely not be at ease after being told to leave the premises on a short notice, even if they are still being paid.

The big question all Uber employees have on their minds is whether they have a future or should they start looking for jobs. And these questions are spilling out onto social media.

It is not rocket science to say companies should anticipate questions employees will have and ensure they are answered satisfactorily before any kind of public announcement. A good litmus test is to ask If this happened to me, how would I react?

While Grab has stepped forward to say they are committed to try and find a suitable role for Uber employees, it’s not enough.

What Uber should have done was to provide clarity and earmark a communications process beforehand, followed by communicating this to employees before the public announcement.

The fact that a town hall was scheduled so late in the day, gave a lot of time for employees to be confused, angry and subsequently air their frustration on social media.

Most employees just want to know what happens next?

KENYA: Food Vendors Want Ban On Game Meat Lifted

Kenya is seeking to reintroduce selling of game meat at restaurants and hotels to boost competitiveness of the facilities on the global culinary landscape.

Tourism secretary for tourism Najib Balala said his ministry will undertake research over the next year on farming of game ahead of the re-introduction.

We must benefit from game resource, my team is working on it and definitely we will encourage the farming of wildlife and then we will have availability of game meat being sold in our restaurants and our hotels, he said during the opening of Tamarind Tree Hotel in Nairobi.

Restaurants, including the Carnivore, have been lobbying the government to allow for the re-introduction since the 2004 ban, which only allows for sale of ostrich and crocodile.

Carnivore had been selling game meat since it was established in the early 1980s, but what it had been associated with for over two decades stopped abruptly, cutting out game meat enthusiasts from its customer base.

It has now become more of an events-hosting entertainment facility rather than the game meat haven it was famed for.

Killing of wildlife for sport was introduced in Kenya in 1910, but was banned in 1977 when the number of certain species fell drastically.

The poaching concern led to the ban on the sale or import of game meat despite constant lobbying by restaurants.

Since then, visitors expecting to sample game meat of antelopes, gazelles, zebras, wildebeests among other wild animals have had to bear with whetting their appetites with ostrich and crocodile.

Wildlife species that have significantly declined and are critically threatened in Kenya include elephants, rhinos, Grevy Zebra, bongos, lions and cheetahs, among others. Some are hunted in conflict, for game meat and trophies.

There are only 30 Sable antelopes in Kenya currently, 3,765 Grevy zebras and less than 2,000 lions, according to KWS data submitted to Parliament.

The numbers are set to keep dropping if these animals are not protected.

Licensed game meat sellers in Kenya are rethinking their business models following a continued sales ban and refusal by the government to allow imports from South Africa.

A restaurant such as the Carnivore which has been selling game meat since the early 1980s has now become more of an events-hosting entertainment facility rather than a game meat haven it has been known for.

Sale of any game meat was banned in Kenya in 2004 because of concerns over poaching, forcing game meat outlets to restrict themselves to selling crocodile and ostrich meat whose sale remains open.

“Our customers have become disappointed over the last few years because the government won’t even allow us to import game meat from South Africa,” said Martin Dunford, the chairman of the Tamarind Group, which owns the Carnivore Restaurant.

Carnivore has been selling game meat since it was established in the early 1980s, but what is has been associated with for over two decades stopped abruptly, cutting out game meat enthusiasts from its customer base.

Since then, visitors expecting to sample game meat of antelopes, gazelles, zebras, wildebeests among other wild animals have to bear with the only two types on offer ; the ostrich and the crocodile.

“We shall continue lobbying the government to lift the ban or allow us to import from South Africa because it is an added advantage to the restaurant and the tourism industry,” said Mr Dunford, whose company also operated a game meat restaurant in South Africa.

“Our business has been under severe attack because we have specialised and associated with the game meat for many years.”

Kenya currently cannot sell game meat as one of the delicacies visitors can find in the country, letting the opportunity slip to South Africa, where game meat industry thrives.

Statistics indicate that South Africa has 11,000 private game ranches that supply to the game meat outlets across the country. Kenya has 17 private and group game ranches.

The ban has also affected ranchers like the Delamare, which supplied game meat outlets.

The trade offered them alternative income stream from culling the animals in their ranches.

Forestry and Wildlife Minister Noah Wekesa said that despite requests from game meat sellers, the ban will stay in place to check on poaching, a crime that has been rising in the country.

“I have said the ban will stay to safeguard the wildlife,” said the minister, without giving indications whether the lifting of the ban for game meaty sellers will be considered.

Game meat sellers urge that allowing controlled sale of the delicacy helps to put more value to animals in an addition to the value derived from tourism, as long as that animal is not classified as an endangered species.

Because more than 50 per cent of wildlife in Kenya live in unprotected areas, it is argued the policy of restricting consumption of game meat by the hosts mostly farmers and pastoralists, worsens the human-wildlife conflict to the detriment of the animals.

Despite the ban on sale of game meat, trends of poaching in Kenya over the last three years have been rising, with the number of elephant deaths in that period growing by five times.

Data from various sources show that while 47 elephants died in 2007 due to poaching, the number rose to 145 in 2008 and to 216 in 2009.

Bonaventure Ebayi, the director of the Lusaka Agreement Task Force (LATF), a regional anti-poaching initiative, said poachers are using technology to increase attacks against food and non-food wildlife.

Tourism Observer

KENYA: Tourists Flock Kenya Hotels In Readiness For Easter

Coast Hotels are optimistic of peak business during the Easter holiday that begins Friday.

Some of the establishments are already fully booked as holidaymakers trickle in to the resort town of Diani for festivities.

Hotels say local tourists from Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Rwanda have boosted their Easter bookings.

Jacaranda Indian Ocean Beach Resort General Manager, Dickson Ogolla, said the hotel has 60 per cent bookings for Easter, adding that he expects the number to increase before Friday.

"We expect the bookings to increase to 80 per cent as more guests from upcountry will be trickling down for the celebrations," he said today.

Kenya Association of Hotelkeepers and Caterers (KAHC) Coast branch executive officer Sam Ikwaye and Kenya Tourism Federation (KTF) chairman Mohamed Hersi said operators were banking on the long weekend for increased business.

They say most hotels in the region are enjoying 70 to 80 per cent bed capacity with camps enjoying 60 per cent.

“We are doing fine. Easter has come quite early this time in March rather than April. We are looking at good occupancies although again Kenyans are very good in last minute bookings. We are optimistic the hotels will be full,” Mr Hersi said.

“Try to book a flight to Mombasa or Madaraka Express you won’t find any. That just tells you many Kenyans are travelling,” he added.

Kaskazi Beach Hotel general manager Imtyaz Ahmed Mirza echoed the sentiment, saying his hotel currently has an occupancy of 95 per cent.

Baobab Beach Resort also confirmed a 100 per cent occupancy rate, with 50 per cent of guests being locals while the rest are international visitors.

Mr Ikwaye reckons that the increased business from the region is due to marketing.

“There has been a lot of investments in terms of marketing in Kwale. Players in the sector have gone to World Travel Market and Uganda to source for tourists. They have upped their marketing budget and it is paying off,” he said.

He says quelled political temperatures and continued peace have also boosted tourist confidence.

“Many people didn’t travel in December due to the rising political temperatures. They now have a reason to take holidays and schools will also be closed. We are in the end of high season. Accessibility due to road network has really helped,” he added.

Despite the positive prospects ahead of the Easter holiday, Cabinet Secretary Najib Balala has recently blamed over-reliance on seasonal foreign tourists for loss of Kenya's competitive edge in the global market.

Tourism Observer

THAILAND: Siam Kempinski Hotel Bangkok Has Alexander Pichel Appointed As General Manager

Siam Kempinski Hotel Bangkok has announced the appointment of Alexander Pichel as general manager.

Pichel has transferred to Bangkok from the Hotel Indonesia Kempinski Jakarta in Indonesia where he had worked as GM since 2015.

Alex Pichel, a German national, brings 30 years of experience to the Siam Kempinski Hotel Bangkok.

He began his career in the hospitality industry in 1988, working as a bellboy at the Bristol Hotel Kempinski Berlin before moving to the reservations department at the Hyatt Carlton Tower in London.

He moved to Germany in 2000 to become director of rooms at the Hyatt Regency Mainz then in 2003, became the hotel’s deputy GM.

The following year, he was appointed as resident manager at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Dubai.

His first GM position was at the Hyatt Regency Bishkek in Kyrgyzstan. He then moved to Hotel Astoria and Hotel Angleterre – The Rocco Forte Collection in St. Petersburg, Russia as GM and general director of the owning company.

In 2015, Alex joined the Kempinski Group as GM of the Hotel Indonesia Kempinski Jakarta – his first appointment in Asia.

“I feel very honoured to be part of this Kempinski flagship property in Bangkok – a city considered to be one of the most exciting and vivacious in the world. I am thrilled to be here,” said Pichel.

“I believe that, in order to deliver a truly memorable experience for our guests, we must adopt and maintain the highest standards of service at every level of our operations.

“Of course, every hotel has beds – but what makes us different from our competitors is that we strive day after day to merge seamlessly our European heritage with world-famous Thai service and hospitality. Every detail, no matter how small, matters to all of us at the Siam Kempinski Hotel Bangkok. I am looking forward to welcoming local and international guests to Bangkok’s only city-resort style property.”

Tourism Observer