Last week EWT promoted an Egyptian trip. The killing of a tour group by Egyptian security forces Sunday mandates that we now withdraw that offer.
Tourists deaths, kidnappings and violent injuries are way down in Egypt compared to the “good ole days.” A decade ago 12-15 million people annually visited Egypt and about 250 were killed or violently injured each year.
Many of these were horrible terrorist attacks but no one seemed to care or report about it.
Last year ten million people visited Egypt and less than 20 were killed, kidnapped or violently injured.
Sometimes, though, the numbers don’t speak for themselves.
The attack occurred about 220 miles southwest of Cairo in the Western Desert near an oasis called Bahariya (in some reports, shortened to “Bahyira.”) This is an adventure tourism area popular with backpacking tourists.
The Wall Street Journal reported that four tourist vehicles “clearly marked” with “tourists luggage on roof racks” had stopped for a lunch break.
The Journal further reported that there were 21 people in the convoy, including 14 Mexicans, an American, four Egyptian drivers, an Egyptian guide and a police officer along to guarantee that “The convoy was on the route agreed upon with the authorities.”
It seems clear to me the Egyptian military made a mistake and that the government is now trying to cover for it.
ISIS and offshoot rebel groups are active in the Egyptian deserts, especially after the catastrophe in Libya and the current Cairo crackdown on Muslim extremists.
Ten years ago in the literal carnage that occurred to tourists in Egypt in its heyday, when everyone was going to Egypt carefree and seemingly unconcerned with the mass political killings of tourists that were regularly occurring, it was the bad guys against the tourists.
Now the problem is we won’t know who the bad guy is.
ISIS, for sure, and one way of avoiding them is to not go into the desert. Most tourists should know this.
But now what about the Egyptian government itself? So paranoid that it presumes any four-wheel drive vehicle is an insurgent?
The uncertainty and reactionary paranoia of the Egyptian government radically alters the prospect of tourism in the country. Remember, it’s not just the facts, it’s how people perceive the facts.
And I for one perceive Egypt at the moment like an over zealous fanatic with too much caffeine holding weapons that are far too dangerous for protecting me.
If you’re planning a vacation next year, you better get your reservations now. Americans are back on the road!
The number of Americans traveling overseas has finally exceeded the peak in 2006 before the Great Recession. And it did so with a bang in 2014, with 10% more foreign vacations taken by Americans than in 2013.
The Great Recession clobbered foreign travel to certain destinations like Africa, but it didn’t clobber overall foreign travel. What seems to have happened is that individuals and families that would normally have taken an exotic vacation scaled back, perhaps to Europe or the Caribbean, but they didn’t stop vacationing outright. Notable was that there were no new travelers entering the market. Although there were millions of new wage earners from 2006 to 2013, very few of those actually took vacations.
Last year that changed with a bang.
Here are the destinations that grew the most: the ones that really require you to now book early if you don’t want to be disappointed:
Mexico. By far! Increasing almost 22% per year, with more than 25 million Americans traveling there last year, one in three Americans who travels abroad now travels to Mexico.
You’ll be surprised at Number 2: The Middle East. 1.8 million Americans traveled there last year, an annual increase of nearly 13%.
This doesn’t mean vacations in Syria, to be sure. Even Israel had a slowdown. What it indicates is the growing travel through major Middle East hubs like Dubai and Qatar, plus the significant increase in vacation travel to Egypt.
Number 3 is the Caribbean and Number 4 is Central America.
There were palsy increases to exotic destinations like Africa (only 1.7%), but nonetheless increases for the first time following a number of years of decreases.
Places like Africa will continue to struggle until Europe gets out of its recession. Africa’s largest market has always been from Europe. Were it not for a steady and sizable increase in Asian and eastern Europeans vacationers to Africa over the last 5 years, the tourism situation there would be dire.
If Europe rebounds, Africa could be in a very tight booking situation. Chinese, South American and eastern Europeans are increasing their travel to Africa substantially.
Europe rebounding depends upon how quickly the European movement to embrace stimulus is successful. Austerity has not worked, stimulus has worked in the U.S. and China, and a growing number of European politicians now recognize their error.
I’d give it three years.
But for you Americans who’ve enjoyed booking anything you want at the last minute, beware. Disappointment follows delay!
My five months in Africa ended this week. If you’re trying to decide between visiting Tanzania or Kenya, I’ve got the answer.
My answer, if you’ve got the cash and time, is both. But if you’re watching your vacation dollars and have limited time, the answer is Kenya.
First of all why does it take more time and money to visit both countries? The two countries share almost a 500 mile-long border with quite a few border posts, and much of the border actually goes right through abundant game controlled areas.
This isn’t just an issue of the additional costs of visas or shots.
The answer is because the two countries have intentionally made it difficult for tourists to visit them both on the same trip. Both countries believe if they force you into an all-or-nothing situation, they’ll be better off.
Since 1979 the border posts that fall in game controlled areas have been closed to tourist traffic. So, for example, the most important one, the border between Kenya’s Maasai Mara and Tanzania’s Serengeti, isn’t just closed, it’s now grown over with jungle.
The Sand River bridge which used to deliver tourists between the two countries is ready to collapse. I wouldn’t use if I could. (Click here for my blog that explains why this happened in 1979 and has never changed since.)
So to travel from one game park in one country to another game park in the other country, you have to go back to a border post which allows tourist crossings, and this usually means traveling backwards a lot.
The cost, for example, to travel from a camp on the southern bank of the Sand River in Tanzania, to one you can see across that same river in Kenya, is about $600 per person and at least 8 hours if you fly the whole way.
It will take at least the entire day, and that often doesn’t make sense, because if you try to do it in a day, you’ll have to leave at the break of dawn and won’t arrive in the other country until late in the afternoon/early evening, yet you’ll be paying full game viewing fees (twice!) for each country on a day that you won’t have any time to do game viewing!
So die-hards wanting to see both countries recognize that it’s better to do something else in between, breaking up the long circuitous journey, if that’s nothing more than just seeing a city like Nairobi. And that’s where the concept of needing more time starts.
And then you get into the problem of having to whittle away principal attractions in each of the countries to make enough time to see them both, or if accepting only the very prime attractions in each country, you’re looking at a safari of more than two weeks.
Add to this that “open-jawing” your international air fare (flying into one country but returning from another) is considerably more expensive than simply roundtripping one.
As a general rule, you’ll need 20-25% more time and money for the same amount of sightseeing and game viewing if you visit both countries instead of only one.
Both Kenya and Tanzania have a superb list of incredible attractions, game viewing and otherwise. If they opened their borders a tourist could approach them both as a single country, East Africa.
But they haven’t, and they won’t in my opinion. So I’m beginning to think that most travelers conscious of their travel budget and holiday time ought to choose one or the other and might do so realizing they’ll return another year to see the other one!
The same strategy that most Americans apply now to Europe’s many diverse nations ought to be applied to East Africa.
So if you’re contemplating a “first time safari” for next year – which country should it be?
1. Kenya is growing more stable than Tanzania.
Safety, and even more importantly, the perception of safety is probably the single-most important factor when people choose an exotic destination to visit.
Last month, President Obama visited Kenya. Last month, the British government removed its travel warnings from Kenya’s most vulnerable area to Islamic terrorists, the beautiful Indian ocean coast.
2. Travel is cheaper and easier to Kenya than Tanzania.
Nairobi’s new airport is astoundingly modern and efficient. You’ll think you’re in Europe. Tanzania’s two airports, Kilimanjaro and Dar-es-Salaam, are losing not only service from Europe and beyond, but they’re losing electricity!
In my many visits in the last five months to Kilimanjaro airport, there were no less than a dozen power outages as I waited for my clients to arrive!
There is much more service to choose from flying into Kenya than Tanzania, and it looks now like Delta will be flying directly to Nairobi starting early next year.
3. Tanzania’s October election could be troublesome.
On the negative side and as I’ve written several times in the last few weeks, Tanzanian politics are heating up. It could be very good for the country, and there are many reasons to think that Tanzania will not go through the troublesome period of political change that Kenya did about ten years ago.
But there are also many reasons to think otherwise. A very contentious national election is scheduled for October 24, and I worry that the main candidates in both factions are talking less about the issues than “keeping the election peaceful.”
Even China — normally an aggressive side liner that never interferes with foreign elections – cautioned Tanzanians Wednesday about violence in the October elections.
4. Kenya is more aggressively conservationist than Tanzania.
Then there are gnawing conservation issues becoming toxic in Tanzania, beginning with the lax enforcement of ivory poaching, the relocation of Maasai just outside the northeastern Serengeti to increase a private Arab hunting reserve, and totally rebuffing conservationists’ attempts to slow down the planned dam and mine in The Selous.
None of these is serious enough for you to cancel a Tanzanian safari, but Kenya in contrast has high positive points on all of these named measures, and so if having to choose one over the other, I think it’s now a slam dunk.
Remember who’s writing this. The Serengeti remains my favorite place in the world, and that’s in Tanzania. My great migration experience these last 8 months in both countries convinces me it’s best in Tanzania.
But the time … money … and safety perception components of creating a great safari are now all tilting towards Kenya.
The family I’ll be guiding for the next ten days arrived cheerful and ready to go!
The McGraths/Bumsteads/Farahs come from Washington and Providence, two families with 4 teenagers and grandma McGrath leading the pack! The kids are 13-18, so older than my typical family safaris and I’m looking forward to fewer video games and more conversations!
We’ll see. Stay tuned.
Practically every safari spends the first night in Arusha, and we’ll be at the Lake Duluti Lodge. There are a dozen decent places to stay in the Arusha area, and a second EWT safari led by Steve Taylor is currently down the road at the Serena Lake Duluti Lodge.
Yep, a names travesty, and the excellent company Serena is completely at fault. For years their lodge was named Mountain Village, and I continue to call it that. But some marketing whizz decided lakes are more important than mountains, and the enormous confusion began.
It hurts this very nice Lake Duluti Lodge much more, because this is a stand-alone property and Serena is a chain.
It seems like this year a lot of people have lost luggage, including me. My bag was lost for 3 days before it arrived with a bagtag that included a transfer in Moscow. I didn’t fly to Moscow. I hope it had a good time.
Poor Audrey from Dallas, the sweetest southern belle you can image, was finally reduced to tears in frustration this afternoon because of the extraordinary bureaucratic confusion that attends some baggage transfers, and as a result, she and her daughter are without their bags.
The devil of the internet led Audrey down a primrose path that ended in Hades. She got her frequent flyer ticket on Aadvantage all the way to Nairobi, and then as any of us, booked a connecting flight from Nairobi to Kilimanjaro on some service like Expedia.
Only BA didn’t arrive in time. Her safari company here signed off on a bad combination of airlines, since the connecting airline has no baggage agreement with BA. So she was forced into a late night after an around the world journey last minute decision: make her connecting flight and hope the bags would make it, or miss her connecting flight and try to retrieve the bags in Nairobi.
She made the right decision and lost her bags. It was the last connecting flight of the day.
From my point of view, the woes of travel are often self-inflicted, but because of the awful allure of the internet that you can do everything yourself. Audrey has learned her lesson the hard way, and perhaps the rest of you can learn from Audrey.
My family arrived fully in tact. KLM arrives at night, and it’s nearly an hour’s drive from the airport to the lodge, and that was followed by dinner. The first night on safari ended probably among its latest, but they all seem in excellent spirits!
What’s the best way to start a vacation? Come early and “power down” or jump right in?
The main reason most travelers give for wanting to “power down” for a couple days before “heading out” is that they consider the travel of getting to the start of their vacation so difficult. The second most important reason is “to adjust to the time zone.” The third most important reason is to pad the trip in case the travel is delayed.
Absolutely ridiculous for the first two. Sensible for the third, but too conservative.
First of all, we’ve all had those horrible, disastrous flights and be real, they are not the norm. The norm is not good, but it’s a known quantity. If you choose the right flights and dedicate a bit more of your precious vacation budget to the flights and better seats, there’ll be no need to compensate for anticipated misery.
Consider a typical safari: In Tanzania the average daily rate today is $500 per day per person and my type of safaris are closer to $1000. So what’s the point in working so hard to save a few hundred dollars on your flights by making additional connections or taking inferior airlines or seats when it will cost you four times that to recover?
Wouldn’t it be better to have an easier journey and be able to start off right away with something unique and memorable, rather than paying for a hammock and wide-screen TV in a hotel that could just as easily be outside Newark?
I have numerous examples, but the best is Nairobi. I love Nairobi. Just as I love New York. I love the excitement, the snarling traffic, the putrefying smells, the stultifying noise, bumping into angry pedestrians, pissing off over-tired hotel clerks, biting into over-cooked fish! That’s the city! Because in between these negative memories is music, art, science and youth that is among the most engaging and inspiring in the world!
But … if you arrive Nairobi during the day on any day but Sunday it will likely take you 90 minutes through stop-and-go traffic to get to a downtown hotel. Now in about that same time you can board another airplane, fly over some of the most serene and dramatic scenery on earth, and be in your open-air villa on a plateau overlooking the endless Laikipia desert landscape, a horizon of warm breezes and immeasurable silence.
Soaking in your footed bathtub. Sipping a Tusker.
Here’s a less dramatic example. Where I am outside Arusha, Tanzania, is far less congested than Nairobi, and it’s about an hour from the airport in northern Tanzania where most travelers arrive.
Why not continue another hour or two (or take a flight of a half hour or less) to some idyllic spot like Gibb’s Farm or Chem Chem Lodge or Little Oliver’s Camp rather than dead-head it here?
To be sure where I am now, Rivertrees Country Inn, is one of the most pleasant of the Arusha area accommodations I know. That’s why I’m here. But it’s only with luck that the few monkeys in the trees will show themselves, the birdlife is modest by Tanzanian standards, and the lamb ragout while very good can’t compete with Fritz & Frites in Galena where I live.
Whereas nothing can compete with the absolute relaxation of a Gibb’s Farm massage, of sundowners at Chem Chem overlooking Lake Manyara or the symphony of early morning bird song floating in from Tarangire at Little Oliver’s.
Sounds reasonable. So the American’s average 11.1 days on safari will be spent thusly: the first nine days in a Ramada near the airport and the next two point one days on safari.
There are too many suggestions on the internet for dealing with time zone change. Mine? Sleep when you want to. When you wake, read. You won’t want to sleep when on safari, and it won’t kill you to be a little tired.
Third. Pad out the beautifully organized trip in case you’re late.
We’ve got stats for this: A quarter of all flights are late or canceled and this is as true for domestic as international flights. Using such free internet tools as flightstats.com you can survey your potential airlines for their level of reliability.
One in 8 flights results in a serious delay that will disrupt your journey.
So as I see it you can look at this in one of two ways:
First, obsessive American you are with wanting the most out of everything, come a day early: protect yourself.
I prefer the second: play the odds. If only one of your eight vacations is disrupted that means seven go without delay, and that means playing the odds got you a week more vacation for the same investment.
As a professional tour planner, I can assure we better designers save the best for last, anyway. A trip with sequential experiences begins with the least rewarding and ends with the most rewarding. It fits nicely – although is definitely not founded on – the possibility of a disrupted beginning.
I’m not doing a very good job selling this lovely estate where I’m staying, anxious myself to get into the bush. But them’s the facts, Jack:
If you arrive in the day in time to get going, get going!
For years I’ve derided travel agents as unnecessary middle persons. I’m rethinking some of this.
So is Lufthansa, and probably soon Delta. Once completely dependent upon travel agents, these two mega airlines are soon going to charge you if you use an agent or consumer website like Expedia.
I’m in Vienna, half way through my journey back to Africa. Vienna has no flights to Africa, but Austrian Airlines is part of the Star Alliance. I connect here to Istanbul and then to Kilimanjaro.
This is not a routing that United’s MileagePlus originally offered me. I had to tell them. (It’s a regular schedule offering, now, but when I first booked nearly a year ago, it wasn’t shown.)
My own travel agent skills, and the SABRE GDS booking system that we have in the office is what led me to this option.
A normal consumer without access to a GDS couldn’t do this.
GDS’s are children of the original private airline computer systems. In the late 1970s airlines were among the first companies to use computers. The larger airlines leased their computer systems to scores of other airlines and travel agents and they were called GDS (Global Distribution Systems).
For example, SABRE was the American Airlines’ system. AMADEUS was the system founded by the main European airlines.
GDS are much less user friendly but much more powerful than say, Expedia. They can be quite costly to.
GDS can duplicate Expedia methodology: give me the options for flights and costs for where are you going to from where, but their power is greatly reduced by doing so.
Rather, the savvy user must know before beginning a session what the likely “routing” will be. The GDS is most powerful when asked step-by-step to display every possible option.
The professional using a GDS day-in and day-out discovers the tricks and shortcuts and learns the complex fare building that were Expedia to attempt would result in too many options for its users. So consumer sites like Expedia hewn these options down by algorithms based mostly on expected consumer price points.
By doing so, they often miss the boat. There are easily several hundred different connecting possibilities when traveling from Chicago to Kilimanjaro. Neither Expedia nor MileagePlus would have presented me with the journey I’m currently taking, which I constructed myself using a GDS.
Here’s another excellent example:
At last look, there were 281 different “through fares” between Chicago and Kilimanjaro. That means a single ticket, a single fare on some airline or another starting in Chicago roundtrip Kilimanjaro.
But if you build an air fare say with two fares: one to Europe then a second one to Kilimanjaro, the options are enormously greater. Just to London, for example, there are 650 fares published today, and then 362 fares from London to Kilimanjaro.
Delta in correct conjunction with three other airlines produces what I think is the best fare and best schedule to fly from the U.S. to Kilimanjaro … where I’m going.
But to arrive at this “correct conjunction” you must start with a Delta non-code-share to Paris, then pickup Kenya Airways to Nairobi, then PrecisionAir to Kilimanjaro. On the return you can use either KLM to Amsterdam or reverse the PrecisionAir/Kenya Airways/Delta outbound.
There is no existing consumer booking system that will create this itinerary. You can call an Expedia agent, for example, and tell them what you want, but they won’t be able to find this possibility.
Not even the Delta site will generate this Delta fared itinerary. I have no idea why. It could be that the GDS is capable of finding the loopholes in the complicated airline “fare ladders” constructed by complex agreements between different airline companies. It might also be that Delta just doesn’t want you to pay that cheap a fare.
Keep in mind, though, that this isn’t just to get a cheaper ticket, the obsession of the American consumer. It’s also to discover the best schedules.
I’m a safari guide, a poor travel agent by default. But a good travel agent who understands flights to more of the world than just Africa can be very valuable today. Their problem is that airlines no longer give commissions, and their professional service isn’t free.
One of the awful hazards of the internet is that it empowers the consumer to think she’s as good as the professional.
Not if you want the cheapest and the best schedule from Chicago to Kilimanjaro!
Tourism is collapsing in East Africa. It began with terrorism but terrorism is down yet it continues to collapse.
Today you can get breakfast, dinner and a decent sea-view room in Zanzibar for $27.50 per night per person sharing.
These absolutely ridiculous prices can be found for a thousand miles from northern Mozambique to Lamu in Kenya, among some of the finest and most beautiful beach properties in the world.
“Officials on Friday warned that tourism at the Coast was on the verge of collapse with 30,000 to 40,000 staff set to lose their jobs,” Kenya’s main newspaper reported today.
Occupancy at most coastal hotels is hovering around 20% and major properties are closing down weekly.
Kenya and Tanzania’s white sand coral coast is also one of the most pristine in the world. Yes it is suffering the same coral destruction that climate change has foisted on the oceans around the world, but it’s better here, for example, than in most of East Asia.
What’s going on? Should you go?
Well, that’s the problem. Every western government in the world, plus Australia, says, ‘No, you shouldn’t go’ because of potential terrorism.
The northern border of this paradise is Somalia, and real trouble began there when the U.S. invaded Afghanistan in 2002 sending all its most vicious criminals into Somalia.
Things weren’t so bad in the beginning, because it seemed like all the bad stuff happening in Somalia was staying in Somalia.
But then there was the election debacle of 2007 in Kenya with widespread violence that took nearly a half year to settle down. When it finally did, the U.S. began drone strikes in Somalia.
Then in 2011 Kenya, acting as a proxy for Obama’s growing wars against fleeing terrorists, invaded Somalia and all bets for a stable coastal tourism industry were off.
More drones killed more Arabs from Dar to Lamu, internecine warfare among the Arab sects in the coast heated up, prominent Arab leaders were assassinated in Mombasa and Zanzibar, and if ever there had been a stirred up cauldron of discontent and chaos, it was the East African coast.
Didn’t somebody say on TV this weekend that we’ve learned an important lesson from Baltimore? Didn’t someone say that we’ve got to do something more than just add police to stem crime?
Those of us daring to leave the country after today through unpaid security staff might heed the following advice.
Go early. I can’t blame anyone who works for the TSA for slackening up. Many went through this in the 2013 government shutdown, and the experience wasn’t pleasant or fair to any of the workers.
To begin with senior personnel who aren’t on the front lines of security will actually be furloughed, just as they were in 2013. The bosses.
Everyone eventually got paid, including these senior managers. So for the bosses it was, in effect, a paid vacation. That doesn’t sit well with the employees who have to come in under the terms of their contract … even without pay.
“When it comes down to it, there’s people who’s going to decide not to come to work,” Bob Bartz, the TSA Local 1048 president told ThinkProgress Monday.
Congress thinks that it has “fixed” the disaster that confronted travelers when the 2013 shutdown began, by funding traffic controllers and a few other essential personnel. But not paying people who are doing legitimate work is not exactly a fix that sticks.
I’m reminded of a section of my new novel, Chasm Gorge. Len Willy, the safari guide, has just returned to Nairobi and must pass through immigration and customs, manned by officials rarely paid:
The line moved quickly, and the fatigued official stamped his passport without even looking at him. He quickly walked down the never having worked and never will work escalators into baggage reclaim where the overworked carrousel tried, stopped, and tried again to revolve baggage back into the lives of passengers.
Len’s line of sight cut over the frozen stares of the passengers to the customs tables, where indecently clothed and overstuffed officials waited for their bribes, appropriately directly beneath a newly painted sign that announced that no bribes should be paid.
His two bags arrived, and with his fingers already searching for money in his front pocket, he quickly walked towards the customs table.
Kenya was a land of chai, the Swahili/Hindi euphemism for a bribe. In the old days Len remembered resisting angrily, staring at young hooligans’ hands with the disgust of a master visitor, capable of withdrawing his support and the thousands of American tourists he commanded. But the fat Wazee who manned the scratched and scarred customs tables were no hooligans. Their clothes were frayed, their eyes held in sockets by flaps of skin made thick by nights of no sleep. Big bellies were likely extended not from too much food, but from too much cheap changaa – cheaper, sweeter, faster than a bottle of beer.
Len could muster no anger when he imagined the throngs of family waiting to be fed, clothed, and sent to school by a single man fortunate enough to be closely enough related to some high official that he got this coveted government position – only not to be paid from the national treasury for months.
Len was stopped. Most weren’t. But he was as much a ripe target for chai as tourists were for cab and elephant hair bracelet scams. Resistance welled in his veins even as his pocketed hand grabbed the hundred shilling note.
The customs official didn’t even try to seem legitimate. Instead, he just threw his fingers at random parts of Len’s bags.
Len pulled the shilling note out of his pocket, and before he even opened his hand, the official snapped it up with little regard to keeping it secret and then casually took out his wallet and carefully folded in the note, abandoning all notice of Len as he returned his attention to the back of the arrivals hall, deeper into the carousel’s twists and turns than luggage would ever go.
“Three kilos of flour, or a half kilo of tea, or all the makings to launch a SAM,” Len recounted dreamily to himself the worth of his hundred shillings.
Nairobi has greatly improved since that segment was inspired.
The row between Kenya and Tanzania over tourism last week is a strong indication that Kenyan security has improved and tourists are returning.
This little tiff has absolutely no effect on any but the most budget-minded tourists.
Nairobi has 20-25 times more international airline service than Tanzania’s northern airport, Kilimanjaro. Deal seekers who bought a $200 better air fare into Nairobi than Kilimanjaro until Friday were able to fly into Nairobi, then arrange Tanzanian transportation from the airport into Tanzania with a net savings of about $100.
That’s over. If you want a safari in Tanzania, you now either have to fly into Tanzania or take Kenyan transport from the Kenyan airport to a bus station or other transfer point.
Travel and tourism pundits, always the poorest of pundits, exclaim that Tanzania has done itself a great disservice by stonewalling the negotiations over the last three weeks aimed at finding a compromise.
Sort of, but not really given the current governments.
Obviously any easing of travel restrictions anywhere in the world can increase tourism. This year, for example, numerous countries in southern Africa began easing the restrictions for travel between them. With this incident, East Africa is moving the other way.
Here’s the essence: Tanzanian tourism suffers any time Kenyan tourism is given an entre. This is because Kenyan tourism is bigger, better and less corrupt. I find this, by the way, remarkably ironic since my own assessment is that the Tanzanian tour product – i.e., the game parks – is better than Kenya’s.
But Tanzania has squandered its treasures more than Kenya has. This isn’t to say that Kenya is lily white, hardly. But the level of corruption in Tanzanian tourism is considerably greater. The actual laws on the books in Tanzania regarding tourism, conservation and game parks, are the most complex, messed up pile of regulations this side of Riverview Park in Chicago’s mafia days.
This discourages foreign investment and that, above all, keeps business actors in the Tanzanian tourism sector small, ripe for the picking so to speak.
If the two countries opened their borders to one another, Kenya’s much better run tourism sector could virtually subsume Tanzania’s. It’s one example of the virtues of well run capitalism. I can’t think of many, but this is one.
I don’t doubt that Tanzanians will be sorry about last Friday’s outcome. Above all it shows that Kenya feels increasingly confident about its own tourism situation. Kenya had been acting unilaterally by not enforcing the 1985 agreement, seemingly only to Tanzania’s advantage.
But in the recent dire days of terrorism in Kenya, any business they could muster was helpful. Now as things are looking, Kenya realizes it’s time to muster its advantages, recognize that the better air service and lower air fares into Nairobi are reasons travelers might choose Kenya instead of Tanzania for their game viewing safari.
So why make it any easier for them to go to Tanzania, than Tanzania allows its incoming visitors to go to Kenya?
The fact is, of course, that were Tanzania to get its house in order it would have no problem competing squarely with Kenya. At that point it would greatly benefit Tanzania to ease as many restrictions between the two countries as possible.
That day will come right after we successfully sell ski vacations to Saudia Arabia.
New research on yellow fever could lead to improved vaccines and quick cures.
Yellow fever is a mosquito born disease that is found throughout South America and sub-Saharan Africa. While the disease is actually more deadly than malaria, it has never been as widely a threat.
In part this is because the first stages are not as severe as malaria’s and it’s usually the secondary effects that lead to mortality. These secondary effects can be quite prolonged. As a result it’s possible that many deaths in sub-Saharan Africa are actually from a yellow fever infection while being diagnosed as something else.
Mostly, however, it’s because persons who recover from the disease acquire virtually complete immunity. This is completely unlike malaria. Persons can succomb to malaria multiple times and likely achieve no immunity against a future infection.
The new research is one of the first in-depth studies that carefully looks at how the disease works. It’s complicated and fascinating. Note that the research was done on macaques, although scientists are fairly confident that the dynamics would be the same in all primates.
The virus switches on and switches off a variety of genes while it resides in the liver.
Over time this leads to a variety of pathological events, including liver and other organ failure.
In the past in Africa mosquito-born diseases like malaria and yellow fever were thought to manifest mortality more quickly and more simply.
As most travelers know there is an effective yellow fever vaccine, although it loses significant effectiveness for very young children and older adults. Persons who obtain the inoculation in their young adult years are easily revaccinated every ten years for extremely good protection.
But the vaccine is expensive and has been difficult to disseminate throughout endemic areas. It is a fragile vaccine that requires refrigeration and is a live-virus based vaccine, which means that incorrect storage or administration can actually give the patient the disease rather than the protection.
By studying the genetic trail of the disease’s manifestations, scientists may be able to interrupt organ damage by neutralizing the proteins that switch certain genes on or off.
Travelers to East Africa are particularly sensitive to not just the pathology but the politics of the disease.
Because vaccination throughout sub-Saharan Africa combined with natural immunity has minimized the disease’s effects over the last half century, many areas of sub-Saharan Africa which have not experienced any yellow fever whatever are particularly susceptible should an outbreak occur.
Tanzania, especially, has reacted to yellow fever outbreaks in neighboring countries like Uganda and The Congo by suddenly – without very much if any notice – requiring incoming visitors to have the inoculation … even though Tanzania itself is yellow fever free.
This has put it from time to time at odds with national health authorities like the CDC that recommend against obtaining the vaccination except for visits to countries that actually have disease outbreaks.
Many other countries in Africa, such as South Africa, require evidence of the vaccination if the traveler has been in an effected country within the last six months.
Genetic science is advancing so quickly that doctors are discovering methods of interruption or curing of diseases that before were thought only capable of being prevented with a vaccine, and that may the route of current science towards the management of this curious and powerful disease.
African travel companies are rethinking their ebola policy, putting their money where their mouth is, and offering unconditional refunds.
Embracing science and the history of past ebola outbreaks, companies mostly so far in East Africa are advising customers that deposits will be refunded without penalty if WHO declares an outbreak in an area in which they operate.
WHO’s designation, “outbreak,” differs from isolated cases of the sort experienced in Dallas and New York. An “outbreak” is multiple confirmed cases in separated, multiple areas. There is no history or other evidence suggesting that isolated cases lead to outbreaks.
Among the first this weekend to change their policy was Great Plains Conservation, which operates three luxury camps in Botswana and three in Kenya.
“Many of our guests are really worried about Ebola. One can’t really blame them given the media hysteria surrounding the story. We believe this will sort itself out in time as the world mobilizes to tackle this head on,” Jacqui Usher explains as the lead-in for the policy change.
The Great Plains policy will refund all monies held – no questions asked – if an ebola outbreak occurs in Kenya or Botswana.
Moreover, Great Plains has now announced that even if there is no outbreak, customers can get all their money back within 16 weeks of arrival. Most African camps require an up-front, nonrefundable 15-20% at the time of booking.
And within those 16 weeks should a customer grow weary of coming, Great Plains will roll any monies held for the customer to new booking dates up to a year in advance.
This is the gold standard of sensible ebola policy. This is spot-on reasoning, bold marketing and honest communication with consumers. No legalize or other lengthy pontificating qualify this extraordinary situation we currently find ourselves in: a hollow fear of something that will simply not happen.
Yesterday in Mwanza, Tanzania, the blood tests of a man who had died suspiciously of symptoms identical to ebola tested negative for the virus.
The possibility, though, that the man had ebola had spread like wildfire through this large Tanzania city on Lake Victoria last week. Health care workers responded in force, a public health campaign was initiated, associates of the man were quarantined and even if the man had tested positive, the spread of the disease would have been stopped in its tracks.
The Mwanza response is what is lacking in West Africa, and the reason that the disease is still spreading there.
Great Plains may be the gold standard and the first company to play it straight with consumers, but it has been resoundingly joined by others:
“Gamewatchers Safaris understands travelers’ sensitivities about planning a holiday almost anywhere in the world during an Ebola outbreak,” Jake Grieves-Cook, former head of the Kenyan Tourist Organization and now owner/operator of Kenya’s Gamewatchers Safaris explains in the lead-in to his new policy, which is similar to Great Plains’.
Great Plains and Gamewatchers were among the very first, but by no means the only companies to announce revised changes, yesterday. It’s going to be very difficult, now, for any African travel company to sit on its hind and not join this sensible movement.
And the result? Consumers will be assured that the African travel companies really believe what science and medical experts have been saying all along:
Ebola is hard to get, and relatively simple to stop spreading except in very unique areas like the three countries in West Africa just ravaged by generations of war.
Things are calmly down, slides in travel are reversing, and African tour companies are once again shooting themselves in the foot.
In the last ten days a wave of African travel companies have issued new cancellation policies addressing a perceived fear by potential travelers of ebola, which does absolutely nothing except increase fears.
As far as I can tell it began with one of southern Africa’s most reputable and larger companies, Wilderness Safaris.
Wilderness is a holdover from archaic marketing days and still doesn’t sell directly to the consumer, so it sent a rather petulant email to agents worldwide that began by deriding the notion that ebola in West Africa could effect holidays as far away as East and southern Africa.
But then sighing through the internet, the company issued a new policy that said it would cover any difference in lost cancellation fees from nonrefundable payments not refunded by the travelers own insurance company.
Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? It didn’t take long for a whole bunch of companies throughout the continent to follow suit.
It’s meaningless – at least for Americans – and in my opinion is totally counterproductive.
First, why it’s meaningless:
Read the revised policy’s fine print. (1) WHO must declare an “outbreak” in the country in which the safari is scheduled. (2) The traveler must then apply first to his own travel insurance company for refunds of monies on deposit. (3) Whatever the insurance company doesn’t cover, this widely adopted policy will not refund cash but rather a credit for future travel, which is limited by time and other conditions depending upon the specific company.
(1) There is currently much more ebola in the United States then in any sub-Saharan country. WHO has not declared an “outbreak” of ebola in the United States. That is a strategic-specific term that precedes an actual “epidemic” and it requires multiple cases in multiple locations. So to begin with, a single case say in a game park in South Africa will not trigger this policy.
(2) I’m not completely knowledgeable about the travel insurance available to other than Americans, but in the United States there is not a single travel insurance company that covers a travelers’ decision to abort their trip because of ebola or any other public health emergency. In the U.S. normal travel insurance provides benefits strictly for accidents and other health conditions befalling the traveler him/herself.
(A few very expensive policies cover terrorism, and consumers can spend an enormous amount of money for “cancel for any reason” but for most travelers these rare policies are prohibitively expensive.)
In other words, normal travel insurance bought in the U.S. will not provide benefits for a public health emergency in the country scheduled to be visited.
Refunds of part of your deposited trip, and not others, essentially mute out the first refund: Few Americans traveling to Africa will deposit on a trip there without also buying their air fare. There is no indication whatever that any airline will issue any refund for a travelers’ decision to cancel because of a public health emergency.
(3) As most established travel agents and operators worldwide know, most local African companies are quite liberal in extending nonrefundable date-specific services for almost any reason. In other words, most travelers are able to reschedule their previously deposited trip to a later date with no penalty for any reason, much less ebola.
For Americans, then, there is absolutely no benefit whatever from the newly expressed policies.
Most American consumers are a bit more savvy than Africans believe their geography quotient may be. I think most consumers will see this for what it is: a marketing gimmick. Gimmicks don’t help sales.
Consumers who consider the policy more substantial than a gimmick will actually be further deterred: Creating policies that on their surface seem beneficial to the potential traveler only if an outbreak actually occurs suggests that company is conceding that an outbreak is possible.
When the risk is nil. Consider that several of the last ebola outbreaks occurred in Uganda, a popular East African safari country. It never turned into an epidemic, and Uganda’s health-care system countrywide is below average compared to most other sub-Saharan countries.
Consumers – especially in America where two of its largest cities now have had locally developed ebola (Dallas and New York) – are recognizing however slowly that sub-Saharan Africa is actually less risky to visit than the Cowboys’ new stadium or the Statue of Liberty.
African travel companies have always been a little bit behind the times. This stupid policy does nothing but reignite irrational fears.
As more details emerge from Friday’s deadly terrorist attack in Nairobi, Kenyans are condemning western media for suggesting a holiday in Kenya isn’t safe. Do they have a point?
Two of Kenya’s leading tourism executives blamed western media for scandalizing the situation and argued that tourists on a Kenyan holiday are no more endangered by terrorism than tourists visiting Big Ben.
Before we get into this, let’s review what happened Friday:
Ten people were killed and at least 70 injured by two simultaneous explosions in an open-air market in mid-afternoon in Nairobi.
The first IED exploded around 230p at the periphery of what is called Africa’s largest second-hand clothing market. A few minutes later, a small bus filled with passengers exploded on a street adjacent the market.
The market is located about half-way between the troubled Eastleigh community of northeast Nairobi where so many Somalis live and the Nairobi city center.
Two days previously the British and American governments issued travel warnings urging their citizens to leave the Kenyan coast. Nairobi is about 220 miles inland from the coast.
The British secret service, the SAS, may have tipped off both British and Kenyan authorities that something was going to happen.
“Terror attack chatter” was intercepted by the SAS, according to the report in London’s Sunday Star.
The stern travel warnings that ensued prompted Europe’s mega travel company, TUI, to evacuate its British citizens booked through its subsidiaries, Thomson Holidays and First Choice Holidays, and to cancel its regular charter flights from Europe to the coast through October.
A third large European company, Kuoni, while not evacuating tourists canceled all further holidays on the Kenyan coast through October.
I explained in my blog Friday how the unique aspect of British travel insurance forced TUI into the decision. (Kuoni’s decision was for other reasons.) Hundreds of other European holiday makers booked through other companies were not evacuated and remain on the coast, today.
More than half the tourists who visit East Africa never see an animal. They come for the beautiful coast, and the coast of Kenya is as popular to Europeans for a holiday as the Caribbean is to Americans.
But the coast is heavily Muslim and has been so since the earliest histories. Kenya’s occupation of Somali unleashed the retribution which averages three terrorist attacks monthly, although the vast majority of these have been on or near the Somali border.
But the minority of other attacks have been on the coast, several quite near tourist centers.
In the last year a terrorist attack about once every two months has hit the Nairobi Somali expatriate community as well.
“Terrorism is a global threat and not unique to Kenya, with similar risks evident in Britain,” Jake Grieves-Cook, former head of the Kenyan association of tourist organizations, told the press Saturday.
He went on to detail that “the latest British MI5 and MI6 assessment of the terrorist threat within mainland Britain itself is now rated as ‘substantial’,” implying that a traveler in Britain was under as great a threat as in Kenya.
“This was not an evacuation as reported in the press,” Stefano Cheli, founder and owner of one of Kenya’s most successful upmarket tour companies said today. In a broadcast email to western travel companies, Cheli criticized the western media for suggesting the tourist repatriation was a British government operation rather than a TUI business decision.
Grieves-Cook, by the way, spent a long time in his statement explaining the exceptional good, particularly with regards to the near ending of Indian Ocean piracy, that the Kenyan military occupation of Somali has achieved.
He was almost but not actually saying that tourists owed Kenya an unusual latitude of security for what Kenya had secured for the world.
* * *
Vacations fall into a great variety of different categories. Probably the largest one is “R&R,” a reward for successful hard work. As such, the holiday maker wants as hassle free down time as possible. I think most beachcombers fall into this category.
A safari is a little bit different. I don’t think anyone planning a safari thinks it’s going to be relaxing. Exciting is the predominant theme. In fact, a touch of danger is often presumed, the titillation that is often a part of the motivation for booking. Like a sports holiday, there’s a definite aspect of challenge.
But you train carefully for a specific sport, and you believe – whether it’s true or not – that if you follow the rules the lion won’t eat you.
Terrorism is so successful because it’s just that: surprised fear. Holiday-makers don’t train to evacuate. There are no rules for dodging the bomb.
What’s left, though, is Grieves-Cook argument that Britain is as dangerous as Kenya, and the facts might bear him out.
Tourists killed in Britain’s scores of terrorist incidents, or in 9/11, are likely substantially higher than all the tourists ever killed in Kenya. So why not just trust the Kenyans to keep you as safe as the British?
Aha, that’s the answer and it’s not good for Kenya. Trust.
America and Britain have certainly had their share of terrorist acts, but Americans and Britains believe strongly that their governments have protected them against many, many more.
Why should a tourist trust Kenya when Kenya is unable to protect its own Eastleigh (Nairobi) citizens from a serious attack every two months? Facts aside, westerners are much more likely to trust the British or Americans to keep them safe than Kenyans.
It might not be fair. It might not even be rational. But it is the perception which matters.
Africa is a dynamic place: sometimes even violent but always rapidly changing. The end of my two months there gives me fresh perspectives on how best to travel to this amazing continent.
Although I spend about 4-5 months annually in sub-Saharan Africa, the single two-month stretch at the beginning of the year gives me the most holistic perspective.
Basic recommendations I’ve had for years are unchanged:
For the first-timer principally interested in game viewing, East Africa is where to go, hands down. But once you visit the spectacle of East Africa, don’t miss southern Africa! It’s radically different but just as awesome.
For the first-timer whose interests are much broader than just game viewing, southern Africa is the place to begin.
The decline in lion populations is significant and noticeable on a safari to either area. Only a few years ago a ten-day safari to East Africa saw well over 100 lion; a similar trip to southern Africa usually found about twenty. Today, it’s half that in both places.
But the rest of the animals, with some interesting exceptions like topi, are on the increase. And this includes elephant which if all you do is read conservation organization flyers you’d think otherwise. In fact I believe the “elephant problem” is quite simply that there are too many of them.
The great migration in East Africa just gets better and better. In fact it’s improving so much and so quickly I’m getting worried. I wonder if we’re reaching some carrying threshold where the numbers might suddenly tank.
Global warming has significantly effected safari travel. As elsewhere in the world, seasons are now exaggerated: The wet seasons are wetter with much flooding. The dry seasons are drier with devastating droughts. The hot and cold seasons are much hotter and much colder.
To me this means the end of the first wet season (which is also usually one of the hot seasons) is the best time to go, because the exaggerations are minimized. For East Africa this means March and April. For southern Africa this means February and March.
But take this recommendation cautiously: Global warming is happening so fast that I can see this changing even year to year. And the fact remains that an outstanding safari can be done at any time of the year if properly designed.
Prices in southern Africa are increasing. Prices in East Africa are moderating. The demand in southern Africa is on the increase, but tourism in East Africa is decreasing.
I think this has to do with the fact that southern Africa is more stable. For a trip of a similar caliber and level of accommodations, a southern African trip is now about a quarter more expensive than an East African one.
With regards to specific countries, not much as changed except for Kenya. I’ll be returning to Nairobi in about a month to confirm what I have to predict, now.
I believe Kenya is ready, again, to safeguard tourists. It’s been four years since EWT actively promoted Kenya or since I’ve taken by own guided trips, there.
But there has been very significant positive change from a tourist point of view there recently. You may think this crazy if all you do is read the headlines: small grenade and other bombing attacks are actually on a slight increase in and around Nairobi.
But those attacks are directed exclusively at the Somali community, and the attacks of the last five years on tourists were different and have subsided.
Since the Westgate Mall attack last September and the Nairobi airport fire the month before I haven’t been able to find a single, however slight or botched attempt, directed at tourists in Kenya. And it’s not completely certain that tourists figured very much in the calculus of either of those attacks.
The fact there haven’t been any tourist kidnapings or violent robberies or lodge or camp attacks is a significant change from just a few years ago.
Those attacks were by common criminals given free reign when police and other local security personnel were pulled from many tourists areas to aid in the Somali war effort. And in the case of the specific tourist kidnapings around Lamu, those were by Somali terrorists when the October, 2011, war began.
That war is over. (Though the occupation by Kenyan troops continues, which is why the attacks are directed against Somali Kenyans who live mostly in and around Nairobi and on the coast.)
Police and regional security personnel have returned home. Normal policing has started, again, and improved. In fact I worry that the new security procedures put in place by the current government are too draconian. Be that as it may, it means tourists will be safer.
I now see Kenya very much as I saw Britain during the IRA wars. I remember, for example, visiting my daughter in the mid 1990s when she was studying at Oxford.
My subway went dark and out for three hours after the IRA bombed London’s Piccadilly Line. Nobody was hurt as the object of the IRA in those days wasn’t to kill civilians but to make a point.
Today in Kenya the object of the terrorists is to hurt Kenyan civilians of Somali descent. But the exclusion of harming outsiders seems similar to the situation in London 20 years ago.
I will be the first to reverse course if things turn south in Kenya. But there are so many unique attractions in Kenya that when tourist security arrives at the level I believe it has, today, it would be terrible to miss them.
As Kenya improves I grow increasingly vigilant of Tanzania.
Tanzania is wrestling with a new and very contentious constitution, the same issue which spiraled Kenya into unrest in 2007. The most recent attack specifically against tourists was in Zanzibar, so I’m recommending against travel there.
Right now Tanzania excluding Zanzibar remains one of the most secure places for an African holiday. But I’m watching it carefully as the future does not seem as bright as Kenya’s.
Uganda is out. The country now prosecuting its first gay trial is increasingly overseen by a madman. Not yet as bad as Amin, I can see Museveni becoming as bad in just a few years.
Rwanda is an authoritarian state, horrible for its citizens and absolutely as safe for tourists as China today or Russia during the Cold War. And I’m watching The Congo carefully. Things are getting better, there.
Virtually all of southern Africa except Zimbabwe is as secure for the tourist as a visit to most South American countries. Even the security situation for visitors in Madagascar is improving.
As I said, Africa is a dynamic and sometimes violent place. It’s always been so, and it will remain so for some time. Travel to Africa has never been, and isn’t today, a Caribbean cruise.
But I think it’s slowly getting safer. And it remains more exciting than ever. Read my many previous blogs about my just ended safaris and I hope you’ll understand why I think so!
The wild is not just unpredictable, it’s always spiritually rejuvenating. That doesn’t normally characterize a Caribbean cruise!
My final safari of the season in Tanzania gave us an extraordinary picture of the beauty, majesty and drama of the rainy season.
For this is the rainy season. While there continues to be a lot of misinformation about “short rains” and “long rains” (an appropriate Kenyan differentiation that doesn’t exist in northern Tanzania), April is always a month of rain.
May is often heavier, and then the spigot turns off in June.
This is my favorite time for East Africa. It’s amazing how so many tour companies and guide books suggest this isn’t a good time to visit: ask my clients for 40 years! Here are some of the pluses for visiting at this time of the year, all of which we just finished experiencing:
1. The Migration
At no other time of the year, anywhere in Kenya or Tanzania, does such a large congregation of animals occur. The 1.5 million wildebeest begin to gather in the southern plains at the end of the year, and indeed there could be horizons filled with wildebeest in the southern Serengeti on any of the first five months of the year.
But never with the span that we witness in April. This safari was in the migration for nearly six hours of steady, not slow travel, as we moved from Lemuta to Ndutu. The next day we continued in a different area north of Ndutu, the Kusini Plains to Hidden Valley, and the wildebeest were solid every inch of the way.
That only happens, now. When we then went atop Naabi Hill and used our binoculars to sweep the southern grasslands, it was clear we’d only seen a tip of the iceberg. What we saw from Naabi would fill two or three Maasai Maras.
Wildebeest calve starting at the end of February. Most other animals calve year round, but we saw hundreds if not thousands of baby zebras, gazelle, giraffe, buffalo and impala. It makes perfect sense. The veld is at its most fulsome in the rains. This is the easiest time to begin raising offspring.
At one point I held 26 different wildflowers in a bouquet in my hand. Every color and shape imaginable. The grasses, too, were bountiful and glorious. Many of the acacias were blooming. The baobabs were all in leaf. At certain points in the veld, the yellow biden bidens wild flower had exploded over everything! It was magnificent.
4. Dramatic Landscapes
Three of every five days the afternoon around 3 p.m. was punctuated with a magnificent storm. Now oftentimes we watched it but weren’t under it. In the tropics, storms don’t move consistently and rapidly as they do in the temperate zones.
Unusual morning storms never disrupt our game viewing because we simply go where they aren’t forming. And I often scheduled intense game viewing in the morning packing a picnic lunch that would last 7-8 hours before the afternoon storms would begin.
But with brilliant skies unfettered by buildings or tall mountains, our front row seats of the power of nature over the magnificent African veld is an unmatched experience.
Hardly ever over the mid-eighties during the day and wonderfully crisp and cool at night with … no dust!
To be fair, there are good points to every different season in East Africa, just as I imagine you would ascribe to your home. We do have to plan extra carefully in the wet season, and single vehicle safaris cannot enjoy the wide freedom of itineraries possible for them in the dry season.
But never let someone tell you “don’t go in the rains!”
They have no idea what they’re talking about and certainly have never experienced it themselves!