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East Africa Tourism Industry Counts losses caused by Sandy

The fallout of monster storm Sandy, which hit the Eastern seaboard of the United States two days ago and left a wide path of destruction behind as it moved inland, has also had repercussions here in East Africa, as tourists booked to arrive over the past days, and for the next week at least, have been stranded back in the States and parts of Canada for lack of flights.

Gulf airlines connecting tourists from Washington and New York, cancelled their flights alongside the European airlines like KLM and British Airways, Swiss and Brussels Airlines, with the result of scores of non-arrivals in Nairobi, Entebbe, Kigali, Kilimanjaro, and Dar es Salaam. Safari operators are now counting their losses and while in many cases prepaid, allowing for cancellation or no-show fees to be settled, might feel the pressure from larger clients to waive fees or try to rebook the safaris at their own cost.

In fact, those who intended to come for gorilla tracking in Rwanda and Uganda, due to the scarcity of permits, may have to wait for months or another year before they can match their own vacation dates with available permit slots for tracking. While the flight bans are expected to be lifted, there will be a backlog of flights for those stranded in the Eastern US as well as for those booked to fly home from East Africa, where they too were unable to commence their journeys, giving them an unexpected extra few days to explore attractions near their airport of departure while awaiting a call of when they will be able to travel.

Reminiscent of the great Atlantic ash cloud, which also interrupted international air transport, the fallout from events far away has reached our own shores, and a senior Ugandan stakeholder had this to say overnight: “Yes, we are missing some clients ourselves who were supposed to arrive from the US with BA and SN. I know of others who waited in vain for their clients to come on Emirates and Qatar or KLM and are now trying to figure out when or if those tourists are still coming. They may only have a week or 10 days of vacation time for their safari and with no instant seats available could be forced to cancel.

“We will try to help rebook but in some cases like prepaid gorilla permits or deposits paid for accommodation in the lodges, there is very little we can do. Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) got our money for those, the lodges got our money and could end up asking for full payment if clients did not show. We immediately told everyone that this group or those individuals did not make it on their flights from the US, but it is beyond us to argue such a case. I am not even sure all my contacts from the US will be reaching WTM in time next week, they might be busy rebuilding their offices which might have been flooded or destroyed. We will hope and see.”

Importers of spare parts and other top urgent air cargo and exporters of produce, which leaves East Africa by air and is destined for the US, are also counting their losses as urgent air cargo has been stuck at airports in the US, with DHL and other courier companies unable to fly shipments out of the States, nor to the States. Perishable goods in particular, kept in cold storage in Nairobi or Entebbe, will have done exactly that, perished, while waiting for airlines to resume flights unless the shipments could have been resold at short notice to other markets in the Middle East or Europe, to where flights were continuing without interruption of course.

East Africans stuck in the Eastern United States too are said to be struggling to return as soon as possible as they are faced with the added expenses for hotels and upkeep not budgeted for and at least in one case a known traveler has told this correspondent that she would only be able to get a seat via London to Nairobi on November 6, and while on standby for all flights in between would probably not reach home before then.

An airline executive from Nairobi, regularly in touch with insights and contributions, added: “When traffic resumes out of New York and Washington and all, the people booked on those flights with confirmed tickets are the ones with the immediate right to travel. Those who missed their flights as a result of the storm and the suspension of air traffic, will be in a queue to be allocated available seats on flights to Europe or the Gulf. Air traffic has not yet resumed as we speak and may take another day or two. That is a recipe for much anger and frustration for travelers mainly but also for airline staff who take a lot of abuse in such cases. Airlines try to work out some really important cases for travel like funerals or weddings or diplomatic missions and so forth but really, in most cases they try to find an empty seat on their flights or any other flight to put passengers on for connections.

“Remember we discussed this when the Icelandic ash cloud disrupted transatlantic flights. It is the same and it can be up to two weeks before all is back to fully normal. And it is a two-way street, Kenyans are stranded here on business trips to the US or for visits, and I guess many will just cancel, because the event will be over or the business opportunity has been lost. The only good thing is that it is not high season now across the Atlantic so the backlog can clear a little faster compared to the peak season situation when the ash cloud halted flights. I can only ask for travelers to be patient. We here want to send them off as soon as there is a seat ,and we book them even on other airlines to fly to Europe and then to our hub for the rest of their journey to America.”

That devastating storm with the benign name of Sandy, which left millions out of power and caused numerous deaths besides the record destruction of infrastructure, businesses, and personal property, shows how the ripples of it run across the globe in today’s interlinked economies and how the impact of there is now also felt here.

Global Travel News

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