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Sat 9 Feb 2008 04:00 AM

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Looking beyond Kenya

East Africa offers plenty of alternatives to Kenya, from Tanzanian safaris to Zanzibar's beaches.

East Africa offers plenty of alternatives to Kenya, from Tanzanian safaris to Zanzibar's beaches.

Since the controversial re-election of Kenyan president Mwai Kibaki on December 27, which brought allegations of poll-rigging sparking violence and national protests, Kenya has witnessed the death of more than 600 citizens

As a result, the country's once burgeoning tourism industry, which accounted for at least 500,000 jobs, has been left in tatters.

Agents should be selling East Africa as a real safari destination that provides the unforgettable thrill of seeing animals roaming freely.

Most countries are advising against all but essential travel to Kenya and tour operators worldwide, including Emirates Holidays and Qatar Airways Holidays, have cancelled their operations in the East African country.

"We are currently not taking any new bookings for holiday packages to Kenya, and are in close contact with the tourism board there," explains Dina Al Herais, vice president, commercial operations for Emirates Holidays.

"[We] will reinstate sales once we are comfortable that the situation has stabilised. In the interim, customers who have booked an Emirates Holidays package to Kenya have the opportunity to cancel without any charges, change their destination or rebook to travel at a later time.

Kenya was one of the most popular East African destinations for Emirates Holidays customers, but with the holiday hotspot off limits, alternatives such as Tanzania and Zanzibar will have to take up the slack and offer a good alternative thanks to the safari-beach combination they jointly offer.

Emirates Holidays introduced East Africa to its portfolio when Emirates Airline launched its service to Nairobi in 1995, and Al Herais says the region has been growing in popularity with expatriates and couples ever since.

"This is helped by the fact that the Emirates Holidays brochure introduces new properties [at the destination] every year," she says.

Emirates Holidays brochure recommends the five-star luxury Zamani Zanzibar Kempinski Hotel situated on the north-east of the island, which offers 110 rooms and seven private villas. The hotel is ideal for honeymooners and couples, guaranteeing privacy and views of the Indian Ocean from the Jetty Bar. The property has been nominated for the World Luxury Awards in 2008.

Tanzania: on safari

Whether agents are catering to the needs of a family, a couple, or a more adventurous traveller, the most popular attraction in East Africa is definitely the wildlife, and Emirates Holidays' Al Herais says that safari tours will continue to be the key draw card for the region.

"Agents should be selling East Africa as a real safari destination that provides the unforgettable thrill of seeing animals roaming freely through some of the most spectacular scenery in the world," she says.

Until the recent political turmoil, Kenya was popular for its wildlife and safaris, but Tanzania is more than capable of providing an equally thrilling safari experience, and the Conservation Corporation Africa offers a wide variety of safari attractions to cater to the needs of any client.

The sales pitchGetting there:

Emirates Airline:from Dubai to Khartoum, one daily; to Addis Ababa, one daily; to Entebbe, one daily; to Nairobi, two daily on every day but Wednesday when there's one daily; to Dar Es Salaam, one daily.

QatarAirways:from Doha to Dar Es Salaam, daily; to Khartoum, daily; to Nairobi, daily.

KenyaAirways:from Dubai to Nairobi, daily

Visas:For Kenya and Tanzania visas American citizens can apply online at www.kenya.visahq.com or www.tanzania.visahq.com ; all other GCC residents should visit the nearest Embassy of the Republic of Kenya or Embassy of Tanzania

Currency:

Kenya:KES 1000 = US $15

Tanzania:TZS 30,000 = US $26

Packages:

Emirates Holidays:prices for a six-night safari in Tanzania lead in at AED 12,700 (US $3461) per person on a twin share basis.

The price includes return economy class airfares between Dubai and Dar Es Salaam, one night's accommodation in Dar Es Salaam at a four-star hotel on full-board basis, five nights in three-star tented camps and lodges on a full-board basis, transfers between the airport and hotel, game drives as per itinerary and park entrance. Domestic flights are also included.

The offer is valid until March 2008. Emirates also offers a beach extension to Zanzibar with prices starting from AED 1650 ($450) per person on half-board basis at a four-star hotel.

The Lake Manyara Tree Lodge, which is situated within a national park boasts, boasts 10 stilted tree-house suites, each with an en-suite bathroom and shower facilities, a private game viewing deck, an African butler service, crafts gallery and swimming pool.

The lodge features an interactive kitchen allowing guests to watch as catering staff prepare a range of pan-African cuisine.

Two daily game drives in open-top 4x4 vehicles manned by experienced rangers are on offer, as well as a bush walk led by Maasai naturalists, enabling guests to learn about the flora and fauna.

But most spectacular is the Northern safari circuit, including the Lake Manyara National Park, home to tree climbing lions, elephants, troops of baboons, and more than 400 bird species; the Ngorongoro Crater Conservation Area, home to the Ngorongoro Crater - the world's largest intact caldera - where guests can get up close and personal with Africa's big five; Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa's highest mountain; and the Tarangire National Park, home to buffalo, cheetah, fringe-eared oryx, leopard, lion, Masai giraffe, spotted hyena, common zebra, eastern white-bearded wildebeest, warthog, eland, olive baboon, bat-eared fox, impala, common waterbuck, bushbuck, coke's hartebeest, Bohor reedbuck and more than 550 bird species.

For guests seeking a more metropolitan experience, Dar Es Salaam is Tanzania's largest city and attracts primarily business travellers.

But Lena Kasfiki-Livanidou, general manager of the Kilimanjaro Hotel Kempinski Dar Es Salaam and area director of Kempinski Hotels in Tanzania, says that since its reopening by Dubai's Albwardy Investment Group in 2005, the property has seen a strady increase in the volume of business, with average occupancy at 79% in 2007, and a forecast growth rate of at least 18% for this year.

And the property caters to leisure guests as well, providing several F&B outlets and the Anantara Spa, as well as the opportunity to go on safari.

Safari programmes are handled by local travel agencies in Dar Es Salaam, and the hotel has a travel office on its premises.

Zanzibar: on the beach

Part of Tanzania, Zanzibar is an archipelago comprising two large islands and a number of smaller ones. The 109-room Fairmont Zanzibar, located on the northeast coast of Zanzibar's main island, Ungunja, is the perfect destination for a beach holiday, according to general manager Tom Norberg.

"We had five hotels in Kenya and one of the things that we were challenged with was the fact that we didn't have a beach product. So we searched and searched, and there was nothing that met our expectations in Kenya. When this property came up we latched onto it quickly, because it's perfect," he explains.

"Customers want five days on safari, five days on the beach, or seven days safari, seven days beach, and we are now able to help them out. It makes perfect sense now to do a five-day big five safari [Lion, Elephant, Leopard, Buffalo, Rhinoceros] and then spend five days on the beach here in Zanzibar.

How to sell to:Families:Emirates Holidays says safaris and wildlife appeal to families and offers a number of Safari packages. Also visit www.leopard-tours.com for a wide selection of safari options. The Leopard Beach Resort in Mombasa offers babysitting services and interconnecting rooms. Visit www.leopardbeachhotel.com .

Couples/Honeymooners:Those looking for a more intimate experience should try a visit to a private game lodge combined with a beach holiday says Emirates Holidays.

The Conservation Corporation Africa has a number of luxury game lodges in Tanzania (visit www.lakemanyara.com ), while Zanzibar is the place to visit for a beach holiday.

The Zamani Zanzibar Kempinski offers a standard honeymoon and romance package, which includes one night in the Zamani Suite and a bottle of champagne for US $715; and a deluxe package including two nights accommodation in the Zamani suite, full buffet breakfast at the Cloves restaurant, a bouquet of flowers, full Swedish body massage for two, a five-course candlelight dinner at the Red Snapper restaurant and a gift for US $1688, Contact reservations.zanzibar@kempinski.com or call +255 774 444 477.

Adventure travellers:East Africa presents the thrill-seeking traveller with the ultimate adventure destination. Safaris are the obvious choice, with a range if itineraries available at www.leopard-tours.com , or the more active could try climbing the famous Mount Kilimanjaro. Fairmont Zanzibar has a dive centre and offers daily snorkeling and reef walks.

Shopping:While East Africa is not primarily a shopping destination, the local artwork and handicrafts are major highlights, according to Emirates Holidays. Dar Es Salaam offers a number of luxury and designer shops and malls, as well as the more authentic Tanzanian heritage goods market.

Norberg says the resort's unique selling points are "that we have the best diving anywhere in the world, the weather is fantastic every day of the year and there is great service". Norberg adds that there is also an incredible cultural history, with influences from the Indian, British, Swahili and Omani people.

The hotel receives a lot of Omani guests "who come because of the historical connection with Zanzibar" according to Norberg, and Dubai is one of its key target markets due to the relatively short six-hour flight (from the UAE to Tanzania).

"Obviously in a country that is 97% Muslim, we have a lot of respect for the tradition, so there is a Qur'an in every room and an indication towards Mecca," he adds.

But it's not just these standard provisions that the Fairmont makes for its Arabic clientele - every room at the property is part of a four-room block, perfect for catering to large family groups.

"We also have connecting rooms, if guests want that, and we have a duplex with four rooms, so we could do a minimum of eight people and a maximum of 16 in that block and that would be totally your space," explains Norberg.

"More specifically for the Middle East market we have two mosques on site and we can be very respectful to the separation issue with men and women and also taking care of the children. With the staff being 97% Muslim there is a total understanding of what the needs are.

Norberg says his plan is too make Zanzibar a much more popular destination by solving "the visa issue" and persuading Emirates to fly directly to the island.

"Emirates currently does direct flight into Dar Es Salaam, but we want it to do direct flights to Zanzibar too. We [also] want the government to understand that it would be in everyone's best interests to do helicopter and seaplane transfers, similar to what they do in the Maldives," he says.

"I think the government is receiving us as good corporate partners and investors that really have the interests of the destination at heart and are not just trying to make a dollar. And six months from now we will have an airport sorted.

As well as the improving transport situation, which will allow easier access to the island, Norberg says there are rumours of an additional 5000 rooms to be built on Zanzibar's islands over the next three years.

"It's not very dense at the moment, so there's a lot of room to build here, and that's one of the nice things about Zanzibar," he explains. "One of the other things we are trying to develop here is golf, which would be absolutely incredible.

"Our owners have enough money to make it happen so we would like to see that.

Sample itinerary for TanzaniaDay one:Lunch at Arusha followed by a trip to Lake Manyara and an overnight stay at the Lake Manyara Lodge/Hotel

Day two:Morning game drive in Serengeti Park, followed by lunch at Lake Manyara, an afternoon departure for Serengeti, dinner and an overnight stay at Serengeti Lodge

Day three:Morning and afternoon game drive in Serengeti Park, followed by meals and an overnight stay at Serengeti Lodge.

Day four:Morning game drive in Serengeti National Park, followed by lunch in Serengeti and an afternoon departure for Ngorongoro via Olduvai Gorge. Dinner and an overnight stay at Ngorongoro Lodge.

Day five:Descend down the volcano crater for a full day tour. Dinner and overnight stay at Nogorongoro Lodge.

Day six:Drive back to Arusha. Lunch in Arusha.

Visit:www.leopard-tours.com.

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