COASTAL Aviation has introduced an exclusive service for tourists interested to view flora and fauna including the amazing annual migration of wildebeest and zebras at the world famous Serengeti National Park. The airline's Lake Zone Area Manager Ms Siv Segergren granted an exclusive interview on the importance of flying tourists over the world famous park.
Briefly tell us what is new at Coastal Aviation?
Coastal Aviation has launched a new business model for safari and wildlife tourism. We are embarking on traditional safari tourism, whereby a guest is driven, say from Arusha to the western corridor and back by a safari vehicle. We are not limiting the wildlife experience. This is suitable for not so young clients and those with little time to spend on the road.According to our business model, we fly tourists from one destination to another, fast and comfortably. After landing, guests stay at camps and small lodges equipped with open cars. We employ guides who are knowledgeable about the local environment where they are supposed to operate.
This model allows guests to get to know the environment they visit and guides tend to deliver the best possible service. An added advantage of the flying safari is the limited cost of government investment: no need to build hundreds of kilometres of public or park roads in the wildlife areas, a small grass airstrip of 1,000 metres is more than enough to create a tourism hub in the remote part of the country.
What are you doing to promote tourism in the Lake zone, particularly in Mara Region?
Well, everyone can see the anachronism of the conventional way to reach the Serengeti. This is the most popular park in Tanzania and one of the most popular in the world. Wildlife migration makes it so and, although the migration happens once a year, the main focus is the crossing of the Grumeti River between June and August, which are the most popular months for vacations in Europe. Traditionally, ground operators are based in Arusha and drive guests to Grumeti, a two-day trip by car. Neither comfortable nor efficient.
On the other hand, the western corridor of Serengeti is only 30 minutes flight from Mwanza. Agents who book their guests to fly to Mwanza and from there to west Serengeti, offer a much better service at a much better price. We are working in making that route popular as much as the Arusha route.
What motivated you to invest at Magena airstrip on the outskirts of Tarime town?
The migration is the greatest "show on Earth" but does not happen only in Tanzania. Once the wildebeests cross the river, the show moves to Kenya where it stays for a long while. For a tourist, being able to visit Tanzania, but also Kenya is a key advantage. In the months between September and February, guests would choose Kenya instead of Tanzania. By taking guests across the Kenya/ Tanzania Sirari border, we offer opportunity for guests to visit both countries and make the most of their vacation time.
How many tourists have so far landed at the airstrip on their way to Serengeti National Park?
It is difficult to state the number at the moment as the airstrip is quite new and not all tour operators have learned how to cross the border yet. However, there certainly is a very large number crossing from Kenya into Tanzania in the months of June, July and August. We also expect a smaller number crossing from Tanzania into Kenya from September to January.
Does your company do anything to support development of the local people surrounding the airstrip?
The strip has been opened by a team of local villagers, it is managed by them and Coastal only offers occasional supervision for quality standards. We have also entered into an agreement with a Tarime hospitality operator and by timing the flights in such manner that guests have to wait a substantial amount of time in Tarime for the flight. We have brought an amount of visitors to Tarime and some excitement about tourism among the residents.The next opportunity is to tie up with local operators so as break the wildlife-to-wildlife experience of tourists and bring in visits to the Lake Victoria and its islands.We are also looking at a fuel provider and that too will expand business opportunities.
Are you satisfied with the condition of Magena airstrip, or something should be done to improve it ?
Well, we are satisfied for the time being. Our model of aircraft is designed to land in bush strips. However, it would be a great asset to have the strip brought up to international standards and offer the services to bigger aircraft particularly for mining companies and general local traffic. That would bring down cost and become a real asset for the community.
From your experience what do you think should be done to encourage more tourists to visit Serengeti by entering the country via Tanzanian/ Kenya Sirari border?
It would help to have a better access road to the strip, that would not make guests feel suspicious about "where are they taking us?" better road signage would also help in making tourists feel comfortable.
What message would you like to convey to visitors wishing to visit Mwanza or Serengeti by using Coastal Aviation?
There is much more to Tanzania, than just its wild life!