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Snow blows Xmas chill on E. Africa tourism

PORT-LOUIS, Dec 24 – Europe\’s snow-induced air traffic snarl is threatening to spoil a key tourism season for East Africa, where hundreds of thousands traditionally flock for Christmas warmth, officials said Thursday.

The main tourism industry players in some of the world\’s most popular high-end Christmas destinations were hoping for the massive backlog in European airports to be quickly cleared.

Air Mauritius chairman Donald Payen said the money spent on special measures to address delays in the airline\’s European flights combined with numerous cancellations would dampen a month when business is usually brisk.

"These disturbances will undoubtedly have an impact on our economic performance for December," he told AFP.

The Indian Ocean state of Mauritius is heavily reliant on its tourism sector and usually welcomes around 110,000 tourists in December alone, its busiest month of the year.

Mauritius had looked certain to beat its arrivals target following a 9.5 percent increase in November, with some 85,000 tourists visiting the island\’s hotels and palm-fronted beaches last month.

"We have had a difficult situation to handle and we\’re relieved that it appears to be easing," Payen said.

Britain has been experiencing one of its harshest winters, with temperatures dipping to record lows and unusually heavy snowfalls forcing the closure of airports in London, which has the world\’s largest city airspace.

While the chaos was slowly being resolved across Europe, airlines were still struggling to clear the backlog and ensure thousands of stranded passengers would not spend Christmas eve in snowbound airports.

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"It is affecting us," Uganda\’s state minister for tourism, Serapio Rukundo, told AFP.

"This season is an important time for our tourism industry. People from Europe like to come to Uganda to relax. But you also have Ugandans who are abroad who are trying to get home," he explained.

Rukundo said it was too early to put a figure on the losses incurred but he predicted the European weather chaos could have an impact when annual tourism revenues are compiled.

Ignie Igundura, Uganda civil aviation authority spokesman, said that British Airways and Dutch carrier KLM, which are in the eye of Europe\’s snow storm, were two of the major airlines flying to Ugandan\’s main Entebbe hub.

"The arrivals have not been as expected. We normally experience an upsurge in traffic around this time, but we have been affected," he said, adding that he hoped the situation would be stabilised by the weekend.

Losses caused by delays in new arrivals were partly compensated by the inevitable backlog of tourists who had been due to fly in the other direction and extended their holidays, officials explained.

In Kenya, the region\’s main air traffic hub, tourism officials also looked anxiously at Europe\’s efforts to resolve the crisis.

"It\’s one of these things, these things happen from time to time," said Jake Grieves-Cook, outgoing chairman of the Kenya Tourism Board.

"We sincerely hope the thaw is going to continue," he said.

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