Distinction in travel journalism
Is independent travel journalism important to you?
Click here to keep it independent

29 Oct, 2012

Boxing Champ Muhammad Ali’s Peace Gardens Top 100 Worldwide

Compiled by Imtiaz Muqbil & Sana Muqbil

A compilation of progressive, positive, inspiring and motivating events and developments in the world of Islam for the week ending 29 October 2012 (13 Dhul Ḥijjah 1433). Pls click on any of the headlines below to go to the story.


Wealth Of Programmes For Visitors During Visit Terengganu Year 2013

Nine tourism programmes based on sports, photography and recreational activities have been planned by the Terengganu Tengah Development Authority (Ketengah) in conjunction with Visit Terengganu Year (TMT 2013) next year. Its general manager, Wan Mat Amin Wan Daud said, most of the programmes will be held at Tasik Kenyir to promote the largest manmade lake in South-East Asia. “We want the natural beauty of Tasik Kenyir to be fully explored throug TMT 2013 so that tourists not only take back new experiences, but also promote the lake to their country, he said. Ketengah begins its lineup of tourism programmes with the Jelajah Tasik Kenyir Fishing Competition, held in five series, beginning from Feb 10 to 11, March 8-9, April 12-13, Sept 13-14 and Nov 22-23 2013. The Kenyir Lake International Triathlon will be held on March 10, Boat on the Road Fishing Competition in April and the Kenyir Festival from May 16 to 20.

For more information about what makes Malaysia one of the most popular destinations in the Islamic world, as well as on planning your next holiday or MICE event in Malaysia, please click: http://www.tourism.gov.my/.

facebook: http://www.facebook.com/friendofmalaysia

twitter: http://twitter.com/tourismmalaysia

Boxing Champ Muhammad Ali’s Peace Gardens Top 100 Worldwide

October 24, 2012, LOUISVILLE, Ky.–(BUSINESS WIRE)–The Muhammad Ali Center is proud to announce its third annual “Muhammad Ali Center Peace Gardens” grant program. Since the program’s inception in 2010, over 100 garden projects in seven countries have been established, touching the lives of more than 10,000 children. Muhammad Ali Center Peace Gardens promote respect for different cultures, hunger relief and nutrition through gardening.

The program is funded by Yum! Brands Foundation. Yum! Brands’ commitment to the program includes $100,000 in awards to establish multicultural gardens in underprivileged schools through 2014, as well as contributions of educational materials and a classroom curriculum translated into six languages. The National Gardening Association, a recognized leader in the field, is providing assistance with curriculum development and the grant process.

Named after global humanitarian and sports icon, Muhammad Ali, the Peace Gardens program brings youth of different cultures together for a good cause. This year, fifty winners will be selected from around the globe to receive a $500 garden package to enhance or begin a garden program. Past recipients have included projects across the U.S., and in Pakistan, Mexico, Grenada and Haiti to name a few.

“We are so proud to be part of this effort to bring gardens to communities in need,” says Michael Metallo, President and CEO of the National Gardening Association. “This collaboration has connected over 100 youth garden programs worldwide, giving students the opportunity to learn about different cultures while increasing their access to healthy foods.”

The initiative is based on a successful pilot program undertaken by the John F. Kennedy Montessori Elementary School in Louisville, Kentucky. The teacher-led project helped nearly 600 pre-school to fifth grade students from Asia, South America, Russia, Cuba, and the U.S., learn how to work across cultures to build gardens with plants from around the world. The students participated in every phase of the project, including planting, nurturing, harvesting, cooking and donating food to the hungry.

Donald Lassere, President and CEO of the Muhammad Ali Center, commented on the center’s dedication to the program. “The Ali Center, and the Alis themselves believe that the Peace Gardens initiative can have a lasting impact by bringing together youth in a unique and universal way. We’re confident that, through gardening, we can achieve greater cross-cultural understanding among this generation,” noted Lassere. “We are also pleased that this project brings youth closer to nature and provides a lesson on the value of giving back to their communities.”

“It’s wonderful to see that in just two years, there are now more than 100 Muhammad Ali Center Peace Gardens around the world,” said Amy Sherwood, Vice President, Public Relations, Yum! Brands, Inc. “Each garden is teaching valuable lessons that will stay with the children throughout their lives. They are not only learning the importance of respect, but also about nutrition and hunger relief, feeding those less fortunate,” added Sherwood.

Educators can access a free downloadable teacher guide at all of the partner websites, including: www.alicenter.org, www.yum.com, www.mypeacegarden.com and www.kidsgardening.org.

The deadline to apply for a Muhammad Ali Center Peace Garden grant is January 2, 2013. Winners will be announced March 7, 2013. Apply Now at http://grants.kidsgardening.org/2013-muhammad-ali-center-peace-garden-grant.

Muhammad Ali and his wife Lonnie founded the Muhammad Ali Center, a 501(c)3 organization, in 2005 and chose for their headquarters site, their hometown of Louisville, Kentucky. The international multicultural center promotes the six core principles of Muhammad Ali (Confidence, Conviction, Dedication, Giving, Respect, and Spirituality) in ways that inspire personal and global greatness and provides programming and events around the focus areas of education, multiculturalism, gender equity, global citizenship, and compassion. Its newest initiative, Generation Ali, fosters a new generation of leaders to contribute positively to their communities and to change the world for the better. The Center’s headquarters also contains an award-winning museum experience. For more information, please visit www.alicenter.org.

About The National Gardening Association www.kidsgardening.org.

Back to top

Bosnian pilgrim walks to Mecca through Syria for Hajj

AFP, 25 Oct 2012 — A Bosnian Muslim pilgrim who left last December on pilgrimage to Mecca by foot has told AFP that he has arrived after passing through seven countries including war-torn Syria. “I arrived Saturday in Mecca. I am not tired, these are the best days of my life,” Senad Hadzic, 47, said when reached by phone on a Saudi mobile number.

He said he had covered some 5,700 kilometres (3,540 miles) in 314 days of walking through Bosnia, Serbia, Bulgaria, Turkey, Syria and Jordan to the Muslim holy city in south-western Saudi Arabia, with a backpack weighing 20 kilos (44 pounds).

He charted his progress on his Facebook page, where he posted a picture apparently of an entry/exit card for foreigners issued by the Syrian interior ministry.

“I passed through Syria in April. I walked some 500 kilometres in 11 days. I went through Aleppo and Damascus and passed dozens of check-points held by pro-government and rebel forces alike, but I was never detained,” Hadzic said.

“At a check-point held by (President Bashar) al-Assad’s forces the soldier ordered me to empty my backpack … When I showed them my Koran and explained I was making the pilgrimage on foot, they let me go,” he told AFP. “I walked in the name of Allah, for Islam, for Bosnia-Hercegovina, for my parents and my sister,” he added.

On his Facebook page he said God had shown him the way in dreams, including to go through Syria instead of Iraq. During the pilgrimage, Hadzic faced temperatures ranging from minus 35 Celsius (minus 31 Fahrenheit) in Bulgaria to plus 44 Celsius (111 Fahrenheit) in Jordan.

He said he had to wait in Istanbul for several weeks to get permission to cross the Bosphorus Bridge on foot and two months at the border between Jordan and Saudi Arabia to obtain an entry visa. The Hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam and must be undertaken at least once in a lifetime by all Muslims who are able to.

Back to top

Aamir Khan, Shahid Afridi perform Haj

Makkah, 08 Dhul Hijja 1433/ 24 October 2012 (IINA) – Among the dignitaries who came to perform Haj this year included famous Indian film actor Aamir Khan and Pakistan cricketer Shahid Afridi. Bollywood actor Aamir khan accompanied his mother Zeenat to perform Haj. His mother had a long time desire to visit Makkah and Aamir joined her to fulfil it.

After completing the Chicago schedule of Dhoom:3 and attending the music launch of his upcoming film Talaash, Aamir left for a 14-day holy trip to Haj along with mother, eight other members from his family and an Islamic scholar. Afridi arrived for Haj after playing two-match T20 series between Pakistan All Star XI and International World XI in Pakistan. Aamir and Afridi met in Makkah and exchanged cordial talks.

Back to top

Dubai cafe “camel-ccino” serves new take on Bedouin staple

Reuters, 22 Oct 2012 – Dubai cafe, trying to give a modern twist to an old Bedouin tradition, has started putting camel products on its menu. Cafe2Go, launched in September last year by an Emirati entrepreneur as part of a scheme to revive Bedouin traditions, now features camel-lattes, camel-ccinos and camel-meat fajitas.

Earlier this month, he launched Camellos — a brand name for his products derived from the Spanish word for camel. “Camel milk has been around for centuries and I wanted our younger generation to start drinking it again,” Jassim Al Bastaki, the cafe owner, said. “From here came the idea of mixing it with modern drinks.”

Camel milk has been a staple for desert Arab nomads for generations. However its boom in modern day food and beverage industries in the UAE adds a new level to its commerciality.

Apart from being a novelty in the glitzy home of the world’s tallest building and the man-made palm islands, Bastaki swears by the health benefits of camel milk. Studies show it is almost as nutritious as human breast milk and offers 10 times more iron and three times more vitamin C than cow’s milk.

The challenge in marketing the product comes from the taste and smell. Unlike common dairy products, camel milk is slightly saltier and has a heavy taste, and from the smell, one knows immediately where it came from.

Bastaki said he had spent months testing different concoctions on family and friends before coming up with the perfect blend. “Camel milk is known for being a healthier choice,” he said. “We just had to find the right coffee bean mix and degree of steaming the milk to make it taste good.”

Back to top

Historic mosques draw huge crowds in Makkah

Makkah, 06 Dhul Hijja 1433/ 22 October 2012 (IINA) – Makkah and the surrounding holy places are home to historical mosques that have played great roles in the history of Islam.

Some of them still maintain their original architecture, while others have been refurbished at different times in their history. Al-Taneem, located some seven kilometers from the Grand Mosque in Makkah, is where pilgrims coming to Makkah who missed a meeqat point (where pilgrims make the intention and don the white ihram cloth for Haj or Umrah) could make a new start for either pilgrimage. Covering a total area of 84,000 square meters, a SR100 million refurbishment was carried out at the mosque during the era of the late King Fahd.

In the eastern parts of Makkah, Al-Juranah Mosque, located 24 kilometers away, is the spot for Makkah residents to start Haj and putting on the ihram. Al-Juranah is also the site where the Prophet (pbuh) gave away the gains Muslims captured from their enemy at the Battle of Hunain. Al-Baiaa (allegiance) Mosque is located in the eastern part of Makkah. It still retains its historical architecture and is believed to be built during the era of Caliph Abu Jaafar Al-Mansour in the year 144 AH. At the mosque, Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) concluded an allegiance pledge with 12 leaders of the two great Arabian tribes, Al-Aws and Al-Khazraj, who came from Madinah.

Al-Jinn mosque is about 2 km meters north of the Grand Mosque. It is where a group of jinn offered a pledge of allegiance to the Prophet (pbuh). It is also called Al-Haras (guard) mosque, which was refurbished in 1421 AH.

Heading toward Jeddah from Makkah along the old expressway, one can find Al-Hudaybiyah Mosque, now called Al-Shumaysi, 24 km from the Haram. The old mosque, built of black stone and mud, is still standing. However, a new one was built adjacent to it. Al-Khaif Mosque in Mina valley is near where pilgrims start the climb to Arafat, the peak moment of Haj. This is where the Prophet (pbuh) performed the dawn prayer while ascending Arafat. The mosque was refurbished at a cost of SR90 million in 1407 AH.

Al-Mashair Al-Haram Mosque in Muzdalifah, where pilgrims stay the night after coming back from Arafat, was expanded and rebuilt during the Saudi era at a cost of SR5 million. Namirah Mosque, at the edge of Arafat, was built at the place where the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) performed Dhuhr and Asr prayers combined and addressed Muslims before entering the valley during the Farewell Pilgrimage.

One of the most modernized ancient mosques, Namirah mosque was expanded and rebuilt during the Saudi era on an area of 110,000 square meters. For several years now, the noon and late afternoon prayer are transmitted from Namirah mosque live to the world every year on the Day of Arafat.

Back to top

Grand Mosque’s 176 doors open for pilgrims

Makkah, 10 Dhul Hijja 1433/ 26 October 2012 (IINA) – The Presidency for the Affairs of the Two Holy Mosques has completed all arrangements and preparations to cope with the huge rush of pilgrims during Haj.

There are a total of 176 doors for the mosque, including those to enter the upper floor and the basement. More than 1,080 male and female employees have been placed at these doors to organize the entry and exit of pilgrims around the clock basis, according to Talal Al-Thaqafi, director of the department in charge of managing the mosque’s entrances at the presidency. Of these, 20 doors were dedicated to people with special needs.

He said the employees would organize the movement of pilgrims in and out of the holy mosque. Al-Thaqafi said the doors will have a signal beside it showing green when there is enough room in the mosque to accommodate more pilgrims, and it will flash red when the mosque is full.

“The door guards will prevent entry of luggage, food and any other objects that may obstruct the movement of pilgrims.” Al-Thaqafi said there are special compartments outside the doors for keeping baggage and urged pilgrims to make use of this facility.

He also warned pilgrims against entering the mosque while worshippers are coming out after each congregational prayer. “We are keen to exert all efforts to enable the pilgrims to perform the rituals in ease and comfort,” he added.

Back to top

Grand Mufti urges Muslims to be role models of good behavior

Mina, 09 Dhul Hijja 1433/ 25 October 2012 (IINA) – Saudi Arabia’s Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Aziz Al Al-Sheikh delivered the Arafat sermon and led prayers at the Namira Mosque, reenacting the address and prayers of the Prophet (peace be upon him) during his farewell pilgrimage.

Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims who gathered inside and outside the mosque with a sprawling area of 110,000 square meters listened to the sermon and attended prayers. Governor of Makkah and Chairman of Central Haj Committee Prince Khalid Al-Faisal was among the worshippers.

In his sermon, Al-Sheikh urged Muslims to obey Allah both in their private and public life, and to follow the Sunnah of the Prophet to achieve success in life. He also discussed major problems faced by Muslims across the world, in addition to outlining Islamic creed and deeds. The mufti called on pilgrims to increase their prayers and supplications to God in this most blessed day when God may forgive all sins. He emphasized that monotheism is both the essence and foundation of Islam. “It is essential for Muslims to have the impact of monotheism in all their words, deeds and dealings.”

Al-Sheikh, who is also president of the Council of Senior Scholars, urged believers to be role models of good behavior and conduct. “They must decorate their life with performance of the obligatory rituals of prayer, Zakat, fasting and Haj, besides adhering to noble values of honesty, trustworthiness, and keeping away from vice, crimes and immoral acts. They should also be followers of good qualities such as balanced thoughts and acts, sound judgment about those around them, determination to face tests of this world, lending helping hand to their Muslim brothers and cooperate with everything good and that are beneficial to the Islamic Ummah,” he said.

Al-Sheikh stressed the need for further strengthening cooperation among the Islamic Ummah in all fields, especially in economic sector. The mufti’s sermon also addressed parents, asking them to be vigil and attentive to their children and prevent them from going astray and engage in immoral acts. While noting that the global economic crisis was mainly resulted from the interest-based transactions, he urged the Islamic states to be fully got rid of all such transactions. After the sermon, the grand mufti led noon (Duhr) and afternoon (Asr) prayers, shortened and joined together. Then, pilgrims started their Wuquf (standing) at Arafat, the most important ritual of Haj.

Back to top

Eid special launch service at Barisal-Dhaka route

BARISAL, Oct 22, 2012 (BSS) – The special launch service at Barisal-Dhaka river route would begin from Tuesday on the occasion of the holy Eid-ul-Azha. A number of 11 launches would ply at the river route for providing special service to the homebound passengers.

BIWTA sources said the special launch service at Barisal- Dhaka river route would begin from October 23 as it is impossible to manage over crowded situation by providing normal launch services ahead of Eid every year. The service will continue till November 6, said the BIWTA source, adding that even the regular ship and rocket services would be provided by the Bangladesh Internal Water Transport Corporation (BIWTC).

Under the services, the launches will start its journey from Dhaka to Barisal from tomorrow and continue till the Eid. After Eid, the journey will continue from Barisal to Dhaka till November 6.

Abul Bashar, deputy director of Barisal river security traffic division, told BSS that “we already have completed all the preparation for providing security to the passengers at the river port.” More teams from the administration including Police, RAB and Ansar will work at the river port, said the official.

Besides, special security arrangement has been enhanced at seven risk prone areas at Barisal-Dhaka river route in order to avoid any unexpected event, he said adding that the members from the Coast Guard would be engaged for all time at these points.

Back to top

Holy Kaaba’s Kiswa changed

Makkah, 10 Dhul Hijja 1433/ 26 October 2012 (IINA) – The annual customary ceremony of changing the Holy Kaaba’s cover (Kiswa) was held on Thursday. About 30 workers took part in changing the Kiswa, which was held under the supervision of Muhammad Bajouda, director general of the Kiswa. The covering cloth of the Kaaba is changed once in every year, that was on Arafat Day, Dhul Hijja 9.

The new cover has been prepared with hundreds of kilograms of silk, pure gold and silver fiber. The Kiswa, prepared by weaving experts, costs over SR20 million. The cover is inscribed with verses from the Holy Qur’an. Sheikh Abdurrahman Al-Sudais, chief of the general presidency, recently handed the Kiswa to Sheikh Abdul Qadir Al-Shaibi.

The Shaiba family has been the custodian of the Kaaba key for over 15 centuries. They are responsible for the maintenance of the Kaaba, including opening and closing its doors, cleaning, the annual draping and the reception of visitors inside the Kaaba.

The Kiswa is made of pure natural silk dyed in black. It is fourteen meters high. On the top third segment of the cloth lies the Kiswa belt measuring, ninety-five centimeters in width and forty-five meters in length. It consists of sixteen pieces and surrounds the Kiswa from all sides. The belt is embroidered with silver threads covered with gold.

King Abdulaziz ordered the construction of a special factory for the manufacturing of the Kiswa, in Makkah in Muharram 1346H. Before that, the Kiswa was manufactured in Egypt. The factory was moved to a new building in Umm Al-Jude in Makkah in 1397H and was supplied with modern machines. A new automated department was introduced to the factory, while maintaining the manual department in order to continue with the artistic tradition and embroidery of the Kiswa.

Back to top

Maldives welcomes the first tourist to the 40th year of Tourism

Visitmaldives.com – Maldives extended a warm welcome to the 1st visitor to its 40th year of Tourism, on 3rd October 2012. Mr. Wai Shing Kwok, a Hong Kong citizen arrived Maldives by Sri Lankan Airlines flight which was the first flight to arrive on the 3rd October, landed at 0045hrs. This day is celebrated as the start of tourism industry in Maldives, having the first ever tourist to the country.

Mr. Wai was greeted at the arrival hall where he was welcomed by the Minister of Tourism, Arts & Culture Hon. Ahmed Adeeb Abdul Gafoor together with the senior officials of the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture, Maldives Marketing & PR Corporation and representatives of the Tourism Industry of Maldives. His passport was stamped with the 40th year celebration logo.

Mr. Wai was presented with a souvenir and a certificate and was offered a free holiday for their next holiday in the Maldives. This is Mr. Wai’s first holiday in Maldives. He arrived with his wife and three children and stayed at Shangri-La Villingili Resort & Spa.

This is one of the activities that were planned for the celebration of the 40th year of tourism in the Maldives. Different activities will be carried out during one year period, till the World Tourism Day next year. One of the major events will be the hosting of the official ceremony of the World Tourism Day 2013 in Maldives, on 27th September 2013.

Back to top

Pakistan world record for largest “human flag”

Centralasiaonline.com 2012-10-23 LAHORE – Pakistani youth October 22 demonstrated the peaceful face of Pakistan as they gathered from across Punjab Province at the National Hockey Stadium to unite and form the world’s largest human flag.

The 24,200 youth collectively landed in the Guinness Book of World Records by forming the “largest human national flag” ever, shattering Hong Kong’s 21,726-participant record of September 23, 2007. Guinness adjudicator Gareth Deaves and team personally counted them and declared a new world record. “It was an amazing view, and after going through the figures of 24,200, I declared it another world record,” Deaves said.

The Pakistanis set the flag record one day after 1,936 of their young compatriots, also in Lahore, created the biggest human mosaic ever. Deaves, after observing the representation of Lahore Fort from different angles and heights, declared it a world record. “What an incredible painting it was,” he said. The events were part of the weeklong Punjab Youth Festival 2012 in Lahore.

In other attempts, 48,213 Pakistanis October 20 set a world record for “most people singing a national/regional anthem simultaneously.” They broke the Indian record of 15,243, set in January.

Saadi Mohammad, in front of Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, pulled a 1.7-tonne pickup truck with his mustache for 63.8 metres. Mian Nauman wired an electrical plug in 35 seconds. Daniel Gill and Mohammad Rizwan jointly headed a football 335 consecutive times in 3 minutes 45 seconds. And Ahmed Amin Bodla landed 616 martial arts kicks on a punching bag in 3 minutes, erasing the old record of 612, also set by a Pakistani.

Back to top

$200m Chinese loan to develop Cox’s Bazar Airport

DHAKA, Oct 25, 2012 (BSS) – China will disburse 200 million US dollar as soft loan to government for development of airport in Cox’s Bazar, a prominent tourist destination of the country. A loan agreement was signed to this effect today between Civil Aviation Authority Bangladesh (CAAB) and Avic international Engineering Company under Aviation Industry of China at CAAB head quarters.

Civil Aviation and Tourism Minister M Faruk Khan and Chinese Ambassador to Bangladesh Li Jun were present in the signing ceremony. The Chinese fund will be spent to extend the length of the existing runway from 6775 feet to 9000 feet and widen it from 150 to 200 feet under a project.

Under the project the load sustaining capacity of the runway would be strengthened and field lighting equipment would be purchased for ground lighting, besides buying fire fighting vehicles, Doppler VHF Omni-direction Range and distance measurement equipment.

The CAAB will also establish Instrumental Landing System and Automatic Meteorological Observation System under the project. After implementing of the project, operation of international flights would be possible at Cox’s bazaar.

Aviation Minister Faruk khan said the development of Cox’s Bazar airport is one of the priority projects of the present government as it will help flourishing tourism industry of the country. The minister said technical teams from both the CAA,B and Avic international Engineering Company will work together for development of the airport.

Chinese Ambassador said his government has decided to assist the Bangladesh government in development of the airport considering its importance to increase tourism business in the country. Besides the loan signing agreement, a memorandum of understanding (MOU) on design procurement and conducting construction work was also signed between the two sides.

CAAB Chairman Air Vice Marshal Mahmud Hossain and Vice President of Avic international Engineering Company Ziang Taw signed the agreement on behalf of their respective sides.

Back to top

SR80 billion worth projects underway in Makkah

Makkah, 06 Dhul Hijja 1433/ 22 October 2012 (IINA) – The Saudi Arabian government continues to invest billions of riyals into various infrastructure and hospitality related projects in the Kingdom which is facilitating a construction boom, while also stimulating growth of the country’s hospitality industry, especially tourism for religious purposes, according to a report in Saudi Gazette newspaper.

A total of 100 towers worth SR 18 billion are currently under construction near the Grand Mosque in Makkah. Once all the projects are completed, the city will see the addition of over 24,480 hotel rooms, apart from other infrastructure facilities.

On the other hand, the King Abdul Aziz International Airport in Jeddah, the closest airport to Makkah, is undergoing a capacity expansion from 12 million to 14 million passengers per year. Additionally, SR62 billion is being invested for the Makkah Metro project to cater to the requirements of the steadily increasing number of tourists visiting Saudi Arabia for religious reasons.

This and various other infrastructure projects in the Kingdom are in turn creating new opportunities in the hospitality industry, especially for many private sector players who are involved in several hospitality-related construction projects. Among various major developments taking shape in Makkah is the Jabal Al Kaaba project which will deliver 1743 hotel rooms during the second quarter of 2013 through the “Anjum Hotel” alone, which is rapidly nearing completion and represents 7.3 percent of the total new hotel accommodation capacity that will be offered in Makkah.

Upon completion of the whole project, an additional 8,500 rooms will be added, through the cluster of hotels under the Anjum Hotels brand which represents 34.7 percent of the total capacity. Currently, the entire structure of the Anjum hotel is complete, with finishing and interior works set to begin shortly. The company behind the Jabal Al Kaaba project, Abdul Latif Jameel Real Estate Investment Co (ALJREIC) will be selecting the interiors of the hotel to reflect the Saudi Hijazi culture, while also complementing the overall elegance and international standards of the hotel.

Back to top

Sim Leisure Poised To Export First Made-in-Malaysia Theme Park Brand

GEORGE TOWN, Oct 26 (Bernama) — After 20 years of designing, building and managing theme parks around the world, Penang-based Sim Leisure Group is poised to unveil a new genre of theme park, ‘Escape’.

In preparation for the eagerly-awaited opening next month, its founder and chief executive, Sim Choo Kheng, is shifting the company’s core business activities towards creating and exporting a Malaysian-created theme park brand.

Besides running the first Escape at Teluk Bahang, Penang, Sim Leisure is focusing on exporting the concept to the Middle East, Europe and emerging markets, amid growing demand for environmentally centred theme park. The company is already in talks with Arab investors for the first Escape outside Malaysia, and the location is most likely to be on the Red Sea coast of Saudi Arabia, Sim told Bernama in an interview today.

Additionally, negotiations are in place with overseas investors to franchise Escape, he added. “Demand for healthy outdoor family leisure facility is growing. After two decades of creating fun for our clients, we want to redefine the concept of the theme park, and create something more socially responsible and sustainable,” he said.

Sim said the company wants to construct a new genre of park which reflects both the fun people can have in nature and as well as some of the key themes of our age – such as the need to protect the environment.

“Life is real at Escape, it’s fun but it’s not a piece of sugar-coated fantasy. What we have created is a product on par with some of the big names in the industry and our company will grow along with the Escape brand,” he said. He said while the Middle East remained the key growth area for the last 10 years, Sim Leisure also sees Europe as a region that would appreciate the philosophy and values of Escape.

Sim Leisure has been providing turnkey services for the waterpark and theme park industry and major projects have been successfully designed, themed, executed and managed in international markets.

Among its clients are the Lost Paradise of Dilmun in Bahrain, Snow Penguins at Ski Dubai, Yas Island Waterpark in Abu Dhabi (one of the world’s leading waterparks), Universal Studios in Singapore, Legoland Denmark, Legoland in Malaysia, Yerevan Waterworld in Armenia and Aquapolis in Bulgaria.

Sim believed the Escape concept will be well accepted given the growing demand for healthier activities, especially for children who today live a more sedentary lifestyles.

He said most of us are concerned about global warming, climate change and urbanisation and the park aimed to open peoples’ minds to different ways of living and thinking about the environment.

The first Escape theme park in Teluk Bahang will open its doors early next month and set to become a world-class tourism destination providing Penang’s tourism industry with a new and exciting product to promote.

Sim said the first phase of Escape was AdventurePlay, targeting over 350,000 visitors annually, adding that children will be educated on the benefits of recycling and promoting the usage of low carbon footprint materials. “The entire 17.6-hectare Escape Penang, which was scheduled to be completed by 2017, will bring in over a million tourists annually to Teluk Bahang,” he said.

Escape comprises three main components namely AdventurePlay, WaterPlay and a Treetop Hotel which will showcase sustainable development adopting the approach used by forefathers such as rainwater harvesting, recycling, vegetation roof and biodiversity.

Sim said the company has taken the lead in corporate social responsibility within the Teluk Bahang community by creating a lush green environment by rehabilitating a brownfield site. The land Escape sits on was the former construction site of the Teluk Bahang Reservoir.

Sim said besides creating a green area for the community, the theme park when completed, would generate more than 600 jobs and thus promised tremendous economic spin-offs. Escape Penang with an investment of RM180 milllion combines various activities from childhood past with activities from the modern era such as tree climbing, splashing around in rivers and treetop adventures.

One of its major attractions is Atan’s Leap, a freefall adventure from elevated platform while other fun activities include a three-level rope course (ranging from 13 to 30 metres), Zoom Bug, a fun human-powered cart, a set of Gecko Tower climbing towers and many others.

Back to top

Iranian Envoy: New Railway Network Will Boost Tehran-Baku Trade Ties

BAKU, Oct 20, (NNN-IRNA) – Iranian Ambassador to Baku Mohsen Pak-Ayeen said that the volume of trade transactions between Iran and Azerbaijan will increase after Qazvin-Rasht-Astara railway in northern Iran is launched. Speaking to IRNA after visiting the Iranian companies taking part in the 18th International Construction Exhibition in the Azeri capital, Baku on Friday, the envoy said that “Undoubtedly the volume of trade transactions between Iran and Azerbaijan will boost concurrent with launching a railway in northern Iran and operations of Astara-Baku shipping lines and vice versa”.

Pak-Ayeen pointed out that a total of 10 Iranian companies which are active in construction field attended the exhibition. “Fortunately the Iranian companies have held satisfactory negotiations with the Azeri companies in the exhibition and it is hoped that the bilateral negotiations will result in concluding contracts between the two sides,” he added.

The ambassador further noted that if suitable conditions are set for Iranian and Azeri businessmen, more Iranian goods will be poured into the market of the Republic of Azerbaijan.

Back to top

Preparations Under Way for Iran-Tajikistan Free Trade Zone

TABRIZ, Oct 21, (NNN-IRNA) – Grounds are prepared for cooperation of Iranian and Tajik free trade zones, caretaker of Aras Free Trade and Industry Zone said on Saturday. Talking to IRNA, Sadeq Najafi said that coordination has been made with Tajik trade officials for cooperation the Iranian producers and exporters of Iran free trade zones, especially Aras Free Trade Zone with Tajik Free Trade Zone.

Referring to the role of free trade zones in promoting commercial exchanges, he said that currently, five free trade zones are operating in Tajikistan with Soghd Free Trade Zone being the biggest. The two countries’ cultural and historical affinities prompt the two sides to promote relations in various fields, he said.

Najafi said that exemption from duties and taxes is one of the advantages of Iran’s free trade zones. Pointing to the role of Aras Free Trade Zone in transit cooperation with Tajikistan, Najafi said that Tajikistan economy requires technology and progress of Iran to go ahead with economic development.

Back to top

More Indonesian Tourists Expected In Johor With Airasia’s New Surabaya-Johor Route

SENAI, Oct 19 (NNN-Bernama) — Indonesia is set to be an important market of focus for Johor’s tourism industry with the launch the Surabaya-Johor route by AirAsia Indonesia Friday. Chairman of the State Tourism and Domestic Trade Committee, Hoo Seong Chang, said that the four weekly flights offered by the low cost carrier are expected to further drive the tourism industry in the state.

“The number of international tourists to Johor is also expected to rise with the offer of new tourist attractions such as the Legoland Malaysia theme park, the first of its kind in Asia, and Hello Kitty in Puteri Habour which is due for opening end of the month,” he said. Hoo said this to reporters after a special ceremony here to welcome the 180 passengers on board the inaugural AirAsia Indonesia flight from Surabaya to the Sultan Ismail International Airport here.

With the new route, passengers from the Indonesian market are expected to hit a target of three million by end of this year compared with 2.5 million passengers last year. In 2011, Johor recorded an arrival of 900,930 Indonesian tourists compared with 811,567 tourists in 2010 through its 13 main points of entry.

Back to top

Johor, A Magnet For Investors

JOHOR BAHARU, Oct 27 (Bernama) — Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak nailed it when he described Johor as an “investment catchment area” for its attractiveness in drawing in multi-billion ringgit investments which will bring huge benefits to its people.

Najib’s remark when officiating Johor’s Umno function last month bears testimony to the rapid transformation this southern state has undergone during the last few years. Speaking to the state’s Umno leaders, he had also hinted that another wave of “huge investments” were imminent to the state, without disclosing specific details on the purported deals.

He only vaguely said, “the new investments are even bigger than that of the Pinewood Studios”, the world class television and film studio currently under construction in Iskandar Malaysia. Pinewood Studios is a huge name in the global film industry, as it is closely associated with the production of James Bond movies.

As the Prime Minister pointed out, Johor, especially the 2,217 sq km Iskandar Malaysia has been a magnet for local and international investors on the look out for a safe haven to park their capital during turbulent times.

Since its inception in 2006, Iskandar Malaysia has been steadily attracting investors, with its total investment the past six years expected to cross the whopping RM100 billion mark by the end of this year.

According to the chief executive of Iskandar Region Development Authority (IRDA), Datuk Ismail Ibrahim, up until the second quarter of this year the special economic region managed to accumulate RM95 billion in investments. “Based on the estimates and number of investments coming into the region, both domestic and foreign, the growth has been healthy and we are highly confident of achieving our investment targets,” Ismail told Bernama recently.

Iskandar Malaysia is certainly bucking the trend, as its resilience and robustness in attracting new investments are contrary to the global investment environment which has been hampered by the Eurozone financial crisis. While countries worldwide are struggling to attract investments due to the gloomy global economy, Iskandar Malaysia is certainly a bright spot and has set a target of capturing RM20 billion in investments next year.

As Iskandar Malaysia, which is three times the size of Singapore, grow and achieve its carefully laid-out targets, the main beneficiary of the project would certainly be the people of Johor. Tan Sri Shahrir Abdul Samad, the long serving Johor Baharu Member of Parliament said, Iskandar Malaysia will give the younger Johoreans a better and brighter future.

He said Iskandar Malaysia was “neither about real estate nor higher prices of property. It’s about creating a future for the young. “Projects that have been implemented in Iskandar Malaysia will enable the new generation to build their future in the state.”

With the opening of Legoland Malaysia theme park, Johor Premium Outlet and the upcoming Puteri Harbour Family Theme Park, the young in Johor are certainly spoilt for choice in terms of securing high income jobs.

With more theme parks being courted to set up business in Iskandar Malaysia, the economic corridor bordering Singapore is well on its way to becoming the “Orlando of Asia,” as a preferred destination for theme park enthusiasts in the region.

Youngsters in Johor would also have the opportunity to study in reputable institutions of higher learning in Iskandar Malaysia from the likes of Newcastle University Medicine Malaysia, University of Southampton, Netherlands Maritime Institute of Technology and Raffles University Iskandar among others.

As the success of Iskandar Malaysia continues, another project which have the similar potential to change the economic landscape of Johor and Malaysia is about to kick-off. The Pengerang Intergrated Petroleum Complex (PIPC) which includes Petronas-led Refinery and Petrochemical Integrated Development (RAPID), would transform the sleepy town of Pengerang into a bustling regional oil and gas hub.

Petronas has committed to invest RM60 billion to the project, while others like Dialog Bhd and its partner, Royal Vopak have signed an agreement worth billions to build oil and gas-related facilities in PIPC. The PIPC project, which could challenge Singapore’s stronghold as Asia’s oil and gas hub, is slated to start construction next year and come on stream in three years time.

Johor Petroleum Development Corporation Bhd (JPDC) head Mohd Yazid Jaafar in an interview with Bernama said, both the Iskandar Malaysia dan PIPC project will undoubtedly change the economic landscape of Johor for the better.

“This (PIPC) is one of the initiatives that will change the (economic)landscape of Johor. We have Iskandar Malaysia, which is more of a comprehensive development of an area. That will change the landscape of an area.

“Oil and gas (through PIPC) will change another landscape of Johor. This is a game changer for the Johor economy, and Malaysia will benefit for sure. Interesting times.”

A study by oil companies and the Performance Management Delivery Unit (Pemandu) has clearly shown that the PIPC will not only bring immediate benefits to Johor but also Malaysia in general as the project is projected to contribute RM17.7 billion to the Gross National Income (GNI) by 2020.

The study also showed that the project will need 40,000 workers during the construction phase and offer 8,500 highly skilled job opportunities by 2020.

Back to top

Malaysian Tour Operators Urged To Inform Govt Of Problems At Tourist Attractions

KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 26 (NNN-Bernama) — Tour operators have been urged to communicate to the government problems at tourist destinations which must be rectified for the comfort of tourists during their stay in Malaysia.

Deputy Finance Minister Donald Lim Siang Chai said the government was ever ready to receive suggestions and feedback to enhance facilities for tourism, which was a major contributor to the country’s economy.

“Feedback must be given on matters such as clogged drains at tourist sites, exorbitant prices at restaurants or dirty toilets,” he told reporters after opening the Malaysia International Travel Mart (MITM) 2012 at the Mid Valley Exhibition Centre, here.

He said that last year the country recorded 26.8 million tourist arrivals, which contributed RM58.4 billion to the national income. Lim said every piece of information communicated to the government was important because the people in the tourism industry knew better.

He also said that those who did not provide any feedback should stop criticising the government for not resolving problems at tourist attractions. He said the government viewed seriously the efforts of tour operators in drawing tourists and making Malaysia the ninth country in the world and the second in Asia, after China, in terms of the volume of tourist arrivals.

Nevertheless, he said, he hoped that efforts would be enhanced to get more Malaysians to tour the country as they preferred to travel abroad for their holidays. MITM 2012 organising chairman Jackson Thian said about 70,000 people were expected to visit the 303 booths set up by 70 participants at the travel mart, among them tour agencies and airlines.

He said the three-day MITM 2012 offered various tour packages at low prices, and he expected the mart to garner RM35 million in sales by Sunday.

Back to top

UAE ranked No.1 among tomorrow’s leading country brands

Emirates 24/7 – 25 October, 2012 – The UAE has been recognised as the forerunner among tomorrow’s leading country brands by the brand consultancy FutureBrand.

In its inaugural list of ‘Future Fifteen’ published in New York on Wednesday, the UAE takes the No.1 position in a ranking of 15 country brands on course to transform the global landscape economically, politically and culturally in years to come.

The report cites the UAE’s aptitude in capitalising on its abundance of natural resources and in exercising excellent government foresight around policy and investment as one of the strongest indicators of its future success.

Coming to the present, FutureBrand on Wednesday revealed its 8th annual ranking of the world’s leading country brands – moving Switzerland to the No.1 seat in the consultancy’s 2012-13 Country Brand Index (CBI).

The UAE is the only Arab country in the list of world top 25 country brands. Also, the UAE has improved its standing two notches to 23 from 2012.

In keeping with past year’s studies, the 2012-13 CBI ranks the world’s countries – from their cultures, to their industries, to their economic vitality and public policy initiatives – based on global perceptions today.

Drawing insights from a collective of 3,600 opinion-formers and frequent international travellers from 18 countries, FutureBrand determined how key audiences – residents, investors, tourists and foreign governments – see the world’s country brands, from awareness through to advocacy.

Back to top

‘Womenomics’ key driver for growth in Mideast and Africa

Saudi Gazette – 25 October, 2012 – The stereotype of the Arab woman is changing so quickly, investors better take note if they don’t want to be left behind. With wealth of $ 40 billion, female Gulf investors are forging a new identity which focuses on financial and social independence.

Seeking high-level investments to help pave a legitimate path to increasing their portfolios, the majority of these ultra-wealthy women live in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman and the UAE, where women alone control assets worth $ 245 billion.

Against this backdrop, the 4th Annual Women in Leadership Forum Middle East and Africa – which unites the world’s most influential business leaders from the Middle East, Southeast Asia, China, Africa, Europe and the Americas – will be held on Nov. 21-22 at the Westin Dubai Mena Seyahi, Dubai. The event provides the perfect platform to discuss the development of businesswomen from all backgrounds, industry sectors and locations around the world.

Focusing on this year’s theme “Womenomics as the region’s key driver for growth”, the gathering features an impressive list of local and international speakers and industry leaders from different regions.

Organized by French information company naseba, this year’s edition focuses on the importance of increasing women’s business opportunities. It is providing local and global organizations with the ultimate opportunity to showcase their diversity and inclusion initiatives to an elite target audience of the World’s most prominent and successful business leaders.

The topics for discussion will reveal successful strategies for providing local talent with global opportunities. In addition, it will address the major challenges expected in the Middle East and Africa region in the coming years, and also identify solutions to maintain sustainable growth.

Speaking about their contributions to female empowerment, Ngozi Megwa, president, Women’s Leadership Network, Middle East and North Africa, MasterCard Worldwide said: “We are proud to associate with the Women In Leadership initiative that focuses on advancing women’s contribution to the economy and also creating more opportunities for them in the workforce. We support initiatives that encourage concrete actions toward maximizing women’s contributions for societal development and economic growth.”

Raghu Malhotra, president, Middle East and North Africa, MasterCard Worldwide, added: “To compete in today’s complex, ever-changing global marketplace, a diverse workforce is not merely an asset, it’s a necessity. That is why MasterCard Worldwide has put a premium on nurturing an inclusive culture where employees with wide-ranging backgrounds and qualities find themselves highly motivated, engaged, and connected.”

“With approximately 1,000 members in 36 locations across MasterCard’s five regions, the Women’s Leadership Network seeks to advance women’s careers and performance through a culture of mentoring and coaching. By enabling the members’ professional and personal growth, it provides reputational and financial benefit to MasterCard and our shareholders,” Malhotra added.

The topics for discussion during Women In Leadership Middle East and Africa will reveal successful strategies for providing local talent with global opportunities. In addition, it will address the major challenges expected in the Middle East and Africa region in the coming years, and also identify solutions to maintain sustainable growth.

Back to top

GCC-Malaysia ties widen investment scope

Arab News – 25 October, 2012 – The annual meeting of World Bank-IMF in Tokyo has been dominated by bad economic news and gloomy growth expectations:

• The world economy will continue to be depressed as a result of the financial and economic crises in Europe and the US. This could prolong until 2015.

• China, which did not attend the meeting in a meaningful way, is slowing down and could slide to 3 percent growth per annum in five years, according to a very respected economist.

• The realignment of the voting power in the IMF to reflect the new economic reality, agreed upon in 2010 did not go into effect this month as agreed, because the Americans will not ratify it until after the presidential election scheduled next month.

• The Europeans are backpedaling on the banking union, which was thought that they had adopted earlier.

• The $ 57 billion currency swap arrangement between Japan and South Korea was frozen, and this was due, according to some speculation, to territory disputes.

Luckily, both the GCC and Malaysia are in a better shape economically.

Economic growth in both regions has been very impressive during the last five years of the financial and economic crisis. It fluctuated between 4-7 percent per year. This robust economic growth is expected to continue for the next few years. The GCC states have around $ 2.2 trillion held in foreign assets and their combined current account surplus is around the same amount.

Bilateral trade and investment have been growing relatively smooth, although there is still a lot of room for improvement.

A framework agreement for economic, trade, investment and technical cooperation was signed in Abu Dhabi on Jan. 30, 2011.

In the area of trade, this framework agreement, emphasizes:

• Exchange of information.

• Reduction of tariffs as well as elimination of none tariff barriers.

• Encouragement of contacts among the private sector as well as institutions involved with trade issues in the two regions.

• Training and transfer of technology are given due priority.

And this agreement includes a clause to negotiate a free trade agreement (FTA)

• In the area of investment, both parties agreed to do what is necessary to encourage investment flows and engage in investment projects in the two regions.

• A joint committee was created to follow up the process.

What is even more interesting is a clause allowing any GCC member to enter into a bilateral economic agreement with Malaysia.

In June this year, GCC representatives have adopted a draft-working plan for the period 2012-15. This will be presented to the coming meeting of the joint committee.

It is expected that this draft-working plan will emphasize the followings:

• Encouragement of investments in agriculture and food security, including halal and joint stock piling of food items. It should also include farming, animal husbandry, fishing, health quarantine for animals and plants.

• Cooperation in the area of energy including renewables.

• Promotion of tourism including health tourism.

• Cooperation in the area of transportation to facilitate more trade. That includes railroads, land, sea, and air.

• Cooperation in the areas of construction and services, financial services including Islamic banking and investment.

• Learning from each other in the area of capital markets, issuing of sukuk and bonds, coordinating laws, rules and procedures in these markets, and encouraging investors from both regions to invest in each other’s capital market.

• In the area of trade there are a number of issues that are generally highlighted.

• Coordination of possessions within the framework of WTO.

• Improving quality of traded goods and exchange of standards.

• Exchange of experience in the area of trade finance and financial guarantees.

• Encouragement of joint investment in high value added industries, such as petrochemicals, steel, refining. etc.

Malaysia is the only country that entered into a financial arrangement with the Chinese to use RMB-ringit in trade directly without the intermediation of the US dollar. If this experience proves to be successful why not repeat it with at least some of the GCC members.

Back to top

Iran-Egypt trade to increase fourfold: official

Tehran Times – 24 October, 2012 – The director of Iran’s Interests Section in Cairo has said that the volume of trade between Iran and Egypt will increase by four times by 2013.

In an interview with the Al-Masry Al-Youm newspaper published on Tuesday, Mojtaba Amani said that the value of trade between Egypt and Iran was $ 100 million in 2010 and it reached $ 130 million in 2011.

And it will increase to $ 400 million by 2013, he stated.

Amani said that Iran and Egypt have political relationship, but it needs to be reformed.

He also noted that the fact that the two countries have not still established full diplomatic ties is due to the problems facing the newly-established Egyptian government and lack of decision-making centers that can decide about the sensitive issues.

In addition, Amani dismissed the allegations that Iran is shipping arms to the Syrian government, saying, “The Syrian Army is among the most powerful armies in the Middle East.”

Back to top

Musandam, Oman, emerging as a key tourist attraction

Oman Daily Observer – 24 October, 2012 – Musandam has been classified as one of the tourist places in Oman where both historical monuments and geological nature attract visitors. Imagine that you are passing through the Arabian Gulf Gate, looking at the natural diversity on both sides; the towering mountains, the azure sea and the clean beaches with shiny golden sand. It seems like you are inspecting a painting containing the magic of nature and the achievements of the modern Renaissance under His Majesty’s leadership.

The most attractive thing in Musandam is the historical aspect which appears as different types of historical landmarks like: castles, forts and towers in addition to the old mosques and traces of the ancient human settlement that can be found carved on stones. The old castle in Wilayat of Khasab seems as a real example of the historical nature of Musandam. It is like a wonderful building with an old tower inside it.

It is worth mentioning that “Khasab Castle” is currently transformed into a modern museum. You have to move for about 20 kilometres from Wilayat Khasab to reach Bukha Fort which has been built in the 17th century and it is the oldest historical site in Wilayat of Bukha.

Musandam with its diversity of nature seems an interface to attract tourists from all over the world. There are some famous creeks in Musandam like Khour Sham, Khour al Hablain, Khour Ghab, Khour Kimzar, Kour Najd.

There are lots of projects in the governorate that support the tourism movement like the infrastructure projects and the expansion of Khasab Port. This port has a very strategic location in the Arabian Gulf. Meanwhile, an agreement was signed at the Housing Ministry on Monday to provide consultancy services for a project to set up dykes to protect residential areas against wadi floods in the Governorate of Musandam.

The agreement was signed by Shaikh Saif bin Mohammed al Shabibi, Minister of Housing, and the General Manager of Al Mudheef Port Engineering Consultancy. The agreement covers two stages. The first stage deals with site levelling and it includes detailed measurements, an account of existing wadis and topographical features of the residential layouts. The second stage includes the designing of maps for the discharge of wadi floods and the opening of water canals as per the international specifications.

The minister urged the contractor to expedite the implementation programme to help complete the project within the given timeframe. The agreement comes as part of efforts made by the Ministry to map out new residential areas in the wilayats of Musandam Governorate known for their tough terrain which has so far hampered the use of land plots, said Housing Ministry Under-Secretary Saif bin Amer al Shaqsi, adding that the Ministry is keen on taking the challenge with a view to meeting the growing demand for lands in the Governorate.

As many as 107 residential layouts in Musandam were identified by August 2012, but the number falls drastically short of the 6,344 applications for land plots submitted to the Ministry so far, Al Shaqsi added. Al Shaqsi pointed out that the agreement will help provide new layouts, as well as protection against flood risks and this will launch a new stage of construction activity which will, in turn, activate tourism and economic activity in the governorate, he added.

Meanwhile, the Royal orders of His Majesty Sultan Qaboos to set up service and developmental projects in Musandam Governorate come as additions to the approved projects in the governorate during the 8th Five-Year Plan (2011-2015). In a statement to Oman News Agency, Sultan bin Salim al Habsi, Secretary-General of the Supreme Council for Planning, said upon the issuance of the Royal orders, the Supreme Council for Planning allocated additional budgets for the implementation of these projects in the governorate.

He added that many projects including roads, construction or replacement of some hospitals, health centres and some fishing marinas were allocated for the governorate. He added that the cost of the projects approved for Musandam Governorate during the 8th Five-Year Plan stood at RO 500 million. He hoped that such projects will contribute in the development of the governorate, and will provide more jobs for the citizens. He said that the Supreme Council for Planning has prepared the terms of reference to make a study for the economic development of the governorate.

The study takes into consideration the location, as well as the tourism and commercial nature of the governorate. He affirmed that these projects will serve the interests of the citizens in the governorate and will contribute in increasing employment opportunities. Regarding Daba-Lima-Khasab road project, he said that the 65-km-long road completes the progress made by the project at the last point which starts from Al Khaldiyah in the Wilayat of Khasab to Daba crossing and Lima. The project includes a number of tunnels and bridges. The project will be floated soon.

Back to top

Flydubai reaches 50th destination

Khaleej Times – 23 October, 2012 – Flydubai’s inaugural flight touched down at 50th destination on Monday when it landed in Skopje, the capital of Macedonia, marking the low-cost carrier’s 15th passenger route in Central & Eastern Europe.

Flydubai’s chief executive officer Ghaith Al Ghaith and journalists from Gulf countries were greeted by the Minister for Transport and Communication Mile Janakieski and the chief operating officer of TAV Holding Murat Ornekol, following a water canon salute on touchdown.

This is the first direct connection of any Gulf-based airline to Macedonia. Top officials from both the sides said this connection will help promote trade and tourism between both the countries and respective regions.

The trade volume between the UAE and Macedonia recorded a drastic jump of 80 per cent last year, compared to the previous year, according to the UAE’s Ministry of Foreign Trade.

“Initially, there are two weekly flights from Dubai to Skopje and if we see the demand we will make it three in a week,” Al Ghaith said.

He said through this new flight flydubai is opening new route for the people of Macedonia to come and see Dubai’s hospitality and also get access to other countries as the Dubai provides connections to more than 150 destinations. On the other side people from the UAE and other Gulf countries also have an affordable connection to see this beautify country, he added.

“More than 40 per cent of our route development this year has taken place in Central and Eastern Europe and with the addition of Skopje, we are connecting the UAE to another underserved market. This illustrates our commitment to this region, while also opening up opportunities for cooperation and collaboration with different nations,” he said.

Flights to Skopje operate twice a week on Mondays and Thursdays and return fares from Dubai to Skopje start at Dh2,380 all inclusive even checked baggage.

“Low-cost airlines such as flydubai offer passengers affordable travel options and the regions in which they operate often experience rapid economic development. The inclusion of Skopje as a destination into flydubai’s network has great significance as these flights will not only connect Skopje to Dubai, but indirectly to more than 50 destinations around the world where the airline operates and beyond,” the minister said.

TAV Holding chief operating officer said: “The launch of flights between Skopje and Dubai will have a positive effect on the Macedonian diaspora living in Australia. The time on board and number of connecting flights to different airports will dramatically decrease and Macedonians living in Australia will be able to arrive in Skopje faster and easier. With this launch Macedonian citizens and those of neighbouring countries will be able to fly directly to the UAE from Skopje’s Alexander the Great Airport.”

Skopje is the second addition to flydubai’s CIS and Central & Eastern European network this month, following the start of flights to Bucharest, the capital city of Romania, on 1 October 2012. The airline now serves 15 destinations including: Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Turkmenistan, Ukraine and from Monday, the Republic of Macedonia.

Back to top

GCC countries showcase architectural feats at WAF

Saudi Gazette – 22 October, 2012 – GCC architects were recognized for their achievements at the three-day 5th annual World Architecture Festival (WAF), which was held in Asia’s top convention city, Singapore, earlier this month, Dubai-based tourism officials said.

Building on its success as a preferred destination for Meetings, Incentives, Conventions and Exhibitions (MICE), Singapore hosted more than 1,800 architects from 60 countries as they competed and showcased their creativity at WAF, with nine entries hailing from the Middle East, two of which were from the UAE. The event took place at Marina Bay Sands, a widely acclaimed design and an architectural icon in its own right.

Qatar’s AECOM won “Future Project of the Year” with Msheireb – Heart of Doha while Oman’s SSH International won “Future Projects Commercial – Leisure-led Development” for Guntoot Eco-Resort in Oman.

For the first time since its inception in 2008, the World Architecture Festival (WAF), which has previously only been held in Barcelona, was held emerging design hub Singapore.

“Singapore was bestowed with a great honour to host the world’s largest architectural festival and awards competition,” said Mohamed Hafez Marican, Area Director of the Middle East and Africa, Singapore Tourism Board. “A multi-cultural and multi-national country in itself, with many architectural accomplishments of its own, Singapore was a prime setting that proudly welcomed design professional from all over the world.”

The 520 entries competing for the WAF awards were shortlisted based on architectural merit; among them were nine innovative projects from the Middle East including Etihad Towers and The Rock Stadium in the UAE, The Valley City in Qatar, King Abdullah Sports City Stadium in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and A Gateway to Petra in Jordan.

Back to top

Online travel bookings in Mideast set to double by ’14

Saudi Gazette – 26 October, 2012 – The online travel industry in the Middle East is flourishing at an unprecedented rate with online bookings growing by nearly a third this year, a new study carried out by global travel market research company PhoCusWright and co-sponsored by Travelport revealed.

The research found out that online travel sales in the Middle East will grow 31 percent from 2011 to almost $ 10.4 billion this year and are set to reach $ 15.8 billion by 2014. This means that in 2014, online bookings will make up nearly a quarter (22 percent) of all travel bookings made in the region.

The research also showed the rapid development of regional online travel agencies (OTAs), which are growing at a compound annual growth rate of 18 percent between 2010 and 2014.

In 2011, 39 percent of all online bookings in the Middle East were made via OTAs and the gross booking value via OTAs is set to nearly double from $ 3.1B to $ 6 billion by 2014.

“The online travel industry in the Middle East is growing at an unprecedented rate”, said Rabih Saab, President and Managing Director, Middle East and Africa, Travelport. “The Middle East is one of the world’s fastest growing tourism destinations and source markets, and the online potential is immense.

“To remain competitive in the online world, travel agents have to offer travellers more choice, a comprehensive range of content and a better shopping experience. At Travelport we work closely with travel agents to help them meet these demands by offering broader content through faster distribution and sharing our expertise so they can firmly establish themselves in this rapidly evolving industry.”

Air remains the strongest category online, accounting for 67 percent of all online travel bookings in 2011. Online hotel sales in the Middle East accounted for 32 percent in 2011 and car rentals made up the remaining 1 percent. Notably, 59 percent of all online hotel bookings were made through Online Travel Agencies as opposed to direct bookings via hotel websites.

“Nearly two thirds of all online hotel bookings in the Middle East were made through intermediaries last year,” commented Saab, “and we expect this trend to continue into the future. With this foresight, Travelport has increased its focus on the hospitality sector in the past year and we continue to invest heavily in our GDS hospitality offering and Travelport Rooms and More – our online hospitality solution. This has paid off, as we have tripled the number of hotel properties available on Rooms and More since its launch last year, and continue to add key suppliers to our GDS platform.”

The study, called “Assessing the Online Travel Opportunity: The Middle East”, was carried out across 10 Middle East Countries involving UAE, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar and Oman and looks at online travel trends in the region between 2010 and 2014.

Over 50 in-depth executive interviews were carried out with intermediaries (travel agencies and GDSs), travel suppliers (air, car, hotel), technology providers and media sites.

Back to top

Emirates Islamic Bank launches new product

Gulf Today – 26 October, 2012 – Emirates Islamic Bank announced the launch of a new credit card — the Emirates Islamic Bank Skywards Visa Infinite Credit Card. Ideally suited for frequent travellers, the card offers unparalleled benefits to customers, combining the features and facilities provided by Emirates Islamic Bank, Skywards — Emirates’ Frequent Flyer Programme and Visa.

The Emirates Islamic Bank Skywards Visa Infinite Credit Card is a prestigious product for the discerning banking customer who will now be able to earn as much as 32,000 Skywards Miles every month and get an amazing 20,000 bonus Skywards Miles upon registration for the card.

The card also offers other incredible benefits such as access to Airport Lounges and Golf Clubs across the world, dining discounts and much more. The new card is part of Emirates Islamic Bank’s strategy to launch innovative Shari’a-compliant solutions and products to customers from all segments of the society.

Back to top

Indonesia, India expect direct flights to boost tourism

Wed, October 24 2012 Jakarta (ANTARA News) – Indonesia and India have expressed hope that direct flight services between the two countries will attract more Indian tourists to Indonesia and boost its tourism industry. “By providing direct flights, the number of tourists from India will increase,” Tourism and Creative Economy Ministry`s Director for International Tourism Promotion Nia Niscaya said at the ASEAN-India Business Seminar for Progress and Prosperity held here on Wednesday.

She said the Indonesian government should focus on providing direct flight services in order to increase the number of India visitors to Indonesia. “Tourists generally prefer direct flights, but currently they have to stop over first in Singapore or Malaysia,” Niscaya noted.

She also pointed out that the number of Indian visitors to Indonesia was nevertheless increasing every year. “If the government provides the services soon, we will see a sharp rise in the number of Indian tourists,” Niscaya stated.

Based on data collected from the Tourism and Creative Economy Ministry, the government has set itself a target of attracting 180,000 Indian visitors to Indonesia. According to Central Statistics Agency (BPS) data, the number of Indian visitors to Indonesia has increased by 7.93 percent, reaching 115,219 during January-August 2012, compared with 106,758 visitors in the same period last year.

Moreover, Indonesian tourism has a good image, so it attracts a lot of Indian visitors, even if they need to take more than one flight to reach Indonesia, Niscaya said. “Image is a critical factor in tourism, so we have to maintain this good image of Indonesia, which offers natural beauty, friendly people and unique culture,” she added.

The low budget for promotion of Indonesian destinations also hampers tourism, Niscaya pointed out. She noted that the ministry has so far allocated only Rp3 billion for the promotion of tourism. “Although the budget does not include advertisement costs, it is still low if compared to other countries` budgets for tourism promotion,” Niscaya said.

At the same event, the ambassador of India to Indonesia, Gurjit Singh, expressed hope that more Indian tourists would visit Indonesia. “I hope more Indian visitors will come not only to Bali but also to other tourist spots in Indonesia,” he said. He also expressed his support for provision of direct flight services by Indonesian airlines, particularly Garuda Indonesia.

“We can explore the direct flight options, as well as infrastructure development which plays a critical role,” he stated. Singh said he would encourage Indian tourists to visit Indonesia. “As of now, as many as 50,000 Indian tourists have visited Indonesia. Hopefully we can cooperate to double it to 100,000 visitors,” he added.

Back to top

Yogyakarta receives award from tourism promotion organization

Thu, October 25 2012 Yogyakarta (ANTARA News) – The Javan city of Yogyakarta has received yet another award from the Asia-Pacific Tourism Promotion Organization, this time in the Best Print Advertisement category, according to the Yogyakarta Tourism Promotion Board.

“Yogyakarta has been receiving many awards in different categories since 2009,” Yogyakarta Tourism Promotion Board managing director Artin Wuriyanti said here on Thursday. The award for Best Print Advertisement was presented to Yogyakarta at the 5th forum of the Tourism Promotion Organization (TPO) in Penang, Malaysia, on September 15.

The Yogyakarta Tourism Promotion Board will hand over the award to the Yogyakarta administration on October 30. “Yogyakarta had received awards for Best Public Relations in 2009, Best Campaign in 2010 and Best Website in 2011,” Wuriyanti stated. “The TPO has 70 member cities from nine countries in the Asia-Pacific region, with 32 non-government institutions,” she said, adding that Yogyakarta, Jakarta and Surabaya are the three Indonesian cities that are TPO members.

Meanwhile, Yogyakarta Tourism Promotion Board chairman Deddy Pranawa Eryana expressed hope that the awards would encourage the city administration to promote the local tourism industry. Yogyakarta tourism cooperation section head Budiyono said: “The Klangenan Jogja performance conducted during the last week of every month is expected to support the city’s tourism industry.”

Back to top

Trade Expo Indonesia records US$1 billion in sales

October 25 2012 Jakarta (ANTARA News) – The Trade Expo Indonesia 2012 (TEI) has recorded US$1 billions in sales transactions and still has the potential to conclude US$2 billions, a vice minister said. “We expect US$3 billions more from negotiations of contracts in the construction of some parliament buildings in Africa,” Vice Minister of Trade Bayu Krisnamurthi said here on Thursday.

The Ministry of Trade was targeting $2billion transactions during the five day expo, but the actual sales itself doubled from last year`s figure of US$464,5 million. Bayu said that he expected negotiations on parliament building constructions would contribute US$2 billion, so that the target would be surpassed.

“From the US$1 billion transactions, 78 percent recorded from goods sales and 22 more percent are from services,” Bayu said. The trade expo is held at the Jakarta International Expo in Kemayoran, Jakarta, last weekend and is attended by 1.300 participants from big, medium, and small companies from Indonesia and brought in 5.430 buyers from 95 countries.

“Biggest buyers are from Nigeria which contributed 11,27 percent of total transactions, followed by Malaysia (6,1 pct), India (4,11 pct), the US (4,11 pct), and Bangladesh (3,79 pct),” he said.

According to Bayu, the achievement was a result of the efforts by RI Representatives in promoting the expo around the world.

During the expo, there were also several Memorandum of Understandings (MoU) signed between Indonesian exporters and importers from Australia, South Africa, and Zimbabwe. Bayu also announced the 2013`s TEI will be held in October 16-20 next year, which is expected to be attended by 3.000 exhibitors and 10.000 buyers from all around the world.

Back to top

Indonesia to build floating docks for tourists in Lombok

October 18 2012 Mataram, West Nusa Tenggara (ANTARA News) – The Ministry of Transportation has planned to build three floating docks under an initiative called “Tiga Gili” (three small islands), namely Gili Trawangan, Meno, and Gili Air, as part of efforts to support the tourism sector in North Lombok district.

“The construction of these floating docks is intended to facilitate small boats carrying tourists from the Bali Benoa harbour to the “Tiga Gili” attractions,” the head of Transportation, Communication and Information department of West Nusa Tenggara, Ridwan Syah said here on Thursday.

“Besides, floating docks are safer and environment-friendly since people don`t have to anchor their boats which can damage the coral reefs,” he added. According to Syah, the construction of the floating docks, which will cost around Rp20 billion to the state budget, will be implemented in 2013.

He also said that the docks construction is part of support from the central government to the North Lombok government to create infrastructure for the tourism sector in the district. “The port, built on Bangsal beach in Pemenang, will later be part of the three floating docks at Tiga Gili. Moreover, the technical usage will be set so that the docks could be used as a source of local revenue,” Syah explained.

He added that the floating docks construction at “Tiga Gili” is included in the work plan and budget allocation of the Transportation Ministry. “The ministry will also build twelve similar docks along other coastal areas in Indonesia. This project certainly aims to support the development of local tourism,” Syah stated.

He further said that the government has also conducted a design investigation survey to ensure the construction of a durable floating dock that can accommodate yachts and speed boats. “The floating docks will be constructed using modern technology and strong materials, such as wood, metal and concrete, while the bridge will be elastic, strong and able to adjust tides elevation,” he explained.

Syah expressed optimism that the floating docks would increase the number of tourists visiting Tiga Gili, especially those traveling by boats from Benoa port and other ports in Bali. “With sophisticated construction of the docks, we will ensure passenger comfort. A similar concept has been used by some developed countries, such as Singapore and Japan,” he said.

Back to top

Trans-Sumatra toll road construction to start in March 2013

Sat, October 20 2012 Jakarta (ANTARA News) – State-owned road construction firm PT Hutama Karya has announced that the construction of Trans-Sumatra toll road will begin by March 2013. “The first phase of construction will cover 300 kilometres,” PT Hutama Karya President Director Tri Widjajanto said after attending a “State-Owned Companies Marketeers Club” function here on Friday.

The first phase of the 2,000-km-long toll roads, which will stretch from Lampung province in southern Sumatra to Aceh province in the northern tip of the island, will cover the Medan-Binjai and the Palembang-Indralay sections, he stated. “As of now, these are the sections most likely to be developed in phase one, Tri added.

He said Hutama Karya would carry out the project in cooperation with PT Perkebunan Nusantra (PTPN). Tri refused to provide details about the expenses that will be incurred during the construction of the first phase of the project. “Besides, we hope to get funds from the state capital participation (PMN) programme,” he said.

“The funds needed for the construction project are still being calculated by the consortium, but we will also rely on the government`s support in the form of PMN,” Tri added. Hutama Karya will seek Rp5 trillion in funds from PMN, according to its 2013 corporate work plan.

It was previously reported that the construction of the Trans-Sumatra toll road would cost approximately Rp300 trillion. The 2,000 km toll road will not use the existing roads and will therefore not need relocation of houses, said Subagyo, a director at the public works ministry.

The total cost of the project will not be as high as many think, because it will be developed over plantation land and unused land, mostly belonging to the state, he explained. “Besides, other plantation companies will also be more than eager to offer a small part of their land for the project, as it would greatly facilitate the transport of their commodities,” Subagyo pointed out.

In Java, constructing toll roads can often be a difficult and expensive affair because of land clearance issues, he noted. “However, we have submitted a proposal, under the toll road construction programme, suggesting the use of unoccupied land only,” Subagyo stated.

He said the government`s Master Plan for the Acceleration and Expansion of Indonesian Economic Development (MP3EI) would significantly boost the local economy of Sumatra by 2025.

Earlier, the government had announced that the Trans-Sumatra toll road would be ready by the time the construction of Sunda Strait Bridge (which will connect Sumatra and Java) is completed. The 30-km-long bridge is expected to be ready in 10 years` time.

Back to top

S. Korea keen to develop airports in Indonesia

October 22 2012 Jakarta (ANTARA News) – A South Korean investor has expressed interest in developing airports in parts of Indonesia, according to Minister of Tourism and Creative Economy Mari Elka Pangestu. “An investor from South Korea, namely Samsung C&T, has shown an interest in airport development projects in Indonesia,” she said.

“Among the airport projects that Samsung C&T has expressed interested in are the ones in Majalengka in West Java, Panimbang in Banten, and North Bali,” Mari added. “Besides these, many other projects on toll road development and tourist resort management have been offered during the Indonesia Tourism Investment Day (ITID) 2012.”

She said South Korea would examine the projects for their feasibility. Mari stated that she would support the projects by coordinating with the investment coordinating board (BKPM) in order to attract more investors to the tourism sector and other supporting sectors such as infrastructure.

The ITID 2012 is the first forum staged by her ministry in cooperation with BKPM, Coordinating Ministry for Economic Affairs, Forestry Ministry, and the Fisheries and Marine Resources Ministry. The event was attended by prospective investors, including CEOs and property developers, from ASEAN countries, Japan, China, South Korea, Singapore, Thailand, United Arab Emirates, Britain and the United States.

The tourism potential in Indonesia has been presented in the ITID 2012 such as the ones at Bali, Toba Lake in North Sumatra, Bugam Raya in Central Kalimantan, Central Lombok, Tanjun Lesung in Banten, Lagoi Bay in Riau Islands, Belitung, Sari Ater in West Java, Sentul Nirwana Resort in Bogor, and Teluk Mekaki in East Nusa Tenggara, Mari pointed out.

By the end of the second quarter of this year, investment in the tourism sector reached Rp8.4 trillion, comprising domestic investments worth Rp1.065 trillion and foreign investments worth Rp7.34 trillion. “We will offer incentives and facilities through various schemes, such as by easing the licensing process and waiving import duties, in order to attract investors to the sector,” Mari stated.

Back to top

Qatar to channel goods via Egypt to rebuild Gaza

AFP, Sunday 21 Oct 2012 – Qatar is to channel goods and materials to rebuild the Hamas-run Gaza Strip via neighbouring Egypt, Qatari and Palestinian officials said on Saturday. Egypt’s Islamist President Mohamed Morsi discussed the project in a telephone call with Gaza’s prime minister Ismail Haniya, a spokesman for the Hamas government said.

“The blockage of construction materials and equipment for reconstruction projects in Gaza has been completely lifted. That’s what we were informed by the Egyptian president,” Qatar’s ambassador Mohammed al-Emadi told AFP, saying the materials would enter Gaza through the Rafah border crossing with Egypt.

On September 25, the ambassador said Doha was to invest $254 million (195 million euros) in Gaza in a project which would involve building roads, housing and infrastructure, as well as agricultural development. Of that figure, $140 million (107 million euros) would be invested in building roads, and $62 million (47 million euros) would be spent on building housing in northern Gaza, he told AFP in an interview on Saturday.

According to Hamas government spokesman Taher al-Nunu, Haniya “received a phonecall from President Mohamed Morsi during which they discussed many issues, including the Qatari reconstruction project,” saying all the necessary materials for the project would reach Gaza “soon.”

Despite their ideological closeness, ties between Gaza’s Hamas rulers and Morsi’s Islamist administration have recently been strained following a deadly attack on Egyptian troops in Sinai which prompted Cairo to demolish scores of Gaza smuggling tunnels which provide a lifeline for the blockaded strip, on suspicion they were used by the attackers. But Hamas has insisted that no resident of the coastal strip was involved in the August 5 attack.

In a sign of the tension, giant posters showing a picture of Morsi and Haniya were recently replaced with a huge sign reading: “Thank you Qatar for keeping your promises.” The Hamas government said it had nothing to do with the new hoardings, which referred to Qatar’s planned building project.

Back to top

Sudan’s Bank of Khartoum to restart Islamic bond sales

Reuters , Wednesday 24 Oct 2012 – Bank of Khartoum, Sudan’s oldest bank, plans to start selling Islamic corporate bonds, or sukuks, again as the economic outlook for African country improves in the wake of an oil deal with South Sudan, its general manager said.

Fadi Salim Faqih told Reuters the Islamic bank, which is around a fifth-owned by Dubai Islamic Bank, expects to post a record profit this year boosted by strong lending and a substantial windfall from the devaluation of the Sudanese pound.

“A couple of sukuks have been started,” Faqih said in an interview late on Tuesday, saying the bank could realistically issue $100 million in bonds for local companies by early 2013. The bank arranged several sukuk issues in 2011, but stopped the sales as Sudan’s deep economic crisis raised the risk of default.

Deprived of three-quarters of its oil production when South Sudan became independent in July 2011, Sudan has been struggling with a severe downturn and annual inflation of over 40 per cent. Last month, the two countries agreed to restart oil exports from the South through northern pipelines and a Sudanese port, giving both ailing economies a much-needed shot in the arm.

Much of the Sudanese market is dominated by government-linked banks. Western lenders shun the Arab African country because of U.S. trade sanctions in place since 1997, leaving the market to Gulf lenders such as Qatar National Bank. Local companies from the aviation, real estate and hotel industries are among those now showing an interest in issuing Islamic bonds, said Faqih.

The Bank of Khartoum, which also owns a South Sudan bank, also plans to fund exports such as livestock, cash crops and iron ore as Sudan expands its mining and agricultural production to offset the loss of oil. “This year we established a new unit which is specialised in funding exports,” he said. It also plans to add 24 new branches to its existing network of 55.

The bank, a heavyweight on Khartoum’s stock exchange, expects a net profit of more than 200 million pounds (around $35 million) in 2012, up from 63 million pounds last year. The profit jump for the bank, which has substantial dollar denominated assets, is largely driven by a devaluation of the Sudanese pound and a rise in lending and customer deposits, said Faqih.

Its finance book rose to 4.8 billion pounds at the end of September, up from 3.6 billion pounds at year-end and deposits are up 23 per cent this year, he said.

Back to top

Morocco eyes Gulf investment to offset slowdown

AFP, 26 Oct 2012 – Morocco, facing slower growth and effects of the economic crisis in European partners, aims to attract investments from the oil-rich monarchies of the Gulf which King Mohammed VI has toured. The North African nation is accustomed to growth rates of between four and five per cent, but will have to make do with a figure of three per cent for 2012, according to official forecasts.

The budget deficit reached over six per cent of GDP in 2011, against a backdrop of 30 percent youth unemployment in a country where an Islamist parliamentary election win amid Arab Spring-related upheaval in the region has raised fresh hopes of change.

In search of new partnerships, Mohammed has completed a week-long tour of Gulf and Arab monarchies, visiting Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait. The tour amounted to “the opening of a new chapter in historic and strategic relations between Morocco and these countries,” Les Echos newspaper said in a column on the “diplomatic offensive.”

Trade and investment with the region has “lost steam,” said Khadija Mohsen-Finan, a French university professor and Maghreb specialist. Official figures showed that none of the Gulf and Arab countries were among the kingdom’s top 10 trading partners in 2010 except for Saudi Arabia, in fifth place with $2.1 billion of investment.

“Each Gulf country has its history with Morocco,” Mohsen-Finan told AFP, noting that ties with Qatar soured after the closure two years ago of the Morocco bureau of Al-Jazeera, the international news organisation owned by the emirate. However, the rich kingdoms that make up the Gulf Cooperation Council now appear ready to strengthen ties.

In mid-2011, the six-nation GCC invited Morocco and Jordan, the two non-Gulf monarchies in the Arab world, to join the club, closed to outsiders since its creation in 1981. The move, seen as an attempt to protect themselves both from the spread of Arab Spring revolts in countries throughout the region and from arch-foe Iran, was welcomed by Rabat.

But Morocco carefully reiterated its “natural and irreversible commitment” to building the Arab Maghreb Union (AMU), formed to strengthen economic cooperation between several North African and Sahel countries.

Under the new rapprochement with the GCC, a strategic partnership was signed to finance development projects in Morocco worth more than $5 billion over five years. Mohammed’s tour allowed for an assessment of “Morocco’s audience in these countries” where investors “currently possess the greatest potential direct foreign investment in the world,” Les Echos said.

Director of UAE holdings company Al-Maabar, Yusef al-Nuwais, said “renewable energy, tourism, industry and real estate” were the most promising areas of potential investment, according to Moroccan news agency MAP.

Al-Maabar is already a major developer of the Bouregreg valley in the Rabat-Sale region, a project worth seven billion dirhams ($815 million) that is now being finalised.

Tourism agreements signed with Gulf countries have amounted to 49 billion dirhams ($5.7 billion) over 10 years. While Europe remains the principal source of tourists, Tourism Minister Lahcen Haddad said in an interview with CNN that the kingdom’s focus now is on “emerging markets” including the Gulf.

Back to top

Egyptian cultural delegation to visit Tehran

Ahram Online, Friday 26 Oct 2012 – An Egyptian cultural delegation is planning to visit Tehran soon, announced Ghalam Reda, Consultant to the Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance for Cinema Affairs. “This visit comes in response to the invitation extended by the Cultural and Islamic Guidance Ministry to enhance the cultural and artistic relations between Tehran and Egypt,” Reda told Iranian Mahr news agency. The Egyptian delegation consists of writers, producers, directors and other working in the Cinema field. They will meet with their counterparts in Iran to create a cultural dialogue between the two countries.

Back to top

One million tourists visit Egypt in August

Ahram Online, 18 Oct 2012 – One million tourists visited Egypt in August, 14 per cent more than the 907,000 tourists the country received in the same month in 2011, government statistics agency CAPMAS reported on Wednesday. The number is still slightly lower than the 1.1 million tourists who visited Egypt in August 2010, the year which saw the most tourists in the country’s history.

Tourism in Egypt was dealt a near-deadly blow as a result of the political instability following the early 2011 uprising. The total number of incoming tourists to Egypt in the first eight months of 2012 is estimated at around 7.1 million.

On a monthly basis, the number of inbound tourists in August and July 2012 remained steadily at one million. Most inbound tourism was by Western European travellers, followed by Eastern European and Middle Eastern tourists.

These travellers spent a total of 12 million nights in-country, 10 per cent more than in August of last year, but 25 per cent lower than August 2010. The number of tourists by itself is not an indicator, however, as it counts all visitors to Egypt who spend more than 24 hours inside the country.

The summer is traditionally the high season for Arab tourism in Egypt, but in August 2011 just 130,000 tourists visited Egypt. Figures for August and June 2012 show a significant improvement in tourism. Together they showed a growth of 11 per cent over the same period in 2011.

The former Tourism Minister, Mounir Fakhry Abdel-Nour, predicted 12 million visitors by the end of the year, representing a 23 per cent increase on 2011. In August, Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi visited the Upper Egyptian city of Luxor and publically promised to ensure domestic security in an effort to prevent any decline in tourism.

Morsi said in early October that tourist numbers rose by 11 per cent in September compared to the same month last year. Despite the 5 August attack on Egypt’s border with the Gaza Strip and recent clashes in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, inbound tourism appears to be on the rise.

Back to top

Tony Kaldas represents Arab world in international song ‘One Prayer’

Ahram Online, 24 Oct 2012 – Egyptian Tony Kaldas sings in song, ‘One Prayer,’ released on Wednesday by The World Peace organisation, aiming to inspire peaceful relations and build bridges across cultures and religions. The musical project has been in the works for the past five years.

‘One Prayer’, contains prayers from around the world to create one universal call for togetherness, respect, tolerance, and peace. The song is 30 minutes long and uses the conviction of prayer to touch people no matter their race, gender or religion.

Tony Kaldas, Egyptian singer and composer, was chosen to represent the Arabic-speaking world with a prayer he wrote and also sings. Kaldas is to perform the song alongside the other musicians from all over the globe in Oslo, Norway on Wednesday.

This is not the first time Kaldas uses his music to spread peace and human understanding. Earlier in 2012, he was nominated for the Music Peace Prize for his song ‘You are my Brother,” combining the text of Khalil Gibran and Mexican and oriental beats.

Back to top

Maldives airlines gets new A320

Visitmaldives.com – Maldives national airline, Maldivian’s newest addition to its fleet, an A320 Airbus arrived in the country today. The new plane is being brought in to increase its capacity and to expand international flight destinations. There was a special ceremony held to celebrate the plane landing at the Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA). Island Aviation Services (IAS) had earlier trained 20 of its hand-picked cabin crews and pilots for the new A320 flight. The company informed that part of the one month long training program was conducted in Sri Lanka. Maldivian’s new destinations are India’s Chennai and Mumbai, and Bangladeshi capital Dhaka.

Back to top

Turkish food makers shine at Paris fair

Nuriye Doğu PARIS / Radikal – Turkey is the third biggest participant in the world’s largest food exhibition, which opened its doors on Oct. 22 in Paris. A total of 256 Turkish firms are attending the International Food and Beverage Exhibition (SIAL), which covers more than 9,000 square meters of exhibition ground. Some 5,900 firms from 100 countries are participating in SIAL this year. The Istanbul Chamber of Commerce (İTO) has organized Turkey’s participation in SIAL since 1988. “In 1988, we took up 82.5 square meters of fair ground with 10 Turkish companies,” İTO President Murat Yalçıntaş said.

“In 2010, 128 Turkish companies covered a combined fair ground of 4,356 square meters, and this year we hit a record (in terms of the area of fair ground and the number of participant companies). The total fair ground is 9,000 square meters with 208 companies. There are also 48 Turkish companies attending the event independently,” he said. The diversity of products that Turkish companies present at SIAL is remarkable, according to Yalçıntaş, adding that Turkey exports more than 200 types of organic food products.

“This means it is not possible to set a game in the global food sector without Turkey. Our second advantage is the geographical location of Turkey. The short-term goal should be $20 billion (in exports),” he said.

Back to top

Turkey ranks third in nuts production

ANKARA – Anatolia News Agency – Turkey has been ranked as the world’s third largest producer of nuts after China and the United States, meeting 8 percent of the globe’s demand in the sector.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) 2010 data, more than 2.5 million tons of nuts are produced on 844,000 hectares of land across the world every year. China produces more than 1 million tons alone while U.S. production is at 457,000 tons. Turkey produces a more moderate 178,000 tons every year.

Increasing harvest volumes have helped Turkish nut production in recent years, growing by 53 percent over the past 10 years to 2011. The better production figures were also aided by a growth in the amount of land under cultivation, as well as in the number of trees. Whereas there 5.8 million trees in 2002, this figure was 9.6 million by 2011.

Farmers have also gravitated more toward growing nuts due to ministerial support for the endeavor. The U.S. leads all countries in terms of nuts exports, with Turkey trailing in a distant 12th place. Turkish citizens consume an average of three kilograms of nuts a year, with the product consumed either directly or within other foods, especially pastry.

Almost all regions in the country grow nuts, but the Black Sea, Aegean and Southeast Anatolian regions top the others in terms of both quality and quantity. Hakkari, Kahramanmaraş, Bursa and Van produce together produce 20 percent of Turkey’s total output.

Back to top

Egypt, Turkey plan to join forces in tourism

ISTANBUL – Hürriyet Daily News – The Turkish Airlines has added Egyptian tourism resorts Sharm el-Sheikh and Hurghada to its vast destination network. This marks the first step of a wider cooperation between Turkey and Egypt to attract more tourists. Egypt and Turkey are planning broad collaboration to attract a higher share of the global tourism market, starting with increased flights between the two countries.

Turkish Airlines, the national flag carrier, has added Egypt’s Sharm el-Sheikh and Hurghada airports to its large network of destinations, Egyptian Tourism Minister Hisham Zazou said late on Oct. 8 at a press meeting announcing Turkish Airlines’ direct flights to the world-famous tourism resort cities by the Red Sea.

The Turkish flag carrier launched its first direct flight to Sharm el-Sheikh yesterday and will begin direct flights to Hurghada Oct. 17 in the first steps of wider cooperation between the two countries in tourism. “We are going to organize a workshop between the Egyptian Tourism Foundation and chambers and TURSAB the Association of Turkish Travel Agencies) on Dec. 10 in Egypt to do more business in the future. We are discussing with Turkish Airlines more frequent flights between Cairo and Alexandria in the coming weeks,” Zazou said.

“We are discussing even more optimistic and ambitious plans between us in terms of serving international destinations, and also business for Turkey and Egypt from long-haul destinations like South America, China, Japan, Southeast Asia, even America. Where our national air carrier may not be currently flying, we are going to have joint marketing activities on long-haul destinations, because specialists and experts know that tourists who come from these long-haul destinations do not come to this part of the world to visit one country alone, but they look forward to visiting more than one country. This is an opportunity to have road shows. With the cooperation of Turkish Airlines, we hold Egyptian-Turkish nights and promotional activities,” he said.

Touching on incentives Egypt has for the Turkish tourism sector, he said, “We have incentives for charter operations into Egypt, co-marketing and co-advertising activities.” Egypt also has eased visa requirements for Turkish citizens, Ambassador Abderahman Salaheldin said at the event, adding that the two countries were just short of lifting visas.

The largest of the “Arab Spring countries,” Egypt is in a push to revive its crucial tourism sector, which lost steam last year when it turned a new page in its history after the overthrow of the regime led by former President Hosni Mubarak. The country’s tourism revenues dropped to $9 billion last year from $14 billion from the year before, and now targets $25 billion by 2017, Zazou said.

Back to top

South Kazakhstan encourages entrepreneurship

Centralasiaonline.com 2012-10-22 SHYMKENT – South Kazakhstan is removing barriers for small-business owners and streamlining business processes by establishing “single window” entrepreneur service centres (ESCs) across the oblast. The South Kazakhstan Oblast (SKO) October 15 opened the first ESC in Shymkent with the hope of streamlining the process for getting all the necessary registrations and permits for opening and running a business.

Dauren Halmetov, manager of Halmetov & Co, was among the first business owners to use the new service centre. “The ‘Single Window’ principle is an effective anti-corruption measure and also a method of sweeping away administrative barriers,” he said. “Many state programmes are now operating in Kazakhstan, providing opportunities for the broadest range of private business. However, sometimes an entrepreneur lacks objective data and well-informed advice to help him (or her) figure out the conditions and requirements of these programmes,” he said. “That’s exactly why I turned to the ESC, and I’ve obtained a lot of interesting information.”

The need for ESCs became apparent after several state and independent organisations studied factors impeding development of business in the region, deputy head of the SKO administration Saparbek Tuyakbayev told Central Asia Online.

“One of the main problems is the lack of co-ordination and co-operation among developmental institutions, financial organisations and the state authorities,” he said. “There is no monitoring of the results of entrepreneurship, nor are there any instructional and specialised courses for entrepreneurs.”

Efforts to spur business growth seldom reach the countryside, he said, and to better reach those in rural areas, officials plan a roaming ESC bus that can dispense information and register rural entrepreneurs. The SKO also plans to open offices in all the regions and cities in the oblast. “The ESC is meant to meet the needs both of those starting out and of the experienced entrepreneur,” Shymkent ESC director Nurzhan Altayev told Central Asia Online.

“If an entrepreneur already is running a business, the centre’s consultants will suggest where and how most beneficially to obtain credit to maximise… funds for expanding a business, which state programme best suits the kind of enterprise in question, and what terms and benefits are offered as part of these state programmes to entrepreneurs wishing to make use of them,” Altayev said.

Entrepreneurs can obtain recommendations on the directions and forms and of activity most preferable for now and in the long term. ESC managers will help in drawing up business plans and will help entrepreneurs pick lenders, he said. “Young entrepreneurs will be able to take a course in the basics of financial activity … and to obtain co-operation in working out business plans and seeing them through and in examining and assessing the efficiency of projects,” ESC manager Alla Yum said.

Back to top