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18 Feb, 2013

Exhibition Highlights Heritage of Muslim Spain

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 18 February 2013 (07 Rabee’ al-Thaani 1434). Pls click on any of the headlines below to go to the story.


Asia Medical Tourism & Healthcare 2013 to be held in KL

The Asia Medical Tourism & Healthcare 2013 Conference and Exhibition will be held between 9-10 April 2013, in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. One of the most comprehensive and complete medical tourism conferences in South East Asia, this event bring together global medical tourism experts and hospital representatives. Intensive and interactive panel discussions as well as networking sessions will be held to share best practices and experience and discuss future trends and insights. Delegates will gain practical experience from different perspectives which will help to increase the rate of profitability and productivity. Featured speakers so far include Dato’ Dr Jacob Thomas – President (Association of Private Hospitals of Malaysia and Asian Hospital Federation), Dr Prabhakar G.V.J – CQO (DM Healthcare Dubai), Man Koon Suh, M.D. – Director (JW Plastic Surgery Center and Korea Academy of Plastic Surgery), Korean Society of Plastic and Reconstructive; Dr. Gaurang Joshi – Director (Atharva Multispeciality Ayurveda Hospital, Panchakarma & Skin Care Hospital); Dr.Nipit Piravej, MD – CEO (The World Medical Centre, Bangkok Chain Hospital); Sanjay Bokadia – CFO (Fortis Hospitals Limited); Emin Çakmak – The Founding Chairman (Turkish Healthcare Tourism Development Council), Advisor (IHG International Hospital Groups (Healthcare Investment in Turkey and African Countries) and Lorraine Melvill – Founder & Owner (Surgeon & Safari), Fonder Member (Medical Tourism Association of South Africa). For further information on this event, pls click here http://www.unistrategic.com/eng/events-detail.asp?cid=1&nid=857&sid=&vid=0&ppage=5

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/ or

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

twitter: http://twitter.com/tourismmalaysia

Blog: http://blog.tourism.gov.my


Watch Islamic Travel Newswire Executive Editor Imtiaz Muqbil’s landmark TEDx lecture on “Peace through Tourism” on YouTube — the first travel industry journalist in Bangkok invited to speak at this prestigious forum. CLICK HERE.


“Home-Grown Terrorism: One Swamp The U.S. Cannot Drain” and other columns gagged by the Bangkok Post

For 15 years (January 1997-July 2012), Imtiaz Muqbil penned a hard-hitting fortnightly column called “Soul-Searching” in the Bangkok Post. In July 2012, two editors of the so-called “newspaper you can trust” censored and muzzled it, with no explanation. In defiance against that unprecedented action, and at the behest of many upset readers, a selection of the nearly 400 columns are reproduced here, with more to be added regularly. Read the censored column, and several others, by clicking here.

Exhibition highlights heritage of Muslim Spain

Arab News – 12 February, 2013 – A close historical and cultural relationship has always joined the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Spain and the Spanish Embassy in Riyadh highlights these special ties in the exhibition entitled “From Qurtuba to Cordoba.”

In his statement, the Spain Ambassador Joaquín Pérez-Villanueva, told the media that this exhibition revives the heritage of Muslims and their rich civilization, which is still preserved and present in the city of Cordoba.

The exhibition was officially opened Sunday evening at the King Abdulaziz Historical Center in Riyadh in the presence of Prince Sultan bin Salman, chairman of the Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities (SCTA) and various foreign ambassadors and diplomats from the US, France, Sweden, and Mexico, as well as Saudi officials and media representatives.

“From Qurtaba to Cordoba” seeks to rediscover and revive the Islamic and Arab legacies of the previous Islamic caliphate, through a photo contest, which captures the local heritage of that era. The city of Qurtuba declared a World Heritage site in 1994, is known worldwide for its Arab-Islamic past.

In his speech, Prince Sultan emphasized the role of the exhibition in strengthening cultural relations between the governments of the two countries. The prince highlighted how this event reflects the common ties shared between people in Spain and the Kingdom. “This exhibition is really beautiful as it tells the story of the historical relations and civilization interlinking Spain and the Muslim world,” the prince said.

The three-week exhibition will be open to the public until Mar. 3, featuring photographs from the 50 winners of the competition organized by the Arab House. Princess Adelah bint Abdulla, president of the advisory board of the National Museum, will be the guest of honor for the ladies official opening ceremony tomorrow evening.

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Algeria: Constantine tramway, hotel project inspected

APS) Saturday 16 February 2013 – CONSTANTINE (Algeria)-Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal inspected Saturday the site of Constantine tramway and launched the works of the building of “5 star” hotel of international chain Marriott.

Sellal has notably listened to a presentation on the project of Constantine tramway extension to Ali Mendjeli new real estate centre and Mohamed-Boudiaf international airport.

The tramway which connects Benabdelmalek-Ramdane stadium and Zouaghi area, over 8.1 km, is one of the most important projects in the city during the last decade.

Launched late 2008, this large-scale project, to be exploited ’’by the end of the first half of 2013,’’ according to the concerned officials ’’will carry 6,000 passengers per hour and will contribute to the improvement of the citizens’ life conditions and the economic development of Constantine city.”

Assigned to the Italian firm Impresa Pizzarotti, Constantine tramway allowed the construction of two parks of relay of over 500 seats and a 465 meter long bridge.

Plans to extend the tramway route of to Mohamed Boudiaf airport, the new real estate center of Mendjeli Ali, and in a later stage, to El Khroub locality were granted by the government, it was recalled.

Sellal then went on board the tram to the site to accommodate a Marriott International chain “5 star” hotel where he expressed “reservations” about the architectural design of the front, urging the project developers to “review it.”

This five-storey hotel, to be built at a cost of 14 billion dinars, over an area of over 130,000 m2, will include 180 rooms and 21 suites, including three presidential ones.

The future facility will be built not far from Mentouri University ’’will contribute qualitatively to improve welcome capacities of the ancient Cirta, and certainly relaunch competition between the major hotel groups.”

The Marriott of Constantine which will employs 600 people will be delivered, according to the contract in late December 2014.

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Algeria: Constantine benefits from world-class projects

(APS) Saturday 16 February 2013 CONSTANTINE (Algeria)- While inspecting the Trans-Rhumel Bridge site, Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal declared Saturday that “few cities in the world have benefited from as many large scale projects as Constantine” (431 km east of Algiers).

The construction of Trans-Rhumel Bridge, a large scale projects representing the “key project” of Constantine, is a “natural and logic” continuation in the History of the City of Bridges, added Sellal.

The project was presented by one of the main leaders of the Brazilian company in charge of the viaduct construction, Group Andrade Gutierrez-Clovis Martinez, who gave the Prime Minister a set of ink-written books dating from the 19th century and tracing the history of Group Andrade Gutierrez since its creation and the great facilities constructed all over the world.

Martinez also mentioned the recent signing of a cooperation agreement between his company and Mentouri University of Constantine, on the training of students, noting, in this regard, that this Convention shall come into force “next March.”

The eighth bridge a city built on a rock, the construction of Trans-Rhumel viaduct of Constantine progresses at “significant pace,” as Brazilian company officials estimating at 40% the rate of progress of the batch “facility” and at 25% of the batch “road”.

This bold architecture bridge will link the two banks of Rhumel River over a distance of more than 1,100m, in the southern part of the city. The Trans-Rhumel is equipped by maximal security, with foundations and towers adapted to the nature of the terrain, and ramps and exit designed to withstand earthquakes and winds.

Estimated in a first stage, at DZD15 billion, this impressive facility was revalued at DZD31 billion. The revaluation includes connecting the Trans-Rhumel to the East-West Highway through a road section of about 11 km. According to local officials in charge of the public works sector, the viaduct will be delivered in the first quarter of 2014.

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Algerian CEOs expect improvement in business activity, demand

(APS) Saturday 16 February 2013 ALGIERS- Heads of public and private companies expect an increase in the industrial activity and demand and a stability of selling prices, as well as a better perspective of their funds, said Saturday the National Office of Statistics (ONS).

According to the results of an opinion survey conducted during the third quarter of 2012 by ONS with the heads of SMEs, industrial activity, demand of manufactured products will know an improvement during the next months.

Heads of companies also advocated a better perspective of their funds, while the industrials of the public sector expect a decline in their staff, despite the increase recorded during the third quarter of 2012.

After an improvement in 2011, the industrial activity in the public sector continued its falling trend which started from the second quarter of 2012, unlike that of the private sector which recorded an increase over the same period.

Most public production companies (90%) and all the private SMEs used their production capacities to more than 50%, according to this poll, which focuses on the type and rhythm of industrial activity.

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Maldives Tourism budget to MVR 80 million

SunOnline – February 11, 2013 – Tourism Minister Ahmed Adheeb has said that the Maldives tourism promotion budget has been increased to MVR 80 million. The parliament had initially granted an amount of MVR 20 million.

In a special interview to Sun Online yesterday, Tourism Minister Adheeb said that promoting Maldives tourism is expensive, yet it is also something that will be rewarding for the country.

Adheeb said that a budget of MVR 200 million was proposed to the parliament for tourism promotion this year, but said that the final amount granted had been cut the budget down to MVR 20 million.

“When we put down MVR 200 million, the government authorities don’t actually realize the priority that this requires. This is what drives the entire engine. Parliament had erased a zero from the MVR 200 million we proposed, and gave us MVR 20 million. Then we had to work in all other different ways, and now the Finance Minister has committed to give us MVR 60 million more,” said Adheeb.

He said that the government institutions do not realize the importance of the efforts to promote tourism and said that last year’s success was attributed to the tourism advertisements. He said that they have plans to participate in a number of fairs this year, including promotions through other avenues, such as advertising the Maldives on the BBC.

“If we can fully establish the Maldives brand, we can promote Maldives and subsequently increase room rates. Every single dollar we spend on marketing will give a large amount of money in return,” said Adheeb.

Minister said that there are two big events scheduled to take place in the Maldives this year, one being the celebrations for World Tourism Day, and the other being the Indian Ocean category of the World Travel Awards. He said that Media from around the world will be invited to these events, which will in turn, promote Maldives Tourism.

The MVR 20 million-small budget granted this year was strongly criticized by the Maldives Association for Tourism Industry (MATI).

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Malaysia Airlines Ups Baggage Allowances, Cuts Excess Baggage Charges

9 February 2013 : Malaysia Airlines is pleased to announce that effective 14 February 2013, its passengers will enjoy an additional 10 kilograms free checked baggage allowance and reduced excess baggage charges for travel in all classes. These apply to all travel from this date irrespective of tickets issued earlier reflecting the original lower free allowance.

The national carrier of Malaysia is introducing these benefits on all its flights involving the weight system concept for checked baggage, except for travel to and from Los Angeles where the charges are based on the piece system.

Malaysia Airlines’ Group Chief Executive Officer Encik Ahmad Jauhari Yahya said, “The revised checked baggage policy improves our product proposition in the ever-changing competitive landscape of the commercial aviation industry. This is also in line with our Business Plan strategy of ‘Winning Back Customers’.”

“As travellers are becoming more discerning in selecting their air travel options, we have simplified the excess baggage rates to introduce a consistent policy for our passengers that delivers significant savings while they enjoy our premium service hospitality,” he added.

Under the new baggage guidelines all adult and child passengers will enjoy 30, 40, and 50 kilograms free baggage allowance respectively for travel on economy, business and first class.

Charges for checked baggage weights in excess of the new free allowance will be calculated depending on zone of travel with a fixed rate applied for every 5 kilograms of excess baggage weight.

The excess baggage rate for each block of 5 kilograms excess weight will be RM30, RM60 and RM90 respectively depending on zone of travel.

In Malaysia, the rate of RM30 applies for each sector in the zone within Malaysia and the ASEAN countries of Singapore, Brunei, Indonesia, Philippines, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia.

RM60 applies for sectors in the zone beyond Malaysia and ASEAN, covering destinations in India, China, Sri Lanka, Maldives, Hong Kong, China, Taiwan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Japan, Korea, New Zealand and Australia.

The intercontinental rate of RM90 will be charged on all travel between Malaysia and the cities of Jeddah, London, Amsterdam, Paris, Frankfurt and Istanbul.

For return travel from the international cities, the RM value of the applicable zone charge will be converted into the local currency of payment during check-in.

The above guidelines apply only for travel on Malaysia Airlines and does not cover code-share flights as well as travel involving other airlines.

Earlier, effective May last year, the national carrier also streamlined cabin baggage rules for all its domestic and international flights. Guests travelling economy class were allowed one piece cabin baggage up to a maximum of 7 kilograms instead of 5kilograms. First and Business Class travellers were allowed two pieces of cabin baggage with a maximum weight of 7kilograms each.

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Malaysia to set up virtual Islamic university in 2014

Kuala Lumpur, Thursday, 03 Rabi Al-Thani 1434/14 February 2013 (IINA) – The first virtual Islamic university, combining 285 Islamic universities from 51 countries under the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), will be set up next year.

International Islamic University of Malaysia Rector Prof Dr Zaleha Kamaruddin said the university, to be managed by the Federation of Universities of the Islamic World (FUIW), would provide easy educational platform to the global Islamic community. “This is a way to spread knowledge to Muslims worldwide, requiring them to only interact online, without having to go abroad to study at any of the Islamic universities,” she told reporters after the fourth FUIW Virtual Islamic University Board of Trustees meeting here yesterday.

She said, learning would be conducted online through video conferencing and virtual libraries that allowed students to obtain material from all universities. Among universities involved in the project are the University of Sharjah, Islamic University in Uganda, Kuwait University, Azerbaijan State Economic University and the University of Sheikh Anta Diop-Senegal.

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India cannot grow if Muslims, minorities, marginalised

New Delhi, Feb. 17 (ANI): India as a country cannot grow if Muslims and other marginalised populations are left behind, said the Chairman of the Institute of Objective Studies (IOS), Dr. Mohammad Manzoor Alam.

Delivering a presidential address at the two-day conference titled “India and the Muslim World in the 21st Century”, Dr. Alam said the benefits of education, health, employment and enterprise were yet to reach around 100 million Muslims, who should also be seen as part of India’s growth story.

Calling on developed countries of the Muslim world to invest in India’s education, healthcare, low-cost housing, public transport and social infrastructure, he said: “This long term investment will make them stakeholders in India’s success. It will also add a new dimension to the legacy of our common Islamic civilization.”

Minority Affairs Minister K. Rahman Khan said: “India is a major importer of hydrocarbon energy from the Gulf countries and the six million expatriate community sends billions of dollars to India in the form of remittances. In the past the West exploited both India and the Muslim world. The time has come for both regions to work together for the prosperity of our people.”

“In this era of globalisation, India has opened its doors for investment in various sectors. It is a golden opportunity for Muslim countries, especially the Arab business community, to invest heavily in this country. The future for investment is Asia as the West is in the grip of economic recession,” he added.

“The Muslim world should not become victim of divide and rule policy. The end of Cold War has brought about a fundamental change in India’s policy towards the Middle East,” Khan said.

Water Resources Minister Harish Rawat said: “We should do our part to find the reasons why the Muslim community is lagging behind. The government has taken steps to address the situation but more needs to be done.”

Drawing attention to Muslim youths languishing in jail without trial, he stated: “We feel for those innocent youths. The law of the land cannot have different yardsticks.”

The global conference discussed various issues, including Islam’s role and relevance in India, economic and financial relations, Islamic banking and finance, scope for educational cooperation, international and diplomatic relations.

The need for Saudi Arabia to invest in India’s education, healthcare, low-cost housing, public transport social and infrastructure sectors was also another area of focus at the conference.

The conference was attended by several foreign delegates, especially from Saudi Arabia. It unfolded various facets of development taking place at the global, regional and national levels. (ANI)

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Pakistan Unveils Its Best at Karachi Literature Festival

KARACHI (Dawn.com) Feb 14, 2013 : Despite an unexpected pull-out of distinguished Indian poet and filmmaker Gulzar, the three-day fourth Karachi Literature Festival beginning at the Beach Luxury Hotel on Friday promises a lot for the country’s book lovers and art buffs.

Like the previous three editions of the festival, this year too intellectually stimulating sessions with a galaxy of internationally renowned writers, authors and performing artistes are in store.

Ever since its inception in 2010, the Karachi Literature Festival has assumed a significant position in the cultural space of the country. If on the one hand it has successfully managed to dispel the notion that Pakistan in general and Karachi in particular cannot host international events, on the other it has provided book loving Pakistanis to see, hear, meet and interact with writers of high merit.

The change of venue this year is a welcome sign. It is a bigger venue and is accessible to all kinds of book lovers, including those who travel by public transport.

The event features many sessions and book launches, along with theatrical presentations and a children’s literature festival.

The highlight of the first day will be the keynote address by novelist Nadeem Aslam.

Discussions on contemporary English literature with respect to reality and kitsch; Ghalib’s relevance to today’s world; and cricket and cricket writing will follow. This will happen alongside some important book launches.

Sindhi poet the late Hasan Dars’s book will be launched as will be Nadeem Aslam’s new novel A Blind Man’s Garden.

An interesting session titled Mantoiyat: Dastangoi is slated for the latter part of the day.

The second day will witness a discussion on the fall and rise of Pakistani cinema and on the world of theatre. A session on Karachi writings will happen simultaneously. The launch of a book by Mohammed Hanif titled The Baloch Who is not Missing and Others Who Are will take place in the first half of the day.

The second half will feature a conversation with writer Mohsin Hamid and a session on social satire hosted by Nadeem Farooq Paracha.

A discussion on Afghanistan, a mushaira and a conversation with Farrukh Dhondy are also likely to generate interest.

The final day will commence with discussions on dynastic politics, secularism in Pakistan, dramatic reading from Intizar Husain’s play Pani Ke Qaidi followed by a conversation with Najam Sethi, a press conference by George Galloway, a session on the dynamics of Karachi and an exchange of ideas on Urdu ghazal and dastaan between Zehra Nigah and Intizar Husain.

The highlight of the second half of the day will be a press conference by Palestinian writer Izzeldin Abuelaish followed by a session on folk music. George Galloway will deliver the closing speech on Sunday evening.

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IDB approves $451 million financing for Islamic projects

Jeddah, Sunday, 06 Rabi Al-Thani 1434/17 February 2013 (IINA) – A meeting of the Board of Executive Directors of the Islamic Development Bank (IDB) Group has approved $ 450.8 million towards financing new development projects in member countries as well as in Muslim communities in non-member countries.

The meeting, chaired by IDB President Dr. Ahmad Mohamed Ali, has approved the allocations. These included $ 125 million for construction of a section of Tirana-Korca Road Corridor in Albania, $ 120 million for SADARA Petrochemical project in Saudi Arabia and $ 100 million for SANIMAS community based sanitation project in 46 cities in Indonesia. Other major allocations are $ 36 million for efficient outdoor lighting for Tashkent City Project, Uzbekistan, $ 20 million for construction of Sukuta-Jambangelly Road Project, Gambia and $ 19.7 million for enhancing the learning environment at the Islamic University and the Millennium Villages Project (MVP) Phase II in Uganda as well as a $ 1 million as technical assistance grant for the activities of the African Legal Support Facility.

The Board also approved $ 2 million as grant for emergency relief to the displaced people in Syria and Syrian refugees in Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq to contribute to the provision of education and health services. Another $ 1.7 million was approved as special assistance grant under IDB Waqf Fund for educational, vocational and health projects in Muslim communities in the Democratic Republic of Congo, India, UK, and the US. The meeting took note of an amount of $ 25 million approved by the IDB President for Education and Training for Employment Project, Egypt.

The meeting discussed the Bank’s draft annual report for the year 2012, the draft financial statements of the Bank and its specialized funds for the same year, as well other documents for the forthcoming annual meeting of the Board of Governors of the IDB Group scheduled to be held on 21-22 May, 2013 in Dushanbe, Tajikistan.

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Haj minister: Over 1.3 million Umrah visas issued

Jeddah, Saturday, 05 Rabi Al-Thani 1434/16 February 2013 (IINA) – Over six million Umrah pilgrims are expected in Saudi Arabia this year, one million more than last year, said Minister of Haj Bandar bin Mohammed Al-Hajjar, in a statement carried by the Saudi Press Agency yesterday. An estimated 400,000 Umrah performers are arriving every month.

Some 775,000 Umrah performers have already arrived in the Kingdom, said the minister, adding that all resources have been mobilized by the ministry and related agencies in line with the directives of Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah and Crown Prince Salman bin Abdul Aziz. Hajjar expects the number of Umrah performers to increase to more than half a million compared to last year. The Kingdom witnesses a 10 to 20 percent increase in the number of Umrah performers every year, he said.

Egyptians, Pakistanis and Algerians are expected to top the list of number of Umrah performers, according to official statistics issued by Saudi embassies in over 70 countries. In Ramadan, the figure is expected to rise to one million and by the end of the season it will touch the six million mark. Last season, the number of Umrah performers reached five million. The minister confirmed the readiness of the electronic tracking system, adding that the ministry personnel through electronic systems and field committees tours the places where Umrah performers are staying to monitor the services provided to them. Hajjar denied that the expansion of the Mataaf area will affect the number of Umrah performers this season. He stressed that Umrah companies ought to comply with the conditions agreed on with pilgrims.

Meanwhile,the General Presidency for the Grand Mosque and the Prophet’s Mosque Affairs, together with the security forces of the Grand Mosque, has taken new arrangements aimed at avoiding congestion. According to the arrangements, only those wearing ihrams are now being permitted to enter the mataf (area of circumambulation) of the Grand Mosque on weekends.

Individuals not wearing ihrams will be banned from the mataf on Thursdays and Fridays 30 minutes prior to Maghrib and Fajr prayers. Ordinary worshippers who come for Maghrib and Fajr prayers will be directed to the roof, the ground floor and the plazas outside the mosque that can accommodate large numbers of worshippers.

Commander of the Grand Mosque police Brig. Yahya Al-Zahrani, said: “There is no prevention, but relocation of ordinary worshippers in addition to the Umrah pilgrims who come for iftar inside the mataf during the White Days (13th, 14th and 15th of a Hijri lunar month) or on Thursdays and Mondays.” He pointed out that the redirection process would begin as soon as the operations room and the command center at the Grand Mosque realize that the mataf is full of tawaf performers. Al-Zahrani said this measure has been taken in line with the mataf expansion project, which was ordered by Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah. He sought cooperation from all worshippers with security staff to create room for circumambulating Umrah pilgrims.

Meanwhile, over six million Umrah pilgrims are expected in Saudi Arabia this year, one million more than the number last year, said Minister of Haj Bandar Hajjar yesterday. “The number of Umrah pilgrims is expected to cross the one million mark in Ramadan alone. An average of 400,000 pilgrims are arriving every month this season.” The current season began on Dec. 14 last year and will last until the end of Ramadan in the first week of August. The ministry has issued more than 1.3 million Umrah visas so far, while 775,000 pilgrims have already arrived in the Kingdom, Hajjar said.

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ISESCO Director General gives lecture at IIUM Global Forum

Kuala Lumpur 15/02/2013 – Dr Abdulaziz Othman Altwaijri, Director General of the Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (ISESCO), Secretary General of the Federation of the Universities of the Islamic World (FUIW), delivered a lecture titled “ISESCO’s Role in the Development of the Ummah”, today at the International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM).

Dr Altwaijri reviewed the major stages ISESCO has gone through since its inception in 1982, while highlighting the objectives set forth in its Charter. He also underlined that the vital fields in which ISESCO is operating are not confined to the Muslim world, but extend to the world as a whole, considering that the Organization performs a major civilizational mission.

He pointed out that the Organization takes particular care in publicizing the correct image of Islam and Islamic culture, promoting dialogue among civilizations, cultures and religions, and working towards spreading the values of justice and peace along with the principles of freedom and human rights, in accordance with the Islamic civilizational perspective.

Dr Altwaijri said that the action ISESCO carries out in this field is beneficial to the whole Muslim Ummah, as it is part and parcel of the action aimed at the promotion of the Ummah’s comprehensive development. He also stated that the integrated approach adopted by ISESCO is based on three pillars, namely taking further interest in Islamic culture, highlighting its specificities and publicizing its landmarks through intellectual studies, scientific research and educational curricula; working for establishing complementarity and correlation among the educational systems of the Member States; and supporting the efforts of the educational, scientific and cultural institutions for Muslims in non-Member States of ISESCO.

ISESCO Director General tackled the linguistic, economic and political connotations of development, while stressing that development has, at the international level, embraced a broader sense with the adoption of the concept of comprehensive sustainable development. He also reviewed the set of commitments which highlight the determination of the international community to support all efforts geared to comprehensive sustainable development across the world, while emphasizing that these commitments, in terms of their depth and their political, economic, social and cultural dimensions, converge, in one way or another, with the key areas of ISESCO’s action aimed at achieving comprehensive sustainable development of Muslim societies, namely education, science, culture comprehensive sustainable.

“ISESCO is actively involved in the multifaceted international efforts to develop a global partnership for development, where the Islamic world would be fully involved with its various resources, capabilities, and potentials. Meanwhile, the Organization contributes, within the remit of its competence and resources, to the implementation of the Ten-Year Programme of Action to Meet the Challenges facing the Muslim Ummah in the 21st Century”, Dr Altwaijri said.

In the second part of his lecture, ISESCO Director General touched upon the objectives and contents of ISESCO’s new three-year Action Plan, which was adopted by its 11th General Conference, last December in Riyadh. He also explained that the various issues which ISESCO will strive to address under specific programmes and activities to be implemented within the framework of a sound action plan and well-thought projects, based on a clear vision and with a deep sense of responsibility, reflect the importance of the support the Organization devotes to development efforts in the Islamic world, with a view to ensuring progress for the Muslim Ummah.

Dr Altwaijri stated that the role of ISESCO consists in sharing realistic thinking, rational theoretical work, future planning, and general guidance through the implementation of its action plans. In this sense, he said, “the Organization constitutes a large pool of high-level expertise in the fields of education, science, culture and communication, environment and childhood, which provides its services to Islamic countries, with the aim of strengthening their capacities and boosting performance of their national policies in such vital areas”.

He stressed that ISESCO, being an integral part of the system of joint Islamic action within the framework of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, is committed to assisting Member States in developing their national policies in the areas that fall within the ambit of the Organization, as well as implementing and developing these policies while assuring their quality at all levels.

Concluding, Dr Altwaijri said, “the major challenges facing the present and future of our Ummah call for promoting concerted efforts at all levels, and mobilizing all active energies in Muslim societies, in order to address them with wisdom, courage and a strong sense of Islamic solidarity”.

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Etihad Airways Increases Flights to Pakistan

WAM Abu Dhabi, 14 Feb. 2013 (WAM)– Etihad Airways, the national airline of the United Arab Emirates, has increased its flights to the Northern city of Lahore from seven to 11 a week offering passengers more convenient travel options.

With the addition of the new services, Etihad Airways will now offer 27 weekly flights from four destinations in Pakistan which, along with Lahore, include Karachi, Islamabad and Peshawar.

The additional services will be operated by A320 aircraft fitted with 16 Pearl Business Class seats and will increase capacity by 21 per cent on the route.

These services also improve the number of connections over the airline’s Abu Dhabi hub to more than 500 connections a week (representing an increase of 20 per cent) to a number of key destinations in the GCC and Europe.

“The addition of the new flights will further strengthen commercial and cultural ties between Pakistan and the UAE and will lead to continued strong growth in traffic flows between Lahore, Abu Dhabi and beyond to many key destinations across our global network,” said Kevin Knight, Etihad Airways’ Chief Strategy and Planning Officer.

Since the start of flights to Lahore in 2006, Etihad Airways has carried more than one million passengers on this route.

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Middle East on track for business travel boom in 2013

WAM Abu Dhabi, 13 Feb. 2013 (WAM) — Corporate and meetings business in the Middle East has bounced back from the global economic crisis and looks set to achieve strong growth in 2013, new market data has revealed.

Business travel budgets are once again on the rise and more business people in the region are travelling, according to statistics from research firm YouGov in its latest �Travel Oracle’ report gauging UAE and KSA traveller attitudes and habits.

Report results are supported by the positive 2013 prospects reported by key exhibitors at this year’s Gulf Incentive, Business Travel and Meetings Exhibition (GIBTM), which takes place at the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre (ADNEC) from March 25-27.

Abu Dhabi, Oman and Turkey are all anticipating robust growth in meetings business from 2013 onwards with key enhancements to the infrastructure of each destination, particularly new venues, airports, hotels and convention centres, proving a key growth driver.

YouGov’s oracle found that in 2012, more than two in five travellers reported an increase in business travel budget (42% compared to 35% in 2010 and 41% in 2011). Nearly half of respondents (47%) expected to increase their business travel in the next 12 months.

“These positive market indicators reflect the sentiments of GIBTM exhibitors, who are all anticipating a boost in corporate and meetings business in 2013, both from the region and international markets,” said GIBTM Exhibition Manager Lois Hall.

According to a statement the Oman Ministry of Tourism says Muscat and Salalah have both witnessed a lift in business, meetings and incentives enquiries over the last year, with the thriving local economy driving growth from SMEs.

Improved air connections, the opening of new properties and enhancements to facilities of existing ones, not only in the cities, but in regional locations such as Musandam and Al Jabal Al Akhdar, are set to attract more business in 2013.

In 2016 the OR330 million Oman Convention and Exhibition Centre will open featuring an auditorium seating 3,200 and more than 22,000 square metres of exhibition space.

Meanwhile, Abu Dhabi, the home of GIBTM, is focusing on congress business and in 2012, tourism body TCA Abu Dhabi and its stakeholders won bids for a number of future events. They include 2013 congresses such as the International Conference on Neurology and Epidemiology and the Institute of Travel ‘&’ Tourism conference and in 2015, the 16th World Congress on Tobacco or Health which attracts 2,500 delegates.

Another show exhibitor, Turkey, is also banking on congresses, with Istanbul, which boasts seven purpose-built convention centres, set to stage the World Dental Congress FDI this year with 15,000 delegates; the World Federation of Energy Regulators WFER in 2015 (1,000 delegates); and WFNS World Congress of Neurosurgery in 2017 (10,000) delegates.

Looking ahead, statistics from research house Euromonitor International reveal steady growth increases in business arrivals across four key MENA markets (the UAE, KSA, Egypt and Morocco) between now and 2016. The UAE reported 2.55 million business arrivals in 2012, rising to 2.756 million in 2013 and 3.55 million, while KSA’s figures are 3.17, 3.5 and 4.91 respectively.

“The future for the region’s corporate travel and meetings landscape is bright and we anticipate GIBTM growing in size and stature in line with this vibrant industry,” said Hall.

Now in its seventh year, GIBTM attracts in excess of 2,400 industry professionals annually.

Also confirmed this year is a series of interactive sessions about Business Travel Management hosted by the Association of Corporate Travel Executives (ACTE).

Sessions will include discussions with Chris Pouney regarding his recently released white paper on “Optimising Business Travel in the Middle East”. An interactive panel discussion on “How to Maximise your Middle East Travel Management Programme”. Also an in depth presentation on how business travel and meetings managers can collaborate to leverage consolidated spend in order to create significant time/process efficiencies and cost savings.

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Zayed Foundation, ISESCO Sign MoU

WAM Abu Dhabi, 11th Feb. 2013 (WAM) — Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan Charitable and Humanitarian Foundation, signed today a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (ISESCO).

Signed by Dr Abdulaziz Othman Altwaijri, ISESCO Director General, and Mr Ahmed Shabib Al Dhaheri, the Director General of Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan Charitable and Humanitarian Foundation, the MoU provides for cooperation between the two parties through exchanging expertise with regard to devising strategic plans and developing programs and projects, and through exchanging services as part of strategic planning, offering advice and putting forward propositions likely to advance action and boost performance of both parties. Other areas of cooperation include exchanging publications, visiting each other’s websites, examining their development, and publishing their news on each other’s websites.

Also, by virtue of this memorandum, the two parties will co-organize events likely to promote human and national concepts, foster the social and cultural values, publicize the true image of the Arab-Islamic civilization, encourage the teaching of Arabic as a foreign language, and exchange expertise in the field of university scholarships programs. Likewise, the events that the two parties will co-organize will have as objectives protecting cultural heritage, promoting cultural tourism, celebrating the prominent figures of the Arab-Islamic civilization, and providing support to the educational cultural and social institutions in the Islamic States.

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Israel Changing Magharba Gate Bridge in Jerusalem

JERUSALEM, February 12, 2013 (WAFA) – Work began Tuesday on a section of the controversial Magharba Gate wooden bridge that leads to al-Haram al-Sharif, one of Islam’s most sacred sites, in Jerusalem’s Old City, according to witnesses.

The work is believed to be a prelude to the construction of a more permanent steel bridge that is supposed to eventually replace the wooden bridge.

Palestinians and Arabs in general strongly object to Israel changing the Islamic and historical character of the Old City, particularly the Magharba Gate hill, which will be removed to make way for the steel bridge.

Arab and international outcry over the proposed changes forced Israel to temporarily freeze work on Magharba Gate bridge.

Palestinians say Israel wants to build a wide metal bridge in order to bring police and armory into the yards of al-Aqsa Mosque in case of eruption of violence. They fear that Israelis want to demolish the Islamic site to build a Jewish temple on its ruins.

The Magharba Gate, located above the plaza of the Western Wall, is the only gate Israelis and tourists are allowed to use in order to reach the yards of al-Haram al-Sharif, where al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock are located.

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Peace Now: Israel Approves 90 New Settlement Units

JERUSALEM, February 11, 2013 (WAFA) – Peace Now, the Israeli anti-settlements movement, said the Israeli Defense Ministry plans to build 90 new housing units in the illegal West Bank settlement of Beit El, near Ramallah, media reports said Monday.

The French news agency, AFP, quoted Hagit Ofran, director of Peace Now’s Settlement Watch program, as saying that construction of the housing units will begin within days.

The decision to build the new units was part of a deal between the ministry and settlers that led to the evacuation of nearby Ulpana settlement outpost after an Israeli court had ordered return of the land the outpost was built on to its Palestinian owners.

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Al Bateen airport posts solid traffic growth in 2012

Khaleej Times – 14 February, 2013 – Al Bateen Executive Airport, operated and managed by Abu Dhabi Airports Company (ADAC), on Wednesday announced the results of the full year traffic review for 2012 showing an increase of 11 per cent in aircraft movements recorded in 2011.

Additionally, visiting private aircraft reached a growth of 40 per cent in 2012 compared with 2011. These robust increases in a challenging economic environment demonstrate the success of the airport in attracting corporate and VIP clients to the only dedicated business aviation airport in the GCC region.

Eng. Ahmad Al Haddabi, chief operating officer at ADAC, commented: “The consistent growth in aircraft movement in general, and the substantial increase of visiting aircraft in particular, reflects the airport’s success in attracting business and international customers to the airport. In addition, the overall commercial traffic growth registered at the airport in 2012 is a testament of the airport’s position as key business aviation hub for the region, as more charter companies and aircraft owners choose DhabiJet, Al Bateen’s FBO service, as their preferred base in the region.”

The various prestigious events being held in the Abu Dhabi such as Idex, the World Energy Summit, and Cityscape are also key drivers to the traffic growth at the airport.

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SCTA launches tourism projects in Al-Ula to boost local economy

Arab News – 15 February, 2013 – Prince Sultan bin Salman, president of the Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities (SCTA) and Madinah Gov. Prince Faisal bin Salman visited a number of heritage and archaeological sites in Al-Ula, about 350 km north of Madinah, and inaugurated a series of tourism and antiquities projects aimed at boosting the local economy and creating jobs.

The two princes commenced their tour by inspecting restoration work at the local heritage village being carried out by the SCTA and the Heritage Villages and Towns Development Program. The SCTA carries out this program in collaboration with the Ministry of Municipal and Rural Affairs and local communities.

During his tour of the village, Prince Sultan was briefed on the restoration and cleaning work taking place at a number of houses in the village. Some villagers had also presented their own houses for restoration after learning about the economic benefits for the area.

Following his tour of the village, Prince Sultan announced that the SCTA would allocate immediate funding to accelerate village rehabilitation and development works. He instructed the SCTA to appoint a director in the Al-Ula Tourism and Antiquities Office.

Prince Sultan and Prince Faisal also visited the SCTA’s Al-Hurrah Matal project. They later visited Madain Saleh where Prince Sultan inaugurated the Madain Saleh Development and Rehabilitation Project, which is being carried out by the SCTA with the Madinah governorate.

The Madain Saleh rehabilitation includes establishing infrastructure at the site, constructing a visitor’s center, establishing a Hejaz railway museum and another museum in the Islamic castle on pilgrim routes. There are also plans to establish a number of service facilities, and erect information signboards for visitors on the site and its history.

Prince Sultan also inaugurated the Ekma and Al-Kheraiba site projects.

The SCTA has completed the Hejaz Railway Station building restoration, located in the northwest part of Madain Saleh, which comprises 16 stone buildings and is considered the second largest station after Madinah.

The Ekma and Al-Kheraiba sites, located in Al-Ula Municipality, are the most important archaeological sites in the area. The SCTA has recently finalized their rehabilitation and development. The Ekma site is seen as a gold mine for researchers on Al-Ula’s history because of the many Lehyanite inscriptions found there.

Rehabilitation works at the Ekma site include a visitor’s center, stone pathways, a special pathway for disabled people, and a number of signboards on the site’s history and antiquities.

Developmental works in Al-Kheraiba include a visitor’s center, a VIP visitor’s hall, visual presentation hall, a research center, stone pathways, and signboards providing information on the site’s history and antiquities.

Prince Sultan and Prince Faisal were in Al-Ula to take part in a conference on archaeology and tourism. The first session discussed the economic importance of tourism projects, basic tourism potential, development of tourism products, marketing and tourism services in the Kingdom, and the role of tourism beneficiaries in marketing tourism destinations.

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Dubai approves $1.6b island plan with giant ferris wheel

Saudi Gazette – 15 February, 2013 – Dubai gave the go ahead Wednesday to plans for a new $ 1.6 billion island project featuring the world’s largest ferris wheel at its center, as the emirate resumes constructing extravagant projects reminiscent of its boom years.

The emirate is already home to lavish property landmarks such as manmade islands in the shape of palms and the world’s tallest tower, projects which were built using high amounts of leverage and which triggered its 2009 credit crisis.

Dubai’s ruler approved the 6 billion dirham Bluewaters Island development on Wednesday, which includes a 210 meter (688 foot) high ferris wheel, the Dubai Eye. The wheel, which will cost one billion dirhams, is inspired by the 135 meter high London Eye on the River Thames.

State-owned Meraas Holding will develop the Bluewaters project, which will begin construction in April, state news agency WAM said. Building on the Dubai Eye is slated to begin in the second quarter this year.

South Korea’s Hyundai Contracting and Starneth Engineering – whose engineers helped build the London Eye – have been appointed primary contractors for the design and construction of Dubai Eye.

In November, Meraas was chosen to develop a 10-billion dirham complex of five theme parks, including one focused on India’s Bollywood cinema industry, as Dubai bids to boost its tourism sector.

The Gulf Arab emirate, hard hit by the 2008 credit crunch and a property collapse, has seen a gradual recovery in its fortunes thanks to its logistics, trade and tourism businesses. It has also benefited from its safe-haven status amid the Arab Spring revolts in the region.

Large amounts of capital fled Egypt, Tunisia, Syria, Yemen and other Arab countries in search of safe havens after political and economic turmoil erupted in those countries in early 2011.

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UAE tourism revenue set to hit $ 7.5 billion by 2016

Khaleej Times – 15 February, 2013 – The UAE’s hospitality market is geared up to record 67 per cent growth in revenue to $ 7.5 billion by 2016, up from $ 4.5 billion in 2011 as visitor demand gains traction and new hotel supply enhances the existing tourism product, various industry reports suggest.

Tourist arrivals in the UAE are forecast to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 5.3 per cent between 2012 and 2022, with hotel supply also expected to increase from the current 96,992 hotel rooms in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, to a total of 125,383 hotel rooms in 2016.

In 2012, the UAE drew an estimated 10 million tourists. According to a report released by the World Travel and Tourism Council, the UAE accounts for 41 per cent of total investment in the travel and tourism sector in the Middle East. The report also predicted that the volume of investments in the tourism sector in the UAE would grow by seven per cent yearly.

“The UAE’s tourism map is now incredibly diverse. Sharjah and Ras Al Khaimah are building on their own cultural foundations to present a series of unique individual products that, together with Dubai and Abu Dhabi, position the country as a cohesive hospitality hub, with varied appeal,” said Mark Walsh, Portfolio Director, Reed Travel Exhibitions, which is organising the Arabian Travel Market, or ATM, 2013.

The ATM 2013 road show series concluded in Dubai recently after a two-week calendar of educational seminars in Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, Jordan, Lebanon and Oman.

The road show in Dubai, which was the largest event with 140 delegates, comes at a time when the UAE tourism receipts are forecast to surge over the next few years. The region is now entering a new era of stability and increased connectivity and expansion of existing infrastructure, ATM organisers said in a statement.

While Alpen Capital’s GCC Hospitality Industry Report forecast a 67 per cent growth in UAE hospitality market revenues by 2016, a recent Dubai Chamber study, supported by statistics published by Business Monitor International, puts UAE tourism sector growth at 6.5 per cent per annum between 2011-2021, with visitors from the Middle East, Europe and Asia Pacific the key source markets. Employment growth prospects for the sector are also buoyant, with a forecast annual real growth rate of around 4.1 per cent.

Dubai continues to build on impressive performance levels by recording occupancy of 80 per cent in the first 11 month of 2012, up two per cent on 2011, said Ernst & Young’s 2012 Middle East Hotel Benchmark Survey.

Dubai International Airport recorded total passenger traffic in the first 11 months of 2012 at 52.3 million travellers, up 13.1 per cent against 2011, with passenger numbers forecast to reach 56.5 million in 2012, and 98 million by 2020.

Abu Dhabi has recorded similarly buoyant figures with 2012 another record year according to the Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority (TCA Abu Dhabi), which revealed that in 2012 it welcomed 2.3 million hotel guests to the emirate’s hotels and hotel apartments, representing a 13 per cent rise on 2011 figures. Hotel revenues for the same period also increased by six per cent to $ 1.261 billion.

According to Reed Travel Exhibitions, Ras Al Khaimah’s plans to position itself as a nature-focused tourism destination are gaining momentum. By 2021, the emirate expects around 20 per cent of its GDP to be generated by tourism-related activities.

Oxford Business Group said Ras Al Khaimah is aiming to 10,000 rooms by 2016 with a $ 218 million commitment to tourism development from the government. “Local government investment into infrastructure, private sector investment into creating world-class attractions, and major route expansion by the two national carriers is a three-way strategy that is paying dividends for the UAE tourism industry,” said Walsh.

The ATM 2013 has grown to become the largest showcase of its kind in the region and one of the biggest in the world.

New to the 2013 event, ATM is launching the Digital and Technology Day focusing on online travel developments and showcasing headline speakers from across the industry. Taking place again this year is the New Frontiers Award, which was created to recognise outstanding contributions to tourism development in the face of overwhelming adversity.

Industry Careers Day will wrap up the week providing the opportunity for visitors looking to make a career move to meet with the exhibitors’ HR contacts looking for their next recruit.

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Etihad Airways increases Pakistan flights

Khaleej Times – 15 February, 2013 – Etihad Airways, the national airline of the UAE, has increased its flights to the Northern city of Lahore from seven to 11 a week offering passengers more convenient travel options.

With the addition of the new services, Etihad Airways will now offer 27 weekly flights from four destinations in Pakistan which, along with Lahore, include Karachi, Islamabad and Peshawar. The additional services will be operated by A320 aircraft fitted with 16 Pearl Business Class seats and will increase capacity by 21 per cent on the route.

These services also improve the number of connections over the airline’s Abu Dhabi hub to more than 500 connections a week (representing an increase of 20 per cent) to a number of key destinations in the GCC and Europe.

“The addition of the new flights will further strengthen commercial and cultural ties between Pakistan and the UAE and will lead to continued strong growth in traffic flows between Lahore, Abu Dhabi and beyond to many key destinations across our global network,” said Kevin Knight, Etihad Airways’ Chief Strategy and Planning Officer.

Since the start of flights to Lahore in 2006, Etihad Airways has carried more than one million passengers on this route.

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Mideast business travel all set for robust growth in ’13

Khaleej Times – 15 February, 2013 – Corporate and meetings business in the Middle East has bounced back from the global economic crisis and looks set to achieve strong growth in 2013, new market data has revealed.

Business travel budgets are once again on the rise and more business people in the region are travelling, according to statistics from research firm YouGov in its latest ‘Travel Oracle’ report gauging UAE and KSA traveller attitudes and habits.

Report results are supported by the positive 2013 prospects reported by key exhibitors at this year’s Gulf Incentive, Business Travel and Meetings Exhibition (GIBTM), which takes place at the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre (Adnec) from March 25-27.

Abu Dhabi, Oman and Turkey are all anticipating robust growth in meetings business from 2013 onwards with key enhancements to the infrastructure of each destination, particularly new venues, airports, hotels and convention centres, proving a key growth driver.

YouGov’s oracle found that in 2012, more than two in five travellers reported an increase in business travel budget (42 per cent compared to 35 per cent in 2010 and 41 per cent in 2011). Nearly half of respondents (47 per cent) expected to increase their business travel in the next 12 months.

“These positive market indicators reflect the sentiments of GIBTM exhibitors, who are all anticipating a boost in corporate and meetings business in 2013, both from the region and international markets,” said GIBTM Exhibition Manager Lois Hall.

According to a statement the Oman Ministry of Tourism says Muscat and Salalah have both witnessed a lift in business, meetings and incentives enquiries over the last year, with the thriving local economy driving growth from SMEs.

Improved air connections, the opening of new properties and enhancements to facilities of existing ones, not only in the cities, but in regional locations such as Musandam and Al Jabal Al Akhdar, are set to attract more business in 2013.

In 2016 the OR330 million Oman Convention and Exhibition Centre will open featuring an auditorium seating 3,200 and more than 22,000 square metres of exhibition space.

Meanwhile, Abu Dhabi, the home of GIBTM, is focusing on congress business and in 2012, tourism body TCA Abu Dhabi and its stakeholders won bids for a number of future events. They include 2013 congresses such as the International Conference on Neurology and Epidemiology and the Institute of Travel & Tourism conference and in 2015, the 16th World Congress on Tobacco or Health which attracts 2,500 delegates.

Another show exhibitor, Turkey, is also banking on congresses, with Istanbul, which boasts seven purpose-built convention centres, set to stage the World Dental Congress FDI this year with 15,000 delegates; the World Federation of Energy Regulators WFER in 2015 (1,000 delegates); and WFNS World Congress of Neurosurgery in 2017 (10,000) delegates.

Looking ahead, statistics from research house Euromonitor International reveal steady growth increases in business arrivals across four key MENA markets (the UAE, KSA, Egypt and Morocco) between now and 2016. The UAE reported 2.55 million business arrivals in 2012, rising to 2.756 million in 2013 and 3.55 million, while KSA’s figures are 3.17, 3.5 and 4.91 respectively.

“The future for the region’s corporate travel and meetings landscape is bright and we anticipate GIBTM growing in size and stature in line with this vibrant industry,” said Hall. Now in its seventh year, GIBTM attracts in excess of 2,400 industry professionals annually.

Also confirmed this year is a series of interactive sessions about Business Travel Management hosted by the Association of Corporate Travel Executives (ACTE).

Sessions will include discussions with Chris Pouney regarding his recently released white paper on “Optimising Business Travel in the Middle East”. An interactive panel discussion on “How to Maximise your Middle East Travel Management Programme”. Also an in depth presentation on how business travel and meetings managers can collaborate to leverage consolidated spend in order to create significant time/process efficiencies and cost savings.

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Al Hamli is Arab Tourism 2013 ambassador

Khaleej Times – 15 February, 2013 – The Arab Centre for Tourism Media has named Dr Ghaith Al Hamli of the UAE as ambassador of Arab tourism for 2013 in recognition of his distinguished contributions. Media professionals have chosen Al Hamli for acting as a role model for the ambitions Arab youth.

The centre announced winners of the Arab Tourism Media Awards on Wednesday in Dubai where the UAE scooped two other honours: the 3,000-room Gloria Hotel, the largest hotel in the Arab world, bagged the best Arab family hotel 2013 and Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world, won the best Arab tourism landmark.

An award-giving ceremony will be staged in the Egyptian capital, Cairo, next week. The awards aim to recognise institutions and individuals for developing and advancing Arab tourism industry.

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UAE to participate in Arab Media Tourism Forum in Egypt

Khaleej Times – 11 February, 2013 – The UAE is participating in the 5th edition of ‘Arab Media Tourism Forum’ in Cairo later this month.

The event themed ‘We meet to rise up’, is participated by six Arab news Agencies in addition to 50 journalists and 48 newspapers representing 17 countries including UAE, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, Sultanate of Oman, Yemen, Jordan, Palestine, Iraq, Tunisia, Sudan, Algeria, Morocco, Mauritania and Egypt plus representatives of five TV stations from Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Lebanon.

Organised under the patronage of Ministry of Tourism of Egypt, the forum runs from Feb 23 to 27.

Hussain Al Mannai, Chairman of the Arab Centre for Tourism Media, Chairman of Emirates Centre for Tourism Media said that the UAE delegation is comprised of representatives from the Emirates News Agency (WAM), Alittihad, Al Khaleej, Al Bayan newspapers, Abu Dhabi radio and TV. They will be honored on the occasion of winning the ‘Mashaweer’ program, the ‘Best Arab Tourism program’ title.

He pointed out that during this glittering media gathering there will be an introductory presentation on UAE’s bid to host Expo 2020 in Dubai under the slogan ‘Connecting Minds, Creating the Future’. In case the UAE wins the bid, it will be the first time the Expo will be held in the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia.

He added that the forum is considered as one of the most important Arab stations to support the initiative of Egyptian Tourism 2013 and supporting UAE to host the World Expo 2020 in Dubai.

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Yemen to partake in Milano Ex. for tourism & travel in Italy

Yemen News Agency – 12 February, 2013 – Yemen is participate in Milano Exhibition for tourism and travel in its annual session, which will start its activities on Wednesday in the Italian city of Milano.

Minister of Tourism Qassim Sallam, head of Yemen’s delegation, told Saba upon departing Sana’a Tuesday that Yemen will participate in the exhibition with a large pavilion containing promotional items, which includes the tourist films , books, brochures and maps as well as a presentation on Yemeni handicrafts in order to transfer the true picture of Yemen through its heritage ,civilization and picturesque tourist landscapes.

The minister pointed out that Yemen’s delegation includes a number of businessmen and travel and tourism agencies, who will conclude agreements with travel and tourism exporters to bring European tourists to visit tourist areas in Yemen.

He stressed that the Ministry of Tourism is keen to participate in such international exhibitions in order to revive tourism in Yemen.

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Flydubai expands in Pakistan

Khaleej Times – 12 February, 2013 – Flydubai will expand operations in Pakistan by adding two new destinations — Multan and Sialkot. Flights to the north-eastern city of Silkot, and central Pakistan city Multan will operate three times a week from March 13, 2013 and March 14, 2013, respectively.

Flydubai CEO Ghaith Al Ghaith said: “Our flights to Karachi have been busy since operations began in June 2010. With a significant number of expatriates living in the UAE, and established trade links, we expect these new destinations to be equally successful as people seek affordable fares between our nations.”

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SCTA to develop Islamic sites

Arab News – 12 February, 2013 – Prince Sultan bin Salman, president of the Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities, yesterday announced SCTA’s plan to develop historical Islamic sites in the Kingdom, including those in Makkah and Madinah.

Addressing the First Conference of “Archaeology and Tourism in Al-Ula: Challenges and Aspirations,” he said the project would be carried out in consultation with Islamic scholars and archaeologists.

“A number of prominent Islamic scholars have expressed their desire to visit archaeological sites in the Kingdom and last week two members of the Council of Senior Islamic Scholars visited Madain Saleh in Al-Ula,” he said, adding that SCTA would encourage such visits.

Prince Sultan commended Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah and Crown Prince Salman for their support to SCTA’s efforts to preserve the Kingdom’s heritage sites.

“It has a cultural dimension as these heritage sites reflect the great contributions made by the people of Arabian Peninsula to human civilization over the years and the Kingdom’s heritage is part and parcel of world heritage,” the SCTA chief said.

The three-day conference at Taibah University’s Al-Ula campus is organized by the university in association with SCTA. Madinah Governor Prince Faisal bin Salman attended the opening session.

The conference aims at highlighting the cultural role of the people of Al-Ula, review appropriate means of preserving its cultural heritage and discuss practical experience and examples of sustainable development in archaeology and tourism, an SCTA official said.

Prince Sultan described Al-Ula as one of the important Islamic sites in the Kingdom. “We have signed an agreement with the Ministry of Islamic Affairs and Endowments to renovate historical mosques. We have already renovated an old mosque in Al-Ula.”

He said SCTA would work with the Presidency of the Two Holy Mosques to preserve historical Islamic sites and museums under the presidency. He emphasized the cultural, archaeological and economic dimensions of the Kingdom’s tourism development strategy.

Prince Sultan disclosed plans to develop 120 archaeological sites, establish five regional and six local museums, develop existing museums and preserve the Islamic historical sites in Makkah and Madinah as well as those sites related to Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and Caliphs. “We’ll also transform historical palaces and government buildings into cultural centers.”

He said 24 scientific missions, including Saudi and foreign archaeologists, are working in different parts of the Kingdom to explore antiquities.

“We’ll work to enhance citizens’ relations with their heritage and include the topic in the curriculum, conduct national and international heritage exhibitions, encourage private museums and promote heritage villages,” he said while expressing satisfaction over the positive results of Saudi heritage exhibitions in Europe and the United States that attracted more than 1.5 million visitors including archaeologists.

Prince Sultan said SCTA was able to retrieve more than 14,000 pieces of antiques from abroad and 3,000 from inside the Kingdom with the support of government and private agencies. “Many citizens have handed over their artifacts to SCTA in order to take care of them properly,” he pointed out.

The SCTA chief commended Prince Abdul Aziz bin Majed, former governor of Madinah, for his support to the commission’s efforts to preserve historical sites in the region. He congratulated the new Governor Prince Faisal for winning the confidence of the Saudi leadership. “I wish him every success to serve the region as well as its citizens and visitors.”

Dr. Adnan Al-Mazroue, president of Taibah, emphasized the importance of protecting the Kingdom’s cultural heritage and archaeological sites. “Some of the archaeological sites in the Madinah region date back to the Stone Age,” the president said.

Salim Al-Bulwi, supervisor of Taibah University campus in Al-Ula, said 40 research papers would be presented by experts at eight sessions of the conference. The papers will focus on Al-Ula Antiquities and History, Cultural Heritage Resources Management, Urban Heritage and Tourism Development.

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New frontiers for tourism agenda

Oman Daily Observer – 12 February, 2013 – Muscat was the penultimate destination for the ATM 2013 road show, which took place yesterday in the Grand Hyatt Hotel.

Previous road show locations included Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, Jordan and Lebanon with the final event taking place in the UAE.

The Sultanate of Oman is taking a 360-degree look at its tourism product as government investment and private sector interest raises the profile of the country’s diverse geography with a raft of pipeline projects underway from Khasab to Salalah. “The Omani government has allocated $ 39 million to develop tourism sites in Dhofar Governorate this year, as the annual Khareef (monsoon) season attracts increasing numbers of local, regional and international visitors.

“This shift of focus outside of the capital, Muscat, is a clear sign that the Sultanate is powering ahead with a well thought-out and diversified plan for tourism growth,” said Mark Walsh, Portfolio Director, Reed Travel Exhibitions.

Muscat International Airport’s new multi-million dollar terminal is set to open next year, with the capacity to handle 12 million passengers per annum, with the potential for a projected 48 million passengers upon completion of its long term phased expansion programme. To the south of the country, new tourism hotspot Salalah is also preparing for one million passengers each year once it debuts its upgraded airport in 2014.

Both Qatar Airways and Oman Air are launching new services from Salalah in 2013, with the airport recording a 23 per cent rise in passenger traffic to 629,000 travellers in 2012 against 2011.

Oman will have a strong presence at ATM this year. Major exhibitors include the Oman Ministry of Tourism and Oman Air.

Hotel room capacity in the country is forecast to grow at a CAGR of 5.3 per cent over the period 2011 to 2016 and the Sultanate currently has approximately 5,331 rooms — or 7 per cent of GCC expected supply — under development, with some 2,000 hotel rooms ready for business by the end of 2013, according to the Ministry of Tourism.

In Salalah, a Club Med, Mövenpick and Rotana will add a further much-needed 1,158 rooms to the market, with another two five-star hotels and supporting mixed-use facilities in the pipeline as part of the Muriya Tourism Development initiative.

According to Alpen Capital’s 2012 GCC Hospitality Industry Report, released last October, tourist arrivals into Oman are expected to grow at a CAGR of 5.7 per cent, between 2012 and 2022 and the Ministry of Tourism aims to increase the GDP contribution of tourism from 2 per cent in 2011 to around 3.5 per cent in 2015.

Occupancy rates are expected to increase from 53 per cent in 2011 to 58.6 per cent by 2016. Average daily rates are also set to benefit as occupancy rates strengthen, increasing from $ 245 in 2011 to $ 258.9 by 2016. Overall the hospitality market is forecast to grow at a CAGR of 8.6 per cent between 2011 and 2016.

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Qatar Tourism Authority to hold jewellery expo

Gulf Today – 12 February, 2013 – Qatar Tourism Authority announced the tenth anniversary of Doha Jewellery and Watches Exhibition, in a press conference held at the Doha Exhibition Centre (QTA premises).

The tenth Doha Jewellery and Watches Exhibition will cover nearly 15,000 square meters and is expecting to welcome up to 50,000 visitors, as 26 exhibitors with more than 500 jewelry and watch brands have already signed up for the high-profile event running from February 25 and March 3rd.

This reflects an impressive increase of 15% more than last year’s participation, when the exhibition attracted more than 30,000 visitors including those from neighbouring countries such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman and the UAE.

This year and in addition to the regular local and regional exhibitors, some of the world’s most famous international brands joined like Christie’s from London and Matis Jewellery, who are aiming to establish a foothold in the jewelry industry in Qatar.

Speaking at a press conference in the Doha Exhibition Centre, Qatar Tourism Authority (QTA) Chairman Issa Al-Mohannadi said the high profile of exhibitors continued to attract interested and enthusiastic customers from around the region and the world, which has helped made the show one of the most successful in the Gulf and the industry.

“QTA is committed to promoting Qatar as a first-rate destination for business, industry conferences, cultural events, education, sports and leisure, providing world-class amenities and tourism services. This achievement reflects QTA’s mission and ability to hold successful large scale international and regional events in Qatar, whilst underlining QTA’s strategy to support a thriving industry”, he said.

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Iraqi Airways to resume Kuwait flights after 22 years

Saudi Gazette – 13 February, 2013 – Iraqi Airways will resume direct flights to Kuwait from Feb. 16 after a 22-year stoppage due to the Iraqi invasion of the Gulf state, a top Kuwaiti civil aviation official said Tuesday.

“Iraqi Airways will resume flights to Kuwait on Feb. 16 … after the civil aviation authority approved a request” by its Iraqi counterpart, Fawwaz Al-Farah, head of Kuwait’s civil aviation authority, was quoted as saying by the official KUNA news agency.

Iraqi Airways will fly four times a week to Kuwait airport from Baghdad with one direct flight, two via the Shiite holy city of Najaf and one through Arbil in Iraq’s Kurdistan, Farah said.

Kuwait Airways does not operate any flights to Iraq but the private Al-Jazeera carrier has been operating for the past few years, especially to Najaf, which lies south of Baghdad.

Kuwait and Iraq’s national carriers reached an agreement, under which Iraqi Airways has agreed to pay $ 500 million to Kuwait Airways.

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New Saudi heritage firm to promote tourism

Saudi Gazette – 13 February, 2013 – The Council of Ministers decided Monday to have government stake in a joint stock holding company that will be created to develop state-owned heritage buildings as well as to make investments in them.

The session, chaired by Crown Prince Salman Bin Abdul Aziz, Deputy Premier and Minister of Defense, also entrusted the Bureau of Investigation and Prosecution (BIP) to file drug and alcohol smuggling cases, which come under the Unified Customs Law (UCL) of Gulf Cooperation Council states, at local criminal courts.

Minister of Culture and Information Dr. Abdulaziz Khoja said in a statement to Saudi Press Agency (SPA) following the session that the Cabinet approved in principle the request of the Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities (SCTA) for the entry of the state, represented by the Public Investment Fund (PIF), as a partner in the new venture, which is aimed at boosting the heritage hospitality sector.

The Cabinet endorsed the guidelines to be followed in this regard. According to the guidelines, the percentage of the state’s contribution shall be decided after determining the contribution rates of other stakeholders.

Also, the new company shall prepare separate feasibility studies for each heritage project. Participation of local investors shall be taken into account in every project that is found useful, and finally, development of heritage hotels shall be aimed at encouraging domestic tourism and attracting citizens to visit these sites.

Dr. Khoja said that the Cabinet reviewed a report of the Minister of Finance with regard to those drug and alcohol smuggling cases in which final judicial sentences are normally issued by Shariah courts, and the question of the legality of their examination for a second time by the customs committees.

After considering two resolutions of the Shoura Council in this respect, the Cabinet approved that a criminal court shall carry out the penalties prescribed in UCL of Gulf states concerning cases related to smuggling of drugs and alcohol.

The Bureau of Investigation and Public Prosecution shall take charge of filing cases before criminal courts in such cases, and UCL and its by-laws shall be taken into account in dealing with public criminal petitions.

The Cabinet reviewed the recently concluded Cairo Islamic summit and voiced the Kingdom’s hope that its outcome would help realize the aspirations of the Islamic Ummah and strengthen joint Islamic work.

It commended the valuable implications of the speech of Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah at the summit and praised the efforts of Egypt, led by President Mohamed Morsi, to make the summit a success.

The Cabinet noted that the summit covered all major issues facing the Muslim world with due prominence to their political, economic and humanitarian dimensions.

Dr. Khoja said that the Cabinet also reviewed the outcome of the 3rd ministerial meeting on United Nations Security Council reform, held in Italy under the title of “New approaches to reforming the Security Council.”

The Council emphasized the significance of the road map for the Security Council reforms presented by the Kingdom at the conference, and that relies on six fundamental principles, including transparency and a clear vision while addressing the reform issue.

The Cabinet approved the Memorandum of Understanding signed between Riyadh’s King Abdulaziz Public Library and the University of Beijing to establish a branch of the library at the university.

It also endorsed a cooperation agreement between King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology and the National Space Agency of Kazakhstan in the exploration and use of outer space for peaceful purposes.

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Riyadh to host fifth hotel summit

Saudi Gazette – 13 February, 2013 – Saudi Arabia’s tourism and hospitality sector is expected to witness a 54 percent rise in the number of hotels with 25,398 rooms in the construction pipeline by 2020.

The industry, which is currently worth $ 15 billion, is expected to be worth $ 65 million by 2020. It is also the second largest industry in Saudi Arabia after oil and gas. Surveys show spending in the Kingdom has risen by 6.5 percent in 2012 and this increase is expected to continue at a rate of 5.1 percent annually until 2022.

Saudi Arabia and UAE remain the two largest hospitality markets in the region, and forecasts indicate that the number of tourist arrivals will grow by a year-on-year average of 6 percent until the end of 2015.

In keeping with this exponential growth, the Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antique (SCTA) has recently announced plans to establish a Tourism Development Company in collaboration with private sectors as well as an integral program for financing tourism projects in the Kingdom.

Against this backdrop, the 5th Kingdom Hotel Expansion Summit will take place in Riyadh on May 26-27, 2013.

“The Commission’s participation at this event underlines our commitment to support initiatives which highlight the challenges facing hotel expansion in the Kingdom,” said Dr. Salah Al Bakheet, Vice President of SCTA for Tourism Investment and Development Sector, and a keynote speaker at the summit.

“We will discuss the Kingdom’s ever growing hospitality sector, highlighting the many new projects and hotel chains which are now located across the country. This comes as a result of the new regulations, hotel classification systems and censorships. In the next two years, it is expected that 233 new hotels with 85,620 rooms at a total investment of SR10,229 billion will be completed,” he added.

The summit provides the ideal platform for hoteliers and international hospitality suppliers to meet in a focused environment and establish potentially lucrative business relationships.

Up to 300 of the Middle East’s leading hoteliers, architects, developers, consultants, government bodies, ministries, development authorities and solution providers are gathering to harness Saudi Arabia’s hospitality potential.

Organized by leading French business information group naseba, the summit aims to highlight the ever expanding hospitality industry in the Kingdom and the government efforts to take this sector to the next level.

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Immigration to speed up at Dubai airport

Khaleej Times – 11 February, 2013 – As Dubai airport fully unveils its Dh12-billion dedicated A380 superjumbo terminal, the crush of passengers it has brought in has contributed to long immigration wait times, the CEO said.

The new 20-gate Concourse A, part of Terminal 3, has been open since January 2 but declared fully launched on Sunday. It has clearly already benefitted sole resident Emirates airline, which on Sunday projected this year’s profits would jump between 18 and 20 per cent on the past year. The company, which with 31 A380 planes currently has the largest fleet of A380s in the world, posted a Dh1.5 billion profit in the year to March 2012.

Dubai Airports chief executive Paul Griffiths said he wanted to eliminate the “fairly backwards process in the whole airport experience in airports all over the world”, acknowledging there was an issue with the length of wait times in Dubai — even if those passing through have the opportunity to shop along some of the 11,000 square metres of retail space.

A380s can carry upwards of 500 people, while the concourse is expected to handle 19 million passengers annually — as a total of the airport’s projected 66 million this year.

Passengers have to take a metro for several minutes to get from the concourse, which took almost 160 million man hours to build and soaked up 930,000 metres cubed of concrete, to Terminal 3 where they can clear customs.

While there appeared to be last minute tinkering happening as media toured the grand facility, billed by anchor tenant Emirates airline president Tim Clark as “the most unique air terminal in the world (with) one of the largest first class lounges in the world”, the airport says it is only the hotel which is still undergoing construction.

But it was not all smooth sailing. “We’ve now got a situation of course with the large numbers of people arriving in A380s we are getting an increase number of passengers arriving at the immigration points,” Griffiths said.

The airport was providing training to the rigorous border control staff to enable them to process people faster, while it was pushing ahead with plans to increase numbers of e-gates through which all those with microchip passports can be processed.

“We’re very aware of the fact it is an issue.” Griffiths said there was a Dh100 million spend on border security processes, “which should speed up the immigration dramatically”.

While uncertain of what the average wait time was, Griffiths said he wanted to get it down to zero. “There’s only two places in the world where you get queues and that’s the post office and the airport. I’d be delighted to hand the monopoly on queuing on to the post office.”

Meanwhile, Clark jubilantly discussed plans for future Emirates ventures — and profits — including expanding into India and China. Clark said: “I think it is a great shame that we don’t service India better.”

He said current restrictions from the Indian government meant Emirates service was not what it could be, which left the large numbers of passengers wanting to get outside the major Indian centres stuck on smaller carriers with less capacity at higher prices.

There were talks planned between the UAE and Indian governments to look at the issue, he said. “I’m sure that will probably happen within the next few months, with a bit of luck.”

On a less optimistic note, he said the airline was still having problems with oil prices, which were sitting around the $ 110-115 mark per barrel — much higher than necessary for a reasonable profit and revenue for research. “It is a pity…because the oil prices do not need to be where they are today, they should be at about $ 70.”

Fluctuating oil costs accounted for up to 42 per cent of costs. “Not many business are faced with this level of what you could almost say are uncontrollable costs.”

Were prices more reasonable, “I think you would see the global economy starting to move”, he said.“The oil prices are in the hands of too few people and that should be dealt with.”

However, the global economy did not appear to have taken a toll on the emirate’s aviation industry with the 11-storey concourse a totem pole to luxury. Included are direct access boarding for first and business class passengers to the upper decks of the A380, a ‘quiet room’ on the first class floor where passengers can hide from airport announcements, and fresh cut flowers in the first and business class lounges which are replaced every four days, and serviced continually by workers spraying rejuvenating water.

“The appointments are fantastic, no expense has been spared, we have had world class designers do it for us,” Clark said.

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Egypt farm bank launches Islamic services

CAIRO, Feb 12 (NNN-MENA) – Egypt’s main agricultural bank is launching Islamic retail services this month to meet increasing demand in rural areas, a bank official said.

“We are launching sharia-compliant retail banking this month with a portfolio of 50 million pounds ($7.5 million) and can raise that to 100 million” next June based on demand, said Abdel Rahman Al Kafrawi, head of Islamic transactions at Principal Bank for Development and Agricultural Credit (PBDAC).

Government-owned PBDAC will offer retail finance at 18 Islamic branches through murabaha and musharaka structures, he said. The bank has offered Islamic finance on a very small scale for several decades at 10 branches, and in 2012 won the central bank’s approval to raise the number to 24 branches.

Al Kafrawi said the new Islamic services would cover areas including purchases of durable goods and agricultural equipment, the setting up of clinics and medical laboratories, and the financing of education fees.

The bank has 1,210 branches across the country. Its chairman, Muhsin Al Batran told reporters last September that the bank would expand its Islamic services since a considerable proportion of farmers declined to take conventional loans because of Islam’s ban on interest.

Of 5.8 million farmers who owned land, only about a million had borrowed from the PBDAC, he said, adding that the bank aimed to raise this to 3 million by increasing Islamic finance and other services.

The share of Islamic business in the bank’s overall business is likely to remain tiny for the foreseeable future, however, as its total credit portfolio was 26 billion pounds in June.

Islamic finance is expected to grow in Egypt after the overthrow in 2011 of Hosni Mubarak, whose government neglected the industry for ideological reasons. Egypt’s new government, led by an Islamist president, aims to expand the industry.–

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Muscat festival of Omani culture

MUSCAT, Oman Feb 14 (NNN-ALARAB) – The month long festival, featuring a celebration of Oman’s traditional arts, culture and heritage has always served as a grand cultural and touristic showpiece of Oman.

The capital city, with its lovely, cool and salubrious weather, is all set to wear a new look during the month-long festival, which is also the biggest cultural event in the Gulf with tourists from the region, as well as from different parts of the world planning their trips to coincide with it.

Apart from displaying the rich Omani culture and heritage, Sultan bin Hamdoon Al Harthi, chairman of Muscat Municipality, said, “This edition of Muscat Festival is focused on education, fun, and entertainment for youth. Showcasing both Omani and international culture and heritage, the festival will also witness some of the greatest cyclists from the Tour de France competing in the fourth edition of the gruelling six-day Tour of Oman race.”

Other highlights include a feast for the taste buds at the Oman Food Festival alongside the Festival of Lights, Architects of Air, Muscat Art Festival, Arabic concerts, plays and several entertainment activities that will appeal to the whole family.

In addition to the Al Naseem Gardens, among the new venues are Al Amerat Park and Sultan Qaboos Sports Complex. While the Tour of Oman will be held in different locations across the country. The Muscat Art Festival will be held at various venues, many of which are located in the capital.

Saif Al Rashidi, director-general of information and external relations for Muscat Municipality, noted, “Efforts have been made to include many new ideas.”

Events at Al Amerat Park will be held between Jan 30 and Feb 28. Although the park’s opening hours are from 4:00 pm to 11:00 pm on weekdays, it will remain open until midnight on weekends.

The Oman Heritage and Culture Village will be set up at the Al Amerat Park this year. Entertainment shows, pyrotechnics, fireworks, laser shows, carnivals, and an international circus will be part of the daily shows.

While the International Festival for Arts, Heritage, and Creativity will be held from Feb 1 – 23, the Muscat International Folklore Festival will be held from Feb 19 – 28. Entry to the park is free.

With an entrance fee of 200 baiza for adults and 100 baiza for children over the age of 12 years, the events at Al Naseem Gardens will be held between Jan 30 and Feb 28. The venue’s opening hours are the same as those of Al Amerat Park. The major highlight of the venue is the International Shopping Fair, which has attracted participants from numerous countries.

The Muscat International Folklore Festival will be held from Feb 19 – 28 between 6:30 pm and 9:30 pm. Exhibitions, lectures, debates, workshops, and lots more will be presented between Feb 2 and 28.

Arabic calligraphy, Islamic art, architecture, photography, lectures, works by Salvador Dali, glassworks, workshops, art books, and the Ibex project will all be found at the Muscat Art Festival.

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Qatar’s core sector spending a fillip to tourism sector

The Peninsula – 09 February, 2013 – Qatar’s $ 65bn commitment to infrastructure development has proved to be a major incentive for long term investment by leading hospitality providers, according to market analysts.

The country is entering a sustained decade-long period of development and growth, with over 85,000 new hotel rooms set to bolster current inventory by 2022. Alpen Capital’s October 2012 GCC Hospitality Industry Report highlighted the ‘slow but steady’ growth in tourism receipts, which saw a compound annual growth rate (CAGR)of 15.9 percent in the period 2002 to 2011.

“Tourist arrivals in Qatar are expected to rise at a CAGR of 1.9 percent between now and 2022, and the government’s $ 65 billion commitment to infrastructure development has proved to be a major incentive for long term investment by leading hospitality providers,” said Mark Walsh, Portfolio Director, Reed Travel Exhibitions.

In 2012, the capital added to its upscale inventory, with the opening of the St Regis Doha and new InterContinental Doha The City, as well as the country’s first Hilton hotel. A second Four Seasons hotel is currently under development and budget brands are making an appearance with the popular Premier Inn chain debuting on the city outskirts later this year. Currently the luxury segment accounts for between 66 and 78 percent of supply while, mid-scale and economy supply is between 22 and 34 percent.

Qatar has an exceptionally strong presence at this year’s Arabian Travel Market (ATM) show with major organisations such as Qatar Tourism Authority, Katara Hospitality and Qatar Airways all participating.

“Katara Hospitality alone has more than 4,000 hotel rooms already operational or under construction and with the introduction of more and more budget properties, Qatar is committed to the development of a well-rounded tourism product in line with the 2030 national vision for a sustainable economy,” he added.

Hotel room capacity in Qatar is expected to grow at a CAGR of 9.1 percent over the next five years, hitting $ 1.1bn by 2016, up from $ 0.6bnin 2011. The country’s national carrier, Qatar Airways will launch six new routes in H1 2013, growing its current network to 123 key destinations. Ground has also been broken on the new $ 14m Doha metro network.

“As world-class infrastructure projects gives rise to new economic opportunity, with tourist arrivals expected to reach as a many as 3.7m by 2022, Qatar will see a transition from a predominantly business-led visitor profile to a stronger business-leisure mix with the football World Cup a milestone marker for the hospitality and tourism industry,” commented Walsh.

The line-up for this year’s Arabian Travel Market will once again bring together the UNWTO regional tourism ministers’ conference and the WTM Vision forum, which will focus on Middle East travel trends and the online travel market.

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Gambia Educates Stakeholders On Responsible Tourism

12 February 2013 – FOROYAA Newspaper – The principal of the Institute of Travel and Tourism in the Gambia (ITTOG) has defined tourism as activities of persons traveling to and staying in places outside their usual environment for not more than one consecutive year for leisure, business and other purposes. He called on communities who are blessed with eco-tourism facilities to professionally harness them and promote tourism while creating employment, improving livelihoods and thus fostering unity amongst the community.

Sheikh Tijan Nyang make this lectures at the official opening ceremony of a three-day sensitization training workshop for community members of the COAST project demo-sites, sustainable tourism operators and workers. It also intends to inject responsible tourism knowledge into the nerves of eco-tourism operators within the locality, tourist resorts owners, games and reserves operators within the project demo-sites of Tumani Tenda, Denton Bridge and Kartong.

Held at Tesito Eco-Camp in the Kombo South eco-village of Kartong, the training was organized by the Collaborative Actions for Sustainable Tourism (COAST) Project, a sustainable livelihood project being implemented by the National Environment Agency in collaboration with Gambia Tourism Board on behalf of the Gambia Government in collaboration with Kartong Association for responsible Tourism (KART). At this cross-learning session with people who are at the helm of business, over 25 of them were invited to go through a rigorous curriculum tailored to suit them.

According to COAST project Demo-site coordinator Abubacarr Kujabi, the project aims to demonstrate best practices and strategies to reduce the degradation of marine and coastal environments of trans-boundary significance, and to enhance sustainable tourism practices. The project’s long term goal, he said is to support and enhance the conservation of globally significant coastal and marine eco-systems and associated biodiversity in sub-Saharan Africa, through the reduction of negative environmental impacts which they receive as a result of coastal tourism.

Furthermore, Kujabi revealed that the project is to demonstrate best practices & strategies to reduce the degradation of marine and coastal environments of trans-boundary significance, and to enhance sustainable tourism practices approaches for sustainable tourism sector in Africa. The main activities of the project in Kartong would include promotion of village tours, introduce camping, cross village excursions, sports tourism, promoting/developing craft, bicycle hiring, Gambian home cooking demonstrations, and the training and awareness rising on sustainable environment management in the Gambia’s hospitality and tourism industry.

Senior Programme Officer (SPO) Coastal Zone Management Unit (CZMU) at the National Environment Agency Momodou Jaama Suwareh who chaired the opening ceremony thanked the participants this first of its kind training on responsible tourism for members of the local eco-tourism operators within local communities. Their commitment to training and practice at work, according to him is a testimony that the project will be sustainable and thus meeting its objectives.

This training was coordinated by Lamin Bojang and Daouda Niang senior staff lecturers from ITTOG. These experts on hospitality industry took the local participants through a journey into a planned curriculum including definition of responsible Tourism (RT) and its cons and prons, and its components, various approaches to studying tourism, etc, etc.

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Gambia: 2012 Was Good but the Best Is Yet to Come – Minister

12 February 2013 – The Daily Observer – The minister for Tourism and Culture has said that “2012 was a very good year for the Gambia tourism industry but the best is yet to come”.

Minister Fatou Mass Jobe-Njie was speaking Thursday during a press briefing organised by Ngala Lodge in collaboration with the Gambia Tourism Board on their award from the Trip Advisor Travellers’ Choice Award 2013. The Lodge emerged fourth position in ‘Trip Advisor Travellers’ Choice Award 2013 in the Romance Category.

Answering questions from reporters, Minister Jobe-Njie said the sector’s success in 2012 was due to the support of the stakeholders in the industry. She said they have made 2012 one of the best as the number of arrivals rose by over 51 percent. “And we have seen increases in demand in terms of arrival of aviations,” she remarked.

She continued: “The positive results achieved in 2012 are as a result of His Excellency’s [President Jammeh] support because he is the number one promoter of tourism in the country. He advocates for peace not only in The Gambia but all over the world.” She added that it is because of the peace and tranquillity that exists in the country that people are now looking forward to come to destination Gambia.

“I feel the best is yet to come in the industry because 2013 winter season will be better than 2012 because everybody is eyeing The Gambia for the reason that the country is peaceful and safe,” she stated.

Considering the fact that more visitors are looking forward to coming to The Gambia, the Tourism minister appealed to the private sector to invest in accommodation to avoid the constraint of over booking.

She described the River Gambia as a ‘gem of the country’, saying that the potential for river transportation is not fully exploited. “To sort this out people are needed to invest in cruise ships, water sports facilities among other things in order to make the going around in The Gambia a little more easier,” she remarked. She urged Gambians to invest more in tourism.

The Tourism minister acknowledged and appreciated the efforts of her ministry’s partners as she thanked the aviation, staff of her ministry, Gambia Tourism Board, other stakeholders and the media for making the year 2012 a success.

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Nigeria: Calabar…the Tourist Hub of Nigeria

10 February 2013 – This Day – Cross River has a lot to offer to keep its tourists occupied. Funke Olaode discovered some of its historical destinations and her rich history on her two-day tour of the ancient city of Calabar recently

The ancient city of Calabar has often been described as one of the most beautiful destinations in the world. This is not an overstatement. Drive through the Old Calabar and see the coastal stretch of the once bustling Marina, the European Cemetery, historical landmarks: the conquerors flag at the millennium park, the residency museum, Slave History Museum and Mary Slessor statue on Mary Slessor Avenue.

Truly, there is something exciting about the ancient city. The climate and atmosphere will make visitors feel this is home.

The Millennium Park…

Williams Bassey, is the official tour guide for Cross River State Tourism Development Board. The tour began at National Park also known as Millennium Park which is also referred to as 11/11. The name 11/11 came to being because on 11/11/1945 the Second World War ended. The cenotaph at the park is put in place to commemorate the fallen heroes of First World War of 1914 to 1918 and second world war of 1939 to 1945. Here, names of Nigerians from all regions of the country who enlisted and sacrificed their lives in the First and Second World War were bodily written.

In the year 2000, the name was changed to Millennium Park. At the foot of the cenotaph are the two machine guns used during the Second World War. This is also significant because it is where the Carnival Calabar kicks off every December.

From this spot, THISDAY was taken to another breathtaking historical place, which has 450 years of uninterrupted history with Europeans. One hundred names of those who were significant in the evolution of Cross River State politically and economically were honoured. Among these great men were the famous Eyo Honesty who was very prominent during the Calabar slave trading era, Hogan “kid” Bassey who was made the chief in 1957, Rev. Hope Waddell, the Jamaican Missionary who established Hope Waddell Institute in 1895.

There was also Afi Ekong and Benjamin Adekunle who was in Calabar in 1967. And because of him, many Calabarians were able to see the first helicopter in Calabar because Benjamin Adekunle came in helicopter. The Biafria occupied Calabar in 1967 and with the help of Benjamin Adekunle; Calabar was liberated in that year.

There is also Senator Victor Akan; Okon Arikpo who was Federal Minister of Finance during Gen. Gowon administration, Dr. Samuel Efem Imoke, the father of the incumbent governor of Cross River State, Governor Liyel Imoke, and General Yakubu Gowon also played a key role in the development of Calabar.

Louis Edet, the first inspector general of police, Chief Margaret Ekpo, one of the women who accompanied Azikwe and Awolowo to London to sign Nigeria’s Independence document and Mary Michelle Slessor. The significant thing about Slessor is that she was on the Scottish 10 pounds note with the old Calabar map in the background of that note in Scotland. Joseph Wayas was the first Senate president of Nigeria. These names were chosen because they have identified themselves with Cross River.

The largest map in Nigeria…

The crew also moved to the foot of the largest map in Nigeria. What informed this decision according to Bassey is a way of creating a legacy of Calabar being the first administrative seat of Southern Protectorate. So it is important to leave a legacy to remind visitors and Calabarians that Calabar was actually the seat of government before Lagos. The seat of government according to Bassey was moved from Calabar to Lagos in 1903 when the Calabar Chiefs refused to sign a document for Calabar to become a colony which was gladly signed by King Dosunmu of Lagos. These are some of the legacies past and previous governments have tried to preserve that the seat of government was once in Calabar.

Lord Luggard House…

The Official Residence Area of Lord Luggard where he stayed to administer the Southern Protectorate is still a sight to behold after over 100 years of its existence. This building originally known as government house was prefabricated in Britain in 1884 and erected in old Calabar to accommodate the early British administration of the Niger Coast territory.

And after 1914, it became the official residence of the Old Calabar province and served as ministerial guest house in the 50s. And after the Nigerian civil war, it accommodated offices of the New South Eastern State of Nigeria. The building and its compound was declared a national monument No. 20 in1959 and was renovated by the National Commission for Museum and Monument in 1986.

Calabar has a date with history…

During the era of the Atlantic slave trade Calabar was a major port involved in the transportation of African slaves. The metal plaque at the foot of the largest map has the history from the 13th century to year 2000. This is the evidence that for 450 years, Calabar has had uninterrupted relationship with Europe both in administration and technology.

“We had documented information from 1400 till date as every 100 years of Calabar history is represented here at the foot of the largest map. What is today known as old Calabar was habited by an ethnic community called Ffik Burutu, which migrated from the Middle East through Aruchukwu. And part of Efik Burutu who are back in Aruchukwu still pay homage to Obong of Calabar till today,” said Bassey.

It is also important to know that because of Calabar’s affiliation with Europeans, an important traditional institution such as coronation of Obong of Calabar has never been complete without the Queen of England sending some representatives to be part of such coronation. That is how Calabar continue to relate with Europe. On the metal are some of Calabar traditional institutions and belief systems. Of significant note are the celebrations of marriage of a virgin, age grade, and New Yam festival. Calabar is one of the very few traditional institutions where if a young lady is getting prepared into marriage, she is confined in an institutional marriage setting where she is tutored on how to take care of her home. “When they tell you that the Calabar ladies are special, it is not magical it is because they are given instruction on how to take care of their homes.

Slave History Museum…

Another moving experience in Calabar was the Slave History Museum situated at Marina resorts in Calabar. Here, this reporter was taken round the dark enclave that served as hub of slave transaction that began in 1441. Here, most of the ships that transported slaves from Calabar were British, over 85 percent of these ships belonged to Bristol and Liverpool-based slave merchant. Old Calabar, formerly Duke Town, and creek towns were key hubs in the slave trade from the 16th to 19 centuries.

In this Museum is an artistic impression of how slaves were sold and taken from African coastal areas to the new world. Both males and females were sold to the highest bidder for 10 pounds. According to the tour guide “The slaves were lined in a ship with their heads opposite each other to avoid conspiracy against the slave masters.” In the new world, they were made to work in different types of plantation farms such as tobacco, sugar cane and cotton.

“Those slaves that found themselves in the sugarcane plantations and worked from 6am to 6pm had their mouths padlocked so they would not have a taste of sugarcane throughout their lives. They were given food once in a while. However, those working in the cotton farm were well fed, given cloth to wear. Their legs were also chained so that they wouldn’t be able to run away. According to history, the journey lasted to up to nine or 10 months depending on where they were taken to. Some of them died on the way while some were thrown in the high sea.”

On top of the artistic ship were ginger, palm oil, gun powder and pepper. These ingredients were sold along with the slaves as compensations for slaves who might die on the way.

The exchange room…

Here, the medium of exchange for money in those days brought by the slave masters were wooden mirror, cowries and gin bottles. These were given in exchange for humans.

There was a warehouse where slaves were kept for the slave masters who came and examined their bodies before taking to the auction market for the highest bidder. Here is a point of no return. To add to their pains, hot iron was used as marks on their backs for identification in the new world where they were no longer addressed as slaves but ‘Negro’. It is estimated that 15 percent of the total of over 10 million Africans traded as slaves came through the port of Calabar.

History recorded that these slaves did not emerge from Nigeria alone as it involved other countries: Liberia, Mozambique, Serial Leone and Angola. In the Museum was a portrait of a lady, Harriet Tubman called the ‘Black Moses’ who hailed from Serria Leone that helped slaves to escape to Canada.

Abolition of slave trade…

But reprieve came between 1759 and 1833 when William Wilberforce prevented further importation of slaves in Western India. Granville Sharp went to the British Court in 1772 and declared that no slaves would exist in England and freed over 15,000 slaves before he died. Thomas Clarkson, a clergy gathered the fact to show how many slaves had died before slave trade ended. Lord Mansfield, a barrister moved the motion for the abolition of slave trade.

Slavery was officially abolished on May 1, 1807 by King of England and that is why May 1st was declared as Worker’s Day. England was the first country to abolish slave trade, followed by Abraham Lincoln of America in 1865 and Brazil in 1888. Bishop Samuel Ajayi Crowther, was a slave who came to Nigeria and became the first Anglican Bishop that translated English Bible to Yoruba. Slaves were later liberated back into their various countries.

19th century and expansion of missionary activities in Old Calabar

The 19th century saw the expansion of missionary activities in old Calabar. The famous Ekpe institution was used as traditional policies: the dos and don’ts of the people. 1851 to 1899 saw the arrival and expansion of trading companies, the United African Company (UAC), the Royal Niger Company among others. Actually, 1876 saw the arrival of the Scottish missionary, Mary Slessor who died in 1915. By 1862, the first publication and translation of the New Testament Bible in Efik was done by Rev. Hugh Goldie who had one of the streets named after him and was awarded a doctorate degree. By 1868, translation and publication of the Old Testament Bible in Efik was done by Rev. Alexander Robe.

Old Calabar changed to Calabar in 1904…

Between 1900 and 1950 there were major activities such as the establishment and consolidation of British colonial administration in Old Calabar as well as the expansion of educational and religious institution by the missionaries. The game of football was introduced in Hope Waddell Institute in 1902 by Rev. James Luke. And by 1903, the first Roman Catholic Mass was held in old Calabar. By 1904, the name Old Calabar was changed to Calabar by Sir Walter Egeton. 1908 saw the beginning of the British occupation in Nyala in the Northern Cross River State.

“We have been struggling with electricity in Nigeria for some time now; it would be interesting that by 1940, introduction of electricity in Hope Wadell Training Institution and part of Calabar was put in place. In 1949, Obudu Cattle Ranch which has now become a famous resort for all Nigerians was founded,” recalled Bassey.

Queen Elizabeth II visited Calabar in 1956 and laid a wreath on the grave of Mary Slessor. She was initially buried in Itum in the present Akwa Ibom State but it was generally agreed that she should be exhumed and re- buried in Calabar. So her actual grave is now sited in Calabar. In 1957, Hoggan Kid Bassey won the World Feather Weight Title by beating a Briton which was a big plus for Nigeria.

In 1999, there was an important landmark event when some games of the FIFA under 17 World Cup was held in Calabar and the official commencement of the Calabar Christmas festival as part of the tourism drive of the state.

Calabar now…

Year 2000 was also significant as Cross Rivers State government was able to sustain the urban renewal in Calabar. Officially, Ikom, Ogoja and Obudu were made semi-urban areas. There were also developments of various tourists’ sites in Calabar such as Ikom, Obudu, Abi, and Akangba amongst others. In 2005, the first Obudu Ranch International Mountain Race started.

This year, Cross River held the 8th edition and it has become the largest mountain race in the world. And because of her consistency in Mountain Race, Cross Rivers State was able to win the 2014 world bid. All the mountain race runners from over 50 countries would converge on Calabar in 2014. It is a big plus for the tourism drive of the state. “The reason for coming up with the mountain race is to market and advertise the potential of Calabar. Today, it has paid off.”

Let the Carnival begin…

From 1960s, 70s and 80s, there was a zoo in a place now called the Calabar Garden on Mary Slessor Avenue. The 30 days of Calabar Festival is a period of economic activity for everybody in Calabar. At the background of the adjudication points that visitors have the view of the five official bands performance and get the experience of the carnival. The clean MCC Road is where all major hotels are.

On Mobil Road is where you have the largest adjudication point where massive stands are erected. It is the last route before the last one at the stadium. The Carnival Route of 12 kilometers kicks off at 12 noon and ends at the stadium at 2am the following day.

The official name of the carnival bands are: The Seagull Band, Masta Blasta, Passion 4, Bayside Band and the Freedom Band. Apart from the competing bands, there are non-competing bands. Calabar Urban Development Authority (CUDA) also plays a major role. The band is saddled with sole responsibility to clean up the garbage on the road.

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Cameroon: PM Briefed on Local Chocolate Company

7 February 2013 – Cameroon Tribune – The Director General of the local chocolate producing company, IM. SO.FER. SA, Giovanni Schettino, yesterday, February 7, 2013 briefed the Prime Minister, Head of Government, Philemon Yang on the activities of his company whose Yaounde-based factory employs over 200 people. The company, started in 2005, is the branch of the Italian chocolate producing Ferrero Group.

Giovanni Schettino disclosed after the audience that the company would want to build a bigger factory in 2013. Ferrero Group which is the fourth largest cocoa buyer in the world, has factories in South Africa, Cameroon and India. The Director General of its Cameroonian branch, said the group is committed to improving the living conditions of people in areas where it operates. This is done through training, providing employment and support to social initiatives that promote good healthcare and education for children.

The group sets aside a social fund every year for each country in which it operates for support to social enterprising. Concerning training, the group has been training cocoa farmers in the Centre Region of Cameroon on better ways of producing standard and quality cocoa.

Prime Minister Yang, reportedly saluted the efforts of the chocolate company. This is because the local processing of cocoa into chocolate ties with country’s vision of attaining an emergence status by 2035.

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World to see Azerbaijan’s tourism opportunities at int’l fair

11 February 2013 – TODAY.AZ – “MIRAS” Social Organization in Support of Studying Cultural Heritage and “Heritage Travel” Tourism Company will represent Azerbaijan at an International Black Sea Tourism Fair to be held in Ordu Province, Turkey, starting from February 14 till 17.

The event to be organized by the Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism, Ordu Municipality and the Association of Turkish Travel Agencies (TURSAB) will be a good opportunity for local and foreign participants along with showing tourism potential, hotels and tourism agencies of their countries, to demonstrate music, dances and national cuisine as well.

Azerbaijani delegation will demonstrate tourism opportunities of Azerbaijan by exhibiting printed advertising materials, reflecting the country`s tourism potential.

Ordu is the most suitable city of East Black Sea region by the means of sea tourism. City has sufficient potential for neighbor cities tourism demands by either existing beaches or settlement places interior from shore. Beaches around the Ordu city forms a capacity due to occupy summer demands and occupy daily tourism activities.

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Dancer master to present Azerbaijan in US

12 February 2013 – TODAY.AZ – Azerbaijani dancer, honored Artist Tahir Eynullayev will participate in concert program on the occasion of Novruz holiday in US. The event will be held in Borough Hall, New York, Tahir Eynullayev, teacher of the State University of Culture and Arts said. At the concert, the national Azerbaijani dances will be presented, he added. Azerbaijani dancer also will give master classes to the students, in one of the famous universities of New-York. Tahir Eynullayev represented Azerbaijan also in Great Britain, Sweden, Italy, and Turkey.

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Visa forms accepted for Hanimaadhoo-Trivandrum flights

SunOnline – February 10, 2013 – Island Aviation has said that they have started accepting visa application forms today for those who wish to travel from Hanimaadhoo International Airport to Trivandrum.

Island Aviation’s Head of Administration Ali Nashaath told Sun Online today that the visa application forms will be collected from Island Aviation offices and visas will be arranged within 10 days of submitting the application. He said that the service will also be available from the Island Aviation office in Hanimaadhoo.

“A letter from the doctor is required if you are going for a medical purpose. The documents from certain hospitals are accepted from the Indian Embassy. While they accept IGMH and ADK, it will be difficult for people living there to obtain the documents from Male’. So the Indian High Commission has now allowed documents from the Kulhudhuffushi Hospital, Dhidhdhoo Hospital as well as the Shaviyani Atoll Hospital. Also, a bank statement, a copy of the passport and ID card are required,” said Nashaath.

Even though Island Aviation has previously said that visas will be arranged along with each ticket purchased starting from the third day of flights for those travelling from Hanimaadhoo to Trivandrum, Nashaath said today that visa will only be arranged 10 days after the submission of the application.

The price of a return ticket from Hanimaadhoo to Trivandrum stands at $199 (MVR 3068.58) for the first three months. Fifty-seater dash airplanes have been designated for this route.

Island Aviation has said that they are gaining good support for the Hanimaadhoo Trivandrum sector and added that they anticipate an increase in support once the visa application process is settled.

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Maldives airline’s A320 makes first flight to Gan

SunOnline – February 12, 2013 – A Maldivian flight A320 aircraft has landed in Gan International Airport yesterday for the first time. Aimed for the Chinese New Year, the A320 aircraft flight landed in Gan carrying a large number of tourists and local passengers.

Speaking at Gan International Airport, Island Aviation’s Managing Director Abdul Haaris said that yesterday was a joyful day in the company’s history and that they are planning to hold jet aircraft trips between Male’ and Gan, if they can gather enough support for the sector. He however said that they have not started making scheduled flights from Male’ to Gan.

“This is a very happy day for us, in the life of this company. It is the day we landed our A320 on Gan for the first time. This trip was made due to a large demand from Gan to Male’,” said Haaris.

“We have not yet started scheduled flights for this aircraft. Jet aircraft flights are, in relation to normal flights, very expensive. So if we can’t gain the load, it will not be financially justifiable. We will conduct more jet aircraft flights according to the support we receive from the public,” Haaris said.

When asked if the flights by the new aircraft will have an impact on the fare, Haaris said that they have not planned to bring any changes to the price.

Island Avaition has previously been using the A320 model aircrafts solely for international flights. The aircraft currently has regular flights to Mumbai and Chennai of India, and Dhaka of Bangladesh. The aircraft contains 152 seats, which include 14 business class seats and 138 economy class seats.

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Children’s event held to mark the day the Maldives embraced Islam

SunOnline – February 12, 2013 – Islamic Foundation in cooperation with the National Library has held an event for children on the occasion of the day the Maldives embraced Islam. Various activities to increase religious awareness aimed at children were held at the event which took place at Sultan Park this evening.

Director General of the National Library Ibrahim Shiyam said that it is part of the National Library’s mandate to increase social and religious awareness, and that activities portraying Islamic principles of good discipline were carried out at the event held this evening to mark the day the Maldives embraced Islam.

“We have an agreement with Islamic Foundation to cooperate in conducting various activities. Today’s even consisted of activities such as a religious song program, providing religious information, and activities related to Islamic discipline,” Shiyam said.

The activities included a religious song competition and a poster competition themed ‘the day the Maldives embraced Islam’. Prizes will be presented to the children who win the competitions.

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Special Maldives harbour to serve safari vessels

SunOnline – February 14, 2013 – Tourism Ministry has announced that a designated harbour is to be constructed to serve safari vessels that cater to the tourists in the Maldives. Deputy Minister for Ministry of Tourism Mohamed Maleeh Jamaal told Sun Online today that the harbour is planned to be built under the Fourth Tourism Master Plan.

“Safaris are in need of a good harbour. So far we have not been able to facilitate this. It is included in the fourth master plan, and during our various meetings, the idea is to build a harbour especially for safaris,” said Maleeh.

He said that the current plan is to construct the harbour along with the second phase of the Hulhumale’ development project and that work on the harbour will begin soon. Deputy Minister however did not mention the size of the harbour or the kinds of facilities it will provide. With more than 2500 beds, safari vessels consist of the most number of beds after tourist resorts in the Maldives.

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Haj minister briefs on new e-system for next Haj

Jeddah, Sunday, 29 Rabi Al-Awwal 1434/10 February 2013 (IINA) – Haj Minister Dr. Bandar Bin Mohammad Al-Hajjar met with Pakistan Minister for Religious Affairs Syed Khursheed Ahmed Shah at the Ministry of Haj office here Saturday.

Al-Hajjar informed the Pakistani minister about the Electronic System being introduced this year for Haj 2013, while welcoming him to the annual bilateral ministerial meeting to discuss various issues relating to Haj 1434/ 2013. Shah congratulated Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah, Crown Prince Salman and the Haj Minister and the government for providing excellent arrangements for the Haj 2012. He also praised the Saudi leadership for the constant improvements that have made easy the Umrah and Haj experiences of pilgrims from all over the world.

Numerous issues relating to better services for Hajis were discussed. The Saudi side stressed upon a continuous improvement of the pre-arrival training of Pakistani Hajis. Shah later invited Al-Hajjar to visit Pakistan along with his team and this invitation was gladly accepted. The meeting ended with an exchange of gifts and souvenirs. The Saudi team comprised Deputy Minister. Sahal Sabban, Farooq Bokhari, Chairman, Maktabul Vokala Al-Mawhid, Dr. Rafay Ismail Badr, Chairman, Moassasah Mutiwwify Hujjaj South Asia, and Maj Gen. Ahmad Sambba, Chairman Naqabatus Sayyarat. Also present were three Directors General of the Ministry of Haj from Makkah and Madinah.

The Pakistani team comprised Mohammed Azam Samma, Secretary Ministry of Religious Affairs, Muhammad Naeem Khan, Ambassador of Pakistan, Shehzad Ahmad, Joint Secretary Ministry of Religious Affairs, Aftab A Khokher, Consul General of Pakistan, Syed Abu Ahmad Akif, Director General Haj, Syed Rafeo Bashir Shah, Director Pakistan Haj Mission and Bahrullah Hazarvi, Director in the Ministry of Religious Affairs.

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Sheikh Zayed Mosque among world’s most talked about attractions

Abu Dhabi, Tuesday, 01 Rabi Al-Thani 1434/12 February 2013 (IINA) – Leading travel website, TripAdvisor, has named the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi one of the world’s most talked about attractions. The cultural gem notched up more than 1,400 reviews on the website reported 7days on Monday.

The mosque, which opened its doors to more than 4.6 million visitors and worshippers in 2012 alone, was part of a line-up that included, the Colosseum, the Eiffel Tower, Sydney Harbor, New York’s Central Park and Table Mountain in Cape Town.

“To be included in a list of some of the world’s most renowned attractions, and to be voted there by our visitors, is significant recognition of both the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque’s beauty, the work of everyone involved in promoting it and the appreciation of the culture of Abu Dhabi,” said Yousif al Obaidli, Director of the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque Center.

Abu Dhabi’s most iconic place of worship has been tagged one of the world’s best examples of modern Islamic architecture.

The building boasts 82 domes and over 1,000 columns as well as 24-carat gold gilded chandeliers. The world’s largest handmade carpet adorns the floor while the main hall is decorated by one of the world’s largest chandeliers- 10 meters in diameter, 15 meters in height and weighing twelve tons. Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan founded the mosque which was opened in 2007, it welcomed its first visitors on Eid al Adha of that year. The grounds of the mosque are equally inviting, pools of water and a unique lighting system that uses the rays of the sun to give light at night are among the most talked about features of this attraction. Daily tours are given to offer insight into its founder, the Islamic culture of the building and the construction phase.

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Turkmenistan on road to WTO membership

Centralasiaonline.com 2013-02-11 ASHGABAT – Turkmenistan is reaching out to the outside world. At a January 19 cabinet session, Turkmenistan announced a desire to join the World Trade Organisation (WTO). The country’s leaders say membership will bring Turkmenistan economic success, but analysts warn that major reforms – especially economic ones – will be necessary.

At the session, President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov ordered Deputy Prime Minister Annamukhammet Gochiyev – who is responsible for the economy and finance – to examine the documents and procedures required for joining the WTO and to prepare a suitable proposal to the WTO.

Accession would bring real dividends to the country, Turkmen officials and businesspeople say. “I am pleased that after a long period in which the country has been in self-imposed isolation, its leadership has at last begun to understand the importance and necessity of integration into the world’s economic and political processes,” Annageldy V., an official of the Ministry of Economic Development, told Central Asia Online.

The move would open Turkmen goods to the international market, Zulfiya Rakhimova, a small-scale “shuttle” trader from Dashoguz, said, adding that it would likely please operators of private businesses.

“The history of Turkmen carpets extends for 5,000 years. … They are unique and cannot be repeated,” Rakhimova explained. “But in the countries I have visited, Afghan, Bukhara and Moroccan carpets sell better than ours.”

Turkmenistan’s Vakharman, Garrygyz and Gulyabi melons face the same problem, Rakhimova said. They are sweetier and tastier than but do not sell as well as Uzbek and Tajik melons that are available everywhere, she said. “We could go out into the world market and be more successful,” she said.

The EU opened the door to WTO membership in 2011 when European Commission President José Manuel Barroso unexpectedly extended the invitation during a January 14-15 visit with Berdymukhamedov to discuss EU-Turkmen co-operation and trade of energy resources.

“If it hadn’t been for Barroso, we would not have considered joining the WTO for a long time,” said Charymurad Kodzhiyev, an instructor in economics at the Ashgabat Institute of International Relations.

The EU is willing to give Turkmenistan every kind of support in this matter, Barroso said. “This will increase Turkmenistan’s share in regional and global trade, and will have a positive influence on economic development,” Barroso said in an interview on Turkmen television.

“Western partners, in opening the way for Turkmenistan to enter the WTO, have an interest in finding a partner in the region and in gaining access to energy resources,” Kodzhiyev said. “Berdymukhamedov wants to free himself of his inherited reputation as the leader of an authoritarian country.”

The problem is that WTO membership involves creating a market economy – which Turkmenistan lacks, economic journalist Aleksandr Chelnokov told Central Asia Online. “Instead, the economy follows the same planned model inherited from the USSR.”

“This is the reason why all sectors are lagging behind where they should be,” he explained. “If we are really ready for changes – and if we carry out reforms – then there will be no problem.” Turkmenistan must give more freedom to private businesses and must privatise state-owned businesses, he said.

Major changes are scheduled to be implemented between 2016 and 2020, Dzhakhan Ovlyakuliyeva, from the Turkmen Institute of Strategic Planning and Economic Development, told Central Asia Online.

“The diversification of the economy, the creation of market economic institutions, the expansion of private property and other processes important for membership of the WTO are expected to take place in the second stage of the implementation of the National Programme for the Socio-Economic Development of the Country,” she said of the impending changes.

The main obstacle to Turkmenistan’s full membership to the WTO will be its closed nature, Andrey Suzdaltsev, deputy dean of the department of world economics and politics of the Higher School of Economics (Moscow), said in an interview with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL).

“But everything in the world is changing,” he said. “In Turkmenistan, they too must recognise that, without openness and free market relations, there will be no integration. And without integration into world processes, the country cannot develop its own economy and implement its social programmes.”

Accession to the WTO can be a long and difficult process. Tajikistan applied in 2001 and will become a full member March 2. A country first acquires observer status, to familiarise itself with the organisation’s rules and how it functions. Later, a working group will be formed and negotiations will begin. During this process, the WTO will review the country’s economic capacities – particularly its foreign trade processes – and the country and the WTO will discuss specific terms of accession.

“This does not frighten us,” Mamedkuli Raziyev, one of the members of a state commission set up to study entry into the WTO, told Central Asia Online. “We shall travel the same road that Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova and Russia have taken before us to become full members of the WTO.”

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