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11 Feb, 2013

Malaysia Reports 61% Growth in Visitors from Iraq

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 11 February 2013 (30 Rabee’ al-Awwal 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.

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.


Malaysia Reports 61% Growth in Visitors from Iraq

Penang, 3 February 2013: Malaysia has reported a remarkable 61% increase in visitors from Iraq in 2012, along with significant growth in arrivals from other Islamic countries such as Bangladesh, Saudi Arabia, Kazakhstan, Indonesia and Brunei.

Final visitor arrival figures for 2012 published on the Tourism Malaysia website showed that Iraqi visitor arrivals rose from 13,568 in 2011 to 21,939 in 2012. Visitors from Indonesia were up 11.6% to 2,382,606 and Brunei, up 1.5% to 1,258,070. Other arrivals figures were thus:

2012 2011 % change
Bangladesh 86,465 65,603 31.8
Saudi Arabia 102,365 87,693 16.7
Kazakhstan 20,188 17,462 15.6


Overall, Malaysia posted an impressive overall tourism growth in 2012, capping off a string of tourism accolades that placed the nation in the global limelight. Tourist arrivals rose to 25,032,708 compared to 24,714,324 in 2011, registering a growth of 1.3 percent. Meanwhile, receipts climbed to RM60.6 billion compared to RM58.3 billion the previous year, which was an increase of RM2.3 billion or 3.9 percent.

“I am extremely happy that the tourism industry has consistently registered growth year after year. I believe this is largely due to the Government’s strong support in recognizing tourism as an important economic driver as well as the concerted efforts of our trade and media partners to market and brand Malaysia as the most preferred tourist destination,” said Minister of Tourism Dato’ Sri Dr. Ng Yen Yen.

Under Malaysia’s Economic Transformation Programme (ETP), tourism was identified as one of the 12 National Key Economic Areas (NKEA) to drive the nation’s economic growth. Since then, a number of tourism development projects have been put in place in order to achieve 36 million tourist arrivals and RM168 billion tourism receipts by 2020.

Among the tourism initiatives undertaken last year were the physical transformation of the Bukit Bintang-Kuala Lumpur City Centre to improve the shopping experience, the opening of several new tourist attractions including Asia’s first Legoland, as well as the hosting of several business and international events.

To further capitalize on Malaysia’s consistent tourism growth as well as the expected surge of tourists to the Asia Pacific area over the next few years, Malaysia is embarking on an intensive promotional campaign this year that will culminate in the Visit Malaysia Year 2014 (VMY 2014) when the nation welcomes 28 million tourists.

“We are on track towards meeting our long term targets and we hope that the VMY 2014 and the promotional campaign this year will significantly boost our tourism performance,” continued Dato’ Sri Dr. Ng Yen Yen.

Just two weeks earlier, Prime Minister Dato’ Sri Mohd Najib Tun Abdul Razak launched the VMY 2014 promotional campaign at the Bukit Jalil Stadium, Kuala Lumpur, during which he reiterated that VMY 2014 is a national mission to be undertaken by everyone including the rakyat.

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Funds To Maintain Archaeological Sites In Jordan

JORDAN, Feb 4 (NNN-PETRA) – The Cabinet has approved a decision to allocate 20 per cent of entry fees to the Kingdom’s archaeological sites for maintenance and development, Minister of Tourism Nayef Al Fayez said on Sunday. The archaeological sites need regular maintenance, Fayez said, adding that previously there were no financial allocations for the required work.

He noted that all revenues generated from the entry fees used to be sent to the Ministry of Finance

Last year, revenues generated from entry fees exceeded JD11 million, according to the ministry’s figures.

Fayez said the Cabinet decision would help not only maintain the sites, but also improve services for visitors, which is part of the country’s tourism strategy.

In addition, the 2011-2015 tourism strategy aims at increasing tourism receipts to JD4.2 billion in 2015.

Components of the five-year strategy include marketing and promotion, product development, labour market development and improving the tourism environment.

In the product development area, the strategy seeks to increase air travel capacity into Jordan by 20 per cent, complete 20 new demand-driven tourism infrastructure projects, and approve and classify 100 per cent of hotels and 80 per cent of restaurants under a national classification scheme.

According to latest official figures, the Kingdom’s tourism revenues rose by 15.3 per cent in the first 11 months of 2012 compared with the same period in 2011.

Figures showed that revenues rose to JD2.2 billion from JD1.9 billion in the Jan-Nov period of 2011.

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Dubai a favoured destination for Middle East tourism

Khaleej Times – 02 February, 2013 – The revolts that began in Tunisia at the end of 2010 and spread across the Middle East and North Africa had a devastating impact on tourism, but not everyone in the region lost out. The smattering of tourists at the pyramids outside Cairo is almost outnumbered these days by souvenir sellers as a continuing political crisis overshadows Egypt’s new democracy.

Meanwhile, the lobbies of the grandiose Atlantis resort on Dubai’s man-made The Palm archipelago are packed with visitors. “It’s wonderful and it feels very safe,” said John Macleanan, 69, a retired engineer from Australia’s Sunshine Coast visiting Dubai for the first time. “I could live here, although I don’t know that I could afford the accommodation.”

Even as visitors abandoned much of the Middle East in 2011, dealing a severe blow to countries like Egypt, 10 per cent more of them headed for Dubai’s beaches and shopping malls.

Dubai has used its Emirates airline and strategic location midway between Europe, Africa and Asia to persuade transit passengers to spend at least a couple of days. The emirate reported more than five million visitors in the first half of 2012, the latest available figures show.

There is no breakdown between tourists, business visitors and transit passengers, but hotel occupancy rates regularly exceed 75 per cent and more rooms are being built, a stark contrast to 2009.

As conflict broke out in Libya and Syria in 2011, fledgling tourism industries there were all but wiped out. Tourist visits to Bahrain have almost dried up, pushing the national Gulf Air airline to the brink of bankruptcy.

In Tunisia, the cradle of the Arab Spring, a marketing campaign targeting European holidaymakers in particular resulted in a 30 per cent rise in the number of visitors in 2012 compared to the previous year, with almost six million arriving. But that remains 10 per cent below the figure for 2010.

“What has happened to tourism in the Middle East is that it has become very polarised,” says Nadejda Popova, senior tourism analyst at consultancy Euromonitor. “You have the countries such as Egypt which have really suffered, and then you have the UAE.”

Abu Dhabi saw its visitor numbers top two million for the first time in 2011 and hopes they will have increased by another 10 per cent in 2012. Elsewhere, Saudi Arabia reported a big increase in visitor numbers in 2012, mainly religious tourists and pilgrims from increasingly wealthy Muslim populations in the Gulf and Asia.

Last year, Saudi officials told local media they expected some 18 million people to pass through the country, many on pilgrimage to the holy city of Makkah.

Egypt, meanwhile, has been perhaps the hardest hit. Tarek Yahia, 30, says he knew when he protested in Cairo’s Tahrir Square in 2011 that the uprising would have a knock-on effect on his income.

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Sharjah developing green tourism in central region

Emirates 24/7 – 02 February, 2013 – The government of Sharjah is promoting the Central Region of the UAE around Al Dhaid as a hotspot on the regional green tourism map by trying to attract both domestic and international tourists looking for unexplored locations.

Al Dhaid, a quiet place in the central region of the UAE, is part of Sharjah emirate. A new tour company, formed with the blessings of the Sharjah government, hopes to attract visitors to the region’s coral reefs, history museums and farms.

What was once a private farm with many kinds of animals, birds and swimming pools and facilities for sports like cricket and basketball, is now being opened up for tourists, especially for those who want a quiet weekend.

“Not much is known to tourists about this place which has farms, archeological sites, museums, sand dunes and resting places. We have been authorised by the Sharjah government to promote Al Dhaid as a tourist spot,” said Emirati businessman Majid Abdul Rasak from Al Mantika Al Wista Tour, who owns the farm. “Now I have got the licence for a tour company. I hope to promote the region comprising Al Maleha, Madam and Al Dhaid as tourist destinations.”

“When people want a quiet weekend, they first think of Fujairah, Ras Al Khaimah or Al Ain. We are trying to change that by opening the first theme farm for tourists. Many historically important places, archeological sites and museums are also located close to the theme farm near Al Dhaid town.

“The unexplored nature of the area can be gauged from the fact that there is no big hotel in the Central Region. The nearest five-star hotel is in Sharjah,” he said, adding that there are private farms in the area which are used as private meeting places by businessmen from other parts of Sharjah and other emirates.

“I bought this farm 35 years ago and I have been gradually developing the facilities. Now, with the help of Sharjah government, we are trying to promote the farm as a tourist destination,” he added.

There is also a falcon breeding centre, a place of interest for tourists, in the Central Region.

“We have opened a 35,000 square metre theme farm for tourists where they can enjoy some stress-free time,” Majid said. “The region has many native plants, birds and animals. Visitors can relax in an atmosphere of shady trees, wood houses, lakes and a Tivoli-type garden. Kids can take part in feeding animals,” he said.

“On the farm, there are about 1,000 pigeons of different colours and breeds, rabbits, peacocks, sheep, cows, ostriches, horses, camels and exotic birds. Children will definitely enjoy a visit to the theme farm,” Majid said. “There is also an aqua area with fish and tortoise. There are sporting attractions too for both adults and kids. Activities for kids include ridge cars and lake boats.”

Adults can enjoy an 18-hole mini golf course, basketball, football, cricket and indoor games. They can also test their skill at shooting. The farm also has a display of traditional UAE handicrafts. There are other farms in area but they are tailor-made for tourists.

“My intention is to provide visitors a place for rest and recreation and a quiet weekend. Visitors can also have meals prepared in the area with traditional and local ingredients. Tea, coffee and local snacks will also be served,” he said.

Away from the hustle and bustle of city life, this theme farm seems to have the potential to attract both companies and families seeking new places for quiet get-togethers.

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Islamic banking assets to surpass $1.8t globally in 2013

Saudi Gazette – 04 February, 2013 – Global Islamic banking assets are forecast to cross $1.8 trillion in 2013 up from $ 1.3 trillion in 2011, Ernst & Young said in its World Islamic Banking Competitiveness Report 2013. It noted that the Islamic banking industry continues to record robust growth, with the top 20 Islamic banks registering a growth of 16 percent in the last three years.

The report said the Islamic banking industry in Saudi Arabia – with an estimated $ 207 billion of Islamic assets – was ranked first in 2011 followed by Malaysia with total assets of $ 106 billion and UAE third with total assets of $ 75 billion.

With the majority of the Muslim community being unbanked together with the need to attract foreign investment from Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), the market appetite for these products continues to grow, said Merisha Kassie, Director of Financial Services at Ernst & Young.

This form of banking is also growing in new markets such as Indonesia, Egypt, Iraq and Libya and South Africa has made significant strides in the inclusion of Islamic finance into its tax legislation with the relevant amendments expected to be effective from 2013.

Across Africa, the need for government Islamic bond (sukuk) has become more pronounced as in some instances banks are required to hold a certain percentage of interest bearing instruments, the report said.

The strong global market growth forecast as outlined in the report, and the surge of activity in Africa with respect to the proposed issuance of sovereign sukuk in South Africa and other African countries support the growing momentum of Islamic banking in Africa.

Despite the projected asset growth and the introduction of new Islamic initiatives in a number of countries, the report noted that profitability continues to lag behind but with the implementation of transformation agendas over the next two to three years, Islamic banks will close the performance gap that currently exists with the overall banking industry.

The report noted though that successful transformation could see the profit pool of Islamic banks rise by an additional 25 percent by 2015.

However, the report anticipated also some challenges in the industry. The obvious challenge remains around ensuring that a proper regulatory framework exists to facilitate both sovereign sukuk and corporate sukuk, it said.

“The market currently has great interest in the sovereign sukuk. Sukuk are seen to be attractive as a result of the foreign direct investment (FDI) that it would attract particularly from the Middle East where investors will seek Shariah-compliant instruments,” said Emilio Pera, Financial Services Leader at Ernst & Young.

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Sharjah puts up an impressive show at Madrid tourism expo

Gulf Today – 04 February, 2013 – Sharjah wrapped up an impressive participation in the International Tourism Trade Fair (Fitur 2013) in Madrid on Sunday second year in a row managing to draw the attention of international tourism players and decision makers with its successful pitch for the emirate and its tourism industry. The Madrid exhibition, held from Jan.30 to Feb.3 in the Spanish capital.

The UAE Ambassador to Spain Dr Hessa Abdullah Al Otaiba was amongst the dignitaries who visited the exquisite Sharjah pavilion. The emirate’s stand witnessed a regular stream of visitors that included exhibitors, investors and representatives of global travel and tourism industry and journalists, who evinced keen interest in Sharjah’s tourism sector and attractions and various cultural festivals and events, according to the Sharjah Commerce and Tourism Development Authority (SCTDA).

Sharjah with its rich heritage, cultural attractions, architecture, archaeological sites and various family festivals offered a very distinct and satisfying tourism experience to European and international travellers.

Pointing out to the significance of Spanish and European tourism markets, SCTDA authorities said that the region is a major feeding market for tourism sectors around the world, especially Sharjah, which attracts a large number of visitors from Europe.

Exhibitions like Fitur Madrid boosted the co-operation and interaction between various tourism players, investors and companies generating greater opportunities for everyone and helping the tourism sector grow.

The SCTDA officials briefed the visitors on Sharjah’s offerings to international tourists and investors.

Promotional literature about Sharjah profiling its rich cultural heritage, tourist attractions and various festivals and events held throughout the year was made available in various international languages at the Sharjah stand.

On the sidelines of the exhibition, the officials also held meetings and consultations with senior policymakers, participating companies and industry experts to keep pace with the developments in the sector and to share ideas and experiences with various tourism destinations.

The SCTDA led the Sharjah delegation that included key players of the emirate’s tourism and hospitality sectors including the popular flagship airline Air Arabia, Hotel Radisson Blu and Grand Hotel.

Sharjah’s participation in Fitur Madrid comes at a time when the emirate is all set to host the Sharjah Light Festival 2013, from Feb.7 to 15 at 14 locations across the emirate.

The Authority therefore turned special focus on the Festival of Lights at the Madrid fair hoping to attract a large number of European travellers during the period.

With its celebration of Arab heritage, art, archaeological sites, art and international family festivals and cultural activities organised throughout the year, Sharjah enjoys a special place in the eyes of European tourists.

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Afghanistan continues Iran oil purchase despite U.S. pressure

Tehran Times – 05 February, 2013 – In continuation of Washington’s hostile policies on Iran and the U.S. interference in the internal affairs of other countries, the U.S. Department of State has banned Afghanistan from buying Iran’s crude oil.

According to State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland, Washington has called on the Afghan government and other allies to take the U.S. sanctions on Iran’s oil sector seriously. She added that the U.S. would pursue the policy in Afghanistan to make sure that Kabul was not violating the ‘U.S. laws.’

At the beginning of 2012, the United States and the European Union imposed sanctions on Iran’s oil and financial sectors with the goal of preventing other countries from purchasing Iranian oil and conducting transactions with the Central Bank of Iran. The sanctions entered into force last summer.

On October 15, 2012, the EU foreign ministers reached an agreement on another round of sanctions against Iran. The illegal U.S.-engineered sanctions were imposed based on the unfounded accusation that Iran is pursuing non-civilian objectives in its nuclear energy program.

Iran rejects the allegation, arguing that as a committed signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty and a member of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), it has the right to use nuclear technology for peaceful purposes.

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Dubai Int’l set to be world’s busiest airport

Khaleej Times – 06 February, 2013 – Dubai International is set to become the world’s busiest airport for international passengers in a year or two on the back of strong annual growth in passenger traffic, according to the top official of its operating company.

Following its busiest month and year on record, the airport has taken over as the world’s third-ranked airport for international passenger numbers in 2012, vaulting ahead of Hong Kong International Airport in the global rankings.

“Today, London Heathrow and Paris are ahead of us and with the growth that we have seen last year, we should take anybody next year or two (years) maximum,” Dubai Airports Chairman Shaikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum told Khaleej Times on Tuesday on the sidelines of a news conference, which was held to announce Emirates airline’s five-year sponsorship agreement with the Formula One group in Dubai.

In 2012, London Heathrow ranked top with passenger numbers of 70 million with less than one per cent annual growth over 2011, while Paris’ Charles de Gaulle ranked second with 61.6 million passengers in the same year.

“I think it’s very simple and easy if you take our growth what we achieved last year. We… are always above 10 per cent and up to 14 per cent (growth in passenger traffic). So that should really take us ahead of the competitors,” said Shaikh Ahmed, who is also President of the Dubai Civil Aviation Authority, Chairman of Emirates airline and Chief Executive of the Emirates Group. Dubai International’s passenger traffic surged 13.2 per cent to 57.68 million in 2012, up from 50.98 million passengers recorded during 2011.

The 2012 passenger traffic also exceeded Dubai Airports’ forecast at the start of the year of 56.5 million by more than one million passengers.

The airport is all set to overtake London Heathrow and become the world’s top aviation hub for international passengers very soon, according to a senior aviation analyst.

“Dubai International is on track to overtake London Heathrow within the next couple of years — with annual growth topping 13 per cent year-on-year in contrast to the single figure growth at Heathrow, the airport will probably get close to 70 million passengers this year, Saj Ahmad, chief analyst at London-based StrategicAero Research, told Khaleej Times.

Dubai International is home to the world’s first dedicated facility of Airbus superjumbo A380s. This months’ opening of its new facility, Concourse A, is a key element of Dubai Airports’ $ 7.8 billion 2020 plan to increase the capacity of the hub to 90 million passengers a year by 2018.

Concourse A has boosted Dubai International’s capacity from 60 million passengers a year to 75 million.

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UAE turns focus to Iraq

Khaleej Times – 07 February, 2013 – The UAE has planned a two-day networking event in Iraq’s Kurdistan region of Erbil that will promote two-way trade and also help exchanged expertise, according to top government officials.

Trade UAE Iraq is a business development and networking event designed to provide UAE-based companies with the knowledge and contacts necessary to do business in emerging Iraq, they said.

The event, backed by the UAE Ministry of Foreign Trade, or MoFT, as well as the Dubai Department of Economic Development, Dubai Exports and Dubai FDI, in collaboration with the Abu Dhabi Department of Economic Development and the support of the Federation of Kurdish Chambers of Commerce, will be held on April 16-17 in Erbil, the capital of the stable, safe and autonomous Kurdistan region in northern Iraq.

“We use Erbil as a gateway to Iraq as it belongs to a stable Kurdistan region,” Abdullah Al Saleh, Undersecretary of the MoFT, told reporters at a news conference on Wednesday. Iraq is a very important country for the UAE as it was the second largest re-export market for the UAE last year, Al Saleh said, adding that there was a 40 per cent increase in trade between the two countries in 2011 compared to the previous year.

“We expect 2012 trade will reach $ 8 billion,” he said, adding that this is on the basis of strong 2012 first-half trade of more than $ 5 billion, including free zones. He said that there is potential for the UAE private sector to explore opportunities for investment and exporting products: “We highly encourage private sector to participate in this forum.”

A UAE delegation, comprising businessmen, investors and government officials, will attend Trade UAE Iraq, leveraging the event to develop commercial links with the private and public sectors in Kurdistan. Officials from the Kurdistan Regional Government and businesses and investors from Erbil, Dohuk, Sulaymanieh and Kirkuk in Kurdistan will attend the event.

“We are glad to work on this first project. It’s our duty to introduce private sector the right market,” Hamad Al Mass, executive director of the International Economic Relations Sector at the Abu Dhabi DED, said at the news conference. Trade UAE Iraq will focus on bringing businesses and government officials from both sides together to share useful information on potential trade exchange. UAE businesses participating in the event can gain a clear understanding of sector-wise opportunities and the best means to do business in Iraq.

Eng Saed Al Awadhi, chief executive officer of Dubai Exports, said: “We think there is a lot of opportunities for our companies, exporters, and re-exporters in Iraq.”

Erbil is being called the “Dubai of Iraq” in view of the infinite economic opportunities and growth the city has seen in recent years. Numerous companies, traders and investors in the UAE have thought of doing business in Iraq but inadequate knowledge of the Iraqi market and its dynamics pose major challenges. Fahad Al Gergawi, chief executive officer of Dubai FDI, said: “We support this event, which is being held under the umbrella of the Ministry of Foreign Trade. It’s new style of doing business. Dubai FDI expects it will attract more Iraqi companies to establish businesses in the UAE.”

The center piece of Trade UAE Iraq will be a conference where business opportunities, projects, investment programmes, legalities, procedures of setting up businesses and investment assistance available in Iraq will be discussed across panel sessions and presentations.

One-on-one meetings for business matchmaking and a special “Business Direct” programme for traders to meet privately with their counterparts will also be part of the event.

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Malaysia to host global Muslim conference on unity and economy

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia Feb 7 (NNN-Bernama) — Malaysia is set to host the Global Muslim Conference On Unity And Economy (GMC 2013), a gathering of global experts, investors, bankers, educationalists, scientists and others, to boost Islamic economy. Organised by The Malay Chamber of Commerce Malaysia (DPMM), the two-day event will be held in Kuala Lumpur, beginning March 4.

DPMM President Syed Ali Alattas said GMC 2013 would be a platform to discuss related issues on Muslim economy and exposing business opportunity that are available for business matching. “We hope this conference will help to increase Malaysia’s trade to other Muslim countries,” he told reporters after launch the GMC 2013 here today.

According to Syed Ali, 20 per cent of Malaysia’s total trade currently is to Muslim countries all over the world, excluding Asean. He also noted that the reconstruction activities in Egypt, Yemen and Iraq would be the strongest sectors to benefit from the event. Themed “Empowering Muslim Economy and Fostering Unity”, the event is open to only 200 participants.

To date, a total of 75 applications had been received, of which two-thirds were from non-Muslim countries.

Former Prime Minister, Dr Mahathir Mohamad and President of Islamic Development Bank, Jeddah, Dr Ahmad Mohamad Ali Al-Madani are expected to deliver the keynote address at the event.

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Fossils of 15-metre tail of dinosaur found in Tunisia

TUNIS, Feb 5 (NNN-XINHUA) — The vertebrae fossils of a 15-metre-long tail of a dinosaur have been discovered in Bir Amor in the governorate of Tataouine in southern Tunisia, the official TAP press agency says. The tail, belonging to a gigantic herbivore dinosaur believed to have lived some 110 million years ago, is part of the rest of a discovery of some dinosaur fossils made in the same area in March 2011, TAP reported Monday.

Sunday’s discovery, made some 500 km south of the capital, was led by a team of researchers from Tunisia’s national mining authority, Italy’s Bologna University and experts from Poland. In 2010, fossils with large footprints of both herbivore and carnivore dinosaurs were found in the desert town of Chenini, near Tataouine. The first discovery of dinosaur fossils in Tunisia dates back to 1955.

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Gambia: UTG Launches Science, Technology & Innovation Park

6 February 2013 – FOROYAA Newspaper – The Department of Public and Environmental Health of the University of The Gambia (UTG) in collaboration of with the Centre for International Rural and Environmental Health (CIREH) College of Public Health, University of Iowa, USA, launched a Science, Technology and Innovation Park at Farababantang on Tuesday, 5 February 2013.

With funding from the National Institute of Health (NIH) in the US, the Park will be conducting research in occupational and environmental health in West Africa.

In his opening statement, Dr. Rex Kuyt, head of the Department of Public and Environmental Health of the UTG, expressed delight in welcoming the guests from the University of Iowa, adding that this is not the first time they are visiting the Gambia. He said this Programme has really energized them to be able to tackle public health matters both locally and globally in a changing century. He said the primary objective of this multi-disciplinary project is to create a centre for collaborative research, data management, policy support and training on environmental vocational health in low and middle income countries.

Dr. Kuyt disclosed that a total of 2.2million dollars has been provided as a grant to support this project for a period of two year s for more than fifteen countries and that each hub will be managed by an institution to be based in both the United States of America and the host country, with both receiving direct awards. He also said that the Gambia is among the four countries that won the highly competitive award and that the others are Ethiopia, Ghana and Uganda.

The Head of the Department of Public and Environmental Health of the UTG highlighted that the goals of the research in the Gambia are to provide a need based assessment, needs and opportunity assessment, and also exploratory activities that will help them to identify current environmental and health challenges within the sub-region. He added that they will be working with other stakeholders in the health sector both locally and outside.

Professor Mohammadou Kah, the UTG Vice Chancellor, also welcomed the guests from the University of Iowa to what he described as an “historic occasion”. He expressed his hope that Gambians, especially the youth, would be inspired and motivated to work tirelessly to see to it that the science, technology and Innovation park is able to tackle the issue of both curable and incurable diseases in the country, adding that they will also use this ground to optimize their potentials and take their right positions in the community of science and technology across the world.

Prof. Kah said this is a milestone achievement but not yet time for celebrations. He said he hopes that this centre will address the health challenges that they are confronted with. He also expressed his gratitude to the National Institute of Health for funding the research institution.

Other speakers included Prof. Thomas Cook who gave a brief history of the University of Iowa and its purposes. The ceremony was chaired by the Acting Registrar, Mr. Momodou L. Tarro, and was graced by public health students of both the University of the Gambia and the Gambia College.

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Gambia: Sixth GCCI Trade Fair Underway

4 February 2013 – The Daily Observer – The Sixth Edition of Trade Fair Gambia (TFG) organised by the Gambia Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GCCI) officially opened Saturday at the Independence Stadium in Bakau.

Presided over by Dr. Njogou Bah, the secretary general and Head of the Civil Service who is also the Minister for Presidential Affairs on behalf of the President of the Republic, the trade fair is a biennial event organised to create a platform for Gambians and international companies to showcase and sell their products. The Sixth Edition is organised on the theme ‘More business opportunities, more jobs’.

Declaring the event open, Kebba Touray, the minister of Trade, Industry, Regional Integration and Employment, expressed gratitude to GCCI for organising this important event which he said has attracted diverse’ participants from around the world. He disclosed that the decision of the chamber to organise the fair on an annual basis starting in 2013 complemented by the “Marche Jula”, offers the opportunity to promote trade and showcase Gambian products and services at closer intervals.

He said: “I encourage you all to interact, create linkages, exchange information and trade among yourselves especially the micro, small and medium enterprise (MSMEs).” Minister Touray further stated that trade is one of the most solid activities to generate wealth and eliminate poverty, adding that the theme of this year’s trade fair exactly seeks to achieve these objectives.

“We cannot attain the theme of this year’s trade fair in the absence of the right business environment for the private sector development and effective participation of the MSEMs,” he stressed, adding that despite its importance, the MSME sector has continued to experience several constraints which include limited access to markets, inadequate technology, inadequate business skills, limited access to information and limited linkages with large enterprise.

He opined that the development of business and MSMEs in particular in The Gambia should be linked to continue pursuit of new technologies for low-cost production, quality product and market linkages with large enterprise. He further remarked: “The annual trade fair, will give you the opportunity to not only showcase products but also help participants learn and access new technologies that could boost production, reduce wastage of resources, save time and improve output.

“As you may know one of the core mandates of my ministry is to promote the development of the private sector especially the MSMEs. Government will therefore continue to support the Gambia Investment and Export Promotion Agency (GIEPA) in partnership with all the relevant stakeholders to develop and implement programmes’ that are geared towards addressing the challenges and constraints faced by MSMEs.”

Minster Touray informed the gathering that his ministry and GEIPA with support from the Social Development Fund (SDF) is supporting the participation of 15 wood carvers. “As a result of this effort, there will be the ‘Made in The Gambia Wood Exhibition’ to enable them showcase their products as there are excellent furniture made in The Gambia but not known to many,” he disclosed.

He assured that in the drive towards the attainment of Vision 2020, the government of The Gambia will continue to adopt programmes and policies to improve and strengthen the business environment and to support private sector initiatives. He said government through the growth and competitiveness project is vigorously working on a number of initiatives to improve the investment climate and strengthen the competiveness of key sectors of the economy.

“Key amongst the reform will be the establishment of a single window business registration and a collateral registry. My ministry through the enhanced integrated framework programme is also establishing a trade information centre to provide trade and market information to the public and business community,” he concluded.

Muhammed M. Jagana, president of GCCI, explained that the theme of this year’s trade fair is aimed at shifting focus on improving on local products and services, ensure economic comparative advantages and improve efficiency and product quality with ultimate goal of increasing exports. “This I believe will lead to greater opportunities for the youths. We must strategise to diversify our economic base and more importantly, reduce our dependency on import trade,” he added.

Jagana noted that The Gambia is part of West Africa, home to over three hundred million consumers, with many food items imported in spite of the vast land for agriculture .”It means while we grow what we consume in Africa, we have left the processing, manufacturing and adding value in the hands of other nations outside Africa,” he lamented.

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Morocco: Benslimane’s Cultural Projects

1 February 2013 – Maghreb Arabe Presse – Benslimane — The cultural infrastructure in the province of Benslimane were reinforced thanks to projects launched on Friday by King Mohammed VI. The King laid the foundation stone for building a religious, cultural and administrative complex, under the Endowment and Islamic Affairs ministry, and a school for traditional education.

Worth 64 million dirhams, the religious, cultural and administrative complex, to be built over a surface area of 8,930 square meters, will house a big mosque and administrative, cultural and commercial pavilions.

The mosque, which can seat 1,580 people, will be constructed according to Moroccan authentic architectural standards. It will include two praying rooms (men, women), a Koranic school and accommodations for the Imam and the muezzin.

The new complex will comprise also an administrative and cultural pavilion that hosts the headquarters of the local Ulema council and of the provincial delegation for Islamic affairs, a conference hall that seats 286 people, a library, and reading and computer rooms, in addition to several shops.

The project is an implementation of royal instructions concerning the construction of integrated complexes in all Moroccan prefectures and provinces to spread cultural and religious knowledge and help Ulema fulfill their missions of orientation and promoting religious and national immutable values.

The traditional education school will provide a comprehensive training in the sciences of Sharia (moral code and religious law of Islam) in phase with contemporary requirements of openness on modern sciences. It will also enable students to acquire and learn the authentic values of the Islamic religion as tolerance and righteousness, in addition to disseminating religious knowledge and fighting illiteracy.

The facility will include a training center made up of six classrooms that seat 180 students, a laboratory, a science room, a library, a multi-purpose room, a computer room and offices. It will also have dormitories where 128 boarders can sleep, an infirmary, a kitchen, a sports field and dining hall.

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Nigeria: Bauchi Airport Will Develop Tourism Potential

8 February 2013 – This Day – Special Adviser on Due Process/Projects to Governor Isa Yuguda and also the Project Administrator, Bauchi International Airport Project, Mr. Aliyu Jibrin spoke to Segun Awofadeji on the benefits of the project, among other issues. Excerpts:

Malam Isa Yuguda was Minister of Aviation for two years but could not build or facilitate the building of an airport in the state. And now as Governor he is almost completing the construction of an international airport. How come now?

The history of the Airport dates back to the Second Republic when the Shehu Shagari administration rolled out its intention to implement the project but could not take it to any level except the identification of a possible site. Between 2004 and 2005 when the Governor was Minister of Aviation, he made concerted efforts aimed at resuscitating the project including giving out contracts for certain civil works and provision of equipment.

Unfortunately, by the time he left his efforts were not followed up and taken to a point of realisation. Now, this is a project he has been passionate about and with his experience in the aviation sector and a full appreciation of the benefits derivable from the operation of an international airport, he initiated a programme for its implementation including a robust planning mechanism; the result of which is quite visible in the execution.

The over N7.9 billion Bauchi international airport was conceived to develop the state’s tourism potentials while reducing dependence on the oil economy, as well as open up the state to the whole world for an enhanced socio-economic activities in the state. The strategic location of Bauchi State as a gateway to the North-East sub-region and also being a home to the West African premier Game Reserve, the Yankari Game Reserve, makes the construction of an international airport imperative.

Taken into cognisance the paucity of funds at the disposal of the State Government, how is the present administration able to fund a project of such magnitude?

A project of such magnitude requires adequate planning with a clear understanding of the dynamics of its implementation which includes, among other things, the project financing and its execution. It is also important to appreciate the fact that a project of such scale would normally be financed by a combination of equity and debt and in doing that you manage your cash outlays in such a way as to continue to meet your obligations as well as continue to provide social service.

We have structured our financing requirements for the project in the best possible way to ensure that it is not stalled at any point of its execution and it is completed on time. It is in this respect that we set aside sufficient funds from our accruable revenues and a minimal level of debt which will be paid before the completion of the project to ensure that we reach a significant milestone in terms of execution reaching up to a minimum level of 80 per cent while the balance is paid on a periodic basis as may be required or as certificates of payment are issued. From this arrangement, we have perfected our financing strategy in the execution and are on course towards the completion of the project right on schedule.

What is the progress of work on the new airport project?

The Governor just recently laid foundation for the airport project. We have already completed both the arrival and departure halls of the Bauchi International Airport and we have the international and domestic wing of both arrival and departure, we also have the VIP section. It is at the level of painting now, and it is estimated that about one million people will be coming in and going out in a year.

We have the apron where all the planes coming into this airport will be parked; they will load and offload here. We can have six 747 Boeing aircrafts at the same time parked here conveniently, while there will be smaller aircrafts without any hitch. It is proposed that this airport is going to serve as the second cargo airport that will complement the Aminu Kano International in Kano. The airport has to be a very strong one because of the cargo planes; that is why we are having this strong basement at the tarmac so that it can contain cargo without sinking.

So, apart from traffic passengers we are going to have cargo planes coming into Bauchi. We have two taxi runways, taxi runway number and taxi runway number two, so that when you have two planes landing at the same time, one will go this way and the other that way, so you can see it is going to be busy airport, that is why we have two runaways.

Also, the control tower there, it is now at its last floor which is the sixth floor, and it is a six storey structure. You can also see the fire service department beside it, they have even done the roofing, so that one too is almost ready and it is going to accommodate six fire-fighting vehicles at the same time. And at the back of the arrival and departure halls we are going to have parking lots, it is going to be a business area.

So, from what is happening, the contractors are going ahead of schedule because they are not supposed to be where they are by now based on the phases that we have in the contract, but because of the enabling environment just like we keep saying the contractors have been conforming. They promised us that by the end of February it will be handed-over, ahead of scheduled period, the schedule is supposed to be April this year.

So by the grace of God, by the end of the whole exercise, this airport is going to be the fifth international airport in Nigeria. We have Abuja, Lagos, Kano, Port-Harcourt, so Bauchi is going to be the fifth. At the back of the arrival and departure halls, we have parking lot that could accommodate 1,500 cars at a time, and the traffic passengers in a year is about one million people who we expect would come and go out of this airport, you can see the traffic flow, then cargo planes will be diverted from Kano to come and land in Bauchi.

Electricity is the key to the operation of any airport, especially of an international standard like that of Bauchi…how is the government going to cope with the needed power supply to the airport?

The design of the project has been made to take cognisance the need for constant power supply at the airport. In this respect adequate generating plants will be made available in the immediate short term while our Bauchi Independent Power Project, which has reached an appreciable level, is intended to provide the required power supply for not just the airport but for our ailing and potential industries; for local consumption and for possible export on to the national grid.

The opposition parties in the state are opposed to this project saying it’s not the priority now. In brief what benefits does the State intend to derive from the operation of this airport?

The dream of Bauchi State having an International Airport has long been awaited because successive administration lacked the political will to do so. Air transportation is not only relatively safer, but is faster and more comfortable than road transportation. With an international Airport in place, Bauchi State will attract both local and foreign investors that will go a long way in boosting the socio-economic status of the state.

Though oil was generating more revenue for the country but I want to assure you that investment in tourism can generate revenue three times more than oil, hence the need for a befitting airport system in the state.

Bauchi is known as a tourist haven blessed with Yankari Game Reserve, the premier Game reserve in Nigeria and a lot other attractions including the Lame Burra Game Reserve; the Panshanu Stone Heaps; the Geji Rock Paintings of the monolithic age; the International Birds Sanctuary in Udubo to mention but a few. The State is also blessed in terms of the potential for agricultural production with 80 per cent of the 49/259 sq km land mass suitable for a variety of food and cash crops.

Mining activities undertaken on a small scale has indicated the availability of a number of solid minerals on a commercial basis. I could go on and on in terms of the potentials that abound in the State. Our intention is to open our State up to tourists and potential investors in order to attract foreign exchange as well as investments which we believe will enhance the economy and put the State on the path of sustainable growth and development.

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Azerbaijani investors to fund to develop Afghanistan’s ICT

07 February 2013 – TODAY.AZ – The development of Afghanistan’s information and communication technology (ICT) infrastructure, the creation of an “electronic government” system and Azerbaijani investors’ investments in the ICT sector of the country are urgent topics in Azerbaijan, and the first steps have already been taken in their direction, head of the UN assistance mission to Afghanistan, Jan Kubis said at a meeting with the Minister of Communications and Information Technologies Ali Abbasov, the ministry said on Thursday.

According to Kubis, the UNDP, with support from donor countries and organizations, is working on a new project for economic development in Afghanistan. Kubis stood for Azerbaijan’s accession to the process as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council.

Referring to the recent visit of the Special Representative of the Azerbaijani Communications and Information Technologies Minister in Afghanistan, Kubis said that the development of a special package of proposals was launched after a preliminary analysis and discussions with relevant agencies.

Stressing that as executive secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, he has had the opportunity to review the achievements of the ICT sector in Azerbaijan at the forum organized by UNECE and Azerbaijani Communications and Information Technologies Ministry within the Bakutel exhibition and conference two years ago. The guest appreciated the ministry’s adherence to such initiatives.

According to the UN representative, a global center of UNECE will be established in Azerbaijan for cooperation between the public and private sectors, and all countries of the region, including Afghanistan, that face the problem of a shortage of staff will be able to take advantage of the center.

“If in the future Azerbaijan will attract Afghan experts to the trainings in the areas of ICT, where they have more experience, this will be very productive,” Kubis said.

In turn, Azerbaijani Minister of Communications and Information Technologies Ali Abbasov, welcomed the proposal, saying that University of Information Technologies is being created in the country, and experts from India will be able to participate in the courses organized at the university along with experts from other countries. The minister added that cooperation between the two countries will continue in the future, and complex work will be carried out to gain expertise in the ICT field.

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British-Bangladeshi entrepreneurs keen to invest in power, tourism

DHAKA, Feb 9, 2013 (BSS) – Encouraged by the recognition of “British Bangladeshi Power 100”, most powerful Bangladeshis in Britain have expressed their keen interest to invest in Bangladesh’s prospective sectors especially power and tourism. “Along with many of my counterparts of Bangladesh Caterers Association (BCA) in the UK, there is emphasis on investing in power and tourism sectors,” said Pasha Khandaker, who is among the ‘British Bangladeshi Power 100′ list for 2013’.

In an exclusive email interview with BSS, Khandaker said, “With emotional links to my heritage and country, I already have investments in Bangladesh and want to increase it in these prospective sectors.” A list of 100 most powerful Bangladeshis in Britain has been released last month who helped to shape Britain for the better with their ideas, example, talent and success.

The list has 20 categories including entrepreneur, brand, politics, policy/civil service, legal, restaurateur, professional, networks & associations, academic/think tanker, medical, community activist, media, culture, community personality and sport.

“I’m very passionate to encourage and inspire the young generations to become the ambassadors for our growing community, upholding Bangladesh’s culture and heritage,” said Khandaker, also president of BCA, which represents 12,000 Bangladeshi restaurants in Britain.

The BCA president, who came to UK in the 1980s said, “For me moving to a foreign country into a society with immense cultural differences was the start to face challenges. With no skilled education, I had to find a path that suited me and for most Bangladeshis the curry industry was the only one which welcomed us with open arms,” he recalled.

The curry industry has already proved to achieve a firm part in the British multicultural society, he said, adding “We now need to focus our efforts on the future success of our community.”

“My future target and aim is to invest in various sector of Bangladesh particularly in tourism,” Bajloor Rashid, another successful entrepreneur, told the news agency.

Rashid said his future intentions are to invest more and more for the development of Bangladesh saying that bringing lots of foreign investments will only be better for the economy of Bangladesh.

Recognition from British Government that British Bangladeshis are contributing 4.1 billion pounds sterling to the UK economy is a huge achievement. “We have created tens of thousands of jobs.we are not burden to the British government rather we are an asset,” he said.

Rashid, also former BCA president, said the situation was very challenging when he first came to Britain for further education in 1978. At that time I had to see lots of ups and down and face struggles but I never gave up.”

On the growth of curry industry, he said it has long been suffering from manpower shortage. He suggested the government of Bangladesh to create training institutions to cater to the present demand for some 50,000 jobs in the UK’s curry industry.

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Bangladesh seeks UNWTO support for tourism industry

DHAKA, Feb 4, 2013 (BSS) – Bangladesh has urged the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) to help capacity building of country’s tourism sector by providing training and developing marketing strategy.

Civil Aviation and Tourism Minister Lt Col (retd) Faruk Khan conveyed this message to the UNWTO Secretary General Taleb D Rifai during the tourism fair ‘FITUR’ held in Madrid from Jan 30- Feb 3.

“I had a successful meeting with the UNWTO chief on the sidelines of the fair. I’ve requested him to help capacity building of Bangladesh’s tourism sector by providing training and developing tourism strategy,” the minister told BSS here today.

Faruk Khan, who led an eight-member delegation comprising private sector players in tourism industry, said the primary aim of Bangladesh’s participation in the exhibition was to attract investment in tourism and hospitality industry. He met a number of expatriate Bangladeshis who have long been working for the tourism sector. “I told them to utilize their tourism experience and money for tourism development in Bangladesh,” he said.

The tourism minister invited the UNWTO Secretary General to visit Bangladesh at his convenient time and he accepted the invitation. Bangladesh set up a pavilion in the tourism fair to project country’s lifestyle and tourist destinations — the Sundarbans, Cox’s Bazar and archeological sites.

The fair presented the most suggestive destinations and most attractive activities so that travelers can plan their next holidays.

International tourist arrivals grew by 4 per cent in 2012 to reach 1.035 billion, according to the latest UNWTO World Tourism Barometer. Emerging economies (+4.1%) regained the lead over advanced economies (+3.6%), with Asia and the Pacific showing strongest results.

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Kazakhstan focuses on growth sectors

2013-02-06 – Centralasiaonline.com ALMATY – After a two-year foresight evaluation of Kazakhstan’s use of science and technologies in industry, the Ministry of Industry and New Technologies (MINT), together with the National Agency for Technological Development (NATD), has announced a development plan in hopes of updating industry methods, increasing production and boosting the overall economy.

Foresight is a form of policy planning that Kazakhstan is embracing in an effort to shape its economy.

“Foresight, as a way of predicting … technology, is a completely new tool for Kazakhstan,” Bektas Mukazhanov, director of the NATD Centre for Investment Projects, told Central Asia Online. Other Asian and European countries have been practicing the strategy for years, he said.

The Korea Institute of Science and Technology Evaluation and Planning helped the NATD determine the direction of the country’s development, he said.

“With the aid of expert evaluations, we have outlined in detail the development of the country in regard to science and technology,” Mukazhanov explained. Now Kazakhstan can use that outline to implement its first national foresight study.

MINT and NATD have identified sectors that are ripe for development, said Djumatai Salimov, director of the NATD Centre of Analytical and Methodological Support. The sectors include oil and gas, atomic energy, the agro-industrial complex, the mining and metallurgical industry, chemistry, information technology, alternative power sources, light industry and machine building.

Now that Kazakhstan has a roadmap for development, the next step is to introduce “initiatives in modernising the infrastructure, training personnel and carrying out research” needed to improve those areas, Salimov explained.

“We hope that these scientific and technological ideas will not remain only on paper but will be brought to fruition,” he said. “If the plan is strictly fulfilled, we shall be able to introduce our own breakthrough technology and projects.”

Kazakhstan is aware that targeted growth and technology development require capital. “More funding will be available for innovations,” MINT Executive Secretary Beybut Atamkulov told Central Asia Online.

Innovation grants doubled in 2011 with 129 projects totalling 7.1 billion KZT (US $47.1m), compared to 2010’s 37 projects totalling 1.7 billion KZT (US $11.2m), MINT said. However, in 2012, only 3.5 billion KZT (US $23.2m) was allocated.

But with the start-up of the technology programmes, financing in this field will grow, Atamkulov said, though officials haven’t revealed actual budget sums.

Nesipbala Yermekova, director of the NATD Centre of Economic Studies, backed up that assessment.

“Beginning from 2013, we have expanded the number of directions for which grants are available in those industries being ‘incubated’ to nine, including industrial research, the acquisition of technology and the integration of management and production technologies,” Yermekova said.

Apart from paying more attention to financing, the foresight programme will also involve more active service support for enterprises, namely, the development of industrial design bureaus and the incubation of industrial parks, she added.

Better prediction will overcome stagnation, officials hope. Kazakhstan’s approach to developing technologies is an “effective method of combining the efforts of scholars, business owners and regional administrations,” according to Asan Djumabekov, director of the Department of Analysis and Forecasting of the National Centre of Scientific and Technical Information. who noted that it also comes at an optimal time for the country.

The programmes developed within this framework can raise the previously low rate of technology adoption seen in Kazakhstan, he said.

That feeble rate “resulted from weak investment activity and from business’s exclusive interest in quick high profits reaped from natural resources,” Djumabekov said, explaining that no re-investment of profit into the economy’s production process took place. Foresight points to the key conditions for ensuring sustainable economic production, innovation and long-term prospects, he said, calling it “just what Kazakhstan has lacked.”

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Turkish Domestic tourists travel less, spend more

ANKARA – Anatolia News Agency – Domestic tourists in Turkey spent $7.6 billion in the third quarter of 2012, the Turkish Statistical Institute (TÜİK) said today in its quarterly report. Although the number of domestic trips plunged by 7.3 percent compared to the same period in the previous year, trip expenditures increased by 2.1 percent.

Some 25.5 million trips – in which travelers stayed one or more nights – were taken by Turks or foreigners residing in Turkey during the period.

“Visiting relatives” was the main purpose of trips taken at 61.9 percent, the second-most-common purpose was “travel-leisure (holiday)” at 30.1 percent while the third was “health” at 3.8 percent.

The average overnight stay was 10.9 nights and the average expenditure for the trips was 301 Turkish Liras.

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Turkish ‘Swimming islands’ to lure tourists

BİNGÖL – Anatolia News Agency – The eastern province of Bingöl’s Solhan district is home to a new natural beauty: swimming islands. A project has been launched to protect the islands and promote them particularly to foreign tourists.

A new project is attempting to save the eastern province of Bingöl’s “swimming” Turna Lake islands. The islands, located in the Solhan district, are badly damaged and facing extinction, so the “Swimming Island, a Key to Tourism” project is aiming to protect this natural environmental heritage.

The project has recently been put into effect by the Solhan district governorship and it will also protect other natural heritage of Bingöl.

The “swimming islands” can move about on the lakes and the islands are famous in the region during the winter, although the area attracts tourists in both the winter and the summer. The volume of tourists indicates that there is enough interest in the heritage of Bingöl to justify the launching of the project.

Launched by the Ministry of Forestry and Water Affairs, the project is also supported by the General Directorate of National Parks. The islands have been taken under protection as the “Swimming Islands Natural Monument.”

Within the scope of the project, which is also supported by the Fırat Development Agency, possible damage to the islands will be prevented. The lake has been surrounded by wire fences and view terraces have been placed in the area to invite people to watch the beautiful scene of the swimming islands. There are also small mountain lodges and picnic facilities have been established for tourists to come and stay in the area.

The Swimming Islands are located in the Aksakal area of Bingöl. A local from the area, Felemez Akan, said the profile of the islands had been raised thanks to the many TV stations and journalists promoting them.

“The lake’s surrounding are used to be covered with long grass. This is why the islands were not visible,” said Akan. “We called this area Gole Kuling (Lake Turna) in the Zaza language. People call them the Swimming Islands in Turkish. Nobody knew about them in the past. This place was full of grass but then this was burned and the Swimming Islands became visible. People came to the area and informed television channels and newspapers, and in this way the area became very famous.”

Akan said the exact dept of the lake was unknown, but was estimated to be 60 meters. “The islands move with the wind and they don’t move when the weather isn’t windy,” he said.

In winter the area is like a marsh and it could be dangerous to try to move the islands, Akan added. “People from around Turkey come here to these islands. Families come here in the morning and have picnics. People come here not only in the winter but in all seasons, as transportation to the area is very easy. It’s a magnificent place and it’s unique in the world.” he said.

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Bengkulu to open 1,000 hectares of new rice fields

February 6 2013 – Bengkulu (ANTARA News) – The Bengkulu agriculture service was reported to utilize 1,000 hectare of idle lands in the province for expansion of rice fields. All idle lands in each district areas would be used for rice fields, head of the provincial agriculture service Edi Nevian said here on Wednesday.

“There are 1,000 hectares of potential idle lands in nine regencies in Bengkulu that could be used for rice fields,” Edi said. A larger part of the land is in the sub-district of Padang Guci. The lands are owned by local people, but the people agree to convert the land into rice field, he said.

Irrigation is not a problem as there is a river in that area with enough water. Money, however, is needed to build a dam to hold the river water for the irrigation systems. Edi said the district could be transformed into the largest rice producer in Bengkulu.

Other potential lands are found in the regencies of Mukomuko, Bengkulu utara, Lebong, Kepahiang, Rejang Lebong and Bengkulu Tengah. Head of the Bengkulu Tengah farm and plantation service Durani said the district hopes to build 350 hectares of new rice fields.

In 2012 , the regency succeeded in building 250 hectares of new rice fields in a number of sub-districts.

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East Kalimantan to hold international folklore, art festival

Sun, February 3 2013 – Jakarta (ANTARA News) – East Kalimantan will organize “Erau International Folklore and Art Festival (EIFAF)” in Tenggarong, Kutai Kartanegara District, East Kalimantan Privnce, from June 30 to July 7, 2013. The festival will among other things feature “Erau” ceremony, an annual sacred ceremony held at the palace of Kutai Kartanegara Ing Martadipura Sultanate, the East Kalimantan tourism office said in a press statement on Sunday.

The folklore and art festival will also be highlighted with art and handicraft exhibitions, traditional sports competitions, and a bazaar. The handicraft and arts expo called “Kutai Kartanegara Art & Craft Expo”, will showcase works of arts such as handicraft, paintings and sculptures of Kutai Kartanegara and from other countries participating in the event.

Tenggarong City, the capital of Kutai Kartanegara regency, was once the administration center of the Sultanate of Kutai Kartanegara Ing Martadipura. The arts festival will be held in conjunction with a gathering of CIOFF (International Council of Organizations of Folklore Festivals and Folk Arts).

CIOFF is an international non-governmental Organization (NGO) in formal consultative relations with UNESCO. Created in 1970, the duty of CIOFF is safeguarding, promotion and diffusion of traditional culture and folklore.

Around 215 representatives of eight countries have so far confirmed their participation in the event. The countries are Senegal, USA, Russia, Thailand, India, Turkey, Algeria and Egypt.

The Kutai Kartanegara district government, the local cultural and tourism office, and CIOFF expect to receive up to 250 representatives from 10 countries to participate in the cultural arts event.

During their stay in Tenggarong, EIFAF`s participants will also perform traditional arts from their respective countries in different places, including at the main stage in Mahakam River side.

The participants will also able to watch the Dayak tribe`s art performance at the Rumah Lamin arena on Kumala Island.

EIFAF representatives will also participate in a tree planting in the area of Kumala Island, and in Kutai traditional sports such as kelom panjang (clog), behempas bantal, belogo, enggrang, and other attractive traditional games.

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‘Legitimate Dreams’: Six success stories of Egyptian women

Ahram Online, Friday 8 Feb 2013 – Legitimate Dreams, a film produced by the Social Fund for Development (SFD) in partnership with the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women) present a journey through the various governorates of Egypt during which six success stories of women entrepreneurs named: Azza, Maha, Nanees, Mona, Magda, and Thanaa are presented.

The camera moves from Cairo to Giza, then Alexandria, passes by Borg Al-Arab, continues to Minya and to Suez. Legitimate Dreams shows genuine success stories and the limitless ambition of Egyptian women. The viewer looks into the lives and enterprises of each woman and watches their dreams become reality as they manage their enterprises.

The film shows each woman succeeded in a different field. One of the women entrepreneurs opened a furniture factory, reflecting Egyptian taste and style; another woman was interested in bedding embroidery. Women entrepreneurs also excelled in other sectors such as: aromatic oils, the fertilizers industry or even fish farming.

“New areas and experiences deserve to be told, including success stories that truly reflect Egyptian women’s skills and abilities,” said Secretary General of Social Fund for Development Ghada Waly.

Legitimate Dreams is part of the partnership between the SFD and UN Women to empower Egyptian women economically and help them live their dreams through economic enterprises. The cooperation also aims to document the models and success stories of women entrepreneurs whose enterprises are financed by the SFD.

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Young musicians seek to show new Afghan face

AFP, 5 Feb 2013 – Some of them call an orphanage home. One used to spend her days selling plastic bags. And this month, the Afghan teenagers are taking the stage of the most prestigious US concert halls.

In a vivid sign of Afghanistan’s transformation, 48 students from the country’s first music institute are touring the United States to showcase a unique blend of restored traditional music and Western classics.

When Milad Yousufi was a child, the Taliban ruled most of Afghanistan and imposed an austere interpretation of Islam that banned music as sinful. He took up piano five years ago and recently placed third at an international competition in Germany.

“Music is the only thing we can bring peace by,” said the 18-year-old, who wears his hair fashionably long and counts Claudio Arrau and Vladimir Horowitz among his piano heroes.

“If the media just broadcast war, that is the image of Afghanistan. If we make music, the idea of people will change,” he said in fluent English.

The Afghanistan National Institute of Music, which was founded in 2010, instructs 144 students, each of whom earned their spots through auditions. They study not only music but also English and other courses from the Koran to computers.

The students will perform at the Kennedy Center in Washington on Thursday, and, on February 12, they will be at New York’s Carnegie Hall.

One musical selection will be a version of Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons,” adapted by instructor William Harvey with Afghan instrumentation. “Your expectations are the traditional Vivaldi. But, here, you hear in ‘The Four Seasons’ Afghan pieces and Afghan melodies,” said Ahmad Sarmast, the founder and director of the school.

“That’s the way we say to the international community that we are part of you, we want to be part of you. We can speak the same language, the language of music,” he said.

The students, with boys and girls intermingled, started their tour with a recital at the State Department, where they sat on the floor performing with Afghan instruments such as the rubab: a lute with up to 19 strings.

In a surprise, Secretary of State John Kerry took a seat to listen on his first working day. During Kerry’s tenure, the United States is expected to withdraw the last of its combat troops from Afghanistan in 2014.

Calling music “the international language of peace and of possibilities and dreams,” the former senator said that he had “very, very high hopes for your country that you can find peace and stability.”

The 69-year-old mentioned that when he was the students’ age, he played in a rock band called the Electras whose performances can be found on YouTube.

“And I still play guitar. When I go home, I love to play guitar,” Kerry said, which prompted several Afghan teenagers, who had been listening expressionless, to roar with approval and wave him the heavy metal-style sign of the horns.

Sarmast, who earned a doctorate in music at Monash University in Australia, said that the attitudes of young Afghans made him confident about the future, even though he relies largely on funding from the United States and other governments to run the school.

He pointed to protests last year in the western city of Herat, where young people took to the streets to overrule a cleric who tried to ban a concert. “The mentality of the youth has enormously changed,” Sarmast said. “The condition is not the same which led to the arrival of the Taliban.”

His institute is working on the first notation to preserve Afghan traditional music that had been passed down orally.

Shaheer Kabuli, 20, who studies trumpet, voiced hope that the tour “will show every country that Afghanistan has music” as the country prepares for its transition. “In 2014, if the Taliban will not come back in Afghanistan, I think that music will do very well,” he said. “But if they come back like they did 10 years ago, then…” His voice trailed off.

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Maldives: Maafaru Airport opened for development

SunOnline – February 4, 2013 – Transport Ministry has announced to seek parties interested in developing and managing Noonu Maafaru Airport. The agreement made with Noonu Hotels was terminated.

The announcement comes following disconcerted protests staged by the Maafaru people regarding the delay in the work of the airport. Protesters gave the government a period of 3 months to solve the issue.

Transport Ministry has announced to find parties interested in developing and managing airport, to which the government would also award a tourist resort for its development and operation. The bid is open for both local and international parties. The Transport Ministry announcement stated for interested parties to submit their Expression of Interests (EoI) by the 14th of this month.

In 2008, Maumoon administration awarded Maafaru airport to be developed by Noonu Hotels, along with MVR 7 million. Transport Ministry has said that even though the agreement has now been revoked, the company has failed to pay back the money.

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Maldives: Harbour development projects for three islands awarded

SunOnline – February 4, 2013 – Housing Ministry has signed harbor development projects for three islands, with three different companies today. One of the islands includes the historically significant island of Haa Alif Utheemu. Housing Ministry also signed harbour development agreements for Laamu Dhanbidhoo and Laamu Maavah.

The harbour in Haa Alif Utheemu is predicted to be completed within one year and is estimated to cost MVR 25 million. The construction of the harbour, which is planned to have dimensions of 500 feet by 250 feet, was awarded to Heavy Force Private Limited. The agreement was signed by Managing Director of Heavy Force Ibrahim Zameer on behalf of the company.

Work on the Utheemu harbour project is planned to start on the 26th of this month.

The harbour in to be constructed in Laamu Dhanbidhoo, which comes following the significant deterioration of the current harbour, is also planned to be completed within a duration of one year and is estimated to cost MVR 29.7 million. It is planned to have dimensions of 450 feet by 250 feet was awarded to Maldives Transport and Contracting Company (MTCC). Chief Executive Officer of MTCC Dr. Ahmed Ad’ham Abdulla signed the agreement on behalf of the company.

Work on the Laamu Dhanbidhoo harbour is planned to start on the 20th of March this year.

Laamu Maavah harbour construction project which also comes after deterioration of the current harbour, is also estimated to be completed within a duration of one year and is estimated to cost MVR 28.2 million. The dimension of the harbour is planned to be 800 by 300 feet, and was awarded to AMIN Construction Private Limited. Managing Director of the company Abdulla Mohamed signed the agreement on its behalf.

Work on the Laamu Maavah harbour is planned to start on the 15th of March this year.

Minister of Housing Dr. Mohamed Muiz signed all the agreement on behalf of the government. Muiz said that all three harbour development projects will be financed from the state budget.

The previous government had hesitated to develop a harbour on Haa Alif Utheem in fear that such a project might damage the historical long beach of the island, in addition to affecting the island’s environment other ways. When asked by Sun if the current project is likely to cause such damages to the island, the minister said that he does not foresee such a big change occurring to the island’s environment.

“We think about all that. God willing, such damages will not occur,” said Dr. Muiz.

He also said that such things are considered during the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) and that the area currently planned for the harbour poses the least amount of damage to the island.

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Iran to establish first geotourism centre in Aras Free Zone

Jan 27, 2013 – PressTV Iran is planning to establish the country’s first geotourism research center in Aras Free Zone in a bid to foster scientific research on geopark and geological issues.

Aras Geotourism Research Centre will be launched in March in collaboration with Tabriz University, said deputy head of Aras Free Zone Organization in Cultural, Social and Tourism Affairs Adel Najafzadeh.

“This is the first geotourism research center in the country that will play vital role in the inscription of Iranian geopark in the Aras Free Zone, East Azerbaijan Province, on the UNESCO World Heritage List, Najafzadeh noted.

Moreover, the center will provide scientific opportunities for the experts and researchers of the arena.

While Aras geopark was reported with some shortcomings in its form and infrastructures during the previous round of UNESCO assessment, many attempts have been made to remove the problems and improve the area for next session of the World Heritage Committee in the 2013 autumn, Najafzadeh added.

UNESCO inspectors visited the Aras geopark as the Iranian second geopark last year and offered the organization some ideas to improve the area.

Iran’s first geo-park was included on the World Heritage list in 2006. It is located on the Persian Gulf island of Qeshm, south Iran.

Geo-parks are regarded as areas where exceptional and rare geological landforms are preserved in pristine natural conditions. Scientific research and educational activities can also be pursued in geoparks.

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Arab Health a boost to Dubai’s status as an international hub for medical tourism

Dubai: February 9, 2013, Gulf News: The medical tourism initiative received a much-needed boost as government bodies, stakeholders, private healthcare representatives and global healthcare companies met under the same roof of Arab Health, which opened on January 28.

According to healthcare officials, who spoke about the medical tourism initiative and its implementation, the sector generated $1.6 billion (Dh5.8 billion) for Dubai in 2012.

The figure for medical tourism is expected to increase this year.

Officials said there were several drivers for growth. World-class healthcare, niche specialities and Dubai’s reputation as a politically stable, modern and developed city in addition to the emirate’s regulatory environment, capacity planning and encouragement of Public Private Partnerships (PPP) all played a role.

The initiative was announced in 2012 by Shaikh Hamdan Bin Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai and Chairman of the Dubai Executive Council. Since then, several measures have been taken to unify medical tourism procedures in collaboration with the Dubai Health Authority (DHA), General Directorate for Residency and Foreigners Affairs (GDRFA) and the Department of Tourism and Commercial Marketing (DTCM), among others.

Last month the DHA and GDRFA signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on medical tourism visas. The MoU will help overseas patients who wish to have treatment in Dubai take advantage of a three-month medical tourist visa, extendible twice, up to nine consecutive months.

The medical tourism initiative will be implemented by hosting medical exhibitions, participating in overseas exhibitions, encouraging global healthcare providers to set up businesses and increasing government and private investment in healthcare, said Eisa Al Maidour, Director-General of the Dubai Health Authority (DHA).

He told Gulf News that the DHA had completed a comprehensive capacity survey of public and private healthcare facilities in Dubai under the Dubai Clinical Services Capacity Plan (DCSCP) 2020.

He explained that the gathered information will provide investors with the necessary data for investment. Further, the DCSCP will point out the specialities and sub-specialities where investment is needed.

Al Maidour said: “The data will definitely make Dubai’s healthcare environment attractive for investors. Dubai is a one-stop shop for a medical tourist with its medical and other facilities.”

According to Marwan Abedin, Chief Executive Officer, Dubai Healthcare City (DHCC), the free zone healthcare provider is positioned to become a hub for medical tourists.

Dubai Healthcare City (DHCC) which was launched in 2002 has more than 3,700 licensed healthcare professionals, 120 internationally acclaimed medical centres, and 90 specialities. 
Abedin told Gulf News that over the last three years DHCC has witnessed growth in medical tourism with 15 per cent of its patients categorised as medical tourists.

He said: “Medical tourism is one of our key focus areas. The DHCC along with its stakeholders has identified the pieces of the puzzle that will help formulate the medical tourism strategy from healthcare regulations to service industry partnerships and logistics. We are also looking at collaborating with tourism authorities abroad.”

To further the initiative, the DHCC has introduced a comprehensive guide, Patients Beyond Borders: Dubai Healthcare City Edition, as a resource for medical travel in Dubai.

Dr Carlos Nunez, Chief Medical Officer at CareFusion, manufacturer of products and services that reduce medication errors and hospital-acquired infections, told Gulf News that increasing the standards of medical care is a commendable effort by the authorities.

He said: “It will have a positive impact on medical tourism. The reason people go to a different country for treatment is for better quality, safety and affordable cost.”

Dubai attracts medical visitors from countries such as Libya, Iraq, Iran, Nigeria, Tunisia, India, Pakistan, Russia and those from the GCC, among others.

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Oman Air Continues Support For Muscat Festival 2013

Oman Air, the Official Carrier and Gold Sponsor of the month-long Muscat Festival 2013 is continuing its long relationship with this popular celebration of all aspects of Omani culture. The Festival, which takes place between January 30th and February 28th, focuses this year on education, fun and entertainment for youth, and is expected to attract up to two million visitors.

Oman Air has partnered with Muscat Municipality and the Oman Ministry of Tourism in a continued bid to promote Oman as a unique tourism destination. Held primarily in two Muscat parks, Amerat Public Park and Naseem Gardens, beside the Sultan Qaboos Sports Complex, the Festival features a wide range of attractions showcasing Oman’s rich culture and timeless tradition. With music, food, multimedia, fun and fireworks to be enjoyed, the event is open daily between 4pm and 11pm, and attracts millions of spectators from home and abroad. In addition, an International Trade Fair and Entertainment City ensures the Festival continues to wow its visitors.

Oman Air’s Chief Executive Officer, Wayne Pearce, said: “We are delighted to maintain our position as Official Carrier for the Muscat Festival. The Festival is now in its 13th year and we anticipate that it will attract more visitors than ever before, as awareness of Oman’s rich heritage and traditions continues to grow internationally.

“We look forward to welcoming visitors to the Oman Air stand in Naseem Park, where we are demonstrating the airline’s award-winning products and services. All visitors are invited to enter our raffles, held at weekends throughout the event, which offers chances to win many exciting prizes.

“It is a pleasure to be associated with such a high-profile and popular event, and will continue our drive to make Oman a must-see destination for visitors from around the world.”

Oman Air plays a vital part in both bringing visitors to Muscat to enjoy the Festival and promoting the country’s many attractions to a worldwide audience.

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Jordan reports tourism revenues of $3.47 billion in 2012

The Arabian Travel Market (ATM) road show arrived in Amman yesterday (Sunday 10 February) to conduct an educational seminar at a time when Royal impetus is driving Jordan’s ambitious tourism development plans.

The Hashemite Kingdom is ploughing ahead with its 25-year master plan for sector development and government figures report a 15.3% increase in 2012 tourism receipts on 2011 figures, adding US$3.47 billion to the economy.

According to Jordan’s Central Bank, the increase in tourist revenues was due to the pick-up of inbound tourism numbers, with an increase in visitors noted from Iraq, Libya and the US in particular.

Jones Lang LaSalle Hotels’ EMEA Q3 2012 Quarterly Newsletter reported that hotels in Jordan achieved the best trading results in the Middle East, primarily due to an 18.1% increase in occupancy. Amman was the best performing city in the Middle East & Africa region for the same period, with 30.4% RevPAR growth.

The Jordan Tourism Board will lead a host of high-profile participants to Arabian Travel Market (ATM) 2013 which takes place at the Dubai World Trade Centre on 6-9 May, such as Amlak Hotels & Tourism Investment and first time exhibitor Belle Vue Hotels. Commenting on the on the renewed optimism and confidence in Jordan, Mark Walsh, Portfolio Director, Reed Travel Exhibitions, said:

“Jordan currently has a pipeline of around 3,858 hotel rooms, with 2014 set to be a banner year for openings, with a number of high profile hospitality names making their market debut, and the country is definitely on the cusp of a tourism revival,”

Leisure demand, thanks to the country’s rich cultural heritage, remains the key tourism driver and one of the key elements of the Kingdom’s tourism master plan is development in and around the Dead Sea and Aqaba with a number of hotels set to open in 2014/15, including the Westin Aqaba Harbour Resort & Spa, Starwood’s Luxury Collection Al Manara Hotel and the JW Marriott Aqaba Hotel & Spa, along with the headline grabbing US$1.5 billion Red Sea Astrarium – a Star Trek-themed amusement park.

“The current annual capacity of 3.5 million passengers at Queen Alia International airport, will be superceded by expansion plans to accommodate up to nine million passengers per year with the imminent launch of the new US$750 million terminal, and a second phase taking that to 12 million in the coming years,” added Walsh.

According to the Ministry of Tourism, the total number of visitors to the country fell by 7.3% in 2012, to 6,314,250, compared to 6,812,426 in 2011, however 4,162,367 overnight tourists were recorded in 2012, up a healthy 5.1% from 3,959,643 in 2011. The number of visitors heading to Jordan’s key archaeological sites also dropped, although Petra Archaeological Park reported a 15% increase in December 2012 visitors against the previous year.

Held under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE, Ruler of Dubai and set to celebrate its 20th anniversary, the show 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.

The perennially popular 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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World’s First A380 Facility Open for Business in Dubai

Dubai, UAE – February 10, 2013 – Dubai Airports and Emirates today announced the successful completion of the phased launch of Concourse A – the home of the A380 and the world’s first purpose-built facility for the aircraft at Dubai International.

All 20 A380 capable contact gates and Emirates’ luxurious First Class and Business Class lounges, which comprise 29,000 square metres of the facility, are now fully operational after a five-week-long phase-in period.

During the first month of operations following its inaugural flight on January 2, 2013, EK003 bound for Heathrow and operating from one of the four contact stands opened during Phase 1, Concourse A has handled 461,972 pieces of luggage carried on over 2,450 flights serving 589,234 passengers.

“The full opening of Concourse A is a significant milestone and achievement in supporting and enabling the continued growth of Emirates, and our focus and commitment to being a leader in offering our customers innovative products and services that provides them with an unsurpassed travel experience. With a current fleet of 31 A380s and a further 59 on order, Emirates is the largest operator of this aircraft in the world, and it is only fitting that we have a world class facility that meets this need and represents our leadership in this regard,” said Tim Clark, President, Emirates Airline.

“Much like the opening of Terminal 3 in 2008, the phase in of Concourse A has resulted in the seamless introduction of world-class infrastructure that responds to the rapid growth of Emirates and caters to the needs of its discerning and truly global customer base,” said Paul Griffiths, CEO of Dubai Airports. “Concourse A is a vital element of our $7.8 billion investment in the continued expansion of Dubai International which will see it become the world’s busiest airport for international passenger traffic by the end of 2015.”

Concourse A, , is part of the Terminal 3 complex built for the use of Emirates, from where its passengers can travel to its network of 21 A380 destinations across Europe, North America, Australia and Asia.

With 11 floors and a total built-up area of 528,000 sqm, Concourse A is connected to Concourse B and Terminal 3 via an underground train. Unlike any other airport facility in the world, the First Class and Business Class lounges have dedicated floors that offer direct and convenient access to aircraft boarding gates. The lounges, which extend the entire length of the concourse, are the largest in the world and offer customers’ fine dining with showcase kitchens, conference rooms, business centres, a Timeless Spa, entertainment zones, dedicated smoking areas as well as children’s play areas. The First Class lounge passengers also have the added convenience of a dedicated duty free shopping area and a Le Clos wine cellar.

Concourse A also offers an enhanced duty free shopping and dining experience featuring a wide variety of high-quality and globally recognised food and beverage brands which include Paul, Umaizushi Bistro, Picnic, Wafi Gourmet, Carluccio’s, Cho Gao, Pulp Juice Bar, McDonalds and McCafe, Shake Shack, Costa Metropolitan, Starbucks, Le Pain Quotidien, Giraffe, Heineken Lounge, Jack’s Bar & Grill and Moet & Chandon Champagne Bar.

Concourse A boosts capacity at Dubai International from 60 million to 75 million passengers per year. It is a vital part of Dubai Airports’ $7.8 billion Strategic Plan 2020 which will increase airport capacity to 90 million by 2018.

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flydubai touches down in exotic Maldives

flydubai, Dubai’s innovative low-cost airline, has inaugurated services to its latest destination – Malé, the capital of the Maldives.

The inaugural flight, FZ561, departed Dubai Terminal 2 at 0035hrs on 20 January, arriving at Malé International Airport (Ibrahim Nasir International Airport) at 0620hrs local time. A water cannon salute and delegation of senior Maldivian state officials received the aircraft and flydubai’s Chief Executive Officer, Ghaith Al Ghaith on the runway. Together with local and international media, they later attended a press conference at the Jumeirah Vittaveli resort.

Ahmed Adheeb Abdul Ghafoor, Minister of Tourism, Arts and Culture, said: “The start of flydubai’s flights open our wonderful nation to a wider number of tourists, while also offering affordable fares to Dubai for our residents. Through this regular service, we look forward to welcoming travellers from a wider range of destinations and continuing to develop our tourism appeal.”

Speaking at yesterday’s press conference, flydubai’s CEO, Ghaith Al Ghaith, said: “Launching flights to Malé is a great start to the year as we introduce our affordable fares and innovative onboard services to a new market. I am confident that the Maldives will prove attractive to passengers from across our network, particularly those in the GCC and CIS regions who can transit easily through Dubai’s aviation hub.”

Furthering its commitment to enhancing passenger experience, flydubai has become the first airline to offer daily updated digital newspapers through its In-Flight Entertainment (IFE) system. The eReader platform provides access to 45 newspapers in seven languages from across the globe in pdf format.

Patrick Préfontaine, President of DTI Solutions, the airline industry’s leading provider of in-flight digital reading software which supplied flydubai’s eReader, said: “We’re delighted to have helped flydubai achieve this historic project. We truly believe that eReader solutions are strategic for airlines to provide their passengers with relevant and engaging content, while benefiting from the noted advantages of digital content such as weight and cost reductions, compared to paper-based media onboard.”

Meanwhile, joining flydubai in the Maldives were representatives from Boeing, who delivered the airline’s latest 737-800 aircraft in December 2012.

flydubai now flies five times a week to the Maldives, a nation consisting of twenty-six atolls and 1,190 coral islands. The country is particularly popular with tourists from Russia, CIS and the GCC, who are attracted by the lush white sandy beaches, serene turquoise lagoons and richly colourful coral reefs that are renowned the world over for their bio-diversity and radiant flora and fauna.

Gerald Lawless, President and CEO of Jumeirah Group, said: “We congratulate the flydubai team on opening up the new route to the Maldives. This will allow many more people to experience the exotic beauty of this remarkable nation, where we are proud to run two of the most beautiful luxury hotels: Jumeirah Vittaveli and Jumeirah Dhevanafushi. We also appreciate the significant contribution flydubai makes to the growth of tourism in Dubai and the region.”

flydubai’s network now spans more than 50 destinations in 32 countries across the Middle East, Africa, Indian Subcontinent, Asia, the CIS and Central & Eastern Europe.

Flights to Malé operate five times a week. Return fares from Dubai to Malé start at AED 1,730 (US$470). All fares are inclusive of all taxes plus one piece of hand luggage weighing up to 7 kg and one small laptop bag or handbag. Checked baggage starts at AED 50 for 20 kg. A seat with extra legroom costs AED100. Once on board, passengers can choose from a range of optional extras, including in-flight entertainment packages priced from AED 10 or select from the varied menu of refreshments and Duty Free items.

Flights between Dubai and Malé can be purchased from flydubai’s website (flydubai.com), its Call Centre in the UAE (+9714 231 1000), as well as through travel partners and flydubai Travel Shops in the UAE and Malé (+960 334 5000). Further information and details of the carrier’s car rental and travel insurance services can also be found on flydubai.com

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Haram Mosque will have six floors after expansion

Makkah, 29 Rabi Al-Awwal 1434/10 February 2013 (IINA) – The project for the expansion of the Haram Mosque in Makkah includes the expansion of the Mataf area and increasing the number of floors to six. The project also includes the installation of the central air-conditioning of the King Abdulaziz Endowment Project, and the construction of 63 hotel towers.

Dr. Muhammad Al-Khozaim, deputy head of the Presidency for the Two Holy Mosques, told Okaz/Saudi Gazette newspapers that there is a study underway to connect all courtyards of the mosque with Mataf area via escalators to facilitate smooth flow of pilgrims. The expansion project consists of three main areas. The first is the expansion of Al-Haram itself to accommodate 2 million worshippers. The second is the development of exterior areas consisting of rest rooms, tunnels, and other services to ensure the smooth movement of worshippers. The third is the support services area of air-conditioning, electricity station, water stations, and other services.

The Ottoman expansion of Mataf will be removed, and the Mataf will be expanded on three sides. Al-Haram will initially consist of four floors, similar to Mataf, and will have two more floors added in the future.

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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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Saudi lends SR375 million for road projects in Mindanao

Riyadh, Sunday, 29 Rabi Al-Awwal 1434/10 February 2013 (IINA) – The Saudi Arabian government has made a first payment of SR 75 million ($ 20 million) — of an expected SR 375 million soft loan — for various road projects in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), according to a high-ranking official from that Philippine region.

Lanao del Sur Governor Mamintal “Bombit” Adiong Jr., who is visiting Saudi Arabia, confirmed that the loan was awarded to a Mindanao-based construction company to implement the project in the second quarter of this year. Adiong Jr., whose late father was an overseas foreign worker (OFW), said the amount will bankroll vital road projects in the south, particularly in the seat of the ARMM government. It will be implemented by the Philippine Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), Arab News reported.

Adiong Jr. thanked the Saudi government for the financial assistance. He said it will help economic development in ARMM, especially in building proper infrastructure and boosting the agriculture sector. The ARMM covers the provinces of Lanao del Sur, Basilan, Maguindanao, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi. He said Saudi Arabia has made similar gestures in the past in a bid to bring peace to the region. The road projects funded by the Saudi government include the East Diversion Road, SR 65.3 million (P 709.03 million); Lake Lanao Circumferential Road from Marawi City to Bayang, SR 38 million (P 421.6 million); Lake Lanao Circumferential Road from Bayang to Ganassi SR 38.7 million (P 420.3 million); Basilan Circumferential Road from Tumahubong to Isabela SR 38.7 million (P 414.9 million); and the Basilan Circumferential Road from Isabela to Sumisip SR 38.2 million (P 415.2 million). These are scheduled to be completed in May 2014.

The governor said that President Benigno Aquino III’s administration sees the people of ARMM as real partners in the country‘s development. Citing the framework agreement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), he added this will pave the way for more Muslim countries to invest in the Philippines and ARMM. Under the framework agreement, Adiong Jr. said there will be seven commissioners from the government and eight from the MILF, including the chairman.

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Royal Jordanian increases flight frequency to Libya to 15 weekly

Amman-Feb. 6, (Petra)– Royal Jordanian will increase its operations to Libyan destinations to 15 weekly flights, in light of the growing demand on travel between the two counties. The increased frequency gives passengers more travel options and more flexible flight schedules.

RJ thus added three regular flights between Amman and Tripoli, as of February 9, 2013, bringing its overall operation to Tripoli up to 10 weekly from one daily. The service between Amman and Misrata also increased from 1 to 2 weekly, starting February 6, 2013. The airline operates three weekly flights to Benghazi.

This step is taken to meet the rising demand – from Jordanian and Libyan businessmen and students on travel between the two countries. Demand also comes from Libyans who seek medical care in Jordan, and from passengers traveling from the Gulf region to Libya via Amman.

RJ will run its service to Misrata on Tuesdays and Fridays. Departure from Amman will be at 11:30 am and arrival in Misrata at 13:20 pm. The return flight, from Misrata, is at 14:45 pm, and arrival to Amman at 19:45 pm.

RJ will operate the additional three flights to Tripoli on Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays. The plane will take off from Amman at 07:00 am and land in Tripoli at 09:05 am; it will leave Tripoli at 09:55 am and arrive in Amman at 15:15 pm. The remaining seven flights are as already scheduled.

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