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22 Dec, 2014

E-encyclopedia documents Haj through the ages

Compiled by Imtiaz Muqbil & Sana Shamsi

A compilation of progressive, positive, inspiring and motivating events and developments in the world of Islam for the week ending 22 December 2014 (30 Safar 1436). Pls click on any of the headlines below to go to the story.




Malaysian handicraft store Karyaneka has launched its first online portal and mobile application, which allows customers worldwide to purchase Malaysian-made handicrafts of outstanding craftsmanship. Karyaneka teamed up with two leading local e-commerce portals, FashionValet.com and Groupon.com to set up the online portals: http://www.karyaneka.my and http://www.karyanekastore.my. The full catalogue of its products includes pewter, woodcarving, silver brassware, Malaysian fabrics like songket and batik, and many more. This initiative was made possible through its partnership with Tukul Cipta Industri Sdn Bhd (TCI). Executive Director of TCI Abdul Munaf Dr. Sultan believes that this new venture will help the globalisation of the local arts and crafts industry. TCI will also introduce Karyaneka through various platforms such as online sales, vending machines at strategic tourist spots and kiosks, online and offline catalogue-based sales as well as boutiques in major cities around the world. Currently, the catalogues are available at all hotel rooms in the Klang Valley. The initiative aims to bring Malaysia’s heritage to greater heights internationally, even to London, Paris and New York City via the Karyaneka International boutique cafés, which will create a positive impact on Malaysia’s arts and crafts industry.

For more information, visit Karyaneka’s website at http://www.karyaneka.my and http://www.karyanekastore.my.


The Islamic Tourism Centre in Malaysia has launched a vibrant new website presenting Malaysia as a prime destination for Islamic tourism and a global halal hub. The website offers a wealth of information on Mosque trails, Islamic Museums, Ramadan & Eid-ul Fitr, Muslim-Friendly Tour Highlights, as well as a Muslim Visitor’s Guide, Halal Directory and Souvenirs Directory. Located strategically at the heart of Southeast Asia, Malaysia is well-known for its natural beauty and diverse cultural landscape. At its social core are three of Asia’s oldest civilisations – Malay, Chinese and Indian – as well as the ethnic communities of Sabah and Sarawak, resulting in a unique and inspiring blend of cultures. With an abundance of halal food, prayer facilities and Islamic attractions, Malaysia perfectly caters to the needs of Muslim travellers. The ITC plays a pivotal role in bringing Malaysia to the forefront of Islamic tourism. It works with industry players to build their capacity in Islamic tourism, thus ensuring that the needs of Muslim visitors are better served. ITC has also taken several initiatives in standardising industry’s best practices through research, seminars, workshops and industry outreach programmes. Now is the perfect time to experience the country’s multitude of Muslim-friendly tourism products – Islamic architectural heritage, halal gastronomic delights, vibrant Islamic festivals and world-class Islamic events – all guaranteed to give visitors an incredible time.

Click here to see the fabulous new website

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 http://www.tourismmalaysia.gov.my

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.




Islamic-Iranian clothing expo starts

Tehran, Dec 16, IRNA – The 7th exhibition of Islamic-Iranian clothing, in the field of Hijab, opened today at Imam Khomeini (RA) grand Mosalla (prayers ground) in the Iranian capital city.

The expo’s opening ceremony was attended by a group of state officials as well as designers and producers of Islamic and Iranian clothing some of which demanded to be supported by the government.

The event is mounted by the Culture and Islamic Guidance Ministry, IRIB, Fashion National Foundation and Kimia Tejarat Ajand Company. The expo will run until December 22.

The Islamic style of clothing is gaining more fame across the globe, as more people even in non-Muslim countries are willing to use Islamic fashion for being unique and stylish. Over 7,000 designers are active in Iran’s fashion industry.

Fashion shows are held in Iran throughout the year to promote the appropriate way of clothing. Most of these festivals, which only feature women, are solely attended by women. They show that hijab is not a barrier to Iranian women’s social participation.

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Urdu journalist recognized for contributions

Jeddah: Arab News 18 December 2014 – Zahid Ali Khan, editor in chief of The Siasat Urdu Daily in Hyderabad, was felicitated by community members and Saudi businessmen at Dewaniah Jeddah recently in recognition of his 50 years of service to Urdu journalism, national integration and communal harmony.

Introducing Zahid Ali Khan, Mir Gazanfar Ali Zaki, general secretary of Indian Youth Welfare Association, said that Khan, in his seven decades of enormous opportunity has achieved many contributions.

He has left an indelible imprint on the hearts of millions by a commitment to living an exemplary life which reflects an honest approach, integrity, wisdom, compassion and living a life of principles.

He said that Khan’s remarkably eventful and dynamic life needs to be understood in a manner which does justice to his enormous contributions and personal sacrifices.

Chief guest Khalid A. Al Fozan said that India and Saudi Arabia have a long history of cultural and brotherly relations. He said the Indian culture and people have a special place in the hearts and minds of the Saudi community.

Hussam Al-Kahtani and Emad A. Al-Muhaidib also praised the contributions of Zahid Ali Khan and introduced him to the gathering.

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SCTA and Saudia sign deal to promote domestic tourism

RIYADH, Arab News, 17 December 2014 – Prince Sultan bin Salman, chairman of the Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities (SCTA) inked an accord with Saleh Al-Jasser, the director general, Saudi Arabian Airlines, to meet the growing demand in domestic tourism.

The agreement was signed at the SCTA’s headquarters following their meeting to discuss among other issues the early preparation for the summer vacation during which domestic destinations are in high demand.

In a press statement, Prince Sultan said the meeting comes within the framework of coordination and cooperation by Saudi Arabian airlines aimed to support the local tourism sector and to achieve the needs of the citizens and locals by increasing the seat capacity.

He said that the meeting dealt with the mechanisms of how to address the future vision to keep up with the great expansion of the national tourism and the desire of the national flag-carrier to organize programs designed for the sector that has a vital role in economic growth and job creation.

It was also agreed that the airlines would provide outlets for the sale of handicrafts produced by citizens.

Al-Jasser said that since both organizations are working under one system, there is always considerable scope for cooperation between the two sides.

Under the MoU, the two parties will activate the ongoing study and cooperation to determine the current and future needs of the local destinations, and organize internal flight schedules based on the airline’s potential and capacity. They will also implement a jointly plan to hold exhibitions and conferences.

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Historic Jeddah festival takes on a new identity

Jeddah, Arab News 17 December 2014 – Jeddah Gov. Prince Mishaal bin Majed, chaired a meeting of the Supreme Committee for the Historic Festival with representatives from the civil government and from the private sector at his office in Jeddah on Monday.

The historic festival, which promises a host of cultural, historical, literal and entertainment events namely cultural lectures, museums, cultural and literary competitions, will be launched on Jan. 15, 2015.

Prince Mishaal has given a new identity and a new theme to the event called “Bright Sun” for its depiction of the lives of the people of the region from the past until the present through plays and exhibitions.

Besides books and a presentation showcasing the life and history of the region with the entry of pilgrims over the centuries, there will also be still photographs of old industries, old houses, traditional decorations and calligraphy exhibitions.

The prince stressed on the new identity saying that the festival indicates a return of people’s interest in the region. He said that it would add great value to the region and its people and the concept of the bright sun would apply to every part of the festival.

He noted that last year’s festival achieved huge success and stressed the importance of teamwork between all the participating sectors to ensure the success of the festival this year.

Prince Mishaal supervised all the areas of the festival, checked the reports submitted by the parties and sub-committees for the final preparations.

The prince is taking a personal interest in the final arrangements before the festival’s launch and sent a welcome message to festival visitors.

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Accelerating Iran-Iraq railway project urged

Ahvaz, Khouzestan prov, Dec 18, IRNA – Director of South Railway Abdolkarim Darvishzadeh said Thursday that President Hassan Rouhani has issued an order for acceleration of a project to connect Iran and Iraq through the Basra-Shalamcheh railway.

Speaking to IRNA, Darvishzadeh said that the inauguration of this project will play a key role in enhancing Tehran-Baghdad trade.

Following the preliminary agreements between officials from Iran and Iraq, the Basra-Shalamcheh railway was constructed 15 kilometers up to the Iraqi border.

In order to be completed, the railway needs 37 kilometers more construction work and a 700 meter long bridge to be constructed.

Minister of Roads and Urban Development Abbas Akhoundi said on Dec. 12 that connecting national railway network to neighboring countries is on the agenda of the Iranian government.

Akhoundi said that in addition to efforts to connect Iran’s railway to Iraq, the Iranian government is planning to extend the domestic Qazvin-Rasht-Astara railway to the Republic of Azerbaijan.

He said that development of border roads is the physical translation of the government’s policy of interaction with the world.

Presidents of Iran, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan on Dec. 3 inaugurated a railway connecting the three countries – known as East Caspian Sea Corridor – which is expected to bring prosperity to the region.

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UAE Seals Air Transport Agreement With Vietnam

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates, Dec 18 (NNN-WAM) – The United Arab Emirates, represented by the General Civil Aviation Authority, GCAA, has signed an Air Services Agreement, ASA, with the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, during the UAE-Vietnam Business Leaders Forum, which was held in the Jumeirah Emirates Towers, Dubai.

The agreement was signed by Sultan bin Saeed Al Mansoori, Minister of Economy of the UAE and Chairman of GCAA, and Dinh La Thang, Minister of Transport of Vietnam. Witnessing the ceremony was the Deputy Prime Minister of Vietnam. The ceremony was also attended by Saif Al Suwaidi, Director-General of the GCAA and Omar bin Ghaleb, Deputy Director-General of the GCAA.

The Agreement allows complete flexibility on the routes, capacity, number of frequencies and types of aircraft, in any type of service, passenger or cargo.

Al Mansoori stressed the importance of this type of Air Transport Agreements, which will contribute to boosting trade, tourism and investment, between the UAE and Vietnam, taking into account that now both Etihad Airways and Emirates Airlines operate direct services between the two countries.

Al Mansoori said, “The 14 direct flights per week, by Emirates Airlines and Etihad, connecting Hanoi to both Dubai and Abu Dhabi, have contributed significantly to increasing trade and strengthening ties among business communities in the two countries. I foresee several opportunities for the UAE and Vietnam, to come together to establish stronger synergy. We look forward to building a mutually beneficial relationship moving forward,” Saif Al Suwaidi said.

“Air Services Agreements, like the one signed with Vietnam, will contribute to boosting trade, tourism and investment between the UAE and Vietnam, taking into account that now the designated carriers of the UAE and Vietnam can operate direct services between the two countries.”

Laila Ali bin Hareb Al Muhairi, Assistant Director General, Strategy and International Affairs, said, “The UAE is always determined to strengthen its international collaboration in air transport and shall continue its far-reaching and sound advances toward opening and liberating skies with countries of the world.”

The UAE has concluded Air Transport Agreements with over 160 countries, of which 123 are open skies or fully liberal arrangements.– NNN-WAM

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Malaysia Will Continue To Build Creative Industry Talent

KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 16 (NNN-Bernama) — The Multimedia Development Corporation (MDeC) will continue to build talent in the creative content industry, thus helping to generate more revenue for the government, says Chief Executive Officer Yasmin Mahmood.

She said as of November 2014, the contribution from the creative multimedia industry, from 330 companies, has exceeded last year’s RM6.39 billion.

“MDeC has observed that the talent in the industry has improved and we hope to bring the multimedia companies and individuals with creative talent to the next level.

“We want to create more companies that are competent not only locally but globally,” she told reporters at the MSC Malaysia Intellectual Property Creators Challenge 2014 (IPCC).

She said although the number of creative content companies in the country is still small, they have big potential and will soon get a chance to collaborate with international industry players.

MDeC has a plan for those in the games and animation industry next year, she said, without disclosing further details.

“We want to encourage more people to enter this industry, which currently has only 50 companies,” she added.

The 15 IPCC winners announced today won grants totalling RM760,000.

The competition showcases the best local talents in the creative content industry, encompassing animation, casual games and digital interactive comics.

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Malaysia To Host Festival International Sports Extreme World In Langkawi

KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 16 (NNN-Bernama) — Malaysia will be the first country in South East Asia to host Festival International Sports Extreme (FISE) World Malaysia at Dataran Pekan Rabu in Langkawi from 18 to 20 Dec.

Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Langkawi Development Authority (LADA), Khalid Ramli said, total of 4,000 athletes were expected to take part in the event.

The competition open for both amateurs and professionals will feature rollerbalding, BMX and skateboard.

FISE’s first ever world tour included four stops, starting in Montpellier, followed by Andorra and China. Malaysia is the last stop this year.

“This event is the right choice to gain more local and international tourists to visit Langkawi. Moreover this time is the school holiday, so I expect more spectators at the FISE,” he told reporters, here.

Meanwhile, CEO of MyCEB, Zulkefli Sharif said FISE was testament to Malaysia’s capability to host large-scale outdoor action events.

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Oman International Travel & Hospitality Show 2014 Opens

MUSCAT, Oman, Dec 15 (NNN-ONA) – The two-day Oman International Travel & Hospitality Show (ITHS) 2014, was opened at the Oman Exhibition Centre, under the auspices of Eng. Khalfan bin Saleh bin Mohammed al-Naabi, Advisor of the Ministry of Sports Affairs.

The second version of the show is an ideal platform to shed light on the tourism and hospitality sector in the Sultanate.

The Show gathers specialists in travel, tourism and hospitality related sector, MICE companies, hotels, tour operators, travel agencies, transport companies, as well as IT & Consultants. It also includes business forum among local and international companies, to explore business opportunities.

On the sidelines of the Show, Oman Tourism Conference will be held under the theme: ‘Tourism Investments in the Sultanate to Enhance the Growth of National Economy.’

The Republic of India’s accredited Ambassador to the Sultanate, will deliver a working paper titled: ‘The role relations between Oman and India in promoting the tourism sector.’

There will be 16 speakers, who will discuss issues related to developing tourism industry in Oman, the role of developing the infrastructure, as well as, the role of human resources in line with the Sultanate’s trends.

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Iran To Export Agriculture Products To Russia

TEHRAN, Dec. 16 (NNN-MNA) – Iran’s Minister of Agriculture, Mahmoud Hojjati, has said ground has been set for Iran to start agriculture and dairy products export to Russia. Hojjati, on his way to Kazakhstan, made a short visit to Moscow to meet with Mehdi Sanayi, Iran ambassador to Russia.

Hojjati emphasized that Ministry of Agriculture tried to facilitate the export of Iranian agriculture and dairy products to Russia. “The certificate to export Iranian aquatic products has been issued,” he added.

Iranian ambassador, also, highlighted the great capacity of Iran-Russia commercial cooperation on agriculture products and expressed hope for expansion of bilateral relations in agriculture.

Russia, after being subjected to sanctions by West, has ceased the import of agriculture products from sanction-imposing countries. Therefore, it is looking for other producers to fulfill the need.

Iran and Russia have agreed upon export of agriculture and aquatic products and it is expected that exporting of Iranian products to Russia begin in near future.

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Malindo Air announces new KL-Kathmandu flight

KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 17 (NNN-Bernama) — Malindo Air aims to have a fleet of 100 aircraft in the next 10 years and will extend passenger services to South and East Asia, particularly Southern China in 2015. To date, Malindo Air has 11 ATR72-600 and seven Boeing 737s.

Chief Executive Officer Chandran Rama Murthy said the carrier would also introduce strategies to increase ancillary income throughout 2015.

“While we are very much focused on expanding ATR operations this year, we are looking to enhance our capacity and route network further to include Boeing operations,” he said in a statement to announce the commencement of a new daily flight service from Kuala Lumpur to Nepal on Feb 6, 2015.

Kathmandu will become Malindo Air’s 18th international destination and seventh destination in South Asia, after five destinations in India and two others in Bangladesh

By taking delivery of more aircraft order, Chandran said the carrier was poised to introduce more routes to widen its network in the coming months, strengthening air travel demand within the region.

With route expansion into Kathmandu, Chandran said Malindo Air was optimistic of capturing a bigger market to further enhance its network and brand.

“We have ambitious plans for 2015 where we will look at aggressively expanding our brand presence in the region,” he added.

A new Boeing 737-900 would be operated for the Kuala Lumpur-Kathmandu sector and will depart Klia2 daily at 7.05 pm and arrive at Tribhuvan International Airport at 9.30 local time.

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UAE Unveils Dubai Plan 2021 Eyeing Bigger Role As Hub

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates, Dec 18 (NNN-WAM) – Dubai ruler and prime minister of the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al-Maktoum, launched here, Dubai Plan 2021, state news agency WAM reported.

The framework of Dubai Plan 2021, includes six themes that shall define and describe Dubai by the year 2021.

The six themes are city of happiness, city of creative and empowered people, an inclusive and cohesive society, the preferred place to live, a smart and sustainable city, a pivotal hub in the global economy and excellent government.

Dubai Plan 2021, aims to reinforce Dubai positioning as a global centre and destination through a number of fields, programmes and projects launched recently, which have included the launch of the initiative to transform Dubai into the capital of the Islamic economy.

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Syrian Minister Affirms Important Role Of Art

TARTOUS, Syria, Dec 18 (NNN-SANA) – Culture Minister, Issam Khalil, affirmed the importance of the Ministry’s efforts, to discover and support talents, during a stage, which requires stirring the cultural stock for this nation, which believes in the high values of arts.

The Minister said in a speech, at the opening of the First theatrical Festival for the amateurs, in Tartous, that, art has to face “a mentality that seeks to destroy the art and kill the innovation and childhood,” hoping the festival would be a step towards upcoming ones that contain the Syrian continued innovation.

Director of the National Theatre in Tartous, Ali Ismael, said that, theatre is a stage for innovation and activation of youth energies, adding that the Culture Ministry’s support to the Youth drama, gave a momentum that was crowned by this festival.

On the sidelines of the week-long festival, Amret Musical band, presented a group of national songs and sculptor Ali Mu’ala, displayed 20 wood statues.

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Syrian Tourism Day Launched In Giulianova, Italy

GIULIANOVA, Italy, Dec 15 (NNN-SANA) – The Tourism Ministry and the Syrian community in Italy, launched yesterday, the Syrian Tourism Day activity, in the conferences hall, in the Italian city of Giulianova.

The event included a seminar on the methodical vandalism of Syria’s cultural heritage, at the hands of terrorists, in addition to a photo exhibition, showcasing Syrian heritage sites, before and after terrorists vandalised them.

This event, which is part of the Syrian Tourism Day activities, held in various places around the world, by the Tourism Ministry and Syrian communities abroad, will be concluded on Jan 10.

The Syrian Tourism Day activities were launched on June 13, in Toronto Canada, with the goal of holding activities in several countries, to relay the truth about what is happening in Syria, to the west and raise awareness about the impact of terrorism on Syria’s cultural heritage.

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Mozambique Gets New Airport In Northern City Of Nacala

NACALA, MOZAMBIQUE, Dec 15 (NNN-AIM) — President Armando Guebuza of Mozambique has officially inaugurated the country’s new international airport in the northern port city of Nacala, built at a cost of more than 250 million US dollars, with financial support from Brazil.

The imposing new buildings are yet further proof that “there are people committed to the construction of a prosperous Mozambique, and who oppose those who only know how to make speeches which incite to violence and destruction”, the president declared at Saturday’s opening ceremony.

In a clear reference to Afonso Dhlakama, leader of the former rebel movement, Renamo, Guebuza said he hoped that those who made such speeches would stop doing so “in order that Mozambique and its people may attain the well-being they long for”.

The president stressed that this airport, which can accommodate planes of any size, “shows that the development of Nacala is unstoppable”.

The airport, he added, was one of several major investments in Nacala. Others include the new coal terminal at Nacala-a-Velha, and the railway connecting the terminal to the Moatize coal basin in Tete Province, the expansion of the existing Nacala port, and two new hotels nearing completion.

Guebuza said in the almost ten years of his two presidential terms of office, a great deal had been done to build the infrastructures which would form the basis for the accelerated development of Mozambique.

Nacala is the fourth major civil aviation investment of the past decade. The others are the complete reconstruction of domestic and international terminals at Maputo airport, the rehabilitation of Pemba airport in the far north, and the transformation of Vilamkulo airport, in Inhambane Province, into an international airport, aimed essentially at the tourist trade.

The first airline using the new airport here is Mozambique’s publicly owned carrier, LAM (Mozambique Airlines). As from last Monday, LAM has been operating the Maputo-Nacala route three times a week. There are also tentative plans to fly from Nacala to Dubai and to the western Indian city of Mumbai.

During the opening ceremony, Transport Minister Gabriel Muthisse praised the work of Guebuza in transport and communications, which he described as a continuation of the work he had done when he held that ministerial portfolio between 1987 and 1994 prior to becoming president.

He stressed Guebuza’s leadership in the construction and rehabilitation of rail and port facilities which are “a major lever for the country’s development”.

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Opening Of 1st Stage Of Muscat Int’l Airport

MUSCAT, Oman, Dec 15 (NNN-ONA) – Dr. Ahmed bin Mohammed al-Futaisi, Oman Minister of Transport and Communications and Chairman of the Public Authority for Civil Aviation, said that, the total cost of the first stage and all the completed works at Muscat International Airport project, as of now, stands at about RO 700 million (USD 1.821 billion).

The completed works include all the infrastructure needed for the project, such as roads, runway, different bridges, tower, buildings, power plant, cooling plant and other works as well.

He added that, when the air traffic is shifted to the new runway, it will be operated for five hours daily, for twenty-one days, with effect from today. Afterwards, the full air traffic will be shifted and the new runway will be rehabilitated.

On his part, Dr. Mohammed bin Nasser al- Za’abi, Chairman of the Public Authority for Civil Aviation, said that the first stage of Muscat International Airport is a transition stage , at the history of aviation in Oman, after which it will move to wider horizons through the use of modern technologies and systems at the new airport.

He also pointed out that the new runway is designed to receive 30 to 40 aircraft during peak hours, i.e. one aircraft every two minutes, compared to 1 aircraft every 6 minutes at the old airport.

“Our competitiveness with airports of neighbouring countries will be clear, after the opening of the new passenger terminals, which are the first of its kind in the world. The design mixes between modernity and Omani authentic architecture. As of now, 75% of the passenger terminal at Muscat International Airport has been completed.

The major works, associated with the runway, and are part of the six packages, include those related to IT&C. The 9th package works are related to air traffic control system and the 10th package are related to navigation assist systems at the new runway.

The ceremony also included the opening of the new road that connects Sultan Qaboos Street to 18th of November Road, to facilitate traffic at areas near Muscat International Airport, he further said.

During the opening ceremony of the first stage of the Muscat International Airport, the 1st Oman Air’s Airbus 40, landed at the new runway. The General, Minister of Royal Office, accompanied by a number of ministers toured the completed facilities and buildings.

A large number of ministers, as well as, senior state officials attended the opening ceremony.

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MyFest Aims To Lure 29.4 Million Tourists To Malaysia

KUCHING, Dec 16 (NNN-Bernama) — Malaysia Year of Festival (MyFest) 2015 is targeting to receive 29.4 million tourist arrivals and RM98 billion in tourist receipts. Tourism and Culture Ministry secretary-general, Ong Hong Peng said the MyFest 2015 would continue to boost the country’s tourism sector and maintain Malaysia as a top tourist destination.

The implementation of MyFest 2010 was announced by Prime Minister Najib Razak in his 2015 Budget speech.

“The campaign will complement the Malaysia Transformation Plan and the country has set a target of 36 million tourist arrivals with RM168 billion tourist receipts in 2010,” he said at the MyFest 2015 briefing session here.

Also present was Sarawak Assistant Tourism Minister Gramong Juna, who later launched Sarawak MyFest 2015 campaign.

Dr Ong said the grand launch of the MyFest 2015 would be officiated by Najib on Jan 10 in Kuala Lumpur.

Themed “Endless Celebrations”, the yearlong calendar is packed with festivals of every ethnic, cultural festivals, shopping extravaganza, internationally acclaimed events, eco-tourism events, arts, music showcases, food promotions and other themed events.

He said Sarawak, with at least 10 mega events already in the pipeline, was ready to welcome MyFest 2015.

Among the major events that will be held in Sarawak are the Asean International Films Festival and Awards (AIFFA) in April next year, Kaul Mukah Festival (April), Borneo Jazz festival (May), World Harvest Festival (May), Babulang and Bisaya Buffalo Racing Festival (June), Rainforest World Music Festival (July), Borneo Cultural Festival (Aug) as well as Borneo International Kite Festival, Sarawak Regatta and Sarawak International Dragon Boat Regatta (Sept).

“The Malaysian tourism sector remains resilient despite various challenges faced and Malaysia is still on the right track to achieve the ‘Visit Malaysia Year’ target,” he said.

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UAE Seals Air Transport Agreement With Vietnam

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates, Dec 18 (NNN-WAM) – The United Arab Emirates, represented by the General Civil Aviation Authority, GCAA, has signed an Air Services Agreement, ASA, with the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, during the UAE-Vietnam Business Leaders Forum, which was held in the Jumeirah Emirates Towers, Dubai.

The agreement was signed by Sultan bin Saeed Al Mansoori, Minister of Economy of the UAE and Chairman of GCAA, and Dinh La Thang, Minister of Transport of Vietnam. Witnessing the ceremony was the Deputy Prime Minister of Vietnam. The ceremony was also attended by Saif Al Suwaidi, Director-General of the GCAA and Omar bin Ghaleb, Deputy Director-General of the GCAA.

The Agreement allows complete flexibility on the routes, capacity, number of frequencies and types of aircraft, in any type of service, passenger or cargo.

Al Mansoori stressed the importance of this type of Air Transport Agreements, which will contribute to boosting trade, tourism and investment, between the UAE and Vietnam, taking into account that now both Etihad Airways and Emirates Airlines operate direct services between the two countries.

Al Mansoori said, “The 14 direct flights per week, by Emirates Airlines and Etihad, connecting Hanoi to both Dubai and Abu Dhabi, have contributed significantly to increasing trade and strengthening ties among business communities in the two countries. I foresee several opportunities for the UAE and Vietnam, to come together to establish stronger synergy. We look forward to building a mutually beneficial relationship moving forward,” Saif Al Suwaidi said.

“Air Services Agreements, like the one signed with Vietnam, will contribute to boosting trade, tourism and investment between the UAE and Vietnam, taking into account that now the designated carriers of the UAE and Vietnam can operate direct services between the two countries.”

Laila Ali bin Hareb Al Muhairi, Assistant Director General, Strategy and International Affairs, said, “The UAE is always determined to strengthen its international collaboration in air transport and shall continue its far-reaching and sound advances toward opening and liberating skies with countries of the world.”

The UAE has concluded Air Transport Agreements with over 160 countries, of which 123 are open skies or fully liberal arrangements.

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Islamic Ministers of Higher Education to meet in Rabat

Thursday 18 Dec 2014 – Rabat (IINA) – The seventh session of the Islamic Conference of Ministers of Higher Education and Scientific Research, will kick off here Thursday under the patronage of Moroccan King Mohammad VI.

The opening session will be presided over by Sudan’s Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research and President of the 6th session Sumayah Abu Kashawa, in the presence of ISESCO Director General Dr. Abdulaziz Othman Altwaijri, Morocco’s Minister of Higher Education, Scientific Research and Professional Training Dr. Lahcen Daoudi, and the OIC General-Secretariat’s representative, besides the Ministers of Higher Education and Scientific Research of the OIC Member States.

The two-day event will be organized by the Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (ISESCO), at its headquarters in Rabat, with the participation of ministers of higher education from member-states of ISESCO. The session is organized in cooperation with Morocco’s Ministry of Higher Education, Scientific Research, and Professional Training, and in coordination with the General Secretariat of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).

“The Conference will examine the report of the Director General on ISESCO’s efforts in the field of higher education, scientific research and technology in the period between the 6th and 7th sessions of the Conference,” ISESCO said in a statement.

The session will also discuss a report on the implementation of “Key Performance Indicators for Universities in Islamic Countries”, the final report on the project “Atlas of Islamic World Science and Innovation”, and a draft guiding paper “Towards Building Knowledge Economies in ISESCO Member States”, according to the statement.

Participants will also examine other projects such as TAFAHUM (mutual understanding) Program on Exchange of Students, Faculty and Researchers among Universities in the Member States, in addition to a proposal for the establishment of OIC Collaborative Efforts in Commercialization and Entrepreneurship Education (OIC-CECE).

The conference will also discuss the Secretary-General’s report on the implementation of the activities of the Federation of the Universities of the Islamic World during the period between the 6th and 7th sessions. A round table meeting, under the theme of “Promoting Key Factors in Higher Education: Governance, Innovation and Employability” will also be held.

The conference will elect members of the Consultative Council for the Implementation of the Strategy for Science, Technology, and Innovation in Islamic countries.

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LEAD STORY: E-encyclopedia documents Haj through the ages

Sunday 14 Dec 2014 – Riyadh, Sunday, 22 Safar 1436/ 14 December 2014 (IINA) – The King Abdulaziz Foundation for Research and Archives has completed preparing and designing a website incorporating the largest encyclopedia on Haj and the Two Holy Mosques, Saudi Press Agency reported.

The Islamic project is considered the largest in terms of documenting and archiving all information related to Haj and the Two Holy Mosques since the Pre-Islamic era. All historical and cultural aspects have been covered by the project. The website focuses on the development of services provided to pilgrims as well as what sort of services were offered to pilgrims in different periods of history.

There is a digital database including research, books, documents, manuscripts, photographs, studies, and information related to pilgrims from inside and outside the country. Abdullah Al-Raqeeba, project director, says work on the project started in early 2009 when Prince Salman Bin Abdulaziz, Chairman of the Board of Directors of the foundation and General Supervisor of the encyclopedia, gave the approval. 115 teams incorporating 432 male and female researchers specialized in history and geography, hailing from different Arab and Muslim countries, along with a number of African, European, American, and Australian Muslim scholars worked on the project.

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Task Force of eminent Muslim scientists convenes in Malaysia

Tuesday 16 Dec 2014 – Kuala Lumpur (IINA) – Tan Sri Zakri Abdul Hamid, the Science advisor to the Prime Minister of Malaysia, kicked off on Tuesday the meeting of the Task Force on Science at Universities in the Muslim World, with an emphasis on education issues, Bernama news agency reported.

The initiative, launched by Muslim-Science.Com, seeks to jumpstart a serious discussion on critical issues and big questions at the intersection of science and religion within the Islamic World.

The Task Force focuses on science education, bringing together 13 leading global experts from the Islamic World and beyond to explore the big question of whether universities are contributing to the impoverished state of scientific development in the Muslim world, the participants will explore the positive roles that should be undertaken by the universities.

Tan Sri Zakri Abdul Hamid, the chairperson for the Task Force, reiterated the importance of kicking off this initiative saying, “We hope this Task Force will bring forth a consensus that could lead to policy action across the Islamic World”.

The task force is hosted by the Malaysian Industry-Government Group for High Technology (MIGHT). Prof. Nidhal Guessoum of the American University of Sharjah (UAE) is the Coordinator of the Task Force, and Datuk Dr. Mohd Yusoff Sulaiman, President and CEO of MIGHT is the Co-Convenor of the Task Force.

A launch event will take place in June 2015 to formally release the report of the Task Force and to seek partners that will work with the Task Force to implement the recommendations.

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King Abdullah approves project for Haram Mosque sunshades

Tuesday 16 Dec 2014 – Riyadh (IINA) – Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah has approved a project to install about 300 sunshades in the courtyards of the Grand Mosque in Makkah, similar to the ones at the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah.

Makkah Gov. Prince Mishaal bin Abdullah thanked the king for the royal gesture that would reduce the difficulties of worshippers who pray in the mosque’s courtyards under the scorching sun. “We have decided to install more than 300 umbrellas in the courtyards around the Grand Mosque including the newly expanded areas,” said Sheikh Abdul Rahman Al-Sudais, head of the Presidency for the Two Holy Mosques.

He said the umbrellas would cover about 275,000 square meters of open space surrounding the mosque. The Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah has nearly 250 umbrellas for the comfort of the pilgrims. Like blooming flowers, the umbrellas are programmed to fold and unfold in minutely delayed sequence to avoid collision between their moving parts. Their near-silent operation is automatically aligned with changes in the daily temperature. They open each morning, creating a translucent ceiling, and retract each evening in less than three minutes.

In summer, the open umbrellas provide daytime shade and reflect away much of the sun’s radiant energy. When closed at night, they allow residual heat absorbed by the stone floors and walls to escape back into the atmosphere. The process is reversed in winter. When temperatures are relatively low, umbrellas are closed during the day to allow the winter sun to warm the site, and opened at night to retain heat near ground level.

The mosque itself is air-conditioned. Lowering temperatures in the surrounding courtyards reduces the demand for cooling inside. Shading the courtyards accomplishes this, plus providing more comfortable areas for pilgrims and worshippers.

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UN marks Arabic Language Day

Wednesday 17 Dec 2014 – Paris (IINA) – UN Arabic Language Day is observed annually on December 18. The event is celebrated all around the world as a means to promote cultural understanding and encourage dialogue among people who speak different languages.

The UN Arabic Language Day was announced by the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 2010 aimed to “to celebrate multilingualism and cultural diversity as well as to promote equal use of all six of its official working languages throughout the organization”.

Organizations and governments hold cultural events that showcase the history and richness of the language. Seminars and conferences highlight the current developments in Arabic literature through lectures, talks and workshops by Arabic writers and poets.

Arabic is a language with a rich history and is spoken by almost 1.5 billion people around the world, and this include UNESCO’s 22 member states. The UN recognizes this and acknowledges the contribution of the language in fostering ties between different cultures and in the development of science, medicine, mathematics and literature through the ages.

December 18 was chosen as the date for the Arabic language to signify the day in 1973 when the General Assembly approved Arabic as an official UN language. The other official languages of the UN are French, English, Russian, Spanish and Chinese.

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Morocco to introduce Islamic banking by 2015

Wednesday 17 Dec 2014 – Rabat (IINA) – Governor of the Bank of Morocco Abdul Latif Jaouahiri expectes the introduction of a fully-fledged Islamic banking industry, officially called Participatory Finance, in Morocco by early 2015, after Morocco’s parliament approved a bill to regulate Islamic finance in the country.

Jaouahiri said Tuesday, in a statement to the Moroccan “Hsebres” website, that Morocco’s Central bank “has received several requests from foreign entities to invest in the establishment of Islamic Banks in Morocco,” stressing that these requests are being reviewed before starting any potential negotiations with the concerned stakeholders.

He added that after publishing the new law in the Official Gazette, periodicals will be issued to determine how it can be implemented. The Moroccan parliament has earlier ratified the draft law, pertaining to credit institutions and relevant governance bodies, which allocated its third portion to Participatory Financing, known as Islamic banks.

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Online ventures target global Muslim consumer market

Wednesday 17 Dec 2014 – London, Wednesday, 25 Safar 1436/ 17 December 2014 (IINA) – From travel guides to shopping portals, new Internet ventures aim to capitalize on the growing “Muslim lifestyle” market, which is expanding beyond food to include areas such as tourism, fashion and credit cards, according to Reuters.

Excluding food, where “halal” dietary restrictions must be followed, most of the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims are content to buy the bulk of their goods and services from conventional suppliers. A growing minority, however, want to certify more areas of their consumption as religiously permissible – a trend that appears partly due to rising incomes in majority-Muslim areas of the Gulf and southeast Asia, as well as to expanding choices for consumers. In some ways, the trend resembles the surge of consumption of luxury goods in emerging markets, as newly affluent consumers seek to express their identities partly through what they buy.

For example, Muslim consumers may want to stay in Islam-friendly hotels that ban alcohol, wear fashions that have been specifically designed to meet Muslim ideas of modesty, and use medicines that have been screened to exclude alcohol or gelatine made with banned animal products. The Muslim lifestyle market is spread across the world, so some firms are trying to cast a wider net by going online.

One is Singapore-based Crescent Rating, a firm which focuses on the halal travel market. “This is a very fragmented industry of largely offline transactions, with no real major players. It is in a prime position for disruption from an entrepreneurial point of view,” said chief executive Fazal Bahardeen.

Travel is one area of opportunity; Muslim consumers spent an estimated $140 billion on travel and tourism in 2013, according to New York-based DinarStandard, a research firm specialising in Muslim markets. Nobody knows how much of that spending was self-consciously “Islamic”; the vast majority was probably not. But even if 1 percent of spending went towards halal products and services, that was a sizeable amount.

CrescentRating has developed a travel index with Mastercard that ranks “Muslim-friendly” holiday destinations and is releasing a mobile application for its travel portal, HalalTrip.com. Its criteria include access to halal food and places of worship, and the option of having no alcohol in hotel rooms’ minibars.

This month, Mastercard will roll out its first halal benefits platform, allowing customers to redeem points to obtain halal products, said Safdar Khan, group head of Islamic payments for southeast Asia at Mastercard. In June, MasterCard launched a sharia-compliant debit card with Malaysia’s Lembaga Tabung Haji, a body which manages funds for Muslims to perform their pilgrimages to Mecca.

In the same month, it launched an Islamic credit card with Malaysia’s Maybank Islamic, Khan added. The Maybank card does not use interest rates, which are forbidden in Islam. It is based on the Islamic concept of ujra, or fee on service, in which bills are subject to additional management charges if the amounts have not been settled in full by the due date.

Malaysia-based Zilzar, launched in October, is an online market for halal products including food and beverages, clothing and fashion, electronics, medicines and media such as games and movies. “There is a convergence of factors in Muslim-majority countries: rising per capita income, Internet penetration, mobile and mobile commerce,” said chief executive Rushdi Siddiqui, a former head of Islamic finance at Thomson Reuters. “These were the same attributes in China that made Alibaba take off,” said Siddiqui, referring to the huge Chinese e-commerce company. His firm plans initially to seek business from 16 countries including Turkey and the United Arab Emirates.

Obstacles to such projects include a lack of consensus on what is halal, and the costs of hiring scholars to certify things as halal. But the emergence of regional trading hubs in halal goods and mutual recognition of standards are reducing ambiguity, Siddiqui said. In October, Dubai and Malaysia agreed to develop a global network of halal-certified companies, in order to simplify trade in halal products. Pakistan is finalizing its own federal halal authority, in an effort to bolster exports to Muslim countries.

A lack of Sharia-compliant funding sources is another hurdle for halal firms wanting to enter the global market. A study by the International Finance Corporation found over a third of small and medium-sized enterprises across nine majority-Muslim countries were excluded from the banking sector by a lack of Islamic financing options. This too could be addressed by new ventures such as Dubai-based Beehive, a crowdfunding portal launched in November which is developing a Sharia-compliant funding structure to be released next year, said chief executive Craig Moore. Beehive’s initial focus will be the United Arab Emirates, with plans to expand to other Gulf markets next year. The firm is backed by Rick Pudner, former group chief executive of Emirates NBD, Dubai’s largest bank.

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New KL centre for Muslim converts to open in 2015

Thursday 18 Dec 2014 – Putrajaya (IINA) – Pusat Darul Hidayah, which will function as a well-equipped centre for Muslim converts, will open in Jalan Sentul, Kuala Lumpur, next year, Bernama news agency reported.

Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Jamil Khir Baharom said the centre, managed by the Federal Territories Islamic Religious Council (MAIWP), could accommodate 300 people at a time.

The Darul Hidayah Centre will replace the existing shelter in a building in Kampung Baru, Kuala Lumpur, rented by MAIWP. “When the centre moves to its own building, it will be able to conduct religious classes in a more systematic manner for Muslim converts, besides having other facilities like a surau, dining hall and lodging.

“Building the new centre costs about RM18 million,” said Jamil Khir, who is also MAIWP chairman, at the handing-over of business zakat collections. He said the opening of Pusat Darul Hidayah was an innovative move by MAIWP in managing the zakat collection instead of just focusing on giving financial aid to the eight groups deserving zakat payments.

On zakat collection by MAIWP, Jamil Khir said the collection was higher at RM431 million to date, compared to the RM366 million collected in the same period last year, with zakat amounting to RM65 million so far collected from businesses this year. He said the number of business zakat contributors in the January-November 2014 period had increased by 18 per cent to 1,872.

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Malaysia to issue dependent visa for undergraduate Maldives students

Sun.mv – December 19, 2014 – Malaysia government has decided to issue dependent visa from January 2015 for the parents of Maldivian students studying up to undergraduate level in Malaysia. Mohamed Fayaz, Ambassador of Maldives to Malaysia said that Government of Malaysia has decided to issue visa to spouse, children and parents of Maldivian students studying in Malaysia based on the student visa period.

Fayaz said that Malaysian government has made the procedure for student visa easier twice in 2014. Fayaz noted that Maldivian students had to go to Sri Lanka to get visa from Malaysia at the beginning of this year.

“However, from April 2014, students can go to Malaysia after receiving visa approval letter. And now Malaysia government has decided to give dependent visa for the students studying up to undergraduate level. This is an incentive given to very few countries by Malaysia,” said Fayaz.

According to Fayaz, Malaysia being lenient in visa issue to Maldivian students is due to the strengthening relationship between Maldives and Malaysia and because of the good conduct of Maldivian students.

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Maldives plans to introduce Green Tax

Sun.mv – December 17, 2014 – President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom has ratified the Sixth Amendment Bill to the Tourism Act, regarding the introduction of Green Tax on tourists visiting resorts, hotels, and tourist boats in the Maldives. Following ratification, the new legislation has been published on the Government Gazette.

Once it is enforced on 1 November 2015, Green Tax of $6 per day would be levied on every tourist visiting resorts, hotels, and tourist boats in Maldives. It is the responsibility of the hotel operators to ensure that this tax is paid to Maldives Inland Revenue Authority (MIRA). The bill states that the procedures regarding the imposition and collection of this tax must be established by MIRA.

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Pope’s Turkey visit fuels hopes for more faith tourism

İZMİR- Anadolu Agency – Turkey has been unable to exploit its full faith tourism potential and the number of faith tourists visiting Turkey last year hit a 10-year low, according to the latest report by the Association of Turkish Travel Agencies (TÜRSAB). Sector representatives, however, are hopeful for a rise in the number of faith tourists in the near future after Pope Francis’ visit to Turkey in November.

A record-high number of faith tourists visited Turkey in 2007 after the House of the Virgin Mary in the Aegean province of Selçuk hosted Pope Benedict in 2006. Over 144,000 faith tourists came and visited Turkey in 2007, the highest-number ever, but a sharp decrease started to be observed in the number of faith tourists since 2010, according to the TÜRSAB report.

TÜRSAB Vice-President Hande Arslanalp put the drop down to a number of reasons, chief among these being the bloody conflicts in the country’s southern neighbors.

“Turkey hosted just 59,000 faith tourists last year – the lowest level since the beginning of the 2000s. It welcomed 55,000 faith tourists in the first half of this year, and we expect to reach around 100,000 by the end of this year. We also expect a slight rise in this number after Pope Francis’ visit,” Arslanalp said.

More than 300 million people across the world travel for religious purposes every year, spending a yearly average total of $20 billion, according to the TÜRSAB report. The average 461,000 Turks who visit Mecca for religious purposes spend a total of around $1.1 billion every year, around 5 percent of the total.

There are religious sites in more than 43 cities across Turkey, many of which host sites that are of significance to all three Abrahamic religions, Arslanalp also said, adding that despite such unique richness Turkey has up to now been unable to realize its potential.

“We need to do more to make our religious sites known across the world,” Arslanalp said. “After Pope Benedict’s visit to the House of the Virgin Mary in 2006, we saw a dramatic rise in the number of faith tourists in 2007. We believe there will also be some rise after Pope Francis’ visit in November. If Pope Francis had also visited the House of Virgin Mary, we could have expected an even larger rise,” she added.

Other holy sites that deserve attention in Turkey include the St. Peter Museum in the southern province of Hatay, the St. Paul Museum in Tarsus, and the St. Nicholas Church in Demre, Arslanalp also said.

The House of the Virgin Mary in Selçuk has been visited by three popes – Pope Paul VI in 1967, Pope John Paul II in 1976 and Pope Benedict XVI in 2006. In the list of the most visited holy sites in the world, Istanbul’s Sultanahmet Mosque (Blue Mosque) ranks 20th, while the Hagia Sophia ranks 29th.

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Egypt unveils renovated Tutankhamun gallery

CAIRO – Agence France-Presse – The Cairo government unveiled on Dec. 15 four newly renovated halls of the famed Tutankhamun gallery in the Egyptian Museum as the facility undergoes a complete overhaul. The gallery houses treasures that were found intact in 1922 along with the mummy of the 19-year-old boy king in the temple city of Luxor, and is a world famous tourist attraction.

Its renovation is part of a seven-year project to refurbish the entire Egyptian Museum overlooking Tahrir Square, and in turn revive downtown Cairo. On Monday, Prime Minister Ibrahim Mahlab unveiled the newly renovated halls located at the eastern entrance of the Tutankhamun gallery.

The renovation of the museum has been aided by funds from the European Union and other international donors.

James Moran, who heads the EU delegation in Cairo, said the bloc supported the project in order to help to boost Egypt’s tourism sector whose “revival… is fundamental for the economy”. The EU, he added, would offer 92,500 euros ($115,000) next year to help renovate the eastern wing of Tutankhamun gallery.

The Egyptian Museum houses the largest collection of pharaonic artefacts and has witnessed several alterations since it was first opened in 1902. Four years of political turmoil since the ouster of veteran leader Hosni Mubarak has battered the country’s economy amid falling tourist revenues and investments.

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Pamukkale most visited Turkish site this year

DENİZLİ – Anadolu Agency – The travertine falls of Pamukkale, together with the adjacent ancient city of Hierapolis, drew the most visitors in Turkey this year, the Turkish Travel Agencies Union (TÜRSAB) has said, pointing to the site’s international promotional work, experienced staff and modern entrance systems as a reason for the success.

TÜRSAB President Başaran Ulusoy said Pamukkale, located in the western province of Denizli, was a good model for public-private sector cooperation and TÜRSAB’s experience in the fields of customer satisfaction, restaurant management and ticketing helped them achieve successful results.

“In the first 11 months of this year a total of 2.18 million people visited Pamukkale, and the number of visitors in November was 73,306. This represents a 12 percent increase compared to last year. The total revenue from Pamukkale-Hierapolis was more than 38 million Turkish Liras in 2014, so Pamukkale ranks first in terms of both number of visitors and revenue. It is followed by the ancient city of Ephesus near Izmir and the Göreme Open Air Museum in the Cappadocia region,” Ulusoy said.

The TÜRSAB Museum Initiative has been operating 154 museums and ancient sites for the past three years, with the Pamukkale-Hierapolis site chief among them.

Ulusoy said the area particularly drew visitors from Russia, Japan, the European Union and Korea. “Recently, we have seen an increase in the number of visitors from Malaysia, Indonesia and India,” he added.

Ulusoy also stated that ongoing excavations had enriched the cultural heritage of the Hierapolis site and more visitors were coming to the area thanks to effective national and international promotional campaigns.

The province of Denizli is home to 19 ancient cities, and should be recognized as one of Turkey’s ancient pearls of tourism, according to the TÜRSAB boss, adding that longer term stays would help the development of the tourism infrastructure.

“For this purpose, we have contributed to the excavations in the ancient city of Hierapolis, and support the work done in Laodicea. We need to get tourists to visit these ancient sites and enable them to make longer-term commitments. Alternatives should be diversified with new restaurants and hotels,” he said.

He also noted that the project titled “The World’s Largest Museum: Turkey,” which was initiated by the Culture and Tourism Ministry’s Revolving Capital Administration (DÖSİMM) and promotes Turkey’s most important ancient sites, including Pamukkale, was very important for them.

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Birdwatchers flock to Rize to photograph glaucous gull

RİZE – Anadolu Agency – Birdwatchers wanting to photograph the glaucous gull have been flocking to the Black Sea province of Rize, as the species has not been seen in Turkey for 140 years. Photographer Murat Saltık, who spotted the reappearance of the glaucous gull, said he had been birdwatching for years without noticing its difference with the other species.

“I didn’t know it was a glaucous gull when I first photographed it. But when we examined it with experts, it was confirmed. After we confirmed it, we gave the happy news to everyone,” Saltık said. “This gull was last seen in Istanbul in 1874. Now, birdwatchers from all around Turkey are coming to Rize to try to see it,” he added.

One Saltık’s fellow birdwatchers, Mustafa Çulcuoğlu, said he had come from the southeastern province of Şanlıurfa to photograph the glacous gull, describing it as “one of the most beautiful examples of Turkey’s biological diversity.”

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SunExpress plans 16 more foreign destinations in 2015

ANTALYA – Anadolu Agency – SunExpress, a joint venture of Turkish Airlines and Lufthansa, will launch flights to 16 new foreign destinations from İzmir and Antalya by summer 2015.

“SunExpress will make scheduled flights to Paris CDG, Strasbourg, Lyon, Nantes, Genoa, Memmingen, Copenhagen, Luxembourg, Amsterdam and Stockholm from Antalya, in addition to its current flights to 38 foreign destinations. We will also start charter flights to Keflavik in Iceland, Pristina, and six destinations in Poland. Overall, a total of 267 flights will be made on a weekly basis to 48 foreign destinations in 12 different countries from Antalya,” the company said in a written statement.

SunExpress will also operate flights to Brussels, Rome, Milan, Toulouse, Baku and London from İzmir in addition to its existing 30 foreign destinations. The company will make 123 flights to 36 foreign destinations from Turkey’s Aegean city of İzmir on a weekly basis.

“SunExpress connects 15 cities of Turkey to 65 different destinations in Europe. We will continue to grow in 2015 as the only airline company which makes direct scheduled flights from Anatolian cities to Europe,” said SunExpress Vice President Faruk Çizmecioğlu.

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Turkey unveils new high-speed train to Anatolia

ISTANBUL – Agence France-Presse – President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan inaugurated a high-speed train link from Istanbul to the Central Anatolian city of Konya on Dec. 17, which cuts journey times by nearly nine hours. Erdoğan opened the line at a ceremony in Konya, 460 kilometers southeast of Istanbul, and declared that all travel on it would be free for the first week.

The president said the line was the latest step in his multi-billion dollar drive to modernize Turkey. “For decades, we only sat back and watched developments taking place in the West. We could see high speed trains only on TV and see planes only when we lay down on the ground and looked up to the sky,” Erdoğan said in a televised speech.

“But thanks to us, Turkey has gone through a great transformation in 12 years. We have cleared the way for our people,” he added. Religiously conservative Konya, which has a population of over one million, is a key economic hub in central Turkey and a stronghold of support for the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).

The Istanbul-Konya journey time on the high-speed line is four hours 15 minutes, compared to 13 hours on the old trains. Two departures are planned a day, with tickets starting at 42.5 Turkish Liras ($18). Erdoğan is pressing ahead with plans to build a high-speed train network across Turkey, which has so far lagged behind Europe in railways with most journeys made by road or plane.

In July he inaugurated the first high-speed train line between Istanbul and Ankara, which cut journey times in half to just 3.5 hours. There is already a high-speed line between Ankara and Konya.

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Kazakhstan to fuel small businesses with oil revenues

Centralasiaonline.com 2014-12-18 ASTANA – Small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) in Kazakhstan are about to get a boost from the country’s oil revenues. The government plans to use those funds, accumulated in the Kazakhstan National Fund, to subsidise loans for SMBs. Business owners expect the state aid to bolster their efforts.

The policy marks an attempt to diversify the country’s economic base in response to plunging oil prices. “The coming years will not be very easy,” President Nursultan Nazarbayev said in his 2015 address to the nation, which he delivered two months early in Astana (in November) to emphasise the gravity of his message.

“The authorities will use 100 billion KZT (US $555.5m) of natural-resource revenue accumulated in the National Fund to build infrastructure, invest 250 billion KZT (more than US $1.3 billion) in the Distressed Assets Fund and spend 40 billion KZT (US $222.2m) on preparations for the international exhibition Expo-2017 (a trade fair coming to Astana).”

Nazarbayev ordered the use of another 100 billion KZT to develop businesses. Banks will be the intermediary between the National Fund and the borrowers. “SMBs have already received funds from the National Fund this year,” DAMU Entrepreneurship Development Fund management board deputy chairman Kanat Sultangaziyev said. “By leveraging this money in April, the fund (DAMU) signed agreements with 13 of the country’s banks, which then lent the money to entrepreneurs.”

The banks lent the money at 6% annual interest and 10-year terms of repayment, he said. “By this October, business owners had borrowed all 100 billion KZT,” Sultangaziyev said. “But as the programme has shown, Kazakhstani manufacturers …. need SMB support projects. That’s why the country’s leaders decided to devote additional funds (to the programmes).”

The government is investing in big business as well. Of the next 100 billion KZT – the 2015 allotment – the Development Bank of Kazakhstan is expected to receive half to lend to large companies, while the DAMU Fund is supposed to use the second half to finance SMBs.

The government plans in 2015 and 2016 to allocate 100 billion KZT each year to support businesses. Beneficiaries of recent loans supervised by DAMU produce foods and plastics, for the most part. In July, ice cream manufacturer Azamat Nurgojin of Astana received a 30m-KZT (US $166,600) low-interest loan from the National Fund.

“The government is showing that SMBs matter,” he said. “We SMB owners … can prove that the government can count on more than oil for real money.”

Nurgojin intends to take out another loan the next time the government releases 100 billion KZT. All businesses in Kazakhstan can use the money regardless of their size, Halyk Bank management board chairwoman Umut Shayakhmetova said.

“The money is utterly accessible,” Shayakhmetova said. “But borrowers who turned out to be deadbeats on earlier loans won’t receive state financing.”

“It’s very good that the country is acting to support businesses,” Almaty macro-economist Valentin Makalkin said. “The lion’s share of funds from the National Fund is invested in foreign securities,” he said. “But now they’ll work for the real economy. The time has come to open the fund for future generations, which is what we consider the National Fund to be, for business needs… Allocating funds in stages is the right thing to do, just like 6% interest rates are entirely affordable for business owners.”

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Bangladesh plans tourism boost for Chittagong, Cox’s Bazar

CHITTAGONG, Dec 18, 2014 (BSS)- Civil Aviation and Tourism Minister Rashed Khan Menon today said that the government has undertaken massive plans to turn Chittagong into a tourism city as well as a commercial capital. He said the present government has already undertaken a number of plans for Chittagong, Cox’s Bazar and Chittagong Hill Tracts for flourishing tourism prospects of these areas.

“Besides, Cox’s Bazar would be connected with Chittagong through four lane road and railway communication”, the minister added. Menon said this while inaugurating a ‘3-day international Tourism Fair’ arranged by tourism based fortnightly The Bangladesh Monitor, at Hotel Peninsula this noon.

Speaking at the inaugural ceremony as the chief guest, the minister said an exclusive tourist zone would be developed in the Subrang area under Teknaf of Cox’s Bazar district covering an area of 4100 acres.

He said the ministry has already floated tender for Turning Cox’s Bazar airport into an international standard airport and work order in this regard is expected to be issued within next one month. Terming Chittagong a beautiful city, the minister said tourism infrastructures would be set up on the south bank of the Karnaphuli river and a new sea beach would also be developed near the existing Patenga sea beach.

Addressing the function, Housing and Public Works Minister Engineer Mosharraf Hossain, MP said a four-lane road would be constructed on Patenga embankment at a cost of TK 1700 crore and a modern city would be developed near the beach area. President of Chittagong Chamber of Commerce and Industries Mahbubul Alam and The Bangladesh Monitor editor Quazi Wahidul Alam, among others, spoke on the occasion.

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Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei launch Cultural Radio Programme

Wednesday, 17 December 2014 BruDirect.com SENGKURONG, BRUNEI-MUARA: The Budaya Tiga Serumpun (Group of Three Cultural Programme) is a collaboration in broadcasting among Radio Television Brunei (RTB) Radio Television Malaysia (RTM) and Radio Republik Indonesia (RRI). It takes place under a Memorandum of Understanding among the three stations.

The joint programmes include Berbalas Pantun or Quatrains Interchange that was recorded yesterday. The Director of RTB said the Quatrains Interchange is among efforts to preserve the art or culture of Berbalas Pantun.

Awg Hj Md Suffian Hj Bungsu added the pantun or quatrains reflect the pure and beautiful character of the people. The philosophies contained in the pantun are a cultural and ancestral heritage. The programme conducted by RTB’s Radio Service took place at the Civic Centre in Mukim Sengkurong.

The event was also attended by the Permanent Secretary (Media and Cabinet) at the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), Awg Hj Md Rozan Dato Paduka Hj Md Yunos. The Director of RTB also said the quatrains culture should be upheld especially in the era of technological innovation.

Adding that today’s programme involved cooperation of the Mukim and Kg Sengkurong Consultative Council, the director expressed hope that the quatrains culture would be practised among the community and preserved for the younger generations to ensure the survival of the pantun in this modern world.

Cultural performances by the Mukim Sengkurong Consultative Council and an exhibition on the mukim’s products enlivened the event. It is also hoped that cooperation among the three stations would become a source in the preservation of traditional Malay culture, knowledge sharing and other activities.

Also present was the Adviser of the Mukim Sengkurong Consultative Council, Dato Paduka Awg Hj Puasa Orang Kaya Seri Pahlawan Tudin.

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Algeria issues 48 Permits to Exploit Thermal Spas

Algerie Presse Service (Algiers) – 15 December 2014 – Algiers — Minister of Tourism and Craft Industry Nouria Yamina Zerhouni said Monday, in Algiers, that so far 48 permits have been issued to exploit thermal spas.

Zerhouni, who was the guest of Forum of the Daily “El Moudhahid,” underlined that 18 thermal spas are under construction and 14 others are stalled for various reasons concerning the investors themselves. She added that the ministry launched “a technical study for the inventory of the thermal springs” whose number totals about 220 springs “but they are not all exploited,” she added.

Zerhouni underlined that Algeria has 12 thermal spas and thalassotherapy centres. These centres are being renovated and restored. Concerning the thalassotherapy centre of Sidi Fredj, the minister said the rehabilitation studies are being finalized.

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Developing Egyptian Museum Supports Cultural Tourism

Egypt State Information Service (Cairo) – 16 December 2014 – Minister of Tourism Hisham Zaazou said on Monday that the first phase of developing the Egyptian Museum would have a positive effect on promoting cultural tourism. He said the various State bodies are concerned with the tourism file and the Ministry of Tourism spares no effort in bringing tourism to its previous rates, particularly cultural tourism.

Prime Minister Ibrahim Mahlab inaugurated the first phase of development works at the museum on Monday in the presence of Minister of Antiquities Mamdouh El-Damati and a number of ministers along with the German embassy’s foreign relations officer, European Union Ambassador in Cairo James Moran and Cairo Governor Galal El-Said.

Damati said that the remaining phases of the museum development covered King Tutankhamun’s hall. The Egyptian Museum is one of the largest and most prominent museums worldwide, he added.

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Nigeria Plans Half-Price Air-Tickets for Students

Vanguard – 17 December 2014 – Federal government, yesterday, disclosed that it was working on a plan to ensure 50 percent reduction in flight ticket for all Nigerian students, who desire to travel by air. The Senior Special Assistant to the President on Youth and Student Matters, Comr. Jude Imagwe, who revealed this at inauguration of the Students’ Union Government, University of Abuja, held at Gwagwalada Mini-Campus, said the initiative was part of the government’s efforts to make live meaningful for students.

He explained that government would work with all air carriers in the country to consider any identified student, who chooses to board their plane by not collecting the same amount collected from the working class. Speaking on the possibility of the idea tagged; ‘I Fly Student’ in the country, Imagwe expressed optimism that if the idea could work in Ghana, therefore, “it will also work in Nigeria.”

The SSA maintained that the on-going transformation in youth development sector of the present administration was more than a mere political rhetoric and superficial, calling on other tiers of government, as well as policy makers to ensure realization of all efforts geared towards youth and women empowerment.

“There should be genuine efforts on the part of policy makers to promote equitable growth, generate employment, raise incomes, improve agricultural production, promote and expand informal sector livelihood,” he charged.

The SUG President, Comr. Olajengbesi Pelumi said it would be a great joy for all students in the country, if the government and the people of Nigeria could use all the zeal and courage demonstrated in tackling Ebola Virus Disease in the country to solve problem in the education sector.

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Gambia to Promote Young People in Film Production

The Daily Observer (Banjul) – 15 December 2014 – The Ministry of Tourism and Culture (MoTC) and the National Centre for Arts and Culture (NCAC), has among others desire to promote the active participation of young people and women in particular in film production.

Momodou C Joof, the permanent secretary at the Ministry of Tourism and Culture who made this assurance while deputizing the minister of Tourism and Culture, Benjamin A Roberts, said this is in cognizance of the potential that film has, in not only projecting their own worldview, but their cultural identity as well.

The MoTC PS made these statements on Friday at the official opening ceremony of a three-month training organised by the NCAC in collaboration with The Gambia National Commission for UNESCO Motion Picture Arts Certificate (MPAC).

According to him, the film industry, which is a means of cultural expression, employment, communication, education and promotion is also understood as the medium with which individuals and nations communicate with one another, perpetuate their ideals and enunciate their values.

With the popularity and advent of information technology, which has become a commodity in The Gambia and the world at large, PS Joof agreed that the functions of film as public service cannot be relegated to a marginal level in any country.

“In order to guarantee the fundamental human rights of freedom of communication for young people, women and civil society in general, capacity building is a necessity for the Gambians filmmakers. Capacity building that will equip them with the skills and techniques of motion picture production for our cultural expression and documentation of our norms, traditions and values,” he added.

Therefore, in this context, he said, their training, as filmmakers will act as a means to safeguard the tangible and intangible cultural heritage of The Gambia while simultaneously developing the cultural and creative industry.

Among other things relating to the MPAC programme, the MoTC PS affirmed that the project which falls within the priorities of the government’s Programme for Accelerated Growth and Employment (PAGE), it stands to provide employment and livelihood for youth who dabble in the ever growing and increasingly important film industry.

Developing countries like The Gambia, he noted, are peculiarly disadvantaged in this fast changing world dominated by ICT hence they do not control the means of production.

PS Joof declared the Motion Picture Arts Certificate (MPAC) as a programme of study focusing on the development of not only the film industry by enhancing technical skills in film making, which forms the basis for creative work on television, but also on the preservation and promotion of the country’s cultural heritage and expressions.

With this programme, which is being paid for by UNESCO under the country participation programme, he challenged the twenty-five selected trainees for the three month course, to dedicate their time and energy as required by the course instructors in order to excel.

Tijan Kamara, chairman Board of Directors-NCAC thanked NATCOM UNESCO for their support. He as well extend the centre’s appreciation to The Gambian Embassy in the USA for assisting in the purchase of the equipment and also Gambia Tourism and Hospitality Institute (GTHI) for hosting NCAC. Among other speakers at the opening ceremony were Momodou Sanneh, secretary general-NATCOM; Moussa Sene Absa – consultant trainer.

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Gambia: Trainers Trained On Kids Sports and Tourism

The Point (Banjul) – 15 December 2014 – Peer-to-peer capacity building and football for peace in partnership with the tourism board Thursday joined the villages of Kartong, Mediana Salam, Berending and Gunjur to train trainers and kids on sports and tourism. The project, which is based on mutual respect and exchanged of ideas on sports and tourism, brought together lecturers and students from the University of Brighton in the United Kingdom and local communities.

Dr Marina Novelli, a reader in tourism and development, said they are with 40 students from sports and tourism, and many years, she has being teaching tourism to students who would eventually join the tourism industry in the UK. It was also to remove some of the stereotypes that exist in many European students and try to give the students the opportunity to see what West Africa has to offer, she said.

The peer-to-peer initiative is to identify potential ways in which they could have tourism making a difference for the community, and to find what the communities could do for tourists. She added that the ambition they had was to come not as volunteers, but to train trainer.

She said what they are committed to do, was to make sure what they left behind are people who could work in the industry and transfer the skills to others. The initiative is getting big and for the past 8 years, they have a number of people in the course, she said, adding that they had 20 students coming in the Gambia and they sponsored 10 Gambians to be in the programme.

They were able to transfer some of the skills to them like business, marketing and others and at the end members are certified and they could used those certificates to work in the industry, she added.

Jack Sugden, PhD student on sports and international development, said they initially join the initiative as a result of links developed between the tourism of Brighton University, Sandele and Kartong. He said football for peace is going in other countries like Israel and Palestine where they use sports, basically football to unite ethic groups.

They came to the Gambia recently as piloted last year on a small number of kids on methodologies and coaching skill they could teach them, he said.

The director of marking at The Gambia Tourism Board, Adama Njie, said with Ebola crisis on West Africa although the Gambia is not affected, but is also suffering it consequences. He said this intuitive could be clear indication that the Gambia is Ebola- free, adding that the board and ministry are working on how to bring in more tourists in the country and assured his boards support to the initiative.

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Egypt doubles airport capacity of Red Sea tourist hub

Ahram Online, Wednesday 17 Dec 2014 – The Egyptian government has finished upgrading the airport in the resort town of Hurghada, as part of a national airport expansion plan aimed to catch up with growing visitors to the country.

The airport in Hurghada, a major tourist hub on the coast of the red sea, will now be able to accommodate 13 million passengers annually, aviation minister Houssam Kamal said on Wednesday as he inaugurated the expansion according to a report by state-run news agency MENA.

Egypt plans to expand its airport capacity to 75 million passengers annually, as the country expects to receive 55 million visitors by 2020, he added.

The expansion project cost LE2.4 billion ($335 million) and was financed by the Arab Fund for Economic Development and a consortium of domestic banks led by the national bank of Egypt, Kamal explained.

Egypt’s LE49 billion tourism industry was hit hard by political turmoil following the 2011 popular uprising that ousted former President Hosni Mubarak. The number of tourists visiting Egypt in 2013 fell from an all-time high of 14.7 million in 2010 to 9.5 million.

The industry, however, has shown signs of recovery following the election of President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi in July on a mandate to restore security and stability. The number of tourists to Egypt rose by a 193 percent last September compared to the same month in 2013, according to the latest official figures.

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Baku Museum presents miniature edition of “Blue Book”

09 December 2014 – TODAY.AZ – The Baku Museum of Miniature Books has presented the miniature edition of “Blue Book” by Venezuelan Hugo Chávez. Addressing the ceremony the founder of the Miniature Books Museum, Chairperson of the Republican “Kitab” Society Board, Zarifa Salahova gave information about the book.

She noted that the book of 48×55 mm in size consists of 265 pages. There are 26 color photos in the tiny book. The fly-leaf of the book features the flag and the map of Venezuela.

The “Blue book” published by the Miniature Books Museum with assistance of the Venezuelan embassy in Cuba in circulation of 100 copies at the Indigo Printing House. The first secretary of the Venezuelan embassy in Iran, Jaime Rondon, emphasized the importance of the book in rapprochement of the two peoples.

The famous journalist, Elmira Aliyeva, and the prominent writer-publicist, MP Elmira Akhundova highly appreciated value of the book, and also close cooperation of the Miniature Books Museum the with the embassies of various countries. Baku Museum of Miniature Books is the only museum of miniature books in the world, settled in the old part of Baku, called Icherisheher.

It started to operate on April 2, 2002. Exhibits in the museum were collected by Zarifa Salahov over the period of 30 years. Her collection consists of more than 6500 books from 64 different countries. The museum was opened to public viewing with the hope of promoting childhood literacy.

There are books in the exposition from several countries including Moldavia, Georgia, Ukraine, Belarus and from the republics of Middle Asia and Europe. There are many rare editions including those of Chukovsky, Barto, Gogol, Dostoyevsky, and works of Pushkin.

Miniature books of the famous Azerbaijani classics, such as Vagif, Khurshidbanu Natavan, Nizami Ganjavi, Nasimi, Fizuli, Samed Vurgun, Mirza Fatali Akhundov and others are exhibited in the museum. Other notable miniatures in this collection include a 17th-century copy of the Quran a 13th-century book published by Peter Schoffer (successor to Johannes Gutenberg), and the three smallest books in the world measuring 2mm x 2mm that can only be read with the use of a magnifying glass.

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New airport to appear on Iran-Azerbaijan border

18 December 2014 – TODAY.AZ – Iran will construct a new airport on the border with Azerbaijan, on the territory of Aras free economic zone (FEZ), Managing Director of ‘Aras’ FEZ Mohsen Khadem Arab-Baghi said. He said it is planned to construct the new airport in two years, adding that it will cover an area of 300 hectares, Mehr News agency reported.

“The license has already been received for the construction of the airport which is important for the development of the FEZ infrastructure,” Arab-Baghi said. “Funds for its construction have already been allocated,” he said. “The airport will be able to receive large passenger and cargo aircraft.”

‘Aras’ FEZ that was created in Iran nine years ago, covers an area of 53,000 hectares. Its territory stretches from the city of Julfa to the villages of Khudaferin, Jananlu and Gulubeyli. ‘Aras’ FEZ covers an area of 21,000 hectares in the city of Julfa.

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Baku 2015 branding receives int’l recognition

19 December 2014 – TODAY.AZ – Baku 2015 European Games has been recognized for its exceptional new branding by a major international design website. Design Week has named the new look of the inaugural European Games which was launched in August as one of the biggest rebrands of 2014 alongside several other high-profile companies.

The brand was developed by Baku 2015 European Games Operations Committees’ design team alongside renowned agency SomeOne, who are based in London.

“I would like to congratulate everyone who worked on the rebrand, which is already immediately identifiable with the inaugural European Games and has also brightened up the city streets here in Baku,” Simon Clegg, Baku 2015 Chief Operating Officer, said.

Clegg added that the recognition by Design Week is a great achievement and helps to raise awareness of the European Games around the world. Inspired by the natural beauty of Baku, the striking rebrand will feature on venues, tickets, uniforms and all official merchandising of the inaugural European Games.

Central to the new brand is the pomegranate tree, which symbolizes unity in Azerbaijani folklore. Interwoven with the branches of the tree are historical symbols of the country’s heritage and culture, along with eye-catching pictograms of the different sports and disciplines.

Charlie Wijeratna, Commercial Director of Baku 2015, said the colorful brand is central to the marketing activity that will help to promote the European Games globally. “We are very proud of our work that is already recognized instantly as being innovative and representative of Baku 2015,” Wijeratna said.

Baku 2015 is the first ever European Games, an exciting and innovative multi-sport event for the continent which will take place from 12 – 28 June 2015. There will be a total of 20 sports at Baku 2015: 16 Olympic sports and four non-Olympic sports. More than 6,000 athletes from across Europe will be representing their nations over 17 days of competition.

Eleven of the sports will offer qualification opportunities for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. Those sports include Archery, Athletics, Boxing, Cycling, Shooting, Swimming, Table Tennis, Taekwondo, Triathlon, Wrestling and Volleyball.

Baku was awarded the Games by the European Olympic Committees (EOC) in December 2012. The Baku European Games Operations Committee (BEGOC) will organize and run the Games in co-operation with the EOC.

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Traditional Persian music exhibition held in Belarus

Mon Dec 15, 2014 – PressTV – Iran has launched an exhibition of Persian music in Belarus to introduce the country’s traditional art of music and musical instruments. Organized by Iran’s cultural office in Belarus, the show was presented during an Iranology exhibition in Belarusian State Medical University in the capital of Minsk.

The exhibition displayed Chordophone and Percussion instruments of Persian traditional music. The visitors of the cultural gala also became acquainted with Persian literature and classical Persian poetry. Traditional Persian outfits, paintings, photos and carpets were also put on display at the event. The Iranology exhibition is scheduled to run on December 6-21. Iran and Belarus have a long history of cultural and artistic collaborations.

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Bahrain showcased at global expo

Gulf Daily News – 19 December, 2014 – Bahraini will be showcased to the world at a major international exhibition set to be held in Italy next year. Expo 2015 is the next scheduled Universal Exposition – also known as a world’s fair – to be hosted by Milan from May 1 to October 31.

More than 140 countries are scheduled to take part in the event – and for the first time ever, Bahrain will have its very own pavilion featuring fruit gardens, archaeological artefacts and a conference space for Bahraini businesses to host meetings.

“It is a great opportunity to showcase our country’s heritage to the world and also to examine our environment in more detail,” said Culture supremo Shaikha Mai bint Mohammed Al Khalifa as she announced Bahrain’s participation in Expo 2015 at the National Museum yesterday.

“As global citizens we have a duty to learn more about our immediate surroundings and to work to protect our planet.” Bahrain’s pavilion carries a four million euro (BD1.9m) price tag and is currently under construction on site in Milan.

Its design has been inspired by Expo 2015’s theme of “Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life” and it will feature fruit-bearing trees, each carefully chosen so that it bears fruit at different times throughout the exposition, as well as a section focusing on artefacts from the ancient Dilmun civilisation, which is believed to have centred on Bahrain.

Bahrain pavilion general commissioner Noura Al Sayeh described the building as “a poetic interpretation of the cultural and agrarian history of the country”.

“The pavilion is built out of white prefabricated concrete panels that have been designed to go together like a jigsaw puzzle,” she said. “The plan is that at the end of the expo the pavilion will be dismantled and moved to Bahrain where it will be reconstructed as a botanical garden.”

Ms Al Sayeh said that the pavilion is currently in its final phase of construction and structural work is expected to be finished by the end of the year. It will be the only single-storey pavilion at Expo 2015, and is also set to feature an open top cafe.

Italian Ambassador Alberto Vecchi described the event as a “great opportunity for Bahrain to showcase its culture, agriculture and heritage on a global scale”.

“The exhibition is one of the biggest in the world, with 148 countries and international organisations taking part,” he said. “There will be 55 nations with pavilions but most of the countries will be clustered together. It is a wonderful opportunity to showcase the culture and beauty of this country – especially as an expected 20m people will visit the expo over the six month period. Officially, 6.5m visitors have already booked tickets to see the expo, and to date I hear that the number is actually around 8m.”

The Culture Authority is now looking to recruit volunteers interested in helping showcase Bahrain at Expo 2015 in Milan. Volunteers will act as hosts for visitors to the pavilion, showing people around the space and speaking to them about Bahrain’s landscape and native vegetation. Applicants must be over the age of 18 and have to be “outgoing, hardworking, team players”.

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Prince Sultan opens Saudi Colors forum

Arab News – 16 December, 2014 – Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities (SCTA) President Prince Sultan bin Salman inaugurated the third edition of the Saudi Colors forum, the largest event in the Kingdom for photography and short films in tourism, culture and heritage, here on Sunday night.

The SCTA chief also awarded winners of the photography competition where 1,700 photographers participated from across the Kingdom highlighting domestic tourism, culture and heritage in their works.

The annual forum includes a national exhibition for photography and a ceremony to honor the winners of Prince Sultan bin Salman bin Abdul Aziz award for photography and the winners of Saudi Colors competition for photography and short films, besides several workshops and training courses on various related themes.

Aiming to attract citizens and expatriates alike to further promote domestic tourism, the weeklong forum, organized by the SCTA in collaboration with the Ministry of Culture and Information and other partners, will continue at the Riyadh International Convention and Exhibition Center through Dec. 20. The forum is held to encourage and honor both professional and amateur photographers in an attempt to shed light on the Kingdom’s tourism, heritage and natural sites, rich and diverse society and urban progress.

Earlier, Prince Sultan hailed the partnership between the SCTA and the Ministry of Culture and Information, saying: “Our ties in media and cultural fields through the cooperation agreement has resulted in a number of programs and activities which helped in public awareness and educating people in the fields of tourism and national heritage.”

This year a special pavilion has been set aside for international participants including photographers, diplomats and embassies of friendly countries that will participate with photos on the Kingdom.

According to the organizers, the forum participants also include a number of specialists from the United States, Britain, France, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf region.

A number of public and private bodies are taking part in the forum. These include photography clubs and groups, artistic production companies and individual photographers. There is also a large pavilion displaying photographs from different regions of the Kingdom.

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Saudi Arabia plans 11 new foreign air links

Arab News – 16 December, 2014 – Saudi Arabia will soon sign air transport agreements with 11 countries including Tanzania, Cote d’Ivoire, Zimbabwe, Uruguay and Mauritius as the Council of Ministers on Monday given the go-ahead to the General Authority of Civil Aviation (GACA).

The Cabinet, chaired by Crown Prince Salman, deputy premier and minister of defense, authorized the GACA chief to sign the accords. Paraguay, Seychelles, Zambia, Rwanda, Togo and Swaziland are the other countries to have air link with the Kingdom.

Prince Salman briefed the ministers on the outcome of talks between Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah and Jordan’s King Abdallah in Riyadh on Sunday. He also welcomed the new ministers and urged them to realize the hopes and aspirations of citizens and follow the king’s directives.

Prince Salman also expressed his thanks and appreciation to the ministers, who were relieved of their posts at their request, for their efforts in the service of Islam and the homeland. He also briefed the Cabinet on his talks with President Alassane Ouattara of Cote d’Ivoire.

Minister of Culture and Information Abdul Aziz Al-Khodairy said the Cabinet commended the final communiqué issued following the GCC summit in Doha, adding that it reflected the keenness of GCC leaders to take member countries to greater heights of progress.

He said the Cabinet denounced the assassination of Palestinian minister Ziad Abu Ein by the Israeli occupation forces, reiterating the Kingdom’s appeals to the international community to provide protection for Palestinians and stop Israeli state terrorism.

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Qatar stakeholders foster country’s tourism edge

Saudi Gazette – 16 December, 2014 – Qatar Tourism Authority (QTA) hosted their annual three-day interactive Framework Marketing Summit in Doha that culminates today (Dec. 16) to map out a detailed worldwide tourism promotion program for the forthcoming fiscal 2015/16 year. The summit brings together senior QTA Head Office executives, representatives of the QTA’s five overseas offices and private sector stakeholders from local hotels and other industry suppliers.

“This event is highly important in ensuring that all parties involved in Qatar’s tourism industry are on the same page understanding the QTA’s vision, mission, values and marketing philosophy,” said Rashed AlQurese, the Chief Marketing & Promotions Officer of QTA. “As a relatively new destination on the world travel map, we need to ensure that Qatar puts out a clear and consistent message in order to enhance and maintain the country’s profile in the international market.”

He pointed out that in order to maximize the positive impact of the nation’s marketing efforts and resources, it is vital that all parties focus on promoting the key attractions that give Qatar its distinctive edge. “It is a question of synergy. We continue to avoid any dissipation or fragmentation of the Qatar message, and ensure we create a strong and positive brand positioning and identity that continues to resonate in our key overseas markets.”

The three-day summit is especially important in providing the QTA’s overseas office representatives with opportunities to interact with their head office counterparts and familiarize themselves at first hand with the destination and its latest developments. “To be fully effective, they must be knowledgeable and authoritative representatives for Qatar in their respective markets,” AlQurese further said.

Qatar’s private sector stakeholders is involved in the Summit’s final day session today (Tuesday) addressed by the QTA’s Chairman Issa Bin Mohammed Al Mohannadi. “The Chairman highlights the fact that marketing Qatar internationally carries a strong partnership between the public and private sectors, since the hotels and other tourist facilities and services are key components in the selection of tourism product that the QTA promotes worldwide,” AlQurese said, pointing out that the Summit program will provide organized communications and networking opportunities for the overseas office personnel to meet private sector representatives.

The already established overseas offices, covering the UK, France and Germany, present their qualitative and quantitative reports reflecting their KPI (key performance indicator) achievements for 2014 year to date. They also, along with the more recently appointed offices for the GCC and South East Asia, present their detailed Strategic Marketing Plans and targets for the 2015/16.

“As an official government body, QTA must abide by certain strict standards in terms of its internal policies and procedures, and this summit ensures that our international network fully understand and comply with these requirements to ensure optimum administrative efficiency,” AlQurese added.

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Oman Air eyes China link after Singapore connection

Oman Tribune – 16 December, 2014 – Oman air is to upgrade its now weekly four flights to Jakarta and start daily flights by the middle of 2015. After the launch of the flight to Singapore in the first quarter of 2015, China will be the next major destination.

The good response to the weekly flights has made the airline decide to upgrade its weekly flights to daily and make it twice daily later in 2016, according to Oman Air Chief Operating Officer Abdulrahman Bin Harith Al Busaidi.

After the launch of the Singapore flight, China was the next destination that Oman Air would have soon. Discussions were on and besides Shanghai, it was looking at another destination and would choose among the two next year, he added. The direct flight to Singapore will start some time in March. A flight to Goa will also be launched next year.

During 2013, the airline carried 3 million passengers and this would go up to 3.5 million this year. With additional flights and more aircraft, it would be more than 4 million passengers. Presently Oman Air operates to 48 destinations. It has flights to Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur, besides the very recent ones to Manila and Jakarta. The focus was on the Far East and China. The addition of Singapore and China would help the airlines cover a vast area in these targeted regions, Busaidi added.

The Jakarta flight was mainly with the around 30,000 Indonesians in Oman. Across the region half a million people will benefit from the latest flight. The Jakarta flight was well connected with other destinations like Jeddah, Dubai and Europe.

The airlines was also looking at tapping Umrah pilgrims. As the flight was well connected with other major destinations and Oman Air had tied with Indonesian carrier Garuda, tapping the tourism market would be easy, Busaidisaid. Already bookings for December were full.

A trade delegation from Oman was also holding talks with the industry here and hopefully the Jakarta flights should contribute to better trade relations too.

Oman News Agency adds: Oman Air, the Sultanate’s national carrier, opened its office in Jakarta on Monday at a ceremony held under the patronage of Sayyid Nizar Bin Al Julanda Bin Majid Al Said, Sultanate’s Ambassador to Indonesia. The ambassador said that the new office will contribute in pushing forward the relations between the two countries.

Fayez Bin Said, Oman Air agent in Indonesia, said that the flight fares are attractive and suitable with the Indonesian market.

The event was attended by Nasser Bin Khamis Al Jashmi, Undersecretary at the Finance Ministry, Abdulrahman Bin Al Busaidi and officials at the Public Authority for Civil Aviation (Paca), Oman Airports Management Company (OAMC) and Oman Air.

A press conference was also held in Jakarta on Monday where Abdulrahman Al Busaidi said that the launch of the new destination to Jakarta will serve the joint interests between the Sultanate and Indonesia. It will help in increasing trade exchange between the two friendly countries, he added.

This route will serve the Indonesian community in the Sultanate and the GCC countries, he said, adding that it will enable Oman Air to utilise Haj season. Oman Air will operate four weekly flights to Jakarta on Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Friday via Airbus A 330-200 aircraft.

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Salalah student group plans startup for adventure tourism

Oman Tribune – 17 December, 2014 – With the aim of expanding the tourism potential of Salalah, Muscat Youth Summit (MYS) participants belonging to Samahram group, have prepared a blue print for a startup catering to adventure tourism.

According to Myles Farnbank, one of the project directors of the group, the participants have come up with a plan to launch a startup in Salalah, comprising nationals, to give a fillip to adventure tourism in the region. The global adventure tourism industry is worth $ 300 billion and Oman definitely can have a share of the pie, he added.

Titled Salalah 365, the startup aims at making the region a round-the-year tourist destination by attracting millennials (those who were born in the late 90s and early years of the millennium) from all around the world.

“By organising feasible adventure activities like hiking, rock climbing, desert camping and camel safaris, we can attract the young. While Omanis and GCC nationals prefer the Khareef season, western tourists would love the mild weather of Salalah during the rest of the year,” said group member Khalid Musallam Al Shukairi of Sultan Qaboos University.

During the past two days, group members visited hotels and travel agencies in the city, studying the profile of foreign tourists. They found that Salalah was coming up as a global tourist destination with many tourists, especially from Germany visiting the place after a stopover at Egypt. They also brainstormed on different aspects like logistics, human resources, funding, material procurement and promotion of the startup.

“By forming the first Omani adventure travel startup in the region, we plan to attract nationals, too, throughout the year,” said Khalid.

“Adventure tourism is about a whole package. International clients look at experiences and not just activities. Here the culture is so attractive and there are wadis, mountains and the sea, which are world class,” said Farnbank.

He said the new startup would provide a four-day package that incorporates soft adventure activities like hiking, rock climbing and camel safari. “They get to do everything as they cover the different places on the tourist trail,” said Farnbank, adding that mountain biking can also be introduced within a few years if the project takes off.

With regard to the challenges involved, Farnbank said providing training in certain activities like rock climbing to prospective trainers was an obstacle. “Either they have to be sent abroad or trainers have to be brought here.”

Within a stipulated time-frame, if Oman looks at hosting an international conference of the Adventure Tourism Trade Association (ATTA), it will give a big fillip to the nation’s tourism sector, said Farnbank, who is associated with ATTA.

He said it was imperative to adopt necessary protocols to get the newly nascent ISO 21101 certification for adventure tourism, as it would reassure foreign tourists.

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Telegraph Media Group unveils Qatar tourism apps

The Peninsula – 17 December, 2014 – Qatar is the first tourist destination in the Middle East to be featured in The Telegraph Media Group’s series of Telegraph Travel downloadable apps for smartphones and tablets.

The group is one of the UK’s leading newspaper publishers and its core publications include The Daily Telegraph and Sunday Telegraph. The Telegraph Travel, the UK’s current ‘Travel Website of the Year’, has complemented the launch with editorial and advertorial coverage in its online and print editions.

“The importance of the promotion is underlined by the fact that the UK consistently ranks as one of Qatar’s top travel source markets and about 132,000 British visitors to Qatar in 2013 outnumbered 86,000 from all other European countries combined,” said Rashed AlQurese, Chief Marketing and Promotions Officer, Qatar Tourism Authority (QTA).

QTA and Telegraph have partnered with a British tour operator, Tropical Sky, on the promotion. It facilitates readers attracted by Qatar’s tourism offerings to make their travel bookings with maximum convenience. The apps provide content on all aspects of the destination of interest to tourists, with an overview and sections on Getting There, Stay, Eat, Drink, Do, Free Things to Do, Beaches and Shop. The apps have been featured in ‘Apple’s Best New Apps’, ranked No. 1 among free travel apps and has over 80,000 downloads.

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Africa eyeing major Islamic finance push

Gulf Daily News – 17 December, 2014 – Africa is not only ready for Islamic finance but also is aiming to take its stand in the global Islamic finance arena, a senior official of Bahrain-based General Council for Islamic Banks and Financial Institutions (CIBAFI) has said.

According to CIBAFI secretary-general Abdelilah Belatik, human capital development remains one of the main pillars in establishing sound Islamic financial services practices in Africa, especially with the recent regulatory development.

Mr Belatik said this in a statement issued after the organisation announced the completion of a ‘Certified Islamic Banker’ training for 48 top level executives from 10 banks in Mauritania.

The professional development training programme in Nouakchott, Mauritania, was co-organised by CIBAFI and the Islamic Development Bank (IDB) and hosted by the Banque Al Wava Mauritanienne Islamique.

‘It is part of our mandate to facilitate the dissemination of Islamic finance principles and practices and CIBAFI is committed to provide its members the necessary support to establish Islamic finance in their regions,’ Mr Belatik said.

IDB’s Islamic Financial Services Department director Ahmed Al Gebali said the initiative is part of a technical assistance agreement with CIBAFI, which is meant to contribute to the human capital development in member countries. “IDB Group is committed to promoting Islamic banking and finance and enhancing co-operation amongst member countries, in collaboration with our development partners.”

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FRHI Hotels launches drive to recruit 1,000 Saudis

Saudi Gazette – 18 December, 2014 – FRHI Hotels and Resorts in Makkah Al-Mukarramah, has launched its new campaign to recruit nationals under the slogan of “We are her People and her People take Precedence.”

This countrywide effort aims to employ at least 1000 Saudi men and women through outreach events and through the official recruitment website fairmontcarreers.com. The multilingual site provides information on vacancies in the company’s three renowned hotels – Makkah Clock Royal Tower, a Fairmont Hotel, Raffles Makkah Palace and Swissotel Makkah.

“We are her People and her People take Precedence” is part of FRHI’S human resources policy that has prioritized Saudi recruitment and made it a central goal in the company’s annual agenda. These policies stem from a strong faith that Saudis can, should and are actively leading one of the most vibrant and important economic sectors in the Kingdom – hospitality and tourism.

To help achieve this vision, FRHI focuses on both finding suitable talents, and developing Saudi colleagues through a bouquet of tailor-made training programs. Throughout the year, FRHI holds employment workshops to spotlight rewarding career opportunities and the diverse disciplines in its hotels. For Saudi colleagues and future leaders, there are intensive training programs that encourage professional development, career outlook, and performance elevation.

Among these are colleague preparation orientation courses, and training of trainers. Additionally, FRHI has partnered with the prestigious Cornell University for eCornell online courses in the areas of hospitality, management, and leadership, as well as customized courses for Saudis that focus on languages.

One of the most successful aspects of the career development program has been practical training in the different departments of the hotels. This hands-on experience promotes a cohesive overall picture of the hotel and its many focuses, and helps match suitable skillset with the right jobs. Besides working in a top-notch professional learning environment, employees of FRHI Hotels and Resorts also receive a number of benefits including significant discounts in any FRHI hotel or resort worldwide and special rates on a plethora of partner brands and products.

Bandar Bin Maleh, group director of human resources, said “One of our proudest achievements is galvanizing and recruiting Saudis in our hotels. These partnerships are mutually beneficial. On the one hand FRHI can leverage the local knowledge, creativity and talent of our Saudi colleagues who are the ultimate ambassadors for the Kingdom and the holy city of Makkah.

On the other hand, FRHI is bringing Saudi men and women to the forefront of the hospitality industry by helping them work towards and attain their personal ambitions and goals. We encourage all nationals to submit their personal resumes through our website fairmontcareers.com or via email mak.careers@fairmont.com. There are opportunities for employment throughout the year; they also might visit our website regularly for announcements and news on career fairs and workshops.”

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Etihad, Hong Kong Airlines sign codeshare agreement

Khaleej Times – 18 December, 2014 – Etihad Airways and Hong Kong Airlines, an internationally-acclaimed airline, have signed a codeshare agreement to provide travellers with enhanced connections between Asia, the Middle East and Europe.

Subject to regulatory approval, Etihad Airways will place its ‘EY’ code on Hong Kong Airlines’ flights between Hong Kong and Bangkok, allowing business and leisure travellers to book a round trip between Hong Kong and Abu Dhabi via Thailand’s capital. In addition, the code will appear on flights between Hong Kong and Okinawa, a popular tourism destination in Southern Japan.

Passengers of Hong Kong Airlines will also benefit from enhanced access across the Middle East and Europe under the partnership, with the airline’s ‘HX’ code being placed on Etihad Airways’ triple-daily flights between Abu Dhabi and Bangkok, together with two upcoming services that will connect Abu Dhabi to Madrid from 29 March 2015 and to Hong Kong from June 15, 2015.

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Qatar projects $45bn in tourism-related investments

Gulf Times – 19 December, 2014 – Investments worth up to $ 45bn are projected for Qatar’s tourism-related projects up to 2030, according to a senior official.

“There is a projected investment of $11.5bn in the tourism sector alone up to 2030,” said Qatar Tourism Authority (QTA) chairman Issa bin Mohamed al-Mohannadi in remarks to Oxford Business Group.

He said, “We are introducing the National Tourism Strategy 2030 to continue to develop Qatar as a destination while strengthening the tourism industry, which will have many socio-economic benefits on a national scale in addition to helping prepare for hosting the world cup.”

Gearing up for FIFA 2022 means, “Qatar will have to build more rooms, but we have to create a destination at the same time. We are projecting the organic growth in the sector from visitor numbers and planning the amount of rooms based on forecast demand.

“By doing so, we are giving the local market and industry priority and we will bridge any gaps regarding FIFA requirements. We are exploring options for temporary accommodation, such as cruise ships or floating hotels to ensure that there is an optimal balance between supply and demand for accommodation following the world cup.”

The growth in the number of visitors a year in Qatar has been one of the highest and the fastest in the region, al-Mohannadi said.

“We are averaging an increase of 11% to 13% in the number of visitors every year. The world average is 3% to 4% and we are achieving four times that. In line with FIFA’s requirements, we anticipate having 50,000 to 60,000 rooms. However, we are developing the local industry in line with demand. We have to ensure we do not impact the private sector or local investors, so we will develop based on an organic demand in the market.”

Currently, Qatar has 14,000 rooms with another 5,000 expected to come to the market in the next four years. “This will bring the total to 19,000 and based on demand we will add an additional 11,000 to bring the total to 30,000,” he said. “We will cover the remainder for FIFA requirements through alternative options, such as cruise ships,” al-Mohannadi said.

As the regulator, QTA is encouraging and educating the private sector on where best to invest, in line with the objectives of the National Tourism Sector Strategy, which considers a larger role for the private sector in developing the industry.

For example, in the hospitality sector, sporting events typically do not cater to guests who use four and five star hotels, so the medium to lower-end segment is where the authority is encouraging private sector investment, al-Mohannadi said. “However, as an authority we are not directly investing and can only advise investors on the statistical performance of segments, while offering recommendations.

“It is important to note that the investment in the one to three-star segments is not just for the world cup but is also in line with our new strategy to diversify our targeted tourism market toward more budget-conscious regional visitors. To encourage greater private sector involvement, favourable investment laws have been enacted, including laws that allow 100% foreign ownership in most tourism-related projects,” al-Mohannadi said.

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Domestic tourism to gain from Saudi rail expansion

Arab News – 19 December, 2014 – Saudi Railways Organization (SRO) President Mohammed Al-Suwaiket has lauded the efforts of Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities (SCTA) in developing the tourism sector and preserving national heritage.

Al-Suwaiket made these remarks as Prince Sultan bin Salman, president of the Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities (SCTA), received him at the SCTA headquarters in Riyadh to boost mutual cooperation. They discussed a strategic railway plan under execution and SRO’s initiatives to support tourism development.

“During their meeting, the SRO president briefed Prince Sultan on the update of the strategic plan adopted for the development of railways sector in the Kingdom,” said spokesperson for SCTA. The strategic scheme aims to develop a clear and integrated vision of the network of rail lines over the next 30 years.

SRO’s keenness to serve the tourism sector within the updated plan was also discussed. The SRO chief said that his meeting with Prince Sultan has opened several areas of cooperation between the two organizations for the support and interest of tourism activities.

Al-Suwaiket indicated that the strategic plan for the development of railways sector in the Kingdom includes existing projects and schemes that aim in future to connect the GCC region, in addition to future projects linking the western part of the Kingdom with eastern and central regions.

“The length of the railways network, after execution, is expected to reach about 10,000 km. which is projected to play a key role in the promotion of domestic tourism,” the SRO president said.

Responding to the call, the SCTA president expressed his appreciation to SRO president’s visit to the headquarters, praising his efforts in the development of the railways in the Kingdom and stressed the importance of strategic plan of the railways and its future mega projects.

Prince Sultan also referred to great investments that are being made in these projects. He also highlighted to their economic and social benefits. A large number of jobs are also expected to create in the future for Saudi citizens.

He also referred to the prospective and important role of railways projects in the Kingdom for serving the domestic tourism. Rail tours that cover domestic tourism destinations are likely to see considerable demand from citizens and residents, said the SCTA official.

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