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23 Feb, 2015

Alcohol-free Hotel Takes Off in Ibadan, Nigeria

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 23 February 2015 (04 Jumaada al-Awwal 1436). Pls click on any of the headlines to go to the story.




malaysia logo

Click on the image to get a full list of all the great festivals and events right across Malaysia this year.

The fabulous Malaysia Year of Festivals 2015, or MyFEST 2015, as will witness an endless celebration of festivals, events and happenings. MyFEST 2015 is set to make Malaysia the top-of-the-mind tourist destination, encouraging tourists to stay longer in order to enjoy the festival offerings nationwide. Themed “Endless Celebrations”, the year-long calender is packed with festivities of every genre; for instance cultural festivals, shopping extravanganzas, international acclaimed events, eco-tourism events, arts, music showcases, food promotion and other themed events. The Malaysia Year of Festivals 2015 campaign leverages on smart partnerships in line with the National Blue Ocean Strategy that nurtures stakeholders engagement, support and participation. The symbiosis enables Malaysia’s tourism efforts to be competitive and to remain one of the prime contributors to the socio-economic development of the nation. As Malaysia is blessed with various cultures, the new campaign seeks to showcase and celebrate Malaysia’s bountiful, diverse cultures and various festivities. The design for Malaysia Year of Festivals 2015 logo depicts a traditional musical instrument known as the Rebana Ubi. The drum is a musical instrument which can be associated with Malaysia’s multicultural society, in line with the spirit of 1Malaysia. Therefore, the logo design reflects an important part of the country’s heritage, traditions and culture.

For a full listing of all the great festivals, activities and events this year, pls click on this link


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.




Afghanistan’s 9th Annual TV Awards Held In Kuala Lumpur

KABUL, Afghanistan, February 17, 2015 /PRNewswire/ — Talented musicians and performers from around the world will gather on Monday, February 23, 2015 at the Istana Budaya (Palace of Culture) in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, UAE to celebrate Ariana Television Network’s 9th Annual ATN® Awards. The ATN Awards recognize and celebrate Afghan music and performing arts while encouraging unity among the global Afghan community through the preservation of Afghanistan’s cultural heritage.

According to Ehsan Bayat, Chairman of the Ariana Television Network, “This annual event has grown tremendously over the past nine years to become the preeminent showcase of Afghan arts and culture around the world and, this year, we expect more than 800 guests at the show itself and more than 45 million television and online viewers enjoying our Afghanistan’s Got Glamour spectacle as well.”

Mr. Bayat continued, “We are proud to be holding our celebration in a venue built to help raise the standards of Malaysia’s performing arts, develop artistic excellence in theatre, popularize high-quality creative productions and develop a higher sense of artistic appreciation. While our ceremony honors the most popular artists and most exciting contributions to Afghanistan’s cultural development over the past twelve months, the ATN Awards are much more than an annual celebration. These achievements are integral to the long-term process of preserving and enhancing Afghanistan’s cultural heritage. All the award candidates, both the winners and nominees, are responsible for making possible this important contribution to Afghans worldwide.”

Artist registration closed in late December and more than one thousand Afghans from around the world submitted their work for consideration by an esteemed panel of judges. The finalists for the 9th ATN® Awards were announced in mid January 2015 on Sitara Hai Rangeen, Intekhab-e-binendaha (Viewer’s Choice Show); http://arianatelevision.com/; and atnawards.com; and the public were then be able to vote for the finalists of their choice at www.atnawards.com.

Founded by Mr. Ehsan Bayat in 2005, Ariana Television and Radio Ariana 93.5 (ATN) are the largest private media channels in Afghanistan, covering 33 of 34 provinces and reaching over 20,000,000 Afghans. Focusing on information, content and entertainment, ATN programming places particular emphasis on education, health, children’s programming, women’s and world issues, and the ATN team takes great pride in broadcasting accurate, unbiased news to the audience as events occur.

ATN’s goal since launch has been one of inclusion and education, providing a “Window for a Better Tomorrow”. While exposing our radio and television audiences to the best of international arts & culture from around the world, we also expand opportunities for local writers, producers, actors, and directors within Afghan communities. Programs can be accessed via the ATN website, www.arianatelevision.com or via the HotBird and GlobeCast satellites.

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Kazakhstan requests to join Ashgabat Agreement on transit transport

Tehran, Feb 15, IRNA – At the first Coordination Council Meeting of Ashgabat Transit Transportation Agreement in Tehran, Minister of Kazakhstan Railways requested to join the pact.

Kazakhstan made the request in a meeting of representatives of Ashgabat Agreement member countries of Uzbekistan, Iran, Turkmenistan and Oman. Head of Road Maintenance and Road Transport Organization of Iran told IRNA that Kazakhstan by passing legal process will join the agreement as a new member.

Davoud Keshavarzian said that Ashgabat Agreement is a transit agreement, which was established in year 2011 between countries of Uzbekistan, Iran, Turkmenistan and Oman with an aim to create a safe corridor for transport of the member states.

The quadruple agreement is to transit goods from Central Asia to Persian Gulf and Oman Sea ports and vice versa. The first meeting of agreement was held in Tehran on Sunday at the venue of Hotel Espinas. Qatar had signed up to the agreement, but, withdrew later.

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Indonesia inaugurates Cheng Ho maritime sea route

Batam, Riau Islands (ANTARA News) 21 Februari 2015 – The Coordinating Minister for Maritime and Environmental Affairs Indroyono Soesilo attended a ceremony held for naming a maritime tourism destination on Saturday.

The destination called “The Cheng Ho Sea Route: Archipelagic Sailing,” route will cover Batam, Aceh, Palembang, Bangka Belitung, Jakarta, Semarang, Cirebon, Surabaya and Bali.

It is expected to lure more foreign tourists, particularly from China, the minister pointed out. “This is an important asset, particularly for attracting tourists from China. The Chinese respect their ancestors and their cultural heritage,” he stated.

Chinese traders consider “Nusantara” (Archipelago or now Indonesia) very important and have significantly influenced Indonesian culture.

The cultural influences are reflected, among other things in Indonesias batik designs, cuisine, dance forms, architecture, and fashion, he pointed out.

The Deputy Governor of Batam, Soerya Respationo, also expressed the hope that more Chinese tourists will visit Batam and other tourist destinations in Riau Islands Province.

“This has helped beautify the area. It is a new attraction for drawing Chinese tourists to Batam and to other areas in Riau Islands,” the deputy governor said. In Batam, the Cheng Ho sailing ship monument is located in the Bengkok Golden City.

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GCC e-government portal will be launched in March

Doha (IINA) 19 Feb 2015 – The Executive Committee of e-government of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) announced that the networking project among Member States, as well as the GCC e-Government Services Portal will be launched in March, Qatar News Agency (QNA) reported.

During the meeting which was held Wednesday in Doha, the participants discussed preliminary list of services to be included in the GCC e-government portal at the initial stage, in addition to the latest developments with regard to the networking project among the GCC countries, in the framework of the strategic guidelines of the Gulf e-government portal.

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Jordan Keen To Boost Tourism Cooperation With Palestine

AMMAN, Jordan, Feb 17 (NNN-PETRA) – Jordanian Prime Minister, Abdullah Ensour, received Palestinian Tourism Minister, Rola Maayah and Chief Justice, Mahmoud Habash, to discuss ways to encourage religious tourism and increase the number of visitors to holy sites in the Palestinian lands, mainly to Jerusalem.

The two Palestinian officials stressed the need for joint tourism and religious programmes, to encourage Arab and foreign tourists to visit the Islamic and religious holy sites in Palestine, through Jordan.

They also pointed to the selection of Jerusalem as the capital of Islamic tourism for 2015 and said, this would encourage countries that do not allow their citizens to visit Al Aqsa, as it is under occupation, to do so.

During the meeting, which was attended by Chief Justice, Ahmad Hilayel, and the Minister of Labour and Tourism and Antiquities, Nidal Qatamin, the two sides stressed the importance of activating the role of the Jordanian and Palestinian private sectors, to service the tourism sector in both countries.

Ensour affirmed Jordan’s keenness to expand joint cooperation with Palestine, mainly in the tourism field, particularly since both countries have many tourism and religious sites. He also pointed to the attention and care given by King Abdullah to Jerusalem and its Islamic and Christian holy sites, mainly the Al Aqsa Mosque.

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Indonesia Targets US$4-Billion Revenue From Marine Tourism

BOGOR, West Java, Indonesia Feb 17 (NNN-Bernama) – The Indonesian government has set a US$4-billion revenue target from marine tourism this year, Indonesia’s Antara news agency reported.

Tourism Minister Arief Yahya said on Monday that despite Indonesia’s huge potential in marine tourism, the sector accounts for only 10 percent of the nation’s total tourism earnings.

“We will strive to double marine tourism revenue from 10 percent to 20 percent over the next five years,” he said.

Foreign exchange earnings from marine tourism are expected to increase from US$1 billion to US$4 billion.

Indonesia plans to attract luxurious cruise ships and yachts to bring tourists to the world’s largest archipelagic country. “We have begun to invite cruise ships to Indonesia and we plan to organise at least 12 events involving yachts this year,” Arief said.

Cruise ships are expected to visit 10 Indonesian seaports this year.

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Ugandan Experts Say Modern Railway Important For Promoting East Africa Trade

KAMPALA, Feb 15 (NNN-Xinhua) — Experts here said a connected modern railway system in East Africa is important for the region to reduce expensive transport costs and enhance the region’s trade competitiveness.

In a recent interview with Xinhua, Elly Twineyo Kamugisha, an economist and author of a book “Why Africa Fails,” said if the railway project is completed, it will be a major milestone in promoting regional trade.

“Studies carried out by experts at Makerere University (Uganda’ s top university) have found out that by far Uganda faces very expensive transport costs. This means our imports become expensive and also our exports become less attractive because they are expensive to take to the international markets,” said Kamugisha.

So the railway is very important, and it is a cheap means of transport if the country is going to increase exports, he said.

“If we had a good working railway system in this country connecting us to South Sudan, Rwanda, DRC and backwards to Kenya, it would be very important,” he said.

The East African countries mainly Uganda and Kenya have been depending on an ailing railway system constructed a century ago. This time round, there are growing calls in the region to construct a standard gauge railway.

Back in the day, locomotives bellowing black smoke traversed rural Uganda transporting people and agricultural produce.

Farmers from a far quickly transported their produce to the nearby train stations so that their produce could be taken to far markets that would fetch better prices. Both domestic and regional trade was booming as trains traversed borders.

Following years of mismanagement, corruption and lack of a maintenance attitude, the once cherished railway system collapsed. The resort was the expensive road transport which has had an upward impact on the cost of doing business especially for a country like Uganda which is hundreds of kilometers away from the coastline.

A Chinese company is currently constructing a standard gauge railway in Kenya, an important neighbor of Uganda, with a view to promoting freight capacity to/from the port city of Mombasa in southern Kenya.

“The standard gauge railway is a very important project for Uganda and the region as a whole. Uganda’s trade competitiveness will be increased, the cost of doing business will go down and this will foster faster socioeconomic transformation,” said Susan Kataike, the Communications Officer of Uganda’s ministry of works and transport.

Seventy year old Akisoferi Karonget, a retired public servant, however cautions that countries must do away with the bureaucracies if they are to reap from the revamped railway system.

“When we have the train jointly managed by the East African countries like before, that would be better but to say Uganda does it alone, Kenya does it alone, then there is going to be a lot of bureaucracy which will affect doing business,” Karonget told Xinhua in an interview at his retirement home in Kapchorwa, eastern Uganda.

“The railway then was good even in terms of trade, it was cheap and we did not have frequent stops say at the border. Once your goods are in the train, there is no more checking up to Mombasa and when in Mombasa the same thing applies when coming to Uganda. The system was good at that time,” he said.

It is estimated that once a modern railway line connecting the Kenyan seaport of Mombasa to the Ugandan capital Kampala is completed, it will enable trains to travel at a speed of 120 kilometers per hour and will reduce the number of days it takes to transport goods between the two cities to only two days instead of the current 14 days.

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Iran’s Domestically Made Helicopter Flies Successfully

TEHRAN, Feb 16 (NNN- IRNA) – Managing Director of Iran’s Helicopter Renovation and Logistics Company (PANHA) said a domestically made helicopter dubbed ‘Homa’ has successfully carried out its maiden flight.

Brigadier General Mohammad Ahmadabadi said the manufacturing of the chopper has finished and more tests are being done on it. The twin-engine helicopter can seat 14 people and fly in different weathers. The chopper has been manufactured considering Iran’s conditions and can fly in mountainous areas and on the sea.

Homa is a multi-purpose aircraft and can be equipped with various weapons, said the general.

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Uganda Is A Tourism Gold Mine – UAE Minister

KAMPALA, Feb 18 (NNN-NEW VISION) — THE minister of State for foreign affairs of the United Arab Emirates, Reem Al Hashimy has said that Uganda is “a beautiful” country that needs to be helped to realize its potential. Hashimy also expressed shock about the limited marketing of Uganda to outside countries yet there is much that the country has to offer.

“Your country is beautiful but there is little information about it out there. Please open up to other places. There is little information about what exists in Uganda yet there is great potential here,” she said.

Hashimy is in Uganda for a two-day visit geared towards the preparations for the visit of Sheik Mohammed Bin Zayeed Al Hayhan, the Crown prince of Abu Dhabi in April. Hashimy said that Dubai, a capital in UAE receives about 30m tourists every year yet it doesn’t have even half of what Uganda has in terms of tourism attractions.

“I highly urge you to operationalize your office in UAE and use it not only for tourism but also commerce,” she said.

Hashimy has come to Uganda with a delegation of UAE government officials and investors who have pledged to invest in tourism, energy, infrastructure, oil and other opportunities that Uganda will presents. On Tuesday, Hashimy and her delegation had an interactive session with Ugandan stakeholders, where key sector players presented the investment opportunities to the UAE delegation.

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Malaysia To Host 21st ASEAN Economic Ministers Retreat

KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 18 (NNN-Bernama) — Economic ministers from the 10-member ASEAN regional group will meet in Kota Bahru, Kelantan state from Feb. 28 – March 1 for a crucial meeting to advance the plans for the establishment of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC).

The 21st ASEAN Economic Ministers’ Retreat, one of the many ASEAN meetings held in conjunction with Malaysia’s leadership of ASEAN in 2015, will be chaired by the Minister of International Trade and Industry Mustapa Mohamad.

The Annual Retreat is convened to enable ASEAN Economic Ministers to assess and take stock of the overall achievements in regional integration and to consider and discuss possible new initiatives.

However, the Retreat this year is critical in that the economic ministers will focus on ensuring that all core economic integration measures as stipulated in the AEC Blueprint are substantially realized, a Ministry of International Trade and Industry statement said.

This AEC is set to come into effect by Dec. 31, 2015. It is aimed at creating a single market and production base in the region to further bolster ASEAN’s progress and prosperity.

The recommendations from the private sector and the concerns over a perceived increase in non-tariff barriers to trade in the region will be one of the main agenda items to be discussed by the Ministers.

The Ministers are also expected to consider and provide guidance on the work to draft the Post-2015 Economic Vision and Plan for ASEAN.

The AEM Retreat will be preceded by the 8th Meeting of the High-Level Task Force on ASEAN Economic Integration Working Group on Post-2015 Economic Vision and the Preparatory Senior Economic Officials Meeting.

Mustapa will also be taking the opportunity of the Retreat to garner support from the other ASEAN Member States for a number of side–events that are being organised in Malaysia, including:

Southeast Asia Regulatory Reform Conference (9-12 March 2015); ASEAN SME Showcase and Conference 2015 (26-28 May 2015); ASEAN Business and Investment Summit (November 2015); and several ASEAN Youth and Young Entrepreneurs related summits.

Member countries are Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Brunei, Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar and Cambodia.

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Islamic Cultural Foundation to adopt 60 poor Indian families

Thursday 19 Feb 2015 – Jeddah (IINA) – The Jeddah Chapter of Islamic Cultural Foundation of India (ICF) will adopt 60 poor families from the southern Indian states of Kerala and Tamil Nadu.

Addressing a press conference here recently, leaders of ICF announced a series of initiatives and relief packages to mark the diamond jubilee celebrations of the foundation’s parent organization –Sunni Yuvajana Sangam (SYS). The Jeddah chapter will also donate an ambulance to boost its drive to render free ambulance service to patients at the Regional Cancer Center in Thiruvananthapuram, capital of Kerala. The 60th anniversary conference of SYS with the theme of “Dedicated youth: Marching ahead with a mission accomplished” will be held in Edarikkode, Malappuram district of Kerala on Feb.27-March 1.

ICF leaders said that the Jeddah chapter had spent Rs15 million in 2014 for relief works in order to alleviate the suffering of the weaker and marginalized sections in the society. These included healthcare and treatment, contribution to settle debts for the poor, construction of homes for those without a home, and financial assistance for education and marriage expenses of the poor and destitute families.

The foundation has made elaborate arrangements and preparations to make the SYS conference a resounding success.

As part of this, several programs are being held in the Gulf states; and these included seminar, debate, workers’ meet, table talk, ‘family school’, cultural and artistic performance, blood donation camp, and students’ assembly. A symposium on “Indian culture: History and present scenario” will be held shortly as part of the programs. Those who attended the press conference included Sayyid Habeeb Al-Bukhari, Abdurahman Madahiri, Abdurahim Wandoor, Klari Mustafa Saadi, Shafi Musliar, Mujeeb A.R. Nagar, Basheer Ernakulam and Abdul Majeed Saqafi.

Meanwhile, several prominent community leaders and media and cultural figures spoke at a seminar with the theme of “Dedicated expatriate youths” organized by ICF in Jeddah. The speakers underlined the need for joint efforts of the religious and cultural organizations to guide the younger generation into the right path and prevent them from going astray. “There should be concerted efforts to protect the younger generation from the scourge of terrorism as well as from moral degradation and cultural anarchy. Youths shall be trained so as to become torchbearers of virtues and useful to the society as a whole,” said Basheer Ernakulam who presented the seminar topic.

Klari Mustafa Saadi was the moderator in the seminar, which was inaugurated by Hassan Cheruppa. The speakers included A.M. Sajith (Malayalam News), K.T.A. Muneer (Overseas Indian Cultural Congress), Rayin Kutty Neerad (Kerala Muslim Cultural Center), Gopi Nedungadi (Sameeksha Literary Forum), A.M. Abdullakutty (Indian Muslim Cultural Center), Asif (Navoday Cultural Forum), Hifzurahman (Saudi Indian Football Forum), Muhammad Kotta (New Ages), and Ali Bukhari (Risala Study Circle). Mujeeb A.R. Nagar welcomed the gathering while M.C.A Ghafour Vazhakkad proposed a vote of thanks.

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Iran, Uzbekistan trade hits $250 million in 2014

Monday 16 Feb 2015 – Tehran, (IINA) – The value of trade between Iran and Uzbekistan stood at about $250 million in 2014, according to Iran’s Minister of Industries, Mines, and Trade Muhammadreza Nematzadeh, Tehran Times reported.

After a meeting with the Uzbek Minister of Foreign Economic Relations, Investments and Trade Elyor Majidovich Ganiev on Sunday, Nematzadeh said the meeting of Iran-Uzbekistan Joint Economic Commission is scheduled to be held in the Uzbek capital Tashkent in the coming months, the IRNA news agency reported.

He said also that Iran is ready to export car, household appliances and construction materials as well as petrochemical and electrical products to Uzbekistan.

According to the Iran Customs Administration, Uzbekistan was the 31st biggest importer of Iranian non-oil goods in the previous Iranian calendar year, which ended on March 20, last year. It is noteworthy that Iran exported $101.6 million of non-oil goods to Uzbekistan and imported around $140.7 million of non-oil goods from the country.

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Morocco to create Shariah board for Islamic finance

Wednesday 18 Feb 2015 – Rabat, (IINA) -Morocco has issued a royal decree to create a Shariah board of Islamic scholars to oversee the country’s fledgling Islamic finance industry, news agencies reported Wednesday.

The news agencies noted that this move is the second big step to allow the creation of Islamic banks and enable private firms to issue Islamic debt after parliament approved the Islamic finance bill last November.

The official bulletin said, the board will be composed of 10 Islamic scholars plus at least five financial experts under the name Sharia Committee for Participative Finances .The members of the committee will be named by the president of the country’s Islamic Scholars Council.

The board will approve the conformity of the Islamic products proposed by the participative banks, as they will be known under the legislation, and insurance (takaful) to sharia law. It will also oversee the central bank decisions regarding the participative finances sector.

Noteworthy, Major Moroccan banks have been preparing to open Islamic offshoots since the legislative process began. Foreign lenders have been also testing the waters.

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Ukraine Muslims hold workshop on Hijab

Thursday 19 Feb 2015 – Kiev, Ukraine (IINA) – Ukraine’s Muslim community has organized recently a workshop on traditional ways of wearing national headscarves and Islamic Hijab, World Bulletin reported.

The zest of this workshop was a tour into the Ukrainian folk headwear. The specific characteristics of the headscarves vary from region to region. Oksana, the historian of the folk costume, says the tradition of covering hair of married women is deeply rooted in the Ukrainian culture.

After the training, all the girls and women were offered a chance to become models and experience how it feels to wear a Muslim or a folk Ukrainian headscarf.

Participants of the workshop say the hijab is a decision based on faith. They believe, it does not stop women from having a modern lifestyle.

Noteworthy, Muslim community in Ukraine make up around 4 percent of the Ukrainian population and a woman in a hijab is a rare sight on Kiev streets.

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Kuwait to host 2016 Gulf Cup

Thursday 19 Feb 2015 – Kuwait city, (IINA) – Kuwait will host the next Gulf Cup tournament in January 2016, after Iraq apologized for not being able to organize the tournament due to insufficient playgrounds, news agencies reported. Heads of GCC football associations met in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on Tuesday to discuss the venue change.

Kuwait was chosen as a host of the 23rd Gulf Cup to replace Iraq, which officially apologized for being not ready to host the championship, Sheikh Talal Al-Fahad Chairman of Kuwait Football Association told KUNA on the sidelines of the extraordinary meeting of the Gulf football associations.

He pointed out that expert teams will visit Kuwait to inspect and prepare reports about the sports facilities and football pitches’ conditions. The Gulf Cup is held every two years rotating the host city every edition. The last edition was held in Saudi Arabia last year and was won by the Qatari team.

Noteworthy, the first Gulf Cup tournament took place in 1970, and was won by the Kuwaiti team. Kuwait is the record ten-time champions and has previously held the event three times, since the tournament’s inception, in 1974,1990 and 2003.

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UAE ranks Number One globally in aviation safety standards

Thursday 19 Feb 2015 – Abu Dhabi, (IINA) – United Arab Emirates scored a success rate of 98.86% in compliance with international aviation safety standards, which is the highest rate in history given by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO ), news agencies reported.

The UAE accomplished an enormous and unprecedented achievement by ranking number one in the world in compliance with international aviation safety standards after intensive audit through ICAO’s Universal Safety Oversight Audit Program.

Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, President of the Department of Civil Aviation Authority, Chairman and Chief Executive of Emirates Airline and Group, welcomed the significant achievement of the UAE represented by the General Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) of being rated as the top country in the world in compliance with international aviation safety standards.

From his side, Sheikh Sultan bin Tahnoon Al Nahyan, Chairman of Abu Dhabi Department of Transport, emphasized that the grand achievement by the civil aviation sector in the UAE is another top accomplishment for the country which it deserves.

Sultan bin Saeed Al Mansoori, minister of economy and chairman of GCAA, also welcomed the achievement by the UAE, represented by GCAA.

James Hogan, President and Chief Executive Officer of Etihad Airways, said: “The ICAO report reflects the significant contribution of the UAE’s aviation industry in regards to safety developments.

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GCC e-government portal will be launched in March

Thursday 19 Feb 2015 – Doha (IINA) – The Executive Committee of e-government of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) announced that the networking project among Member States, as well as the GCC e-Government Services Portal will be launched in March, Qatar News Agency (QNA) reported.

During the meeting which was held Wednesday in Doha, the participants discussed preliminary list of services to be included in the GCC e-government portal at the initial stage, in addition to the latest developments with regard to the networking project among the GCC countries, in the framework of the strategic guidelines of the Gulf e-government portal.

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Turkish carrier SunExpress posts record revenue

ANTALYA – Hurriyet Daily News – SunExpress, a joint venture company of Turkish Airlines and Lufthansa, celebrates its 25th anniversary with record revenues in 2014 upon the past two years of strong growth.

SunExpress sales increased by 15 percent in 2014 from the previous year, resulting in an income of 1.25 billion euros, the company said by a written statement yesterday. The number of passengers transported in 2014 was 7.3 million and the seat load factor (SLF) exceeded 85 percent.

“We have had healthy and successful growth during the last three years and for the 25th anniversary year of the establishment of our company we have broken our best record with the revenue achieved in 2014 and are now among Turkey’s largest 50 companies,” said SunExpress Managing Director Paul Schwaiger at a press conference held in Antalya Feb. 18.

“The growth achieved in recent years places us among Turkey’s largest 50 companies,” said Schwaiger: “Behind such strong growth lies the support of our 3,400 employees from 25 different countries and naturally the wealth of knowledge from our shareholders Turkish Airlines and Lufthansa.”

Stating that with the 2015 summer season, SunExpress will begin service to a total of 16 new destinations from İzmir and Antalya, SunExpress Deputy Managing Director Faruk Çizmecioğlu also noted that 482 weekly international flights will be flown from Antalya, İzmir, Istanbul, Adana, Alanya/Gazipaşa, Ankara, Bodrum, Dalaman, Elazığ, Gaziantep, Kayseri, Konya, Samsun, Şanlıurfa and Trabzon.

Çizmecioğlu said: “We will connect scheduled flights to Antalya, which brings in the most tourists, with domestic flights to eight cities directly and in addition to the 38 international destinations currently flown to and from Antalya, we will add international scheduled service to Paris CDG, Strasbourg, Lyon, Nantes, Geneva, Memmingen, Copenhagen, Luxembourg, Amsterdam and Stockholm. From Antalya we will operate 267 flights a week to a total of 48 international destinations in 12 countries.”

“For nearly two years we have been conducting successful wet-lease operations with Turkish Airlines/Anadolujet. In this business model, we rent aircraft to Turkish Airlines/Anadolujet, maintaining the operational management, while Turkish Airlines/Anadolujet ensures the commercial management.

This service we provide allows for a more efficient and cost effective structure for Turkish Airlines/Anadolujet,” said Server Aydın, Deputy Managing Director of SunExpress Germany (SXD). “This successful business model will now be used for Lufthansa’s long-haul program to offer low-cost tourism flights” Aydın said.

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Turkey moves to standardize trademark dessert baklava

ANKARA – Hurriyet Daily News – Turkey has introduced new formal criteria for the sweet and syrupy dessert delight baklava, aiming to standardize production of the trademark dessert that is often manufactured with substandard ingredients to cut costs.

The Turkish Standards Institute (TSE) said on Feb. 19 that it had adopted a list of criteria that should be met by Turkish baklava producers in order to get official approval from the country’s standardization watchdog.

According to the new rules, Turkish baklava “should have its trademark color (golden yellow) and look, its syrup and intensity should not be sharp, it shouldn’t cause a sore throat, and the minimum height of each piece should be 35 millimeters.”

The statement released by the TSE warned that some producers have begun to cheat clients in recent years by using counterfeit ingredients. It said it had become common for manufacturers to use peas instead of pistachios, dried or burned pastry instead of walnuts, vegetable or trans oils instead of butter, and corn syrup instead of white sugar. It did, however, also note that the preparation and ingredients of baklava often varied between Turkey’s regions.

Baklava is the subject of one of the hottest ongoing geographical indication rights fights between Turkey and its Balkan neighbors.

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More Arab tourists coming to Turkey’s Mediterranean resort Marmaris

MUĞLA – Anadolu Agency – Despite the ongoing political turmoil in the Middle East, Turkey’s Mediterranean resort town of Marmaris, already popular among British and Russians tourists, is becoming an increasingly popular center of attraction for Arab tourists.

Receiving around 700,000 British and 200,000 Russian tourists every year, Marmaris last year also attracted over 30,000 Arab tourists, mostly from Jordan and Lebanon. Turkish tourism players are now expecting a further increase in the upcoming season.

The Marmaris branch head of the Association of Turkish Travel Agencies (TÜRSAB), İsmail Özbozdağ, said that despite the political turmoil in the Middle East, the increase in the number of tourists coming from the region is quite striking.

“This region offers great opportunities to Arab tourists. They value natural and historical beauties … Despite the continuing political turmoil in the Middle East, there has been a significant increase of around 30 percent in the number of Arab tourists visiting Marmaris, which is quite pleasing for Turkish tourism players,” Özbozdağ added.

In particular, the numbers of Lebanese tourists is rising, he said, adding that 15,000 Lebanese tourists visited Marmaris in 2013 and 18,000 visited in 2014.

According to the records of Dalaman Airport, located near Marmaris in southwestern Turkey, 1.65 million tourists in total visited the Marmaris district and its surroundings in 2014. Özbozdağ said this marked a significant increase from all regions.

“There has been an increasing trend in the number of tourists visiting Marmaris. There has been an increase of up to 12 percent in the numbers of tourists coming from Germany, and an increase of 2 percent from Britain, Denmark and Poland. Despite the general economic and political turmoil, the overall increase in 2014 was noteworthy,” he added.

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TAV increased net profit by 64 percent in 2014

ISTANBUL – Hurriyet Daily News – TAV, Turkey’s leading brand in airport operations, posted a net profit of 218 million euros in 2014 with an increase of 64 percent compared to the previous year, the company said by a written statement late Feb. 19.

TAV Airports increased its revenue to 983 million euros in 2014 with an increase of 9 percent from the previous year. The number of passengers at the airports operated by TAV reached 95 million with an increase of 14 percent compared to the previous year, the company said.

TAV plans to distribute 306 million liras of dividend this year from its 2014 net profit.

“Three years ago, TAV Airports set a goal of expanding its service companies to the airports in which TAV does not operate. Today, we have managed to take part in 39 more airports with our service companies besides the 14 airports we operate at. In 2014, while our revenue increased 9 percent and reached 983 million euros, our net profit came in at 218 million euros, reflecting 64 percent of growth, fully in line with the guidance we had disclosed in the beginning of the year,” said TAV Airports Holding President & CEO Sani Şener, adding the success of the company’s services unit played a big role in topping the company’s financial targets.

“We topped the Istanbul and overall passenger targets that we had set at the beginning of 2014.

According to passenger traffic statistics for the year, Istanbul Atatürk Airport was the fourth busiest airport in Europe. In order to ensure uninterrupted passenger growth at Istanbul Atatürk, we began expanding this facility in cooperation with the State Airports Authority of Turkey (DHMİ). The investments the DHMİ undertook in the apron area increased the airport’s aircraft parking capacity by 25 percent as of November 2014. A 42 percent total increase in parking capacity will result as these investments are finalized in 2015,” Şener said.

Meanwhile, TAV Airports plans to initiate approximately 75 million euros of investment to increase the capacity of the international terminal. The terminal extension projects will be completed in 2016, Şener noted.

“The company won the tender for the operation rights of Milas Bodrum Airport, increasing the number of airports it operates to 14. At the beginning of 2014, the company completed the construction of İzmir Adnan Menderes Airport’s domestic terminal, which commenced service as Turkey’s largest domestic airport terminal. After the completion of the expansion projects that we will be undertaking here, Gazipaşa Alanya Airport’s capacity will climb to 2 million passengers per year,” Şener said.

TAV Airports operates Istanbul Atatürk, Ankara Esenboğa, İzmir Adnan Menderes, Gazipasa Alanya and Milas Bodrum Airports in Turkey, as well as the Tbilisi and Batumi Airports in Georgia, Monastir and Enfidha-Hamammet Airports in Tunisia, Skopje and Ohrid Airports in Macedonia, Medinah Airport in Saudi Arabia and Zagreb Airport in Croatia.

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Cox’s Bazar, Syedpur Airports to be raised to global standards

SANGSAD BHABAN, Feb 18, 2015 (BSS) – Prime Minister and Leader of the House Sheikh Hasina today said the Cox’s Bazar and Syedpur Airports would be built as international standard for making these two regions more prosperous.

“Discussions have already been held (with Bhutan), and we are giving scope to Bhutan so that they can use the Syedpur Airport,” she said, adding the government has also a plan to build an airport in Khulna- Bagerhat region.

The Prime Minister said this while responding to a supplementary raised by Awami League lawmaker Barrister Sheikh Fazley Noor Taposh during her question-answer session in the House.

She said her government has built Chittagong and Sylhet Airports as international standard. “In the same way, we would make the Cox’s Bazar Airport as international standard,” she added.

Replying to another query from independent lawmaker Md Rustam Ali Farazi, Sheikh Hasina said the construction work of the much-awaited Padma Bridge would be completed by December 2017.

“Twenty-five percent financial progress of the mega project have already been achieved and the construction work of the bridge would be finished by December 2017,” she said.

The Leader of the House said her government has launched the work of the Padma Bridge at a cost of approximate Taka 26,000 crore through its own funding.

She said the supervision work of the main bridge, river training and the construction work of the superstructure for the main bridge are going on.

The river training work of the bridge will commence in March, while the test piling work will start in April, she said. “The 30 percent work of the approach road on Mawa side has already been completed, while 22 percent work of the approach road on Janzira side has been finished,” she said.

“Insha Allah vehicles will ply on the Padma Bridge at the end of 2017,” she said.

The Prime Minister told the same lawmaker that her government has taken various initiatives to implement different mega projects side by side with execution of the ongoing development programmes for overall economic uplift of the country.

“A ‘Fast Track Project Monitoring Committee’ headed by me has been formed to implement some projects timely and smoothly through extensive supervision and coordination,” she said. A ‘Fast Track Task Force Committee’ has also been constituted to assist the ‘Fast Track Project Monitoring Committee’.

So far eight projects– Padma Multipurpose Bridge Project, Rooppur Nuclear Power Plant Project, Rampal Power Plant, Dhaka Mass Rapid Transit Development Project (Metro Rail), LNG Terminal Project, Deep Seaport, Coal-based Power Plant (Matarbari) and Paira Deep Seaport–have been included in the Fast Track Project, she said.

“The supervision work of the eight projects is going on by the two committees,” she said.

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Presenting true history for preserving Bengali culture underscored

RANGPUR, Feb 19, 2015 (BSS) – Speakers at a discussion here have underscored the need for upholding and presenting the true national history before the young generations for properly preserving our rich Bengali culture for the next generations.

They called upon the cultural activists for strengthening and nurturing healthy cultural activities hands in building a non-communal and secular the Sonar Bangla as dreamt by Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.

They were addressing the discussion arranged by District Shilpokola Academy at its auditorium in the city this afternoon in observance of the 41st founding anniversary of Bangladesh Shilpokola Academy (BSA).

The District Shilpokola Academy chalked out elaborate programmes including colourful decoration and illumination of its building on Public Library premises, colourful rally, cake cutting, discussion and colourful cultural evening.

Hundreds of people including socio-cultural activists, literary personalities, artists of the District Shilpokola Academy and other cultural organisations, youths, students, teachers, professionals, civil society members and elite of the city took part in the rally.

Deputy Commissioner and President of District Shilpokola Academy Farid Ahammad attended and addressed the discussion and cake-cutting ceremony as the chief guest with its Vice-president Sirajul Islam in the chair.

General Secretary of District Shilpokola Academy Tauhidur Rahman Tutul, its executive committee member Raihan Uddin, former Cultural Officer Abdur Rahim, General Secretary of Rangpur Nattya Chakra Razzaque Murad and cultural personality Anwarul Islam also addressed.

The speaker highly appreciated Bangabandhu for establishing BSA forty-one years back for smooth nurturing of Bengali culture with a view to further enrich our cultural status in the independent Bangladesh for building a non- communal country.

Later, artists of District Shilpokola Academy rendered various colourful programmes including dance, songs and poem recitation in the cultural evening that ended at night and was enjoyed by hundreds of people of all ages.

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Indonesia to participate in 37th Tourism Fair in Belgrade

18 February 2015 Jakarta (ANTARA News) – Indonesia will take part in the 37th International Fair of Tourism (IFT) in Belgrade, Serbia, from February 19 to 22. According to the Indonesian Embassy in Belgrade, the countrys booth at the event will be based on the theme “Wonderful Indonesia” and will display the beauty of the archipelago, from Aceh to Papua.

An official of the information, social and cultural division of the Indonesian Embassy in Belgrade, Habadi Soewedo, informed in an e-mail received here on Wednesday that they will promote not just tourist destinations in Indonesia but its rich culture and natural resources, as well.

“There will be traditional Indonesian dance and music performances, in addition to a folk songs competition that will be organized,” Soewedo affirmed.

The diplomat added that the performers will be Serbian artists who learned Indonesian arts at the embassy. Moreover, the Indonesian booth at the fair will also put together a quiz about the country and will provide free souvenirs to visitors.

Held in Belgrade, Serbia, the IFT is the biggest annual tourism exhibition in Southeastern Europe. Every year, the IFT records an increasing number of participants and visitors. In 2014, it saw more than a hundred participants and was visited by 62 thousand people and 10,625 tourism companies from across the world.

Furthermore, the Indonesian government aims to achieve a target of 20 million foreign tourist arrivals in the country by 2019.

In 2014, Indonesia recorded 9,435,411 foreign tourists, 7.2 percent higher than the 8,802,129 recorded in 2013. Promoting tourism abroad is part of Indonesian representatives economic diplomatic efforts, as proclaimed by President Joko Widodo.

Earlier, Foreign Affairs Minister Retno Marsudi had informed the president that the Foreign Affairs Ministry would support promotional activities for tourism.

“To access the visa service, almost half of our representatives overseas have used the online route,” Marsudi noted. She assured that her ministry would fully support the three-day visa service in a friendly, expeditious, accurate, and accountable fashion. “Indonesian diplomats will head tourism promotional activities overseas,” Marsudi affirmed.

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Indonesia to host ASEAN Youth Fair 2015

18 February 2015 Jakarta (ANTARA News) – Indonesia will host the ASEAN Youth Creative Industry Fair (AYCIF) 2015 that will be held from February to June 2015 in Jakarta.

“AYCIF 2015 will be held in cooperation with the Japan ASEAN Integration Fund, ASEAN, Indonesian Cooperative and SME Ministry, and the SME Centre of Economic Faculty in Indonesia University,” the Deputy Minister of Small, Medium and Cooperative Enterprises under the Cooperative and SME Ministry, Meliadi Sembiring, said here on Wednesday.

According to Meliadi, the ministry is one of the supporters of AYCIF 2015. The fair will be attended by several young entrepreneurs from the creative industry in the ASEAN countries and Japan. They will participate in discussions, create links and showcase their products.

Meliadi expressed hope that AYCIF 2015 will encourage the development and cooperation of young entrepreneurs in the ASEAN region and Japan. AYCIF 2015 will hold several events such as competitions, exhibitions, seminars, and workshops.

The Project Director of AYCIF 2015, Gilang Ageng, remarked that competition events will be held from February 24 to May 31, 2015, and will be divided into 4 sub-sectors, namely fashion, product design and handicraft, games and application, and film and animation.

The peak event of AYCIF will be held on August 29-30, 2015, in Jakarta Old Town. The creations of the competition events finalists will be displayed on the occasion.

“The event will be inaugurated in Epiwalk Kuningan, Jakarta, on February 24, 2015,” Gilang added.

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Nigeria: Expert Seeks Development Through Tourism

Daily Independent – 20 February 2015 – Lagos — An expert in tourism development in Nigeria has stated that tourism sector, if properly utilised, is capable of turning Nigeria’s economy around an lift it out of its current austerity situation.

Mr. Uwakwe Solomon, Executive Director, Tourism World International, disclosed this recently at the award ceremony tagged:” Legends of Tourism” which his company organised at Transcorp Hilton, Abuja.

He said it is because there tends to be an absent mindedness on the significance of tourism as an industry in Nigeria that has made the sector not to have achieved its full potentials in the country, adding that Nigeria “needs to bring some good examples of tourism values from overseas and compare them to what we have here and see how we can improve on the natural tourist endowments that nature has bestowed on us which are calling for attention.”

Solomon said events have shown that tourism is the only industry that does not fade, wear out, depreciate or become obsolete and that with the fallen oil prices in Nigeria at the moment, there is need to look inwards with the objective of harnessing the enormous wealth in the sector.

His words: “Tourism could therefore be rightly said to be a collection of activities, services and industries that delivers a travel experience, including transportation, accommodations, eating and drinking establishments, retail shops, entertainment businesses, activity facilities and other hospitality services provided for individuals or groups travelling away from home”.

He cited the United States of America where tourism provides over six million jobs, making it the country’s largest employer.

“Tourism is Thailand’s top revenue earner, expected to earn 2 trillion Thai baht ($65 billion) annually by 2015. Thailand’s distance from the US (about 18 hours from the West Coast) is really great yet Americans keep visiting because the American love of Thailand hands down is based on the soft spoken gentility of its people and a hospitality firmly rooted in respect for others,” he added.

While speaking on tourism potentials of Dubai, Solomon said Dubai is suggested to be the largest hospitality tourism market in the world at the moment, with its tallest building in the world which houses the only 7-star hotel on earth as at today.

“According to the Dubai Department of Tourism and Commerce following their current data, by 2020 when Dubai will host the world expo, it will achieve its target of attracting up to 20 million hotel guests. It is tourists that lodge most in hotels. Today, Nigerians account for 60 per cent Dubai apartment sales instead of investing at home.

“In London and Austria, Nigerians own expensive properties in specific high profile areas as landlords while such people may not have any series investment of back home and so UK properties keep appreciating,” he stressed.

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LEAD STORY: Alcohol-free Hotel Takes Off in Ibadan, Nigeria

Daily Independent (Lagos) – 20 February 2015 – Hospitality industry in Nigeria is not only growing despite the stifling economic situation, but also witnessing the emergence of brand concept to cater for distinct buyers and consumers.

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In Ibadan, Oyo State, at the end of Aalafin Avenue, Oluyole Estate Extension, a hotel christened: ‘Solam Executive Suites’ has reared its head telling all: “No alcohol is sold here.”

One may think that such a hotel will be one of the-run-off-the-mill with low standard, poor public relations, just created to satisfy the yearnings of the religious minded fellows who just want a place to hide their heads or sleep for the night maintaining their ascetic way of life.

But none of these is a portion of Solam Suites. Apart from the fact that you cannot buy or get to buy any alcoholic drinks on its bar, the hotel is set on an internationally high standard acceptable benchmark of excellence.

One of the noticeable features of this non- alcohol hotel is the spacious parking lot with exceptional double-layered security control gate manned by courteous security men who warmly direct clients to a lot and watch keenly over your car.

“The reception manned by enthusiastic staff who take pride in smiling at you whether you are good looking or not is cute, stylish and regales in comfort to offer our dear customers or our clients prompt service without wasting their time as they have no business staying long at the reception . Also, to let them have a taste of what we fitted in the rooms within minutes,” says Kola Shodimu, Business Manager of the hotel.

“Each of the 20 bedrooms is set in perfect decor of luxury and splendour striving earnestly to ensure the utmost pleasure for the guests who want and desire an ambience of bliss in a non- alcoholic polluted environment.

The fixtures and fittings are not only of the best quality but adopted to be environmentally stable ranging from the therapeutic beddings, atmospheric duvet, side lamps, bulb, the fridge, plasma TV, reading table, comfortable chair while the conveniences are designed and equipped to be real conveniences where customers can feel free to read and think .

“We know we are catering for discerning customers who desire the best of the best atmosphere, an unpolluted and serene environment, hence everything you see here or fitted showcases quality, standard and excellence,” Shodimu said.

The restaurant is fitted to lure customers” throats to menu as the chef who has intercontinental experience and exposure is ever ready to serve the food, fresh and fast within minutes of order. “We realise that having a very beautiful and highly polished hotel like ours is good and desirable.

We know that we have the best hardware which is the building, the security, the concept of non-alcohol, but also realise that if we failed to get the best chef around, seasoned enough to cook mouth-watering and something to remember food, we shall be wasting our time.

“Hence, we have one of the best chefs around who is skilled in local and intercontinental cuisine. You see a man who loath alcohol will love good food. Hence, anyone who sleeps here is assured of good food produced by a clean chef under a most hygienic environment.”

Solam is not about non-alcoholic drinks alone, as it offers its clients unlimited access to Wi-Fi “We don’t see this amenity I mean Wi-Fi or internet as a privilege or favour to our customers.

“We see it as a right for them. It is a hotel with availability of generators as a value added facility. A hotel must be able to provide efficient power supply, that is why we have four generators here for the hotel alone,” revealed Shodimu.

Solam is a total hotel which does not only take care of the accommodation, feeding and leisure demands of customers and clients, but has ventured in providing support services to enhance the business and social factors of desired members of the public .

It has within the premises of Solam Executive Suites an Event Centre purposely constructed to sit over 1000 guests in Cinema format and 700 in party styles. Clients need not worry about musical equipment, as this event centre is all-inclusive with LCD TV transmission while the event lasts. This event centre is blessed with air conditioning, equipped with audio-visual equipment with complimentary band super fast and wireless and internet connection.

According to Shodimu, “Solam is one out of all hotels in Ibadan which sets out to offer that unique services delivery by upward mobile and thoroughly trained staff to satisfy the yearning of customers in the most conducive atmosphere devoid of alcohol and lewdness. It is a hotel carved for the best of minds.”

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Nigeria: Grand Tours Centre Opens

Daily Independent (Lagos) – 20 February 2015 – In a move meant to promote Nigerian tourism to the global market, a travel management company, Grand Express Tours Centre (GETCentre), has opened its doors for business in the Opebi area of Lagos.

Managing Director of the company, Bolaji Mustapha, while welcoming guests to the rebranded outfit, said the firm is strategically positioned in Lagos to offer customised tour and travel packages for business and leisure across the globe.

The tour operating firm started out in 2007 as Touchdown Travels Limited (TTL) but was later rebranded in 2104 as GETCentre.

With international tourist arrivals growing at over 4 per cent as 1.138 billion was recorded last year, Mustapha said it is time that Nigeria braced up to have her share of the global market. She appealed to the government to pay more attention to the tourism sector by improving on infrastructure and creating the enabling environment for investors.

According to her, GETCentre is poised to lead the sub-sector, as it has always done in the past but with renewed vigour in ensuring that Nigeria is properly positioned to attract tourists and investors to the industry.

“The target customers of GETCentre are high net worth individuals, telecoms, financial institutions, oil and gas personnel, federal ministries, departments, parastatals and other government agencies.These have constituted our clientele base in the market in the last seven years of operation,” said the Managing Director.

She added, “Its business objectives flow from an intense passion to deliver value-added business travel and tour services, which open up infinite possibilities for her clients’ success and satisfaction.”

GETCentre’s offering, according to her, is tagged ‘Complete Tour Package’ and it entails tour travel packages for leisure like holiday/vacation, conference, exhibition and business clients across Africa, Europe, Middle East and Asia and across the world.

Each all-in-one package comprises flight booking, hotel reservation, unique tours, transfers, visa application and added values such as; sky diving, scuba diving, binge jump and boat cruise.

The vision of her company, Mustapha said is to be the best and biggest travel management company in Nigeria and Africa.

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Soaring Commercial Travel Delays May Boost Business Aviation in Nigeria

The Guardian – 20 February 2015 – THOUGH the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) has reported that 5.5 per cent annual growth in air passenger traffic was recorded by the airlines in 2014. A report however revealed that almost 700 commercial flights are cancelled globally and 470 515 trips delayed in January 2015.

While the situation might be looking gloomy for a commercial sector, it can become an opportunity for business aircraft operators.

Meanwhile, it might be hard to assign monetary value to millions of courage lost by leisure travellers having to spend a part of their holidays in the departure lounges or gloomy hotels, the price that business travellers pay for the disruptions on their schedules may amount to millions of dollars.

For instance, the United States travel association data unveils that in 2014 alone the flight delays/cancellations of scheduled commercial flights cost American travellers 8.5 billion dollars, not to mention the lost time, missed connections and disrupted plans.

But flight delays/cancellations are not the only issue causing headaches to air travellers who opt for commercial flying these days. As stated by the Department of Transportation in its latest Air Travel Consumer Report, last year there were 21.8 million bags mishandled in the U.S. alone.

However, this number is only indicative of the luggage, which was actually reported missing. Outrageously, with only 1 per cent of passengers choosing to report their missing bags, some newly emerged start-ups have actually started to benefit from selling the lost things in auctions.

It seems that the much longed-for recovery in the market had caught commercial carriers unprepared, noted the Chief Executive Officer, Klasjet, Vitalij Kapitonov,

KlasJet is a European charter carrier, specializing in private and corporate charter flights as well as comprehensive aircraft management solutions.

Therefore, he stated that under the current circumstances, the fact that more and more businesses abandon commercial travelling and turn to business aviation for more reliable commuting solutions should raise few eyebrows.

Moreover, Business travellers are all about time. Since a single minute on a CEO’s schedule could cost thousands or even hundreds of thousands, more and more executives and entrepreneurs have actually started viewing private aviation as an insurance against many service-related disruptions, common to commercial aviation services.

The data from the Air travel Consumer Report unveils that 6.87 per cent of delays are caused by late aircraft arrivals and 5.09 per cent by passenger service-related issues. Keeping in mind that none of these are applicable to business aviation it’s no wonder why business travellers are increasingly keen to opt for private jets.

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Nigerian Carrier, Arik Air, Opens Link With Cote d’Ivoire

The Guardian – 20 February 2015 – Abidjan — THE flight, Boeing 737-800, took off from Nigeria’s oldest airport and the country’s commercial hub centre, Murtala Mohammed International Airport, Ikeja, Lagos by 2. 45 pm (CAT), through Cotonou, Republic of Benin, to Abidjan. It was a 15minutes journey from Lagos to Cotonou and a one hour flight from Cotonou to Abidjan.

This new service will operate four times a week: Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays.

Acording to the management of the airline, the new Lagos-Abidjan air service will be operated using Arik Air’s state-of-the-art Bombardier CRJ900 aircraft configured to carry 10 Business Class and 64 Economy class passengers. The management said its reason for opening this route is because of the economic potentials citizens of these two countries stand to gain through this air link.

Its words: “Abidjan is a preferred destination for Nigerian businessmen and women. Arik Air’s foray into this commercial city will make life a lot easier for our guests who have been yearning for flight connection between Nigeria and Cote d’Ivoire. This service will further underline Arik Air’s position as West Africa’s premier airline.”

Corroborating the management of Arik, the Nigerian Ambassador to Cote d’Ivoire, Mrs. Ifeoma Akabogu-Chinwuba, who was at the Felix Houphouet Boigny International Airport, Abidjan to welcome the inaugural flight to the country, said this service proviced by Arik Air, would indeed boost the bilatral relationship between Nigeria and Cote d’Ivoire in many ways including trade and business transactions.

Her words: “There are so many benefits the two countries can gain by this direct air link by Arik Air. For instance, there are over three million Nigerians living in Cote d’Ivoire and they all have families. There are indeed a lot of bilateral activities between the two countries, particularly, economic and commercial activities, mainly from Nigeria to Cote d’Ivoire.

Many Nigerians have made so much investment in Cote d’Ivoire. They have hotels, schools, banks like UBA, GTB and Diamond Bank. All are Nigerian-established banks. We also have churches owned by Nigerians, as well as oil and gas companies belonging to Nigerians.”

On the volume of trade between the two countries she stated: “The figure we have in 2011 is over CFA200 billion especially in crude oil transaction and refined oil products that are imported or exported by both countries.”

Mrs. Akabogu-Chinwuba who joined the same aircraft back to Lagos on that day commended Arik Air for providing this direct service to millions of Nigerians in Cote d’Ivoire who have been itching for such opportunity to transact their businesses as quickly as they can using a reliable airline belonging to Nigeria.

Earlier in his opening remarks before the aircrat departed MMIA, the deputy managing director (DMD) and senior vice president (operations) of Arik Air, Captain Ado Sanusi gave some reasons why the company decided to venture in this service.

His words: “We have done a good study on the route and found out that there is a good market between Lagos and Abidjan. We also discover that there is potentiality of transit passengers that we will be going with to our long haul destinations via Lagos. This also will make Lagos a natural hub we are trying to build. Passengers going to Dubai, London or JFK can come to Lagos via Abidjan. We have seen it coming and we are going to capitalise on it.”

On why the aircraft will not be going through Lome, Togo as it was anticipated, he said: “Because of strategic reasons. Besides, we want to build Cotonue as another hub because Lome is being developed by one of our competitors and so we want to do the same thing with Cotonou.

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Nigeria Records 21 Million Passenger Traffic in 2014

This Day – 20 February 2015 – Passenger traffic for inbound and outbound destinations has risen to 21 million in 2014, excelling the record of the previous year by over 20 per cent.

This was attributed to robust economic activities, the rebasing of the nation’s economy, which made it the largest in Africa and the choice of the country as investment destination due to growing democratic climate.

The steady growth of passenger movement in air transport was interrupted by the tragic Dana Air flight crash in June, 2012, which led to significant reduction in flight movement as fear gripped many Nigerians who now chose to travel by other means, especially by road. This explained why less number of passengers travelled to domestic destinations in 2013, when compared with the records of 2011 and the growth was stunted until late 2013 when there was discernible increase in passenger movement.

Last year, about 14 million people travelled on domestic destinations while seven million travelled on international destinations. Industry analyst, Francis Ayigbe attributed the increase to steady restoration of passenger confidence in domestic travel, especially with the absence of air crashes. He added that the upgrade of airport facilities created in the travelling public a mind-set of safety, prompting more people to travel by air.

Executive Chairman of Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON) Captain Nogie Meggison, acknowledged the growth of passenger traffic in Nigeria.

“Nigeria passenger traffic is climbing up now, it dipped in 2013 after the Dana accident in 2012 but it has picked up again and it has gone up to about 20 per cent and it is growing steadily. We are looking at a figure close to between 14 and 16 million passengers on domestic service. International passenger traffic is about six or seven million,” Meggison said. He said the growth was evidence that the nation’s economy is growing and more Nigerians are being empowered economically.

“Aviation as they say is a barometer to check the economy of any country. One of the ways to check the economy of any nation is to know its GDP and one of the ways of knowing is to check the passenger traffic. A very clear case is in Europe and in the United States. When their economy went into recession all the airlines were affected; so Nigeria does not stand alone in this case. Nigerian aviation is 90 per cent dollar based. So, with our economy and GDP going up for the first time and we becoming number one investment haven and highest GDP per capita in Africa, it will obviously reflect in our aviation that things have spiced up and there is a lot of movement,” Meggison added.

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Al-Azhar mosque restoration to start in March

Al-Ahram, Tuesday 17 Feb 2015 – The Permanent Committee for Islamic and Coptic Antiquities approved the restoration project of Al-Azhar Mosque after a Saudi Arabian contractor company provided the required funding.

Mostafa Amin, secretary general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, told Ahram Online that the restoration work is to start next month and includes the consolidation of the mosque’s foundations, the injection of the soil beneath it to make it stronger, the conservation of the minaret, and some decorative elements at the mosque’s main building. A new set of toilets with similar architectural style is to be provided within the mosque’s walls.

The budget required for the restoration project is a grant offered by the Kingdom of the Saudi Arabia.

Al-Azhar Mosque, meaning “the Mosque of the Most Resplendent”, was built during the reign of the Fatimid Caliph Al-Muizz Li Deen Allah Al-Fatemi in 972 for the newly established capital of Egypt, Al-Qahira (Cairo). The mosque was previously restored in 2011 and covered the whale mosque; the Fatimid, which is the core component- commonly known as the Fatimid Umbrella- the Mamluk and the Ottoman parts.

The mosque took its name from the Prophet Mohammad’s daughter Fatemah Al-Zahraa. During the span of time the mosque developed into what is today the second oldest continuously run university in the world after Al-Karaouine, in Ummyyad Fes.

The mosque and university were neglected and its religious role declined during the Ayyubid era who promoted Sunnis, even though the mosque was founded as a Shiite Ismaili institution. But it regained its importance during the Mamluk ages and witnessed numerous expansions and renovations.

Today Al-Azhar remains a deeply influential institution in Egyptian society and is highly revered in the Sunni Muslim world as a symbol of Islamic Egypt.

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Modern Art Museum, Azerbaijan’s avant-garde art hub

20 February 2015 (- TODAY.AZ – People interesting in art can’t put an end to their visit to Baku without taking a look at the Modern Art Museum.

The museum that turns six years old this March is located at the Yusif Safarov street 5. About 1,000 works of Azerbaijani contemporary artists are collected here.

Visitors of this place can get familiarized with works of painters and sculptors mainly working in avant-garde, whose names are heard in Azerbaijan and abroad.

The museum basis consists of the collection of the best paintings and sculptures of Azerbaijan from second half of the 20th century up to now.

The collection shows aspirations, strivings and freedom of human soul in the single organism of the museum. This multi- dimensional structure creates the effect of a labyrinth.

You will find yourself in an illusion of a constant movement in this two-storey building painted in white. All these make the space interesting which is itself an avant-garde piece.

The museum is open for innovations and present experiments of Rasim Babayev, Ashraf Murad, Aga Oussejnov, Fuad Salayev, Museib Amirov, Altay Sadikh-zadeh and many others whose works mesmerize the visitors with their novel approaches.

Moreover, the museum exposition consist of great European masters – founders of avant-garde style art – Salvador Dali, Pablo Picasso, and Marc Chagall.

In addition, the museum includes a children’s fine arts department, a video hall, a café and a restaurant, a separate hall for private exhibitions, a library, and a bookstore with materials on the world art, architecture and sculpture.

The Modern Art Museum gives the visitors a new vision of the contemporary art through numerous exhibitions it holds around the year.

From February 21 until March 5, the museum will display about 30 paintings by Azerbaijani artist Assim Rasuloglu at an exhibition called “My view to the world.” The exhibition will show the artist’s search for harmony of shapes in combination of colors and lines.

The museum is open on Tuesday-Sunday, from 11:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.

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Azerbaijani artist to feature works in Paris

19 February 2015 – TODAY.AZ – Creativity of the young and talented Azerbaijani artist, Maryam Alakbarli, has gained wide popularity not only in the country but also in the European countries.

Maryam’s works will be featured in a new and very prestigious exhibition: “Art Shopping” festival.

The event will exhibit more than 20 works of Maryam in different genres in the Louvre Museum’s exhibition hall “Carousel” in Paris from June 12.

This event which is usually held two times per year aims to promote new talents and aesthetic trends in contemporary art world.

Born in 1991, Alakbarli developed a taste for painting and sculpting at a very early age and got actively involved in children’s art to a point that her works went on exhibitions. Her works, including four of her albums, were displayed in Baku, Paris, Istanbul, Ankara, Rome and Moscow, arousing great interest among art lovers

She suffers from Down’s syndrome. The list of her works which mainly characterize educational themes are representative of her zeal and creativity.

Sensing deeply the real world with its problems, Maryam heartily incarnates her works with the warmness of her heart and subtle perception of reality. She shows all the beauties of the world by the language of colors and brush.

Juliette Binoche, world famous French actress, says: “Maryam has her own vision on the color combination.” She also shared her feeling of being impressed by the creativity of the young artist by saying: “Rose-red, yellow and brown tint, bright green, bloody red, black as antimony – she boldly works with these colors, like the nature creating the bright and harmonious world.”

Genny D’Bert, a professor of contemporary art at Rome University of Fine Arts, believes that Maryam is a symbol of the combination of creativity, life, artistic flair, and iconographic communication.

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Oman to welcome 1.6m cruise tourists by 2020

Oman Daily Observer – 18 February, 2015 – The travel market in Oman is poised for an unprecedented growth over the next 15 years, according to a recent study commissioned by Amadeus, a leading technology provider for the travel industry.

The report titled ‘Shaping the Future of Travel in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC): Big Travel Effects’ suggests that diversification of the economy and a youth-driven population may very well be among the key drivers of growth in Oman’s travel sector. The report states that the increasing focus of GCC countries on enhancing their destination offerings is positioning the tourism sector as a key contributor to regional economies.

More specifically, massive investments on infrastructural development and destination attractions are driving the region’s specialty tourism sectors such as sports, medical and cruise tourism on a global level. To this end, Oman Tourism has joined hands with Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority and Dubai’s Department of Tourism to peg the Arabian Peninsula as an emerging cruise destination for the world.

As a case in point, Sultan Qaboos Port is already being developed into a dedicated cruise port as part of the government’s 2020 vision. With the number of cruise tourists increasing year-on-year, the Sultanate is expecting 1.6 million cruise tourists by the year 2020 and 2.1 million by 2030.

244146 Antoine Medawar, Vice-President, MENA, Amadeus, said: “Oman’s beaches are already luring tourists from across the globe, and the nation continues to invest heavily on expanding its ports and developing infrastructure. Medical tourism facilities and services are also being fast-tracked and stepped-up.

Such developments will definitely result in the expansion of the tourism market that is set for a period of sustained growth in the coming decade.”

Another remarkable finding from the study is the impact of Oman’s youth-driven demographics on the travel industry.

Today, nearly 26 per cent of Oman’s population is under 15 years of age. And, as this population becomes tomorrow’s decision makers, traditional travel behaviour is set to witness a transformation and become increasingly personalised.

This tech-savvy generation that instinctively turns to mobile technologies and social media to plan, book and manage travel is expected to reshape the travel industry.

The report also states that additional unfolding demographic factors such as a steady inflow of expatriate workers, robust natural population growth and a growing middle class will combine to drive a new and divergent set of travel behaviours and needs in the region.

Among the other factors that drive the growth, the unified visa system that has been implemented for tourists between Oman, the UAE and Qatar, is worth a special mention.

Graham Nichols, Managing Director — Amadeus Gulf, said: “Oman, along with the UAE and Qatar, are leading the race in boosting the hospitality sector ahead of the mega sporting events. A combination of factors, supported by governmental initiatives to ease intra- and extra-regional movement, will have a positive impact on Oman’s travel sector, making it a more attractive proposition for the quintessential leisure and business traveller.”

Speaking about Amadeus’ position in the travel industry and the research-oriented activities it continually undertakes, Medawar said: “Travel providers that address the nuanced needs of the region’s population are likely to thrive in the coming decades. At Amadeus, our people, our technology and our innovations are dedicated to helping our customers and partners shape the future of travel in this region.”

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Bahrain’s aviation history on display

Gulf Daily News – 18 February, 2015 – The history of Bahrain’s aviation sector is on display at Bahrain International Airport.

The Bahrain Airport Company (BAC) has compiled pictures illustrating the development of the airline industry and showcased them in an exhibition called Flying Feathers.

Set up in the airport departure lounge, the exhibition was opened by BAC chief executive Mohamed Yousif Al Binfalah in the presence of BAC staff and senior officials and will remain on show for a month.

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Off-road experience launched in Bahrain

Gulf Daily News – 18 February, 2015 – Off-road enthusiasts can now experience the joy of dune bashing in Bahrain at the region’s first dedicated track open to the public.

The Land Rover Experience at Bahrain International Circuit (BIC) opened yesterday, giving four-wheel-drive fans the chance to drive around an all-terrain course in one of eight Land Rovers on offer.

For just BD65, drivers are given 90 minutes to tackle more than 30 obstacles on the three-kilometre course, or you can pay BD12 to ride as a passenger.

“This is the first real off-road dedicated centre in the region and that includes North Africa,” said Euro Motors managing director Nawaf Khalid Al Zayani at the launch yesterday.

“There are plenty of natural off-road driving courses, but to have it all in one place that is tested and safe, you are guaranteed a certain level of driver involvement, training and enjoyment.

“Everything from the blind corners to the humps, the water hazards, the rocky hazards, the sandy hazards, the steep inclines – if I wanted to experience them in a natural environment in the wilderness it would take at least three days or a full day of driving and trekking to find them.

“The unique thing about the BIC off-road circuit is that we can have them all in 90 minutes of driving.”

The Land Rover Experience has been brought to Bahrain by a partnership of Jaguar Land Rover, the BIC and Euro Motors. They have worked together to make the track the perfect combination of high-quality and safety, according to BIC chief executive Shaikh Salman bin Isa Al Khalifa.

“The Land Rover Experience takes off-roading to a whole new level,” he said. “Our lead instructors have been rigorously trained and the public can now actually drive the cars instead of being just a passenger. Anyone who takes part will get to know the cars and experience them and learn which buttons to press and when to press them.”

Shaikh Salman explained that everyone that runs the course will be accompanied by an internationally accredited off-road instructor who will teach them the best way to get across the obstacles.

“Anyone can come and drive,” added Jaguar Land Rover managing director Bruce Robertson. “They could be people who are just interested in off-roading or they could be people looking to drive a Land Rover or existing customers who actually own a Land Rover and want to understand what the capabilities of their vehicle are.

“We have the full range of vehicles – the Discovery, Range Rover and Range Rover sport. So customers can come here and drive a selection of vehicles through the obstacles.”

He explained that the track has been engineered to take more of a beating and said it will evolve over time to become “more extreme”.

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Bari, TMF reach agreement to promote handicrafts in Saudi Arabia

Arab News – 18 February, 2015 – The National Handicraft Program, popularly known as Bari, has signed an agreement with the Turquoise Mountain Foundation (TMF) of Prince Charles to promote handicrafts in the Kingdom by supporting local artisans through the skill-based training to be provided by trainers from the foundation.

Bari and TMF entered into a cooperation agreement, which was signed at Al Ula during the recently-concluded Kingdom trip of Prince Charles, a Bari official said on Sunday.

He noted the agreement seeks to promote handicrafts in the Kingdom and support Saudi artisans through the development of skills with the TMF trainers in its quest to produce more of handicrafts capable for being sold inside and outside the Kingdom.

Furthermore, the agreement aims to spur professional and scientific exchange for students, teachers and artisans between the TMF and Bari, as well as promoting mutual cooperation for the development of some of the heritage villages in the Kingdom, he added.

The agreement also is expected to select the targeted crafts for development in the Kingdom, providing required technical and professional support to a selected group of artisans, developing a number of profitable craft products for the retail market as souvenirs for hotels as well as establishing an exhibition to display live models of Islamic art, traditions and crafts, the official underlined.

The signing ceremony was attended by Madinah Gov. Prince Faisal bin Salman, who is also the chairman of Al-Madinah Tourism Development Council, as well as Khalid Taher, Al Madinah secretary general, Prince Mohammad bin Nawaf, ambassador of Saudi Arabia to the UK, and Simon Collis, ambassador of the UK in Riyadh. Bari is a flagship program of the Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities (SCTA), while the TMF was founded in 2006 at the initiative of British Crown Prince Charles for the revival of traditional handicrafts, restoration and preservation of historic antiquities.

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Flydubai adds 5 Cities to Iran Network

Khaleej Times – 18 February, 2015 – Flydubai on Monday announced plans to expand its network in Iran by launching its flights to Ahwaz, Hamadan, Isfahan, Shiraz and Tabriz.

The Dubai-based low-cost airline, which made foray into Iran last year by launching flights to Tehran and Mashhad, is set to serve seven destinations in Iran by next month. It will commence flights to Shiraz, Isfahan and Ahwaz on March 8, 11 and 14, respectively.

Hamadan and Tabriz will join the flydubai network in March, the airline said in a statement on Tuesday.

“We look forward to starting flights to these new destinations in the Islamic Republic of Iran,” said Ghaith Al Ghaith, chief executive officer of flydubai.

“Six months ago, Tehran and Mashhad joined the flydubai network, and we have seen strong demand from travellers between these two cities and Dubai. The addition of flights to the five points increases our frequency to the Republic to 23 flights weekly, allowing more people to travel conveniently between UAE and Iran,” he added.

Flydubai’s Business Class will be available to the five new destinations, offering passengers a more comfortable and personalised travel experience. “We are confident that passengers will enjoy our Business Class, award-winning In-Flight Entertainment and the ability to connect to our growing network or beyond, through the Dubai hub,” said Jeyhun Efendi, senior vice-president commercial (UAE, Middle East, Europe, and CIS), flydubai.

Saj Ahmad, chief analyst at Strategic Aero Research, said Iran is a massive market for flydubai and with Iran Air crippled with sanctions, its not really able to compete or cater to the demand of young Iranian travellers.

“Notwithstanding the huge business links between Dubai and Iran, flydubai knows that Iran is heavily underserviced and the demand pool is huge and untapped in the absence of any meaningful competition.

“Launching these new routes gives flydubai a huge edge not just in terms of market access, but also in terms of reaching leisure and business traffic too,” Ahmad told Khaleej Times.

Last year, flydubai launched 23 new destinations. The airline now operates more than 1,400 weekly flights to an expanding network of 94 destinations within a six-hour flying radius from Dubai. 57 points on the flydubai network were previously underserved with few or no direct flights from Dubai

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Emirates Airline Sees Brand Value Grow to $6.6 billion

Khaleej Times – 18 February, 2015 – Emirates, a global connector of people, places and economies, has reached the top 200 of the world’s biggest brands for the first time, according to the 2015 Brand Finance Global 500 report released this week.

For the fourth consecutive year, Emirates has steadily climbed the table of the Top 500 most valuable brands in the world. Now sitting at #196, an increase of 38 spots in just 12 months, the airline attributes its success to a strong commitment to product and service excellence, as well as investments in its brand. Emirates’ estimated brand value has grown more than 21 per cent from $ 5.48 billion to $ 6.6 billion. The airline also retains its long standing position as the most valuable brand in the Middle East, and the most valuable airline brand.

“Emirates is a global company serving a global audience, and as we grow our business we have to also grow our brand. Our brand strategy does not only involve marketing and sponsorships, but everything we do including product innovation and service delivery. For us, our customers are the ultimate judges and jury. Being named the most valuable airline brand in the world is great recognition for each and every one of our staff, as they are the ones who live, breathe and deliver the Emirates brand every day in the work they do,” said Sir Tim Clark, president of Emirates airline.

“The strength of the Emirates brand also underscores the positive impact that we are making on our industry, and we will continue to work hard and invest in our brand. Our aim is to become one of the world’s leading lifestyle brands, and to make the Emirates name synonymous with aspirational travel and experiences,” he added.

Brand Finance CEO, David Haigh, said: “Emirates remains the flag carrier brand for the entire Middle East. Its $6.6 billion brand value makes it both the region’s most valuable brand and the world’s most valuable airline. Its extensive sports sponsorship and global route network make it recognised the world over. However it is Emirates’ exceptional service and reliability that truly underpin the brand.”

In 2014, Emirates marked a record launch of 10 new A380 routes, bringing the network to over 145 passenger and cargo destinations, from Burkina Faso to Buenos Aires, and spanning six continents. In addition, Emirates added frequencies to 20 existing destinations, increasing flight choices for its customers.

In 2015 the airline operates, on average, 3,500 flights per week increasing the number of city-pair combinations that the airline offers to its leisure, business and cargo customers across its global network. To service all of these flight offerings, the fleet also grew substantially to over 230 aircraft, with receipt of the company’s largest order of Airbus A380s and Boeing 777-300ERs to date, in 2013 and 2014.

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Oman tourism: Hotel incomes boom as occupancy rises

Times of Oman – 18 February, 2015 – Revenue of hotels has gone up with the government’s emphasis on promoting the Sultanate as the best tourist destination in the region, said industry experts.

The latest data released by the government shows that the revenues of Oman’s star hotels grew 10.3 per cent in 2014, to OMR165.9 million from OMR150.4 million in 2013.

“As part of economic diversification, the government is now focusing more on tourism-related activities. This has brought results. In the coming years, I see a potential growth in the hotel and tourism industries,” Anvwar Al Balushi, hotelier and chairman of Anvwar Asian Investment Group, told the Times of Oman.

The occupancy rate in this segment recorded a 2.7 per cent growth last year, reaching 59.9 per cent from the 2013 figure of 58 per cent, buoyed by a 26 per cent rise in the number of guests up from 622,805 in 2013 to 785,612 in 2014.

The last quarter of November 2014, witnessed the highest occupancy rate touching 70.8 per cent while December logged the lowest at 62.9 per cent.

“Recently, Oman was listed by many global magazines as one of the best destinations in the world,” said Renny Johnson, a Mezoon Travels official.

“Oman’s beautiful landscapes and beaches have the potential to lure tourists from across the world. Friendly locals and rich traditional and cultural values add more to the country’s prospects. Moreover, we are aware that the country is also investing more in developing tourist locations and properties to entice global tourists,” he said.

Also, last year, the number of guests from African countries registered the highest percentage increase of 59 per cent, and even as the numbers remained modest, 5,788 Africans stayed in Oman’s star hotels last year.

They were followed by visitors from the Oceanic countries whose numbers rose 41 per cent to 10,328 as compared to 2013. Non-GCC Arabs and Asians claimed the third and fourth spots, logging a growth of 38.8 per cent and 38.4 per cent, respectively, with corresponding numbers of 30,641 and 82,991 in 2014.

Europeans formed the largest group of visitors with 270,567 checking into major hotels, showing a 33 per cent increase from 203,583 in 2013.

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Kuwait, Egypt keen on promoting economic cooperation

Kuwait News Agency – 19 February, 2015 – Kuwait Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI) Chairman Ali Thunayan Al-Ghanim has stressed that the chamber is keen on cementing and promoting economic cooperation with Egypt, especially after President Abdelfatah Al-Sisi’s visit to the country last month.

While receiving Southern Sinai Governor Khaled Fouda and his accompanying delegation here on Wednesday, Al-Ghanim commended in a press statement the solid brotherly relations between the two countries.

Al-Ghanim referred to Egypt’s Prime Minister’s remarks during his visit to Kuwait this month that Cairo will witness a new period after issuing several laws aiming at luring foreign investments.

Al-Ghanim hopes that an international economic conference in Egypt slated for March would be a launch for encouraging and developing common economic ties.

On his part, Fouda emphasized that Southern Sinai Governorate enjoys several potentials that would attract foreign investors especially in the fields of tourism, gas and oil.

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World Cup hope for Doha rail link

Gulf Daily News – 20 February, 2015 – A passenger rail link between Manama and Doha could be up and running in time for Qatar’s hosting of the Fifa World Cup in 2022, it has emerged.

Phase one of Qatar Rail’s long distance railway project opened up for pre-qualification applications this week, so that companies wishing to bid for the project can be assessed.

Approximately 156km of track will be laid under the initial phase, including 24 bridges and 58 culverts, pipeline and camel crossings to be completed by 2018.

Meanwhile the Bahrain link, planned as part of the second phase of the rail project with an expected completion date of 2021, would join Doha West International Railway Station with Manama over 160km of track at speeds of up to 270kmph.

This high-speed line could mean that it would take as little as 35 minutes to reach Doha from Bahrain, with plans to double the line so that it can also accommodate goods traffic by 2027.

“Qatar Rail is developing the passenger and freight railway network within Qatar that will be a link in the proposed GCC railway network,” said Qatar Rail in a statement.

This network will connect all GCC countries, it said.

“The long distance passenger and freight rail service will be an international passenger railway linking Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Bahrain, as well as a rail freight network.”

A pre-qualification process for the long distance railway project had been started last year for combined “civil works” and systems tenders, but this was terminated and Qatar Rail now is only seeking tenders for “civil works” such as bridges, culverts, tracks, freight yards and passenger stations, it added.

Other parts of Qatar’s planned public transport network include an inner-city light rail transit system and freight lines.

By 2030 the planned rail network within Qatar will be approximately 510km in length, and is “proposed to be developed in distinct phases in order to meet commitments made to the GCC and to meet the demand for domestic passenger and freight”, Qatar Rail added.

The GDN spoke to Transportation and Telecommunications Minister Kamal Ahmed who said that Bahrain would get involved in the link project once it had “matured”.

He explained that a committee under the Finance Ministry was co-ordinating with Qatari authorities

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Oman to showcase $3.3 bn tourism projects at ATM 2015

Oman Daily Observer – 20 February, 2015 – The Arabian Travel Market (ATM) road show series has kicked off with Oman. The event was held at The Chedi Muscat wherein officials met with key industry players to discuss how to optimise Oman’s tourism development showcase at this year’s ATM.

Exhibitors from the Sultanate at ATM 2015, which takes place at the Dubai World Trade Centre from May 4-7, include the Oman Ministry of Tourism, which is participating with a 280-square metre pavilion and Oman Air taking more than 82 square metres of space.

With more than $ 3.3 billion worth of high profile tourism projects currently under development in the Sultanate, the country is rapidly expanding its existing tourism offering with luxury brand leaders set to make their hospitality debut and a number of important tourism and cultural projects also nearing completion.

“The Omani government is focused on plans to diversify its economy away from hydrocarbon receipts and the country’s diverse geography, its improved land, air and sea infrastructure as well as its position as an under-exploited tourism destination, has helped secure significant regional and overseas investment,” said Nadege Noblet, Exhibition Manager.

According to market intelligence from MEED, the list of projects planned or underway in Oman includes four museums/libraries, 24 hotels and resorts, six malls/shopping centres, one theatre, five sports stadia/leisure complexes, a theme park and four convention centres.

Of the top 10 projects currently under development in the country, which have a total investment value of just over $ 3.3 billion, luxury hospitality is a major focus with Westin, St Regis and W all taking shape, as well as the new $ 200 million Ritz-Carlton — The Muscat Reserve, and the high-end mixed-use Saraya Bandar Jissah Resort (managed by Jumeirah Group), valued at $ 840 million.

Supporting infrastructure development projects include the long awaited Oman Convention & Exhibition Centre, built at a cost of $ 560 million, and the Al Futtaim Group’s $ 468 million Mall of Oman.

“BMI forecasts 1.14 million tourist arrivals to Oman thus year, up by 3 per cent on 2014 with tourism receipts reaching $ 2.24 billion, up by 5 per cent year-on-year; and with the delivery of high profile projects such as the Oman Convention Centre and Saraya Bandar Jissah Resort pegged for 2016 and 2017 respectively, the country’s key tourism players are shaping a unique premium destination in the region,” said Noblet.

In its Oman Tourism Report Q2 2015, BMI also highlights Asia as the largest market for inbound travel with strong potential for future growth with arrivals set to increase by 37.3 per cent between 2014 and 2018.

According to official data issued by the National Centre for Statistics and Information (NCSI), Oman’s four and five-star hotels saw a pick-up in guest room nights and revenues in 2014 with the Sultanate recording 26.1 per cent growth in the guest numbers in December against the previous year and total year-on-year revenue growth of 10.3 per cent rising from RO 150.486 million to RO 165.970 million.

Oman is one of four Middle East destinations being visited by the ATM team during its weeklong roadshow, which takes place in Qatar, Riyadh and Dubai.

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