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8 Jun, 2015

Iranian firm makes reverse osmosis desalination technology breakthrough

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 08 June 2015 (21 Sha’baan 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, 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.



Restored Aisha Fahmy Palace ready to host exhibitions

Sunday 7 Jun 2015, Cairo, AlAhram Online – Anyone wandering through Cairo’s Zamalek neighbourhood must have noticed extensive building work taking place around the palace located on the Nile, right next to the Old Boulaq Bridge. A passerby could spot piles of bags with sand and workers moving swiftly across the location surrounded by barricades. In fact, the area houses one of Zamalek’s most remarkable palaces, one with historical and cultural importance: Aisha Fahmy Palace also referred to as Mogamaa Al-Fonoon (Arts Complex).

During the many years of restoration, Egypt’s consecutive ministers of culture have pronounced several promises on the expected end to restoration and the opening date… all of which were broken. It is now that after many years of work, the Aisha Fahmy Palace is ready to open its halls.

Founded in 1908, by Khedive Abbas Helmy and designed by Antonio Lasciac, the total space of the palace covers over 2,700 square metres, including 30 rooms, two large halls, basement and roof, all richly ornamented.

“The palace was the residence of Ali Fahmy, the head of the army during the reign of King Fouad I,” writes Nevine Aref in Al-Ahram Weekly, pointing to the many great ornaments inside the palace, such as frescos, golden Japanese lettering, and red silk decorated walls.

In 1958, the Ministry of Culture bought the palace to be used as an office for Tharwat Okasha, Egypt’s first culture minister. In 1971, the palace was taken over by the Ministry of Information. A few years later, in 1975, Youssef El-Sebai annexed the palace to the Visual Arts sector operating under the Ministry of Culture, which he then headed.

Over the years, the palace displayed works by many remarkable international artists (including Picasso and Dali) and served as the museum for Mohamed Ali family’s jewellery – before the collection was moved to Alexandria in 1986 – and an active art complex holding a variety of exhibitions, but the deterioration of the building led to consecutive closure of its halls.

Put on Egypt’s heritage list, between 1989 and 1992, the palace saw a few restoration works, yet they mostly targeted its external facade, leaving the internal halls to the fate of humidity, rust and dust, alongside insects and moths.

Turning into one of the several non-operational edifices operating under the Visual Arts sector, in 2010, the Ministry of Culture appointed one of its units, the Cultural Development Fund to bring the palace back to its original glory.

“The restorations have been handled by the Arab Contractors (a construction company). After over four years, on 4 June the works were completed,” Mohamed Abu Saada, head of the Cultural Development Fund tells Ahram Online.

According to information released by the Arab Contractors, back in 2013 “the total work amount (was) about 60% including: strengthening of the basement, ceiling, slabs, wall injections; restoration of the weaving works, ornaments, floors, wood, stained glass, and paintings.” The restoration was done in cooperation with the Monument Restoration Department at the Arab Contractors Company and the Ministry of Antiquities.

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LEAD STORY: Iranian firm makes reverse osmosis desalination technology breakthrough

Jun 7, 2015, Teheran, (IRNA) – An Iranian company has unveiled indigenized reverse osmosis water desalination technology, making Iran the fifth country in the world to have acquired the cutting-edge technical know-how. Developed by the Petrochemical Research and Technology Company, which is a subsidiary of the National Petrochemical Company, the technology was unveiled through a ceremony on Saturday.

malaysia logo

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

According to a report by the company, reverse osmosis desalination technique uses domestically-produced membrane module series 4040 and is capable of desalinating salty water on industrial scale. The report added that the technology is totally based on domestic equipment and each module produced by the Iranian company is capable of producing nine cubic meters of fresh water per day.

The reverse osmosis is used to remove unwanted minerals from water in various industries. Before its unveiling in Iran, this state-of-the-art technology was monopolized by four countries, including the United States, Germany, South Korea and Japan.

Given the shortage of water in Iran, the new technology makes it possible to produce fresh industrial water from various kinds of salty water as well as urban and industrial wastewater. Petrochemical Research and Technology Company added in its report that due to its vast market in various countries, the reverse osmosis technology will be of high economic and strategic value to Iran.

It noted that the membrane module series 4040, which is produced in Iran, is 50 percent less expensive than its foreign counterpart. Water shortage has been a chronic problem in Iran and experts believe that acquiring the new technology will help the country cope with this challenge in a better way.

In mid-May, Iran’s Energy Minister Hamid Chitchian warned of possible water supply cuts and rationing in the summer, calling on the public to slash consumption. Chitchian said Iran is grappling with a drastic reduction in precipitation, which has seen groundwater reserves deplete sharply amid a rise in temperature.

According to Deputy Interior Minister Esmaeil Najjar, more than 500 Iranian cities are struggling with drinking water shortage.

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SR1.48 billion contract to expand Al-Qassim airport

Arab News, Sunday 7 June 2015 RIYADH: The General Authority of Civil Aviation (GACA) announced Saturday a SR1.48 billion contract with a private firm for the expansion of Prince Naif Regional Airport in Al-Qassim.

The three-year contract was awarded to Muhaidib Contracting Co. and is part of the airport’s plans for the future when 3 million passengers will be served annually on both domestic and international flights, according to Mohammed Al-Mijlad, the airport general manager.

He said that the airport expansion was necessary in view of the significant growth in demand for air travel from residents in the region.

The design of the airport was based on the sand dunes and oases in the Al-Qassim region. This will be reflected in the project buildings, especially the passenger terminal building and mosque which will use golden colors of the sands.

Al-Mijlad said the plan included main building halls with an area of 60,000 square meters, a VIP lounge of 3,500 square meters, a mosque covering 1,600 square meters and the airport administration building which will measure 2,800 square meters.

The airport is designed to take into account the operational requirements of all airport departments and includes a large conference room. All facilities and services will meet future needs of the project, he said.

“The contract will also include a new airport passenger terminal with an area of 60,000 square meters,” he said. “That will be divided into four floors, including departure and arrival lounges and baggage claim area.”

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Avoid wasteful purchases in Ramadan, Saudi families advised

Arab News, Sunday 7 June 2015, JEDDAH: With Ramadan approaching, shops are in fierce competition with one another to lure customers with attractive product promotions and low prices, often leading to increase in consumption by Saudi families during the holy month by up to 500 percent.

Economists and market experts have asked consumers to be wary of promotions while stocking for Ramadan, as their shopping bills may overshoot family budgets by up to five times.

Mohammed Al-Qahtani described the increase in offers during Ramadan as “confusing” and overwhelming to customers, noting that many customers purchase more food than the family can consume in order to take advantage of the “low price” offers.

Um Yazan said: “Housewives prefer to buy goods during Ramadan in large quantities, which saves them time and effort during the fasting month.” Another customer, Abu Saleh, said customers tend to focus more on eating and shopping during Ramadan, which should be a time for praying and worshipping.

Nayef Al-Sharif, head of the food and beverage committee at the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said that the Ministry of Commerce has put an end to false offers by shops, and will not allow them to offer promotions before obtaining a specific permit after providing a list of prices to the ministry for approval.

According to Habibullah Turkistani, professor of economics and international marketing at King Abdulaziz University, consumers are responsible for their actions and should rationalize purchases during Ramadan, rather than be lured by promotions and temptations. He said the holy month of Ramadan is the month of worship, and not a month of eating and consumption, and that the media should run awareness programs about rational shopping practices of Ramadan-related goods.

Head of the Department of Economics at the University of Taif Salem Bajajh said shops compete by providing the best Ramadan offers to attract the largest number of consumers and sell large amounts of their products for profits, noting that these increase the likelihood of purchases among households.

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Saudi Arabia will send ‘over 20,000 to study abroad’

ARAB NEWS, Sunday 7 June 2015 JEDDAH: Education Minister Azzam Al-Dakhil and Health Minister Khalid Al-Falih have signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) and cooperation between their two ministries which will send 20,000 students abroad to study medicine and medical sciences.

The scholarships are part of the third phase of the program entitled “Your Job and Your Scholarship” which is also part of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques Foreign Scholarship Program. Al-Dakhil expressed pleasure at the cooperation of the Health Ministry.

“The agreement is in line with the continuing need to make available qualified Saudi staff in all medical specialties,” he said.

Al-Dakhil said signing the agreement would establish an integrated model for roles between the two ministries. “The achievement represents one of the many fruits of the Council of Economic and Development Affairs which will strongly contribute and influence in unifying the efforts toward effective national development under the directives of Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Naif and Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman,” he said.

Al-Falih said the agreement confirmed his ministry’s keenness and interest in qualified national health staff and in promoting partnership between the country’s institutions.

“The Health Ministry welcomes all initiatives and programs aimed at improving the performance of the health services offered to citizens,” he said. “The ministry has sought to support its institutions and facilities with qualified manpower. Therefore, we will work to optimize the scholarship program in order to improve the health sector at large.” According to the terms of the agreement, the Health Ministry will participate in the selection of candidates in line with the professional controls related to the studies of health and medical specialties.

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Chabahar Port will help Afghanistan development

Islamabad, May 26, IRNA – Director of West Asia Department of Foreign Ministry Rasoul Eslami on Tuesday said the development of the Port of Chabahar in the southeastern province of Sistan and Balouchestan would lead to Afghanistan’s development as well.

Eslami, who has travelled to Pakistan to attend a regional meeting on ways to help the development and security in Afghanistan, told IRNA that during the meeting the Port of Chabahar was referred to as a key factor for helping the development of Afghanistan.

Eslami said the participants in the meeting stressed that land-locked Afghanistan could have access to the high seas through the Port of Chabahar and this will be a critical step for development of Afghanistan.

He said that the Port of Chabahar will also provide access for South Asian countries to Afghanistan and Central Asian countries.

Establishment of Chabahar-Zahedan railway, which will eventually join Iran to Afghanistan and Central Asian countries, is also of special significance, Eslami added.

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Vakil Mosque a landmark in Shiraz

Tehran, May 28, IRNA – Vakil Mosque located in Shiraz, Fars province, is a beautiful mosque built in the mid -18th century by Karimkhan Zand, the founder of Zand Dynasty. The entrance gates as well as the interior of the mosque are decorated with colored tiles in beautiful floral patterns.

According to Armchairtravelogue.blogspot.com, the mosque covers an area of 8,660 square meters and has two halls and two entrance doors. Each door is three meters wide and eight meters high with floral patterns. The main hall known as Shabestan (night prayer room) is built on 48 identical stone pillars each of which is carved with spiral shape from a single stone. Due to such a large number of pillars, the hall which measures 2,700 square meters, is often referred as the Stone Forest, ‘Iran Daily’ said.

Shiraz is located in southwest of Iran along Khoshk River. Shiraz has a moderate climate and has been a regional trade center for more than 1,000 years. The earliest reference to the city, known as Tirazis, is on Elamite clay tablets pertaining to 2000 BCE.

In the 13th century, Shiraz became a leading center of the arts and letters, thanks to the encouragement of its ruler and the presence of many Persian scholars and artists. Shiraz was the capital of Persia during the Zand Dynasty from 1750 until 1781, as well as briefly during the Saffarid rule.

Shiraz is known as the city of poets, literature and flowers. It is also considered by many Iranians to be a city of gardens because of having many gardens and fruit trees.

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U.A.E. Brings Its Falconry Expertise To Morocco

EL JADIDA, Morocco, June 1 (NNN-WAM) – The United Arab Emirates has brought its knowledge and expertise to the Lekouassem Falconry Festival, which was held May 29-31, in Lekouassem municipality, 45 km from the Moroccan city of El Jadida.

Obaid Khalfan Al Mazrouei, Director of Al Dhafra Festival’s Heritage Competitions, said, “The UAE’s participation in this third edition is part of our ceaseless efforts to help support the Lekouassem Falconry Festival, through the knowledge and expertise that we have acquired back home.”

“We seek to make this festival a social event for the residents of Lekouassem village and also support the troops of the Fantasia display, a folkloric show involving Arabian steeds in a historical spectacle, through financing the feed for their horses,” said Mazrouei.

“Overall, the festival is evolving and was fruitful because we exchanged ideas and history. Next year, we will help organisers develop it further, in order to attract more attention and tourists,” he stressed.

The Emirati delegation distributed financial aid kits and medicine to Moroccan falconers and explained their use in order to take good care of the birds of prey. The delegation handed out some souvenirs to local authorities and the Lekouassem association of falconers.

Mohammed Al Ghazouani, President of the Association of Lekouassem Ouled Fraj Falconers, commended the UAE’s efforts in supporting the festival, both materially and morally and for bringing its expertise to the North African country.

The UAE is one of the world’s leading countries in falconry which was registered by its inclusion on UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in Nov 2010, after years of unabated international efforts, led by the UAE through coordination and cooperation with eleven Arab and foreign countries, including Morocco.

Al Ghazouani, who comes from a family of falconers, said that, the aim of the festival is to attract tourists to the region, besides its cultural role.

“It is thanks to the UAE that the festival has become an international event. Our association is working to become a member of the International Association for Falconry (IAF) and the Conservation of Birds of Prey,” he said.

“Falconry is a captivating hobby. Once you try it, you will fall in love with it,” he said, adding that, “Our aim in the future is sustainable falconry.”

IAF President, Adrian Lombard, who attended the festival for the first time, said that it was wonderful to see the pride of the people in their culture. “Morocco is a member of the IAF, and we hope to strengthen this relationship further,” he said.

Many activities were held on the second day of the festival, including falconry, saluki races, the fantasia and a painting workshop whose main theme was the falcons.

A conference entitled, “Intangible Heritage and the Development” was held at the pavilion to highlight the importance of falconry in Morocco’s heritage and the need to preserve it.

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Malaysia’s Magic Of The Night Festival Attracts 50,000 Visitors

PUTRAJAYA, MALAYSIA, June 1 (NNN-Bernama)– The Magic of the Night 2015 festival was a hugely successful event with an estimated 50,000 local and foreign visitors to the event, said Federal Territories Minister,Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor.

Besides the floats contest, where 17 floats from the state paraded on the lake here, the four-day programme comprised various other events such as an arts and crafts exhibition, photography and selfie competitions, the 1Malaysia Green 1Malaysia Clean event and fireworks display.

“If this positive response continues for the other events on the calendar for Malaysia Year of Festivals 2015 (MyFEST 2015), our target to reach 29.4 million tourist arrivals with a revenue of RM89 billion for the year 2015 will become a reality,” he said at the closing ceremony of the Magic of the Night 2015 Sunday.

“Efforts to organise various events, festive celebrations and fun activities can encourage tourists to stay longer, increase their holiday spending and return to our homeland for visits.

“In the long term, it will contribute to the Malaysia Tourism Transformation Plan 2020 which targets 36 million tourist arrivals and RM168 billion in tourism revenue,” he said.

He also called on all parties, including federal and state agencies, the private sector and tourism industry players, shopping malls and also every Malaysian, to jointly work together to ensure the success of MyFEST 2015.

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Jordan To Address Problems Facing Tourism Transport

AMMAN, June 3 (NNN-Petra) –– The Lower House Reform Bloc Tuesday discussed problems facing tourism transport and car rental business to promote tourism in the country and investment in the sector.

During a meeting, attended by the land transport regulatory commission director and other stakeholders, transport minister Lina Shabib promised that her ministry would study a series of demands raised during previous meetings to find the proper solutions.

The bloc’s chief Mejhem Sqour said the MPs would work to remove hurdles to spur tourism transport.

The parliamentary bloc’s spokesman, MP Amjad Maslamani, stressed the need for increased investment in the tourism transport business and to set a timeframe for finding solutions to car rentals and other demands.

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Dubai Moves Higher In Global City Visitors Ranking

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates, June 4 (NNN-WAM) – The United Arab Emirates (UAE), ranked fourth, up from the fifth last year, in this year’s global destination cities index, by credit card provider Mastercard, Dubai daily Emirates 24/7 reported.

According to the Mastercard report, Dubai is poised to welcome 14.46 million international visitors, one notch before Istanbul and one rank behind Paris.

By 2020, when the United Arab Emirates hosts world Expo 2020, Dubai aims to welcome over 20 million visitors, double the number in 2012.

The official Dubai tourism body, DTCM, said that Chinese tourists shall be a major source market, to reach the 20 million mark by 2020.

According to DTCM, the number of Chinese tourists grew by 25 percent year on year in 2014, attracting 344,000 people.

Dubai’s top source markets are Saudi Arabia, India, Britain, Russia and Germany.

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Salalah Tourism Festival to be held July 3 – Aug 31

SALALAH, Oman, June 4 (NNN-ONA) – Sayyid Mohammed bin Sultan al-Busaidi, Oman Minister of State and Governor of Dhofar, Supervisor General of Salalah Tourism Festival, announced in the first meeting of the Organising Committee of Salalah Tourism Festival 2015, held at the Municipality Recreation Centre, that, the activities of this year’s festival will be launched on July 3, to coincide with Renaissance Day and continues till Aug 31.

The meeting was attended by the Deputy Governor of Dhofar and Head of Dhofar Municipality, Chairman of the Organising Committee and members of the Committee.

Sayyid Mohammed stressed the importance that the events and activities of the festival, which coincide this year with the blessed Renaissance Day, should be as much precious as this occasion that changed the course of history in Oman: land of love and peace.

The Minister urged those in charge of the festival to end all preparations, well in advance before the start of the festival, stressing the importance of harmonisation of activities of heritage and cultural and recreational events, with all segments of society.

He pointed to the importance of the festival as an economic asset to the governorate in particular and the Sultanate in general, noting the role of the Salalah Tourism Festival, to highlight the features and components of the tourist and historical heritage in the Sultanate.

The Head of Dhofar Municipality and Chairman of the Organising Committee of the festival, gave an explanation about the latest preparations and equipment related to activities, events, the festival action plan, along with the review of the initial preparations and the technical vision of the festival and exchange of views and proposals.

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Etihad Airways, Tourism Malaysia Sign Global Partnership Agreement

MILAN, Italy, June 4 (NNN-WAM) – Etihad Airways, the national airline of the UAE, and Malaysia Tourism Promotion Board (Tourism Malaysia), an agency under the Malaysian Ministry of Tourism and Culture, signed a global partnership agreement, to boost inbound tourism to Malaysia, by leveraging the airline’s global passenger network.

Under the agreement, Etihad Airways and Tourism Malaysia will put into effect a range of joint marketing activities, targeting Malaysia’s leading inbound visitor markets – the UK, US, Europe (Germany, France and Italy), and the Middle East region (UAE, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Oman, Bahrain, Qatar and Kuwait). Research by Tourism Malaysia revealed in 2014, there were more than 1.2 million visits from these key markets, a 10 per cent increase compared to 2013.

Signing the agreement at the Etihad Airways-Alitalia joint pavilion at Expo Milano 2015, were, Madam Chong Yoke Har, Deputy Director General (Planning) of Tourism Malaysia, and Andrew Ward, Vice President, Marketing of Etihad Airways. For two weeks, Tourism Malaysia will participate in the airline’s pavilion and showcase its travel packages and destinations to attendees, through multimedia videos, traditional food sampling and Batik painting.

Andrew Ward said, “This partnership underlines the long-standing links between Etihad Airways and Malaysia, and will help to create even greater opportunities to increase the growing number of tourists and business travellers flying to the country with us.

“Malaysia is one of our top destinations, and Etihad Airways has carried more than one million passengers to and from the country since 2007, offering travellers from all around the world the chance to enjoy the many attractions of this beautiful country.”

From promoting the cosmopolitan capital of Kuala Lumpur to the exotic islands of Langkawi and Penang, to the stunning Johor Bahru and island of Borneo – Sabah and Sarawak, the campaign will focus on multimedia marketing and familiarisation trips for travel trade and media from around the world to Malaysia.

Etihad Airways marketing messages and Malaysia’s ‘Years of Festivals’ campaign will be maximised throughout the partnership and the airline will also benefit from an enhanced presence on Tourism Malaysia’s traditional and digital platforms.

Chong Yoke Har said that, Etihad Airways had demonstrated a strong and growing commitment to the Malaysian market, since it first commenced services in 2007.

“Now with the new agreement, we can work together on robust tactical campaigns to make Malaysia the top-of-mind destination, among Etihad Airways’ extensive customer base. This agreement is an important step towards Malaysia achieving its strategic goal of earning RM 168 billion (USD 45.66 billion) from the targeted 36 million tourist arrivals by 2020,” Yoke Har said.

Etihad Airways currently flies twice daily between Abu Dhabi and Kuala Lumpur, and offers flights to other regions in Malaysia through its code share partner Malaysia Airlines.

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Maldives Targets 1.5 Mln Tourists By 2016

COLOMBO, Sri Llanka June 6 (NNN-Xinhua) — The Maldivian government on Friday said that it hoped to increase the tourist arrivals to the island to 1.5 million in 2016, a local media report said.

In a bid to achieve this target, Maldivian President Abdulla Yameen launched the “Visit Maldives Year 2016” campaign organized by the Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation (MMPRC), which will run until the end of June 2016.

The government plans to hold an underwater festival, an international surfing event, a tree-planting programme and photography exhibitions in the Maldives and global locations as part of the campaign.

The Maldives will also host the renowned tourism fair, ITB Berlin, in March 2016, as part of the Visit Maldives Year campaign.

“I am confident that through this global campaign we can look forward to welcoming record numbers of holidaymakers to our beautiful shores in the Maldives,” President Yameen said.

Maldives tourist arrivals have reached an all-time record level from February with the increase in Chinese tourist arrivals, data released by the Ministry of Tourism showed recently.

In February alone a record 120,468 tourists arrived in the Maldives from China which was a significant improvement compared to the negative growth registered in January.

Tourism Minister Ahmed Adeeb on Thursday, however, told journalists that tourism growth is expected to slow this year due to a decline in Russian arrivals. However, he said the Maldives is on track to achieve the goal of 1.4 million arrivals by the end of this year.

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UAE’s Global Village In Dubai Receives Prestigious Award

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates, June 8 (NNN-WAM) – Global Village, Dubai’s leading family and cultural entertainment destination, has received the prestigious Certificate of Excellence by TripAdvisor, the world’s largest travel site.

The award follows the park receiving positive reviews that are consistently rated a minimum of 4 out of 5 by millions of monthly visitors on the TripAdvisor website, the world’s largest travel review site. TripAdvisor has 340 million unique monthly visitors and has reviews of more than 4.9 million attractions and restaurants.

Global Village is one of Dubai’s major seasonal events, with a large number of families from the UAE, other GCC countries, and further abroad, visiting over its 5-month season. The 20th season of Global Village will begin on Nov 3, 2015, until Apr 9, 2016.

Products are available from over 70 countries around the world, and with cultural shows taking place at every pavilion; guests can see what dances and music set each country apart. Guests have 25 dining experiences to choose from all over the world, as well as 150 kiosks with snacks and beverages to try.

The Heritage Village has its own area in Global Village, to showcase the amazing culture and heritage of the UAE, by educating visitors, as to how people lived in the UAE many years ago. The Heritage Village shows how Emiratis’ houses would have been like and how they lived in the desert.

In line with Dubai’s vision for 2021, and in the run up to Expo 2020, Global Village is committed to bringing local residents and guests in the UAE, high quality family entertainment, as well as, interact with cultures from all over the world. Global Village has worked consistently to making Dubai a fantastic family destination for tourists and local residents.

Ahmad Hussain, Chief Operating Officer at Global Village, said, “We are very proud to have been awarded the Certificate of Excellence by TripAdvisor, and believe there is no greater testament than the support and validation of our customers and visitors, who have consistently voted and reviewed us as one the best in the world.

“Global Village will continue to strive towards the commitment of the nation’s 2021 vision of creative innovation, as well as, to provide the best in entertainment and excellence in customer experience.”

The immensely popular family destination, that has 70 countries represented across 31 pavilions at Global Village, is a true reflection of the cultural diversity in Dubai and has witnessed a 15% growth in visitor numbers year on year, since its inception nearly 20 years ago.

TripAdvisor is a travel website company that provides people with a platform to rate and review destinations they have visited. The TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence is awarded to properties and attractions that consistently receive outstanding reviews on TripAdvisor, from people who have visited the destination.

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IDB’s Investments In Mozambique Hit US$300 Million

MAPUTO, June 8 (NNN-AIM) — The Islamic Development Bank (IDB) has so far invested around 300 million US dollars in Mozambique since the country joined the institution in 1995, according to Economy and Finance Minister Adriano Maleiane.

Speaking at a media conference here Saturday to announce that the 40th annual meeting of the Saudi Arabia-based IDB would be held in the Mozambican capital on Wednesday, Maleiane added that currently 22 IDB-funded projects were underway in the country, valued at more than 160 million dollars.

The IDB investments are concentrated in agriculture, education, particularly vocational education, health and water supply. “These are areas which, taken together, contribute towards improving the country’s Human Development Index”, said Maleiane.

IDB Chairman Ahmad Mohamed Ali promised that the bank would continue to invest in priority areas in Mozambique. “We want Mozambique to be the point of entry for the IDB group in southern Africa,” he said.

The IDB has 56 member states, mostly Muslem-majority countries, and including 23 from Africa. Mozambique is the only IDB member from the Southern African Development Community region.

The IDB is dominated by Saudi Arabia, which holds 23.5 per cent of the shares. Mozambique’s shareholding in the bank is a mere 0.05 per cent.

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Malindo First Malaysian Carrier To Provide Inflight Wi-Fi

KUALA LUMPUR, June 4 (NNN-Bernama) — Malaysia’s hybrid airline, Malindo Air became the first airline in Malaysia providing connectivity onboard through its new in-flight services namely Malindo WiFi and Malindo Mobile vailable on the airline’s Boeing 737-900ER.

Malindo Air Chief Executive Officer Chandran Rama Muthy said the launching of Malindo WiFi and Malindo Mobile came after the initial announcement last year that the airline would deliver its promise of providing access to wireless calls as well as connection services to its passengers.

According to Chandran with the launched of the connectivity services onboard, users would be able to browse the web, check emails, update social media feeds, send and text and receive voice calls.

“A WiFi-enabled fleet brings more than just operational benefits and we look forward to upgrading our location-based tracking systems to real-time tracking too in the near future.

“We are also enhancing current products onboard through MalindoMag which will be on all our flights operated on both ATR and Boeing jet fleet,” he said on the launching of Malindo WiFi, Malindo Mobile and Malindo Air magazine called MalindoMag in KL International Airport 2 (klia2) by Transport Minister Liow Tiong Lai Thursday.

He noted that Malindo WiFi and Malindo Mobile were available on three Boeing jets for the time being which covered busiest business route such as Kota Kinabalu, New Delhi and Mumbai sectors, while the rest of the fleet is expected to be fitted until the end of the year.

Four flexible timed usage passes which could be purchased onboard from the cabin crew or through a portal in the in-flight system with duration ranged from an hour to 12 hours usage and priced from USD6.95 to USD21.95 depending on the duration.

Malindomag was a full-fledged travel magazine with pages on trendy holiday spots, travelling tips and insights into high profile personalities relevant to the travel market.

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British Muslims set to launch 2015 awards for scholars

Monday 01 Jun 2015 – London, (IINA) – A non-profit British group has announced recently the launch of 2015 awards dedicated to celebrate the contributions and achievements of British imams and scholars in the community, OnIslam reported. Highlighting positive work by Muslim scholars in the community, the event will be held at the Waterlily in London on June 12.

“British Imams and Scholars undertake excellent and often unrecognized work, striving to make our communities and society a better place for everyone,” the organizing body of the British Imams and Scholars Contributions and Achievements (BISCA) said in a statement.

“In light of this BISCA, supported by organizations such as the Muslim Council of Britain, CB, MAB, Islamic Relief, Muslim Aid, Muslim Council of Wales, MEND and others, are hosting a fantastic event to highlight and celebrate some of their wonderful work,” the statement added.

The idea of the awards was first suggested to honor Muslim scholars who work quietly in the British Muslim community, steadfastly contributing to making it better and prosperous for all.

“Without these pillars of our community and the work that they do daily, we would not be able to accomplish our collective goals and achieve our vision for a more inclusive, vibrant and diverse British society,” BISCA said on its website. Moreover, the event aimed at highlighting positive personalities, male and female, within the British society and their support to creating a better, inclusive and tolerant society for all.

The awards given to the imams and scholars will be basically in the fields of chaplaincy work, women’s empowerment, community cohesion, inter-faith, and media engagement. Awards will be based on nominations given by members of the public who have felt an Imam or Scholar deserves recognition based on the categories selected by BISCA.

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Qatar Charity opens first Islamic centre in Luxembourg

Tuesday 02 Jun 2015 – Luxembourg, (IINA) – Qatar Charity (QC) has announced the establishment of the first Islamic centre in Luxembourg, Gulf Times reported.

The centre was opened by Sheikh Hamad bin Nasser bin Jassim al-Thani, chairman of QC. The center would directly benefit more than 3,000 Muslims living in Luxembourg where there are around 10,000 Muslims, according to a statement.

The facility, which is valued at €2.2 million, comprises a mosque, a school, a legal centre and an educational centre for young people. The centre was built over an area of 650 sqm. QC contributed 75% and the project was implemented by the Islamic Society, Luxembourg.

The ceremony was attended by Qatar’s Ambassador to Belgium and Luxembourg Sheikh Ali bin Jassim al-Thani, Mayor of Luxembourg City Lydie Polfer, Archbishop Jean-Claude Hollerich and other religious leaders. Speaking on the occasion, Sheikh Hamad said: “This centre will be a beacon of peace, goodness and coexistence for the followers of all religions, as per the teachings of our religion, which is the same message that Qatar Charity strives to spread in the world. He extended QC’s gratitude to the Luxembourg government for its assistance.

Sheikh Hamad explained that QC pays particular attention to cultural projects in the West in a bid to spread the culture of Islam throughout the world.

Following the opening ceremony, the officials and dignitaries toured the centre. The facility consists of a mosque that can accommodate Friday prayers, a school that teaches Arabic and memorization of the Qur’an, a Da’wa centre for the introduction of Islam and promotion of its noble values and an educational centre for the young.

The centre aims to achieve a number of important goals including the introduction of Islam and its principles, highlighting the characteristics and values of civilization, operationalizing the concept of good citizenship and encouraging the positive integration of Muslims in Luxembourg.

While allowing them to preserve their religion and cultural identity and paying attention to the continuous training and development of Muslim minority children, expanding cultural dialogue between Muslims and believers of other religions and ideas, encouraging positive interaction and strengthening social peace and the family unit.

The centre is also expected to serve the Muslim communities living in neighbouring countries due to its strategic location between France, Germany and Belgium.

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Tourist spending in UAE rises 5% in Q1 2015

Tuesday 02 Jun 2015 – Dubai, (IINA) – Overall tourist spending in the United Arab Emirates rose by five percent in the first quarter of the year compared to the same period in 2014, according to a new study by Network International, the leading payment solutions provider in the MENA region, WAM reported.

The report, based on credit or debit card transactions by country in the first quarter of 2015, found that Americans accounted for the largest portion of total spending in the quarter with 21 percent and tourists from Saudi Arabia came next 12percent, followed by UK (9 percent), China (4 percent) and Kuwait (3.4 percent).

The Russian Rouble crisis has had a major impact on spending by Russian tourists which dropped by 52 percent in Q1, taking the country out of the top five spenders for the first time in recent history.

Given distance travelled, Americans, Canadians and Australians spend the most of any nationality on airfare. However, once they arrive they spend the lowest average amounts on hotels and meals.

The Chinese spend twice as much (average transaction value of AED 13,000) on watches and jewellery as the next tier down, comprising the Russians, Americans and Swiss.

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Haramain train trial run from Madinah to Rabigh after Ramadan

Tuesday 02 Jun 2015 – Jeddah (IINA) – Ninety six percent of the Haramain High Speed Rail Project in Jeddah and Makkah has been completed.

The contractors would by the end of this year complete bridges along the railway line in Jeddah, including those removed three years ago in preparation for the project, such as the Briman, Palestine and King Abdullah Road bridges, sources said. All work, including construction of bridges and extension of rails, is on schedule, said the sources. The Saudi Railways Organization has been working with the Saudi Electricity Company and National Water Company to provide services to stations.

Trial runs of the high-speed train between Madinah and Rabigh are scheduled to take place after Ramadan, while trials between Jeddah and Makkah has been postponed to the beginning of 2016. The train between Madinah and Rabigh will be operational by the end of 2015, and between Makkah and Jeddah by the end of 2016. Sources said some of the construction is the responsibility of the Jeddah Municipality, while the Ministry of Transport is overseeing construction of the bridges. Bridges will have no traffic lights or stop signs to ensure smooth traffic flow.

The Saudi Electricity Company had announced in April 2011 contracts with national and international companies worth SR1.75 billion for six electricity and power transmission lines as part of the Haramain Rail project, as well as engineering, design, and supply of six core switching stations and double circuit electric power transmission lines. Work would also include communications and connectivity capabilities between the central and western regions.

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Image of Muslims improves in Europe: Survey

Sunday 07 Jun 2015 – Paris, (IINA) – Despite the surge of Islamophobic attacks across Europe, a new survey revealed that the favorable views of Muslims are on the rise in France and UK, OnIslam reported. “There has been no backlash against Muslims in French public opinion,” said the author of the research, Richard Wike, France 24 reported on Saturday.

According to a Pew Research Center survey, positive views of Muslims have steadily increased over the past year. Remaining unchanged after Charlie Hebdo attacks, favorable views of French Muslims have increased by 4 percent points higher than 2014, with 76 percent of French saying they have a positive view of Muslims.

Moreover, very favorable view of Muslims has increased from 14 percent last year to 25 percent among the French over the past five months. Based on telephone interviews of adults with a sample size of 1,001 people, the Pew survey found that positive views of Muslims are higher among France’s political left than the right.

The author of the research believes that the widespread calls for national unity after Paris attacks, besides official statements that aimed to disassociate Islam from terror attacks, have contributed in improving the image of Muslims in the country.

Mainstream French media may have also helped in shaping positive view of Muslims by criticizing stereotyping and bias, according to the author.

A similar rise in the pro-Muslim views among Britons was shown by the survey. Positive views of Muslims have increased from 64 percent in 2014 to 72 percent in 2015, according to the survey Pew Research Center.

Across Europe, bigoted and xenophobic views have actually decreased over the past year, the poll found. On the other hand, Italy and Poland remained the countries with most negative views of Muslims and Jews.

It is noteworthy that the situation for French Muslims has been deteriorating recently, especially after Paris attacks killed 17 civilians. Following the attacks, the National Observatory Against Islamophobia said over 100 incidents have been reported to the police since the Charlie Hebdo attacks.

The rise in attacks over the last two weeks represents an increase of 110 percent over the whole of January 2014, the organization said. The observatory also noted that more than 222 separate acts of anti-Muslim behavior were recorded in the first month after the January attacks.

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Canada’s top Muslim women’s festival to build community bridges

Sunday 07 Jun 2015 – Ontario, (IINA) – Canada’s premier Muslim women’s festival is set to take place Sunday, in the South Western Ontario city of Kitchener, amid hopes of extending new bridges with the larger community.

“Since its inception in 2010, the Coalition of Muslim Women of Kitchener-Waterloo has presented an annual summer event to build bridges of understanding, friendship and mutual respect with the larger community, and to transcend commonly held stereotypes about Muslim women,” Fran Pappert-Shannon, Director of Public Relations of the Coalition of Muslim Women of KW, told OnIslam.net.

“Our annual event are totally planned and presented by Muslim women and our research tells us that it is the only annual Muslim women’s festival in North America and Europe. This year’s event is very special, as it commemorates our fifth anniversary as an organization,” said Fran.

“The festival will not only allow the public to get to know Muslim women through art, entertainment and dialogue, but it will also offer an opportunity for the over 100 Coalition volunteers to experience the joys of team building and volunteerism, while utilizing new skills.”

Amira Elghawaby, Human Rights Coordinator of the National Council of Canadian Muslims, will deliver the keynote address on the topic “State and Muslim Women”.

Opportunities for one-to-one dialogue with Muslim women will be available at the innovative “Culture Cafe’”, where community members will be invited to enjoy tea and talk with local Muslim women who will discuss their experiences of growing up in their countries of origin.

“We remain committed to providing an event that showcases superb Muslim female art, entertainment, talent and skills, while also providing a forum for the expression of the true state of Muslim women living in Kitchener-Waterloo,” said Pappert-Shannon.

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Morocco, Spain sign tourism action plan for 2015-2017

Sunday 07 Jun 2015 – Madrid, (IINA) – Morocco and Spain signed here on Friday a joint action plan on tourism cooperation for 2015-2017, on the sidelines of the 11th Moroccan-Spanish high joint committee, Morocco World News reported.

Inked by Moroccan Tourism Minister Lahcen Haddad and Spanish Minister of Industry, Energy and Tourism José Manuel Soria this plan is devised to develop the two countries’ economic and tourist potential through cooperation on investment, tourist inflows and products promotion and sharing expertize on management, marketing, coordination and training, in addition to the development of partnership between Morocco’s tourism office (ONMT) and Spanish institute Turespana.

The plan, which comes in implementation of the 2009 tourism cooperation memorandum inked in Rabat, touches also on the sharing of statistics and information on tourism, as well as expertize on systems of data collection, reporting and analysis.

The plan aims also to reinforce partnerships on human resources training in the tourism sector, mainly via training, partnership and twinning projects between the two countries’ hotel and tourism institutions.

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Maldives to launch online application for passports

Sun.mv – June 3, 2015 – Controller of Immigration, Mohamed Anwar has said online payment and application for passports would be introduced very soon. Speaking at the ceremony at Immigration to task Medicip with developing the services of Immigration to ISO 2008-9001, Anwar said that online passport application services would be introduced through agencies connected with the Immigration.

“…we are thinking about introducing an online service to those who wants to get a passport while staying home. Then, we are thinking about doing this in a short time. Even now we have agents where passport applications can be submitted. So we are thinking of introducing online application service through them.” Controller of Immigration, Anwar said. Passport applications are now submitted after waiting in a queue. And through agencies of Immigration.

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Rifai: Maldives sets an example in protecting the environment

Sun.mv – June 3, 2015 – Secretary General of UNWTO, the Tourism agency of the United Nations, Taleb Rifai has said that the Maldives in an example in protecting the environment. Speaking at the press conference after initiating the regional conference of the UNWTO at Bandos Island Resort, Mr. Rifai said that Maldives has one of the most fragile environments and yet the country has been developing the tourism without harming the environment.

Noting four major changes to the tourism trend, Mr. Rifai said that protecting the environment is one of the most important one. He said that the environment is the natural treasure of tourism and if one is developing their tourism, they have to maintain their environment.

Another change to tourism trended noted by the Secretary General was the changing of the “Source Markets”. And so he biggest markets have changed and the number of tourists has increased from China, India, Brazil, Malaysia and Indonesia. He also noted that the number of older tourists has increased as of late and so it is important to adapt the services provided as per the changes.

Secretary General Rifai also said that the role of social media has expanded with the changes to the tourism sector with the advancement of technology.

At the press conference, Minister of Tourism, Ahmed Adheeb said that the Secretary General’s words would be taken into account. The Regional conference of the UNWTO is ongoing in the Maldives. High officials of the tourism sector across South Asia, East Asia and Pacific are taking part in this conference.

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Revealing the mysteries of Urartian pottery

ISTANBUL – Hurriyet Daily News – A research assistant at the Department of Archaeology in the Faculty of Letters at İzmir’s Aegean University has conducted studies on the reproduction of ancient Urartian red polished pottery, a kind of Urartian ceramic that looked like metallic potteries and were distinctive in color, surface treatment and firing.

To learn about the production chain of Urartian pottery, Atilla Batmaz carries out his studies on an experimental scale in the eastern province of Van’s Bardakçı village.

“In 2014 we began experiments about how Urartian red polished pottery might have been made together with a potter, Osman Eşme, in the Bardakçı village, a place famous for pottery making,” he said. “As our knowledge of the technology and production of this type of pottery was limited, we decided to make an experimental archaeology study. We suppose that the local clay beds from which we obtained clay were likely to have been used in the Urartian period as well. After we have made the clay ready to be treated, we will try to shape it into the most common shapes of Urartu, such as trefoil jugs, goblets, bowls and plates, as in the ancient period. We will continue the studies on an experimental scale in the Bardakçı Village of Van regarding how the production chain of the Urartian pottery was. This year we are concentrating on surface treatments, such as slip and polish, and on its firing. For the time being, we are performing firing in a mud and domed kiln which is similar to that used in the ancient period,” said Batmaz.

Stating these studies might be an important stage in terms of fully clarifying the production chain of Urartian red polished pottery, Batmaz added, “We aim to carry out such details as the production techniques, methods, surface treatments and firing of the type of pottery concerned in practice.”

Batmaz said the studies have been carried out without support from any institutions or organizations.

“Their integration with society will be possible only if they can be supported. Our objective is to teach this pottery to the public after we have produced it under ancient and modern conditions. As in Avanos in the Cappadocia region, conveying the pottery making of the Urartian culture, which existed some 2,700 years ago, to both the local people and the tourists who visit the region and even teaching them how to do it will be a crucial step for the Urartian culture and the region,” he said.

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Baksı Museum prepares for next tourism season

BAYBURT – Anadolu Agency – The Baksı Museum, which was founded in 2010 at a location 45 kilometers away from the southeastern province of Bayburt’s Baksı village and brings together contemporary art and traditional handicrafts under the same roof, is preparing for the new tourism season.

The museum was awarded with the Council of Europe Museum Prize in 2014 by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe’s (PACE) Committee on Culture, Science, Education and Media.

The founder of the museum and the Baksı Culture and Arts Foundation, Professor Hüsamettin Koçan, said the foundation celebrated its 10th anniversary this year. He said an international museum congress would be held in the museum between July 23 and 26 with the title “Regional Museums as Generators of Development.”

He said 22 representatives of the International Council of Museums (ICOM) would join the congress, adding, “This means that European and Asian museums’ representatives and museum organizations will visit Bayburt and Baksı. It is a very important event to us. The projects here will be reconsidered with an international point of view.”

Koçan said the congress would be held in Turkey for the first time. “The popularity brought by the European Council Award that the Baksı Museum received in 2014 is the reason for this,” he added.

He also noted a new exhibition would open in the museum for the 10th anniversary of the foundation.

“Our German curator friend is organizing an exhibition with the headline of ‘10.’ He displays traditional and contemporary pieces together in the museum. For example, a Bayburt kilim will be displayed with the work of a well-known contemporary artist beside it. He creates such couples. This is very exciting for us. We will open this exhibition in August with big concerts and other events,” the professor said.

Koçan said one of the other significant events of the year would be the establishment of a center for women’s employment. “We have a land of 1,150 square meters in the Kaleardı neighborhood. This project has been prepared recently. The project will be opposite the Bayburt Castle. It will be made of massive Bayburt stone. The building will make a reference to the tiles of the castle. In this way, we will greet the castle,” he said.

Koçan said they would establish a natural dye center in one part of the women’s employment center. “Threads will be dyed there, natural dye will be produced; maybe we will give them to the cosmetics industry. Natural dyes have a significant market. We will found a performance hall in one floor of the center. There will also be weaving ateliers as well as a big library. We will also make a few rooms for guests visiting the village to stay in.”

He said only women would be employed in the center. “There are women who moved to Bayburt from a village. They are hardworking people. We want to make them a part of the production process. If we design their productions with a contemporary viewpoint and present them to the international market, it will bring a very big economic input.”

Drawing attention to a new trend in the world, Koçan said, “This is a very expensive trend; natural dye, natural material and hand-made products. We have a chance to make all of them. If we can make it, we can start international marketing thanks to the popularity of our museum.”

Koçan said the Baksı Museum received many applications this year in the field of culture tourism. “We want to present more authentic designs to our guests. This is why Turkey’s 10 best-known artists design small objects for the museum. Probably we will attempt to market these small objects during the museum congress. In this way, Baksı’s local designs will be sold in European and Asian museums stores. We can also move to other continents from there,” he said.

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Turkish Airlines ‘Kobe vs Messi’ video picked as best YouTube ad

Hurriyet Daily News – Originally released in December 2013, Turkish Airlines ‘Kobe vs. Messi: The Selfie Shoutout’ has been voted the favorite YouTube video ad from the last ten years. As part of its 10th anniversary celebration, YouTube posted 20 finalists for its #10Yearsof YouTubeAds contest, asking viewers to vote on their favorite. The Turkish Airlines video won the most votes, followed by Volkswagen’s “The Force,” Always “Like A Girl,” Volvo Trucks “Epic Split with Jean Claude Van Damme,” and Dove’s “Real Beauty Sketches.”

According to YouTube, Turkish Airlines “Kobi vs. Messi” spot generated 25 million views during the first three days after it was posted in 2013, earning the No. 1 spot on YouTube’s December 2013 ad leaderboard.

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300-million euro program to attract more Turkish women into business

ANKARA – Anadolu Agency – The Finance and Advice for Women in Business Program, funded by the European Union, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) and the Republic of Turkey, was introduced to local women-led businesses in the Central Anatolian city of Kayseri on May 28.

“If the Turkish economy is to achieve its full potential, then bringing more women into the labor force is essential,” European Bank for Reconstruction and Development Turkey Director Jean-Patrick Marquet told Anadolu Agency on the sidelines of the event.

The EBRD provides up to 300 million euros ($327 million) in credit lines to local banks for lending to women-led businesses. The EU, the Turkish Ministry of Labor and Social Security and the Turkish Employment Agency are supporting the program with 38 million euros ($41.6 million) for credit enhancement, advice to companies including mentoring, entrepreneurship training and networking opportunities, as well as technical assistance for partner banks.

To date, four Turkish banks have joined the program and received financing from the EBRD: Vakıf Bank ($30 million), Finansbank ($54.7 million), İş Bankası ($55 million), and Türk Ekonomi Bankası ($54.7 million).

“The program takes a very holistic approach. It includes a combination of credit lines, finance investment, risk cover for local banks to increase risk appetite, and very important, technical assistance and advice for both the banks and the women in business themselves;” said Marquet.

“It is an important program for Turkey, because women’s participation in the labor force is low, very low – below 30 percent, less than half of male participation in the labor force. This is a drag on the Turkish economy. If the Turkish economy is to achieve its full growth potential, then bringing more women into the labor force is essential. These women will start creating new businesses and attracting investment,” he added.

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Turkish Airlines, EVA Air sign code-share deal

ISTANBUL – Anadolu Agency – Taiwan’s EVA air has reached a code-sharing agreement with Turkish Airlines for flights between Taipei and Istanbul, Turkish Airlines said in statement on June 4. A code-sharing agreement is when two or more airlines agree to list certain flights in a reservation system under each other’s names.

Turkish Airlines and EVA Air agreed to begin code sharing starting from June 3. “Next year, EVA will also launch service on the route, and the code sharing will be applied as reciprocal by Turkish Airlines placing its code on EVA operated flights. After this stage, the code-share agreement will allow passengers to benefit from a higher number of combined frequencies for better connectivity and increased travel flexibility between two countries,” the statement said.

When EVA starts daily Taipei-Istanbul flights in 2016, the two airlines will collaborate further. Together, they will efficiently use Istanbul as a hub for travel to destinations that are even more distant. “With the code-share flights and commercial agreements for beyond Istanbul, EVA will offer passengers more convenient choices to Europe,” it said.

“EVA and Turkish Airlines will work in cooperation to increase tourism and cultural exploration in Taipei and Istanbul and to promote business travel between the two regions. The route is especially attractive to leisure and business travelers from Taipei and Asia because it takes no more than two-three hours to make smooth onward flight connections to the major cities in Europe, including Frankfurt, Barcelona, Lisbon, Copenhagen and Stockholm, et cetera. The two airlines are also entering a Special Prorate Agreement (SPA) that will enable passengers who book connecting flights to travel with one ticket and check baggage all the way through to their destination,” the statement said.

“With new Taipei-Istanbul-Taipei flights, the companies aim to create attractive options for passengers bound for Frankfurt, Barcelona, Lisbon, Copenhagen and Stockholm thanks to the connecting flights with maximum delays (of two-three hours).”

Turkish Airlines links 226 international destinations, and more than 100 of them are in Europe. As the only city in the world having on two continents, Istanbul serves as a main hub which connects the east and the west.

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Gambia Tourism Board Lays Strategies to Meet Vision 2020

The Daily Observer (Banjul) – 2 June 2015 – The management of The Gambia Tourism Board (GTBoard) Monday outlined before lawmakers of the joint session of the Public Accounts and Public Enterprises Committees (PAC/PEC) of the National Assembly, strategies aimed at meeting the Board’s Vision 2020 objectives.

GTBoard has a target of contributing 25% to the nation’s Vision 2020 development blue print. As the timeline for the Vision looms, deputies said they wanted to know what strategies the Board has to meet the target.

“We will achieve these objectives by getting to places that we have not been before in terms of tourism,” said Bakary K. Jammeh, the chairperson of the GTBoard, as he responded to Hon. Muhammed Maggasy’s question on the subject.

He said that The Gambia is becoming a well-known ecotourism destination and that they are also introducing a lot of products locally, citing ‘Nikinanka’ in Ndeban and other successful forums. He mentioned sport-fishing and other traditional norms, moving into West like America and do some activities to sell the market to increase tourism in the country.

Jammeh informed deputies that the GTBoard is trying hard to transform the tourism sector by moving from mass to niche tourism, saying that it will have great impact on the tourism sector.

He also unveiled plans for Juffereh, noting that the place will be revamped with projects that will benefit the entire region. “We want Juffereh as an entire destination of its own and that’s why we have extended our activities,” he assured, as Hon. Mam Cherno Jallow raised concern over the area.

The director general of the GTBoard, Abdoulie Hydara, said that a destination manager for Juferreh has been appointed with the aim of implementing all the would-be projects including the information office.

He enlightened lawmakers that the Board tend to achieve its Vision 2020 goals through two specific things; such as the policy and strategic directions. He described the strategic direction as a wider mandate and hoped that with government’s support their targets for the vision will be met.

Deputies also expressed concern about other relevant issues such as the D21 million the GTBoard is paying to the UN-World Tourism Organisation as liabilities between 1992 to 2013. They equally raised concerns over slow recovery of loans from the Board’s former staff, thus calling for strict policy in giving out such loans.

Responding to those concerns, Hydara said that they are paying those liabilities by installment in order to maximise benefits from the World Tourism Organisation (WTO), although he admitted that 23 years of non-payment to UN-WTO was loss to the country.

He finally assured that the Board is working harder to have those loans paid as indicated in their audit report.

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Gambia Coastal Zone, Source of Valuable Natural Resource

The Daily Observer (Banjul) – 4 June 2015 – The executive director of National Environmental Agency (NEA) has revealed that the coastal zone of The Gambia is a valuable natural resource area for a country whose tourism industry depends on it and contributes significantly to the economy of the country.

Ndey Sireng Bakurin made this remark Wednesday, 3rd June when presenting her institution’s annual activity report and financial statement for the year ended 1st January to 31st December 2013 before the joint session of the Public Accounts Committee and Public Enterprises Committee (PAC/PEC) of the National Assembly.

She said that the coastal area is described in The Gambia Environmental Action Plan (GEAP) as an important natural and economic resource, which if utilised in an appropriate manner, would yield important economic benefits. “Coastal areas are usually densely populated offering job opportunities and recreational facilities for the people. The situation in The Gambia is no exception to this rule,” Madam Bakurin stated.

She further noted that The Gambia has a coastline extending 81km, running from the mouth of the Allahein River in the South to Buniadu in the North. Seaward, the coast is separated from the continental slope or deep sea by the continental shelf is 80km wide.

According to her, the CME programme coordinates and monitors all coastal and marine activities in The Gambia. The programme objectives are to: formulate review and revise policies relating to all coastal, marine and fluvial (rivers, streams, ponds) activities; support decision-making by advising the NEA and government agencies regarding the sustainability, protection, development and monitoring of the coastal, marine fluvial environment; convene and guide task or forces on issues that may arise relating to coastal and riverbank erosion, the marine and fluvial environment, sand mining, quarrying and contingency planning for oil spills.

The NEA boss stated the CME Programme serves as a clearinghouse and collection point for CME issues. “Through the programme, institutional partners are brought together to solve problems. They monitor trends and adjust ongoing programmes to take these trends into account. The Programme coordinates these activities under the auspices of CME Working Group. The Group facilitates coordination of activities related to the management of the coastal and marine environment”.

In respect of coastal zone management, she informed PAC/PEC, monitoring of erosion continued in coastal areas and in selected priority protected riverine areas. She added that the Agency continues to vigorously seek funding to tackle accelerating coastal erosion.

She highlighted the activities implemented by the programme, which include: sensitisation on protection of the coastal and marine for the coastal communities, training of 25 women and men from coastal communities on waste recycling into manure and craft, a workshop for coastal communities with the view to consult with the community and inform them on the need to integrate coastal protection and management, a training programme on the business and administration skills needed for the people running Eco-tourism centres in the coastal communities including KART and Tesito Camp staff in Kartong.

Madam Bakurin said: “Working with the actors engaged in plastic business, i.e. the plastic manufacturers, importers and water producers, a scheme was developed in 2013. During the year under review, she reported, the following activities were implemented: The taskforce on plastic waste was formed and several meetings were convened.

These meetings led to the formulation of a one-year work plan and the cost for its implementation, the Gamplast in consultation with NEA and other stakeholders is to establish a plastic recycling plant. Gamplast was allocated a piece of land in Brikama Industrial site for the purpose of recycling plastic waste.

Lamin D. Camara, assistant procurement officer at The Gambia Public Procurement Authority (GPPA) said that NEA was found to be 67% compliant, which denotes to be mainly compliant of the GPPA rules and regulations.

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Gambian NTO, Hotels initiate PR & Marketing course

The Daily Observer (Banjul) – 5 June 2015 – The Gambia Tourism Board (GTBoard) and The Gambia Hotel Association (GHA) in collaboration with the PUM Netherlands, on Wednesday began a 3-day PR and marketing training programme for the GTBoard staff and members of the GHA.

The PR and Marketing programme is meant to strengthen the capacity of GTBoard staff and GHA members especially in the areas of quality product, destination marketing and communication.

Momodou Bah, director of Quality Control and Licensing at the GTBoard, speaking on behalf of the director general of GTBoard, outlined the main focus of the training in ensuring effective marketing and communication.

He reminded the participants about the longstanding partnership between the trio, GTBoard, GHA and PUM Netherlands, adding that this partnership has been paying dividends which they want to continue.

He described the ongoing PR and marketing training programme for the two institutions as of high capacity building development programme for tourism sector that need to be adopted.

As tourism keeps changing around the world, he advised the participants not to relent in their efforts to place Destination Gambia in forefront.

He emphasised that involving regional destination especially in the aftermath of the Ebola virus is crucial as tourism is expected to bounce back. “Therefore, there is need to prepare fully in advance in terms of destination marketing to continue to maintain our clientele and increase the base.”

Bah assured of their commitment towards the strengthening the partnership especially in capacity development which is one of the key challenges in the industry.

Marc Van Maldegem, chairman GHA, who is also the general manager of Kombo Beach Hotel, described the training as one of the significant steps taken to strengthening their combined resources.

Over the years, he said, the two institutions have been working hand-in-hand to market and promote the destination.

He reiterated that the destination needs more tourists especially now after the Ebola virus crises, as this will help to provide more employment for those unemployed.

Robert Bosma, PUM expert trainer and Henriette Brummer-Sonko, PUM Senior Representative as well made remarks at the opening of the training.

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Discover Laza village – land of mountain, waterfalls

05 June 2015 – TODAY.AZ – In connection with the inaugural European Games, a sporting event which will be held in Baku this summer, the country is expecting a tourist flow.

For many guests this will be their first experience in the Land of Fire and they are looking forward to visit its most picturesque places.

Gusar, called “Northern Gates” due to its geographical location is one of those treasures of Azerbaijan which most definitely are worth the visit.

The region is located not far from the capital – only 174 km. Driving about 2.5 hours from the Baku International Bus Terminal for 4 manats ($3.81) you will find yourself surrounded by a sea of green, broken up only by majestic mountains.

The region is famous for its tourist hub — Shahdag National Park. The ski resort which opens in autumn when the whole country is still enjoying warm weather, is always already covered by snow.

Laza village is undoubtedly Gusar’s most popular destination for both adventure seekers and those who simply want isolated, uninterrupted rest.

Half an hour from the region’s center, Laza has a fascinating landscape.

With its falling waters creating snow-white foam and water splash fireworks, Laza is simply enchanting everyone.

Surrounded by mountain peaks on every side, this village boasts numerous waterfalls over 60 meters high, including a pair of twin waterfalls sitting side by side.

The village is populated by ethnic Lezgins — a distinctive hospitable people, the ancestors of Leahy, whose history is linked to the Caucasian Albania – one of the oldest states in the territory of Azerbaijan.

The villagers live a normal life of mountainous settlements: conduct housekeeping, hold birds, large and small livestock.

But it’s not just the waterfalls which attract travelers from around the world, Gusar is also an excellent staging point for several challenging hikes and day trips.

Tourists are offered to visit the historic village of Anykh to get acquainted with the region’s historical monuments, as well as examples of folk art.

In winter when all mountains and waterfalls are covered with ice crystal the Azerbaijani Air and Extreme Sports Federation hold Laze climbing championships.

From June 12-28 some 6,000 athletes and about 3,000 delegations will landed in the capital of Baku to compete in the Games. During 17 days the athletes from 50 countries will compete in 20 sports including 16 Olympic and four non-Olympic.

Baku was awarded the Games by the European Olympic Committees (EOC) in December 2012.

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Azerbaijani artist to present work in Louvre

05 June 2015 – TODAY.AZ – Azerbaijani artist Emil Aziz will present his works in the international art festival — Salon Art Shopping in Paris, France.

The exhibition will be held in the well renown Carrousel du Louvre gallery on June 12-14.

Some 15 works of talented artist including “Ethyopian flower seller”, “Take off your masks”, “Love letter”, and “After the show” will be put on display.

The Carrousel du Louvre will also feature the works of three more Azerbaijani artists.

The unusual works of Esmira Gulahmadova, Jamala Rahmanli and Zarifa Asadova will be put on display in the “Asmar Art” pavilion of national artist, Asmar Narimanbayova.

Emil Aziz was born in Baku in 1984. He graduated from the Faculty of Mathematics in the Bogazici University, a prestigious academic institution in Turkey.

The artist, who moved to Istanbul in 1995, took part in numerous exhibitions held in many exhibition salon in Turkey.

Since 2011, he is a member of the International Association of Art UNESCO. His exhibitions were held in Turkey, Azerbaijan, Portugal and other countries.

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Ganja: Must-see city in Azerbaijan

08 June 2015 – TODAY.AZ – Guests of the inaugural European Games, Baku 2015 have a chance to not only visit the capital city, Baku, but also travel around the country and discover Azerbaijan’s many beauties.

Some 375 km away from Baku, tourists will find the ancient city of Ganja, the second largest city of the country. Research showed that ancient Ganja is more than 4,000 years old.

The northeastern foot of the Lesser Caucasus Mountains is a picturesque place which has attracted many people across the centuries. This made the history of the region profound and captivating. Ganja is significant to the politico-economic and cultural life of the country since the earliest of times.

Arabs and Khazars, Seljuks and Mongols and tsarist Russia, all desired to rule the strategic region. Nervertheless, the region remains well known around the world not for the wars which were fought over it, but because of its famous poet: Nizami Ganjavi, a poet of peace and love.

Visiting Ganja one cannot skip a visit to the mausoleum of the great poet, a remarkable monument of Nizami.

Ganja was also the capital of Azerbaijan, when the country first declared its independence in 1918, thus playing a leading role in the history of the country.

The region is famous for its nature, namely Goygol Lake and reserve. A large mountain lake surrounded by the mountains of the Lesser Caucasus was formed at a result of a devastating earthquake that destroyed the mountain Kapaz in the 12th century.

The color and clarity of the waters of Goygol Lake, located 1,600 above sea level is striking. The banks of the lake are covered with forests and rich of flora and fauna.

This area is ideal for swimming, walking, travelling and family picnics.

Despite numerous destructions during its long existence, Ganja has retained the appearance of a beautiful city with many monuments of architecture. One of the main features of the city is the Juma Mosque – Ganja central mosque.

Among other ancient monuments are: bridges, the palace of Sultan Darus, towers, mosques, madrasas, baths, caravanserais and complex of buildings Imamzade. There is also the first parliament of the Democratic Republic of Azerbaijan with its large city park in front of it.

To learn more about the history of the prominent city tourists can visit the local museum which has more than 30,000 artifacts located in the 18 exhibition halls.

Although an ancient city, Ganja was selected to be a European Youth Capital in 2016.

Sport is developing in the city now that it has an Olympic Complex with its various sports equipment and infrastructures.

While visiting the city do not forget to taste the local food and buy local fruits and vegetables – Enjoy the summer’s spirit.

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Baku sees traditions of picturesque region Ismayilli

03 June 2015 – TODAY.AZ – Azerbaijan’s capital, Baku continues to host “From the regions to the capital” festival, which aims to promote country’s regions among nationals and foreign tourists, highlighting the country’s rich culture and traditions.

This time, the audience familiarized themselves with one of country’s most picturesque corners – Ismayilli.

The event co-organized by the Baku Culture and Tourism Department and the Ismayilli Culture and Tourism Department was held in the Azerbaijan State Youth Theater on June 2.

Guests learned a lot thanks to the exposition which featured the region’s rich culture, folk art traditions and cuisine.They tasted delicious samples of regional cuisine, as well as fruits and sweets.

Abulfaz Garayev, the culture and tourism minister also attended the event.

Addressing the event, the minister underlined the fact that the government has paid great attention to the regions’ socio-economic development and worked to restore Azerbaijan’s ancient heritage, including monuments and reserves.

The event’s guests were also kept abreast with the work, projects and events implemented in Ismayilli, as well as the achievements made in the economic and tourism sectors, as well as culture and art.

Following the event, a concert program of regional folk groups and musicians amused the guests.

The Ismayilli region located north of the country was once part of Caucasian Albania – IV c. B.C. Here, on top of the highest mountain lay the ruins of a medieval fortress.

Alongside Azerbaijanis there are other nations and ethnic groups living in the area: Lezgins, Russians (malakans), Jews, lahy?ch and hapyts, the descendants of ancient Albans.

Folk art traditions are very strong in this region. In villages like Galajig, Tezekend and others people are still engaged in carpet-making.

On the banks of Girdmanchay, a name which has been known since the VII century, at 1200 m above sea level, lies the village of Lahij. This small mountainous town is one of Azerbaijan’s most famous craft centers.

The region is very interesting for tourists. Both the Maiden Tower and Shirinsu have become favorites among picnic lovers, eco-tourism enthusiasts and trekkers.

The Basgal village was widely known here as a center of handicrafts and sericulture in the middle ages. To this day, the traditional female headscarf – Kelagayi, which is included in the UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Heritage of Humanity has been manufactured in this village.

Ismayilli is also a center of wine production in Azerbaijan, which of course put the region on the map of wine tourism. For example guests can stay in the complex Shato Monolit – a full cycle winery that includes all processes: from growing grapes to bottling, in keeping with the French chateau (castle).

Because Ismayilli has a very rich wildlife, hunting tourism has also prospered here. Forests in the area are inhabited by deers, mountain goats, wild boars, bears, wolves, foxes, hares and other animals.

Hunting and fishing licenses are issued by the Office of Environment and Natural Resources of Ismayilli region.

Renovating Cairo’s Downtown: Contested visions of the heart of the city

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Renovation plans for Cairo’s Downtown underway

Al-Ahram – Sunday 7 Jun 2015 – Over the past month, Cairo governorate has renewed interest in a shelved plan to renovate the city centre’s main squares and streets. Buildings have been repainted and trees have been planted, but more importantly the roads have been emptied of all parked cars and a new parking space — that took years to build — was finally opened as an alternative.

Street vendors, who had taken up large chunks of the sidewalks and streets since the complete police absence that followed the 2011 revolution, were forced out by authorities. The microbuses that form Egypt’s main public transport service were also forced to change their waiting spots, albeit with much resistance.

Downtown Cairo has become of late an attraction for several urban, social as well as economic development plans that aim to shape the future of the area.

The revolution’s birthplace, Cairo’s cultural hub, the city’s centre, a commercial attraction, a heritage site, Downtown has despite all of its significance suffered negligence with many of its buildings rundown and its infrastructure compromised.

According to Cairo governorate spokesperson Khaled Mostafa, the underway renovation plan is a pilot project for the renovation of Khedivial Cairo, historically constructed by Khedive Ismail in the 19th century.

Influenced by French architecture, Downtown Cairo was first built by Khedive Ismail (ruler of Egypt 1863-1879) as a new place for Egypt’s elite. This period in Egypt’s history has left many until today nostalgic about the area and how Cairo one day resembled a modern European city, or a “Paris along the Nile”.

Considering its historic value, Cairo governorate has given special interest to renovating the 19th century buildings that extend from Tahrir Square up to Abdeen Square, where the old royal palace is located.

Al-Alfy and Oraby streets were turned into pedestrian roads with small cafes and restaurants located on their sidewalks and their buildings’ façades repainted. The buildings on Talaat Harb Square, up until Mohamed Farid Square, have also been repainted. Sidewalks are being newly paved and shop signs that distort the view of the buildings, according to Fahmy, have been removed.

These efforts are not those of Cairo governorate alone. Contributions are made by the area’s main real estate owners, including Misr Insurance Holding Company, which owns over 100 buildings in the area, banks as well as companies such as El-Sewedy, which owns a major building in the area.

The National Organisation for Urban Harmony, which follows the Ministry of Culture and includes staff members of the Faculty of Engineering as well as the Faculty of Fine Arts, together with bank CEOs and the Cairo governorate hold weekly meetings to supervise the implementation of the plan that they also helped put forward.

The state’s interest in renovating Khedivial Cairo is not new, but has been part of a 2050 vision formulated by the government in 2008 and supported by the Policies Committee of Gamal Mubarak, believed then as being groomed to follow his father as president of Egypt. The plan, which then faced much criticism for its top-down class-biased approach, involved the idea of gradually reviving the old spirit of Downtown as a fashionable commercial centre.

The plan included turning it into a mostly pedestrian area and reducing traffic by redirecting cars to underground tunnels and parking spaces.

In a highly segmented society, Downtown Cairo has been acting as one of the few meeting points of Cairo’s different social groups.

Its visitors include the middle class employees of surrounding government buildings, shop owners, members of political groups whose headquarters are mostly located in the area, intellectuals that use the relatively affordable café and restaurants, tourists that are attracted by the area’s history, as well as middle class families that still head to its reasonably priced shops.

Especially over the past 10 years, Cairo’s Downtown has been buzzing with political and cultural life. Professional syndicates were often host to political protests, conferences and meetings.

Opposition demonstrations largely concentrated in Downtown eventually led to the 2011 revolt in the now iconic Tahrir Square, which led to the ouster of former president Hosni Mubarak.

While several shops have gone bankrupt and closed in the process, leaving more of Downtown Cairo’s buildings deserted, the absence of police and strong state control opened space for graffiti artists to swamp Downtown walls with ever changing drawings and statements. Art performances took the streets, as well as film screenings and political events held in public squares.

This has in turn attracted several art initiatives, including new alternative cinema venues opening up, like Zawya and Cimatheque. Cultural projects that had already been operating in Downtown could expand their work to the streets, instead of previously limiting themselves to closed spaces.

Additionally, street vendors and cafes expanded, making the streets of Downtown even louder and busier and an attraction for more visitors.

With the state regaining control, the scene has changed of late. A protest law, issued in 2013, allows authorities to violently crack down on any public protest or political event that does not obtain prior permission, leading to the arrest of hundreds in the process. This has contributed to bringing an end to the once buzzing political spirit of Downtown.

Street art is also being gradually limited, with events like El-Fan Midan (Art is a Square) banned from holding its monthly performances where it used to in Abdeen Square. Several street cafes, including El-Borsa, which acted as a meeting point for many activists, were forced to shut down as they informally occupied sidewalks and streets.

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Restored Aisha Fahmy Palace ready to host exhibitions

Al-Ahram – Sunday 7 Jun 2015 – Anyone wandering through Cairo’s Zamalek neighbourhood must have noticed extensive building work taking place around the palace located on the Nile, right next to the Old Boulaq Bridge. A passerby could spot piles of bags with sand and workers moving swiftly across the location surrounded by barricades. In fact, the area houses one of Zamalek’s most remarkable palaces, one with historical and cultural importance: Aisha Fahmy Palace also referred to as Mogamaa Al-Fonoon (Arts Complex).

During the many years of restoration, Egypt’s consecutive ministers of culture have pronounced several promises on the expected end to restoration and the opening date… all of which were broken. It is now that after many years of work, the Aisha Fahmy Palace is ready to open its halls.

Founded in 1908, by Khedive Abbas Helmy and designed by Antonio Lasciac, the total space of the palace covers over 2,700 square metres, including 30 rooms, two large halls, basement and roof, all richly ornamented.

“The palace was the residence of Ali Fahmy, the head of the army during the reign of King Fouad I,” writes Nevine Aref in Al-Ahram Weekly, pointing to the many great ornaments inside the palace, such as frescos, golden Japanese lettering, and red silk decorated walls.

In 1958, the Ministry of Culture bought the palace to be used as an office for Tharwat Okasha, Egypt’s first culture minister. In 1971, the palace was taken over by the Ministry of Information. A few years later, in 1975, Youssef El-Sebai annexed the palace to the Visual Arts sector operating under the Ministry of Culture, which he then headed.

Over the years, the palace displayed works by many remarkable international artists (including Picasso and Dali) and served as the museum for Mohamed Ali family’s jewellery – before the collection was moved to Alexandria in 1986 – and an active art complex holding a variety of exhibitions, but the deterioration of the building led to consecutive closure of its halls.

Put on Egypt’s heritage list, between 1989 and 1992, the palace saw a few restoration works, yet they mostly targeted its external facade, leaving the internal halls to the fate of humidity, rust and dust, alongside insects and moths.

Turning into one of the several non-operational edifices operating under the Visual Arts sector, in 2010, the Ministry of Culture appointed one of its units, the Cultural Development Fund to bring the palace back to its original glory.

“The restorations have been handled by the Arab Contractors (a construction company). After over four years, on 4 June the works were completed,” Mohamed Abu Saada, head of the Cultural Development Fund tells Ahram Online.

According to information released by the Arab Contractors, back in 2013 “the total work amount (was) about 60% including: strengthening of the basement, ceiling, slabs, wall injections; restoration of the weaving works, ornaments, floors, wood, stained glass, and paintings.” The restoration was done in cooperation with the Monument Restoration Department at the Arab Contractors Company and the Ministry of Antiquities.

“As the Cultural Development Fund, part of our work is to fund and organise restoration of the important cultural locations. Further activities of the completed location are in the hands of other ministerial sectors,” Abu Saada explained, adding that it is now in the hands of the Visual Arts sector to activate the palace.

“Completion of the project is an important achievement for the Fund. The building has a crucial cultural significance and finally it is ready to return to the active cultural scene,” Abu Saada said, adding that the total amount poured into the restoration amounts LE30 million (approximately 4 million USD).

Abu Saada also points to the many challenges that the restoration process included. “We cooperated with a number of specialists in the field, often tearing down the covers, in the piles of dust and dirt we were discovering breathtaking gems and decoration. Some layers of wall paint were no longer there, hence we had to involve the historians and researchers to define the original colour of the walls and assure – as much as it was possible – that each detail of this marvellous location will be brought back to its original condition,” he explained.

Since the palace will house different temporary exhibitions, the restoration had to put in mind creating settings that will accommodate variant visual demands of each display.

Abu Saada added that though further management and decisions regarding the activities held at the palace are in the hands of the Visual Arts sector, he believes that for the beginning, the viewers will gain access to two main display locations: one dedicated to renowned Egyptian artists with their paintings and sculpture on display, as well as a variety of exhibitions held in the basement. With a separate entrance from the palace’s garden, the latter location will provide a platform for young artists to present their work.

“The hall dedicated to young artists will be directly connected to the garden, where a number of other activities – such as music concerts, performances – can take place paralleling the displays,” Abu Saada explained.

While Abu Saada hopes that the artistic activities will begin soon, it is now for the Visual Arts sector to announce the palace’s management, opening date and plans.

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Iranian woman revives ancient art

Tehran, June 8, IRNA – Zarkhatoun Azimi is among a few Iranian women who have been awarded the UNESCO Seal of Excellence for needlework. Azimi was born in a big family in one of the country’s remote villages in the southeastern province of Sistan-Baluchestan. She started producing hand-made crafts when she was only five. She is now in her late 50s and still produces needlework.

‘Just like all Baluchi girls, I started learning needlework from my mother, as soon as I could use needle,’ Azimi told the English-language newspaper, Iran Daily, in an exclusive interviewpaper. Her remarkable skill in needlework was praised by Benazir Bhutto – the assassinated prime minister of Pakistan – at an international handicraft exhibition.

She is ranked among few women artisans still engaged in producing rare hand-made crafts. Azimi said the art dates back to 200 years before the advent of Islam.

Elaborating on the reason behind nominating her works as the best of its kind in the UNESCO Seal of Excellence, she said: ‘I think my works could receive the award because they were extremely elegant and of higher quality compared to those of other countries including Afghanistan, Pakistan and India.’

‘Many think Persian needlework is on the verge of extinction. I disagree. Needlework has been interwoven with the life of women in Sistan-Baluchestan. Only a few women may be alien to the art here,’ she added.

Azimi added that unfortunately, the use of machines to produce low quality works is driving needlework into oblivion.

She noted that a few Baluchi women work out of homes, as caring for children and doing chores is their main priorities thanks to cultural issues.

‘I keep producing needlework because I have decided to organize the art and bring it out of homes to contribute to the social participation of Baluchi women,’ the Iranian artist noted.

She further underscored that :’ I wanted to help Baluchi women to make money from this ancient art.’

Touching upon the difficulties she has faced, Azimi said:’ I grew up in a big family in a remote village. So I decided to expand my art to earn a living and contribute to my family economy despite all hardships associated with it.’

‘I have established two needlework cooperatives in the city of Khash to support women breadwinners. Since a majority of women and girls are not interested in working out of homes, we provide the materials they need such as cloth and thread so that they can produce the work at home,’ she added.

Pointing to the time it takes to do needlework on a dress, she said, it takes between four and five months to decorate a long dress with needlework.

‘However, it may take between eight and nine months for a housewife to complete the work because the priority for housewives is to care for children and do household chores,’ Azimi noted.

Asking about the value of a decorated dress with needlework, she replied it depends on the dresses, mostly on the time spent to produce it. An average dress costs up to $300. Local residents constitute the majority of buyers as they know how hard it can be to produce such an artistic work.

Azimi stressed that so far she have taken part in almost all domestic handicrafts exhibitions and received numerous invitations from foreign countries.

The Iranian artist added so far she has declined all foreign invitations except one, which was sent by Benazir Bhutto, the then Pakistani prime minister.

She won a prize of $2,000 at the exhibition for producing the elegant needlework. It may be interesting to know that the top prize was $200 at the exhibition but she received a special prize from the minister.

She further stressed that low quality and counterfeit needlework are reportedly produced using pre-fabricated stamps. These activities could drive the traditional art into extinction.

‘Such arts are rooted in our traditions and rich culture, so that we need to preserve them and support authentic products by purchasing them,’ Azimi said.

She further urged the people not to buy fake handicraft products.

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80 pavilions being prepared for seminary section of Int’l Quran Exhibition

Tehran, June 8, IRNA – Secretary of the Seminary Section of the 23rd Tehran International Holy Quran Exhibition said 80 pavilions are being prepared for the section. Hojj. Seyed Hassan Tayyeb Hosseini added that the section will be held with a new approach this year.

He noted that the Islamic Seminaries Management Center organizes the section every year at the request of the culture ministry. Hojj. Hosseini also said it is hoped that the quality of the section this year will be higher than the previous editions of the exhibition, Fars news agency reported.

He went on to say that 35 different cultural, religious, art and scholarly programs will be held at the seminary section and 9 Quranic works will also be unveiled. The Tehran International Holy Quran Exhibition is annually mounted by the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance during the holy month of Ramadan.

It showcases the latest developments and achievements in various Quranic fields. This edition of the exhibition, like the previous year, will be held at Tehran’s Holy Defense Garden Museum.

The month-long cultural event will welcome visitors from June 18 to July 17. The 22nd edition of the expo, which was held from June 23 to July 13, 2014, attracted millions of Iranians.

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Algerian ‘Open Doors Week’ underway in Tehran

Tehran, June 8, IRNA – Algeria’s ‘Open Doors Week’, an expo presenting the country’s art and culture, opened in a ceremony at the residence of Algerian Ambassador to Iran Abdelmoun’aam Ahriz on June 6. The exhibition displays oil paintings, artifacts such as potteries and traditional food, costumes and sweets. A number of Algerian films about the country’s revolution and documentaries will also be screened at the exposition.

The event coincides with Tehran’s International Handicrafts Exhibition and comes at a time when the Algerian people are preparing to celebrate the 53rd anniversary of the country’s independence from France (July 5, 1962).

Speaking to the English newspaper, Iran Daily, in an exclusive interview, Ahriz said the main goal of this exposition is to provide the Iranian people and art lovers with an opportunity to get a glimpse of Algeria’s rich and diverse traditional heritage and learn more about the country’s art.

‘Culture plays a very important role in bringing people together. Even a country’s cuisine, when viewed as a social act, is very important in fostering solidarity among two nations’ people and bringing them closer to each other.’

He added the event further aims to promote peace among people, remind them of the importance of culture in this respect and extend bridges of friendship and mutual understanding between the two nations.

‘Currently, the Middle east is grappling with conflicts and crises. By performing cultural activities, such as the one currently underway, and through holding dialogues, regional states can get closer to resolving their problems.’

He noted the reason Algeria has opted to put these items on view is that they represent the country’s tradition and the Algerian people’s mentality, adding some of the costumes date back to five centuries ago.

Expressing dissatisfaction over the weak cultural ties between Iran and Algeria, he said nevertheless, Tehran is doing better than Algiers in improving the relations.

On plans by the two sides to boost cultural ties, he said, ‘We plan to increase the exchange of university students, especially in the field of art and expand cinema cooperation through production of joint movies. I intend to discuss the issue with Iranian Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance Ali Jannati.’

He said Iran and Algeria have excellent political ties and regularly exchange high-ranking officials and delegations.

‘Unfortunately, the level of the two countries’ economic relations is very low. Of course, efforts are underway to improve the situation. Last May, I organized a visit of the Algerian Chamber of Commerce and Industry to Iran. The delegation held very fruitful meetings with officials of Iranian Chamber of Commerce, Industries, Mines and Agriculture and businessmen.’

‘In September, Tehran’s chamber of commerce is to dispatch a delegation to Algiers to pursue earlier discussions, follow up the implementation of the agreements and study Algerian investment opportunities in the fields of agriculture, industry and auto production.’

Speaking in his opening speech at the ceremony, Ahriz added excellent political relations between the two countries are characterized by mutual understanding and trust and dominated by an atmosphere of solidarity and mutual respect.

‘Both countries are looking forward to expanding these relations in various fields, particularly culture.’

He added Algeria has the firm conviction that cultural exchanges between countries play a major role in bringing people and cultures together and strengthening relations.

‘My country is working to consolidate cultural ties with Iran and has signed an agreement in this respect in 2004.’

Ahriz noted Iran held cultural weeks in Algeria in 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2013, adding Algerian cultural week in Tehran was held in 2012.

He hoped that the understanding and friendship will extend in the near future to the rest of the Islamic nations which are going through difficult times and facing serious challenges that threaten their unity, stability and national security.

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Sharjah to attract 10m tourists by 2021

Gulf Today – 07 June, 2015 – The Sharjah Tourism Advisory Committee, chaired by Khalid Jasim Al Midfa, Director General of Sharjah Commerce and Tourism Development Authority (SCTDA), held its third meeting to discuss the latest developments in the tourism sector in the emirate.

The meeting focused on Sharjah Tourism Vision 2021 aim to attract 10 million tourists by 2021, and identified the main pillars that have been activated to achieve this goal. The meeting also highlighted the success achieved by SCTDA during the recent participations in international tourism fairs and regional and global promotional tours.

The high-profile meeting was attended by Saif Mohamed Al Midfa, Director General, Expo Centre Sharjah; Ahmed Al Qaseer, Chief Operating Officer, Sharjah Investment and Development Authority (Shurooq); Manal Attayah, Director General, Sharjah Museums Department; Naser Nasief, Chairman of the Sharjah Chamber of Commerce and Industry Committee for Tourism Sector-Hotels; Engineer Lamia Obaid Al Shamsi, Director, IT, Sharjah International Airport Authority; Omar Mattar, Sales Manager, Air Arabia; Maha Jawaad, Administrative Coordinator in the Environment and Protected Areas Authority (EPAA), Abdul Wahid Al Zarouni, Chairman of the Travel, Haj & Omra Business Group in the Sharjah Chamber of Commerce & Industry; Mohamed Meer Abdulrahman, Manager, Department of Seaports and Customs; and Abdul Aziz Al Jarwan, Director, Commission for Roads and Transportation in Sharjah Roads and Transport Authority.

The meeting began with the display of a new promotional film for the Emirate of Sharjah that highlights the main cultural and heritage attractions and other tourist destinations in the emirate. The film showcases Sharjah’s tourism services in an innovative way with the accompaniment of music to take the viewers on a journey through the most prominent tourism attractions of the emirate in just six minutes.

Reviewing the main features of the Sharjah Tourism Vision 2021, launched recently by SCTDA, Khalid Jasim Al Midfa called for concerted efforts of all players in the tourism sector, pointing out that cooperation between all parties is critical to achieving the Vision.

Al Midfa said the Vision 2021 serves as a platform to unite all the efforts and initiatives as well as future programmes of Sharjah’s tourism sector under one umbrella.

Al Midfa said the Authority is targeting new markets and looking to expand its share of the global travel and tourism market. China, India and the GCC are the most important markets for SCTDA in achieving the objectives of Vision 2021.

Al Midfa said the Authority is working on activating the key pillars of the Vision in collaboration with partners from the private and government sectors, and has launched initiatives and services to support the Vision.

He also highlighted some of the initiatives and programmes launched recently, including the ‘Marhabtain’ initiative, a comprehensive training programme that aims to develop capabilities in the tourism sector and enhance the skill levels of national cadres in this sector.

Al Midfa said the ‘Marhabtain’ initiative has already seen the launch of two programmes, the first aimed at training taxi drivers in Sharjah, in collaboration with the Sharjah Roads and Transport Authority.

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Saudi Govt steps up effort to get Hofuf onto World Heritage list

Arab News – 08 June, 2015 – Preparations are in full swing for the completion of the Hofuf file to be presented to UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee, said Ali Al-Ghabban, vice president of the Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities (SCTA).

He said that the SCTA, the Al-Ahsa mayoralty and the Irrigation and Drainage Authority in Al-Ahsa are currently working on the collection of information and data required to register Hofuf in the list of World Heritage Sites, before February to be discussed at the World Heritage Committee during its next session.

Adel Al-Mulhim, Al-Ahsa mayor, said: “A new expansion project is under way in the western side of Al-Ahsa Qaisariya Souk, which will be linked to the artisans’ market for showcasing historical handicrafts, besides establishing popular cafes and shops.”

“This new market was designed in a way linked to the history and architecture in Al-Ahsa, which dates back to several historical eras,” he said.

“The Al-Ahsa municipality pays great attention to maintaining the heritage by participating in tourist and heritage gatherings and holding lectures, seminars and exhibitions related to the preservation of heritage.

This is in addition to drawing up future plans to maintain its architectural heritage,” said Al-Mulhim.

He said that the Al-Ahsa historical projects were implemented without any additions or changes, such as the Al-Qaisariya Souk which is in the old architectural style, bringing several awards.

Al-Mulhim pointed out that several heritage projects are 50 percent completed in Al-Ahsa, including the allocation of 40 sites reflecting briefly the region’s heritage at King Abdullah Environmental Park, which includes models of heritage sites such as Al-Madrasah Al-Emiriah ‘Princely School’, Al-Qaisariya, and Bait Al-Baye’a (House of pledge).

He said all departments are ready to support investment projects related to heritage, as heritage and history are the two attractive factors for tourists in various countries.

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Oman exhibition begins in Korea

Oman Daily Observer – 03 June, 2015 – An exhibition on “Islam Message from Oman” began in the Korean city of Busan on Tuesday. The two-week exhibition, which is being held in Busan Citizens Park, was opened by Head of International Affairs in Busan Municipality in the presence of Mohammed bin Salim al Harthy, the Sultanate’s Ambassador to Korea.

During the opening ceremony, the Sultanate’s ambassador delivered a speech during which he stressed the Sultanate’s interest in disseminating the culture of security and peace among various world nations.

On his turn, Head of the Arabic Language Department at Busan University gave a speech in which he stressed the importance of the exhibition in familiarising the Korean people with the Sultanate’s efforts in disseminating culture of tolerance, understanding and coexistence.

Meanwhile, the Sultanate’s delegation visited Busan University of Foreign Studies, during which they met with President of the university. The meeting touched on the joint relations between the two sides and highlighted the Sultanate’s role in disseminating tolerance and coexistence in various world’s countries. The Sultanate’s delegation distributed a number of Omani books in the library of the university as a reference for the students and researchers.

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Efforts to raise tourism contribution to Oman economy

Oman Daily Observer – 04 June, 2015 – Oman is planning to enhance tourism market through cooperation with companies and travel agents in the country, while the delegations will get an opportunity to visit more than one city.

Oman is making strenuous efforts to highlight the importance of tourism sector and raise its contribution to the country’s gross domestic product (GDP), and make it one of the leading economic sectors as part of diversification policy. This policy aims to develop non-oil sectors in tandem with oil and gas sector.

From this standpoint, plans related to tourism aim at attracting more visitors to the Sultanate in the coming years.

In this regard, the officials of the Ministry of Tourism said that the ministry will establish tourism representative offices abroad after the preparation of tourism strategy. Later it will turn to tourism exporting markets in China and the United States besides the current markets.

They also stressed that tourism offices abroad play a vital role, and has already begun showing results.

The number of tourists visiting the Sultanate last year stood at around 2 million, and the winter season saw the occupancy rate at a record 100 per cent during December 2014 and January 2015.

Tourists to Oman come from various countries around the world, and the ministry hopes to promote the Sultanate at all forums in future, and that the number of visitors is likely to exceed earlier figures as per the new plans.

Regarding hotel room capacity, 2015 will see additional 2,000 new hotel rooms in the sector. Oman invites investors from the private sector to invest in this field, as it is a promising sector.

There are challenges being faced by the tourism sector in the Middle East. However, when tourists come to Oman they feel secured due to prevalence of stability. Because of this, many tourists decide to return to the Sultanate.

The Sultanate is planning to enhance the tourism market through cooperation with companies and travel agents in the country, while the ministry will give delegations opportunity to visit more than one city.

During a recent visit of French tourist delegation to the Sultanate, the under-secretary of the Ministry of Tourism, mentioned that the delegation had a very good impression of the Sultanate.

She also commended the role of the national carrier Oman Air and the array of its destinations and the increase in the number of its fights, saying that this is an important factor in the development of tourism and gave more hope in promoting tourism and introducing the Sultanate to many people.

The ministry is currently activating initiatives to attract more representatives of tour companies and travel agents to the Sultanate.

Oman will also participate in all events which bring together travel and tourism sectors in Europe and beyond with the aim of promoting conference tourism in the Sultanate and is planning to encourage family and golf tourism. With this plan in mind, the Sultanate has also invested in the field of sports.

However, most companies represented in the French delegation are visiting the Sultanate for the first time. They know that the Sultanate is located in the Middle East, often information gives them a negative idea about the area, but their presence here in Oman gave them the right idea about security, law and order, environment and diversity.

Their visit gave them a correct perception on many issues. They also came out with positive impression about the country after they visited some cities.

The ministry has already prepared a study for opening up new markets, especially in various countries including China and the United States. The ministry will implement the study after completing the strategy, and after being approved by the authorities, and will take a decision on opening more Omani tourism offices abroad.

The tourism plans of the ministry aim to achieve wider goals in the coming years with the aim of attracting more and more tourists groups from around the world. They also aim to attract national and foreign investments.

Likewise, it aimed at rallying decision-makers and officials in the most important and prominent travel and tourism companies in the world to be closely acquainted with the most important tourism product.

It also aims at acquainting them with the elements of quality, features and uniqueness of that product and allows them to get a chance to experience the historic tourism and hospitality and the authentic tourism and culture.

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Robust Saudi hotel industry pulls international investors

Saudi Gazette – 04 June, 2015 – Saudi hospitality sector is attracting more investments and investors amid robust growth, and many of the international companies are targeting the Kingdom as its sector is considered as one of the biggest in the Middle East.

In the recently held The Hotel Show Saudi Arabia 2015 in Jeddah, Christine Davidson, Event Director of the Show, said: “We are pleased with the quality of visitors to this year’s event and the feedback we have received from them. The introduction of the Vision Conference has proved very popular and as the appetite for content and insight has clearly been demonstrated this year, we will certainly bring it back in a much bigger way for 2016. There are a number of other exciting initiatives planned for 2016 which will continue to increase visitor and exhibitor engagement and improve return on financial and time investment made by all concerned – providing hospitality professionals even more reasons to participate. We will announce these in the following weeks.”

John Suzara, Event Manager, dmg events, the organizing company, told the Saudi Gazette “our main purpose is the entire hospitality sector in the kingdom starting from technology to interior design to outdoor, but in this edition we have added import exhibition conference.”

He said when it comes to hospitality market in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia is regarded as the biggest. “I think 50 percent of our participants this year are from technology. Modern technology is now booming in Saudi Arabia as a lot of hotels now presents the latest in technology to their customers,” he noted.

Many of the leading international technology companies that participated in the Show are catering also to other international markets.

Jon Johnston, Senior Vice President of Electric Mirror, told the Saudi Gazette: “Electric Mirror is a manufacturer of lighted mirrors and mirror TV technology. We sell to the hotels all over the world, we featured in hotels in Riyadh, Jeddah an also in Makkah. We specialized in high luxury products.”

He added that “We have an office in Dubai and have been in the Middle East for eight years.”

The luxury Electric Mirror head office is in Seattle, Washington D.C. and has also other offices in Dubai, London and Hong Kong, supplying the luxury hotels, Four Seasons for one, all over the world.

Khaled AbdulKader, Country Manager, Hoistlocatel, a hospitality innovation company, said “we are manufacturing and doing interactive TV solutions, hotel innovation system and solutions. Locatel is a French company started in 1949 and now is merged with Hoist IT Swedish company and it became HoistLoctel. Hoist does other works from IT and property management solutions,” Khaled added.

Eric Roger, Regional Head EMEA at FCS, said “the exhibition is very successful and the quality of the attendance is very high as always. It’s important to come to this market and show up our desire to work in this market.”

FCS is a leading global provider of comprehensive hospitality guest services applications and solution design services for individual hotels, international chain hotels and integrated resorts. With three decades of experience, it has provided extensive solutions to more than 5,000 hotels with over 8,000 installations in 32 countries. Hee Jin Moon, B2B & IT Director, LG Electronics Saudi Arabia LLC, said it’s their third time to participate in the Show, and showcased its hotel TV technology.

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