Monday 28 December 2015

AUSTRALIA: Cruise Ship Arrival Good For Tourism But Tourists Complain Shops Closed In CBD

A luxury cruise ship and its 600 passengers and crew has docked in Darwin for the day, but the main retail strip in Darwin's CBD is mostly closed.

The Azamara Quest is on its maiden voyage and Acting Tourism Minister Willem Westra van Holthe said the visit was proof Darwin was being increasingly recognised by international cruise liners as a "must-visit destination".

Mr Westra van Holthe said cruise liner visits provided a vital boost for tourism in the NT, injecting $54 million into the local economy last financial year.

He cited September figures from the Australian Cruise Association and said the average daily spend per passenger in Darwin was up to $288.

But several Azamara Quest passengers said they did not know how they would fill the day before they departed at 10:00pm.

"I was a little surprised when we got off and everything seemed to be shut, it's pretty dead and that's a shame because this city has a lot to offer," Sydneysider Geoff Field said.

I saved my Aussie dollars, I got the exchange rate sorted out and researched what things were going to cost but I haven't really been able to spend my money because an awful lot of shops are closed.

"There's a lot of people onboard the cruise ship that would spend money but there's not many places open so the money's in the wallet and Darwin's not getting it, which is a pity.

"With a big cruise ship coming in you would think that there would have been a few places open for the economy, there would have been a lot of people going to restaurants and buying clothes and things but nothing's open and it's a letdown."

Fellow passenger Richard Dorn said that back in his hometown in northern California, a lot more shops would have been open to welcome cruise ship tourists.

"We live in a small town and when cruise ships come in everybody's open, it's a big event because there's so much money to be made," he said.

"I think the stores should have been open, we're just going to go back to the ship."

Other passengers were disappointed they had nowhere to spend their Australian dollars.

"I didn't realise it was going to be quite as quiet as this, an awful lot of shops are closed," Heather Bealer, from England, said.

"I saved my Aussie dollars, I got the exchange rate sorted out and researched what things were going to cost, but I haven't really been able to spend my money because an awful lot of shops are closed.

"I came half way around the world to see Darwin and they closed it. I'll remember my time here because I had nothing to do."
Staff wages 'too expensive' on public holidays

The owner of one shop located in the city's mall said that staffing costs can influence the choice of some mall operators to stay shut.

"I think because the labour is very expensive they prefer to close the shop, I think," Kevin Zhang said.

"But I do think it's a good idea for shops to open on cruise ship days, because it is good for the Northern Territory economy."

Another shop owner said shops were not given enough notice of when cruise ships were scheduled to arrive in Darwin.

"Unfortunately this ship has come on a holiday, but even on a holiday the Government or council should let shops know a cruise ship is coming, so we can open and it doesn't look like a dead city," souvenir shop operator Adolfo Tchia said.

"The pays are expensive on public holidays, but if we were given notice we would open and if you have a business you should cover the pays because it's your business," Mr Tchia said.

Mr Westra van Holthe said the cruise industry was extremely important to the NT tourism industry, and provided an influx of tourists into the region during the off-peak and shoulder seasons.

"We are delighted Darwin will be the first taste of Australia for many of the passengers and we know they will have a memorable experience here in the Northern Territory," he said.

UAE: Woman Agreed To Smuggle Drugs, Promised Good Job In Dubai

The 39-year-old woman and her African accomplice were arrested red-handed by the Dubai Police.

A Pakistani woman was so desperate to live and work in Dubai that she agreed to smuggle heroin to the UAE after a drug trafficker promised her a good job here. The 39-year-old woman and her African accomplice were arrested red-handed by the Dubai Police recently.

The duo used a unique method to traffic heroin and other drugs: They hid it in women's accessories made of beads, the police have said.

The anti-narcotics department of the Dubai Police received information that a Nigerian, A.H., possessed a large quantity of drugs and was planning to sell it in the emirate. The police learnt that the 33-year-old suspect would be in Al Nakheel area near a hotel.

A police team placed him under surveillance and learnt that the female suspect would hand over drugs to him on November 2. The police set a trap near a park and spotted A.H. talking on the phone. He went and sat inside a bus stop. Soon after, the Pakistani woman was spotted with a "large bag". The two suspects went behind some trees, where the woman handed over the bag to the man.

When he opened the bag, the police swooped in. The suspects tried to flee, but the police arrested them, Colonel Eid bin Thani Hareb, acting Director of the General Department of Anti- Narcotics, said. Initially, the woman denied any involvement in the smuggling bid, claiming she had come to the country in search of a job.

On opening the bag, the police found smaller plastic bags that contained accessories stuffed with heroin. Each bag contained around 7kg of bangles, rings and other accessories. During the public prosecution interrogation, the woman reportedly confessed that she had smuggled drugs to the country on different occasions in the past.

She told investigators that a drug trafficker in her home country gave her the drugs and also paid for her air ticket and accommodation.

"I agreed to transport drugs because he promised to get me a job in Dubai. I was very keen to come and work here," an investigator quoted the suspect as saying.

The police raided the Nigerian suspect's flat and discovered that he arrived in the country on a visit visa. He was staying on even though the visa had expired.

Major-General Khalil Ibrahim Al Mansouri, Assistant Commander-in-Chief of the Dubai Police for Criminal Investigation, hailed the efforts of the team in arresting the suspects.

The police have recorded 104 heroin smuggling cases since the beginning of the year till November 30. Over 99kg heroin was seized.

INDIA: Flying Could Get Dearer As India Wants Auctioning Of Air Tickets

India plans a major shift in its aviation policy by putting restrictions on landing rights and seats to foreign airlines.

Air travel might be expensive for millions of non-resident Indians (NRIs) from next year as the Government of India plans a major shift in its aviation policy by putting restrictions on landing rights and seats to foreign airlines.

According to media reports, New Delhi plans to change the way it allocates capacity to foreign airlines from a state-negotiated method to an auction process to protect domestic carriers from overseas competition. Bilateral rights allow airlines of two countries to operate a fixed number of seats to a limited number of destinations in each other's territory.

"Foreign carriers that have already exhausted their seat capacity will need to buy additional capacity through an auction," Money earned by auctioning the seats will go into subsidising rural flights in India, the official was quoted as saying.

The country with a population of more than a billion people has Air Service Agreements (ASA) with 109 countries covering aspects relating to the number of flights, seats, landing points and code-share. The proposed seat auction policy will be enforced only on routes that are within a radius of 5,000km from India, according to media reports.

The move surprised aviation specialists and International Air Transport Association (Iata) as this model doesn't exist anywhere in the world. The apex body of aviation wants the Indian government to reconsider its proposal regarding auctioning of air traffic rights to foreign airlines.

"Such a policy could lead to distortions between carriers and lead to higher fares," Iata said in its submission. Auctioning of traffic rights may not be compatible with International Civil Aviation Organisation (Icao) policies, which urge countries to adhere to principles of fair and equal opportunity and non-discrimination, it added.

Foreign carriers not only offer competitive fares to passengers but also contribute a lot to the country's GDP, foreign exchange reserves and job creation. Emirates airline has exhausted its 6,000 seats per week through 185 flights to and from India per week. Emirates airline contributes nearly $849 million to India's GDP, according to its joint study with India's National Council of Applied Economic Research.

"Carriers that acquired additional frequencies through an auction process would, therefore, be at a disadvantage relative to incumbents and foreign carriers. Ultimately, the cost of this distortion would be borne by consumers through a higher cost of flying. Iata is concerned that the proposal would ultimately undermine the Indian government's policy objectives of expanding connectivity," Iata said.

In October this year, Indian government proposed an open skies policy with countries in South Asian neighbours and countries beyond 5,000km. The aviation ministry also proposed auction of additional traffic rights beyond the existing rights to airlines from countries within 5,000km.

Bidding will be introduced if domestic airlines have not fully utilised their quota, media reports said, adding that the additional rights granted through bidding will be for a three-year period and proceeds would go to regional connectivity fund.

A senior aviation analyst said it seems that the Indian government is trying every way to prop up poor players with policies that aren't existed anywhere else in the world.

"Auctioning off seats will only be beneficial to bigger airlines in India and may prejudice new or smaller airlines that don't possess the financial clout to compete," Saj Ahmad, chief analyst at Strategic Aero Research, said.

Currently, the number of seats an overseas airline can fly to India is governed by bilateral agreements between two countries.

Responding to a question Saj Ahmad believes that there is no threat to UAE airlines on India's move to sell seats by auction.

In a similar move, the Indian government signalled another major shift in granting traffic rights to foreign carriers. The government is looking at restricting the number of landing points for overseas airlines irrespective of their seat entitlements, according to media reports.

"It was looking at restricting the ports of call given to foreign airlines under bilateral rights, while remaining flexible on seat entitlements," a senior Civil Aviation Ministry official said.

Saj Ahmad said it seems that while India wants to portray a modern aviation policy, the country is unable to let Indian airlines to better compete with international rivals.

"So their solution to this perceived ill-balance is to resort to what is essentially protectionism. Rather than force Indian airlines to be more aggressive in their growth, India's policy makers think that by restricting non-Indian airlines in the country is the answer," he said.

UAE: Dubai Safari Park Open In 2016

The new zoo will be home to almost 1,000 animals from around the world, and out of those,there will be more than 350 species of rare and endangered animals.

Covering an area of 119 hectares and at a cost of Dh150 million, Dubai Safari Park incorporates international best practices.

It’s full steam ahead for Dubai’s new zoo with Safari Park expected to open by mid-2016, confirmed a senior official on Sunday.

Covering a total area of 119 hectares at a cost of Dh150 million, the zoo is expected to open its doors to the public within the third quarter of next year.

“The new zoo will be home to almost 1,000 animals from around the world, and out of those, there will be more than 350 species of rare and endangered animals,” said Eng Hussain Nasser Lootah, director general of Dubai Municipality.

The plans for opening a new zoo to replace the current 1.5 hectare zoo at Jumeirah Road has been in the pipeline for nearly a decade, and since construction on the project started taking shape from 2012, the animals can finally look forward to relocating to their new home at Al Warqa opposite Dragon Mart.

Hanan Hassan Al Aradi, an official at Dubai Municipality working on the project, that the Safari Park’s design and layout incorporate the best practices from world-renowned safaris and zoos. “A team of specialists visited a number of the world’s best and important zoos, such as those in Indonesia, Singapore, Austria, Germany and the San Diego Zoo. It is important to note that we did not only use their best practices but also adapted them to suit the needs of Dubai,” she said.

Safari Park has been designed to be environmentally-friendly and will use solar energy, “and a hybrid operational system will be used to run the irrigation network, which will also include water recycling, waste disposal and other recycling facilities,” said Lootah.

The solar-powered park has been designed to absorb sunlight, which will then be converted into conventional electricity during night time.

“The Village Safari area is almost complete, which will house the animals. The recreational areas providing umbrellas for visitors, and the cages for animals, have already been set up. We are now putting the finishing touches to the main building, as well as to the landscaping that will feature rocks, water and greenery,” said Lootah.

The park will feature 100 different kinds of plants, each related to the area’s theme, with over 2,500 trees.

He explained that the cages have been customised to suit the local climate, and assured that the animals will be comfortable and taken care of, as each cage will be temperature-controlled. The cages have been designed to use simple, water-cooled greenhouse technology.

On the advice of a zoologist and international specialists, Dubai Municipality was able to choose the types of animals to be housed at Dubai Safari Park.

“Various types of transport will be available, which will run using solar energy, and there will be a rubber-wheeled tram and monorail capsules for visitors to see the views down below,” said Lootah.

The new zoo comprises of several themed areas, including Arabian, Asian and African villages. Some of the other attractions that visitors can look forward across a designated site of 60 hectares are an amateur golf course, a botanical garden and a butterfly garden, in addition to restaurants and a food court. There will initially be 1,600 parking spaces over two designated areas, while further down the line, the municipality intends to expand it to 3,600 parking spaces over 9.4 hectares.

Key Features Of Dubai Safari Park

Set date to open by mid-2016.

The new zoo costs Dh150 million.

Covers an area of 119 hectares at Al Warqa area, along Al Aweer Road.

Will be home to 1,000 animals – 350 species, including endangered animals.

Initially, there will be 1,600 parking spaces.

EGYPT: Egypt Tourist Authority Attracts Arab Travellers

The Egypt Tourism Authority, ETA, has unveiled a new campaign entitled “This is Egypt” (#thisisegypt), to launch a major regional campaign to drive growth in the tourism sector. In a change from previous ETA campaigns, #thisisegypt will be digitally-led, focusing on peer-to-peer advocacy and underpinned by digital media spend, whilst traditional advertising methods will form a secondary promotional level.

Targeting the Arab traveller from the Middle East region, the campaign will harness the power of digital media in a region where internet penetration is 5.8 per cent higher, at 48.1 per cent, than the world average and social media sites, such as Facebook, play a significant role in 88 per cent of internet users’ daily lives.

“The #thisisegypt campaign is a powerful movement which we know will resonate with the wider region as it was created initially by the Egyptian people themselves,” said Egypt’s Minister of Tourism, Hisham Zaazou. “We are at a pivotal point in terms of tourism development in the country and the new campaign and branding demonstrates our commitment in attracting travellers from our sister Arab countries to discover our beautiful country.

The campaign focuses on personalising the Egyptian experience by encouraging the wider Arab audience to consider the variety of holiday which can be enjoyed in Egypt from a vibrant city break in Alexandria or Cairo to luxury beach getaway in Hurghada or Sharm Al Shaikh. The campaign will highlight past-times which particularly resonate with an Arabic audience from shopping and dining to enjoying luxury accommodation and exciting nightlife.

The campaign will highlight Egypt’s touristic destinations into four main geographic attractions: the Nile Valley, the Red Sea Riviera, the White Mediterranean and the Western Desert. The four destinations will be promoted across different audiences and seasons based on each of the targeted markets’ unique attraction points.

The hashtag, #thisisegypt, originally began as a grass-roots movement developed by Egyptians, but now will be adopted and refined by the ETA to boost tourism by portraying an experiential and authentic image of the country to the world.
The three-year campaign will focus on attracting and engaging diverse audiences, with a focus on millennials who are driven by personal experience, passion and adventure.

Recent studies have shown that millennials take a higher number of trips annually compared to other age groups, driven by the aforementioned factors. Millennials also have the highest level of influence in their respective communities, which indirectly affects the travel decisions of their peers — upon which this campaign heavily relies.

UAE: Ajman Tourism Up 47%

Total tourism revenue for the months of July, August and September has touched Dh80.05 million from last year's Dh54.6 million.

Ajman registered a 47 per cent year-on-year increase in tourism revenue for the third quarter of 2015, according to the Ajman Tourism Development Department (ATDD).

According to the ATDD, total tourism revenue for the months of July, August and September has touched Dh80.05 million from last year's Dh54.6 million. This can be attributed to the increase in occupancy rate, average room rate and additional inventory of rooms in Ajman.

There was a slight decrease in the number of visitors to Ajman but the number of guest nights grew by 49 per cent, from 201,596 in 2014 to 300,948 in 2015. Local residents and visitors from GCC and other Arab countries still make up the bulk of the guests to the emirate, followed by Asians and Africans, Europeans, Russians and Americans.

However, Asians and Africans have the highest room nights during their stay followed by local, GCC and other Arab guests.

Faisal Al Nuaimi, general manager of ATDD, said: "The figures are extremely encouraging knowing that the third quarter of the year is the lean period for the hotel industry because of the summer season and Ramadan.

We anticipate continued growth in our source markets with new marketing strategies and brand identity that we will unveil soon. This will position the emirate of Ajman as a leading destination for business and leisure."

The department also shared its 2016 marketing plan with representatives of hotels, tour operators and travel agencies at a recent meeting.

The plan highlighted the emirate's new brand positioning, target markets and different programmes that will be carried out across the emirate starting next year to reach the target of five million visitors annually by 2021.

Other activities such as upcoming sporting events at the recently opened Al Zorah Golf Course were also discussed as an opportunity to promote Ajman as a golfing destination.

Total tourism revenue in Ajman in the third quarter of this year reached Dh80.05 million, marking a 47 per cent jump from the Dh54.6 million recorded in the same period last year, according to the Ajman Tourism Development Department (ATDD).

The increase in revenues is supported by a rise in occupancy rates, average room rates, and additional inventory of rooms and units in Ajman.

While there was a decrease in the number of visitors to the emirate, the number of guest nights grew by 49 per cent. Local residents and other visitors from the GCC and Arab countries still make up the bulk of the guests to Ajman, followed by Asians, Africans, Europeans, Russians, and Americans.

“The figures are extremely encouraging knowing that the third quarter of the year is the lean period for the hotel industry because of the summer season and Ramadan. We anticipate continued growth in our source markets with the new marketing strategies and brand identity that we will unveil soon,” said Faisal Al Nuaimi, General Manager of Ajman Tourism Development Department.

He was speaking at the Department’s quarterly meeting with its stakeholders, during which ATDD discussed the status of the 2016 marketing plan to representatives of hotels, tour operators, and travel agencies.

The plan highlighted the new brand positioning statement of the emirate, target markets, and different programmes that will be carried out across the emirate starting next year to reach the target of five million visitors annually by 2021.

NEPAL: Two-day Weekend Would Be Effective In Promoting Domestic Tourism

Nepal Tourism Board, which was established in 1998 with the objective of promoting Nepal’s tourism, had remained rudderless since October 2011, when tenure of then CEO, Prachanda Man Shrestha, expired. Although the gap was filled by appointing an acting CEO, he later had to step down after facing corruption charges. Since then Nepal’s tourism sector has braced earthquakes of April and May and is currently
reeling under supply disruptions created by protests in Tarai and blockade on Nepal-India border points. Amidst this situation, the government has appointed Deepak Raj Joshi as CEO of NTB. Rupak D Sharma of The Himalayan Times caught up with Joshi to discuss his plans and strategies for promotion of the tourism sector.

You have just been appointed as the CEO of Nepal Tourism Board (NTB). What strategies are you planning to adopt to promote Nepal’s tourism?

We were receiving around 800,000 foreign tourists in 2012, 2013 and 2014. But the number of tourist arrivals has dropped drastically since the earthquakes of April and May. This has affected tourism businesses, those working in the sector and the image of the country as a tourist destination. Then promulgation of the new constitution generated hopes for a better future. Many were convinced that the country would now be able to focus on development agendas and tourism sector would get priority. Instead, protests intensified in the Tarai which has now created supply disruption. This has further hit the tourism sector. So, confidence among stakeholders of the tourism sector is very low at the moment. The biggest challenge now is to restore this confidence. For this, I have devised some strategies and plans.

Could you please share what those strategies and plans are?

Until a few months ago, we were talking about revival of the tourism sector. But with the change in the situation many have started raising questions on the survival of this business. So, my priority in 2016 would be to keep the tourism sector afloat by attracting at least 800,000 foreign tourists. Also, whenever crisis has struck Nepal, domestic tourists have helped us keep the sector afloat. So, I’m planning to devise some strategies to promote domestic tourism as well. I know there has been some negative publicity in the Indian media about Nepal because of the ongoing crisis. But I don’t think the crisis will prolong. So, we’ll soon be launching a campaign to restore the flow of Indian tourists. Lately, Chinese tourists have also started showing lots of interest in Nepal. We will be focusing on that market and others in Asia, such as Japan, South Korea and countries in Southeast Asia.

You are not new to NTB and have served it for over a decade. Where do you think is the country lagging in terms of promoting tourism?

Tourism is a sector where innovation and creativity play key roles. I think we are lagging behind in this aspect. At the same time, we also have limited resources. Also, NTB couldn’t hire a full-time CEO for quite a long time (after expiry of tenure of Prachanda Man Shrestha in 2011). This also created hurdles. However, if we can work a little more creatively, we can definitely promote Nepal’s tourism in a better way. For instance, social media has lately emerged as an important marketing tool. This tool allows one to promote tourism destinations at a low cost. An even more attractive feature of this tool is that it allows one to measure the impact of our campaigns. So, I’m planning to make maximum use of this tool. I also want to establish partnerships with different bodies and sectors, such as Non-Resident Nepali (NRN) Association, to jointly promote tourism abroad. In this regard, I’ve already started talking to NRNs located in key source countries. We will also rope in diplomatic missions and Nepal’s well-wishers while organising promotional campaigns.

Nepal’s overseas tourism promotion activities are generally carried out in a very small scale, which go unnoticed most of the time. Is this one of the reasons why country has been failing to attract greater number of foreign tourists?

Tourism is a business and the way we present ourselves makes a lot of difference. So, like you said we have to present ourselves in a unique manner if we want to draw attention of a greater mass. We will definitely focus on this as well.

Priorities of tourists differ from one country to another. For instance, priority of Chinese tourists may be different from those of Europe or North America. But it appears Nepal has not been able to offer a diverse range of tourism products to suit the needs of different kinds of tourists, isn’t it?

Market intelligence definitely helps one to make smart decisions. This provides information on emerging trends in the travel trade sector. Millennials — those born in 1980s or 1990s — for instance, are digitally connected people and are more independent kind of travellers. Today, 31 per cent of Chinese population comprises millennials. If we can attract this group now, they will continue to consume our services for a long time. So, we may have to tailor different promotional campaigns for this group and focus on digital marketing. Also, we have to develop tourist-friendly apps that not only provide directions but highlight our products. We will focus on these areas. In addition, we have to raise the quality of food products and other services, for which trainings are necessary. We will focus on this area as well.

Nepal also has not been able to diversify tourist destinations. For years, the country has only been selling Everest region and Annapurna trekking circuit. What is your take on this issue?

What you said is true. We have been selling the same products for decades. So, we need to be more innovative. There are many areas in the eastern and western parts of the country that could attract foreign tourists. These places also have a big depository of interesting stories that can appeal to foreign visitors. But we haven’t been able to tap these potentials. To deal with this issue, we have to create attractive packages and repackage the existing ones. Also, we have to create market linkages. For instance, foreign tourists, who wish to visit Bardiya or Suklaphanta national parks in the country’s western part, need not land in Kathmandu. These destinations are located around 350 kilometres away from New Delhi — which has now become a regional aviation hub due to its new airport. So, tourists, including those of New Delhi, can arrive at these locations straight from the Indian capital after a six-hour drive. We can promote destinations in the eastern part of the country in a similar manner. This way we can promote new destinations and multiply the number of foreign tourists visiting Nepal. Another problem here is that we have rarely taken a planned approach to attract tourists. In most of the cases, we have only accommodated tourists who reached the destinations. That’s how our tourism sector is growing. But lately the government has realised tourism’s potential in maximising income. So, I am hopeful of better days for the sector.

But against the backdrop, where the capacity of the only international airport cannot be expanded and building new international airports is expected to take some more years, how are you planning to expand the tourism sector?

The biggest bottleneck in attracting tourists is lack of international airports. This has limited the flow of foreign tourists to Nepal. But lately we have started promoting Nepal as a destination which can be visited any time of the year. So, we will now have to attract tourists during off-seasons by extending discounts. But for rapid growth of the tourism sector we have to build new airports as the only international airport has limited capacity.

And how do you intend to promote domestic tourism?

Introduction of two-day weekend system would be very effective in promoting domestic tourism. This would also reduce government’s energy and fuel bills. I am planning to table this proposal soon. So, let’s hope for a positive result. Also, we’ll have to launch campaigns to promote domestic tourism. There are specific periods when flow of domestic tourists grows. For instance, domestic tourism grows during New Year, Dashain–Tihar festival and school vacations. So, our strategies will focus on increasing flow of domestic tourists during these periods.

Lastly, would you like to add anything?

Well, tourism is a business so it is not possible to promote tourism in every part of the country. It grows in areas that have potential and where modest return is guaranteed. Currently, we are receiving only around 800,000 foreign tourists per year. So, it is impossible to take these tourists to every corner of the country. Various stakeholders need to understand this. However, benefits derived from incoming tourists can help the country to pursue its development endeavours.

PHILIPPINES: Department Of Tourism Marked 2015 5-M Tourist Arrival Milestone

The Philippines finally crossed the five million mark in tourist arrivals last Dec. 21, bringing the country into what tourism officials call “the big league.”

That milestone joins the many firsts that the Department of Tourism (DOT) marked in 2015 as the country hosted several major international events as part of “Visit the Philippines Year” (VPY) 2015.

The VPY campaign comes from DOT’s “It’s More Fun in the Philippines” slogan which aims to bring in high-profile personalities, meetings, and exhibition events in the country to boost the local tourism industry.

“It has been very effective in terms of creating a higher level of awareness of the Philippines as a competitive destination in this part of the world,” Tourism Undersecretary Benito Bengzon Jr. said in an interview.

With the success of the VPY, the country was finally able to break the five-millionth mark for tourist arrivals last Dec. 21, DOT said.

“The fact that we have crossed the five-millionth mark means that we are already in the big league so to speak. So this will allow us now to really compete more strongly against the other destinations in the region,” Bengzon said.

The VPY had grabbed world attention after the country successfully hosted the historic visit of Pope Francis in Metro Manila from Jan. 15-19.

That was followed by the Shell-Eco Marathon 2015, held from Feb. 25 to March 1, which brought in some 40,000 tourists to the National Capital Region.

NCR also hosted the Madrid Fusion Manila (MFM), which was held in Pasay City from April 24-26. This was the first time the Spanish culinary event was held in Southeast Asia bringing at least 1,000 participants, including internationally renowned chefs.

Other international events held in the country were the Siargao International Surfing competition, Dive Resort Travel (DRT) Philippine Show and the ministerial meetings of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) member countries.

The biggest event of VPY was the APEC Leaders Summit, which was attended by 21 heads of states and served as the culminating event of the APEC ministerial meetings. Preparations for the momentous event, which was held Nov. 18-19 in Pasay City, started in 2012 and cost the government some R10 billion to organize.

Bengzon noted that the event was worth its cost since it showed to the international community that our country could now host such important meetings.

Aside from co-organizing events in 2015, DOT continued to focus on its mandate to coordinate with the other government agencies to improve access to local tourist destination sites.

In 2015, DOT requested the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) for the construction of some 350 road projects connecting airports, seaports, and tourist destinations under the Tourism Road Infrastructure Program (TRIP). Sixteen of those projects were already being built by Sept. 3.

Meanwhile, DOT also partnered with the Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB) for the signing of air agreements with Singapore, Taiwan, Oman, Australia, Mexico, Qatar, Turkey, Russia, and Korea to raise the number of their flights bound to the Philippines from those countries.

Bengzon said those agreements will increase tourist arrivals since 99 percent of the country’s foreign visitors arrive by plane.

With the rising number of cruise liners making ports of call in the Philippines, DOT announced recently plans to upgrade the seaports in Manila, Puerto Princesa, Subic and Boracay. Bengzon said this is in anticipation of the growth of the country’s cruise tourism by 2018.

At least 44 cruise liners visited the country in the first nine months of 2015.

Despite the favorable outputs, DOT also had its share of some “bumps” on the road. Among them were the kidnapping of three foreigners in a resort in Samal Island and the detention of an American passenger who fell prey to the “tanim-bala” (bullet-planting) scheme at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA).

While both issues raised some concerns abroad, Bengzon stressed that the two events did not make a dent in the country’s tourist arrivals since it was promptly addressed by the government.

He added DOT maintains different source markets to “insulate” the country’s tourism arrivals from the possible effects of such incidents.

In October, tourist arrivals grew by 14.85 percent to 412,185, compared to 358,876 in the same period in 2014.

This brings the total number of foreign visitors in the country for the first 10 months of 2015 to 4.3 million. That led to the creation of some five million jobs and generated tourist receipts worth R186 billion.

In the last quarter of the year, DOT announced that it will postpone the release of a new star rating system (SRS) for hotels and resorts. The postponement was made after a protest lodged by Plantation Bay Holdings Corp., who claimed its implementation was arbitrary.

However DOT explained that the SRS, which aims to raise the competitiveness of tourism accommodations in the country, was based on results of several stakeholder consultations with representatives from the tourism industry.

The implementation of the SRS was scheduled in November and was postponed indefinitely pending an investigation of a House committee this month. The DOT was ordered to submit a “revised accreditation standards” to the House committee.

SRI LANKA: Tourism Fest With The Spirit Of Christmas Ends Well

The first ever 'Tourism Fest with the spirit of Christmas'organized by the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority (SLTDA) in association with other tourism institutions under the Ministry of Tourism Development and Christian Religious Affairs was a huge success.

Thousands of foreign and local visitors thronged the Arcade, Independence Square during the five day event from December 19.

The idea behind 'Tourism Fest 2015' was to portray Sri Lankan food,culture, gems, handicrafts, tea, shopping and entertainment at one venue, offering both foreign and local visitors the opportunity of experiencing\the many facets of the country in one place.

Tourism Fest 2015 was opened by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.

President Maithripala Sirisena was the Chief Guest on the last day of the fest.Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Dr. Harsha De Silva, Tourism and Christian Religious Affairs Minister John Amaratunga and Advisor to the Ministry of Policy Planning Dinesh Weerakkody also participated.

PHILIPPINES: Tourism Road Projects In Panay Island Underway

At least P464.57 million worth of road projects leading to tourism destinations in Panay Island are underway.

Engr. Wenceslao Leano Jr., acting Regional Director of the Department of Public Works and Highways in Western Visayas (DPWH-6), said these tourism infrastructure projects are currently being constructed in Aklan, Antique and Capiz provinces.

Many of the infrastructure projects specifically involve upgrading of roads leading to world-famous Boracay Island in the town of Malay, in Aklan.

Such projects, for instance, include the P138.27- million widening of the Kalibo-Nabas section of the Aklan West Road in Tangalan municipality. There is likewise the construction of the P78- million Kalibo Cimcumferential Road. These are two major roads from the capital town of Kalibo to Malay, where geographically, Boracay Island is located.

Leano said DPWH-6 is also widening major road networks in Capiz province, which altogether, comprise of major road arteries serving travelers in Iloilo province bound for Boracay and Capiz’s provincial capital, Roxas City. The latter is also dubbed the Philippines’ “Seafood Capital.”

The road infrastructure projects in Capiz include the P89.35-million widening of the Dao-Sigma road section and the P79-million widening of the Cuartero road section, both of which belong to the new Iloilo-Capiz Road network.

In Antique province, the DPWH-6 is upgrading the Sitio Apong Road in Simbalom town, a construction project which costs about P80 million. This road leads to such tourist spots as the Sibalom Natural Park, where mountain climbing aficionados can trek up the mountains and where one may also find a virtual world wonder, the giant floral specie known as Rafflesia speciosa.

The road tourism infrastructure projects on Panay Island are part of the Convergence on Tourism Infrastructure Program jointly implemented by the regional offices of the DPWH and the Department of Tourism since 2012.

What is needed in panay island is the expressway in Y configuration to maximize the tourism potential of the island and the travel of goods and commerce will be accelerated. If in northern Luzon they have the TPLEX, why panay could not be since the potential is great compared to the TPLEX in the long run especially when it comes to tourism.

PHILIPPINES: Philippines Boosts Tourism After A Successful 2015,

This has been a good year for tourism in the Philippines. In the first eight months of 2015, tourist arrivals increased by almost 10 per cent.

The APEC summit hosted by the country in November also boosted the figure considerably. Tourist numbers during the APEC week reached more than 11,000, exceeding the Government’s target of 10,000 visitors.

The integration of ASEAN nations into a single economy is also projected to boost tourism in the region, as travel restrictions among member states will be eased. Figures from the Department of Tourism show that the Philippines now ranks fifth among ASEAN's ten member states - coming in behind Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore.

In order not to play catch up, plans are underway to boost the country's reputation as a favoured destination, and part of it includes improving open-sky policies.

"We’re still getting some of the signatories for some of the open sky policy for the border control uniformity of the border control,” said Aileen Clemente, President Philippine Travel Agencies Association. “The whole idea is to ensure a seamless way to travel across ASEAN and the advantage is that we would be able to attract more tourists who see ASEAN and its different countries as one destination."

A major issue holding back development of tourism in the Philippines is infrastructure. The capital’s main Ninoy Aquino International Airport held the title of the world's worst airport from 2011 to 2013. It lost its title only after major renovation was carried out, but the airport is still ranked eighth worst in Asia.

Tourism officials are also pushing through plans to upgrade the country's provincial airports, the gateways to islands such as Palawan and Boracay. Adventure tourism for activities such as diving are being looked into.

Undersecretary of Tourism Development, Benito Bengzon, said the Department of Tourism has been studying the country's marine sanctuaries to help it find ways to preserve dive sites and promote eco-tourism.

"Specifically we continue to focus on the diving market and we feel that the Philippines, because of its 7000 islands, can be very competitive in this particular segment as the entire country is practically within the so called coral triangle,” said Mr Bengzon.

The Department of Tourism projects that by year's end, around 5.2 million foreign visitors will visit the Philippines in 2015. The figure is considerably lower than the target of 10 million foreign visitors the Department aims to attract in 2016.

It admits that having to boost tourist numbers by almost five million people within a year will take some doing, but it is looking forward to the boost that ASEAN integration will bring.

INDIA: Telangana New Tourism Destination

The formation of Telangana has certainly improved the prospects of Adilabad emerging as a prime tourist destination in the near future. Telangana is a landlocked state in South India and one of the 29 states in India. It was formed on 2 June 2014 with the city of Hyderabad as its capital.

An increased number of visitors during the Christmas vacation is a strong indicator to this.

Though adventure sports enthusiasts were the first to come to the district some four years ago, it did not catch the imagination of many.

Adilabad has so far turned out to be an excellent place for both leisure and adventure tourism, within the ambit of eco-tourism and village tourism.

Nature and culture are possibly two genres that would be of interest to photographers. The government should promote nature tourism and tours to interior tribal villages like Jodeghat during the Adivasi festival season,” she added.

The government should plan the development of tourism, keeping in view the fragility of the environment and interests of the locals.

Tribal people living close to eco-tourism spots could help to offer accommodation to tourists. It would generate income and make this new region sustainable in tourism.

USA: Sherman To Combine Local Tourism

After more than a year under the guidance of the Sherman Chamber of Commerce, the city’s tourism department will return in-house early next year as Sherman plans to combine its responsibilities with those of the returning Main Street Program.

The city learned in October it had been chosen by the Texas Historical Commission as a new entry in the 2016 Texas Main Street Program and recently decided to marry that program with Visit Sherman, the tourism department overseen by the Chamber, to unify management responsibilities.

“There’s a lot of similar responsibilities between the two,” Steve Ayers, Sherman’s director of community and support services, said. “And we already have an approved budget for tourism. That allows us to take on this manager’s position for Main Street also, without having to expand our budget or take on more cost.”

Ayers said the money approved in the budget for tourism programs will also cover the city’s new Main Street Program.

“There’s some synergy there we get from the combined groups that are involved in tourism and they’re also involved in promoting the downtown Main Street area,” Ayers said. “All of it is interconnected. And hopefully, it’ll bring more focus and a clearer direction by bringing them together.”

The Main Street Program offers technical assistance for Texas cities that have made a commitment to revitalize their historic downtowns. Sherman was previously a part of the program from 1993-1998. Visit Sherman oversaw plans for the recent Snowflake Festival and Christmas Parade in Downtown Sherman and headed up events such as Hot Summer Nights, Lights on the Lake and the Autumn and Arts Fest this year.

Lauren Roth, director of tourism for Visit Sherman, helped put together the city’s application for the Main Street Program and said combining it with tourism makes perfect sense.

“With a relatively small town, the downtown area is one of the things tourism promotes the most,” Roth said. “So while we have a limited budget and can only have one full-time employee, it makes sense for those to be together.”

In September, the city extended its tourism contract with the Chamber through the end of the year as it hadn’t yet heard the results of its Main Street application. With the decision to combine the two entities under one manager, Ayers said the city is now on a month-to-month agreement with the Chamber while it looks for the right candidate.

“I think the goal right now is to get the best person (for the job),” Ayers said. “We’d like to do it sooner than later, but we’re not going to take any shortcuts. So we’re going to go until we find that right person, however long it takes.”

Roth said the month-to-month agreement makes long-term planning a little different, but things are still working well.

“Luckily, the relationship the Chamber and the city has makes things really easy,” she said.

Ayers said the city will likely start doing interviews for the position around the first of the year and when a new Main Street/tourism manager is hired, that person may get a brand new office.

“We are currently searching for office space,” Ayers said. “Our intent is to locate office space in the downtown area. But nothing’s been finalized on that.”

Thursday 24 December 2015

NEW ZEALAND: Lotto Winner Splits $14 Million With Friend

New Zealand Lotto winner has made good on a pact with his best mate and split the spoils of his whopping NZD$15 million (AUD$14 million) win.

In a generous gesture just days before Christmas the lucky winner surprised his best friend with a NZD$7.5 million gift.

He said he revealed the good news during a regular weekly catch-up over a dinner and drink.

And he made sure the moment was memorable.

"I really wanted to surprise him, so handed him a photocopy of my winning ticket and the slip of paper with $15 million printed on it. He looked at the paper, then at me with his mouth hanging open, pointing at the piece of paper.

I just gave him the thumbs up and said "I won the big one - and half of it's yours!"

The Lotto winner said his best mate could not believe it and kept saying "you're joking, you're joking".

But he said the fat cut did come with strings attached.

"When I gave him the $7.5 million I told him there were three conditions - to look after our mates, help the community and that he's paying for a group of our mates to go on our dream holiday."

He said his mate was overjoyed and confident the windfall would make a real difference to his family.

Already the unnamed Lotto winner had shared the spoils among his wider family, surprising his siblings with a fat cheque a few days ago.

"We had our family Christmas at the weekend and I gave each of my siblings an envelope with a cheque for $250,000 inside. They all opened their envelopes at the same time, then looked at me in surprise and I said, 'Yip, I had the winning ticket'."

He treated himself to his dream car.

He said it had been an incredible week and he was floating on cloud nine.

As well as scooping the first-ever Wednesday Powerball jackpot he also won an extra $250,000 from Lotto First Division.

JORDAN: ‘Jordan Pass’ Grants Tourists Entry To Kingdom’s Attractions

The Tourism Ministry launched the unified entry ticket “Jordan Pass”, which enables tourists to visit various archaeological sites and museums in the Kingdom at a price of JD70 (around $99).

The ticket is aimed at encouraging tourists to visit several attractions in Jordan and easing their movement between the various locations, the Jordan News Agency, Petra, reported.

Tourists who buy the ticket will also be encouraged to extend their stay in Jordan.

Tourism Minister Nayef Al Fayez said the ticket will save time and effort for tourists and facilitate their entry to Jordan’s various attractions.

The new ticket system will also enrich visitors’ experiences in Jordan, the minister said in a statement carried by Petra.

Jordan Tourism Board Managing Director Abed Al Razzaq Arabiyat said the board will launch a campaign in foreign markets to promote the Jordan Pass and encourage visitors to buy it.

Earlier on Tuesday, during a visit to the Jordan Society of Travel and Tourism Agents, Nayef said the number of tourists coming to Jordan is on the rise, citing a 38 per cent increase in Arab visitors recorded in July.

A total of 422,254 tourists visited Jordan in July, registering a 20 per cent increase compared to the same period last year, including some 337,000 overnight visitors, 30 per cent higher than last July, the minister said in August.

The sector’s revenues in July stood at JD250.6 million, compared with JD196.6 million during the same month last year, according to the ministry’s figures based on information provided by the Central Bank of Jordan.

At a meeting with the press, Fayez said the sector is “moving in the right direction although some issues still remain”.

He cited the government-funded campaigns implemented by the JTB as a major move that contributed to a higher influx of tourists, in addition to cancelling entry visa fees for visitors who buy the unified ticket for 39 tourist sites.

The minister said the number of Arab-Israelis visiting Jordan and staying over three nights rose by 50 per cent due to decreasing visa fees from JD40 to JD10.

In addition to its rich ancient archaeological sites, Jordan is also home to holy Islamic and Christian sites and shrines that attract tourists from around the world.

In August, 2,676 tourists visited the tombs of the companions of Prophet Mohammad who died in Mutah Battle, Osama Tarawneh, supervisor of the Southern Mazar shrines said on Tuesday.

He said 844 tourists came from Arab countries, 832 Muslims came from foreign countries, and 1,000 visitors were from within Jordan.

EGYPT: Tourism Marriages, Women Protest Against Bill

The bill will “put a price tag on tourism marriages,” a women’s rights activist argued.

Over a dozen women demonstrated on Tuesday night against a bill passed earlier this month that would basically “legalize tourism marriages,” they claimed.

With bruises painted on their eyes using make-up, and tape over their mouths to denounce domestic violence the bill could expose them to, they gathered in front of the Journalists' Syndicate.

The bill was meant to comply with the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child. However, according to activists and human rights groups, the bill stipulates that foreign men would have to pay about US$7,000 in investment certificates at the National Bank of Egypt if they wished to marry women 25 or more years younger than they were.

Lawyer Rabab Abdu, vice president of the Egyptian Society to Support Juveniles and Human Rights, told Aswat Masriya that the minister’s decision to “put a price tag on tourism marriages” flies in the face of efforts to combat human trafficking.

"Now these women can marry these men, who are decades older, only on condition that the men can afford the price. This takes place in a legal setting, with the blessing of the ministry of justice," she added.

According to a 2015 Trafficking in Persons Report, foreign men, especially from Gulf countries “purchase Egyptian women and girls for ‘temporary’ or ‘summer’ marriages for the purpose of prostitution or forced labor; these arrangements are often facilitated by the victims’ parents and marriage brokers, who profit from the transaction.”

Girls can be as young as 11 years old when they get married, and often come from poor rural villages. Some girls can be forced into these summer marriages up to 60 times by the time they turn 18, stated Egypt’s Child Anti-Trafficking Unit at the National Council for Childhood and Motherhood in 2013.

AUSTRALIA: North Coast Hottest Regional Tourism Place

THE North Coast is Australia's most visited region outside a capital city and raked in $2.5 billion of tourist money over the year to September.

A new national Tourism Research Australia survey has revealed the region attracted 4.5 million visitors who stayed for a collective 16.7 million nights over the 12-month period.

The North Coast fell behind the Gold Coast on daytrippers but still saw a 19% increase on the previous year in day trip numbers to 6.4 million.

Those daytrippers were reaching deeper into their pockets, spending $753 million last year compared to $560 million in 2013-14.

There were gains across New South Wales, which as a state far surpassed even its closest rivals.

Tourism Minister Stuart Ayres said regional NSW was the state's biggest tourism drawcard, pulling about twice as many overnight visitors as Sydney.

"NSW received more than 27.8 million visitors in the last 12 months, an increase of 5%," he said.

"These visitors to NSW stayed 90 million nights and spent nearly $16 billion in the last 12 months, an increase of 5%, providing a massive economic boost to our state, and creating jobs in restaurants, hotels and our superior visitor attractions."

"NSW received 8.1 million more domestic visitors than Queensland and 6.6 million more than Victoria - clearly we are outshining the rest of Australia."

The state's regional areas outside Sydney drew 19.3 million visitors who spent $9.4 billion for the year - the highest domestic overnight expenditure on record.

EGYPT: 6 major tourism companies partake in ‘Egypt is in Our Hearts’ programme

Tourism companies formed six alliances to participate in the tourism programme “Egypt is in Our Hearts” that was launched by the Ministry of Tourism to support touristic areas in Sharm El-Sheikh, Hurghada, Luxor, and Aswan.

The companies of the six alliances include El-Nahar Tours, Cairo Airport Travel, Overseas Tours, Al-Yamani, Egyptian Nile Tours, and Lucky Tours. An official in the Egyptian Travel Agents Association (ETAA) said they requested any willing companies to implement a programme from any of the six companies.

The Ministry of Tourism will suspend the “Egypt is in Our Hearts” initiative during schools’ winter holiday in January since there is already an increasing demand on Sharm El-Sheikh and Hurghada during that time.

Board Member of ETAA Adel Abdel Razek said tourism programmes targeting Egyptians must cover the entire year, and should not be neglected or exist only during periods of crises. He believes the major cause of the low rate of domestic travel is the high prices of plane tickets, although EgyptAir reduced its prices in the past period.

The decision to suspend the programme during the current period came due to the usual high demands during the winter holidays, as support from the Ministry of Tourism is not required, the official however noted.

The programme is meant to support tourism during periods of crisis, and will resume after the winter holiday in cooperation with the tourism companies, and the Ministries of Tourism and Aviation, he continued.

The official expects more than 20 companies to participate in the programme in cooperation with the National Bank of Egypt. “The programme aims to increase hotel occupancies in areas suffering from the lack of tourists, especially in Luxor and Aswan,” he said.

The programme’s prices range from EGP 600 to EGP 4,000, including the plane ticket, for four nights, according to the hotel’s category.

Abdel Razek said there are negotiations with private airlines to organise trips to tourism destinations in Hurghada, Luxor, and Aswan. The private airlines can provide good offers with low prices that suit domestic tourists.

Member of ETAA in Luxor and Aswan Tharwar El-Agami criticised the suspension of the tourism programmes midyear. “The decision will limit Egyptians’ ability to visit the archaeological areas in Luxor and Aswan, since there will not be a better time than the midyear holidays to visit these areas.”

According to El-Agami, the hotels in Luxor and Aswan have suffered most since the 25 January Revolution in 2011; more than 250 hotels and Nile boats shut down because of lack of tourists in the area.

JORDAN: Ministry Upbeat With 20% Rise In Tourists Recorded

The “positive” tourism indicators in July bode well for the sector’s performance next year, Tourism Minister Nayef Al Fayez said Monday.

A total of 422,254 tourists visited Jordan in July, registering a 20 per cent increase compared to the same period last year, including some 337,000 overnight visitors, 30 per cent higher than last July.

The sector’s revenues in July stood at JD250.6 million, compared with JD196.6 million during the same month last year, according to the ministry’s figures based on information provided by the Central Bank of Jordan.

At a meeting with the press, Fayez said the sector is “moving in the right direction although some issues still remain”.

He cited the government-funded campaigns implemented by the Jordan Tourism Board (JTB) as a major move that contributed to a higher influx of tourists, in addition to cancelling entry visa fees for visitors who buy unified tickets for 39 tourist sites, which is aimed at extending their stay in Jordan.

The minister said the number of Arab-Israelis visiting Jordan and staying over three nights rose by 50 per cent due to decreasing visa fees from JD40 to JD10.

Addressing the decrease in the number of visitors to Petra, some 235km south of Amman, the ministry, in cooperation with Ministry of Finance, has exempted tourist institutions in the region from penalties on income and sales tax delays.

But looking at the bigger picture, the end of the summer vacation season will be accompanied by a drop in the number of visitors, especially Jordanian expatriates and tourists from Arab countries, who form the majority of visitors.

Therefore, the ministry seeks to promote Jordan as a tourist destination for Arabs all-year-round, and to attract tourists from nontraditional markets, said Fayez.

He added that facilities at tourist sites will be revamped in partnership with the private sector.

Political and economic conditions in the region have affected the tourism sector, causing a drop in the number of visitors and revenues, the minister said.

Over the January-July period this year, the number of tourists was around 2.8 million, compared to some 3 million visitors over the same period in 2014, which led to a drop in tourism revenues from around JD1.8 billion over the first half of 2014 to around JD1.6 billion during the same period this year.

For his part, JTB Managing Director Abed Al Razzaq Arabiyat said of the government-funded campaign are currently promoting tourist attractions — mainly Petra and Aqaba — in Britain, Germany and France.

The marketing campaigns target public parks and means of public transport for maximum exposure, he said, adding that the campaigns include an online component.

Once the step proves successful, the board will start another campaign in China, Malaysia, Indonesia and Korea, according to Arabiyat.

In September, the JTB is scheduled to host up to 250 journalists and bloggers from all over the world to encourage them to publish stories on tourist sites in Jordan.

Meanwhile, the ministry’s secretary general, Issa Gammoh, said a new by-law regulating the management of tourist sites will be issued soon, adding that part of the entry tickets will be allocated for developing sites and services.

INDIA: e-Tourist Visa To Promote Tourism

Union Tourism Ministry has taken various steps, including introduction of e-Tourist Visa, to promote tourism and enhance earnings from the sector, Rajya Sabha was informed today.

In a written reply, Tourism Minister Mahesh Sharma said his ministry operates various schemes through which Central Financial Assistance (CFA) is provided to states/union territories for overall development and promotion of tourism.

Besides, he said, the Ministry promotes India as a holistic destination in the international markets.

As part of its promotional activities, the Tourism Ministry releases campaigns in the international markets under the Incredible India brand line to showcase various tourism destinations and products including its cultural heritage, the Minister said.

Moreover, a series of promotional activities are being undertaken in tourist generating markets overseas through the India Tourism Offices abroad with the objective of showcasing India's tourism potential and promoting tourism.

These promotional activities, he said, include participation in travel fairs and exhibitions, organising road shows, Know India seminars and workshops and organising and supporting Indian food and cultural festivals.

He said Tourism Ministry provides financial assistance to stakeholders and Tourism Department of states/union territories for undertaking promotional activities under the Marketing Development Assistance (MDA) scheme.

The government has also introduced the facility of e-Tourist Visa for the citizens of 113 countries at 16 airports. "Introduction of e-Tourist Visa is a path breaking measure by the Government in easing formalities in the country," he said.

The Minister also said the government has also revised the e-Tourist Visa fee in four slabs from November 3 this year.

To another query, Sharma said as per the 2nd Tourism Satellite Account of India (TSA) 2009-10 and subsequent estimation, the contribution of tourism to total Gross Domestic Product (GDP) during the 2009-10, 2010-11, 2011-12 and 2012-13 were 6.77 per cent, 6.76 per cent, 6.76 per cent and 6.88 per cent respectively.

Under Swadesh Darshan Scheme, Maharashtra government has submitted proposals --Sindhudurg Coastal Circuit and Development of Adasa, Dhapewada, Paradsingha religion circuit-- for consideration, he said while answering another question.

INDONESIA: Steps Taken To Stop Child Sex Tourism

An activist group against child sex predation has highlighted the urgency of tackling a growing scourge in Indonesia that has long been overlooked by the authorities.

“Child sex tourism is a new and flourishing form of sexual exploitation toward kids in Indonesia,” Mr Ahmad Sofian, the national coordinator of the group End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes (Ecpat) Indonesia, said at a press conference in Jakarta yesterday (Dec 23).

He said the commercially facilitated sexual abuse of minors involved some two million children across the globe, half of them in Southeast Asia.

“In Southeast Asia, Indonesia is the main destination for travelling child sex predators after Vietnam and Cambodia,” Mr Sofian said, attributing this to a demographic that skews young — children and young adults account for half of the country’s total population of some 250 million.

Mr Sofian said lax law enforcement against child molesters in Indonesia was a key factor in the growth of child sex tourism, which is part of the multi-billion-dollar global sex tourism industry. He noted that the child protection law in Indonesia, a general act to protect the rights of minors, fails to make it a crime to buy sex from children.

Law enforcement, meanwhile, tends to focus only on cases of sexual assault and the like when tackling child sex abuse, Mr Sofian said. “Law enforcers seem to be ignoring child sex tourism because it involves tourists who bring in revenue for the local economy,” he added.

Research by Ecpat Indonesia, drawing from reports by Interpol, the Australian Federal Police, Unicef and the International Organisation for Migration between 2012 and 2014, identifies Bali, Jakarta, West Java, East Java, Batam, North Sumatra and Lombok as the top six provinces for number of child sex tourism cases.

“These are popular destinations for business or leisure travellers,” Mr Sofian pointed out, adding that the perpetrators included both domestic and foreign tourists, usually affluent.

The same research also highlights the role that taxi drivers play in the chain of child sex tourism, a problem closely linked with poverty, rapid industrialisation and exploding population growth.

“The most convenient means of transportation for these child sex offenders is the taxi,” Ms Mubha Kahar Muang, the president director of Jakarta taxi operator Putra, said at Wednesday’s press conference.

“Taxi drivers know the very heart of the city and they’ve unfortunately become a sort of informant for child sex predators who are on the hunt,” she added.

That’s why, she said, Putra has joined forces with Ecpat on a campaign aimed at eradicating child sex tourism in Indonesia.

In June and July, Ecpat trained some 250 Putra taxi drivers on how to discourage passengers who attempted to get information about places offering child sex prostitution.

“We taught them on how to politely reject such passengers so that they don’t get offended,” Ms Muang said.

The training is also expected to encourage the drivers to lead efforts in fight against child sex tourism in their own hometowns.

“We want to help break the chain of child sex tourism in the country,” Ms Muang said.

Mr Sofian said the measure was the first of its kind in Indonesia; the governments of Cambodia and Thailand have previously campaigned with local taxi firms to tackle the scourge in their countries.

Ecpat plans to carry out an identical campaign with taxi operators in the five other provinces.

The group’s ultimate goal, Mr Sofian said, was to get the government to pass a law specifically outlawing child prostitution and child pornography, rather than the broad but vague child protection act that prevails today.

“It’s going to take some time for such a law to come about, but in the meantime we want to raise awareness about child sex tourism,” he said.

ISRAEL: El Al Airlines Stock Rallies Despite Israel’s Tourism Slump

The national carrier is grappling with a slump in tourism fueled by political violence, as well as intensified competition after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government opened the market to low-cost operators in 2013. Yet the 1.46 billion-shekel ($374 million) company has a combination of factors in its favor: falling oil prices and the strength of the shekel.
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At first sight, investors have good reasons to shun El Al Israel Airlines shares.

The stock has increased four-fold in the past year to outperform every one of its global peers. For Psagot Investment House Ltd., Israel’s largest money manager, the shares may rise a further 53 percent as Israelis take advantage of their increased purchasing power. The number of people taking trips abroad has risen 15 percent so far this year, according to the Jerusalem-based Central Bureau of Statistics data.

El Al “finds itself in an excellent financial position,” Noam Pincu, a Psagot analyst with a buy rating on the “very cheap” stock, said in a note. “The company has an advantage in that it’s Israel’s leading airline, and in our assessment, the Israeli market is expected to grow faster relative to the world.”

El Al’s stock has risen as the price of Brent crude sank to an 11-year low this year, cutting the price of fuel needed to run the carrier’s fleet of about 50 aircraft.

El Al reported last month a nine-fold surge in third-quarter earnings to $93 million, the highest three-month profit since at least 2004. The company paid its shareholders in August the first dividend since 2008. The stock rose 2.2 percent as of 10:43 a.m. in Tel Aviv to 2.949 shekels, bringing its 12-month advance to 343 percent.

The share performance represents a dramatic turnaround for El Al. In 2013, airline officials and unions predicted the Open Skies agreement with the European Union, which gradually increased the number of airlines operating between Israel and Europe, would crush the local aviation industry.

It has since settled a labor dispute, upgraded its fleet with nine Boeing Co. Dreamliners and plans to fit jets with an anti-missile laser platform to bolster its reputation as one of the world’s safest airlines. Even with increased competition, the carrier has managed to maintain a 30 percent share of Ben Gurion airport’s passenger travel, according to El Al’s financial reports.

Incoming tourism to Israel may decline after a wave of Palestinian knife attacks in recent months. Last year, El Al said third-quarter profit slumped 83 percent after the Gaza war caused a “large number” of cancellations.

“If this keeps going, fear will take over and we’ll begin to see order cancellations and less tourists traveling to Israel,” said Tel Aviv-based Yossi Shvimer, chief executive officer at Migdal Capital Markets Alternative Investments Ltd. Its sister company, Migdal Asset Management, increased its El Al holdings more than seven-fold this year.

With oil prices likely to remain depressed due to a global oversupply and the currency gaining 11 percent against the euro so far this year, the airline’s momentum should only continue, said Yaniv Pagot, the head of strategy at Ayalon Group Ltd.

“The company received an unexpected gift in the form of the collapse of world oil prices,” Pagot said from Ramat Gan. “Barring some significant geopolitical event, it looks like this level is the new normal. And a stronger currency just means places like Europe are cheaper for Israelis.”

JAMAICA: Investors Eager To Develop Jamaica Medical Tourism

Minister of Tourism and Entertainment Dr. Wykeham McNeill says several investors have indicated an interest in establishing facilities and undertaking services linked to medical tourism.

“There are a number of persons, who are approaching us, who want to build facilities where persons can come down and receive operations,” he disclosed.

“Discussions are already happening in terms of dentists as there are a lot of people, especially in the Diaspora, whose dentists are in Jamaica. They travel to Jamaica and get their teeth done and that is a form of tourism,” he said.

Dr. McNeill said his ministry has been involved in various projects geared at improving medical entities to facilitate areas of medical tourism.

He said the Tourism Enhancement Fund (TEF) has been working with the Ministry of Health to upgrade health centres and hospitals in order to capitalize on prospective developments geared towards medical tourism.

In terms of the health and wellness market, Dr. McNeill informed that there is an enterprise team in place that is looking at prospects and opportunities for Bath Fountain in St. Thomas and Milk River Bath in Clarendon.

“There are persons, who are interested in investing in developments in these two areas . . . The waters of both places are world-renowned and the extent to which we can develop that and capitalize on the potential is important to us,” the tourism minister said.

In October, Hospiten Montego Bay, the only private hospital outside of Kingston with an Intensive Care Unit (ICU), was opened in Rose Hall, St. James.

The J$2.3 billion (US$19 million) facility will be catering to the medical needs of both local and overseas patients.

JORDAN: Arabs And Jordanians To Pay Same Tourist Site Entry Fees

The Cabinet on Wednesday extended a decision to charge Arab tourists the same entry fees as Jordanians when they visit tourist and archaeological sites until December 31, 2016.

The decision, which was first taken in 2014 and previously extended for this year, is aimed at promoting tourism and enhancing Jordan's competitiveness to attract Arab tourists.

The government took several decisions and measures recently in order to support the tourism sector and enable it to overcome the negative repercussions of regional unrest.

Jordan was able to reduce its tourism losses to 6 per cent this year, although the expected loss in revenues was between 20 and 25 per cent, the Jordan Tourism Board (JTB) said earlier this week.

Earlier this year, the Cabinet reduced electricity tariffs for hotels and annulled entry visa fees for visitors who buy unified tickets to tourist sites to support the tourism sector.

The Council of Ministers also lowered the fees for visitors entering through land border crossings from JD40 to JD10 and removed the special tax on tickets for regular flights from Amman to Aqaba.

The JTB is promoting Jordan's tourist attractions in several European markets, placing advertisements on billboards and public transport means.

These campaigns are expected to pay off in 2016, with a rise in tourist numbers, Tourism Minister Nayef Al Fayez said this week during a visit by Prime Minister Abdullah Ensour to the JTB.

NIGERIA: Nok Village In Kaduna State

Nok village is located in the Kaduna State of central Nigeria, 160 kilometres northeast of Baro. The Nok civilization was discovered in 1928 due to tin mining that was happening in the area and earned it’s name due to the Nok civilization that used to inhabit the area from around 500 BC.

Mysteriously the people of the village vanished in a bout 200 AD. These people were known for their extremely advanced social system and were the earliest producers of life-sized Terracotta in the Sub-Sahara.

Hugely historical, archeologists have found human skeletons, stone tools and rock paintings around this area, not to mention the main act. The inhabitants of what is now called Nok Village, were known to make some of the oldest and culturally intriguing sculptures found in Africa. This led to discoveries that the ancient culture of Nok has been around for some 2500 years. When strolling through the village your senses will be delighted to rediscover an amazing group of people culturally and socially.

Not much is known about the purposes of these popular sculptures but some theories have suggested they were used to as charms to prevent crop failure, illness and infertility. You’ll really feel as if you’ve had the best history lesson of your life.

Weapons of war, terra cotta heads of man and animals are abundant as you realize your dream is actually a reality. Nok village is a great place to take your family and be able to learn together about our world’s amazing past.

NIGERIA: Nigeria's Birdwatcher’s Paradise Gashaka-Gumti National Park

The Gashaka-Gumti National Park is situated in a hilly area in the northeastern part of Nigeria. The park is next to the international border with Cameroon, and to the north of the Mambilla Plateau. Visitors to this secluded region will find no roads here, but only a small amount of footpaths snaking through the wooded mountains in the direction of Cameroon.

Visitors to the Gashaka-Gumti National Park would be able to take pleasure in the flourishing forests, the extensive sweeping grasslands, the fresh highland plateaus, the rocky mountains, rich wildlife and the captivating ethnic cultures. All of this is pooled within a single sheltered area.

There are only a small number of places in the world that holds such stunning surroundings and assorted animals. Gashaka-Gumti National Park is in a concealed corner of West-Africa, and without a doubt one of the Africa’s best kept secrets.

The Gashaka-Gumti National Park is the biggest park there is in Nigeria, and consists of about 6,600 sq km of pure wilderness. The name of the park has been derived from Gashaka village in Taraba State and Gumti village in Adamaw State, which are two of the most historic settlements in the region.

Gashaka-Gumti National Park was established as the result of a Federal Decree in 1991 when the Gashaka Game Reserve merged with the Gumti Game Reserve.

Birdwatchers would be glad to know that this is a birdwatcher's paradise, and there are a wide variety of bird species. The Gashaka-Gumti National Park is known as one of the most important bird areas in Africa.

Birdwatchers are able to find more than 500 species here, and this is no overstatement. Visiting bird watchers constantly add new species are constantly added to the list by visiting bird watchers.

Wednesday 23 December 2015

INDIA: 5 Double-decker Buses For Punjab Heritage And Tourism Promotion Board

The Punjab Heritage and Tourism Promotion Board (PHTPB) has floated tenders for five double-decker buses for tourists for their sightseeing of tourist spots in the holy city.

The PHTPB officials stated that these buses may be operationalised by the middle of next year. The second floor of these buses would be open to sky for convenient sightseeing of tourist spots.

They said initially these buses would run between famous and popular tourist spots like the Golden Temple, Jallianwala Bagh, the Durgiana Temple, the Summer Palace in Ram Bagh, the Gobindgarh fort and the heritage village in Guru Nanak Dev University.

Subsequently, these tourist buses would be used to ferry tourists to witness the retreat ceremony at the Attari border and historic places like Pul Kanjri there.

Besides, an amphibian bus has also been approved for Harike Pattan wetland. The bus could sail in water and also move on a road.

The Amritsar Hotel and Restaurant Association president APS Chatha welcomed the decision and said there was a high need to bolster the tourism infrastructure and add new tourist spots to prolong the stay here.

He said four more luxury-segment hotel properties were under construction and another was proposed at the Amritsar airport while four five-star properties were already under operation in the city. Besides, there were eight more 4-star category hotels under construction. He added that the city had the maximum number of over 250 hotels.

He cautioned that there may be a deluge of hotels in case the government opens tourist spots like the heritage village, the Gobindgarh fort and the Summer Palace of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. He said these projects would prolong the stay of tourists who go back after paying obeisance at the Golden Temple and after attending retreat ceremony at the Attari-Wagah joint check-post

USA: Quarterly Tourism Industry Report For Atlantic City

A quarterly analysis of Atlantic City’s tourism economy tried its best to find things to celebrate about a market that’s been battered in recent years.

The report from Stockton University’s Lloyd D. Levenson Institute of Gaming, Hospitality and Tourism examines performance indicators of the local tourism economy.

The institute used to report straight changes in receipts from Atlantic City's luxury tax and casino parking fee, and Atlantic County's lodging fee.

But four Atlantic City casinos closed in 2014, taking thousands of hotel rooms and parking spaces with them. Receipts plummeted.

The mutation of the market was so profound that the institute changed its metrics.

Now the hotel occupancy and parking fees are measured as a rate against supply. The luxury tax analysis has been jettisoned altogether.

Gains in the rate of receipts per supply suggest that some of the customers of the now-closed casinos have taken their business to other Atlantic City properties, the institute said Tuesday.

The rate of receipts from the lodging fee – a fee on hotel and other room rentals - has been trending upward for years, according to the third-quarter report. In September the fee generated $67 per 100 rooms - 15 percent more than in September 2014. Year-over-year rate increases were also recorded in July and August, at 13 percent and 2 percent, respectively.

The parking fee receipts rate, measured per 100 Atlantic City casino parking spaces, also trended upward in 2015, recording year-over-year gains in every month through September, the report said. In September the fee generated $170 for every 100 spaces. That was only one-percent better than in September 2014, though larger gains were consistently recorded in earlier months this year, according to the report.

As with the lodging fee, the institute reported rates only, as opposed to receipt totals.

While the institute no longer provides an analysis of city luxury tax receipts, a report from Fitch Ratings said that through July, that tax generated 18.1 percent less money than during the same stretch in 2014. The tax on alcoholic drinks, hotel rentals and amusement tickets is a key barometer of the city's nongambling economy.

INDIA: Tourism Corridor Opened With Canal Upgrade

There are immense opportunities to develop a tourism corridor, pilgrim circuit, and requisite infrastructure in the backwaters with the upgrading of 94 km of canals as National Waterways (NW).

The Alappuzha-Kottayam-Athirampuzha canal, Alappuzha-Changanassery canal, and Kottayam-Vaikom canal — the feeder routes of NW III in the State — are the emerging corridors for tourism-related activities.

“The 94 km offers immense opportunities to the stakeholders in the tourism industry as it is ideal for houseboat operations. The requisite infrastructure can be created on either side,” says former Member (Technical), Inland Waterways Authority of India, R.M. Nair, who played a key role in getting them into the NW.

Making the 94-km stretch navigable again will help the State expand water transport and further boost its ambitious plan to divert cargo movement from roads to inland waterways.

The canals are expandable in the future and the possibility of linking them can be considered. Already, Union Minister for Road Transport, Highways and Shipping,Nitin Gadkari has hinted that funds would not be a problem. The stakes to create a pilgrim tourist circuit linking Mannanam, Athirapally, Ettumanoor, and Vaikom are on the higher side, he said.

Incidentally, the development of the inland waterways was taken up under the World Bank-aided Kerala State Transport Project (KSTP) Phase I and the stretch was also included.

“The scheme was a failure as dredging was not included as a component of the KSTP. The needed vertical and horizontal clearances for the bridges and locks were not provided,” Mr. Nair, who reviewed the project for the WB later, said.

Based on the critical review, the National Transportation Planning and Research was asked to look into the feasibility of developing the four canals and to list it in the NW.

Only 1.3 km of the Alappuzha-Changancherry and 3 km of the Alappuzha-Kottayam canal pass through Vembanad Lake.

The Athirampuzha canal is wide enough for boat operation except the initial 3 km. The Kottayam-Vaikom canal, which begins near Kodimatha, culminates at Vechoor where it joins NW III.

RUSSIA: Russian Travel Visa To Cost 60 Euros For Turkish Citizens

Turkish citizens planning to visit Russia will pay 60 euros (TL 200) to acquire a travel visa as of January 1, 2016, the president of Russian Tour Operators Union, Dmitriy Gorin said.

"If Turkish citizens do their visa application via an intermediary agency, then they will have to add an extra 30-35 euros to this amount," Gorin reportedly said.

Visas between the two countries were lifted in 2011 as a sign of good relationship, but Russia said that it will start to impose visa on Turkish citizens as of Jan. 1, 2016, after relations between the two countries strained due to the jet crisis of November 24th.

While Turkish officials have long attempted to ease the tensions by emphasizing that Russia is not an enemy of Turkey and Turkey's right to protect its borders had to be respected, Russia's aggression has affected the ties.

Moreover, Russia further strained the two country's commercial relations by Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev's approving a list of sanctions against Turkey in retaliation for the downing of a Russian warplane.

BOSNIA: Arab Investors Pour Billions Into Bosnia

The first Arab-funded resort recently opened in Osenik, 50 kilometers south of Sarajevo, with 160 individual houses and apartments built around an artificial lake.

The Balkan country is becoming a popular destination for tourists from the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Qatar thanks to its comfortable summer temperatures and local Muslim community

As tourists from the Gulf countries look to book their next holiday to escape the summer heat, Arab investors are betting on an unusual destination: Bosnia. The mountainous Balkan country, which was devastated by the 1992-95 war, is becoming a popular destination for tourists from the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Qatar thanks to its comfortable summer temperatures and local Muslim community.

Attracted by cheap land and labor, Arab investors are looking to ride the trend. They are building thousands of homes and hotels around the capital Sarajevo and heavily promoting the destination to middle class families looking for cheaper alternatives to the glamorous Swiss resorts.

It's also a boost for Bosnia's economy, which is still recovering from the war and struggling with unemployment of over 40 percent. All the construction is done by local companies, ensuring jobs. "Bosnia's tourism has a bright future," said Jasem Ahmed Al Kanderi, the head of the Gulf Estate Company from Kuwait. "The country is beautiful."

His company built and recently opened the first Arab-funded resort in Bosnia. Located southwest of Sarajevo, it includes 160 individual houses and apartments built around an artificial lake. The gated community offers swimming pools, supermarkets, sport facilities and views of the mountains where the Winter Olympic Games were held in 1984.

"It is a tourist village but also an investment opportunity," said Al Kanderi. "We managed to promote Bosnia's tourist potentials in Gulf countries and we are proud to be the first ones to complete a project."

But the 25 million-euro ($27 million) project appears tiny compared with the one planned by Ismail Ahmed, the head of Buroj Property Development from Dubai. Wearing his traditional Arab jalabiya and sandals, Ahmed stood in the icy rain above the plateau where his company plans to build a 2.3 billion-euro ($2.4 billion) town called Buroj Ozone on the Bjelasnica mountain, less than 15 kilometers (9 miles) southwest of Sarajevo.

"Jannah," or paradise in Arabic, he said as he waved his hand over the picturesque plateau where in April construction work will begin on 2,000 villas, 60 hotels, 186 residential buildings, a hospital, shopping malls, restaurants and even a dancing fountain.

For tourists from the United Arab Emirates, Buroj Ozone's altitude at nearly 1,000 meters (3,280 feet) and an average summer temperature of 25 degrees Celsius (77 Fahrenheit) can offer refuge from summer temperatures of up to 49 degrees (120 F) in Dubai.

Ahmed acknowledges that for many, Bosnia is still associated with its terrible war 20 years ago and overcoming that image is a challenge. "We spent millions on marketing," he said.

Bosnia has seen a significant rise in tourism in recent years, with visitors from East and West flocking to Sarajevo to see "little Jerusalem" a city loaded with history that features Catholic and Christian Orthodox churches, Jewish temples and mosques next to each other.

Overall tourism numbers are up 30 percent this year from last year, with Austrians and Germans the most represented nationalities. But visits from Gulf countries are growing the fastest. The number of Kuwaitis has more than tripled this year to 33,000.

Bosnian president Bakir Izetbegovic says the country is slowly becoming better organized and recovering from its past. The government is building a new highway that will make travel and transport easier and allow tourists to reach the coast from Sarajevo within an hour.

"We will continue to work on the stabilization of this country, on passing laws that will speed up investments and make them safe," Izetbegovic said as he watched the opening of the Kuwaiti resort.

TURKEY: Turkish Tourism Sector To Open New Markets

Başaran Ulusoy, the president of the Association of Turkish Travel Agencies (TÜRSAB), said Turkey's tourism sector is having difficulty turning toward non-Russian markets to secure prospective plans with new markets, as it took for granted the stream of Russian tourists who flowed into the country year-to-year, adding that the sector will fill in the gap caused by recent Russian sanctions by opening up to new markets.

Ulusoy noted that Russian travel agencies are now suspending sales of all products that have any relation to Turkey's tourism sector, banning Russian citizens from purchasing products related with travel in a rift of sanctions handed down to Turkey by the Moscow administration.

According to Ulusoy, the Turkish tourism sector was caught unaware by the unexpected tension between Turkey and Russia, which erupted after Turkey downed a Russian fighter jet, which violated Turkish airspace near the Syrian border.

Ulusoy said the tourism sector always needs to be cautious and have a backup plan, adding that the troubles the sector is likely to face in 2016 will be overcome roughly one year after the measures take effect.

Ulusoy said that the Turkish tourism sector will have presence everywhere and fill in the Russian gap by expanding to new markets, adding that it will turn toward the Far East and adopt a new outlook on tourism; one that appeals to all walks of life in the Middle East and Africa.

Highlighting that tourism will play a big role in Turkey's future, Ulusoy stated that the sector needs the government's support to overcome this crisis.

Underlining that the tourism sector endeavors to fight the threat of terrorism, which has dealt a heavy blow to the travel industry these days, Ulusoy said if the leaders of today's tourism sector had paid attention to these suggestions in the past, they would be making use of those experiences today.

TURKEY: Russian Sanctions Unsustainable

Culture and Tourism Minister Mahir Ünal has described Russian sanctions as "unsustainable," adding that Ankara is open to dialogue with Moscow to resolve the recent political crisis.

Ünal spoke at the editors' desk meeting in Ankara, explaining that Turkey's tourism sector has been crippled by the Kremlin-imposed restrictions and that the sanctions are unsustainable.

"Turkey does not want to lose the Russian market in the tourism sector, but we will not depend only on Russian tourists," he said.

Tensions between Ankara and Moscow became heated following the downing of a Russian Su-24 aircraft by a Turkish F16 near the Turkish-Syrian border last month.

Moscow tightened restrictions on Turkey in the wake of the incident, including a ban on charter flights between Russia and Turkey and Russian travel agencies being told not to sell tours to Turkey.

Explaining that about 3 million to 4 million Russian tourists visit Turkey annually, Ünal said: "We are working on some measures against the sanctions. The crisis will end eventually, but we need to diversify the tourism sector."

According to Ünal, the energy and tourism sectors have always functioned as constructive factors in Turkish-Russian relations.

"There are lots of Russian citizens who are in love with Antalya a resort destination in southern Turkey," he said. "Moscow has been using black propaganda about Turkey, but we will correct the misunderstanding," he asserted.

Russia is Turkey's second-largest trading partner, with business investments worth more than $32.7 billion annually, according to statistics from the Russian government.

The Kremlin also plays a large role in the development of nuclear power plants in Turkey.

SOUTH KOREA: Cosmetic Tourists Reap Regret In South Korea

Chinese businesswoman Chen Yili paid a South Korean hospital thousands of dollars to reshape her face in the hope she would look more like the glamourous stars she saw on television.

Instead she says she was disfigured by the operation – one of a growing number of Chinese women who claim shoddy procedures and a lack of regulation in South Korea's booming "medical tourism" industry, have left them physically scarred.

"They said they would design my face to look like a South Korean, and help me design a new nose, lips and chin, but (afterwards) when my friends saw my nose they were all shocked. They said it was crooked (and) ugly," Chen said.

Seoul on Friday announced a crackdown on illegal brokers and unregistered clinics in a bid to protect medical tourists, especially those drawn by the country's huge plastic surgery industry.

The country is a cultural powerhouse in Asia – its soap operas and pop music videos are massively popular in China and often feature cosmetically-enhanced stars.

While China's domestic plastic surgery market is worth tens of billions of dollars, persistent safety concerns are driving growing numbers of wealthy consumers abroad.

South Korea has pushed hard to foster its so-called "medical tourism" industry, which was worth the equivalent of nearly $360 million in 2013, according to official figures.

China topped the medical tourist list with more 25,400 visitors, an increase of 70% from the previous year, the South Korean health ministry said.

Chinese tourists generally pay more than twice as much as locals for cosmetic procedures.

Dozens of South Korean clinics have Chinese-language websites, some offering surgery alongside sightseeing vacations, with promotions offered during Chinese holidays.

One clinic promises to provide "almond shaped eyes" and a "magical V-shaped face" – considered the ideal of feminine beauty in much of East Asia, while another is seemingly full of glowing testimonials from past patients.

While most procedures in South Korea appear to occur without incident, last month attention focused on the industry after a 50-year-old Chinese woman was left in a coma by a clinic in Seoul's up-market Gangnam district.

As much as a third of Chinese patients' costs can go towards fees for brokers who act as liaisons for the hospitals, Chen said after making initial enquiries she was contacted "incessantly" by an agent and felt cajoled into having the surgery.

She spent more than $26,000 dollars on the surgery in 2010 at the Beauty Line clinic in Seoul. One of her procedures involved having cartilage taken from her chest and added to her nose to make it more prominent.

But upon returning to China, she began to suffer from nasal infections. Now staying at a clinic in Beijing she says her mental health suffered and she is taking 12 antidepressants each day.

"I've lost sleep, I can't meet with friends, and I suffer from depression, because my nose is just too ugly," she said.

"I feel tricked. I think the industry is protected by South Korea's government, because its a key source of revenue," she added.

Park Ji-Hye, an official at South Korea's health ministry, said that "activities involving illegal brokers and inflated fees, as well as disputes over malpractice, are sparking complaints from foreign patients".

Hoping to bring the industry into line, authorities last Friday declared owners of unregistered facilities treating foreign patients could be punished with jail sentences.

"Some clinics are treating Chinese patients without a state licence allowing them to treat foreign patients, because obviously that's where the money is," said Cho Soo-Young, spokesman of the association of Korean plastic surgeons.

Back in China, an online support group made up of hundreds of victims of alleged botched cosmetic procedures conducted in South Korea, has begun a campaign to highlight the problems.

"You start to believe that cosmetic surgery is something magical that can change your life. We have to take some responsibility ourselves, for not understanding the industry, and being too trusting." said group organiser Jin Weikun.

But many women in the group added that clinics had not warned them of potential risks.

Winnie Wang, 45, said she was "devastated, cried and even attempted suicide" after an operation in 2013 left her with unequally sized eyes.

Yu Lijun, a designer, underwent one of the most controversial procedures at Seoul's Faceline clinic – "double-jaw" surgery – which involves cutting the bone to produce a slimmer jawline. Today her mouth is visibly misaligned, making it hard to eat and prompting her to wear a facemask at all times.

Mi Yuanyuan, a Chinese actress, said a 2013 operation at the same clinic left her with regular pain in her nose, as well as numbness and hair-loss on her forehead.

"They said there weren't any risks," the 38-year-old said. "They said the surgeon was as famous as the Hermes bag I was carrying."

But Faceline disputed this saying Yu had been through two botched surgeries in China that had left her mouth crooked before coming to them for help fixing it.

"We sent Yu back several times because the risk was too big but eventually decided to treat her after her repeated pleas for weeks," the clinic said in a statement, adding that she did not follow post-surgery care instructions.

It also said Mi had signed a pre-surgery statement acknowledging potential side effects to her procedures.

Beauty Line, which is licensed to treat foreign patients, said it could not locate the file of a patient named Chen Yili, as its records are in Korean and do not contain patients' names in Chinese.