Monday, 29 February 2016

SINGAPORE: Singapore Misses Lots Of Tourists

Singapore missed its targeted receipts from tourism last year and said 2016 figures may remain flat as global economic uncertainties curb visitor arrivals.

Tourism receipts fell 6.8% to S$22 billion (557 billion baht) in 2015, largely because of a decline in business visitor arrivals and spending, the Singapore Tourism Board said Monday in a statement citing preliminary estimates. The board said it forecasts receipts of S$22 billion to S$22.4 billion this year.

“Global economic growth may be hampered by the slower growth momentum of the Chinese and US economies as well as uncertainties such as ongoing reforms in China and the impact of the normalisation of the US monetary conditions,” the board said on the outlook for 2016. “Increasing regional competition will also pose challenges to Singapore’s tourism sector.”

Tourism receipts from Malaysia, Indonesia and Australia fell the most, by 26%, 21% and 10% respectively, according to the statement. These markets faced economic challenges and their currencies depreciated against the Singapore dollar, leading to fewer visitor arrivals and smaller spending, the board said.

Visitor arrivals rose 0.9% to 15.2 million in 2015, and are expected at 15.2 million to 15.7 million this year, the board said in the statement.

The city-state forecast S$23.5 billion to S$24 billion in tourism receipts for 2015, according to a statement in March last year.

SINGAPORE: More Tourists But Less Tourist Dollars Received In 2015

Spending among tourists fell by 6.8 per cent to S$22 billion, according to the Singapore Tourism Board's preliminary estimates.

A total of 15.2 million tourists visited the Republic in 2015, 0.9 per cent more than the previous year, according to the Singapore Tourism Board's (STB) preliminary estimates released on Monday (Feb 29).

However, spending among visitors fell by 6.8 per cent in 2015, as tourism receipts reached S$22 billion, the preliminary estimates showed.

According to STB, the decline in tourism receipts was due to a fall in the number of business visitors and meetings, incentives, conventions and exhibition (MICE) arrivals, which fell 6 per cent, and lower per capita expenditure.

STB added that the growth of leisure visitor arrivals had helped to offset the lower business-related visitor arrivals in 2015.

Visitors from Indonesia, which comprise Singapore's largest market, fell by 10 per cent last year. STB attributed the decline to a weaker currency and the uncertain economic outlook, as 2.7 million visitors from Indonesia visited Singapore in 2015.

Meanwhile, visitors from China, Singapore's second-largest market, increased 22 per cent. STB said increased flight connectivity to secondary Chinese cities helped to boost tourist numbers. However, the average Chinese tourist spent 5 per cent less in 2015 as compared to 2014.

A growth in visitor arrivals was also seen in Taiwan (12 per cent), India (7 per cent) and South Korea (7 per cent).

In terms of spending, the top growth markets for tourism receipts were Japan, which grew 6 per cent, and the United Kingdom, growing 4 per cent.

The decline in tourism receipts was most keenly felt in Indonesia, Australia and Malaysia. The STB said these markets had faced economic challenges and saw their currencies depreciate against the Sing dollar.

Looking ahead, STB said it expects tourism receipts to grow between 0 and 2 percent in 2016, to reach the range of S$22-24 billion. It also expects visitor arrivals to be in the range of 15.2 to 15.7 million, a growth of 0-3 per cent.

TASMANIA: Bruny Island Tourism Boom Affected By Human Excrement

More infrastructure is needed urgently as a boom in tourism sees rubbish and human excrement build up around Tasmania's Bruny Island, residents say.

Pictures of piles of faeces and toilet paper beside walking tracks and, in some cases, on a resident's property, have been circulated by residents to highlight the situation.

Bruny Island resident Rosemary Sandford said urgent measures needed to be put in place to deal with the problem before the Easter holiday.

"We need large rubbish skips and we also need more toilets," she said.

"Given that they will take time to construct by council, government or tourism operators in the meantime, we've got Easter coming, we need portaloos at all the tourism hubs."

Dr Sandford said the tourism hubs of Adventure Bay, Great Bay, The Neck and the Cape Bruny Lighthouse needed urgent attention.

"The toilets at Adventure Bay cannot keep up with the volume of the tourists," she said.

She said the State Government's tourism push was obviously working, but some vital details had been overlooked.

"I think it's a case of putting the tourism cart before the horse," she said.

Former Kingborough mayor Graham Berry said there was no question facilities needed to be upgraded.

"At peak tourist times there's a deficiency of facilities, and council is responsible for that as well as the State Government," he said.

Dr Berry said his council had proposed a solution to the State Government that would have helped pay for better facilities across Bruny Island.

"The levy or landing fee was first proposed about 10 years ago by the local Bruny community," he said.

"It's a no-brainer. The suggestion was that there be about a $5 additional fee that was built into the ferry fee, and that money would be quarantined and used to improve the facilities for tourists or for locals as well."

He said it was rejected "out of hand" by the tourism advisory council.

The State Government has been contacted for comment.

TANZANIA: Government Checks On Sold-off Lodges

The Tanzania government has put on notice one of the Tanzania’s largest hotel operators, Hotels and Lodges (Tanzania) Limited, over a breach of contract signed between them writes ELISHA MAYALLAH.

Hotels and Lodges (Tanzania) Limited operates Lake Manyara Wildlife Lodge (formerly Lake Manyara Hotel); Ngorongoro Wildlife Lodge; Seronera and Lobo Wildlife Lodges both located in Serengeri national park. Other properties include: Zanzibar Safari Club; Changuu Private Island Paradise; and Bawe Private Island all located in and around the spice islands of Zanzibar.

Tanzania privatized tourist lodges and hotels in Tanzania are listed among business entities under investigation by the government. In a recent government notice, a list of leading hotels in Tanzania was exposed to the public, requiring their owners to submit their performance reports among other requirements. Privatization was intended to create better managed establishments.

These facilities include four leading tourist lodges in northern Tanzania’s wildlife parks of Lake Manyara, Ngorongoro, and Serengeti.

The Registrar for Treasury, Lawrence Mafuru, said the government had asked purchasers and outright owners of privatized public business entities to submit to his office, reports which would allow the government to re-assess the viability of privatized public companies.

‘All the purchasers of privatized industries and farms are required to submit the reports of implementation of their respective agreements to the office of the Treasury Registrar’, reads part of the notice.

Other reports the government need from the investors are the envolvement of the average salary against the statutory minimum wage; other benefits provided to employees over and above statutory requirements; Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) extension to target communities; and last, the important factors that have contributed to the growth or failure of the listed entity.

Key tourist hotels and lodges across Tanzania have been listed, among them are Lake Manyara Hotel, Ngorongoro Wildlife Lodge, Seronera Wildlife Lodge, and Lobo Wildlife Lodge, all located in northern Tanzania tourist parks of Lake Manyara, Ngorongoro, and the Serengeti.

The hotels and lodges in question were owned by the government of Tanzania divested to private owners between 15 and 12 years ago. Under such an arrangement, the government of Tanzania will table a motion before the parliament to decide the fate of those hotels, pending submission of performance reports.

There has been a public outcry over the way the privatization of once-leading hotels in Tanzania was handled. Some of which went into the hands of people who have no background or experience in the tourism industry.

Critics have said this is sabotaging tourism development. Tourism brings in more than $1 billion annually and is a key sector of the economy. Complaints have included such practices as unequal employment opportunities for communities neighboring the parks.

According to Mafuru, other discrepancies discovered include default in payment of purchase price and lack of clear financial reports basing on profitability and loss.

Other facilities, once under the public ownership and listed for assessment, are the Embassy Hotel and Kunduchi Beach Hotel in the capital city of Dar es Salaam; Hotel 77 in Arusha; New Mwanza Hotel on the shores of Lake Victoria; and New Savoy Hotel in Morogoro, about 200 kilometres west of Dar es Salaam.

UGANDA: Uganda Wildlife Gets New Board

NEW BOARD: Uganda’s Tourism Minister Maria Mutagamba (Front Centre) with the New UWA Board of Trustees
Uganda’s Tourism Minister Maria Mutagamba has inaugurated a New Board of Trustees for Uganda Wildlife Authority retaining Benjamin Otto, a former permanent secretary in the ministry of Tourism, Trade and Industry as the Board Chairperson.

Since March last year when the 7th UWA Board tenure ran out, the organ had had to run with little guidance, which was quite a tussle for both the ministry of tourism and its management. The 8th UWA Board was unveiled last week.

Mutagamba said as members of the 8th Board, the Government expects them to govern Uganda Wildlife Authority in an efficient and effective manner and to be able to enable the institution deliver its mandate to the people of Uganda and international community.

“I would like to draw your attention to the following areas which you should prioritize in your tenure of office. Ensure that Uganda Wildlife Authority Strategic Plan, Protected Area General Management Plans, Programmes, Activities and Budgets, are in line with the Uganda Wildlife Policy 2014; National Development Plan, Tourism Sector Investment Plan and The Manifesto,” she told the new board.

Mutagamba also tasked the board to review Protected Area Systems Plan for Uganda and make recommendations to the Ministry on required Protected Area System changes.

“Address human wildlife conflicts in and around Protected Areas and prioritises problem animal management; elimination of encroachment, boundary conflicts, crop raiding and livestock predation.

“Build adequate capacity of Uganda Wildlife Authority to combat poaching, illegal wildlife trade and trafficking in Uganda and adopt zero tolerance to poaching and illegal wildlife trade,” she added.

She said the new board must promote sustainable wildlife farming and ensure that the wildlife user rights system is based on sound scientific information that guarantees sustainability of species under user rights regime.

“Develop and implement a management plan for wildlife outside Protected Areas. Promote sustainable tourism development in Wildlife Protected Areas in order to increase revenue generation and community benefits,” she told the new board members.

She said they must ensure that Uganda Wildlife Authority works very well with the Private sector, Local Communities, Local Governments, development and other partners.

Benjamin Otto, who worked as Permanent Secretary (Accounting Officer) from 1980 to 1998 in the Ministry of Education and Sports, Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting and Ministry of Tourism and Wildlife was retained as the Chairperson. The members are Dr. Pantaleon Kasoma Mukasa Banda, Eng. Batuma Mbabazi, Dr Dianah NALWANGA Wabwire, Leornard Wamakote and Kakuyo Kagumaho.

Amb. Patrick Mugoya, the Ministry of Tourism Permanent Secretary said since March last year, Uganda Wildlife Authority has been operating without a Board which is regrettable.

“The circumstances that led to this delay were entirely beyond the control of the Ministry. Nevertheless, now that the Board is finally here, we are gratified that the Board will now take over the direct supervisory burden from the shoulders of the Minister.”

East African Passport

There is an effort in all the East African Community (EAC) countries for registrations of persons. There have also been numerous elections in the different countries. All these have been carried out using biometric fingerprint and data systems.

I believe there is now a sufficient database of information that can be used to issue passports in each of these different countries.

I do not see why, therefore, we are still making long lines and crowding immigration centers in all the EAC countries when it comes to the issuance of passports.

What is the best way to determine a resident other than the issuance of a national identity card and participation in elections?

There is a current shortage of Identity cards in Uganda and this has occasioned a printing of new passports. Why do we go into all this expense when we can simply issue one passport: the East African Passport?

As it is, several nations have recognised the EAC and on a weekly basis there is a new ambassador being accredited or pledging funds or support for the EAC.

I say, let us fast track the EAC passport, use the biometric data we already have gathered and issue all the citizens of the EAC with passports. This will save time, effort and money!

TANZANIA: East Launches First Travel Document

President John Magufuli will be joining his four counterparts from Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi in launching the first community travel document here on Wednesday.

The new digitalised and machine- readable East African Passport replaces the old EAC travel document, which was restricted to just the five member states. Apparently, the proposed new one is going to be as international as the current Tanzanian booklet passport, which means it will be accepted all over the globe.

Arusha will be hosting five Presidents from Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi and Tanzania who are set to converge here for their Heads of State Summit on Wednesday the 2nd of March 2016.

According to the Head of Communications at the East African Community Secretariat, Mr Richard Owora Othieno, the five East African presidents are converging here for their 17th Ordinary East African Community (EAC) Heads of State Summit.

The five presidents, including for the first time at the summit, Dr John Magufuli, will have several items on the agenda, including the launching of the new electronic East African Passport and discussion of the possibilities of adding new members, including South-Sudan into the Arusha-based, community.

The Summit will also address the consideration of reports by the preceding EAC Council of Ministers on: the negotiations on the admission of the Republic of South Sudan into the Community.

The Head of State will also be addressing Sustainable Financing Mechanisms for the EAC; and the EAC Institutional Review. Tanzania will be handing over the Summit Chair to the next country, possibly Burundi despite conflicts in the country.

The meeting will also consider the council's reports on the Model, Structure and Action Plan of the EAC Political Federation; Implementation of the Framework for Harmonized EAC Roaming Charges and Modalities for Promotion of Motor Vehicle Assembly in the region.

They will talk about the Reduction of the Importation of Used Motor Vehicles from Outside the Community, and; the Promotion of the Textile and Leather Industries in the region, and stopping importation of Used Clothes, Shoes and Other Leather Products from outside the region.

The Summit is also expected to deliberate on a report by the Council on the verification exercise for the admission of the Republic of Somalia into the EAC. The Heads of State are expected to launch the new International East African e-passport (electronic-passport) during their meeting.

The Summit will be preceded by a meeting of the EAC Council of Ministers that had been taking place at the EAC Headquarters in Arusha between 27th, February 22 and Sunday.

Meanwhile, President Magufuli arrived in Arusha yesterday where he will among other activities, lead the 17th Ordinary East African Community (EAC) Heads of State Summit on Wednesday on Wednesday.

At the Kilimanjaro International Airport (KIA), President Magufuli was received by various government and political party leaders. Dr Magufuli, who is the current EAC Chair, will also hold talks with EAC head of States before the Head of States Summit.

On Thursday, President Magufuli and his Kenyan counterpart, President Uhuru Kenyatta, will lay a foundation stone for construction of the Arusha-Holili-Taveta-Voi road linking Tanzania and Kenya. The road is under EAC development plans, being implemented by EAC member states.

ETHIOPIA: Target The Ethiopian Outbound Market To Uganda

Derek Houston of Houston Marketing in South Africa, yesterday announced a new Spotlight city, Addis Ababa. Read on if you are keen to get a slice of the Ethiopian outbound market.

I am pleased to advise that we have added Addid Ababa, Ethiopia to our Spotlight schedule for 2016

Why Addis ??

Ethiopia has one of the highest GDP growth rates in the world ( 10% each year over the last decade) coupled with a huge growth in the middle class population with a big demand to travel abroad. Add the rapidly expanding Ethiopian Airlines network to African & overseas destination and you have the perfect recipe for an exciting new market to tap into!

Addis Ababa — or Addis as it is commonly known — is Ethiopia’s capital and the country’s largest city as it is home to at least 4 million people. It is often referred to as Africa’s diplomatic capital – the African Union (AU) is headquartered in Addis Ababa, and more than 100 international missions and embassies are based there, meaning the city plays host to many of the continent’s dignitaries.

A top rated Washington DC Financial services firm ranked Ethiopia Number 3 on the fastest growing global economies list.

PROGRAMME
Monday 23 May 2016
Fly into Addis

Tuesday 24 May – Venue United Nations Conference Centre Addis

08h30 -12h00 - Breakfast and Spotlight Travel Expo for trade.

12h00-13h00 Light lunch and prize draw

13h30 - End of Travel Expo.
Fly home

The Spotlight seminar in Harare is almost fully booked – only 5 tables left – Book today to be sure of your attendance .

JORDAN: Aqaba To Offer Alternative To Sharm El-Sheikh?

Days after the Russian plane crashed in Sinai, the UK halted all flights to Sharm El-Sheikh until the results of the investigation were revealed. Russia shortly followed suit by cancelling all flights to and from Egypt. The Tourism Board in Jordan adopted new measures to encourage Russian tourists to visit Jordan, offering an alternative to Sharm El-Sheikh

Days after the Russian plane crashed in Sinai, the UK halted all flights to Sharm El-Sheikh until the results of the investigation were revealed. Russia shortly followed suit by cancelling all flights to and from Egypt. The Tourism Board in Jordan adopted new measures to encourage Russian tourists to visit Jordan, offering an alternative to the Egypt’s most famous tourism spots in Sinai.

According to the Jordan Times, Managing Director of the Jordan Tourism Board (JTB) Abbed Al-Razzaq Arabiyat said they are contacting with Russian and British tour operators to promote tourism to the city of Aqaba. The JTB called on the Royal Wings to offer the Russian market cheaper flights to encourage Russians to visit Jordan, which was welcomed by the airline.

Russian tourism constituted 35% of the total tourism to Egypt, with the tourists reaching two million over the last nine months. The total of Russian tourism expenditure in 2014 amounted to $2.5m out of $7.3m, the total tourism expenditure.

In an attempt to support national tourism, some travel agencies launched packages to Sharm El-Sheikh at affordable prices, such as Tez Tour Egypt.

Jordan enjoys various touristic attractions that can become competition to those of Egypt, especially following the latest incident. The coastal city of Aqaba on the Red Sea has a similar climate to Sharm El-Sheikh and the historical city of Petra could grow to become a destination to tourists interested in history and archaeology. Wadi Rum or the Valley of the Moon can also serve as an alternative desert safari spot. The Dead Sea is already one of the world’s top health resorts.

Egyptian tourism will also have to compete with Easyjet’s other favourable destinations; Morocco, where the cities of Agadir, Casablanca, Essaouira, and Marrakech have been prominent destinations after Egypt’s Hurghada and Sharm El-Sheikh. Now that the airliner’s flights to Sharm El-Sheikh are on pause, demand on flights to Morocco is expected to increase.

EGYPT: EasyJet To Resume Flights To Sharm El-Sheikh Early May

An official at the Ministry of Tourism said British EasyJet Airways will resume its flights from England to Sharm El-Sheikh in May 2016.

According to the official, Control Risks, the company in charge of reviewing of airports security procedures, will complete the evaluation process for airports of Marsa Alam and Sharm El-Sheikh on 28 April and the review process is in full swing.

The number of British tourists in Egypt declined over the last year by 4% reaching 869,000. Russian tourists have declined by 24% during the past year bringing their number down to 2.3m tourists.

The Ministry of Tourism and the Private Aviation Association agreed to launch flights to 12 European, Asian, and African countries. The first of these flights will begin in April, the official said and that these markets are very promising for Egypt.

The ministry plans to launch a public relations campaign in the Italian market to communicate with the media at the end of March. Egypt lost 90% of the Italian market reservations after finding Giulio Regeni dead in January, according to the official.

“Launching the PR campaign depends on the result of investigations conducted by the Ministry of Interior,” the official said. The number of Italian tourists arriving in Egypt in 2015 declined by 17% compared to 2014 to 332,000 arrivals. The official expects the number to continue declining in light of the Russian place crash on 31 October 2015.

Britain and Russia halted their flights to Egypt in November 2015 until the disclosure of the circumstances of the plane bombing. The official said Italians tend to visit Egypt during the summer between July and September and Italy has been one of the top Egyptian tourism exporters over the past five years.

The North Coast and Marsa Alam are the most popular spots for Italians in Egypt but occupancies in Marsa Alam fell to less than 30% after the death of Regeni. Marsa Alam has about 15,000 hotel rooms, according to the Egyptian Hotels Association. The north Coast and ​​Alexandria have a total capacity of 5,000 rooms.

Chairman of the Egyptian Tourism Federation (ETF) Elhamy El-Zayat said British tourism will return to Sharm El-Sheikh at the beginning of Egypt’s tourism recovery.

Egypt is determined to recover tourism and contracting with Control Risks to review airport security operations is vital. El-Zayat believes the tourism sector is capable of resolving the hard currency crisis the Egyptian economy is facing at the moment.

The dollar exchange rate exceeded EGP 9.8 on the parallel market this week. Tourism accounts for a third of the proceeds of dollar inflows to Egypt, according to the Central Bank of Egypt (CBE).

The government is counting on the return of tourism to treat the current economic situation and increase rates of employment. El-Zayat said there were more 3.5 million workers in the sector before 25 January 2011. “But now it has become worse,” he said.

CANADA: Man Who Beheaded Passenger Wins Right To Live Alone

Vince Li is pictured at a court appearance in a Portage La Prairie, Man. August 5, 2008. Li, the man who beheaded a fellow passenger on a Greyhound bus in Manitoba, has changed his name and is seeking more freedom.
A Criminal Code Review Board has approved a plan that would allow Vince Li to eventually move out of a group home.

A man who beheaded a fellow passenger on a Greyhound bus in Manitoba has won the right to eventually live on his own.

A Criminal Code Review Board has approved a plan that would allow Vince Li to at some point move out of the group home where he now lives.

Li — who has changed his name to Will Baker — killed Tim McLean during a bus trip along the TransCanada Highway near Portage la Prairie in July 2008.

He was found to be not criminally responsible for the murder due to a mental illness — schizophrenia.

The board reviews Baker's file annually and has ruled that he could move out on his own following an updated assessment report that would include conditions for living in the community.

Baker was originally kept in a secure wing at the Selkirk Mental Health Centre, but the board has granted him increasing freedoms almost every year.

The request for more freedom came from Baker's medical team, which said he has been a model patient and understands the need to continue to take anti-psychotic medication.

Even living on his own, he would be subject to several conditions that would include daily monitoring, regular check-ins with mental health professionals and random drug tests.

Baker sat next to the 22-year-old McLean on the bus after the young man smiled at him and asked how he was doing.

Baker said he heard the voice of God telling him to kill the young carnival worker or "die immediately.'' Baker repeatedly stabbed McLean who unsuccessfully fought for his life.

As passengers fled the bus, Baker continued stabbing and mutilating the body before he was arrested.

He won the right to leave the hospital and live in a group home last year.

Supporters say Baker and other people deemed not criminally responsible for their actions deserve the right to rehabilitation and freedom. But opponents, including some politicians and McLean's mother, have opposed the board granting Baker increasing freedom.

"The Crown has the ability to view Will Baker ... as a designated high-risk not criminally responsible person, but they have chosen not to," Conservative MP James Bezan wrote in a statement this week.

"They have blatantly ignored the rights of the victim’s family, and compromised the public safety of our community in (their) decision."

Sunday, 28 February 2016

TANZANIA: Tanzanian Delegation Heads To ITB In Berlin

According to information received from Dar es Salaam will nearly 170 representatives of Tanzanian tourism businesses head to Berlin to attend the world's largest tourism show, ITB.

The delegation will be spearheaded by the Tanzania Tourist Board, which put the participation for the exhibition together and which will showcase the country alongside TANAPA and dozens of hotels, resorts, tour and safari operators, local airlines and other tourism attractions.

KILIFAIR too will be in Berlin to drum up support for their own Moshi based tourism trade show and visitors to the Tanzania stand will be able to see the wide range of offerings available, from the islands of Zanzibar and Mafia across the southern and northern safari circuit.

It could not be ascertained if Tanzania's Minister for Natural Resources and Tourism, Prof. Jumanne Maghembe, will lead Tanzania's delegation to Berlin, where a number of tourism forums for attending Ministers would provide a perfect opportunity to network.

Tourism ministers from other countries in the Eastern African region, namely Uganda and Kenya, will be heading their respective delegations and notably will the trio of Rwanda, Kenya and Uganda once again have a joint stand space. The three will promote travel in Berlin not just to their own beaches and parks but across the Northern Corridor Integration Project countries, using the single tourist Visa for leverage.

CANADA: Doers And Dreamers Guide

Nova Scotia's Opposition Tories are taking issue with the omission of visitor information centres from a map in the province's latest tourism guide, known as the Doers and Dreamers guide.

Conservative Alfie MacLeod says it's further proof the Liberal government is preparing to shut down the centres to save money.
The Cape Breton politician says there's growing concern about the future of the centres because seasonal employees have yet to be contacted about returning to work.

The government has said no decisions have been made.

The government closed centres in Pictou and Digby last year, which means there are six left: Port Hastings, Amherst, Peggy's Cove, Yarmouth and two in Halifax.

UAE: Falling Oil Price Helps Reduce fares

Travellers in the UAE are reaping the benefits from a price war among the major Gulf airlines who are fighting for regional market share.

The airlines are increasingly competing head-to-head on many Middle Eastern routes with their hubs only a short distance from each other. The falling oil price has helped cut fares with fuel often the single largest operating cost of carriers worldwide.

Emirates, Etihad Airways and Qatar Airways have launched promotions this year that has seen the average fare on some Middle East routes from the Emirates drop by more than 10 per cent.

According to data from travel portal Cleartrip, the average Emirates round-trip fare from the UAE to a destination in the Middle East last January was Dh1,441, 17.6 per cent cheaper compared to the same month in 2015.

Etihad Airways’ average fare to the region was Dh1,211 last month, down 12.2 per cent compared to Dh1,380 in January 2015.

“Generally speaking, due to the drop in the price of crude oil in global markets, all airlines have reduced their fares. However, based on demand and supply on certain routes (and specific competitors strategy) airlines decide to adjust their pricing strategy,” Amit Taneja, chief revenue officer of Cleartrip, said by email. Crude oil prices have collapsed by more than 70 per cent since mid-2014.

Manu Mehrotra, general manager of Al Tayer Travel Agency, said that there are more airfare promotions this year compared to 2015. “Airlines want to secure more bookings earlier,” he said. Europe

But average fares from the UAE to Europe have increased this year since “demand from the UAE to Europe grew year-on-year”, outpacing seat supply, according to Cleartrip’s Taneja.

The average Etihad round-trip ticket to Europe last month cost Dh2,959, 21.7 per cent more compared to the same period in the previous year.

But Qatar Airways “has not increased its fares to Europe, the Middle East and Asia. It has reduced its fuel surcharge which ultimately reduces its overall pricing,” Dubai-based Alpha Tours said in a statement.

While air travel demand from Dubai to India has increased this year, fares dropped year-on-year “due to aggressive pricing strategy by low cost carriers and Jet Airways,” Taneja said.

India is a major market for Gulf carriers. Etihad Airways and Jet Airways saw a 63 per cent jump in passenger numbers between Abu Dhabi and India last year, flying 3.3 million.

The average Qatar Airways round-trip fare from the UAE to India last January was Dh1,097, 14.6 per cent cheaper compared to January last year.

UAE: Dubai Hotel Revenues Down 6%

Dubai's revenue per available room, a measure of hotel performance, drops by 6.1% in Q4 2015.

Business isn’t looking very good for many hotels in Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

A new benchmark study released by global accountancy firm Ernst & Young (EY) on Wednesday showed that premium and budget hotels across the UAE recorded a slowdown in revenues during the last three months of 2015.

The decline has been attributed to the fall in the influx of holidaymakers from key markets, coupled with less liquidity, low oil prices, currency fluctuations and uncertain macroeconomic conditions.

Dubai hoteliers saw their revenue per available room (RevPAR), a measure of a hotel’s financial performance, dropped by 6.1 per cent in the last quarter compared to the same period a year earlier. The slump is mainly a result of hotel operators’ inability to keep room prices profitable and guests flowing in.

Average daily room rates in Dubai dropped from $318 to $303 during the same period, according to EY’s Middle East hotel benchmark survey report. At the same time, occupancy rate dipped by 1.3 per cent .

Hotels in Abu Dhabi encountered a similar setback, with RevPAR in the UAE capital decreasing by 12.9 per cent, overall occupancy 4 per cent and average room rates 9.2 per cent.

As early as May last year, some hotel operators had already reported a slowdown in the hospitality business. They noted that visitor numbers from Europe, particularly Russian travelers – whose spending power has been eroded due to the euro’s devaluation against the dollar – had been on a decline.

However, some hoteliers in Dubai maintained that they haven't had any issues filling their rooms, citing that visitors continue to come in, especially during holidays and trade events.

Abdulla Al Shammar, managing director at Central Hotels, said their occupancy rate did drop by 1 to 2 per cent in January compared to a year ago. But he pointed out that the decline is very minimal, adding that special events, including the Dubai Shopping Festival and exhibitions at the World Trade Centre, often boost guest numbers.

“Notably, on peak periods, such as when there are exhibitions and holidays, we’re able to close at 100 per cent,” Al Shammar told Gulf News.

“There are, however, forecasts of a marginal drop in occupancy during the summer period which could be due to increasing supply and a lower purchasing power from key markets.”

Nives Deininger, director of sales at Golden Sands Hotel Apartments, said their occupancy increased to 93% in January from 90 per cent in the same period last year.

"Actually, hotel occupancy is higher in January for us, since we have been aggressively targeting key markets and driving volume by extending promotional offers," Deininger said.

The overall outlook for Middle East and North Africa (Mena) hotels in 2016 isn’t looking great however, with analysts expecting the market to register a “flat or negative performance” this year.

“It will be difficult for hotels to maintain the same performance as 2015 this year, and it’s expected that there will be a minimal decline in RevPAR in 2016,” said Yousef Wahbah, Mena head of transaction real estate at EY.

“Several factors point to a flat or negative performance in 2016, including reduced economic growth due to lower oil prices, less liquidity in the region, reduced visitors from Europe, Russia and China due to currency fluctuations and the uncertain macroeconomic conditions,” Wahbah added.

However, certain hotel operators in Dubai are faring the slowdown better than their peers. According to EY’s report. Dubai beach hotels, as well as those in Jeddah, had the highest room yields in the region, recording an average of $311 and $214, respectively in 2015.

EY’s report also highlighted that, despite a challenging revenue environment, Dubai and Abu Dhabi had the highest occupancy rates in the region at 80 per cent, followed closely by Ras Al Khaimah at 75 per cent, on par with those of popular cities like London, New York and Tokyo.

Across the region, hotels in Cairo saw the biggest improvement in profitability, with their 2015 RevPAR increasing by 34 per cent compared to 2014, thanks to improved political environment.

CHINA: Chinese Couple Who Opposed Cross Removals, Jailed 12 And 14 Years

A Chinese pastor and his wife who led a Christian congregation that opposed a government campaign to remove crosses atop churches have been sentenced to 14 years and 12 years in prison respectively for illegal activities, including corruption and disturbing social order.

A court in eastern Zhejiang Province on Friday sentenced Bao Guohua and his wife Xing Wenxiang after concluding they had illegally organized church goers to petition the government and disturb social order, according to provincial Zhejiang Daily newspaper.

The couple also was accused of "tricking" members of its congregation into donating $336,000 that was spent on cars and other personal purchases while pretending to lead an ascetic lifestyle, it said. The court also sentenced ten other church members to prison.

For the past two years, authorities have removed hundreds of crosses from churches in the province, where there is a large Christian community, saying they violate building codes.

Zhejiang's religious leaders, whose churches have long been sanctioned by the government, say the attitudes of local authorities have turned sharply negative in recent years as the Christian population grew in number and influence.

Provincial authorities last month opened a corruption probe into the prominent pastor Gu Yuese, who openly spoke out against government's clampdown on Christian activity.

China Aid, a Texas-based group that has funded the churches efforts to resist the cross removals, said in a blog post Friday that the government prosecuted Bao's church because of its opposition to cross removals.

"The government's criminal prosecution against the pastor and his believers is actually religious persecution," the group said.

USA: 106 Burmese Pythons Captured In Florida,

The 106 Burmese pythons captured over a monthlong hunt won't help control Florida's invasive snake population, but wildlife officials said Saturday that doesn't matter as much as the awareness they bring to the state's environmental concerns.

Thousands of pythons, far from their natural habitat in Southeast Asia, are believed to be stalking Florida wildlife in the beleaguered Everglades. The tan, splotchy snakes can be elusive in the wetlands, but Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officials say volunteer python removal programs and two state-sanctioned hunts since 2009 are focusing more eyes to the problem.

"Whether they're fishermen or they're hunters or they're hikers or they're birdwatchers — they're all looking for the python," said wildlife commissioner Ron Bergeron. "The success of the 'Python Challenge' has broadened out to thousands of people now."

The longest python caught during the hunt that ran between Jan. 16 and Feb. 14 was 15 feet long. It was caught by a team led by Bill Booth of Sarasota.

Booth's team also took home a prize for largest haul of snakes: 33 pythons.

Over 1,000 people from 29 states registered to remove pythons from South Florida's wetlands.

Daniel Moniz of Bricktown, New Jersey, suffered bites to the face, neck and arm from the 13-foot-8.7-inch python that won him a prize for the longest python caught by an individual.

Faced with a winter layoff from his landscaping job, he completed the wildlife commission's online training and spent a month biking over 40 miles a day over levees through the wetlands, eventually bagging a total of 13 pythons.

The longest one tried to swim away, until he dove on top of it. "I got it under control and stuffed it in a pillow case," he said.

Frank Mazzotti of the University of Florida said the stomach contents of the captured pythons are still being analyzed, but so far the prey has included a fawn and a wood stork and other large wading birds.

Once the necropsies are complete, the hunters can reclaim their dead snakes. About a third of have been turned over to Brian Wood of All American Gator in Hollywood.

Half the hunters want him to make something from the pythons they caught — a wall hanging, a pair of boots, or a purse for the wife at a fraction of the cost of a python clutch bearing a luxury designer logo.

The other half are selling him their dead snakes for up to $150 apiece — about the same price Wood pays for fully processed, tanned and dyed python skins imported from Asia. (In Wood's store, swatches show python skins dyed teal, rose pink, pale yellow and metallic gold, among other hues.)

Wood also turned about 20 pythons caught during the 2013 Python Challenge into accessories. Pythons that once slithered through the Everglades now slide out of pockets as black-and-white billfolds or hang off arms as roomy purses. A couple now stride down sidewalks, transformed into pairs of Chuck Taylor sneakers.

"It's kind of cool to be able to get something that's invasive, not something that's endangered," Wood said.

He says he regularly supplies European luxury brands with alligator skins, but they aren't interested in Florida's pythons. The state's invasive snakes aren't tracked by international trade conventions, and the volume can't compare with the hundreds of thousands of python skins supplied each by about 10 countries in Southeast Asia.

They're also looking for sustainable sources of python skins, while Florida just wants to be rid of its python supply.

Unfortunately, pythons are not Wood's only supply of invasive species leathers.

"I'm trying to promote this lizard we have that's taken over," he says, meaning iguanas, which his sons are hired to hunt in South Florida's urban and suburban environments.

Damaged British Airways Jet To Be Sprayed

A British Airways jet that was damaged by fire during an aborted takeoff in September flew from Las Vegas to a California airport on Friday after six months of repairs including an engine replacement and fuselage patch.

The Boeing 777 took a circuitous route over the Mojave Desert to Victorville, where it will be repainted before being flown back to the United Kingdom, airline spokeswoman Michele Kropf said.

Flight records showed the big twin-engine aircraft departed McCarran International Airport about 1:30 p.m. and arrived 90 minutes later at Southern California Logistics Airport.

The flight test followed engine testing late Thursday on an inactive runway at McCarran.

A National Transportation Safety Board investigation of the Sept. 8 fire is continuing.

British Airways Flight 2276 was barreling down a runway for takeoff and what would have been a 10-hour flight to London with 157 passengers and 13 crew members aboard when its left engine burst into flames.

The plane screeched to a halt with fire and smoke billowing beneath the wing while all 170 people escaped down evacuation slides. No one was seriously hurt.

Since then, the aircraft has remained in a corner of the McCarran property while the fire-damaged General Electric engine was removed and replaced by the manufacturer.

Airport spokeswoman Christine Crews said Friday it racked up $65,000 in parking fees, and other costs once repairs began.

Victoria Madden, a British Airways spokeswoman in New York, said in a statement that Boeing technicians worked to repair the aircraft "to the same high standards as if the aircraft was brand new."

A Boeing spokesman referred questions to British Airways.

The aircraft was built in 1998, outfitted with GE90 engines of the type used in most Boeing 777s. It was registered to British Airways a year later. In its 14 years of service, it flew nearly 77,000 hours, according to the British Civil Aviation Authority.

Early NTSB findings were that a catastrophic failure occurred at a crucial compression point when the engine was under the highest pressure, although investigators said they weren't immediately sure what caused it.

On the tarmac, investigators recovered several 7- to 8-inch fragments from the spool assembly of the high-pressure engine compressor. They noted some shards apparently sliced through the armored shell around the engine.

GE Aviation spokesman Rick Kennedy said Friday the company examined more than 50 model GE90 engines of similar configuration and age, and found no anomalies and no clues about what might have caused the fire.

"Those engines were without issue," Kennedy said. "We're looking at other early-model GE90s to see if there's a pattern. So far, they haven't found anything."

GE Aviation has said the spool, which holds the blades in the GE90-85B engine, was among the first made for that model in 1995.

About 400 base GE90 engines are being used to power 167 aircraft worldwide, according to the company.

Kennedy said the spool and blades of all GE90 engines built before 2001 are being inspected during scheduled overhaul and maintenance.

USA: Search Continues for NY Man Missing After Small Plane Crash

Police are continuing to search for a New York City man who has been missing since a small plane went down last weekend in a harbor off Long Island.

Suffolk County Police say the search continued Saturday for 23-year-old Gerson Salmon-Negron of Queens.

They say the search has been a top priority for the department since the Piper PA-28 crash-landed in a harbor between Port Jefferson and Setauket on Feb. 19.

Authorities have said a student pilot was flying to Long Island from Fitchburg, Massachusetts when the plane began experiencing difficulties. Three of the four people on board were rescued that night.

Police say divers have been in the water searching. They say other officers are using sonar and searching by boat.

MAYOTTE: Meet Dolphins And Terns

One hundred dolphins "Stenella", terns resting on a small white island least known as the Pointe de Saziley, white crab in the mangroves: Possible meetings throughout the year in Mayotte

Dolphins, turtles, whales, and even some Dogon sperm: wildlife - including mammals - the lagoon of Mayotte is a richness and diversity exceptional.

For some of these animals, the event is common and occurs throughout the year. This is the case of dolphins. Others are concentrated in a few months of the year (July to October for whales) or exceptional (dugongs, sperm whales, sharks).

Starting at 8:30 in the dock of the marina Mamoudzou on the boat made in China on the original Sea Blue Safari. Taud (= plastic sheeting which can be mostly in the shade) and comfortable seats with cushions. At the controls: Nils Bertrand. Small "brief" the skipper to explain the course of the day.

First stop at the island M'Tsongoma
Direction, north to Point Douamonyo, often called the peninsula of Handrema, named after the village nestled in the cove that precede it. Along the coast.

First stop at the island M'Tsongoma facing M'Tsangamboua, bristling a bitter white. Especially small and beautiful beach falling about thirty feet from its north shore. Fins, mask, snorkel. Corals, small fish and a turtle that nested in the coral rock.

Everyone re-embarkation, without precipitation.
They are a hundred
Next step: the dolphins. Everyone is asked to widening of the eyes.

Well after the peak Douamonyo and M'Tsamboro island, towards the Great Barrier Reef, all of a sudden gushes of water, as huge splash. Then, very quickly, all sides, back and wings gray and shiny. These dolphins "Stenella" that there are two kinds: Stenella spotted - they are those who now frolicking joyfully before the bow of the boat - and Stenella long beak that we will see.

They are a hundred, we remain almost an hour to watch, engine idling. But not swim with them because it is a species that does not close with this man.

We leave with regret.

Heading towards the white block "the terns'

Heading south towards the "other" white island of Mayotte, which is less known than the south-east of the island near the tip of Saziley.

We baptized: terns to the island, the name of these birds that cover all its 800 m2 and also called "sea swallows."

When we arrived, very discreet, they will rest and then fly as soon as we move away. Magical spectacle, of great beauty. Terns black - strong minority - do not mix with the colony of white terns.

Laying on the island: one is brewing in the ripples. Nils warns: Beware informed. And reminds us that everything should remain intact: it is strictly prohibited to collect shells.

Behind us, to the north, the large island of M'Tsamboro we see the beautiful beach of golden sand clear Antakoudja and islets Choazil with the language of long glittering white sand.

He is 13h 30. Nils chooses to place the anchor on the beach for the Prefect pique-nique/déjeuner. Nap, reading trade.

In turn, plunged into the mangrove Bouyouni. Take IGN map: it is quite possible that one channel to return ... to the national road. Engine idling. It was changed in a few seconds universe: water cloudy and green, cries of birds (one crabber white?), Tortured roots of mangroves, crabs violinists, périophtalmes (small fish and amphibian jumper) ... Nils Bertrand explains the importance the role of the mangroves.

The attrition brings sediment to mangrove; it all added to the waste from humans. Mangrove roots in fixed sludge and waste, is used as a filter.

And the water of the lagoon are clear a few tens of meters away. Mangroves also protect the land from the sea against the waves and cyclones. Finally it serves as a nursery for many species that come to spawn.

The mangrove is in the public domain maritime and should not be modified (cutting of mangroves, earth ...) or soiled.

It was the last stop on our day we set foot on the dock at the port of Mamoudzou at 17h.

MAYOTTE: Hiking At Tsingoni Soho

This hike, which takes the GR 1 - for its entire length has many advantages: the views over the bay of Tsingoni at the beginning of the ride is superb, the path is almost perfectly along route, vegetation and diverse arrival at the beach of Soho is a real pleasure: you can plunge with delight into the ocean before returning in the opposite direction.

Starting point: a few hundred meters from the village of Tsingoni, on the road to Mamoudzou is a junction with the road that goes to M'Tsangamouji to the north. School and football field. GR starts on the right coming from Tsingoni, with a path of red soil, forest road-type vehicles.

After a hundred meters, beautiful escape right over the top of the village of Tsingoni perched on the hill and the bay of the same name. We spend about a hundred meters as the crow flies Karian Lake, nature reserve.

The vegetation is dense. Several meetings with maki and some zebus. Banana plantations, coconut provided, giant bamboo hedges, ylang-ylang not pruned for many years and, the coup, led by candlelight.

The wide track turns into a trail follows the river and crosses Ourovéni (small ford a few stones). The forest reserve is located in Soho on our right. Only two small ribs essoufflent you a little. A stream on the right path and it's arrival on the beach in Soho, at its northern end, ie the quietest.

MAYOTTE: Tour du Lac Dzaha And Down To The Beaches Of Moya

This is the most beautiful and most famous rides of Petite Terre and rightly so. The tour of this lake of emerald green crater offers an overview of Little Earth, a part of the lagoon and the beautiful beaches of Moya to which one descends.

Mayotte is the rest emerged, very eroded, two former major volcanoes of the Tertiary era (dating back to 6 to 8 million years). Petite-Terre is the newest part of the island. It is the result of a series of explosions that have taken place around 10 000 years it has trained "Maars, ie craters exploded: the two inlets of Moya, craters flooded by Ocean, and the crater - intact and round - which houses the Lake Dzaha are the remains.

The starting point of the ride is on the road Badamiers (CTC 10), after Labattoir 1. Browse 2kms and then at the fork near a mango tree, take the track (marked GR, white and red) which starts on the right. After 250m the track divides in two. Turn left. Here the view is superb: on the right, the lake at the bottom of the crater, emerald green, left view of the rock Dzaoudzi, the old fortified city and its harbor. Further, Grande-Terre.

Making a fare. The track becomes trail. Around the lake (incomplete) will last 40 minutes. Junction with signs. Turn left, continue along the ridge (130m) and new fork. Turn left again until you reach a new faré overlooking beautiful beaches and Moya MoyaI II. Stop needed.

Continue 300m, a new intersection. Let the trail to the left, continue straight ahead. After 300 m, new intersection, leaving the trail that starts on the right. Continue on a grassy track which first arrived on the beach Moya, light brown sand. Very nice rounded handle almost closed and bordered on the south of a mangrove.

Warning: This hike is not shady, take a hat and water. Down near the lake is not attractive insects and unpleasant odors.

MAYOTTE: Mahoran Pieces Of Life

It is important when it comes to Mayotte, not only to discover its many natural resources (lagoon, vegetation, fauna and flora) but also to wander in the villages. At the meeting of Mahorais and their daily lives.

Markets on the roadside, small shops, school outings, groups of men in large discussion in the mosque, cooking, washing dishes or clothes in the course, football on the beach, children playing in culverts under the tropical rain.

Small towns and villages where anime unfortunately often the cement and iron - a sign of upward mobility for Mahorais but ugly and heat-accumulators replaced the mud and raffia palms plaited coconut.

And where cleanliness "to the West" was not acceptable even if the progress in recent years are obvious. You will be surprised by the number of unfinished concrete buildings.

The beautiful bright colored houses are social housing built by the Société Immobilière de Mayotte-SIM (16 000 over the whole island). The tiny buildings, species doll house often cob are famous bangs, built by the boys and adolescents to be independent of their parents and receive their girlfriend.

Few gardens except in some villages (Bandabroua, M'Zouazia.
The Mahorais stay in their house, behind metal fences or concrete, sometimes braided palm or bamboo, doors and shutters almost always closed.

To avoid that the heat does but also because the Muslim religion is modest.

Greet people you meet (Hello = "Kwezi", or more familiar "Gégé" to review = "Kwaheri"), thank them when you make a service ( "Maharaba") scenery and authenticity guaranteed

MAYOTTE: White Island Beaches Sazile

Starting point: Moutsamoudou beach, south-east of the island. A boat takes you along for the day, between beaches and islets with white sand. Bath, mask and snorkel-picnic in the program.

Direction: the south-east. Down the coast to Moutsamoudou (also called Mtsamoudou), park his car on the small square at the bottom of the village, near the beach.

Climb into the boat you have booked for the day (see "tip"). We will take care of mask, fins and snorkel, sunscreen, hat and plenty of water. All in a backpack.

Depending on the tide, the fishermen will take you first of all to the white block (plus it is discovered the better because it allows us to venture out with water to the ankles, a long language extends the sand), either on the first beach Sazilé (or Saziley), located before the peak of the same name.

In both cases, a long swim past to admire the funds needed: the fall - very nice - is 250 meters from the beach and the island offers sandy turquoise very "postcard." Warning: there may be common around the island.

It is time then to a picnic, usually in one of three other beaches that are after the peak. The meal cooked on a wood fire laid on the sand will be composed, of course, fish grilled or in sauce, accompanied by cassava, fruit bread or bananas and rice. With brede if you're lucky. No dessert: make your own fruit.

Reading, napping and swimming. The return is around 16h.

A tip: if possible, make the trip between ocean and beach on a weekday because the white island loses much of its charm if there are other people.

A variation: bivouac on the beach after the peak, where a brigade "nature" has a local disk and remain there overnight. You'll be safe. And ask the fisherman to come and find you the next day.

NEPAL: Two Pilots Killed As Plane Crashes In Nepal

Two pilots were killed when a small passenger plane crash landed in Nepal on Friday but all nine passengers survived, an airport official said.

It is not clear what caused the accident, which came two days after a Twin Otter turboprop plane crashed into a mountainside in Nepal killing all 23 people on board.

"A helicopter has landed at the site for rescue. The two pilots are dead, the nine passengers are injured," said Bhola Prasad Guragain, a spokesman for the Tribhuwan International Airport in Kathmandu.

The helicopter will airlift the injured for treatment.

Guragain said the plane had landed in a flat area but appeared to have sustained a major impact at the front, where the pilots were sitting.

"We are trying to get more details," he added.

The Kasthamandap Air plane was carrying nine passengers and two pilots when it took off from an airport in the town of Nepalgunj, 300 kilometres (187 miles) west of Kathmandu.

It was headed for Jumla, a remote area in the mountainous far west of the country where road access is poor.

Air travel is popular in Nepal, which has only a limited road network. Many communities, particularly in the mountains and hills, are accessible only on foot or by air.

The country, which is still reeling from a devastating earthquake last April, has suffered a number of air disasters in recent years, dealing a blow to its tourist industry.

Most have been attributed to inexperienced pilots, poor management and inadequate maintenance.

The European Union blacklisted all Nepal's airlines in 2013.

CUBA: Finding An Empty Hotel Room In Cuba Is Difficult

Cuba's tourism boom continues at a record pace but is expected to cool off during 2016 with the government forecasting nearly 6 percent growth this year after a 17 percent increase in 2015.

Amid the international buzz surrounding the country's detente with the United States, Cuba received a record 3.5 million visitors in 2015, then set another record for any single month in January 2016, officials said.

The influx has pushed capacity to the limit and forced many tourists to scramble for hotel rooms, raising questions about how Cuba will absorb additional visitors when scheduled U.S. commercial airline service starts this year.

The Communist government is rushing to increase hotel capacity in the capital Havana and the beach resort Varadero, the two markets under the most strain, said Dalila Gonzalez, deputy director of marketing for the Tourism Ministry.

Cuba has forecast 200,000 additional visitors this year, or 3.7 million total, which would be less than a 6 percent increase, Gonzalez said.

The January record of 417,764 visitors was up 12.7 percent from a year earlier.

"One of our priorities for this year is the construction of four- and five-star hotels, especially five-star hotels," Gonzalez told Reuters. "All you have to do is walk the streets of Old Havana to see a lot of construction under way."

Projects remain months or years from completion, meaning the hotel crunch is likely to continue, especially during the high season from November to March.

The Manzana de Gomez, an ornate building being converted into a luxury hotel, is due for completion by early 2017. It is a joint venture between the venerable Swiss chain Kempinski and the Cuban state tourism company Gaviota.

Construction recently began on a Sofitel luxury hotel on a prime parcel fronting Havana's famous malecon, or boardwalk. Refurbishing of out-of-commission rooms in aging hotels is also under way.

Occupancy rates at four- and five-star hotels in Havana and Varadero surpassed 80 percent last year, Gonzalez said, a figure that includes the low season.

Because Americans are still banned from tourism under the U.S. trade embargo and only allowed on officially sanctioned visits, Americans concentrate in the capital rather than at forbidden beach resorts. That makes finding a hotel in Havana during the high season a challenge.

American visits last year rose 77 percent to 161,000, not counting hundreds of thousands of Cuban-Americans, and Gonzalez said a similar percentage increase was possible in 2016.

ITALY: Environmentally Sensitive Destinations

News that Italy’s Cinque Terre is set to implement a ticketing system that limits the number of tourists who visit the area is the latest reminder of the privileges and pitfalls that have come with increasingly accessible airfares and mass tourism.

Cinque Terre, located in the Liguria region of Italy, is the latest tourist destination that has been forced to put a cap on tourists in a bid to preserve the integrity of its natural surroundings in the wake of explosive visitor numbers over the last few years.

In 2011, following a torrential rainfall that battered the area, Cinque Terre received 400,000 visitors. That number rebounded to 2.5 million last year, thanks in large part to docking cruise ships which offload hundreds of thousands of day-tripping visitors in one go.

Last week, a spokesman for the national park and UNESCO World Heritage Site announced that as of this summer, visitors will have to buy an advance ticket online in order to gain access to the cliffside trails which connect the five fishing villages.

The aim is to limit the number of tourists from 2.5 million a year, to 1.5 million.

Cinque Terre is the latest environmentally sensitive area to bear the brunt of mass tourism with the proliferation of low-budget airlines, behemoth ocean vessels and increasingly mobile tourists.

Here are a few other destinations that have either implemented tourist caps or are considering it.

Machu Picchu
In a bid to preserve and protect Peru’s fabled and ancient, mountaintop ruins, the country has developed a new reconceptualization project that imposes time limits as a means to control crowd flow and requires visitors to hire an official guide for the trail. For years experts warned that the UNESCO World Heritage Site was at risk of irreversible damage and degradation from unsustainable tourist numbers. If you want to hike to the top, the government now limits access to the classic Inca Trail to 500 permits a day. That includes support staff, such as cooks, porters and guides, further reducing the number to about 200.

Antarctica
To protect one of the few, final frontiers unspoiled by human activity and tourism, The Antarctic Treaty restricts ships with more than 500 passengers from landing sites. Vessels are also restricted to no more than one landing per site, with a maximum of 100 passengers allowed on shore at a time. A ratio of one guide to 20 passengers must also be maintained while ashore.

Barcelona
Last summer, Barcelona’s newly elected mayor Ada Colau made international headlines after announcing plans to curb explosive tourism numbers by imposing a freeze on the development of new hotels and tourist apartments, and creating a preventative policy pre-empting saturation problems before they occur.

Galapagos Islands
Described as a “living museum and showcase of evolution,” the collection of 19 islands which make up the Galapagos Islands groaned under the pressure of unsustainable tourism numbers over the years, putting it on the United Nations’ list of endangered heritage sites. Today, a conservation program has successfully helped it make a solid recovery. To visit, tourists must now be accompanied by a licensed Galapagos National Park Guide and abide by strict rules when visiting the area. Camping is also allowed in only a handful of authorised areas, and requires a permit from park officials.

Yosemite National Park
To protect one of America’s most beautiful national treasures, the US National Park Service announced measures to cap visitor numbers to 18,710 a day, and 21,000 visitors a day during peak seasons back in 2014. Yosemite was the fourth most visited national park in the US in 2015, and is best known for its waterfalls, valleys, meadows, ancient sequoias, and vast wilderness. To ease congestion and reduce car-related pollution, park officials also added buses to shuttle large numbers of visitors at once.

German Passport Most Powerful, Afghan Least In The World

The Afghan passport has been identified as the least powerful in the world for the restrictions the countrymen face in terms of visa-free travel, an index by a London-based consulting firm showed on Friday.

The index found Germans held the most powerful passports in the world for third year in row in 2016, Tolo news reported on Friday.

A number of the European nations and the US, Japan and Canada closely follow Germany as the top nations holding the most powerful passports in the world.

The countries listed below Afghanistan were South Sudan and Palestinian territories, according to the index South Sudan being the youngest sovereign state in the world and Palestinian territories less diplomatically recognised by countries in the West.

The index update by Henley & Partners attempts to quantify the power of passports based on the judgements in the world by the amount of visa-free travel they entitle their owner to.

The update comes as the United Arab Emirates (UAE) imposed restrictions on Afghan nationals' visit who were heading towards Dubai for business and tourism.

The issue with the UAE emerged with the issuance of the new electronic Afghan passports amid concerns that the citizens of the other countries misused the Afghan passports.

However, the issue was later resolved as an agreement was reached between the two countries to improve the information quality of the newly issued e-passports.

Meanwhile, the demand by Afghans for passports has increased last year with the deteriorating security situation across the country, forcing many Afghans to travel abroad, specifically to the Western countries by risking their lives and travelling through dangerous routes.

INDIA; Pakistani Envoy For Liberal Visa Regime For Religious Tourism

Pakistan would like a liberalised visa regime with India to facilitate pilgrimages across the border and boost religious tourism, according to Abdul Basit, Pakistan's High Commissioner to India.

"We would like to see our visa regime liberalised in the context of religious tourism so that people can visit easily and freely from both sides," Basit said here today.

The Pakistani envoy was speaking at the launch of a book "Lost Heritage: The Sikh Legacy in Pakistan" by Singapore-based author Amardeep Singh.

According to Basit, religious tourism is scheduled to be one of the major talking points once the two countries resume dialogue, in an attempt to enable more Indians to travel to the neighbouring country for pilgrimage.

"There have been many proposals as to how to facilitate more Sikh pilgrims going to Pakistan and in this context I can tell you that recently the two governments agreed that they will have religious tourism as one of the main subjects of the dialogue process.

"So, we hope as and when our dialogue resumes, religious tourism will become an important subject of our discussions.

The two sides will be able to take concrete steps towards promoting religious tourism because there is deep mutual desire to facilitate religious tourism," he said.

Referring to several failed attempts towards having a "corridor" for easier travel of citizens across the border, the Ambassador said it could materialise only if the two countries "stick together and work together".

"Unfortunately for decades now, we have been reflecting on this but so far we have not been able to move ahead into implementing the proposal of having a corridor," he said.

Urging for support from India, he said, "I can assure you that our incumbent government under the leadership of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is very much committed towards doing this. Now it takes two to tango."

The book "Lost Heritage: The Sikh Legacy in Pakistan" chronicles the author's month-long travel in Pakistan and gives an insight into the Sikh heritage in the neighbouring country between the 15th and the 21st centuries.

Disagreeing with the author over the "lost" heritage, Basit said the Pakistan government takes minorities "very seriously" and has been preserving their heritage.

"Although they form 2-3 per cent of our total population, they are an important part of our national mosaic. And, there is simply no reason we can dispense with our minorities.

"We are proud that all minorities including Sikhs are contributing immensely to our national development. We share this heritage and we take great pride in it. So, there is no question that Pakistan should do anything that would be against the interest of the minorities," he said.

The Pakistani envoy said his government had formed a separate ministry for minorities and given them quota in government and educational institutions.

He said the Hindu population in Pakistan had gone up from 1.3 per cent to 1.6 per cent since Partition.

"Out of the 23 per cent of the Hindu population in Pakistan, more than 21 per cent were in the then East Pakistan and not West Pakistan. So, today you will be surprised to know that Hindu minority in Pakistan has actually increased from 1.3 to 1.6 per cent contrary to what the general opinion of the facts are," he said.

HUNGARY: Hungary Is A Leading Dental Tourism Destination In The World

Among the regular cast of characters who populate the pages of Hungary’s newspapers and magazines, the one whose fame is hardest to understand, in a country long proud of its disproportionate share of Olympic medals and Nobel Prizes, may be the man usually identified simply as the prime minister’s dentist.

Bela Batorfi’s rise to fame can be traced to the 2010 electoral victory of the conservative Fidesz party after eight years of Socialist Party dominance. Batorfi, then 41 years old, had a thriving practice in a posh residential corner of the capital with a clientele that included an impressive slice of the Budapest political elite.

Among his longtime clients was the new prime minister, Viktor Orban, who had been his patient for almost 20 years. Orban quickly developed a reputation for ruthlessly punishing opponents and rewarding supporters, naming Fidesz loyalists to posts in the central bank and office of the chief prosecutor—departments that had been previously immune to partisan politics.

“Orban is putting his people everywhere,’ is a constant lament in Budapest,” the Economist itself lamented early in his term. Even the man who tended to the first family’s teeth stood to benefit.

Batorfi is a specialist in oral surgery; he is also the face of one of the most unexpectedly shimmering sectors of Hungary’s post-communist economy. Between 2000 and 2008, the number of dentists in Hungary per capita increased by 56 percent. Hungary has more dentists per person than any other country, according to London journalist David Hancock, who in 2006 wrote a guide for British patients called The Complete Medical Tourist. “And since the country joined the European Union [in 2004] their fellow Europeans have had plenty to smile about, too, because prices are considerably cheaper there than in neighboring countries like Austria and Germany,” Hancock wrote.

By the time Orban became prime minister, medical tourism had become widely accepted by policymakers as unique tool for economic development. Its promise was almost magical: tourism for countries that had not been gifted with beaches or mountains, or had lacked the good sense millennia ago to preserve their abandoned stone structures for future sightseeing purposes.

Unlike Orban, Batorfi’s patients from abroad typically saw him only once or twice, if ever. Much as luck had once placed a promising young parliamentarian into Batorfi’s dental chair years before the patient would make good in politics, a fortuitous connection had introduced Batorfi to the practice of medical tourism years before the phrase meant much of anything to anyone. In 2000, Batorfi told me, a Hungarian based in England had approached him with a proposal. If he could persuade Brits to take advantage of cheap Hungarian dental work, would the dentist share with him a cut of the new business?

Batorfi got a license to practice in the U.K. and rented an office in London. To his surprise, the patients started coming, adventurous types willing to confront the unfamiliar in search of prices that—even with all travel expenses included—typically fell below half of what they might pay in Bristol or Belfast. “In the beginning, that an English dentist would recommend a Hungarian dentist was unbelievable,” Batorfi marveled to me recently.

Recognizing that foreign customers would be most likely to travel for expensive treatments where they could realize the greatest savings, Batorfi got his masters in implantology, which includes some of oral surgery’s most complex procedures. Back in Budapest, he began setting his prices in British pounds and offering free chauffeur pickup at the airport.

He bought advertisements in London media. “The proof of his work and competence are the more than 35,000 patients he has treated. Dr. Bartofi is honest and always ready to share his knowledge and expertise with his patients,” declared an ad Bartofi had placed in The Times. About a decade ago, Batorfi’s adviser Laszlo Szucs told me, Batorfi spent approximately $200,000 to acquire four of what his adviser Szucs calls “the Rolls-Royce of dental chairs.” Szucs claims that there are only four other existing versions of the same model, manufactured by the Japanese company Morita: one owned by Russian President Vladimir Putin, one by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and two by a private Swedish clinic. We could not confirm this independently.

In 2010, medical tourism had already converted Bartofi’s business from a diverse family-oriented dental practice to a high-value oral-surgery outfit, and, with his patient and friend having become head of government, he and others close to him told me he began to contemplate whether the dominant market position he had assumed could be extrapolated into a type of national comparative advantage.

A 2010 study by the country’s central tax bureau estimated that the 60,000 or so dental tourists who traveled to Hungary each year generated at least 65 billion forints (about $227 million) in revenue for dentists, with another 13 billion or so forints (about $45 million) in ancillary spending on hotels and restaurants. The sector had survived the 2009 global recession, and business showed little sign of slowing.

After all, the peculiar dynamics that brought people to Batorfi’s London clinic for consultations and onward to Budapest for surgery—a British health system that made certain types of medical care scarce, or costly, or both—weren’t likely to yield anytime soon. “There are few things in which Hungary is in a leading position, and dental tourism is the one,” Batorfi says.

When the British dental profession started to push back at the Hungarian invasion of its home turf, it started with Batorfi himself. In 2011, he was informed that the British Dental Association had suspended his license to practice dentistry in the United Kingdom for one year. Charges of malpractice were based on the testimony of a patient who had, five years earlier, traveled to Budapest for implant surgery, and details of actual damages were sketchy.Batorfi was alleged to have given insufficient advance information about the treatment plan and, after the patient expressed dissatisfaction with the procedure, had not responded to follow-up queries about options for corrective treatment.

The prime minister’s dentist was elevated into a national symbol of Hungary’s ability to put wealthier countries on the defensive.

A month later, after an appeal, the suspension was rescinded, but not before the prime minister’s dentist had been elevated into a national symbol of Hungary’s ability to put wealthier countries on the defensive.

This helps account for Bartofi’s local celebrity: His frequent appearances in Hungarian media are most often in connection with political intrigue. When, in his second year in office, Orban invited dental businesses to bid for a series of government contracts, Batorfi entered and ultimately won everything for which he appeared to be eligible.

Over the first four years of Orban’s administration, 3 billion forints in contracts and state aid—about $10 million—flowed from Hungary’s federal government to companies and trade associations under Bartofi’s influence. “Batorfi has been Orban’s dentist since 1992,” Szucs told the news magazine Heti Vilaggazdasag, defending his client’s right to bid. “Why wouldn’t he enter into a competition when any other business could compete?”

Announcing a major grant to the dental tourism sector at a Budapest conference in 2012, Orban called it “a worthy and good investment.” In a country that has struggled to deliver quality health coverage to all its citizens, however, the fact that the most lucrative part of Hungarian health care was a gaudily extravagant sector that existed largely to serve foreigners’ vanities might look to some citizens like a failure of government. The financial commitment was a bet that medical tourism was more than a fad—that what had very quickly shown Hungary to be effective at luring travelers to seek medical care wasn’t just the consequence of a few talented dentists emerging at the right time, or of Batorfi’s entrepreneurial instincts. Had Hungary made itself good at something that would last?

After officially winning the public contract to determine how that “worthy and good investment” would be spent, Batorfi turned to yet another one of his patients for help. Laszlo Szucs was a communications consultant based in Budapest whom Batorfi had informally asked for marketing advice in between visits to the dental chair for years.

When Batorfi had first put Szucs on his payroll, in 2009, Szucs was in Napa Valley, working on a short documentary about a Croatian-American winemaker Mike Grgich, whose Chateau Montelena Chardonnay famously won the 1976 Judgment of Paris competition, establishing California wines as a formidable product with a distinct identity in the global marketplace. Szucs and Miklos Rozsa, a business consultant, began thinking about their product in similar terms.

Our aim is, Rozsa says, “in Switzerland, you get chocolates and watches. In Hungary, you get dentistry.”

Hahaha!

ANGUILLA: Anguilla Tourism

Anguilla reported a total of 73,232 tourist arrivals in 2015, according to the latest numbers from the Caribbean Tourism Organization.

That represented a 3.3 percent increase compared to the year before, buoyed by a 4.4 percent improvement during last year’s peak tourist season.

Arrivals slowed slightly in the summer season, though, with a 2.5 percent year-over-year improvement.

The destination saw a 4 percent jump in US arrivals, but a precipitous 8.3 percent reduction in tourism arrivals from Canada.

INDIA: Mega Tourism Summit Around July-August 2016

Tourism Secretary Vinod Zutshi said the summit will be held in July-August and probably in the national capital. India's tourism industry holds a "huge investment potential" and sought investment from domestic as well as foreign players.

With a view to give boost to the domestic tourism industry, the government plans to organise a mega tourism summit around July-August to attract private investment in the sector.

"We cannot take tourism to new height unless we make various stakeholders as our partners. We have proposed to hold a tourism summit, seeking participation of various stakeholders to give boost to tourism industry," Union Tourism Minister Mahesh Sharma said on the sidelines of an event here. Tourism Secretary Vinod Zutshi said the summit will be held in July-August and probably in the national capital.

"It will be held in July-August. We are thinking of holding it in Delhi," he said. Zutshi said India's tourism industry holds a "huge investment potential" and sought investment from domestic as well as foreign players.

"We are creating the infrastructure. It is for the private sector to come and make use of it. With 100 percent Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in tourism sector, we even invite foreign investment," he said. Tourism in one of the main focus areas of the government to use it as a engine of economic growth, employment generation and for foreign exchange earnings.

MARTINIQUE: Norwegian Resumes Nonstop Flights To Martinique

The French Caribbean island of Martinique is back on the tourist map in a big way, in large part due to ramped up airlift from destinations like New York and Miami.

Now, the airlift renaissance is continuing.

After a successful first winter season, Norwegian will be resuming its nonstop flights to Martinique later this year.

The low-cost European carrier will be relaunching its nonstop flights from Baltimore-Washington, Boston and New York’s John F Kennedy airport on Nov. 10.

Norwegian first began its nonstop service between the US and Martinique last December.

The flights will operate three times per week from New York and twice per week from Baltimore and Boston, respectively.

“This winter’s air service to Martinique with Norwegian is a great success, and US visitors are enthusiastically discovering this gem in the heart of the Caribbean that is Martinique,” said Muriel Wiltord, Director Americas for the Martinique Promotion Bureau. “Having Norwegian announce its service to Fort-de-France for 2016/17 is truly exciting. Our US visitors will be able to book early for the next winter season at an excellent rate, while benefiting from modern and comfortable air service.”

Flights to both Martinique and Guadeloupe begin as low as $49 one-way, including taxes.

“We are pleased to see the positive response from American travelers who are now enjoying easier access and affordable fares to the Caribbean, and if demand continues to grow, we hope to make this a year-round service,” said Thomas Ramdahl, Norwegian’s Chief Commercial Officer.

Norwegian operates the service on Boeing 737-800 aircraft.

HAITI: Sunrise Airways Adds New Plane

Haiti’s Sunrise Airways has announced the expansion of its fleet with a new ATR 42-320 aircraft.

The company said it would accept delivery in late February 2016.

“Bringing an ATR into the Sunrise fold represents a bright new beginning for our airline; one that will see us branching out swiftly to serve longer-haul routes connecting more of the Western Caribbean more effectively than ever before,” said Philippe Bayard, President of Sunrise Airways.

Sunrise Airways had been operating its flights around the Caribbean on 19-seat Jetstream 32 EP planes.

It currently operates regularly-scheduled flights to and from Santo Domingo, Santiago de Cuba and Cap Haitien, Haiti.

“This fleet expansion is really all about our passengers, many of whom have long expressed an interest in having us spread our wings further afield,” Bayard said. “Havana, Camaguey, Kingston, Nassau, a return of the service to Turks and Caicos – the demand is strong for these and several other attractive regional gateways. Now, with the added size, comfort, and luggage capacity afforded by the ATR, we can look to serving routes like these with the same uncompromising style, safety, and reliability that our passengers have come to expect from Sunrise.”

Air France Adds New Airbus To Caribbean Flights


Air France has added a new aircraft to its regional network in the Caribbean.

The French carrier has added a new Airbus A320 with 168 seats, 12 business and 156 economy.

The new plane has a completely redesigned seat for all passengers in the Caribbean network, including leather seats, lighting and headrests, among other amenities.

Air France flies between Pointe a Pitre, Fort de France, Cayenne, Port au Prince and Miami in its Caribbean regional network.

It operates more than 30 weekly flights between these cities.

Palace Resorts Presents Caribbean’s Boldest New Restaurant

It’s a bold, daring new restaurant — and it’s in a Caribbean all-inclusive resort.

It’s called Frida Kahlo by Alquimia, and it’s the newest restaurant at the Playacar Palace resort in Playa del Carmen.

The restaurant is the first of its kind in the region — combining haute cuisine with what it calls an “audiovisual spectacle” — in a private experience for up to 10 guests.

The restaurant also uses cooking techniques from liquid nitrogen to vacuum coffee makers in what is a two-hour dinner across 11 courses.

“Palace Resorts continually strives to enhance the guest experiences through awe-inclusive, awe-inducing amenities. The quality and attention to detail in everything we offer from cuisine and service, in-room amenities, spa offerings and stylish décor, truly separates Palace Resorts from the competition,” said Gibran Chapur, Executive Vice President of Palace Resorts. “We believe Playacar Palace’s FRIDA KAHLO by ALQUIMIA is raising the bar in industry standards, and we look forward to delighting our valued guests in Playa del Carmen for years to come.”

The concept was created by Chef Oscar Dominguez, who prepared and researched for more than a year to create the eatery.

The courses were all inspired by legendary Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, with dishes like fiery chili with honeyed flan and tender venison with sharp orange zest paired with champagne and mezcal.

“Redefining the notion of what an all-inclusive resort can and should offer, Palace Resorts is pleased to offer guests an unmatched experience from an expert team specializing in the unexpected,” Chapur said.

MEXICO: Cancun 3Million US Dollar Wax Museum

What if we told you that on your next trip to Cancun we could guarantee that you’d see Nicole Kidman, Brad Pitt and Leonardi Da Vinci?

No, we’re not delusional.

We’re just clued in to the city by the sea’s newest attraction, the Cancun Wax Museum, which opened in the Hotel Zone last month at La Isla shopping village.

The city’s first wax museum has a “population” of more than 100 life-size figures, including super heroes, celebrities, storybook characters, athletes, historical figures and heads of state.

It takes about two-and-a-half hours to tour the 23-room facility, where visitors can snap selfies with Harry Potter, Barack Obama, the Dalai Lama and Mexico’s own Frida Kahlo, as well as Abraham Lincoln and Gandhi.

The $3 million-museum is a project of Brazilian company Dreams Entertainment, and opens from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily.

JAMAICA: Jamaica Has A New Rising Star Chef

This time it’s Kingston-born, New York city-based chef Andre Fowles, who competed on this week’s episode of the Food Network’s cooking show, “Chopped,” and walked away with the title of Chopped Champion and a $10,000 prize.

The theme of the episode was “Cooking Caribbean,” a perfect fit for Fowles, who cooks Caribbean food every day at Miss Lily’s Jamaican/Caribbean restaurants in New York. For the appetizer round, Fowles whipped up Jamaican-Spiced Shrimp with Papaya Chutney, and presented his version of the island favorite, curry goat, as an entrée .

From a dessert round mystery basket containing sweet potatoes, mango, sugarcane and rum, Fowles crafted a sweet potato mousse with candied mangoes that eventually gave him the edge over the other three contestants, Trini chefs Brandon Soverall and Keisha Bocage, and Miamian Rocco Nankervis.

Chef Fowles began cooking professionally at 17, and was formerly sous chef at Jamaica’s Round Hill, where he cooked for Paul McCartney and designer Ralph Lauren during his four-year stint.

Now 27, the graduate of the Culinary Institute of America and Jamaica’s Runaway Bay Academy is currently sous chef at Miss Lily’s, overseeing the kitchens in its Soho and East Village, New York locations. He says he will use the prize money to travel to England to reunite with his mother, who he hasn’t seen in 15 years.

Watch the Cooking Caribbean episode again when it reruns on Thursday, March 3 at 9pm ET; Friday, March 4 at midnight; and Saturday, March 5 at 5pm ET. And stay tuned for another Fowles sighting in “Chopped Champions,” which airs later this year.

JAPAN: Usain Bolt Is Now a Japanese Airline Promoter

Usain Bolt has endorsed some of the world’s biggest brands in his landmark sporting career, from Puma to Nissan.

Now, he has another brand: Japanese airline All Nippon Airways, or ANA.

The Jamaican superstar is now featuring in a new campaign for the airline, which will be the official airline partner of the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.

The spot feature Bolt dancing in ANA’s “Hello Blue Hello Future” campaign.