Saturday, 25 February 2017

BOLIVIA: San Pedro Prison

It is 20 years since Bolivia's chaotic San Pedro Prison became a tourist attraction, a place where backpackers stayed for weeks and partied with inmates.

The story was immortalised in a best-selling book, Marching Powder, and now the book's protagonist - a former inmate - and author have reunited to return to the prison for a new documentary film.

The inmate, Thomas McFadden, says returning to his old cell scared him. "But I always wanted to go back to Bolivia, and there was always a strong connection between me and Rusty."

Rusty Young wrote Marching Powder in his twenties, when as a young backpacker from Sydney, Australia, he stayed in the prison, and later helped secure Mr McFadden's release by posing as an international human rights lawyer.

It all began when Mr McFadden, a British-Tanzanian, was caught smuggling cocaine in La Paz airport in 1996 and found himself jailed in a place more like a warped small town than a prison.

Prisoners were expected to earn a living inside and buy their cells as if they were real estate. There was a primary school for the prisoners' children, who they brought to live with them, and in the most notorious twist of all, there was an in-house cocaine factory.

"I thought what is this place? I even had to pay my own taxi fare to get there," Thomas McFadden remembers today.

After his release in 2000, he left those days far behind and is now a chicken farmer in Tanzania. However, his life-changing friendship with his "brother Rusty" has gone the distance, and he has even named one of his children after him.

Their unusual relationship began when Mr Young joined one of the illegal prison tours that the inmate ran for foreign backpackers from early 1997 until his release.

Word had spread around local hostels that there was an English-speaking inmate who would show visitors around this strange microcosm.

Centrally located in downtown La Paz, the prison became a tourist attraction that featured in Lonely Planet guidebooks. Travellers paid an entrance fee and, in some cases, opted to stay for weeks, partying with the inmates.

Lydia Docking, a British traveller, went on not just one but repeated trips to the prison in 2008, led by a prisoner from Portugal. One of the other backpackers she met on her first day there later became her husband.

"As a conversation starter, we used to say we met in a Bolivian jail," she says from her new home in Sydney. She was 24 at the time and is 33 now.

Their San Pedro tour guide came to their wedding after his release, and although the couple has since separated, she still has their dog, named Pedro after the prison.

Despite her jokes, she is acutely well aware of the darker side of the story. "I'm still confused by it, still processing it," she says. "Over the course of three weeks, we went most days. I sometimes question why. It was mostly just to share experiences and to understand how lives start the same but can take such different paths."

San Pedro Prison remains operational today, despite many plans to close it. For years, its tours were an open secret, but one day in 2009 a local television crew arrived to get footage for a story about a politician held inside. While waiting in the plaza outside, the cameramen caught a steady stream of tourists going in.

Armed with the footage, the Bolivian press ran with the story. The main concern locally was not the tourists but the alleged corruption of the authorities, who were thought to be taking a cut of the tours' profits. "Who is watching the police?" asked an editorial in La Razon newspaper. During the ensuing "clean-up", prisoners had their visitors' rights revoked for a day. A riot followed and around 80 children were evacuated.

In 2013, the story took an even darker turn when news spread of a 12-year-old girl becoming pregnant inside the jail, after an alleged rape by her imprisoned father and other men. Child welfare charities called for a ban on children living inside.

Large-scale tours of the prison are no longer possible. Today backpackers typically opt for La Paz walking tours, which stop outside the prison walls and tell Marching Powder's story.

When Rusty Young and Thomas McFadden returned to the prison for their forthcoming documentary Wildlands, they happened upon one such tour group and snuck alongside them, incognito.

"They kept making factual errors, so I couldn't help asking smart-arsed questions," says Mr Young. Eventually an Irish traveller, who had just read the book, recognised the pair. "He whispered, 'You're Rusty, You're Thomas!' And we sneaked off together for a beer."

Back in 2000, the two men travelled to Colombia, after Mr McFadden's release. They found work as English teachers and worked on the book, which became a New York Times best-seller.

Thomas then moved to Tanzania, and Rusty went back to Australia, where after the huge success of Marching Powder he had difficult-second-book syndrome. His novel Colombiano, about a teenager who gets drawn into a Colombian terrorist organisation, is due out later this year.

The documentary Wildlands uses their story in San Pedro Prison as a launch pad for exploring all sides of the drugs trade, and includes interviews with former undercover US police agents and an assassin who was a right-hand man to Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar.

But the long-awaited Marching Powder feature film may still be years away. The rights were acquired by Brad Pitt's production company but have since expired. Narcos director Jose Padilha has been linked to the screenplay, and Don Cheadle and then Chiwetel Ejiofor expressed interest in playing Thomas McFadden, but filming never got off the ground.

As for the sequel to the book, perhaps that will come sooner. "My publishers been harassing me about that for years," says Rusty. "We already have a title: Marching On."

PAKISTAN: Pakistan International Airlines Overloads Flight To Medina

Pakistan International Airlines is investigating how seven extra passengers were allowed to stand in the aisles on a flight to Saudi Arabia.

The passengers were allowed on the 20 January flight to Medina despite every seat being filled, the airline said.

Details of the flight have only emerged now because of extensive investigations by Dawn newspaper.

Staff had issued additional handwritten boarding passes, the paper reported.

Such an over-crowded flight would have caused problems in an emergency evacuation, aviation experts said, and passengers would not have had access to oxygen if it was suddenly required.

This is the first time the airline is known to have boarded excess passengers on a flight.

The flight in question went from Karachi to Medina carrying a total of 416 passengers, on a Boeing 777 with a total seating capacity of 409, including staff seats.

Pakistan's Civil Aviation Authority is accused of not taken punitive action against the airline or its staffers for putting the passengers' lives at risk.

The newspaper quoting airline sources accuses PIA ground traffic staff of issuing handwritten - rather than computer-generated - boarding passes to the extra passengers.

It quotes flight captain Anwer Adil as insisting that he was not told about the extra passengers until after take-off.

"I noticed that some people were those who were categorically refused jump staff seats by me at the check-in counter before the flight", he was quoted by Dawn as saying.

"I had already taken off and the senior purser did not inform me about extra passengers before closing the aircraft door.

"Therefore after take-off any immediate landing back at Karachi was not possible as it required a lot of fuel dumping which was not in the interest of the airline."

PIA spokesman Danyal Gilani said that "the matter is under investigation and appropriate action will be taken once responsibility is fixed".

When asked how long the inquiry will take, he said it was "not possible to put a time frame on it".

In December, all 48 people on board a PIA plane were killed when it crashed in the north of the country.

USA: Tourists Spent $221 Million In Johnston County In 2015.

In 2015, the last year for which numbers are available, tourism spending in Johnston topped $221 million, a 3.2-percent bump over the year before. According to the Johnston County Visitors Bureau, early indications suggest 2016 will be even bigger.

The 2015 mark puts Johnston in the top quarter of North Carolina counties in tourism spending, at No. 21, said Visitors Bureau director Donna Bailey-Taylor.

“Out of 100, that’s pretty darn good,” she said told county commissioners last week.

Much of the county’s tourism is tied to the north-south vacation thoroughfare of Interstate 95, connecting the mid-Atlantic and northeast with the beaches of the south. The Visitors Bureau, which promotes tourism in Johnston, gets its funding from a 3-percent tax on room stays countywide and another 2 percent on room stays in the I-95 towns of Smithfield, Selma, Kenly and Benson. Last year, those hotel taxes raised $1.11 million.

Taylor said an early look at the 2016 data shows receipts up 16 percent over the year before. Far from sight-seeing or R&R, Bailey-Taylor said those displaced by Hurricane Matthew were largely responsible for that boost in revenue.

“Hurricane Matthew was a devastating event, but our hotels were sold out for about two months,” she said. “So those revenues are pushing up revenues for this year.”

With a fresh groundbreaking on a new hotel in Benson and recent development along I-95 in the Smithfield, Bailey-Taylor said hotel receipts should stay steady.

Somehow, the peak of summer isn’t Johnston County’s top time for tourism. Hotel receipts give that honor to April, for which the Visitors Bureau credits Easter and spring break travel. July, May and June are the next busiest months.

In an effort to drum up online eyes on Johnston, the Visitors Bureau invited four bloggers to come to the county. The bureau put the bloggers up for four days in the county, resulting in seven online articles and half a million impressions across the major social media platforms.

Commissioner Keith Branch asked about the Visitors Bureau’s cash balance, which county finance director Chad McLamb said at last glance stood at around $700,000, or about 60 percent of the group’s operating expenses.

Taylor said the Visitors carried such a large savings because in the past it had wanted to purchase an independent office and had saved for a number of years. She said $250,000 belongs to the towns.

“At one point we were looking to buy property for the Visitors Bureau, to have a permanent home, so we were conservative and didn’t spend very much,” Bailey-Taylor said.

Branch asked if the large savings account was a red flag to the county’s auditor, but McLamb said the auditors were aware of the bureau desire to purchase property.

In the tourism office’s annual report, the Visitors Bureau argued that without the $18 million in state and local taxes tied to tourism purchases, the households of Johnston County would see an additional $297 on family tax bills.

SAMOA: South Pacific Tourism Organisation Markets Samoa Tourism

The South Pacific Tourism Organisation (S.P.T.O.) is creating greater awareness of tourism in the South Pacific Islands region across Europe, through a series of marketing events over the next two months.

Meet the Pacific is a series of one-day business-to-business meetings that’s held across five European cities, namely Barcelona, Milan, Prague, Zurich and Manchester from 22 February to 6 March.

It creates the opportune platform for Pacific tourism suppliers to meet with key European tour operators (buyers) who are committed to or interested in selling the South Pacific as a destination to their clients.

“Meet The Pacific is a great way for South Pacific tourism bodies and operators to meet with key industry buyers in Europe in a short period of time, and maximize their resources with maximum impact for their particular destinations, product and service offerings,” said S.P.T.O. Marketing Manager, Alisi Lutu.

Now in its third year, the event is organised by Rosie Holidays (Fiji) and Turama Pacific (Cook Islands) and supported by S.P.T.O.

On 25 February, S.P.T.O. will also participate in a consumer tourism event called Visit Pacific in Malmo, Sweden.

Visit Pacific organiser Tour Pacific, a Swedish-based South Pacific Travel Specialist, has confirmed 33 exhibiting companies including airlines, cruise operators, tourism offices and hotels from Samoa, Fiji, Cook Islands, Papua New Guinea, Tahiti and Vanuatu expected to attend.

S.P.T.O’s presence at Visit Pacific will help ensure that the region’s smaller Pacific Island destinations get a voice at this key event.

These events lead up to South Pacific Islands’ participation in I.T.B Berlin, the world’s largest consumer and travel trade show in Europe from 8 to 12 March along with national tourism offices and private sector (airlines, resorts, tour operators) from Samoa, Fiji, Cook Islands,

New Caledonia, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Tahiti and Vanuatu.

The annual event attracts thousands of participants and experts mainly from the European travel and tourism industry, as well as globally.

Participants at I.T.B. range from all sectors of the tourism and travel industry including travel agents, wholesalers, tour operators, hotels, airlines, media, government representatives and other travel related companies.

S.P.T.O. will use the I.T.B. platform to promote the new South Pacific Islands brand identity, launched in October 2016 into the wider European market, which is highly diverse and remains one of the key consistent markets in the world today.

Total visitor arrivals from Europe to the Pacific Islands region have fluctuated from 177,828 visitors in 2011 to 173,278 visitors in 2015. A decrease of 172,824 visitors is estimated for 2016, which may be largely attributed to impacts of Brexit. The forecast for 2017 is 173,222 visitors.

Participation at Meet the Pacific, Visit the Pacific and I.T.B. 2017 allows Pacific Island countries to invigorate key networks; re-establish contracts; enter new markets by creating business opportunities through sales leads and introduce new products and services to the European travel market.

Europe is the 3rd largest tourist source market, representing about 10% of all visitor arrivals to the Pacific Islands region; following Australia and New Zealand holding steadfast, a combined 50% market share.

“It is important for the sustainability of Pacific tourism that we are maintaining marketing and promotional presence and engaging productive partnerships with European travel partners on selling our Pacific Island destinations.

This will help encourage the needed growth of visitor traffic and yields out of these long haul markets into our Pacific island economies,” said S.P.T.O. Marketing Manager Alisi Lutu.

S.P.T.O will also promote its online South Pacific Specialist programme to train European travel agents on how to best market and sell the South Pacific to their clients

JAMAICA: Jamaica Centre For Tourism And Innovation Established

Work is advanced to establish the Jamaica Centre for Tourism and Innovation, which will target training and certification for the hospitality industry’s labour force.

This was disclosed by portfolio minister Edmund Bartlett during the presentation of the 2016 Tourism Service Excellence Programme (TSEP) semi-finalists at The Jamaica Pegasus hotel in New Kingston on Tuesday.

The centre aims to create a certified workforce based on academic skills and competence.

It will serve to accelerate the transformation of tourism enterprises by engaging institutions and individuals to stimulate and initiate new ideas, as well as harnessing science and technology to transfer knowledge into practice within the sector.

The facility will offer a practical curriculum that complements existing hospitality programmes at several tertiary institutions.

Its programmes will target aspiring supervisors, managers and other hospitality professionals in areas such as culinary, spa and hospitality management.

“If you are working in the tourism sector and you are in a supervisory position... but you are not accredited, you can then come to us and be fully accredited so that you can take your next step up the ladder of management in the industry,” Bartlett said.

He contended that the institution will mark a change in the tourism sector’s labour market arrangements.

“It will be based also on a global accredited arrangement that will enable graduates to be accepted in any country in the world that you go in the tourism industry,” the minister said.

Meanwhile, Bartlett advised that a pension scheme for tourism workers will be implemented in September.

He said this forms part of the Government’s undertaking to ensure that “social security arrangements” are provided for workers.

“After you have worked and done well and given this high-quality service above self, you must not be left to flounder on the rocks of retirement. You must be anchored safely on the shores of a secure retirement,” he said.

In the meantime, Bartlett commended the TSEP semi-finalists for their commitment to the industry and urged them to continue giving high-quality service that will ultimately redound to Jamaica’s benefit.

The TSEP awards, which are being reintroduced, bestow the highest recognition to individuals and organisations in the tourism sector for service excellence.

The 2016 individual semi-finalists are Wilfred Chambers from the Bob Marley Museum; Marie Oswald, Kingston Craft Market; Winsome Wynter, Jamaica Customs Agency; Curley Colliston Roberts, Rose Hall Great House; Simone Ffolkes, Sandals Royal Plantation; Jason Cammock, Sandals Royal Plantation; and Anthony Thaxter, Trident Hotel.

The shortlisted organisations are the Jamaica Pegasus hotel; Leisure for Pleasure; VIP Attractions; the Boardwalk Village; Sunset at the Palms; Couples San Souci; Franklyn D Resort; Trident Hotel; Appleton Estate; and Jakes Holdings.

All semi-finalists have been selected from nominations received from the island’s resort areas, covering all aspects of the industry, and were shortlisted by a panel of independent judges.

The semi-finalists will vie for the top prizes at a grand presentation ceremony at the Hyatt Ziva Rose Hall, Montego Bay, on March 4.

USA: South Carolina Tourism Surpassed $20B

South Carolina's tourism industry exceeded $20 billion for the first time in 2015.

Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism Director Duane Parrish announced the milestone Wednesday in Spartanburg during the South Carolina Governor's Conference on Tourism and Travel.

Parrish says tourism generated $20.2 billion in economic activity statewide in 2015, a 6.1 percent increase over 2014, and the fourth straight year of growth.

Final numbers for 2016 aren't yet available, but Parrish said it looks like last year was "another great year."

Parrish says tourism is South Carolina's largest industry, supporting one in 10 jobs and generating $1.5 billion in state and local tax revenues.

Sunday, 19 February 2017

IRAN: Iran Becomes Increasingly Popular DestinationWith Air Travellers,

Iran has been on a double-digit growth trajectory for three years in a row.

Iran is proving to be an increasingly popular destination with air travellers, experiencing growing passenger numbers from around the world – a trend that looks like continuing during 2017, according to a study by ForwardKeys, the leading travel intelligence analyst.

Total international arrivals were up 18.3 per cent last year, sustaining an upward path since 2013 (up 2.7 per cent), 2014 (24.8 per cent) and 2015 (12.7 per cent). The pattern is reflected by a consistent year-on-year increase in total scheduled seats: 2014 (up 10.5 per cent), 2015 (18.3 per cent), 2016 (17.3 per cent).

The study is timely, coming just weeks ahead of the inaugural Iran Hotel & Tourism Investment Conference (IHTIC) on February 7 to 8 this year in Tehran. Various high profile industry stakeholders are expected to be in attendance at the event, including which will international investors and hotel industry experts.

ForwardKeys, found that international arrivals to Iran saw positive monthly growth throughout 2016, with the exception of June because of the timing of Ramadan.

The main source regions for air travel to Iran are North America, Europe and the Middle East. Together, they made up 83.7 per cent of international arrivals during 2016. Germany, with a 14.3 per cent market share, was up 8.3 per cent, followed by the USA (10.7 per cent share) up 9.3 per cent. Bahrain, Canada and the UK, all with significant market shares, also showed healthy growth in visitors to Iran.

Among the 12 top origin countries, only China and Pakistan were outside these main regions. Data shows that 40 per cent of Chinese visitors to Iran last year were on business trips.

Looking ahead, forward bookings (ie: bookings already made for future travel) for the first half of 2017 are ahead 14.8 per cent, based on those issued at the beginning of January, suggesting the upward surge of international visitors to Iran is still growing in momentum.

Arrivals in Iran during 2017 are being boosted by increased air connectivity from a number of centres. Some key connections are from Italy with Alitalia and Iran Air tripling their scheduled seats since November last year.

The Netherlands is connected by one more daily flight from Amsterdam to Tehran by KLM since October 2016.

An increasing number of Belgian travellers are using Amsterdam to transfer to Iran, while Swiss travellers tend to route via Vienna, from where Austrian Airlines is doubling its scheduled seats during the first half of 2017.

Olivier Jager, CEO of ForwardKeys, summarised the data, 'Our findings support the conclusion that political change in Iran is making the country more approachable – an attractive place to visit and potentially do business. The image of Iran around the world is changing. Its many tourist attractions, historic, religious and spectacular, are once again being emphasised. I expect visitor numbers to increase, so long as Iran’s airport capacity can keep pace.'

UAE: Flynas Now Jeting To Abu Dhabi

Flynas is now flying direct between Dammam and Abu Dhabi with four weekly flights. The Saudi-based airline has made an announcement last year about its plan to launch a new route between both cities in a new step towards strengthening the airline’s network of international flights, and linking King Fahd International Airport with Abu Dhabi International Airport.

The domestic aviation scene in the Kingdom is getting increasingly competitive. As reported by industry sources, the newly-formed SaudiGulf Airlines and Saudi-owned, Egypt-based Nesma airline were both granted domestic operating licenses in 2016.

State-owned Saudi Arabian Airlines has announced plans for its own budget carrier, Flyadeal, to launch in mid-2017 with a target of 50 jets by 2020.

Qatar Airways-owned Al Maha is waiting in the wings to starts its Saudi operations. In line with its Vision 2030, Saudi Arabia will be looking to expand its tourism sector beyond religious tourism creating more demand for inbound flights.

UAE: Fly Dubai Expands To Georgia, Azerbaijan, Montenegro

Flydubai has announced the addition of three new destinations for the upcoming summer season.

Batumi in Georgia, Qabala in Azerbaijan and Tivat in Montenegro are the latest destinations to join flydubai’s growing network and will operate from June to September 2017.

Following the launch of its latest popular destination, Bangkok, at the end of 2016, flydubai continues to diversify its network with the addition of more popular summer destinations for passengers from Dubai and across the region.

Flydubai will be the first carrier to offer direct flights from the UAE to Qabala and Tivat, and the first from Dubai to Batumi. GCC nationals will not need a visa to any of these three new destinations, while UAE residents will receive visa on arrival.

“We would like to thank the authorities in Azerbaijan, Georgia and Montenegro for making it easier for the residents of the UAE and GCC to visit these countries by facilitating their visa requirements,” said Ghaith Al Ghaith, chief executive officer at flydubai, commenting on the announcement.

“We continue to look for opportunities to further expand our network and offer our passengers more options to travel especially for the summer holiday season. These popular new routes will complement our existing comprehensive network and will be a gateway to explore this part of the region,” added Al Ghaith.

Supported by new aircraft deliveries in 2017, flydubai continues to widen its network, which comprises 93 destinations in 44 countries spanning from Yekaterinburg in the north, Bangkok in the east, Zanzibar in the south and Prague in the west.

Batumi, which will be served by three flights a week, will be flydubai’s second destination in Georgia following Tbilisi. Qabala, which will be served by two fights a week, is flydubai’s second point in Azerbaijan after Baku. The start of two weekly flights to Tivat will mark flydubai’s first entry to Montenegro following the successful promotional trip that was held in October 2016 in partnership with Porto Montenegro.

“We are confident that the demand for these new summer flights will be strong in both Business and Economy Class. The interest in affordable, popular and off-the-beaten-track holiday destinations continues to grow especially from the GCC markets and these routes offer alternative options for those seeking a beach holiday or city breaks,” said Jeyhun Efendi, senior vice president commercial (UAE, EU, ME, CIS) at flydubai.

Batumi, Georgia
Flydubai will operate three weekly flights between Dubai and Batumi from June 22 to September 30, 2017 on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.
Batumi is the second largest city in Georgia, located on the coast of the Black Sea in the country's southwest region. Tivat, MontenegroBatumi is a popular tourist destination known for its bustling seaside resorts during the warm months of the summer. The city is also an important sea port with thriving shipbuilding, food processing and light manufacturing industries.

Qabala, Azerbaijan
Flydubai will operate two weekly flights between Dubai and Qabala from June 22 to September 17, 2017 on Thursdays and Sundays.

Qabala, also known as Gabala, is the capital of the Gabala District one of the richest archeological and historic regions of Azerbaijan. Qabala is considered a popular tourist destination due to the combination of a mild climate, woods along the mountains, excellent wildlife and recreational resorts.

Tivat, Montenegro
Flydubai will operate two weekly flights between Dubai and Tivat from 23 June to 25 September 2017 on Mondays and Fridays.

Already a popular tourist resort, Tivat is set to become a nautical tourism centre for the southern Adriatic. This coastal town in southwest Montenegro is renowned for its pleasant climate and natural beauty and is conveniently located a short drive away from Dubrovnik in Croatia and Sarajevo in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

SINGAPORE: Airlines To Cash On Higher Tourist Arrivals

Singapore not only welcomed a record number of visitors. More significantly, those who came spent more.

Tourism receipts grew by almost 14 per cent year-on-year to $24.8 billion, far outstripping the 7.7 per cent jump in the number of visitors, which hit 16.4 million.

Preliminary data collated by the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) put Indonesia, which accounted for 17.7 per cent of total arrivals, and China, at 17.5 per cent, neck-and-neck in the race for the top market spot.

Malaysia and India took third and fourth positions, respectively.

The good showing did bode well for the economy, specifically the tourism-related sectors, including retail, entertainment and food and beverage.

Hotels and other accommodation providers also benefited.

For the aviation sector, the knock-on effect was more patchy.

The positive impact was obvious for Changi Airport. More visitors - the bulk of whom would have come by air - meant more business for the airport, which also handled a record number of passengers last year.

There is a strong correlation between STB's visitor arrival numbers and Changi's passenger movements, particularly for key markets such as China, Indonesia and India.

Among Changi's top 10 markets last year, China saw the fastest growth at 15 per cent.

The airport has been actively growing the Chinese market by establishing new city links in China and welcoming new Chinese airlines to the airport - an added boost to the tourism sector here, said airport spokesman Ivan Tan.

Spending at airport shops and restaurants also increased, with total sales hitting a record high of $2.3 billion last year, 5 per cent higher than in 2015.

Travellers from China were the biggest spenders, accounting for about 30 per cent of the airport's retail market.

Other top spenders were from Indonesia, India and Australia.

For Changi, which collects rent from tenants as well as a percentage of sales, increasing revenue from commercial activities is key to keeping the airport competitive.

This is because part of the takings are used to subsidise aircraft parking and landing, as well as other aeronautical charges.

With Jewel Changi Airport due to open in early 2019, commercial takings should get another shot in the arm.

The multi-storey complex being built in front of Terminal 1 will offer mainly retail and dining options.

While Changi benefits from the increase in overall visitor arrivals, it is also important for the airport to grow its transit traffic to boost Singapore's status as an air hub.

Currently, stopover traffic makes up about a third of the airport's total passenger traffic.

As the airport continues to strengthen its connectivity to secondary cities in China, Indonesia and India, air travel to and from these key markets should remain healthy this year.

With much of the growth in visitor numbers coming from Asian markets, and especially second- and third-tier cities in China and India, budget airlines and full-service carriers that operate mainly regional flights are the key beneficiaries of the upswing.

For others, such as Singapore Airlines, the key is to grow its home base and work closely with its low-cost subsidiaries, such as Tigerair and Scoot, and regional arm SilkAir, to not only bring more people to Singapore, but also from here to other destinations within the group's network.

Budget carriers, such as Tigerair, Scoot, Jetstar and AirAsia, play a key role in boosting Singapore's visitor numbers, with a growing number of flights to regional destinations.

AirAsia's Singapore chief executive Logan Velaitham said: "Flights on our key trunk routes, like Kuala Lumpur-Singapore, are consistently operating at loads of 95 per cent, while services to second-tier cities in the region are achieving average loads of about 77 per cent."

While fuel and other operating costs such as salaries also factor into the bottom line, volumes are critical for budget carriers that earn not just from the fares they charge, but also add-ons, such as food and priority seating fees.

For airlines and ground handlers that do passenger and baggage check-in, and firms that repair and maintain planes, a rise in passenger numbers and flights is welcome, but competition will keep a lid on profits.

As the demand for intra-Asian air travel continues to grow - and with ongoing efforts to remove travel restrictions, for example, the push for a single visa for all Asean countries - tourism numbers will rise.

STB and Changi Airport will no doubt work closely with key players, in both the tourism and aviation sectors, to capture a big chunk of the traffic.

FIJI: $2.2 billion Is Fiji Tourism Target For Tourism Industry by 2021

Ministry of Industry, Trade and Tourism has embarked on developing the Fiji Tourism 2021 Plan with a bold target of achieving a $2.2 billion industry by the end of 2021.

Last year, the industry recorded 754,835 visitors, $1.56 billion in visitor earnings and employed approximately 112,000 Fijians.

The Ministry is currently carrying out consultations with relevant stakeholders to achieve its target.

Some of the strategies includes an audit of the “Fiji where happiness finds you” brand to determine its relevance to the current global travel trends and its appeal to consumer needs.

The Ministry has also identified sports events as a significant contributor to visitor arrivals worldwide and will be an important driver of off-peak season arrivals.

The Ministry of Industry, Trade and Tourism says they will prepare a 3-5 year calendar in liaison with relevant bodies to earmark events to bid for and sporting bodies can then contest for a cost share basis between government and the industry.

This will be established using a strict criteria as a dedicated fund for the growth of existing and inception of new events.

While speaking at the opening of the Stakeholder Consultations on the Fijian Tourism 2021 Plan today, the Permanent Secretary of Industry and Trade Shaheen Ali highlight

Ali says they have received immense support from the World Bank and International Finance Corporation who have provided the Ministry technical advice over the last few months.

MEXICO: 2016 Was A Good Year For Tourism

Mexico enjoyed 2016 for tourism, hitting "historic highs" in part due to a spike in the number of US travelers drawn in by the weakened peso, the government said Wednesday.

A total of 35 million foreign visitors went to Mexico last year, up nine percent from 2015, the tourism ministry said. Those tourists brought in $19.5 billion last year, 10.4 percent more than the year before.

The government said the figures showed that the tourism sector was "one of the main driving forces" for the country's economy.

The peso took a beating last year, largely due to the campaign and election that elevated Donald Trump to the US presidency.

Trump has pledged to renegotiate the free trade deal binding the US, Mexico and Canada, and to build a wall on the US-Mexican border to curb illegal immigration.

More than one million people legally cross the border every day, along with 400,000 vehicles. But those numbers could fall off if the wall project is carried out.

VIETNAM: Border Guards Beat Up Chinese Tourist

China on Thursday demanded that Vietnam apologise to a Chinese tourist who says he was beaten up by Vietnamese border guards after failing to pay a bribe, an incident that provoked outrage among Chinese internet users.

The call comes a month after the neighbours pledged to safeguard peace in the disputed South China Sea, nearly all of which is claimed by China, although Vietnam and four other Asian nations also have claims in the oil-rich area.

Last week, a group of about eight uniformed men beat a Chinese man surnamed Xie in Vietnam's northern city of Mong Cai on the border with China, after he failed to pay a "tip", the state-run China News Service said on Saturday, citing Xie.

The head of the consular affairs office of China's foreign ministry "had a special appointment" on Thursday with the Vietnam ambassador to "once more express our stern position," Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said.

"China demands that Vietnam apologise and pay compensation to the victim, severely handle those involved and take effective measures to ensure an incident does not happen again," Geng told a regular news briefing.

Vietnam has already suspended eight people involved in the incident, he added.

On Wednesday, Vietnam's Foreign Ministry said that it was "clarifying" information on the incident provided by China, and would "resolve the issue (according to) the nature of the event".

Xie, accompanied by his mother and fiancee, was returning from a trip to Vietnam planned for the couple to take location photographs ahead of their wedding, the agency said.

The fiancée, identified as Xiao Li, said the women had tried to halt the beating and make a video recording of it, only to be restrained, and have their phones confiscated.

State media pictures of a bruised Xie in hospital were widely shared online, sparking angry comments calling the incident a matter of national pride for China and targeting Vietnam.

Chinese tourists made up nearly 30 percent of all visitors to Vietnam last year at just under 2.7 million, figures from Vietnam's tourism administration show.

The border crossing between Mong Cai and the city of Dongxing in China's southern region of Guangxi is the main crossing-point between the two nations.

Although China and Vietnam regularly talk up their common interests as "traditional" friends and neighbours in public statements, conflicting claims of sovereignty in the South China Sea have become a major source of tension in recent years.

GUYANA: Kaieteur Falls

Kaieteur Falls is the world's largest single drop waterfall by the volume of water flowing over it, located on the Potaro River in the Kaieteur National Park, in Essequibo, Guyana. Its location is in the Amazon forest. It is 226 metres (741 ft) high when measured from its plunge over a sandstone and conglomerate cliff to the first break. It then flows over a series of steep cascades that, when included in the measurements, bring the total height to 251 metres (822 ft). While many falls have greater height, few have the combination of height and water volume, and Kaieteur is among the most powerful waterfalls in the world with an average flow rate of 663 cubic metres per second (23,400 cubic feet per second).

Kaieteur Falls is about four times higher than Niagara Falls, on the border between Canada and the United States, and about twice the height of Victoria Falls, on the border of Zambia and Zimbabwe in Africa. It is a single drop waterfall.

Upriver from the falls, the Potaro Plateau stretches out to the distant escarpment of the Pakaraima Mountains. The Potaro River empties into the Essequibo River which is one of the longest and widest rivers in South America and the longest river in Guyana

On April 24, 1870 Charles Barrington Brown, one of two British geologists appointed government surveyors to the colony of British Guiana (now known as Guyana), became the first European to see Kaieteur Falls. The other surveyor was James Sawkins. Brown and James Sawkins arrived in Georgetown in 1867 and did some of their mapping and preparation of geological reports together, some in separate expeditions, but Sawkins had taken a break from his work when Brown came upon Kaieteur.

At the time of discovery Brown did not have time to investigate Kaieteur Falls closer and he returned here one year later when measurements of the waterfall were made.

Brown’s book Canoe and Camp life in British Guiana was published in 1876. Two years later, in 1878, he published Fifteen Thousand Miles on the Amazon and its tributaries.

According to a Patamona Indian legend, Kaieteur Falls was named for Kai, a chief, or Toshao who acted to save his people by paddling over the falls in an act of self-sacrifice to Makonaima, the great spirit.

Another legend though was told to Brown by Amerindians in the night of discovery of falls: Kaieteur has been named after an unpleasant old man who was placed in a boat and shoved in the fall by his relatives. Thus the fall was named "Kaieteur" what means - "old-man-fall".

Kaieteur Falls is a major tourist attraction in Guyana. The falls is located in Kaieteur National Park and is in the center of Guyana's rainforest. There are frequent flights between the falls airstrip and Ogle Airport and Cheddi Jagan International Airport in Georgetown.

Kaieteur Airstrip is located at Kaieteur about a 15 minute walk from the top of Kaieteur falls. The Kaieteur airstrip serves the Kaieteur National Park.

INDIA: India May Become Best Medical Tourism Destination

ndia has the potential to become a medical tourism hub and the Modi Government has taken several measures including making the health services affordable and accessible to all, Union minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi said today.

The measures taken by the Narendra Modi government have ensured that the quality medical services are available at affordable price to the poor, he said, inaugurating a medical camp in suburban Bandra.

The Minister of Minority Affairs said the BJP-led dispensation has been working on priority basis to strengthen medical services and has allocated in the Budget thousands of crores of rupees to the public health sector.

He said in a revolutionary step to provide affordable, quality heart-related healthcare for all, the Centre on February 13 issued a notification fixing the ceiling the prices of coronary stents.

The step would bring down the cost of coronary stents by about 380 per cent, said Naqvi, who is also Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs.

He said the new ceiling prices will promote `Make in India' initiative in a big way. Seeing the large number of patients and future requirement, foreign companies will also try to make stents in India to cut costs and remain competitive.

At present, the market size of India made stents is roughly 30 per cent, the Minister said.

Naqvi said the Modi Government has been working on war footing to provide better health services in the rural areas as well.

Given the Government's focus on the health sector and availability of a vast pool of professionals, India has the potential to become a "medical tourism hub", he said.

He asked the medical professionals to take their job as a mission. Commercial interest alone should not dominate this mission to provide affordable and accessible health facilities for all, Naqvi said.

Terming the large resource of talented doctors and medical professionals as a matter of pride for India, he said "We need support of these dedicated medical professionals to make our health services affordable and accessible."

EGYPT: Tourism Signals Recovery

Tourists are slowly returning to Egypt, easing pressure on a key sector battered by years of turmoil and the 2015 bombing of a plane carrying Russian holidaymakers.

"There is an increase in the number of tourists. This situation was much better in January than in previous years," tourism ministry spokeswoman Omaima al-Husseini said.

Visitors from China, Japan and Ukraine account for a large part of the growth.

China´s top public travel agency, China International Travel Service, reported a 58 percent increase in tourists flying to Egypt compared with 2015.

"There are more bookings between October 2016 and January 2017 than last year," said Egyptian Federation of Tourism chief Karim Mohsen.

"There is an improvement, especially in cultural tourism in Cairo, Luxor and Aswan," key historical sites, he said.

The uptick is a sign of hope for a country also reeling from the shock of an economic reform programme that has triggered massive inflation.

Once a key foreign currency earner, the tourism sector crashed in 2011 after a popular uprising overthrew veteran strongman Hosni Mubarak, ushering in years of sporadic unrest.

Recoveries in the sector since then have been set back by new crises.

In June 2015, a massacre of tourists at a Luxor temple was narrowly averted when assailants armed with assault rifles and explosives bungled the attack and were intercepted by police.

But in October that year, Islamic State group jihadists, who are waging an insurgency in the eastern Sinai Peninsula, struck again. They bombed a Russian airliner carrying holidaymakers home from the popular Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.

All 224 people on board were killed.

Russia suspended flights to Egypt and Britain cut air links with Sharm el-Sheikh.

Visitor numbers plunged from 9.3 million in 2015 to 5.3 million the following year, Husseini said.

THAILAND:Government Approves Proposed Coal-fired Plant On The Andaman Sea

A government committee has approved construction of an 800-megawatt coal power plant near pristine beaches on the Andaman Sea, Thailand's prime minister said Friday.

The plant and an accompanying dock are slated to be built next to an existing oil plant on the coast in Krabi, a province whose sandy shores, aqua-blue waters, and soaring limestone cliffs that plunge dramatically into the Andaman Sea make it a world-famous tourist destination.

The announcement by Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha that the National Energy Policy Committee has given the go-ahead to the project was criticized by activists who worry the plant will pollute local waters and spoil scenery. They say it will damage tourism and fishing, and that eco-friendly alternatives should be considered instead.

The Energy Ministry says southern Thailand's power grid falls hundreds of megawatts short during peak demand, requiring electrical backup from Malaysia or provinces further north. But environmentalists argued in a report submitted to the ministry last year that biomass, wind, or other renewable energy sources could make up the shortfall.

The proposal will be reviewed to meet environmental standards before being forwarded to the Cabinet. Prayuth, who heads a military government, chaired the committee and in announcing its approval said the project was necessary to avoid future shortages and was safe.

Several hundred demonstrators traveled overnight from Krabi to stage a sit-in at the gates outside the prime minister's office compound, waving green flags emblazoned with "NO COAL" under skulls and crossbones. Some scuffled with police guards after the decision was announced.

"It's not right," Akradej Chakjinda, leader of activist group Save Krabi, said of the decision. "He's not listening to the local people. He's listening just to members of the energy ministry, to his friends."

Activists say the plant and its pollution will wreck Krabi's tourist trade and hurt fishermen, damaging two of the largest industries in the province. Tourism made up 17.7 percent of Thailand's economy in 2016, according to official statistics.

"Krabi is very famous for its nature, people come for nature, but now you destroy nature." said Ponwarin Kanantai, 20, a college student whose parents run a hotel in a beachside town in Krabi. "It's not our generation — you have think of the next generation, how will they be impacted by coal."

Officials say the plant will adhere to high cleanliness standards and will burn premium-grade coal imported from Australia to cut down on emissions. They point out it will be built next to an already-existing power station hidden behind trees — not, they say, on pristine grounds.

MALAYSIA:Good News For Indians, You Will Have Free e-visas

not only can you get a visa for the beautiful Malaya land with just a click on the mouse, but it is free as well. Only a $20 (Rs 1,342) processing fee will be charged, while the visa fee has been waived.

“You can now apply for the visa online and you will receive it in the comfort of your home within 48 hours,” Malaysian Minister of Tourism and Culture Dato’ Seri Mohamed Nazri Abdul Aziz has announced. He was leading a delegation from the country and the announcement was made during a press conference organised by the Malaysia Tourism Promotion Board at the Le Meridien Hotel in New Delhi on February 16.

Aziz further said the tourism board has waived the visa fee for Indian travellers and only a processing fee will be charged. One can apply for the visa by logging on to

Promoting sustainable and niche tourism at the 24th edition of the South Asia Travel and Tourism Exchange (SATTE) 2017, Aziz said that sustainable tourism development was no longer a mere cliche but a major contributor to a more environmentally responsible economy.

“With the right investment, tourism can be a lead change agent in the move towards a green economy. It simultaneously improves resource efficiency, minimises environmental degradation and raises environmental awareness among travellers,” he said.

With such niche tourism on a rise, Malaysia is also pushing its special interest packages for premium shopping, luxury travels, sports tourism such as golf, and the country as a wedding and honeymoon destination.

The World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) has designated 2017 as the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development and Malaysia is keen to promote its four UNESCO heritage sites — Kinabalu National Park in Sabah, Gunung Mulu National Park in Sarawak, Melaka and George Town cities, and the archaeological heritage site of Lenggong Valley. India is the sixth top tourist generating market for Malaysia, with a total 7,22,141 Indians visiting the country in 2015. Last year, from January to October, Malaysia had received a total of 5,40,530 Indian tourists.

SOUTH KOREA: Korean Tourism At Korea Travel Expo

The 2017 Korea Travel Expo kicked off Thursday at COEX for a four-day run, featuring over 300 businesses and organizations related to domestic tourism.

This year’s expo marks its 14th anniversary, and will include information on travel content in Korea, traditional and modern, lectures by famous travel writers and photographers, an introduction to local tourism policies, and regional produce and souvenirs are on display for those wishing to do some shopping.

The entrance fee is 5,000 won for adults, and free of charge for minors and for the disabled. The expo is open daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Officials said 106,950 people visited last year’s event, with 362 companies and organizations participating.

Trump Immigration Policies Anger Caribbean

Leaders of the 15-nation Caribbean Community have expressed concern that US President Donald Trump's immigration policies could lead to a slowdown in travel to a region dependent on tourism.

As Caribbean leaders wrapped up their mid-term summit in Guyana's capital city Georgetown yesterday, incoming Caricom Chairman Keith Mitchell -- prime minister of Grenada -- said the trade bloc has adopted a "wait-and-see attitude" with respect to America's evolving migration policy and how it affects the region's vital tourism industry.

"We must obviously be concerned with the recent issue related to immigration, and the impact it will have on our citizens and... on tourism," Mitchell told a news conference at the close of the two-day summit, the first since President Trump took office.

Millions of Caribbean nationals live in the United State as permanent residents, naturalised citizens or illegal aliens.

Many travel regularly to their home countries, while others send remittances totaling hundreds of millions of dollars each year to relatives who remain in the Caribbean.

Mitchell said he understands the reluctance of some Caribbean residents in the US not to leave the country.

Trump's attempted crackdown on refugees and immigrants from some majority Muslim countries has raised concerns that he may try to impose harsher travel restrictions on them as well.

"The uncertainty is there so clearly that has to be settled," said the Grenadian leader, who once lived in the US for 14 years.

Mitchell said he hoped that the US Congress would temper Trump's executive actions on immigration.

"You can't ignore the voices of the people of the United States, so I expect that this thing has to settle -- the uncertainty cannot continue," Mitchell said.

"I believe when the dust is settled, things must improve, because our borders are too close to the United States for them to risk uncertainty or problems in our direction," he said.

Trump said on Thursday he will announce a new executive order on immigration next week, after his original, much-criticised travel ban was blocked by US courts.

The January 27 order was widely criticised as amounting to a ban on Muslims, and also for being rolled out sloppily -- with virtually no warning to the public or preparation of the agencies tasked with enforcing it.

SOUTH KOREA: Crude Chinese Tourists An Embarassment To China

Chinese tourists have become an indispensable asset for domestic tourism, accounting for roughly 60 percent of all individual travelers to Korea, and over half of all customers at local duty-free stores.

But as is the case for all popular tourist destinations, misbehaviors and an apparent lack of respect for local culture practiced by a minority of visitors from China is stirring public discontent and criticism, and even anti-Chinese sentiment.

The latest controversy was sparked when photos and footage of a Jeju International Airport terminal, trashed with packaging from duty-free purchases by mainly Chinese tourists, was released online and through news reports. Although the images have come as a shock to many South Koreans, officials in the retail industry were quick to claim that the latest news is only the tip of the iceberg.

“We often have Chinese tourists spitting all over the ground in front of our duty-free store, so we always feel sorry for the cleaning staff,” said a 20-year employee at a Jeju duty-free store. “We’ve also had tourists smoking in non-smoking areas, which urged local police to intervene by handing out and attaching fliers, but there was very little impact.”

The official further added that he had even seen people playing card games sitting on the floor of the store’s lobby, and the hallways are frequently seen with food waste spilled or discarded by tourists.

More common are problems arising from differences in toilet culture.

“I once saw a Chinese parent let their child urinate in the corner of a store, after the child said it was urgent,” said an official from another outlet in Jeju. “I don’t know if it’s their common use of squat toilets, but Chinese tourists usually step on top of the toilet seat when they use the restrooms, which leads to complaints from other customers.”

Tourists who go way overboard with haggling over prices are also prevalent.

An official who up until recently worked at a luxury watch boutique in a Seoul duty-free store said she once encountered a Chinese shopper who tried to bargain for almost 12 hours, despite repeated reminders that the store only offer fixed-price products, while another tourist held on to a Japanese shopper who had purchased a watch he apparently liked, asking to sell it back to him, putting everyone in an awkward situation.

The official added that arrogant, bossy behavior was commonplace as well, with Chinese tourists often showing off their wealth, or displaying a highly sinocentric attitude.

“A Chinese tourist once showed us a James Bond briefcase full of cash, and demanded in Chinese that we ‘give him special treatment’,” she said, adding that ignoring employee requests, cutting lines, and throwing away products they were looking to buy were “nothing out of the ordinary.”

INDIA: Free Sim Cards To Be Distributed At Airports

India will start giving tourists free, pre-activated SIM cards on arrival in the country.

The cards will be loaded with 50MB of data, plus some credit for phone calls, and they’re available to tourists from 161 countries who come to India on an e-visa.

They’ll first be available at New Delhi’s Indira Gandhi Airport, before being rolled out to 15 other major airports around the country.

They’re not the first country to consider an initiative like this.

In August, Thailand’s telecommunications regulator approved a plan to make tourists use special SIM cards that would allow the government to track their movements.

The move came as the Thai military, which rose to power following a 2014 coup, continues to crackdown on misbehaving tourists.

It sounds a bit creepy, but government officials insist it’s designed to catch criminals and assist tourists who run into trouble.

India’s tourism minister, Dr Mahesh Sharma, said he got the idea when he was given a similar card while visiting Sri Lanka.

He indicated it was more about guaranteeing safety for tourists.

According to the government, the move will also promote hassle-free travel.

Until now, it’s been notoriously difficult for tourists to get an Indian phone number.

The bureaucratic process requires them to provide a range of documents to prove their identity, as well as a photocopy of their passport with a valid visa stamp, proof of address, and the contact details of a local reference.

Even then, it often takes days for the number to be activated.

By contrast, tourists will simply have to show their passport and a copy of their e-visa to get their hands on one of the new SIM cards.

The initiative will also help foreigners access a 24-hour government helpline with information available in 12 different languages.

It’s been a bumpy road for tourists as the country races to embrace technology under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Late last year, many foreigners — including Australians — were stranded without money when the government abruptly demonetised their high-value currency.

Mr Modi said it was time for the nation to embrace online banking, in a bid to tackle fraud and increase transparency.

Emily Kaelin, a 28-year-old public relations manager from Sydney, told in November the queues were “frenzied” as people desperately tried to exchange worthless notes.

“I only heard the evening before it happened, so we basically had no warning, and couldn’t make any preparations,” she said.

“We planned to stay in Pondicherry about four nights and ended up being stuck there for two weeks because we had no way of accessing cash.

“We didn’t have enough money to even pay off our accommodation, so needed to keep extending our stay in the hope that at some point, we could access some cash.”

Similar to the way online banking increases transparency, the free SIM cards will also help the government track tourists and record their travel patterns.

“This initiative will help tourists immediately communicate with their relatives back home, hotels, tour operators and so on,” he said.

CUBA: Tourism Boom Not Supported By Facilities

Cuba is an attractive destination for British travellers as airlines launch new routes and cruise tourism surges. But as the boom continues, confusion has taken hold over whether Britons are able to board the new direct US-Cuba flights.

Passengers flying to the Caribbean island from the UK with Virgin Atlantic (VA) have also experienced difficulties as the airline gets to grips with the ticketing system alongside its new partner, Delta.

Customers have been unable to book flights online by card, or use Air Miles plus money, and they must, instead, call a Cuba phoneline at Virgin Holidays. Miles then need to be converted into vouchers to be discounted against a normal fare.

VA said the issue was temporary, but Rob Miller, director of the UK-based Cuba Solidarity Campaign, accused the airline of discriminating against the communist nation. “Virgin Atlantic must end this discriminatory policy impacting on travellers wanting to use their Air Miles to travel to Cuba,” he said. “The US blockade is at the heart of this latest travel dispute.

“We have written to the British Government, and Virgin Atlantic, calling on them to take immediate action to ensure that all passengers are treated fairly whether they are travelling to Cuba or elsewhere.”

A VA spokesperson apologised for any inconvenience: “This is just a different way to pay for this route, on a temporary basis. We certainly aren’t discriminating against Cuba. However, our technology is currently restricted, meaning we can’t take bookings.”

The airline launches its second UK route direct to Cuba on April 2, to Juan G Gomez airport. Thomson, too, is adding a route to Cayo Santa Maria from May; Thomas Cook’s inclusion of the small set of islands off the coast from 2018, takes its total of Cuban destinations to four.

Last year, 10 US airlines made the first direct flights to the island in more than 50 years, following a thaw in US-Cuba relations. Meanwhile, cruise firms cannot organise itineraries fast enough and the demand for hotel rooms has soared. Tour operators were halting bookings to the island as its infrastructure struggled to cope with demand.

Swiss chain Kempinski will open Cuba’s first truly glamorous five-star hotel, Gran Hotel Manzana Kempinski La Habana. Further luxury hotels will follow.

Less positive has been the ambiguity facing British travellers flying to Cuba from the US. Travel for tourism purposes remains illegal for US citizens under a trade embargo. They may only fly direct to Cuba for one of 12 reasons listed by the US Treasury’s Cuba sanctions office (OFAC). The same applies to Britons. Since self-certification (an honour system) for travel was permitted last year by the Obama administration, UK travellers, like US citizens, are ticking one of the officially-approved categories (educational) for travel on airline sites.​

Comparison website advises: “Keep receipts for cultural activities to demonstrate your visit was filled with 'authorised’ travel activities… keep records of museums visited, local tours you took, cultural activities attended, etc… most of the time, no one will ask.”

The Foreign Office advises that travel between the US and Cuba is permitted as long as visitors comply with US law. The OFAC’s press office has not yet responded to our inquiries.

JAMAICA: Hope Zoo Kingston

Hope Zoo was opened to the public in 1961 and was conceived as a Caribbean and Central American zoo. Its aim was to display as wide a variety of animals as possible. The Zoo until 2005 was owned and operated under the Central Government within the Public Gardens Division.

Inadequate funding and subsequent loss of the animal collection led to the overall deterioration of the facility and a decline in public interest. This combination of factors in 2005 paved the way for Central Government to start leasing the facility. In November 2011 the Hope Zoo Preservation Foundation (HZPF) assumed full management authority under the helm of Mr. Kenneth S. Benjamin OJ,CD,LLD(Hon.),JP as the executive chairman.

The Foundation has a not-for-profit with charitable status.


The leadership team all come from diverse backgrounds but they have one thing in common – a passion and commitment for our planet’s wildlife conservation.

Rebecca Harper – General Manager

Mr. Orlando Robinson – Head of Animal Department

Mr. Rovein Richards – Head of Operations

Rochelle DeSousa– Administrator

Chevelle James – Events Coordinator

The Hope Zoo Preservation Foundation intends to closely follow a master plan which was commissioned through funding from the Environmental Foundation of Jamaica. This plan was developed through international zoo architects and Ursa International. The concept revolves around the idea that the animal collection and its associated components are to tell a story that is relevant to the Jamaican experience.

Three areas emerged from the exhibit concept layout:

Jamaican Paradise
Showcases local species, hopefully engendering pride and ownership for what is unique to us, but more importantly to give a quick insight into where we are now as a people.

African Outpost
This is a reflection of our past and how those experiences have helped to shape us, influenced our food, folklore etc. This area includes the macrovertebrates such as the African lion and lioness, zebra and ostrich.

American Jungle
This represents our journey here. It intends to mimic the experience of translocation for most Jamaicans by seeing animals from unknown areas. This will include many primate species such as exotic parrots etc.

Within this context Hope Zoo focuses on three key areas of its long term mission:

Public education – through active and passive learning
Conservation – working to protect our unique biodiversity
Research and development – adopting and displaying current technology as it relates to environmental management to become innovators in wildlife management.

icon Public Education:

At the core is our ‘Tree House’ or the Tropical Learning Centre (TLC) which is an educational facility. Its aim is to educate the public on the conservation of the natural environment.

icon Active Learning:

School groups will have the opportunity to attend structured multimedia presentations designed to support their existing curriculum and also to promote good environmental stewardship. Other activities include environmental-related workshops and lectures, our Traveling Petting Zoo to schools, guided tours, summer camps and field trips.

icon Passive:

With critical issues such as global warming presently threatening our planet, innovative methods of generating cleaner energy and minimizing man-made pollutants are an ever-growing area of interest. With this in mind, the Tree House will play a role in informing the Jamaican public about the new advances in this field and also about practical solutions that can readily be adapted to the Jamaican environment. It will be critical that this facility act as an example and utilize environmentally-conscious approaches as it will have to take a lead in ushering in these technologies.

icon Research & Development :

An endorsement of our work in education to promote green technology and also to inform wildlife management practices using information gained in the captive management of species. Efforts will include a research centre that focuses on key local species in need of conservation and the documentation of best practices, as well as development of husbandry standards

UAE: Explore Kerala By Kerala Tourism

The Kerala tourism department in association with global retailer Lulu group will be organizing a four-day-long travel and tourism event in Abu Dhabi from February 22, to promote the 'God's Own Country' in the Middle East tourism market.

IndiaTourism Dubai office, Tourism India and Brand Kerala Magazines are also part of the event, titled as 'Explore Kerala @ Abu Dhabi."

Official logo of 'Explore Kerala' was unveiled by Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan in the presence Ashraf Ali MA, Lulu Group Executive Director, Nandakumar, Chief Communication Officer, Biju Kottarathil, Media Secretary and other officials recently, a release said here today.

The event will be held from February 22 25 at Mushrif Mall in Abu Dhabi.

Several leading Hotels & Resorts including The Raviz Hotels & Resorts, Uday Samudra Kovalam, Vythiri Village Wayanad, Somatheeram Ayurveda Resort and two leading tour operators, Gateway Malabar Holidays and The Blue Yonder from the state will showcase their products along with Kerala destination presentation, it said.

A colourful cultural performance showcasing the state's art forms including Kathakali, Mohiniyattom, Theyyam and Thayambaka will also be the part of the four-day event, it said.

"Keralites have always considered UAE as their second home and Kerala tourism identified the potential of the ever growing UAE tourism market.

Considering tourist arrivals to Kerala from the Middle East, UAE is the second biggest market after Saudi Arabia and followed by the Oman and Kuwait," state Tourism Minister Kadakampally Surendran said.

"In 2015, there were 71,500 tourists from Saudi Arabia (65048 in 2014 and 48,346 in 2013), 20,000 plus ( 18,264 in 2014 and 17,475 in 2013) from the UAE and 17,924 from Oman, who visited the state.

From the Middle East alone, we have more than one lakh visitors," he added.

The event would be officially inaugurated by Sultan Hamad Al Mutawa Al Dhaheri, Executive Director of Abu Dhabi Tourism.

Indian Ambassador to UAE, Navdeep Suri, Etihad Airways Senior Vice President, Harib Al Muhairi, India Tourism Director IRV Rao and many dignitaries would also be present during the function, the release added.

JAMAICA: Hope Botanical Gardens


The Royal Botanical Gardens, commonly called "Hope Gardens", occupies 200 acres of land in the Ligunaea Plains of urban St Andrew. The gardens were established in 1873 on a section of land from the estate of Major Richard Hope, one of the original English colonisers who arrived with the invading force of Penn and Venables. Today the gardens are the largest public green space in the Kingston metropolitan region, and are home to Jamaica's most popular collection of endemic and exotic botanical collections. Of particular interest is the Cassia siamea grove by the main entrance, which was planted in 1907, and the other mini-gardens within the park - notably the cacti garden, with its rare varietals; the bougainvillea walk with its magnificent explosions of tropical colours; the annual gardens, with numerous species of exotic flowers; the sunken gardens and the lily pond.

Local Flavor:
Most of the plants and trees, particularly the mango and various spice species found here and in the gardens at Bath, originally came from a captured French ship on its way from Mauritius to Hispaniola in 1782. It is still highly unclear as to where exactly the plants went, but we do know that the Receiver General, one Mr Hinton East, owned and operated a garden near to the gardens at Hope. Since all cargo entering the country had to pass through his hands and be cleared by his office, it is not surprising that years after the fact, the whole collection was deposited in Mr East's garden which later was transplanted to the Hope Estate.

Famous For:
There are many rare and beautiful species of tropical plants and trees at the Royal Botanical Gardens, including the Hibiscus elatus (blue mahoe), the national tree of Jamaica. Blue mahoe is a small spreading tree with flowers that open in primrose colour in the morning and change to orange and deep red as the day advances.

Don't Miss:
The Amphitheatre, where the Honourable "Miss Lou" Louise Bennett-Coverly, a famous Jamaican folklorist, poet and storyteller, used to hold Saturday morning tapings of her famous TV show, Ring Ding. She occasionally hosts band concerts by the Jamaica Military Band and poetry readings.

Contact Details

Tel: 876-970-3505
Website: http://

JAMAICA: Jamaica To Start Cruise Ship Routes To Cuba

Tourism Minister Ed Bartlett said he has been holding discussions to develop new cruise ship routes between Cuba and Kingston.

Bartlett told the Kingston and St Andrew Corporation (KSAC) council meeting on Tuesday that he was not worried that the opening up of Cuba would affect Jamaica's tourism.

"For me its an opportunity that can broaden market size," he said.

He said that the cruise shipping infrastructure in Kingston will have to be developed to lure tourists to the city.

The Government plans on setting up the Norman Manley International Airport in a way that would give confluence for cruise, sea and air activity, the minister added.

Meanwhile, Barlett told the councillors that Hope Zoo and Hope Gardens in the municipality are to be developed as major tourist attractions.

Thursday, 16 February 2017

SINGAPORE: 2016 Saw 16.4 Million Tourists Who Spent $24.8 Billion, Tourism Boom Indeed

Tourist arrivals and spending in Singapore hit record highs last year, buoyed by the growth of the Chinese market and visitors spending more on food and beverage, shopping and accommodation.

Preliminary estimates by the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) showed that the number of visitors grew by 7.7 per cent to 16.4 million last year, while tourism receipts rose 13.9 per cent to $24.8 billion.

The strong showing marks a turnaround from 2015, when tourism receipts fell 7.6 per cent to $21.8 billion, the first decline since 2009.

Visitors spent 48 per cent more on shopping between January and September last year compared with the same period in 2015.

This was due to increased spending on confectionery, gifts and souvenirs, and fashion and accessories, STB said at a media conference yesterday, where it reviewed its performance for the past year.

Visitors were also willing to fork out more for accommodation (up by 28 per cent) and food and beverage (up by 24 per cent), but sightseeing, entertainment and gaming fell 16 per cent.

Indonesia remained the top source of visitors to the Republic last year, edging out China after the Chinese took the top spot for arrivals from January to November.

This was followed by Malaysia, which posted a 2 per cent decline due to a depreciating ringgit, and India, which overtook Australia for fourth place.

Chinese tourists were the biggest spenders for the second year in a row.

With a 36 per cent increase in visitor arrivals, it was also the top growth market.

There were more visitor arrivals from Tier 1 and Tier 2 cities in China, India and Indonesia, where STB had intensified its marketing efforts, the agency said.

The largest decline in arrivals was posted by Hong Kong (12 per cent), due largely to its weaker economic performance.

The business events and cruise sectors showed double-digit year-on-year growth.

More than 410 business events were held last year, which brought in 28 per cent more revenue, while cruise passenger traffic grew 16 per cent to about 1.2 million.

STB chief executive Lionel Yeo said: "Despite challenges such as weaker economic performance in some of Singapore's top source markets and a Zika virus outbreak, Singapore has managed to attract more quality visitors to contribute to economic growth."

Tourism's contribution to Singapore's gross domestic product last year remained stable at about 4 per cent, Mr Yeo added.

For this year, STB forecasts tourism receipts to grow by 1 to 4 per cent to $25.1 billion to $25.8 billion.

Visitor arrivals are expected to be between 16.4 million and 16.7 million, a growth of 0 to 2 per cent.

CUBA: Hotel Pricing Dilema

Could anything be better than a winter getaway to Cuba, complete with a stay in one of the Caribbean island's five-star luxury hotels?

Actually, yes, say many of the tourists flocking to the Caribbean's new "it" destination, who complain the state-owned hotel industry is underwhelming and overpriced.

Tourists have been flooding Cuba ever since its historic rapprochement with the United States was announced in December 2014.

A record four million visited the communist-ruled island -- population 11 million -- last year, an increase of 13 percent from 2015.

That has sent prices soaring.

But, in a country where limited supply and years of underinvestment are hallmarks of the hotel industry, price doesn't necessarily mean quality.

Jean Orsini, a French tourist, found his room had a rust-stained shower, and spent so long waiting for his dinner that he nearly gave up.

"At the travel agency in Marseille, they told us they were sending us to the best hotel. But you pay 175 euros a night, and you just know it's not worth the price," said the 82-year-old retiree.

Spanish tourist Pilar Esteras was appalled by the staff's nonchalance at her hotel. Maria Teresa Gutierrez of Colombia had no running water at times and found her $250 a night room was less than clean.

Yet all three tourists stayed in four- and five-star hotels.

Their experiences are an indication of the industry's problems in Cuba, even though the state now co-manages many hotels with foreign companies such as Accor of France, Iberostar of Spain and Blue Diamond of Canada.

In fact, 17 private companies operate two-thirds of the hotels in Cuba.

But they have little control over things like infrastructure maintenance and the availability of good staff in a country where hospitality training is scarce and wages are meager -- less than $30 a month.

Orsini said his Cuba trip reminded him of traveling in the former Soviet Union in the 1960s.

"You spent three hours waiting to eat," he said. "Since they were state restaurants, the staff could have cared less."

In one well-known four-star hotel in Havana, the rate has risen from $110 a night to $285 in less than two years. In another, the price jumped from $90 to $202 in a year.

But if anything, surging demand has only stretched the hotels' staff and resources further.

"Cuba still hasn't managed to match the international quality standards those prices imply," said Jose Luis Perello, an industry expert at the University of Havana.

"The value-for-money issue... causes a lot of complaints," said a European hotel manager in Havana, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Some are even more blunt.

"Four-star rooms (in Cuba) are equivalent to a barely three-star hotel in Paris," said Stephane Ferrux, a Frenchman who runs a travel agency in Havana.

The tourism ministry and the army -- the sole owners of Cuba's hotels -- are aware of the threat this perception poses.

Tourism, Cuba's top industry, generated $2.8 billion in revenue last year.

But the sector faces tough competition from other Caribbean destinations such as the Bahamas and the Dominican Republic, which have more experience catering to foreign clients' expectations.

Earlier this year, Deputy Tourism Minister Mayra Alvarez pledged to "work to improve hotel infrastructure, raise facilities' standards and provide a well-trained workforce."

But she announced no specific plans.

There is, however, an alternative to state hotels.

Since 1997, the communist government has allowed private citizens to host tourists in their homes -- so-called "casas particulares."

Today they account for 16,000 of Cuba's 70,000 hotel rooms -- with an average rate of $30 a night.

Some luxury "casas" have even opened recently, offering guests newly renovated quarters in sumptuous colonial-era residences.

But don't look there for bargains -- the best are often full, and charge upwards of $500 a night.

MALAYSIA: Kim Jong-nam Murdered At Kuala Lumpur International Airport

North Korea has tried to block an autopsy of Kim Jong-Un's assassinated half-brother after ordering Malaysia to hand over his body, it emerged today.

Kim Jong-Nam was reportedly killed by two female Pyongyang operatives who grabbed him from behind and poisoned him at Kuala Lumpur International Airport on Monday.

Stooges from Kim Jong-Un's North Korean embassy were seen in a car with blacked-out windows outside the city morgue where his body was taken - and waited there so long they eventually ordered a KFC meal, it has been claimed.

Officials including North Korea's ambassador, Kang Chol, spent hours failing to convince Malaysian authorities to hand over the body and their demands to stop the autopsy being performed were also ignored.

Police probing the death this morning arrested a woman posing as a Vietnamese national calling herself Doan Thi Huong.

They swooped after recognising her from CCTV footage from the airport of a woman in a white shirt with LOL written on the front. She is believed to be a North Korean spy.

But police are still hunting a 'few' other foreign suspects over the Cold War-style poison attack on Jong-nam on Monday morning, it has emerged.

Grainy pictures purportedly show the woman standing at the terminal waiting for a taxi.

Earlier reports suggested Jong-nam was targeted by two suspected female North Korean operatives who apparently attacked him from behind with poison spray.

The 46-year-old, who had branded his younger brother's regime a 'joke', was allegedly poisoned while waiting for a flight and died on his way to hospital.

There were claims he had been attacked by two women – suspected North Korean agents – who sprayed a toxic chemical in his face.

The assassination, which came as North Korea readied to celebrate the birthday this week of the two men's father, illustrates the 'brutal and inhumane' nature of the Pyongyang regime led by Kim Jong-Un, Seoul said.

The head of the NIS, the South Korean equivalent of the CIA, told parliament today that North Korea had been plotting to kill Kim since at least 2012 and that Kim Jong-un was paranoid about his half-brother.

He said: 'After Kim Jong-un came to power, he gave a standing order that Kim Jong-nam had to be taken care of, at all costs.'

And there were reports today that the North may have acted now amid fears Jong-Nam was plotting to defect to the South having served, in the 2000s, as a middleman between disgraced current South Korean President Park Geun-hye and officials in Pyongyang.

Some reports have suggested the assassins held a cloth doused in chemicals in his face and burned his eyes, or stabbed him with a poisoned needle. US sources said a fountain pen may have been used to spray the poison.

This morning it was reported that the taxi driver who transported the women away from the airport has been arrested. He is said to have told police that one of the women was Vietnamese.

The half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un pleaded for his life to be spared after a failed assassination bid in 2012, lawmakers briefed by Seoul's spy chief said today.

Jong-Nam, the eldest son of the late former leader Kim Jong-Il, was once seen as heir apparent but fell out of favour following an embarrassing botched bid in 2001 to enter Japan on a forged passport and visit Disneyland.

He has since lived in virtual exile, mainly in the Chinese territory of Macau, while Jong-Un took over the isolated, nuclear-armed state after the death of his father in December 2011.

The North in 2012 tried to assassinate Jong-Nam - known to be a supporter of reform in Pyongyang - Seoul lawmakers said following a closed-door briefing by the chief of the National Intelligence Service, Lee Byung-Ho.

'According to (Lee)... there was one (assassination) bid in 2012, and Jong-Nam in April 2012 sent a letter to Jong-Un saying 'Please spare me and my family,'' Kim Byung-Kee, a member of the parliamentary intelligence committee, told reporters.

'It also said "We have nowhere to go... we know that the only way to escape is suicide",' he said, adding Jong-Nam had little political support at home and posed little threat to Jong-Un.

Jong-Nam's family - his former and current wives and three children - are currently living in Beijing and Macau, said another committee member, Lee Cheol-Woo.

'They are under the protection by the Chinese authorities,' he said, adding Jong-Nam had entered Malaysia on February 6, a week before his death.

Jong-Nam's murder is the highest-profile death under the Kim Jong-Un's regime since the execution of the leader's uncle, Jang Song-Thaek, in December 2013.

Jang, known to be close to China and an advocate of economic reform in the North, was charged with treason.

Jong-Nam, believed to have ties with Beijing's elite, was a relatively outspoken figure, publicly criticising Pyongyang's political system.

The 45-year-old said he 'personally opposed' the hereditary power transfer in his own family, during an interview with Japan's Asahi TV in 2010.

One of his sons - Han-Sol - also described his uncle, Jong-Un, as a 'dictator' in a rare interview with a Finnish TV station in 2012 while he was studying in Europe.

The mystery woman captured on CCTV, with shoulder-length hair, was heavily made up, wearing a handbag with a long strap over her left shoulder.

The image, released by the Malay Mail is believed to have been taken outside a secondary terminal at Kuala Lumpur International Airport from which regional flights come and go.

The apparent hit follows previous botched attempts to kill Jong-nam, 45, who was estranged from his 33-year-old brother and regarded as a potential threat to his leadership.

It also comes days after international condemnation of North Korea's latest missile test.

The agents are said to have attacked Jong-nam on Monday after taking advantage of a security loophole between his bodyguards and local police, which left him momentarily unguarded at Kuala Lumpur airport.

'The deceased ... felt like someone grabbed or held his face from behind ... he felt dizzy,' Malaysian police official Fadzil Ahmat said.

'So far there are no suspects, but we have started investigations and are looking at a few possibilities to get leads.'

He said a post-mortem examination would be carried out, adding: 'We don't know if there was a cloth or needles.'

It looks like a perfectly staged assassination, straight out of the pages of a spy novel: North Korean royalty Kim Jong Nam, the estranged, exiled half-brother of leader Kim Jong Un, falls ill at a Malaysian airport, complains of being sprayed with some sort of chemical, and drops dead.

But, as with many things about the alleged motives of cloistered North Korea, the unknowns currently far outweigh the certainties.

A look at what officials are trying to piece together as they work to reconstruct one of the most audacious, mysterious assassinations in recent Asian history

Kim Jong Nam, a jovial, overweight gambler and playboy, had embarrassed Pyongyang before - he tried to sneak into Tokyo Disney; he criticized his half-brother - but he's been generally seen more as an annoyance than an existential threat to North Korea's stability.

Why would Kim Jong Un go through the massive logistical trouble - and potential embarrassment - of staging the risky assassination of a blood relation on foreign soil?

Without elaborating, South Korea's spy service told lawmakers Wednesday that the North had been trying to kill Kim Jong Nam for five years. Spy officials offered a single, shaky motive for the death: Kim Jong Un's "paranoia" over his estranged brother.

But the South's National Intelligence Service has a long history of botching intelligence on North Korea and has long sought to portray the North's leadership as mentally unstable.

Some in Seoul wonder if Kim Jong Un might have become enraged when a South Korean newspaper reported last week that Kim Jong Nam tried to defect to the South in 2012. South Korea's spy service denied this, but it's still an open question: Could public speculation that a member of the exalted Kim dynasty wanted to flee to the hated South have pushed Kim Jong Un to order his brother's assassination?

There would seem to be easier, less public places to kill such a high-profile target.

A possible explanation might be found in another nugget provided by South Korea's spy agency: China had long protected Kim Jong Nam and his family in their home base of Macau. Analysts have seen Beijing as looking to Kim Jong Nam as a potential leader should North Korea's regime collapse.

With security, presumably overseen by China, tight in Macau, could there have been a security gap in Malaysia that offered North Korean assassins an opportunity they couldn't have gotten elsewhere?

The details of the attack itself are a tangled mess as of now.

Kim told medical workers that he'd been sprayed with a chemical, which brings to mind past attacks with poison-tipped pens linked to North Korean assassins.

South Korea's spy agency says two women believed to be North Korean agents attacked Kim. They then reportedly fled. Japanese media quoted the government in Tokyo as saying those women may now be dead. None of this has been confirmed yet.

Still, finding out who these women are and who hired them could go a long way to unlocking the mystery.

North Korea has said nothing officially about the death, but that's not unusual. The country's propaganda specialists are masters at reporting only details that lionize the Kim family as paragons of virtue. This clearly doesn't do that.

China may be angry at the killing of a close North Korean contact, so there could be some sort of reaction, possibly back-channel, from Beijing.

But a more concrete punishment could come from Washington.

Cheong Seong-Chang, a South Korean analyst, said the assassination might convince the U.S. Congress to relist North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism, further isolating the already widely shunned country.

North Korean government officials are said to have demanded the body, but Malaysian police say a local post-mortem examination must be carried out first.

There is heavy security at Putrajaya Hospital today where witnesses say they saw a mortuary vehicle being escorted by up to four police cars just before 9am today.

More than a hundred journalists outside have been denied access and are having their questions ignored, it has been reported.

However, it has been confirmed that the body is going to be moved for autopsy, which will take place in heavy security at the large Hospital Kuala Lumpur (HKL).

An unnamed hospital staff member at Putrajaya is quoted as saying: 'Specialists said that Putrajaya Hospital is not adapted for an autopsy and that Kim Jong-nam's body is being moved to HKL, which is more spacious and has better facilities.'

Witnesses said they saw three vehicles from the North Korean embassy at HKL.

Local police chief Abu Samah Mat said Jong-nam went to the airport clinic complaining that he had been sprayed with a liquid, and died on his way to Putrajaya Hospital south of the capital.

In Pyongyang, celebrations had begun for Thursday's anniversary of the birth of Kim Jong-Il, Jong-Nam's father, with no mention of the killing.

Around 3,000 uniformed government officials and women in traditional dresses gathered for an ice skating gala featuring North Korean and foreign skaters. Banners proclaiming 'peace', 'independence' and 'friendship' hung in the venue.

Would-be North Korean assassins have been caught with poisoned needles in the past – which can be hidden inside pens – and an anonymous US official said a similar device could not be ruled out.

South Korea's foreign ministry could not confirm the allegations last night, and several previous reports of executions involving supposed enemies of the North Korean state have proved unreliable.

Jong-nam was the eldest son of former leader Kim Jong-il from his affair with South Korean-born actress Song Hye-rim.

He was once seen as heir apparent but fell out of favour after an embarrassing failed attempt in 2001 to visit Tokyo Disneyland on a forged passport.

Jong-nam has since lived in virtual exile, mainly in the Chinese territory of Macau, as well as Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia and France.

A failed attempt to sneak into Japan to visit Disneyland in 2001 may have doomed the leadership dreams of the half-brother of North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, who was assassinated this week in an airport in Malaysia.

Banished from his dictator father's favour, the exiled Kim Jong Nam frequented casinos, five-star hotels and travelled around Asia, with little say in North Korean affairs.

That ended on Monday when he was killed in the Kuala Lumpur International Airport. Officials in South Korea say they believe the attack was carried out by North Korean agents.

Despite multiple reported assassination attempts over the years, Kim Jong Nam was still a member of the most important family in North Korea, a direct blood descendent of North Korea founder Kim Il Sung.

Estranged for years from his relatives, the 45-year-old gambler and playboy played a key, if complicated role in the dynasty that has ruled for three generations since North Korea's foundation in 1948.

Kim Jong Nam is the eldest son of Kim Jong Il, the second member of the Kim family to rule North Korea. Kim Jong Il had three known sons with two different women. Jong Nam was born from his father's unofficial relationship with North Korean actress Sung Hae Rim.

Kim Jong Il forced Sung to divorce her first husband and live with him, but Kim Il Sung - the first leader of North Korea and Kim Jong Il's father - never accepted Sung as his daughter-in-law. Kim Jong Il reportedly kept Kim Jong Nam's 1971 birth a secret from his father for several years. Sung was reportedly forced to leave North Korea and died in Moscow in 2002.

Despite his mother's exile, some foreign experts believed that Kim Jong Nam would end up inheriting power because of a traditional Korean value system that favors the eldest son as heir.

Unlike his mother, Kim Jong Nam eventually won the affection of his grandfather, who died in 1994, according to South Korean media reports.

Kim Jong Nam's two younger brothers share a mother: Kim Jong Il's Japan-born mistress, the dancer Ko Yong Hui.

Ko's links to Japan, which colonized the Korean Peninsula in the early part of the 20th century, led some to believe that Kim Jong Nam would outpace his siblings in the succession race. Ko immigrated to North Korea in the 1960s from Japan, where she had lived among the ethnic Korean minority. She died in Paris in 2004.

Kim Jong Un eventually won the succession race and became the North's supreme leader in late 2011 upon the death of his father. Believed to be in his early 30s, Kim Jong Un has carried out a series of high-profile executions and purges, and outside experts say few can now challenge his rule.

Kim Jong Nam's other half-brother, Kim Jong Chol, was once viewed by some outsiders as a potential candidate for leader. But a former sushi chef of Kim Jong Il said the late leader derided the middle son, known as a huge fan of rock guitarist Eric Clapton, as 'girlish.'

The brothers also had at least two known sisters. One is Kim Yo Jong, who shares a mother with Kim Jong Un and who is currently working as a top propaganda official.

Another sister, Kim Sol Song, was born from Kim Jong Il's relationship with another woman, Kim Yong Sok. There has been little information about Kim Sol Song, but unconfirmed rumors in the South say she is being detained.

Kim Jong Nam's aunt, Kim Kyong Hui, is Kim Jong Il's younger sister. She was reportedly behind the expulsion of Kim Jong Nam's mother to the then Soviet Union in the 1970s. Kim Kyong Hui and her husband Jang Song Thaek then acted as Kim Jong Nam's caretaker.

Kim Jong Nam's aunt, Kim Kyong Hui (front, centre), is Kim Jong Il's younger sister

But Jong Nam gradually lost favor with his father. He reportedly spent too much money at a Pyongyang hotel and made wild shopping excursions to China. When he was detained in Tokyo for trying to enter the country with a fake Dominican passport, he sported a diamond-encrusted Rolex watch and carried wads of cash.

Kim Kyong Hui and Jang were believed to have played a major role in grooming Kim Jong Un as the next leader.

After Kim Jong Un took power, the two initially enjoyed great power. Jang was seen as the country's No.2 until he was stripped of all posts and executed in a sudden purge for alleged treason in 2013. Kim Kyong Hui, who was reportedly seriously ill, disappeared from the public eye.

Malaysia is one of the only countries North Koreans can visit without a visa – although Jong-nam was using a passport with a false name for the flight back to Macau.

A Malaysian police statement confirmed the death of a 46-year-old North Korean man whom it identified from his travel document as Kim Chol, born in Pyongyang. 'Investigation is in progress and a post mortem examination request has been made to ascertain the cause of death,' the statement said.

Ken Gause, at the CNA think tank in Washington who has studied North Korea's leadership for 30 years, said Kim Chol was a name that Kim Jong Nam has traveled under. He is believed to have been born May 10, 1971, although birthdays are always unclear for senior North Koreans, Gause said.

It was claimed Jong-Nam funded a lavish lifestyle thanks to benefits from building projects set up by his uncle Jang Song-thaek, who has since been executed by the regime.

After Jong-nam's brother became North Korean leader following the death of their father in December 2011, the exile told a Japanese newspaper that the new regime was 'a joke to the outside world'.

He added: 'The Kim Jong-un regime will not last long. Without reforms, North Korea will collapse.' He also claimed he opposed the hereditary transition of power. Cheong Seong-jang, a researcher at Seoul's Sejong Institute think-tank, said it was possible Jong-nam had been assassinated for damaging his brother's authority. He added that the Reconnaissance General Bureau, North Korea's intelligence agency, had been 'closely watching' Jong-nam.

Koh Yu-hwan, a North Korea expert at Dongguk University in Seoul, said Jong-nam had occasionally been the subject of speculation that he could replace his brother.

'Loyalists may have wanted to get rid of him,' he added.

North Korean spies reportedly attempted to kill Jong-nam in Macau in 2011, resulting in a bloody shoot-out with his bodyguards.

Kim's killing is thought to be the highest-profile death under the Jong-Un regime since the execution of the leader's uncle, Jang Song-Thaek, in December 2013.

Jong-Un has been trying to strengthen his grip on power in the face of growing international pressure over his country's nuclear and missile programmes, and regular reports have emerged on purges and executions.

Jong-Nam, known as an advocate of reform in the North, once told Japanese reporters that he opposed his country's dynastic system.

They used to call him the 'Little General' but Kim Jong-Nam - once heir-apparent to his father and North Korea's then-leader Kim Jong-Il - fell from grace in 2001 after a spectacular blunder.

On Tuesday, after more than a decade in exile from the North, Jong-Nam - the 45-year-old half-brother of current leader Kim Jong-Un - was widely reported by South Korean media to have been assassinated in Malaysia.

Born from his father's relationship with actress Sung Hae-rim, Jong-Nam is known to have been a computer enthusiast, a fluent Japanese speaker and a student in both Russia and Switzerland.

He lived in Pyongyang after finishing his overseas studies and was put in charge of overseeing North Korea's information technology policy.

But the chubby eldest son of the supreme leader was already seen by Seoul experts as something of a political lightweight when in 2001 he fell out of favour.

He was embarrassingly detained at a Tokyo airport, trying to enter Japan to visit Disneyland on a false Dominican Republic passport, accompanied by two women and a child.

Jong-Nam and his family afterwards lived in virtual exile in Macau, Singapore and China.

Jong-Nam's half-brother Jong-Un took over as North Korean leader when their father died in December 2011.

In an email exchange with a Japanese journalist published in 2012, Jong-Nam spoke disparagingly of Jong-Un, saying he lacked 'any sense of duty or seriousness' and warned that bribery and corruption would lead to North Korea's eventual collapse.

In another exchange with the same reporter in 2012, Jong-Nam said: 'Anyone with normal thinking would find it difficult to tolerate three generations of hereditary succession.'

In October 2012 South Korean prosecutors said a North Korean detained as a spy had admitted involvement in a plot to stage a hit-and-run car accident in China in 2010 targeting Jong-Nam.

In 2014 Jong-Nam was reported to be in Indonesia - sighted at an Italian restaurant run by a Japanese businessman in Jakarta - and was said to be shuttling back and forth between Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia and France.

In 2012 a Moscow newspaper reported that Jong-Nam was having financial problems after being cut off by the Stalinist state for doubting its succession policy.

The Argumenty i Fakty weekly said he was kicked out of a luxury hotel in Macau over a $15,000 debt.

Jong-Nam's son Kim Han-Sol studied at university in Paris. Back in 2012, when at school in Bosnia, he labelled his uncle Kim Jong-Un a 'dictator' in an interview.

'My dad (Jong-Nam) was not really interested in politics,' Kim told the interviewer when asked why his father was passed over for the dynastic succession in favour of his younger brother.

n a 2012 interview from his school in Bosnia, a 17-year-old Kim Han-Sol, Jong-Nam's son, said his father had been passed over for succession because he 'was not really interested in politics'.

'I don't really know why he became a dictator,' Kim said of his uncle Kim Jong-Un. 'It was between him and my grandfather.'

It emerged Wednesday that Jong-Nam had pleaded with his younger brother for his life to be spared after an earlier assassination attempt.

'Jong-Nam in April 2012 sent a letter to Jong-Un saying "Please spare me and my family,"' Kim Byung-Kee, a member of the parliamentary intelligence committee, told reporters.

'It also said "We have nowhere to go... we know that the only way to escape is suicide"', he said, after a closed-door briefing by Seoul's spy chief.

Cheong Seong-Chang of the independent Sejong Institute in Seoul said the assassination was 'unthinkable without a direct order or approval from Kim Jong-Un himself'.

Kim Jong-Nam was once considered heir apparent but fell out of favour with his father Kim Jong-Il following a botched attempt in 2001 to enter Japan on a forged passport and visit Disneyland

His killing was likely motivated by a recent news report that Kim Jong-Nam had sought to defect to the EU, the US or South Korea as far back as in 2012, he said.

Mark Tokola, vice president of the Korea Economic Institute in Washington and a former deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Seoul, said it would be surprising if Kim Jong Nam was not killed on the orders of his brother, given that North Korean agents have reportedly tried to assassinate Kim Jong Nam in the past.

'It seems probable that the motivation for the murder was a continuing sense of paranoia on the part of Kim Jong Un,' Tokola wrote in a commentary Tuesday.

Although there was scant evidence that Kim Jong Nam was plotting against the North Korean leader, he provided an alternative for North Koreans who would want to depose his brother.

t was a secret affair that was so sensitive it was air-brushed from history in reclusive North Korea.

Kim Jong-il, the country's late dictator started a relationship with married actress Song Hye-rim - a star of her time - in the 1960s.

He wanted to keep the affair from his father and founder of North Korea's ruling dynasty Kim Il-Sung.

But Jong-Il would go on to father a son with the actress in 1971, naming him Kim Jong-nam.

Intelligence sources have verified reports of Kim Jong-il's liaisons with Song, Song Hye-rim, who died in exile in Russia in 2002. She was one of the country's first big movie stars, with legions of fans including film buff Kim Jong-il.

Another star of the day, celebrated dancer Kim Young-soon - who escaped to South Korea in 2003 - has revealed how she was jailed for 'gossiping' about the affair.

One day, she met Song who said she was moving into a place in Pyongyang called 'special residence number five' - a home reserved for the family of the ruling Kim clan.

She knew what it meant. Her friend was to become Kim's wife.

In other words, not only was Kim Jong-il forcing a woman six years older to divorce her husband to move in with him but, more riskily, he was rejecting the communist revolutionary his father had chosen for him to produce heirs for the ruling dynasty.

Kim Young-soon became a criminal by repeating the story, losing her family, her privileged status and living for decades at the mercy of the North's security apparatus.

She had not realised just how far Kim Jong-il would go to keep the relationship secret.

In August 1970, Kim Young-soon was interrogated and forced to write her entire life story, including a line in one of the dozens of notebooks she filled about the conversation with Song.

She later speculated an informant had tipped off security about the marriage and her written statement confirmed it.

She was jailed for nine years and it was not until 10 years after she was released - after Kim Jong-il had apparently lost interest in Song - that she was told by a state security agent why she landed in prison.

'He told me that Song Hye-rim was not Kim Jong-il's wife and to forget what I might have heard about them having a child.'

By that time, Kim Jong-il had two other sons with a former dancer named Ko Young-hee, including current dictator Kim Jong-un.

'Once Kim Jong-il took up with his new wife Ko Young-hee, (also known as Ko Yong-hui) they went on to erase any remembrance of Song Hye-rim,' Kim Young-soon said.

Kim Jong Nam was quoted as saying in a 2012 book by a Japanese journalist: 'My father was keeping highly secret the fact that he was living with my mother who was married, a famous movie actress, so I couldn't get out of the house or make friends.

'That solitude from childhood may have made me what I am now, preferring freedom.'