Thursday, 16 August 2018

SRI LANKA: Shark Point Reef At Pigeon Island National Park

Snorkelling on the coral reefs at Pigeon Island National Park is absolutely fantastic wherever you are on the islands.

But the main attraction is the island’s many juvenile and adult blacktip reef sharks.

These sharks are up to five feet long and are reliably seen in an area next to the larger of the two islands, known as Shark Point Reef.

This nonaggressive species seems to be quite accepting of humans in the water, and snorkelers have an almost guaranteed opportunity to see them—sometimes as close as a couple meters away in water as shallow as a meter deep.

It is one of the few places where totally inexperienced snorkelers can have as good a chance of a shark encounter as fully qualified scuba divers.

Pigeon Island National Park actually consists of two islands: large and small. It is a marine national park in Sri Lanka located in the general area of the city of Trincomalee and contains some of the best remaining coral reefs of Sri Lanka.

Many of the 100 species of corals and 300 coral reef fishes recorded around the area are found in this national park.

The coral reef is visited by Hawkesbill Turtle, Green Turtle and Olive Ridley Turtle and the island is important breeding ground for the rock pigeon. The area was badly affected by the Indian Ocean Tsunami in 2004 but has now largely recovered.
Pigeon Island National Park is one of the two marine national parks of Sri Lanka. The national park is situated 1 km off the coast of Nilaveli, a coastal town in Eastern Province, encompassing a total area of 471.429 hectares.

The island's name derives from the rock pigeon which has colonized it. The national park contains some of the best remaining coral reefs of Sri Lanka.

Pigeon Island was designated as a sanctuary in 1963. In 2003 it was redesignated as a national park. This national park is the 17th in Sri Lanka.

The island was used as a shooting range during the colonial era. Pigeon Island is one of the several protected areas affected by the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004.

Pigeon Island consists of two islands; large pigeon island and small pigeon island. The large pigeon island is fringed by a coral reef, and is about 200 m long and 100 m wide.

Its highest point is 44.8 m above mean sea level. The small pigeon island is surrounded by rocky islets. The national park is situated within the dry zone of Sri Lanka.

The mean annual temperature is around 27.0 °C (80.6 °F). The annual rainfall ranges between 1,000–1,700 millimetres (39–67 in) while most of the rain is received during the North-eastern monsoon season from October to March.

The large pigeon island's coral reef fauna is dominated by Acropora spp. with some Montipora spp. Faviidae, Mussidae and Poritidae species dominate the coral reef around the rocky islets.

Areas with soft corals such as Sinularia, Lobophyton, and Sarcophyton can also be observed. The coral reef harbors many vertebrates and invertebrates.

Many of the 100 species of corals and 300 coral reef fishes recorded around the Trincomalee area are found in the national park. Juvenile and adult blacktip reef shark are seen around the shallow coral areas.

Hawksbill turtle, green turtle and olive ridley are the visiting sea turtles of the coral reef. The island is important breeding ground for the rock pigeon.

Fishing and ornamental fish collection are the main economic usages of the coral reef. The pigeon island is also used as a scuba diving site.

Uncontrolled tourism has resulted in reef degradation and loss of biodiversity and fish density. Scientific research was hindered due to the civil war in the past two decades.

A proposed pier between the mainland coast and the island has attracted criticism.

Tourism Observer

SRI LANKA: Koneswaram Temple A Major Place For Hindu Pilgrimage, Rome Of The Gentiles Or Pagans Of The Orient

On a spectacular promontory overlooking one of the world’s largest natural harbours, there is an ancient temple dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva. It is at the head of Konesar Malai (Swami Rock) on the dramatic Gokarna Bay, a seasonal home to blue whales.

Surrounded by jaw-dropping scenery on all sides, the colourful Koneswaram temple sits high above the bay, a classical-medieval complex in the Eastern Province city of Trincomalee.

The site is a religious pilgrim centre, and is one of the five Pancha Ishwarams or abodes of Shiva that were built in coastal regions of Sri Lanka to honor the supreme god of Hinduism.

The dates of the temple have been debated, with some scholars citing the original to around 400 BC, and later construction from as early as the 5th century to as late as the 18th.

At one time the complex was as large and grand as any in India or Sri Lanka. The grandeur was mostly lost in the 17th century at the hands of the colonial Portuguese, who razed structures, dumped some into the sea, destroyed objects, and smashed ornamentation.

To salvage what they could, priests and devotees of the temple scrambled to bury their sacred objects, event taking advantage of the sea themselves rather than seeing them crushed in the raid.

The original temple is claimed by some to have been the greatest building of its age, for both its architecture and its ornamentation.

It combined key features to form a typically southern Indian plan, such as a thousand-pillared hall similar to the famous Aayiram Kaal Mandapam in Madurai, India and raised platform or jagati configuration, features that had been destroyed.

It was said that its gopuram or gateway tower was visible to sailors approaching Sri Lanka from the sea.

The evidence for this magnificence comes from unearthing the very remnants that were buried, as well as the discovery of key pieces at the bottom of the bay.

They were found by photographer Mike Wilson and science-fiction author, Arthur C. Clarke. In 1956, Wilson and Clarke uncovered masonry, idol images, carved columns with flower insignias, and elephant head carvings while scuba-diving.

More importantly, they also retrieved the legendary Swayambhu lingam; a large stone phallus / obelisk said to originate from a Tibetan mountain top.

Upon reinstalling the lingam to the temple, Wilson was so overwhelmed by the experience that he renounced his career and family to become a Hindu swami.

As well as the recovered underwater pieces, there are also some original drawings done by Constantino de Sa de Noronha, the Portuguese governor responsible for the destruction.

Restoration work was completed in 1963 with the old pieces reinstalled. Today the site is reborn, and there is some quite modern construction as well.

While the current site does not match up to the pre-1624 temple, it is still an awe-inspiring place to visit, for Hindus and non-Hindus alike.

The temple is on the northeastern coast of Sri Lanka, at the very end of Konesar Road. Continue past Fort Frederick currently an army base, and formerly a British colonial fort, and follow the path lined with shops.

You’ll walk through various courtyard shrines, eventually reaching the giant statue of Shiva at the promontory.

The temple requests all visitors to please respect the religious customs and propriety, including appropriate dress. Be prepared to remove your shoes.

Koneswaram temple Tirukkōṇēccaram, also known as Dakshinakailasha is a classical-medieval Hindu temple dedicated to Lord Shiva in Trincomalee, Eastern Sri Lanka.

The temple is situated atop Konesar Malai, a promontory that overlooks the Indian Ocean, the nearby eastern coast in the Trincomalee District, as well as Trincomalee Harbour or Gokarna Bay.

Konesvaram is revered as one the Pancha Ishwarams, of Sri Lanka for long time. Being a major place for Hindu pilgrimage, it was labelled Rome of the Gentiles/Pagans of the Orient in some records.

Konesvaram holds a significant role in the religious and cultural history of Sri Lanka, as it was likely built during the reign of the early Cholas and the Five Dravidians of the Early Pandyan Kingdom.

Pallava, Chola, Pandyan and Jaffna designs here reflect a continuous Tamil Saivite influence in the Vannimai region beginning during the classical period.

The river Mahavali is believed to be risen at Sivanolipatha Malai, Mount of Shiva's glowing feet, and meets the sea near Konesvaram Rock.

This formation is the basis of the myth that it is comparable to Ganges, in that it symbolically crowns the flowing of river from Shiva's head to his feet.

Developed from 205 B.C., the original kovil combined key features to form its basic Dravidian temple plan, such as its thousand pillared hall – Aayiram Kaal Mandapam – and the Jagati expanded by King Ellalan Manu Needhi Cholan.

Regarded as the greatest building of its age for its architecture, elaborate sculptural bas-relief ornamentation adorne a black granite megalith. In the medieval period, its multiple gold plated gopuram towers were expanded.

The Koneswaram Temple is one of three major Hindu shrines on the promontory with a colossal gopuram tower, but it stands distinctly on the cape's highest eminence.

The Pavanasam Theertham at the preserved Papanasuchunai holy well and the proximal Back Bay Sea - Theertham Karatkarai surrounding Konesar Malai.

The complex was destroyed by the Portuguese Empire in colonial religious attacks between 1622 and 1624, and Fort Fredrick was built at the site from its debris. In 1632 Ati Konanayakar Temple was built, and housed some of its original idols, but was located away from the city houses.

Worldwide interest was renewed following the discovery of its underwater and land ruins, sculptures and Chola bronzes by archaeologists and Arthur C. Clarke.

They were preserved through restorations, most recently in the 1950s. Granted ownership of villages in its floruit to form, the Trincomalee District, Trincomalee village is located on the cape isthmus within the compounds.

The modern temple has been a source of conflict between the majority Sinhalese and minority Tamils due to its position in a geostrategically important area. Revenue from the temple provides services and food to local residents.

Koneswaram has many strong historical associations.

The shrine is described in the Vayu Purana, the Konesar Kalvettu and Tevaram hymns by Sambandhar and Sundarar as a Paadal Petra Sthalam along with its west coast counterpart Ketheeswaram temple, Mannar, it is the birthplace of Patanjali, the compiler of the Yoga Sutras and was praised for its tradition by Arunagirinathar upon his visit.

The Dakshina Kailasa Puranam and Manmiam works note it as Dakshina/Then Kailasam (Mount Kailash of the South) for its longitudinal position and pre-eminence.

It lies directly east of Kudiramalai west coast Hindu port town, while it is the easternmost shrine of the five ancient Iswarams of Shiva on the island.

Mentioned as a widely popular bay temple of the island in the Mahabharata, Ramayana and Yalpana Vaipava Malai, the Mattakallappu Manmiam confirms its sacred status for all Hindus. Kachiyappa Sivachariar's Kanda Puranam compares the temple to Thillai Chidambaram Temple and Mount Kailash in Saivite esteem.

Konesar Malai may have been the site where Yoga originated; some scholars have suggested that the worship of the almighty god Eiswara on the promontory is the most ancient form of worship existing.

Dr. Paul E. Pieris declared in 1917, at a meeting of the Royal Asiatic Society (Ceylon Branch), there was in Lanka five recognised Eeswararns of Siva, which claimed and received adoration of all India. These were Tiruketheesvaram near Mahathitha, Munneswaram, Thondeswaram, Naguleswaram and Tirukoneswaram.

The construction time of Koneswaram has been estimated by comparison between carved reliefs on the temple's ruins, literature on the shrine and the inscriptions commonly used in royal charters from the 5th to 18th centuries.

Koneswaram was likely founded before 400 B.C., although its exact date of birth remains vague. The evidence extant attests to the shrine's classical antiquity.

Construction of Hindu temples was made possible due to the prevalent faith amongst the locals and mercantile communities in the region during the Sangam period.

Kaviraja Varothiyan's Tamil poem inscribed on the Konesar Kalvettu, the 17th century stone inscription chronicle of the temple, gives the shrine's date of birth as circa 1580 B.C.

Archaeologists point to its initial phase consisting of a rock cave, multilayered brick shrine style popularly constructed to Tamil deities of a range of faiths during the Sangam period.

The shrine was known to Europeans as the Pagoda of Trincomalee – Temple of a Thousand Columns.

The main shrine was built upon the jagati while its thousand pillared hall was the Aayiram Kaal Mandapam – a distinctly thousand pillared platform close to the vimana of the koil that forms a distinct part of the site plan of classical Dravidian temple architecture.

Ruins of this feature at Koneswaram indicate that the hall was a structural addition erected by Pallava artisans, dated between 537–668. It formed one of the nine prakara or major courtyard compounds of the Koneswaram complex.

Two other temples were prominent compound monuments on the promontory, containing prolific gopura structures over the shrines built to Vishnu-Thirumal and the goddess Ambal-Shakti. Together, they became known as the Three Pagodas of Thirukonamalai.

A site plan by De Quieroz states: On the first rise to the summit of the rock was a Pagoda, another at mid-ascent, and the principal one of them all at the highest eminence, visited by a concourse of Hindus from the whole of India.

In his dispatch to Philip III, King of Portugal, Constantine described: The land of the Pagoda is 600 fathoms long (1.2 km) and 80 feet at its broadest, narrowing to 30 feet.

The complex stretches across Konesar Road off the promontory, and includes shrines to Ganesh, Murukan and Bhadrakali. Koneswaram of Konesar Malai is located 152 kilometres (94.4 mi) directly east from Kudiramalai, the ancient royal district and southern pearl-bank emporium of the Thiru Ketheeswaram temple, Mannar.

Koneswaram lies on a straight diagonal path connected to Ketheeswaram and another former Jaffna temple and Paadal Petra Sthalam Ramanathaswamy Temple, Rameswaram. This pilrimage path of 225 km (140 mi) is often traversed by foot according to Hindu custom.

The complex also lies on exactly the same longitude as Mount Kailash.

In line with custom of Tamil Hindu temple compounds, the complex houses shrines to several deities. Koneswaram is the easternmost shrine of the 5 ancient Iswarams of Lord Shiva on the island, the others being Naguleswaram (Keerimalai), Thiruketheeswaram (Mannar), Munneswaram (Chilaw) and Tenavaram (Tevan Thurai).

Koneswaram has attracted thousands of pilgrims from across Asia, its Shiva shrine mentioned in the Ramayana and the Mahabharata written from 400–100 B.C. describe at length its attraction to pilgrims from many countries and from 600—660.

It has been glorified as one of 275 Shiva Sthalams, or holy Shiva dwellings on the continent in Tevaram.

Swami Rock is heralded as a Shiva Upa Peetha base of Lanka in the Sivacharita, a Sanskrit work in praise of Shiva, and subsequent manuscripts of the Pithanirnaya - Maha Piitha Nirupana as a general Sakta Peetha of Lanka with a temple of the compounds dedicated to the goddess Indraksi Devi and a male deity Raksasesvara – a reference to Ravana.

Kullakottan reconstructed the Three Pagodas of Thirukonamalai, the other two dedicated to Vishnu-Thirumal and that of the Mother-Goddess Tirukkamakkottam – a consort of Shiva on the promontory over a far greater area than at present.

This latter temple to the goddess – Ambal/Uma/Shakti/Shankari Devi – was one of the 18 Maha Shakthi Peethas, those Shakti Peethas consecrated to the goddess which are mentioned in the Ashta Dasa Shakthi Peetha Stotram by the Hindu philosopher Adi Shankara (788—820).

The Vishnu-Thirumal temple was likely the first temple encountered on the promontory – and is mentioned in Oud en Nieuw Oost-Indiën written in 1726 by François Valentijn.

The temple closest to the sea end was likely that dedicated to the goddess, where the current reconstructed Shiva temple stands.

Smaller shrines within the complex to Ganesh, Durga, Murukan, Agastya, and the Navagraha including the sun god Surya would have been customary near the main shrine in the centre to Shiva – the Murukan shrine is hailed at large in the Thiruppugazh series of Arunagirinathar.

The temple to Bhadrakali is located further along in the complex inland along Konesar Road, benefitted from Rajendra Chola I. The Kali temple is mentioned in the book Birds of Prey (1997) by Wilbur Smith, set in the 1660s.

The Thirukonasala Mahatyam, describing the origins of the world, Lanka and Koneswaram based on puranic legends is now lost.

The historical literature Mattakallappu Manmiyam (Batticaloa Manmiyam) that chronicles the history of Tamil settlement in Batticaloa, follows the Dakshina Kailasa Puranam and Dakshina Kailasa Manmiam in describing Koneswaram as one of the nine most important and sacred sites in the world for all Hindus.

The Koneswaram temple is well known for its celebration of the traditional Ther chariot festival, the Navaratri and Sivarathri functions. The Ther Chariot Festival lasts for twenty two days in April and focuses on preparing the deities and the community for Puthandu, the Tamil New Year.

Navaratri lasts for nine days and is dedicated to various aspects of the presiding goddess, whereas Sivarathri is dedicated to Siva.

Devotees visit the temple to attend the daily pujas and make their offerings. Booths are erected outside for the sale of food, drink, brassware, pottery, cloth and holy images. These functions primarily attract Hindus to the temple.

The main Thirukoneswaram Ther Thiruvilah Festival, the twenty-two-day annual chariot festival begins with the hoisting of the temple Nandi flag.

This is followed by temple processions of Lord Konesar and his consort Mathumai Ambal, installed and pulled in an ornate chariot temple car while deities Pillayar and Murugan with his two consorts Valli and Theivayanai are taken ahead in two other decorated chariots.
Ravan King Of Lanka
This is conducted throughout Trincomalee district, and follows Kulakottan's stone scriptures detailing how Hindus in Tamil villages like Sambaltivu, lands which historically belonged to the temple, are entitled to hold poojahs as their Upayam during the annual festival period.

Until April 1624 the Koneswaram Ther Festival occurred around Puthandu in April annually with five chariots and this tradition was reintroduced in April 2003, three hundred and seventy nine years later.

The water-cutting Theertham Thiruvilah festival or holy bath takes place annually in the centuries-old Papanasachunai holy well (Papanasam Theertham) on Swami Rock during the Ther festival period.

The deity and other holy artefacts are bathed in the water of the well in the complex's sacred precincts. Devotees are sprayed with the holy water following the Theertham.

The Theppath Thiruvilah Boat Festival consists of Lord Konesar and goddess Mathumai Ambal taken in a boat around the temple from Swami Rock via the Back Bay Sea to the Dutch Bay Sea.

Religious discourses and cultural items take place throughout the night before Puthandu at the Dutch Bay Sea beach. Thereafter the deities are taken to the temple early morning the next day on Puthandu by road through the Fort Frederick entrance.

The Trincomalee Bhadrakali Amman Temple and other Hindu temples have held their water-cutting Theertham festivals in the Back Bay Sea (Theertha Kadatkarai) for several centuries.

The Koneswaram Poongavanam Festival – the Temple Garden Festival is held during this twenty-two-day festival period.

An annual three-day procession follows Maha Sivarathri Day, observed every year since 1951 following the rediscovery of the bronze idols in 1950.

Occurring in three stages, on each day of the festival, the images of the chief deity Konesar, the presiding consort goddess Mathumai Amman, Ganesh and Murugan are brought from Swami Rock to the entrance of Fort Fredrick in decorated Ther temple cars before being paraded through the whole Periyakadai of the Trincomalee town.

The chariot cars are pulled by devotees through a decorated route while singing hymns. Devotees hold Poorna kumbham outside their houses along the route and worship as the procession moves.

On the second day of the festival there is a procession to the Pathirakalai Ambal Temple where the images are kept for the evening.

On the final day of the festival, the large chariots are pulled back to Koneswaram along a route through Trincomalee, accompanied by traditional Nadeswaram and Thavil musicians.

Under Dutch Ceylon, most of Trincomalee town was administered under Jaffna-dependent Vanniars again, while the fort was occupied by the Dutch on what they called Pagoda Hill. Batticaloa district remained dependent to Trincomalee's fort until 1782.

No ceremonies were permitted to take place on Swami Rock until British rule of the island, when pilgrims were permitted to return and worship Shiva at the fortressed sacred site.

By the mid-19th century, sailors, the high priest and other pilgrims visited the rock, broke a coconut and said prayers, performing sacred rites every January. Fruits and other offerings were often cast over the edge of the cliff, falling to the ruins below.

The first photograph of the shrine's remains and its promontory was taken in 1870. Literature on the shrine began to be written as the site began to regain popularity among pilgrims.

Thirukonasala Puranam was written during the 19th century by Tamil scholar Masilamanipillai Muttucumaru on the temple and the Thirukonasala Vaipavam on Koneswaram was written by V. Akilesapillai in 1889, published sixty years later in 1952.

Tourism Observer

Wednesday, 15 August 2018

MONGOLIA: Try Visiting Mongolia

According to Mongolian Buddhism, a spot in the middle of the Gobi desert is where the strongest spiritual energy in the world converges. To mark the location, the monastery complex was built in the 19th century, Khamriin Khiid.

The original Khamriin Khiid monastery was founded in 1820 by Danzanravjaa, known as the Terrible Noble Saint of the Gobi, who observed the location’s tremendous energy. At its peak, the monastery housed up to 500 monks, and included more than 80 temples within the complex.

Danzanravjaa was a great scholar and practitioner of the arts, as well as a social reformer.

He set up a theater at the monastery for people to develop their singing and acting skills, and a public school, which encouraged education for both men and women.

The lively and productive monastery was destroyed in 1937, in the wake of the Communist purge against religions, and Khamriin Khiid in its current form was reconstructed in 1990.

Today, hundreds of pilgrims visit the site every day at dawn to benefit from the spiritual energy that is believed to radiate as a new day is born.

Shambala, the centerpiece of the complex, is surrounded by 108 stupas, encircling other holy monuments and temples, the most prominent of which has a large pair of eyes staring at visitors.

The enclosed space is said to be warmer due to the energy that emanates from Shambala, and it is not uncommon to see pilgrims taking off their shoes to better absorb the energy.

Another form of worship is the throwing of rice, millet, milk and vodka on monuments. Other visitors walk around singing a song composed for Khamriin Khiid.

Outside the enclosure are the series of caves where Danzanravjaa and other monks meditated for 108 days, two huge breast-shaped mounds covered in milk, a wind-activated bell, and the actual monastery.

Mongolia is known as the land of blue skies, boasting vast and dramatic landscapes, from its sand dunes and alpine forests to its famous steppe that stretches toward never-ending horizons.

Go explore unique national parks and a historic sporting festival—by road, on foot, and even on camel and horseback.

On this remote adventure, we'll be charting a path across large swaths of Mongolia's striking terrain. Along the way, you'll have the chance to visit with nomadic families and dive into the complicated history of the Mongol Empire.

You'll stay in traditional ger camps and taste classic food and drink, including Airag, the fermented mare's milk that's a local favorite.

The journey will culminate with the annual Naadam Festival among thousands of other spectators, observing physical feats that pay tribute to Mongolia's warring history.

Your small group of 10 to 16 intrepid explorers will be traveling in the company of a local guide.


Dramatic natural landscapes: You'll take in a vast variety of scenery, from the Mongol Els sand dune to the famous steppe, from the Orkhon River to lush meadowland and dramatic rock formations.

The Naadam Festival:Your adventure ends with the celebratory competitions of the three games of men — archery, horseback riding, and wrestling—that pay tribute to Mongolia's warrior history.

Hiking, horseback riding, and home cooking: You'll have many opportunities to roam beneath Mongolia's big blue skies—on foot, on horseback, and on camels—in addition to trying your hand at a few local dishes.

Overnights in traditional ger camps: A ger is a traditional nomadic dwelling similar to a yurt and has served as home to generations of Mongolians.

Throughout the trip, you'll be spending your nights in a range of remote settings, from the banks of Ögii Lake to multiple national parks.

Tourism Observer

SOUTHEAST ASIA: Disasters Impact Tourism In Southeast Asia, 600,000 Chinese Tourists Cancelled Trips To Thailand In July

Summer 2018 has been an eventful one, not least for some of Southeast Asia’s top tourist destinations, which have endured more than their fair share of tragedy and turmoil.

On August 5, the Indonesian island of Lombok was hit by a second deadly earthquake in less than a week, this one killing at least 108 people, and sparking a desperate search for survivors and a mass exodus of tourists.

That followed the Phoenix boat disaster on July 5, in Phuket, in which 47 Chinese nationals lost their lives.

In the wake of the accident, as many as 600,000 Chinese tourists cancelled July trips to Thailand.

According to the country’s Ministry of Tourism and Sports, this represents a 37-billion-baht (US$1.1 billion) loss of revenue and a 26 per cent reduction in arrivals from China, compared with the same period last year.

Officials predict the downturn to continue throughout August, with as many as 930,000 Chinese visitors staying away, although many have suggested it could have been worse.

Coverage of the tragedy was largely eclipsed by the feel good story of the summer, the Tham Luang cave rescue.

Elsewhere in Thailand, the closure of Maya Bay on June led to a dramatic decline in tourism revenues at Nopparat Thara Beach-Phi Phi Islands National Park, in Krabi province.

The Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation (DNP) estimates a loss of almost 57 million baht from June to July.

DNP deputy chief Jongklai Worapongsathorn said, We are not too concerned as we have made it our priority to rehabilitate the bay’s ecosystem.

In an effort to alleviate the environmental pressures placed on the beach by the influx of tourist boats it received prior to closing, the DNP is building a jetty that is expected to be completed by the time the bay reopens on October 1, with the hope that tourists and the revenues they bring return.

Despite revising downwards its forecast number of Chinese tourist arrivals for the second half of 2018 by almost 670,000, to 5.1 million, the Ministry of Tourism and Sports is working hard to ensure that its top tourist market rebounds in time for China’s golden week holiday, from October 1 to 7.

Special immigration lanes for Chinese passport holders are being opened at airports serving Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Phuket and Hat Yai. Authorities are also considering providing multiple-entry visas.

It is not all doom and gloom in the Philippines, where popular island destination Boracay has been closed since April 26.

According to Department of Trade and Industry figures, tourist arrivals rose by more than 10 per cent, to 3.2 million, from January to May.

Lance Gokongwei, president and chief executive of airline Cebu Pacific said: Even with the closure of Boracay, we’re seeing tremendous growth in tourism.

We saw an opportunity to redeploy the aircraft flying to Boracay to additional destinations, such as Busuanga, Siargao and Negros Oriental.

Those that are not quite in the limelight like Boracay, they suddenly sprouted. And I think it’s good because it’s creating opportunity to build more legs to our tourism strategy.

Not only Boracay and Cebu, said Gokongwei. Now there’s four or five jewels.

Earlier this year, Lombok was identified by Indonesian authorities as being one of 10 destinations that could replicate the success of its neighbour, the hugely popular Bali, which, let’s not forget, has its own worries, the highly active Mount Agung keeping volcano watchers and other local officials on their toes.

As it has transpired, the impact of both the quake and the mass evacuation of tourists on the lives and livelihoods of inhabitants of the increasingly popular Lombok are likely to be felt for some time.

Tourism Observer

SRI LANKA: Sacred Fig Tree With A Link To Gautama Buddha, Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi

The Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi is a sacred fig tree, or Ficus religiosa, that stands in the Mahamewna Gardens in Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka.

Not only is it the closest authentic living link to Gautama Buddha, it is also the oldest human-planted tree in the world with a known planting date and a recorded history.

This sacred fig tree with a link to the Buddha is one of the oldest human-planted trees in the world.

About 2,600 years ago, Lord Gautama Buddha sat with his back against an Esathu tree on the banks of the Neranjana River in Bodhgaya, India.

It was at this moment, as he sat against the tree, that the Buddha is said to have achieved enlightenment. In doing so, the tree also gained a venerated status. It became known as the Bodhi tree, and pilgrims came to see it even within the lifetime of the Buddha.

Later, in 236 BC, the Buddhist nun Sanghamitta Maha Theri was sent by the Emperor Asoka from India to Sri Lanka.

With her she carried a southern branch of the original sacred fig. This branch was ceremoniously presented to Devanampiya Tissa, one of the earliest kings of Sri Lanka whose reign was notable for the arrival of Buddhism.

In 288 BC, Tissa planted the branch of the Bodhi tree in his Royal Park in Anuradhapura.

The Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi, as it became known, has since been cared for and protected by Buddhist monks and dedicated kings.

Statues, water canals, golden fences, and walls have been built around the tree over the centuries, and many vows and offerings have been made by Buddhists at the foot of the sacred fig.

At times the tree has faced serious threats, and not only from wild elephants. Two storms in 1907 and 1911 resulted in broken branches.

A vandal attacked the tree in 1929, hacking off another branch. And then, in 1985, Tamil Tiger separatists stormed the site and massacred 146 Sinhales-Buddhists on the upper terrace.

The Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi, however, remains standing, as revered as ever. And for as long as it continues to thrive, it will remain the oldest cultivated tree in the world with a documented written history.

The Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi is located within the ancient Mahamewna Gardens, which were created by King Mutasiva (367 - 307 BC).

Other attractions inside the gardens include the Samadhi Statue of the Buddha and a handful of stupas.

The gardens are open for all ages and nationalities, religious or otherwise.

Tourism Observer

PHILIPPINES: Boracay Reopens To Tourists October 26, Though Sewage Is Still Flowing Into The Sea

Despite an absence of holidaymakers and operational businesses, Philippine officials are still finding sewage in the sea.

There are still two months to go until Boracay reopens to tourists, on October 26, but already the description of the island as a cesspool no longer applies, at least according to Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu.

Speaking at an event to celebrate the 31st anniversary of the establishment of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), Cimatu said that White Beach, Boracay’s famed stretch of powder-fine sand and crystalline waters, is clean once again and that the water quality has improved.

In fact, all that remains to be done is the finishing of the roads and implementing of all the decongestion in the area, said Cimatu, adding we are almost there.

If true, Boracay has made a rather miraculous recovery, the island having struggled to deal with the amount of sewage it generated before the April closure.

To rectify the situation, the DENR is installing a new sewage system, which will be completed in September, Cimatu said on August 9 – contradicting somewhat his statement that the lion’s share of the work had already been completed.

He explained that pipes transporting treated sewage and waste water would open into the sea at least 1km from the shoreline, an upgrade on the existing arrangement, which saw raw sewage pumped directly into the ocean.

As many as 200 establishments were not connected to the sewer lines, and although there are no reports to suggest that this has been remedied, all hotels and resorts on White Beach with 50 rooms or more have been ordered to install their own sewage treatment plants.

Those with less than 50 rooms were instructed to work together to make clustered treatment plants. Following treatment, the sewage will be sent into the ocean.

The Department of Tourism opens accreditation for Boracay businesses on August 16, without which companies will not be allowed to operate. To receive accreditation, all environmental and legal requirements must be met.

There are suggestions waste is still being illegally dumped into the sea. Eduardo Ano, a government official and part of the Boracay inter-agency task force charged with cleaning up the island, said that certain establishments have taken to hoarding their quotidian rubbish before disposing of it in the ocean after dark.

He speculated that the perpetrators are those businesses who refuse to pay for their own sewage treatment plants. Ano also suspected that illegal pipes transporting waste from establishments to the ocean remained buried. Divers have been hired to track the source of waste found in the sea.

Of course, an absence of waste producing tourists could have something to do with the improvement in water quality, despite Cimatu’s insistence that it is the result of enhanced infrastructure, even though the bulk of this has yet to be completed, let alone become operational.

At a speaking engagement last month, he highlighted a recent whale shark sighting off Boracay, suggesting that its appearance was indicative of environmental progress.

Greenpeace was quick to clarify that whale sharks are frequent visitors to the island’s waters and should not be used as an indicator of success.

At the DENR anniversary event, the outspoken Duterte put an end to rumours Boracay’s rehabilitation had been expedited to make way for the development of a casino.

We do not have any interest in that. Do not ever believe this s***,I will not allow gambling Duertete emphasized

Whether floating faecal matter will be as emphatically renounced remains to be seen.

US News & World Report has ranked Phuket’s beaches as the second best in the world. They are not quite as good as those on Hawaii’s Big Island, says the American media company, but they do trump the shores on the 50th state’s island of Maui.

Three factors are cited for the Thai island’s recognition: white sands, aquamarine waters and limestone cliffs.

Special mention also goes to its flavourful cuisine and rich culture, all of which combine to make Phuket a little piece of paradise, which comes with a relatively low price tag.

Now is not the best time to visit this particular paradise, however, as a strong monsoon surge pounds the island’s west coast, causing erosion to the beaches.

On August 11, two lifeguard stations had been destroyed by powerful waves. Swimmers are advised to exercise caution and beware of rip currents.

Tourism Observer

Tuesday, 14 August 2018

KENYA: Taiwanese Tourist Killed By Deadly Hippo At Lake Naivasha Shores

Kenya Wildlife Service officers have neutralised a hippopotamus that attacked and killed a tourist from Taiwan who was taking photographs on the shore of Lake Naivasha.

The man was pronounced dead on arrival at the Naivasha District Hospital, while another tourist survived the attack on Saturday evening, according to the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) said on Sunday.

We are tracking the hippo, the service said on Twitter on Sunday.

Hell’s Gate Park warden Nelson Cheruiyot confirmed the tracking and killing of the deadly hippo.

KWS identified the dead man as Chang Ming Chuang, 66, and the survivor as Wu Peng Te, 62, and said they were from China but Taiwan’s foreign ministry said the two were from the self-ruled island.

Several people have questioned the rationale of killing the hippo, which they say was provoked in its natural habitat.

The attacks brought to six the number of people who have been attacked and killed by hippos in Naivasha since the year began.

The head of a boat owners’ association in Navaisha as saying higher than normal water levels were causing hippos to wander from the lake on to nearby farms and hotel properties searching for pasture.

Naivasha is a city on the lake 90 km northwest of the capital, Nairobi.

After a severe drought last year, Kenya had several months of heavy rain this year that caused serious flooding, including around Lake Naivasha.

Tourism Observer

NEW ZEALAND: EVA Air Leases Its Boeing 777 To Air New Zealand

Air New Zealand will use a leased plane from Taiwan's EVA Air to cover for Dreamliner aircraft that are still affected by Rolls-Royce engine problems.

An EVA Boeing 777-300 will be used on Auckland-Vancouver and Auckland-Nadi routes for a fortnight from later this month.

It is the second leased 777 Air New Zealand is using.

During a six-week period until early September, the airline has an ex-Singapore Airlines 777-200 on the Auckland Honolulu route as it works through checks and repairs, if needed, to different parts of Trent engines.

The EVA plane is believed to be about nine years old, six years younger than the ex-Singapore aircraft which has been praised as roomy but has had problems with its in-flight entertainment system.

Air New Zealand said that it was leasing planes because continuing to get customers to their destinations has been its first priority as it worked through disruption from engine issue.

EVA Air is a fellow Star Alliance member.

This particular aircraft is of a similar standard to our Air New Zealand fleet with business, premium economy and economy class seating, the airline said.

There are 38 business class seats, 64 premium economy and 221 economy seats.

We are pleased to confirm that Air New Zealand crew and pilots will be operating this aircraft, who will provide the friendly Kiwi service our customers are familiar with.

Earlier this year the airline wet leased older Airbus A340s from charter operator Hi Fly that needed to be staffed by its Portuguese crew.

Air New Zealand's flight schedules have been badly affected because nine of its 11 Boeing 787s have engines subject to inspections of compressors and range some can fly from airports has been restricted.

Engines have been flown to Singapore to replace cracked compressor blades, a job that can take 10 days but also stretch for weeks depending on what else is needed.

The intermediate compressor problems, and earlier turbine blade problems led to groundings and severe disruption for airlines, including Thai and LATAM which also serve this market.

British Airways, Virgin Atlantic and Singapore Airlines' regional carrier Scoot have also been affected by problems with Trent Package C engines, used by about a quarter of the Dreamliner fleet.

EVA Air started flying in 1991, has 78 aircraft serving 63 destinations. It had more than 12 million passengers across its network and the US is its biggest market outside of Asia Pacific.

The airline was awarded best business class and premium economy class in Asia, at the 2018 TripAdvisor Awards which are determined by airline reviews and ratings submitted by travellers worldwide.

Tourism Observer

USA: Dead Faetus Discovered On American Airlines Flight 1942 At LaGuardia Airport

A dead fetus was found in a bathroom toilet of a commercial plane at LaGuardia Airport on Tuesday morning.

The gruesome discovery was made around 7:30 a.m. aboard an out-of-service American Airlines flight at Hangar 5, the sources said.

A cleaning crew found the fetus in the bathroom of the plane, which had landed in New York on Monday night from Charlotte, North Carolina, according to a high-ranking police source.

The fetus was between three to six months along.

American Airlines Flight 1942 departed from Charlotte Douglas International Airport at 9:08 p.m. Monday and arrived in Queens about 90 minutes later. It was the Airbus A321’s only flight of the day.

The City Medical Examiner is working on determining how the fetus died.

The OCME can confirm we’re investigating what we believe to be a human fetus found deceased on an airplane, the agency said.

Just before 9 a.m., the airport tweeted about possible delays over the incident.

American Airlines flights at Terminal B may experience some delays due to an out of service aircraft. Please check with @AmericanAir before your departure, the post said.

But a spokesman for the airline said, We have no major impact to our operation this morning while we are working with law enforcement on an investigation.

The airline later said in a statement: As we continue to learn more about this tragic and sensitive situation, we are actively cooperating with law enforcement in its investigation.

The Port Authority deferred questions to the Queens DA’s Office, which said it was looking into the matter.

A traveler who was scheduled to fly out of LaGuardia to Charlotte at 7:55 a.m. was frustrated that her flight was delayed three times without explanation.

They didn’t tell us anything until we were already waiting at the gate, she said. We didn’t find out until about 7:40 a.m. that the flight was going to be delayed.

Tourism Observer

TAIWAN: EVA Air Triumphs In Hong Kong And Japan

EVA Air is a Taiwanese full-service carrier that focuses purely on international routes. It was the second largest carrier serving its home market in 2017, with only China Airlines offering more seats.

EVA Air’s active passenger configured fleet currently includes A321s (22 aircraft), A330-200s (three), A330-300s (nine), and 777-300ERs (34).

It has a number of 787s on order and also operates a fleet of dedicated freighters. EVA Air owns a subsidiary operator called UNI Air which performs regional and domestic services.

It is the largest domestic operator in Taiwan, having taken on its parent airline’s domestic network. Passenger and capacity data for UNI Air is not included in this analysis since the two airlines have independent IATA codes and separate published capacity.

EVA Air passenger numbers have doubled in the past eight years.

EVA Air has enjoyed an impressive increase in passenger numbers over the past 10 years. In 2008 it welcomed 5.79 customers on its flights, but by 2017 this had increased by 110% to 12.13 million.

From 2009 to 2017 the airline’s traffic figures more than doubled. The period 2008 to 2017 saw consistent annual increases in passenger numbers ranging from 3.5% in 2011 to as high as 13.1% in 2015.

In total there were four double-digit year-on-year increases from 2008 to 2017, while the average annual growth rate for the period was 8.6%.

EVA Air hasn’t offered any domestic capacity in Taiwan since 2011, and even then it was minimal in proportion to the airline’s international network.

During the period 2008 to 2017, the number of domestic seats on offer on EVA Air services peaked at 136,800 in 2008.

An analysis of the annual passenger load factor (LF) published by EVA Air reveals a relatively stable trend in this important performance metric, with very little variation over the past 10 years.

The lowest average LF recorded during this period was 77.4% in 2009, when the global economic recession was at it height. The peak LF was 80.8% in 2015.

The variation between the peak and lowest load factors from 2008 to 2017 was subsequently a marginal 3.4 percentage points, indicating that the airline managed its capacity effectively during this time.

The average capacity on EVA Air flights increased from 257 seats in 2008 to 261 in 2017, although there were numerous peaks and troughs along the way.

During this period, the average capacity grew from 148 seats to 184 on the airline’s narrow-body operated services, and from 284 seats to 321 on wide-body flights.

The increase in narrow-body capacity was a result of replacing smaller types like the MD-90 with larger A321s.

One of the most significant developments in the carrier’s wide-body fleet has been the phasing out of its 747-400s, with these aircraft being replaced by additional A330-300s and 777-300ERs.

Wide-body aircraft still operate the majority of EVA Air’s available seats, although the proportion of total capacity they provide has dropped from 89% in 2008 to 80% in 2017.

57 airports hosted EVA Air services during the week commencing 31 July. Only four of these are in Taiwan: Taipei Taoyuan, Taipei Songshan, Kaohsiung and Taichung.

Taoyuan is by far the biggest operating base, accounting for 43% of the airline’s departing seats and offering connections to 47 destinations in peak S18.

EVA Air will only operate nine routes from Kaohsiung, five from Songshan and two from Taichung during the week commencing 31 July.

The highest capacity route in the EVA Air network this summer is its link from Taoyuan to Hong Kong,which will see 60 weekly flights offering nearly 14,000 one-way seats.

Daily frequencies on this airport pair vary between eight and nine. In total 10 of the top 12 routes link Taiwan with other destinations in Asia Pacific.

The only destinations outside of the region to feature among the top 12 routes are both in the US with San Francisco claiming fourth spot and Los Angeles hot on its heels in fifth place.

Japan is the destination country represented most frequently among the top-ranked routes this summer, with two connections to Tokyo and one to Osaka Kansai.

The Taipei – Tokyo city pair is represented twice among the top 12 routes, with connections from Taoyuan to Tokyo Narita and from Songshan to Tokyo Haneda.

Taoyuan is the departure airport for the carrier’s 11 biggest routes, with Songshan the only other Taiwanese airport managing to break its monopoly, making it into 12th place with its Tokyo connection.

Eight of EVA Air’s top-ranked routes have experienced an increase in weekly capacity in S18 compared to the equivalent period last year.

The strongest growth has taken place on the links from Taoyuan to San Franciscoa 47% increase in seats, Narita 25% and Kansai 24%.

The Californian connection, has seen a third daily service added, increasing the total weekly flights by 50%, while the two Japanese routes have remained at the same frequencies, but have seen a boost in seat numbers due to the use of more wide-body aircraft.

Three of the top 12 routes have experienced a drop in seat numbers, with the largest decline coming on the Taoyuan – Shanghai Pudong sector, where weekly capacity is down 6.2% compared to peak S17.

The airline has cut two routes from Taiwan since S17, with links from Taoyuan to Asahikawa in Japan and Surabaya in Indonesia missing from this summer’s peak schedule, although the former does appear to be returning for a short period between September and October.

Four routes have been added since last July, including a long-haul link from Taoyuan to Vienna.

Schedules show that EVA Air will serve 17 countries direct from its home market in during the week commencing 31 July.

Japan is the largest destination with more than 30,000 one-way seats on offer to nine Japanese airports. The airline only serves four countries directly outside of the Asia Pacific region: Canada and the US in North America, and Austria and France in Europe.

The US is the largest extra-regional destination country in its network in S18. It should be noted that EVA Air also offers indirect itineraries from London Heathrow, Amsterdam and Vienna to Taoyuan via Bangkok Suvarnabhumi.

EVA Air’s route map for the week commencing 31 July shows the high concentration of destinations served within the Asia Pacific region.

About 79% of the airline’s weekly capacity from Taiwan will serve Asia Pacific routes in peak S18. It also offers direct links to Canada and the US in North America, as well as to Austria and France in Europe.

It provides indirect flights to Taiwan from the UK and the Netherlands via Bangkok Suvarnabhumi.

Tourism Observer

TAIWAN: EVA Air To Feed North America Network

Regional Asia growth does not receive the attention that intercontinental long haul growth does, but regional expansion provides the foundation connections for an expanded range of long haul flights.

In Jul-2018 Eva Air inaugurated service to Chiang Mai, its 12th Southeast Asia destination. EVA Air disclosed that it is planning for its 13th and 14th destinations – Penang and Yangon. EVA Air may also fly to India.

Taiwan's Go South policy encourages the economy, transportation and tourism included to do more business in Southeast Asia in order to differentiate away from Northeast Asia and reduce reliance on mainland China.

The new destinations will also help fuel EVA's North America network, which accounts for approximately half of the airline's system-wide flying. Half of EVA's North American passengers connect beyond Taipei, mostly to Southeast Asia.

New destinations, especially those that few other competitors serve, add uniqueness. Rapid trans Pacific growth in recent years has necessitated a greater number of unique city pair combinations.

Cathay Pacific's regional arm Cathay Dragon is adding service to two Southeast Asian destinations not yet served by another Northeast Asian airline.

EVA Air is considering service to Penang and Yangon.

EVA Air studying India, dependent on aeropolitical instruments.

Taiwan is encouraging tourism and visitor growth in Southeast Asia in order to differentiate away from Northeast Asia, especially from mainland China.

Southeast Asian destination growth important for EVA Air to feed its North American network.

Taiwan is pursuing Southeast Asia tourism growth.

The new destinations, if launched, would further Taiwan's aim to grow tourism from Southeast Asia and reduce dependence on Northeast Asia.

Approximately two thirds of Taiwan's visitor arrivals are from Northeast Asia. This includes mainland China, with a 25% share of all arrivals, and Japan at 18%.

Taiwan's quest for Southeast Asia growth is partially out of opportunity, but also as a hedge should the uncertain mainland China market dip – which has occurred over the years, with significant impact on Taiwan tourism.

Taiwan visitor arrivals by market: 2017

Taiwan receives a larger share of visitors from the US before any Southeast Asia market. Taiwan's largest Southeast Asian source markets are Malaysia (5%), Singapore (4%), Philippines (3%) and Indonesia (2%).

Singapore has only a 1ppt difference from Malaysia, despite Singapore's much smaller size.

This is partially the result of LCC competition between Singapore and Taiwan with Scoot and Jetstar as well as ample full service airline capacity, as EVA Air and China Airlines use widebodies to feed their North American networks.

EVA Air has not served Penang. Penang would be a new passenger destination for EVA Air. The airline has freighter services to Penang, while China Airlines has freighter services as well as a daily 737-800 passenger service.

China Southern has twice daily Airbus narrowbody flights to Guangzhou, which connect with its North American network (albeit limited).

Penang International Airport international seat capacity by airline: week commencing 02-Jul-2018

The main competition is from Cathay Dragon, which has twice daily flights on narrowbody and widebody aircraft. Cathay Dragon's sister airline Cathay Pacific has a larger North America network but also links Penang to the rest of Northeast Asia.

No other Northeast Asian airline serves Penang with passenger service (Korean Air has freighter service). Cathay Dragon is the fourth largest international operator at Penang. 17% of Penang's international capacity is to Northeast Asia.

Penang International Airport international seat capacity by region: week commencing 02-Jul-2018

EVA Air briefly served Yangon. Yangon represents a service resumption for EVA Air, if launched. EVA Air was one of a number of airlines to launch service to Yangon after political change and an impending opening-up for business.

EVA Air entered Yangon with other Northeast Asian airlines, including ANA and what is today Cathay Dragon, both of which are able to link Yangon with their large North American networks.

EVA Air served Yangon for eight months from Oct-2012 to May-2013. Taiwan was initially a smaller business partner for Myanmar and EVA Air operated at lower frequency than Cathay Dragon. ANA also had low frequency, but operated a premium aircraft while Japan had larger business ties.

Yangon has far more Northeast Asian competition than Penang. Also, Gulf airlines are more present in Yangon. One-stop flights from Yangon to North America can be longer than transiting through a Northeast Asian hub, but fares can be low.

Gulf airlines tend to be more present in the Southeast Asia-East Coast North America market, which represents a smaller detour compared to Northeast Asia-West Coast North America.

Unlike service on Penang, the North American heavyweights ANA and Korean Air serve Yangon. Two mainland Chinese airlines – Air China and China Southern – link Yangon with their main hubs. China Eastern serves Yangon from Kunming and not Shanghai, the hub for its North American network.

Northeast Asia represents 19% of Yangon's international seats, which is a share not much higher than the 17% that Northeast Asia represents at Penang.

Yangon Mingaladon International Airport international seat capacity by region: week commencing 02-Jul-2018

India's high volumes but low yields are challenging. EVA Air has also said that it is considering service to India but would have to assess aeropolitical instruments.

Taiwan and India amended their air service agreement in 2016, with reports stating that each side was permitted 14 weekly passenger flights. The only passenger services are two weekly flights from China Airlines on the Taipei-Delhi route. This low frequency does not suggest a large unserved market.

Northeast Asian airlines have a number of challenges growing in India. Local demand is typically very small due to limited business, tourism and VFR markets – unlike in Southeast Asia.

Flights from Northeast Asian hubs to India can between five and nine hours – a long time to sustain a flight on mostly connecting traffic with little O&D traffic.

Gulf airlines do this across their network, but their market is connecting traffic, whereas Northeast Asian airlines are structured more towards a balance between O&D and connecting traffic.

The high cost of Northeast Asia-India flights is especially limiting to ANA and JAL, which are historically Northeast Asia-North America connecting airlines but have the highest cost bases in Asia.

The distance between India and Northeast Asian hubs requires a widebody aircraft to be used in most instances. Next generation narrowbodies (A321LR, 737 MAX) will only open so many markets in Northeast Asia-India.

This limits the opportunity to link thinner markets and offer high frequency, or trade three weekly widebody flights with a daily narrowbody traffic rights permitting; some are based on frequency and others on seats/units of capacity.

Southeast Asia growth fuels North America expansion. New Asian destinations will help EVA's North America network. North America accounts for 48% of EVA's ASKs, and more when the regional Asia capacity that exists largely to feed North American flying is taken into account.

An expanded Asia network can help EVA Air grow in North America while also improving the existing network.

As one-stop trans Pacific competition increases, EVA Air needs more differentiation.

EVA Air ASKs by region: Week commencing 02-Jul-2018

Should EVA Air add Penang and Yangon, it will have 14 destinations in Southeast Asia from its main hub.

In 2017, with 11 markets, EVA served the same number of Southeast Asian destinations as China Eastern did from its hub. This considers only destinations served, and not frequency, capacity or connectivity.

EVA will have much more differentiation than ANA, and come up to Korean Air. Penang and Yangon, besides being new destinations, bring more uniqueness to EVA's network.

In comparison, all of ANA's Southeast Asian destinations are served by three or more airlines in this benchmark study of leading trans Pacific operators with Southeast Asian connections.

EVA Air's additions of Penang and Yangon also reduce the dominance of competitors. Exceptions are Cathay Pacific and Cathay Dragon, which have added service to two destinations – Davao and Medan – not served by any other Northeast Asian airline.

Potential for the connectivity upside is still largely unrecognised. Yet for all the changes, there is still far more growth to be unlocked with improvements in narrowbody aircraft technology, slots, traffic rights and government transparency.

The inevitable focus on China market growth tends to disguise the great potential for growth of southeast and south Asian transfer markets over north Asia.

The large distances across the Pacific make direct services operationally difficult and often uneconomical, but as economies grow and trade links with north America expand, traffic flowing along the linkages made possible by connecting services will only increase.

Tourism Observer

ETHIOPIA: Ethiopian Airlines Wants Nigeria Air

Passenger numbers have exceeded ten million at Ethiopian Airlines for the first time in its history during a year when the carrier added eight new international destinations to its network.

The figures come as the airline is thought to be the front runner to manage start-up Nigeria Air.

Ethiopian Airlines has reported a 21 percent spike in passenger numbers to 10.6 million during its 2017/18 fiscal year, the first time the carrier has broken the ten million milestone.

The airline opened eight new international destinations during the period to Geneva (Switzerland), Chicago (US), Bahrain, Kaduna (Nigeria), Buenos Aires (Argentina), Kisangani and Mbuji-Mayi (Democratic Republic of Congo) and Nosy-Be (Madagascar).

Operating revenue rose 43 percent year-on-year to ET98.1 billion ($3.22bn) in the 12 months to 8 July 2018 and net profit stood at ETB6.8 billion ($250m).

Ethiopian also added 14 new aircraft during the year, becoming the first African carrier to have a fleet of more than 100 aircraft.

This performance is all the more exceptional given the very tough operating and competitive environment in Africa, where jet fuel price, our main cost driver, has soared during the year and is on average 30 percent more expensive in Africa, our home market, than in the rest of the world.

This has put the continent’s carriers at a severe competitive disadvantage, said Tewolde GebreMariam, chief executive of Ethiopian Airlines.

This remarkable result was also achieved in the backdrop of aggressive foreign carriers’ penetration into the African market with the African airline industry collectively forecast to lose money.

Speaking at a press conference, GebreMariam said Ethiopian is the frontrunner in the bidding process for the management of Nigeria Air.

Nigeria Air will begin operations in December 2018, the government’s aviation minister Hadi Sirika revealed during a ceremony at the Farnborough International Airshow in July.

The planned launch comes 15 years after long-standing flag carrier Nigeria Airways ceased operations and almost six years since Air Nigeria took to the skies for the final time.

Sirika said Nigeria has unfortunately not been a serious player in aviation for a long time. We used to be a dominant player, through Nigeria Airways, but sadly not anymore.

He explained that the Nigerian government would not own more than 5 percent of the new carrier or have a say in how it is run.

In addition, Ethiopian Airlines is in the process of helping to revive Zambia’s national carrier, while it plans to acquire a 49 per cent stake in the new Chadian Airlines that is to be launched in October. The carrier is also backing start-up carrier Guinea Airlines.

Tourism Observer

USA: Facial Recognition Working Well And Fast At Mineta San Jose Airport

Mineta San Jose International Airport is one of several airports nationwide chosen by the United States Customs and Border Protection agency to use facial recognition to screen all arriving and departing international travelers.

The airport quietly began using the technology on arriving international flights June 25. International fliers leaving SJC will see it in use at departure gates in the coming months, according to the airport. The technology is also in use at airports in Orlando and San Diego.

Here's one of the biggest changes travelers can expect: all departing international passengers will be photographed at the gate before they board their flight.

The images give the government verifiable biometric proof that a U.S. visitor has left the country, and presumably, will also be used to match citizens when they re-enter the country.

When entering the United States off a flight, passengers are photographed at passport control.

Facial recognition software compares the image against passport or visa photos the federal government already has on file.

The process takes less than a second. It eliminates the need for agents to scan passports manually and visually compare travelers to their passport photos, both are time consuming tasks that slow down immigration queues.

Interviews and customs luggage inspections will still go ahead.

Travelers enrolled in Global Entry will see no changes in the way they enter the country since those kiosks already photograph and fingerprint arriving international passengers.

Travelers who use the Mobile Passport app to digitally fill-out immigration forms and customs declarations can continue to use it, but will also go through the same facial recognition process at passport control.

SJC will install biometric readers at each of the seven gates used for international departures to photograph travelers leaving the country. That's coming in the fall, we're told.

At SJC, the process has already expedited long passport screening lines which have grown to become unbearable for many travelers.

The airport has seen a staggering increase in the number of international flights in recent years such as Aeromexico, Air China, All Nippon Airways, British Airways, and Lufthansa have all launched flights to SJC in the last decade.

In 2017, the airport logged 438,800 international arrivals — more than double the number in 2015, when there were 199,900.

Simultaneously, airport officials said there has been a shortage of Customs and Border Patrol agents to staff passport control counters because the agency isn't able to recruit and retain enough people willing to put up with the Bay Area's high cost of living.

The airport hopes the new automated screening process will shorten wait times and put an end to a lot of the frustration.

The use of the technology has raised suspicions by civil liberties groups, which oppose the government's collection of the photographs of citizens.

The biggest danger is that this technology will be used for general, suspicionless surveillance systems, the American Civil Liberties Union warned.

State motor vehicles agencies possess high-quality photographs of most citizens that are a natural source for face recognition programs and could easily be combined with public surveillance or other cameras in the construction of a comprehensive system of identification and tracking.

Passengers who want to opt-out of the biometric screening will have the option to do so.

The federal government says photos of U.S. citizens might be stored for up to 14 days, but photos of non-U.S. citizens could be stored for decades.

Tourism Observer

MALAYSIA: Malaysia Airlines Creates New Routes

Malaysia Airlines this week filed initial changes to its winter 2018/19 schedule, effective from 28OCT18. The changes includes the extension of Airbus A380 operational schedule.

Kuala Lumpur – Seoul Incheon MH066/067 operational aircraft changes
28OCT18 – 14MAR19 A380
15MAR19 – 30MAR19 A350

Kuala Lumpur – Taipei Taoyuan eff 28OCT18 A330-200 replaces 737-800, 1 daily
Kuala Lumpur – Tokyo Narita 15MAR19 – 30MAR19 MH088/089 A380 replaces A350-900XWB

Malaysia Airlines in last week’s schedule update extended Airbus A380 operational schedule to late-October 2018. For the month of September and October, planned A380 operation as follows.

Kuala Lumpur – Seoul Incheon 01SEP18 – 26OCT18 1 daily MH066/067 (Except selected dates)
Kuala Lumpur – Tokyo Narita 06AUG18 – 27OCT18 1 daily MH088/089 (Previously scheduled until 31AUG18)

Malaysia Airlines in latest schedule update filed additional Airbus A380 service to Tokyo, which sees the Super Jumbo operating 7 of 12 weekly Kuala Lumpur – Tokyo Narita service, from 15AUG18 to 25AUG18 (16AUG18 – 26AUG18 from Tokyo). Planned schedule as follows.

MH088 KUL2330 – 0740+1NRT 388 D
MH089 NRT1020 – 1645KUL 388 D

Previously reported A380 regional service to Australia and Japan as follow:
Kuala Lumpur – Sydney MH123/122 30MAR18 – 31MAR18, 12APR18 – 14APR18, 21JUN18 – 24JUN18, 29JUN18 – 30JUN18, 15JUL18*
Kuala Lumpur – Tokyo Narita MH088/089 17MAR18 – 10APR18

Malaysia Airlines in last week’s schedule update filed Airbus A380 service on Kuala Lumpur – Seoul Incheon route, scheduled from 11APR18 to 31MAY18 (ICN departure). MH066/067 service will once again sees the A380 operating on daily basis, instead of A330-300.

The airline operates 10 weekly flights on this route.

MH038 KUL1405 – 2145ICN 333 346
MH066 KUL2330 – 0710+1ICN 388 D

MH039 ICN0010 – 0545KUL 333 457
MH067 ICN1100 – 1635KUL 388 D

Malaysia Airlines this week filed initial changes to its winter 2018/19 schedule, effective from 28OCT18. The changes includes the extension of Airbus A380 operational schedule.

Kuala Lumpur – Seoul Incheon MH066/067 operational aircraft changes
28OCT18 – 14MAR19 A380
15MAR19 – 30MAR19 A350

Kuala Lumpur – Taipei Taoyuan eff 28OCT18 A330-200 replaces 737-800, 1 daily
Kuala Lumpur – Tokyo Narita 15MAR19 – 30MAR19 MH088/089 A380 replaces A350-900XWB

Malaysia Airlines in last week’s schedule update filed additional Airbus A350-900XWB operating service, scheduled for Seoul Incheon and Hong Kong between July and September 2018. Following is planned A350 operation, based on KUL departure.

Kuala Lumpur – Hong Kong MH072/073
13AUG18 – 28AUG18 Day 12
06SEP18 – 12SEP18 Day 34
15SEP18 – 21SEP18 Day x123
24SEP18 Day 1

Kuala Lumpur – Seoul Incheon
MH038/039 27JUL18 – 29AUG18 2 weekly (3 weekly from 04AUG18, 5 weekly from 12AUG18)
MH066/067 23JUL18 – 31AUG18 1 daily

Tourism Observer

USA: Southwest, Delta, American, Korean And Alaska Drop And Open New Routes

Alaska Airlines will drop a Midwest route from San Francisco; Southwest hints at Hawaii and begins new service out of Los Angeles and Denver; American will fly a new transpacific route temporarily and adds a pair of domestic routes.

Korean plans to add a new U.S. gateway; and Frontier begins code-sharing to Mexico and announces another spate of new routes.

Last fall, Alaska Airlines started service between San Francisco and Indianapolis. And this fall, it will drop that route, effective September 30.

There has been lower than expected demand for these flights and we need to utilize this aircraft to add capacity on other routes, said a spokesperson of Alaska Airlines.

This change is another example of how we are looking across the network and making some tough decisions to ensure we are running as efficient of an operation as possible, so we can continue to offer our customers low fares. Alaska will continue to operate its Seattle-Indianapolis service.

The SFO-Indianapolis route is also served by United with it's cleverly numbered Flight 500, and Southwest has nonstop service between Oakland and Indianapolis.
Southwest made a few more hints this week about its new Hawaii service, revealing details such as its plans to serve meals on flights to and from the mainland.

Schedules are expected to be announced in October with flights starts a few weeks later, we predict November timeframe. Flights will have satellite based wi-fi and movies, too. No word on fares yet.

Southwest Airlines this week kicked off its newest transcontinental non-stop, with daily service between Los Angeles International and Tampa. The LAX-Tampa route is also served by Delta and Spirit Airlines. And at Denver, Southwest this week started new daily non-stops to Cincinnati.

For 10 days in January, American Airlines' usual Chicago O'Hare-Tokyo Narita non-stop will operate via an intermediate stop in Las Vegas.

American said that from January 4 to 14, the daily 787-8 LAS-NRT flight will be marketed by its joint venture partner Japan Airlines to carry passengers to and from the giant Consumer Electronics Show. JAL will continue to offer its own daily non-stops between Chicago and Tokyo during that period.

Meanwhile, American will add a couple of new domestic routes in the months ahead. On November 4, it will launch one daily roundtrip between Dallas/Ft. Worth and Cheyenne, Wyoming, operated by Skywest with a CRJ-200.

On December 22, it will begin one flight a week between its Charlotte hub and New Haven, flown by PSA Airlines with a CRJ-200.

Korean Air is coming to Boston next spring, with plans to begin Boston-Seoul Incheon service five days a week beginning April 12. Korean will use a 787-9 on the route, equipped with six first class suites, 18 lie-flat seats in business class and 245 seats in the main cabin.
Korean will operate the route as part of its joint venture partnership with Delta, which recently announced plans to launch its own new service to Seoul from Minneapolis-St. Paul beginning in 2019.

Later this month, Frontier Airlines and Mexican low-cost carrier Volaris will begin a massive program of code-sharing that will put Frontier's code onto 51 routes operated by Volaris and will see the Mexican carrier's code go onto 120 routes operated by Frontier.

The new code-sharing will apply to Volaris flights from San Francisco to Mexico City and Guadalajara, and San Jose to Guadalajara, Morelia and Zacatecas, among many others.

Meanwhile, Frontier has announced another spate of new domestic routes, mostly starting in mid-November. From Phoenix, Frontier will begin new service to Norfolk, Ft. Myers, Grand Rapids and Madison. From Tucson, it will add service to Denver.

At Tampa, Frontier will start flying to Syracuse, Grand Rapids, Portland (Maine), Norfolk, and Greenville, S.C. And at Ft. Myers, it will kick off seasonal service to Albany, Las Vegas, Phoenix., Portland (Maine), Salt Lake City and Syracuse.

Most of the new routes will offer two or three flights a week.

Tourism Observer

Monday, 13 August 2018

EUROPE: Ryanair Strike Disrupts 55,000 Passengers Across Europe

Ryanair endured its worst one-day strike on Friday (Aug 10) after a walk-out by pilots in five European countries disrupted the plans of an estimated 55,000 travellers with the budget airline at the height of the summer holiday season.

Ryanair, which averted widespread strikes before last Christmas by agreeing to recognise unions for the first time in its 30-year history, has been unable to quell rising protests over slow progress in negotiating collective labour agreements.

In response to unions serving strike notices, Ryanair had announced the cancellations of 250 flights in and out of Germany, 104 to and from Belgium and another 42 in Sweden and its home market of Ireland, where around a quarter of its pilots were staging their fifth 24-hour walkout.

The airline expected the travel plans of 42,000 travellers to be hit by the action in Germany alone, with the majority of passengers switched to another Ryanair flight and the remainder either refunded or rerouted.

What I find unjustified is that the pilots draw the short straw, because people want to fly cheaply.

It's annoying that it's happening in the summer holidays, but it's the only means they have.

Ingolf Schumacher, pay negotiator at Germany's Vereinigung Cockpit (VC) union, said pilots had to be prepared for a very long battle and that it could take months to push through change at Europe's largest low-cost carrier.

The unrest is one of the biggest challenges to face long-term chief executive Michael O'Leary, who was once quoted as saying he would rather cut off his hand than recognise unions and on another occasion crossed a picket line of baggage handlers to help load a plane.

The outspoken O'Leary has in recent years tried to soften Ryanair's abrasive public image, fearing it could be counter-productive for Europe's most profitable airline.

Unions are pushing for better pay and conditions at Ryanair and want collective labour contracts governed by local laws, rather than Irish ones.

Among other issues, they are also seeking changes to Ryanair's practice of moving staff to different bases without much notice, and a reduction in hours.

A Dutch court rejected a case from Ryanair seeking to block pilots in the Netherlands from joining Friday's strike, but the Irish airline said all of its flights there would run as scheduled.

The impact of the strike was limited with Ryanair apparently able to replace the striking Dutch pilots.

Shares in the airline were 4.2 per cent lower at €12.97 by 1240 GMT, having fallen 21 per cent since the action ramped up in mid-July to stand well below the €14.21 they slumped to in December when Ryanair shocked markets by recognising unions.

HSBC said it was seeing interest from investors looking to purchase Ryanair shares based on its valuation but argued that this was premature.

We expect the company to lower profit guidance for FY19 as it lowers capacity, on both strike disruption and crew shortages, and see weaker unit revenue trends as strike-affected traffic is redeployed on to operating flights and as passengers book away from what is currently a less reliable travel option than usual, HSBC analyst Andrew Lobbenberg said.

Ryanair has said that strike action will hit average fares because it takes up seats that it could otherwise have sold at a high last-minute price.

Ryanair insists it will not change the low-cost model that transformed the industry and has made it Europe's most profitable airline.

At Charleroi Airport, Belgium's second largest and a major Ryanair hub in the region, striking staff gathered in the departure hall and held up banners reading Ryanair must change- Respect us.

Ryanair is the only multinational in Belgium that doesn't respect the Belgian law and that's not normal, said Didier Lebbe, a representative of union ACV-CSC, whose demands include securing its pilots pay when they are on stand-by.

Ryanair has further angered unions by threatening to move jobs away from bases affected by stoppages, and began carrying that out in Dublin where it cut its winter fleet by 20 per cent and put over 300 employees on preliminary notice.

The airline will hold talks via a mediator on Monday with the Irish pilots union, which said it had no current plans for further strikes.

Tourism Observer

USA: Delta Air Lines Staff Allegedly Smuggling Cash Money

A couple caught smuggling hundreds of thousands of dollars through the international airport in Atlanta, in order to then transport that money out to California, have officially been charged; the couple used the husband’s status as a Delta Air Lines employee to make the smuggling operation go smoothly.

Bubacarr Drammeh, a Delta Air Lines employee, and his wife, Matako Drammeh, have officially been charged in a smuggling operation that brought hundreds of thousands of dollars through Atlanta’s international airport in order to then transport that money to California.

Between November 2016 and September 2017, the two used Bubacarr’s employee status to skip security screenings and thus sneak the money through, and then the unscreened money was carried on flights to California.

It’s estimated the couple took more than 50 trips with smuggled money.

Bubacarr also allegedly bribed airport employees whenever he got caught in order to get the cash through.

One particular incident occurred on September 2, 2017, when he tried to carry a bag of $140,000 cash through employee security.

The security screener called out the cash, and Bubacarr allegedly offered the screener $8,000 to not report the money.

Instead, the screener called the police.

The multi-layered approach to security at ATL addresses passengers and employees alike, airport spokesman Andrew Gobeil said.

We work constantly with our law enforcement and airline partners to maintain a safe, secure environment at the world’s busiest and most efficient airport.

Additionally, we will continue to assist the federal authorities as needed in this investigation.

Tourism Observer

THAILAND: Elephant Tramples Man To Death

A wild elephant in Loei Province invading a farming area to eat the crop spotted a Phu Luang Widlife Sanctuary officer and attacked him on Saturday, resulting in the man’s death.

The elephant had been coming to eat the people’s crops for several days.

During that time, Phaisarn Patthum aged 53, an officer of the sanctuary came to take his turn after another officer had been looking after the elephant for four days.

While Phaisarn and other officers were tracking it, the elephant saw him and ran to attack him.

The man ran to get away from it, but tripped and fell, so the elephant was able to catch up and stamp on him, resulting in serious injuries; it then walked away.

The officers at the scene promptly took their injured colleague to Wang Saphung Hospital, but tragically he died soon after.

Tourism Observer

TAJIKISTAN: Tourists Feared Dead In Helicopter Crash, Russian Embassy Investigates Causes

Thirteen climbers and three crew members are unaccounted for after a helicopter they were travelling in had a hard landing in the mountains of Tajikistan, officials say.

The accident happened at 17:30 (11:30 GMT) on Sunday, Tajik officials said.

Russian news agencies said the helicopter had taken the climbers from base camp on the Fortambek glacier in the Ismoili Somoni peak.

They said most of the climbers were thought to be Russians.

At 7,495m (24,590ft), the Ismoili Somoni mountain is Tajikistan's highest and a major tourist attraction.

It was known as Communism Peak during the time Tajikistan was part of the Soviet Union and renamed after a 10th-Century Tajik national hero in 1998.

It forms part of the Pamir mountain range, often described as the roof of the world.

There were 13 Russian tourists on board, one Belarussian citizen and one Spanish resident

The Russian embassy in Dushanbe is currently investigating the causes of a crash landing of a Mi-8 helicopter, reportedly carrying 13 Russian citizens on board, in the mountains of Tajikistan.

The embassy is working on this issue, the diplomatic mission informed. They did not confirm whether the helicopter was carrying Russian citizens.

Accordly a special commission was created, consisting of heads of the Committee for Emergency Situations, the Ministry of Interior, the State Committee for National Security, the Defense Ministry, the Ministry of Health and other institutions.

Two helicopters have been sent to the crash site carrying rescue teams and medical workers.

Tajik media reported that on Sunday, at about 16:30 local time (14:30 Moscow time) a Russian Mi-8 helicopter performed a crash landing in the mountains while transporting climbers.

According to the local media, there were 13 Russian tourists on board, one Belarussian citizen and one Spanish resident, as well as three members of the crew, all citizens of Tajikistan. The media reports of casualties and injuries among tourists.

Tourism Observer