Friday 18 October 2019

PALESTINE: Jamie Oliver Visits West Bank For Cookery Show, Invited By Chef Fadi Kattan A Palestinian Chef

James Trevor Oliver MBE born 27 May 1975 is a British chef and restaurateur. He is known for his approachable cuisine, which has led him to front numerous television shows and open many restaurants.

Born and raised in Clavering, Essex, he was educated in London before joining Antonio Carluccio's Neal Street restaurant as a pastry chef. While serving as a sous-chef at the River Café, he was noticed by Patricia Llewellyn of Optomen.

In 1999 the BBC aired his television show, The Naked Chef. This was followed by a first cook book, which became a No. 1 UK bestseller.

His television work included a documentary, Jamie's Kitchen, which gained him an invitation from Prime Minister Tony Blair to visit 10 Downing Street.

In 2005 he opened a campaign, Feed Me Better, to introduce schoolchildren to healthier foods, which was later backed by the government. He was the owner of a restaurant chain, Jamie Oliver Restaurant Group, which opened its first restaurant, Jamie's Italian, in Oxford in 2008.

The chain went into administration in May 2019.

His TED Talk won him the 2010 TED Prize. In June 2003 Oliver was awarded a Member of the Order of the British Empire.

Franco-Palestinian chef Fadi Kattan heard Jamie Oliver was heading to Israel to shoot an episode of his new cooking show, he decided it just would not do.

Instead, he and his London PR agency lobbied the celebrity chef to come to Bethlehem, where Kattan owns and operates the boutique Hosh Al Syrian guesthouse and its celebrated Fawda Cafe.

We said you can't do Israel alone; you should do Israel and Palestine, Kattan said. We didn't have any idea what the show would be about. We just knew how important it was to reflect Palestinian cuisine in it."

Thankfully, Oliver wasn't hard to convince. Kattan says that after winning over the team with the idea, Oliver approved the visit immediately.

It happened that Kattan spent a chilly morning in February wandering through the market in Old Bethlehem with Oliver in tow, teaching the world-renowned chef the ins and outs of Palestinian cuisine.

He had knowledge of the situation, but he left with much more understanding. There was a lot of stuff that will never be on the show, but he was extremely curious about a lot of things, politically also.

Oliver's new vegetarian cooking show, Jamie's Ultimate Veg, is currently screening on Fox Life. It takes the exuberant chef across the world as he meets local cooks and vendors to learn how to create region-specific meat-free dishes.

One of the locations Oliver visited in the six-episode series was the West Bank and its colourful streets .

Kattan opened the Hosh complex in 2015 as a way to bring gourmet Palestinian fare to life. He did so by employing the French cooking techniques he had learnt through years working beyond the Israel-imposed Palestinian border wall.

From the Lycee Francais de Jerusalem, a French international school in the city, to an Italian restaurant in Paris, the InterContinental Hyde Park Corner in London and the InterContinental Bethlehem that closed during the Second Intifada.

The chef comes from one of the oldest ­Christian families in Bethlehem, growing up in the holy town just off Star Street, its most famous boulevard, and is a vocal campaigner for Palestinian rights.

So it should come as no surprise that he would be the person to persuade Oliver to visit not only his hometown, but his personal kitchen, too.

Kattan was overjoyed when Oliver's team agreed to come out beforehand and scout out a location, despite all the preconceptions about the country. There was just one initial problem to overcome.

It snowed. It snows here once a year and that was the only day it snowed. We did a creative visit of the market together and they had to imagine things I was explaining, as it was closed, Kattan recalls.

It was quite a stressful moment I was thinking: 'How can I convince them that Jamie's going to be seeing fantastic herbs and people when it looks so grim and sad?

Luckily, the idea was enough, and about a month later, Oliver arrived for a day crammed full of experiencing the best in Bethlehem gastronomy. To begin, Kattan took Oliver on a guided tour of Old Bethlehem’s market.

He introduced him to each of his trusted vendors; the elderly woman who travels in from the countryside and sits on the steps near the entrance selling herbs, her name is Um Nabil, although Kattan affectionately calls her “the queen of herbs.

The vendor with the best courgettes in town, who comes in each day from a small village a few kilometres to the south of Bethlehem; the family-run butchery, where 15 to 20 relatives ply their trade.

Kattan’s grinning face adorns a wall there, in a framed picture with a messy scrawl signed: Thanks for the best meat in Palestine.

He was fantastic in the ­market, Kattan says. As a person, he was beyond what we expected he comes across as this chef who creates meals simplified to do at home.

I wasn’t sure how much time we had and how much he would be interested. But he was extremely kind with people, talking with people selling their herbs, he said.

The second component of Oliver's visit was staged in Kattan's own kitchen. It is there that he invited a group of Palestinian women, including his own mother, to show Oliver how to cultivate true home cooked Palestinian fare.

The idea was to portray Palestine differently, and have women who represented real Palestine diversity. There was my mother, a friend of hers who is Muslim, and some of my team, so a mix of Christian and Muslim young women. We didn't want the stereotypes of a Palestinian woman.

Kattan decided to teach Oliver a Palestinian staple: stuffed vegetables and stuffed leaves. His mother taught the celebrity chef a recipe of her own for vine leaves stuffed with rice, tomatoes and spices, followed by one of his own recipes for stuffed cauliflower leaves.

While they were cooking, he was trying to understand everything about the food, but also about the story. How the issues appeared. That was quite interesting.

Kattan says he wanted to pay special attention to Palestinian cuisine, rather than Levantine cuisine, which he says is more of the mezzes and meat platters central to many countries in the region.

Instead he wanted to highlight dishes such as taboon bread, mansaf which is lamb cooked in fermented dried yoghurt and chicken and rice maqluba, which is Palestine's national dish.

He also wanted to highlight the plight of farmers in getting produce around the country, with road blocks and travel bans. Oliver was particularly interested to hear that, Kattan says.

Palestinian cuisine, for me, it reflects our country. It's a tiny country that has such diversity; on one side, you have the Bedouin tradition, and then you've got the olive groves and the Mediterranean coast.

It was on the coffee route and the spice route. We've been occupied by practically every nation in the Mediterranean basin. All of these influences have contributed to our cuisine, Kattan says.

We stuffed the cauliflower leaves with freekeh. Because I think it's very important for us to reclaim freekeh as ours. Israelis are trying to claim all of that as theirs. It was important for Jamie to see Palestinian products.

Kattan also took Oliver for a short culinary tour around Bethlehem to the oldest hummus shop and a local baker who showed him how to make Palestinian bread.

The first episode of Jamie's Ultimate Veg screened on October 6, with the Palestinian episode scheduled for October 14.

Kattan tells me he hasn't seen it yet, but saw the episode set in Jerusalem which, surprisingly, he believes was quite well done. He did that one with a Palestinian, which I think was very important.

While Kattan thinks that perhaps no more than a minute of his sequences will make it into the final cut, he believes the aftermath of even that length of footage will have immeasurable ramifications for the West Bank.

Having a picture of Jamie biting into a cucumber in the market shown around the world is just fantastic, because it shows it's safe and it's clean. It's breaking a lot of stereotypes, Kattan says.

This should be an invitation to all chefs to come to Palestine and find out what our cuisine is. Work with products that you've been using that are Palestinian, but you don't realise because it's been marketed as Israeli.

And for non-chefs, it's an invitation for everyone to come and visit Palestine. Come and walk the market of Bethlehem, and discover art and the whole package.

It's time for people to come and see reality.

Jamie’s Ultimate Veg sees the enigmatic chef visit countries such as India and Palestine and meet local chefs and vendors.

Jamie Oliver's new vegetarian cooking show, Jamie's Ultimate Veg, has taken the exuberant chef from the colourful streets of India to the historic city of Bethlehem in Palestine in the name of vegetarian cuisine.

In the six-episode series, Oliver meets up with local cooks and vendors to learn more about the culture of the country he's visiting, and how to create regionally-specific meat-free dishes. A full list of the other destinations Oliver visited has not yet been released.

The show premieres on Fox Life in English, with Arabic subtitles, on Sunday, October 6, and will be accompanied by a cookbook with the recipes.

But first, we've got the lowdown from Oliver himself, on everything he's learnt about herbivorous cuisine on his travels:

Who is this book and TV series for?

It’s for everyone! Obviously it’s for veggies, but importantly this book is also for meat eaters who want to include a bit more of the good stuff in their weekly meals.

It’s a fully meat-free, veg-based cookbook with a good wodge of vegan options in there as well. I want to make that something to celebrate, no matter who you are. This is simply about putting good food first, and making people feel happy.

What would you like people to take from it?

I would like everyone to take away the knowledge that vegetables can be truly joyful and fulfilling if they’re simply given the same love, care and attention that you’d give to a prime cut of meat.

The great thing about delicious, well-thought-out veg meals is that everybody is welcome, and anyone can be included, no matter what their preferences are. And, whether or not we eat meat, we all want more choice.

Why go meat-free now?

I believe we’ve reached a critical mass when it comes to wanting veggie ideas. Veg-based food is no longer an ‘alternative’; it’s truly mainstream, and my job is to serve the widest possible audience with beautiful recipes that answer that demand.

It’s interesting that I first started writing this book eight years ago, when it was still seen as a bit different. That’s no longer the case – sometimes in life you have to sit tight until the time is right!

Are you 100 per cent veggie, then?

Not at all. Everyone in my family eats meat and fish, but for the last five years we’ve also been trying to eat vegetarian meals, at least three days a week, and sometimes more.

It’s purely because veg-based cooking ticks every single box when you’re feeding a family. And at no point are you compromising on flavour.

Putting veg at the centre of your plate is often healthier, and it cuts a large amount of shopping budget, which you can either save, or use to spend on better quality meat if you do eat it. For me, buying less, but better-welfare, meat is fundamental.

Is there one recipe in the book that could convert any veg-sceptic?

That’s a hard one to answer, but the recipes have gone down really well with our testers, who were a mix of meat-eaters and veggies. The curry chapter has loads of knockouts, and my version of a veggie pasty was a real hit.

I think people were surprised by the amazing depth of flavour. The beautiful Allotment cottage pie really shifted some perceptions, too. But really there’s a whole world of delicious veggie cooking in there.

How do you get the maximum flavour out of veg?

Wow, what a question. Well, first of all, freshness helps, and surfing the seasons so the natural depth of flavour is already there when you start.

Cooking over charcoal or wood emparts beautiful flavour as well as roasting and slow-cooking, which essentially concentrates any ingredient’s natural flavours.

And then, of course, kissing it with citrus, incredible olive oil and herbs. These are just a handful of ways you can get maximum flavour from veg.

Any must-have equipment for cooking veg?

Yes! A pestle and mortar, a very fine grater, one large and one small top-quality knife. A hand blender. Large bowls for dressing and marinating ingredients

Did you try out the dishes at home?

Always. Normally I try recipes at home before I test them in the office. But frankly, there’s never a straight-line process to writing a good recipe, it’s an organic thing.

Any tips for getting kids to eat more veg?

Without being dramatic, you have to be as impactful as the junk food brands and adverts that promote unhealthy food. Firstly, cooking veg well and making it taste nice is a good start.

Then have fun with your kids: shopping, buying, growing, drawing, tasting different veg. Forget about what they don’t like, and concentrate on what they might like.

All kids can be erratic and change their minds – their palates and understanding of food are moving targets, which means you’d have to be a superhero to get it right all the time.

Is fresh always best?

Absolutely not. Fresh is best when it’s definitely fresh so probably within 36 hours of being picked. But, chances are, frozen veg is going to be more nutritious than something that’s sat in a warehouse for several days.

The technology behind freezing is incredibly efficient, it’s normally done within eight to 10 hours of harvest. So my take is to eat both. I always have peas, sweetcorn, broad beans, spinach and a whole myriad of fruit in the freezer.

How much veg should we be eating?

In the UK the advice is to eat at least 80g portions of veg and fruit a day. But I’d encourage everyone to eat as much as possible! Whether that’s an extra portion a day, a meat-free day every week, or adopting a totally veg-based diet.

If you eat more veg, and cook recipes from this book two to three times a week, it’s highly likely that you’ll feel better and save money.

If you look back to our great-grandparents’ time, it was never normal to consume animal protein in the quantity we do today.

My grand dad used to say: ‘Have everything in moderation and a little bit of what you like,’ And that approach just wins every single time.

In June 2003 Oliver was awarded the MBE in the Queen's Birthday Honours. A proponent of fresh organic foods, Oliver was named the most influential person in the UK hospitality industry when he topped the inaugural 100 in May 2005.

The list placed Oliver higher than Sir Francis Mackay, the then-chairman of the contract catering giant Compass Group, which Oliver had soundly criticised in Jamie's School Dinners.

In 2006, Oliver dropped to second on the list behind fellow celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay. In July 2010, Oliver regained the top spot and was named as the most powerful and influential person in the UK hospitality industry once again.

In 2013 Oliver was awarded an Honorary Fellowship by the Royal College of General Practitioners for his work in tackling childhood obesity by improving the nutritional value of school dinners.

On 29 October 2015, Oliver was listed by UK-based company Richtopia at number 2 in the list of 100 Most Influential British Entrepreneurs.

Tourism Observer

Thursday 10 October 2019

Saudi Arabia: Foreign Unmarried Couples To Share Hotel Rooms But Not Saudi Citizens

Male and female tourists in Saudi Arabia can now sleep in the same hotel room without proof of marriage, the kingdom's officials have announced. Another change will allow women to book hotel rooms by themselves.

In a move aimed at enticing foreign visitors, Saudi Arabia has loosened its strict rules on separating men and women. Previously, all couples were required to present proof of marriage before checking into a hotel together. A new rule will now change things — but only for foreigners.

All Saudi nationals are asked to show family ID or proof of relationship on checking into hotels, the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage said on Friday.

This is not required of foreign tourists.

The kingdom officially enforces a strict interpretation of Islam, which forbids sex outside marriage. Last week, however, the country offered visas to foreign tourists for the first time in a bid to diversify its oil-based economy.

Saudi officials have hailed it as a historic moment.

Saudi Arabia has also introduced other reforms, such as lifting its ban on women drivers in 2018 and, earlier this year, giving women new rights to travel abroad.

The most recent changes also include the lifting of a rule that required women to have a male guardian rent the room for them.

All women, including Saudis, can book and stay in hotels alone, providing ID on check-in, tourist officials said.

While introducing new freedoms, Saudi Arabia has also published a list of 19 decency rules for tourists.

Offenses include public displays of affection, or playing music at prayer times.

Female tourists are expected to wear clothing covering their shoulders and knees.

With the changes, authorities hope to draw in 100 million annual visits by 2030.

The gradual reforms, introduced by the kingdom's de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, also aim to change the nation's archaic image.

However, the efforts have been overshadowed by the brutal murder of exiled journalist Jamal Khashoggi, the Saudi-led bombing campaign in Yemen and a clampdown on potential rivals and dissidents in the country.

Saudi Arabia welcomed 24,000 tourists in the 10 days after it issued tourist visas for the first time, state television reported on Tuesday.

Saudi Arabia announced on September 27 it would start offering tourist visas, opening up the kingdom to holidaymakers as part of a push to diversify its economy away from oil.

In 10 days, some 24,000 foreigners entered Saudi Arabia on a tourist visa, the television reported, citing the Saudi foreign ministry.

Until September 27, the ultra-conservative state only issued visas to Muslim pilgrims, foreign workers and recently to spectators at sporting or cultural events.

To encourage arrivals, authorities announced on Sunday they would allow unmarried foreign couples to rent hotel rooms together.

Kickstarting tourism is one of the centrepieces of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS)'s Vision 2030 reform programme to prepare the Arab world's largest economy for a post-oil era.

Citizens from 49 countries are now eligible for online e-visas or visas on arrival, including the United States, Australia, several European nations, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea, China and Kazakhstan.

Tourism Observer

INDIA: Government To Lift Travel Advisory In Kashmir From Today, Tourists Welcome Back Inspite Of Protests

Indian authorities have announced that they will lift the travel advisory in Kashmir that has been in place for over two months. They also said they will gradually remove restrictions on movement in the disputed region.

Foreign visitors will once more be welcome in the India-controlled part of Kashmir, local governor Satya Pal Malik announced on Monday evening.

The travel advisory from the Indian government, which has been in place for over two months, will be lifted from Thursday onward.

On August 2, tourists were told to immediately leave the India-controlled part of the disputed region, named Jammu and Kashmir, following concerns about "terror threats."

More than 340,000 tourists and Hindu pilgrims were forced to scramble for buses and planes out of the region after the Indian government issued the travel advisory.

Malik said in a statement after a security meeting that these tourists would be welcome to return after Thursday, when the "Home Department's advisory asking tourists to leave the valley be lifted."

Only 150 foreign travelers have visited Kashmir since August 5, compared with half a million in the first seven months of the year. The lush Himalayan valley had been a popular holiday destination for Indians and other foreigners, describing itself as a "paradise on earth."

The travel advisory was first announced when Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government scrapped the special autonomous status that Kashmir had long enjoyed.

Since then, India has imposed a clampdown on freedom of movement as well as a communications blackout, which is largely still in place.

Malik claimed in his statement that authorities were gradually lifting the curfew, along with internet and telephone restrictions, saying that all the security restrictions were removed in most parts of the region.

How safe the region has become is unclear. The UK and other countries still have travel advisories in place, and local media report that 10 people were killed in a grenade attack at the weekend.

Protests show no signs of abating

Unrest in the region remains widespread, with thousands marching over the last week towards the Line of Control, which divides India- and Pakistan-controlled Kashmir, demanding an independent Kashmir.

Meanwhile, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan is in Beijing for talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping on the security situation in Kashmir.

Both India and Kashmir claim the territory in full. India has received widespread condemnation for its removal of the region's special status, which Prime Minister Modi described as necessary to integrate the region into the rest of India.

There are fears in the region that the removal of the curfew and blackout and a return to business as usual may lead to armed resistance and further protests.

India is to be a unified nation, says Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. People in Kashmir are experiencing what that entails. The region is a tinderbox, also because of Modi's politics.

In his Independence Day speech, Prime Minister Narendra Modi was quick to blow his own horn: Within 70 days he succeeded in doing what no other government had been able to achieve in 70 years. Make no mistake he got it done.

The only problem is that we do not know what exactly the Indian prime minister achieved. What he did manage was to cut off the Kashmir region from the rest of the world in as far as that is logistically possible.

However, these measures would not have been necessary if his policies had been popular with the region's population. But the people in Kashmir are not as important to Modi as those in the rest of India.

On Indian Independence Day, Modi spoke of India finally becoming one nation with one constitution. Language such as this sounds somehow threatening in such a diverse country. What exactly does Modi have in mind?

In Kashmir, people are just getting a taste of what it means to live in Modi's nation.

They have lost their autonomy at the stroke of a pen. Despite Delhi's promises of prosperity and a golden future, who could blame Muslims if they now feel discriminated against?

However, one should not idealize the past. Even decades of autonomy have not brought peace to Kashmir. However, a strong message has been sent to the Muslim population: Unity will be achieved through force.

There is every reason to fear that the dream of Modi and Hindu nationalists will claim many lives. Pakistan, the other player in the Kashmir conflict, is outraged by Modi's coup but until now, Prime Minister Imran Khan has shown verbal restraint.

He knows his country cannot match its neighbor's military might. Having said that, when he conjures up an ominous threat of a reaction from the Muslim world, his words are not untrue.

At the same time, it is clearly a precautionary attempt to exonerate himself, Pakistan, and its intelligence services from any responsibility for further potential terrorist attacks and bloodshed.

The only realistic opportunity for Pakistan to influence the course of events is to make the issue a priority on the international agenda.

China backs Pakistan, whereas India sees it as a domestic issue. In his speech on Thursday, Modi did not mention neighbor Pakistan once.

However, his silence will do nothing towards bringing about a real prospect of peace to the region neither will his verbose vanity.

The dispute over Kashmir has poisoned relations between India and Pakistan since the two became independent countries in 1947. Here's an overview of how tensions have grown more dangerous over the past seven decades.

Like so many conflicts around the world, the dispute over Kashmir began with independence from a colonial power. In 1947, the United Kingdom gave in to the struggle for freedom in its Indian colony and granted it independence.

The retreating British left behind two states: the secular Indian Union and the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.

The partition of India in 1947 presented a problem to the then princely state of Jammu and Kashmir, located right along the two new states' northern border.

Traditionally, the state was ruled by a Hindu maharaja or local ruler, but the majority of the population was Muslim.

Hoping to be able to declare his territory independent, Maharaja Hari Singh initially did not join either India or Pakistan, both of which took an interest in this special social constellation in the Kashmir Valley.

To this day, India sees itself as a secular nation in which several religions coexist. This makes Jammu and Kashmir, the only province with a Muslim majority, an important part of India's religious plurality.

At the time, Pakistan saw itself as the home of all Muslims in South Asia. Its founding father, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, envisioned Pakistan and India as separate Muslim and Hindu nations on the subcontinent. Until 1971, Bangladesh, which is located to the east of India, was part of Pakistan.

While the maharaja hesitated to make Kashmir part of either country, in 1947, Pakistani guerrillas tried to bring the principality of Kashmir under their control.

Hari Singh turned to New Delhi for help, and it didn't take long for troops from India and Pakistan to face off.

The first war for Kashmir began in October 1947 and ended in January 1949 with the de facto division of the state along the so-called Line of Control (LoC), the unofficial border line still recognized today.

Back then, the UN sent an observer mission that is still on the ground today. Pakistan has controlled the northern special province of Gilgit-Baltistan and the sickle-shaped Azad Kashmir sub-region since 1949.

The Indian-held section became the federal state of Jammu and Kashmir in 1957, with special autonomous status allowing the state's legislature to have a say in legislation covering all issues except defense, foreign affairs and communications.

The following decades were marked by an arms race on both sides. India began to develop a nuclear bomb and Pakistan also started a nuclear program with the aim of being able to stand up to its giant neighbor.

Today, India and Pakistan have an estimated 140 and 150 nuclear warheads respectively. Unlike Pakistan, India has explicitly ruled out a nuclear first strike.

Pakistan also spends huge amounts on its nuclear program as the country tries to make sure it won't lag behind its neighbor in military terms.

In 1965, Pakistan once again used military force to try to change the borders, but lost to the Indian military. The neighbors clashed for a third time in 1971, but this time Kashmir was not at the center of the confrontation.

Instead, it was the independence struggle in Bangladesh that precipitated the war. India, which supported the Bangladeshi independence fighters, once again defeated Pakistan.

A year later, India and Pakistan signed the Simla Agreement that underlines the importance of the LoC and commits to bilateral negotiations to clarify claims to the Kashmir region once and for all.

In 1984, the nations clashed again; this time over the India-controlled Siachen Glacier. And in 1999, both sides fought for control of military posts on the Indian side of the LoC. In 2003, India and Pakistan signed a new ceasefire — but it has been fragile since 2016.

China, which has a long border with Jammu and Kashmir, also plays a role in this conflict. In 1962, China occupied a part of India that borders Kashmir and entered into an alliance with Pakistan.

Today, China and Pakistan trade via the newly constructed Karakoram Highway, which connects the countries via the western Kashmir region. As part of the multibillion-dollar China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project, that corridor is being expanded.

This former gravel road is currently being developed into a multi-lane asphalt highway that can be used all year long. China is investing $57 billion (€51 billion) in Pakistani infrastructure and energy projects, more than in any other South Asian country.

The economic alliance with its powerful neighbor has helped solidify Pakistan's claims to the Himalayan foothills.

The governments of neighboring states are no longer the only parties to the conflict in Kashmir, however. Using violence, militant groups have been trying to disrupt the status quo on both sides of the LoC since at least the 1980s.

Their attacks have contributed to a deterioration of the security situation.

At least 45,000 people have been killed in terrorist attacks over the past 30 years. And the total number of deaths resulting from this conflict is at least 70,000, according to estimates by human rights organizations.

Tourism Observer

AUSTRIA: Garbage Explosion Near Linz Airport, 5 Injured

An explosion rocked a garbage disposal facility near Linz airport in Austria, with police saying five people in total were injured, two of them seriously.

Fire crews from the surrounding area have rushed to the scene.

It’s currently unclear what caused the blast.

Over 250 first responders are at the scene, fighting the blaze and searching for others who may have been injured in the explosion.

Austrian police advised local residents to stay inside with their windows closed.

Officials said that there are no signs that the explosion was caused by a terrorist attack.

There are no indications that the blast was caused by a terrorist attack, a police spokesman said.

Police in Upper Austria province said in a statement that two people were seriously hurt in the explosion in the town of Hoersching that happened shortly after 8 a.m. local time.

At least five people have been injured in an explosion at a garbage disposal facility near the Linz airport, Austrian authorities said on Thursday.

Two people sustained serious burn injuries and were airlifted via helicopter to two hospitals, while three others were slightly injured in the blast, police said.

Images from the scene showed a thick column of smoke rising from the site.

The cause of the explosion was not immediately clear. A police spokesperson said there were no indications that the blast was caused by a terrorist attack.

The incident reportedly occurred shortly after 8:00 a.m. local time (0600 GMT) at the waste disposal plant, prompting a fire to break out.

Over 250 firefighters are battling the blaze, which spread to two warehouses and has proven difficult to put out, reported Austrian public broadcaster ORF.

Over 20 employees at the plant were in the area when the explosion took place. The majority of the workers were able to evacuate safely.

Tourism Observer

MALAYSIA: Malaysian Soldier Arrests King Cobra

A Malaysian soldier from the Tentera Darat Army has been captured on video while cleverly taming a king cobra, which is considered to be the largest venomous snake on the planet.

Cobra tamers always gather a lot of spectators, as the amazing ability to hypnotise venomous snakes seems to be an almost magical gift.

The soldier reportedly noticed the 1.8-metre (6-feet) snake when he was descending a dirt road surrounded by palm trees.

The man started to move strangely, trying to tame the aggressive cobra.

Then the soldier touched the head of the poisonous snake with his fingers and slowly lowered it to the ground, after which he pressed the cobra harder, leading it to begin to wriggle.

Tourism Observer

CHINA: China’s To Slap Visa Restrictions On Certain US Nationals.

Beijing is considering tightening visa restrictions for US nationals with ties to anti-China groups.

The move comes in response to new US visa restrictions on high-ranking Chinese government officials that were announced by Washington on Tuesday, as well as the US’ tighter rules for visas for Chinese scholars, introduced in May.

This is not something we want to do but we don’t seem to have any choice, referring to China’s decision to slap visa restrictions on certain US nationals.

According to the source, a visa blacklist includes employees from a host of US military and CIA-linked institutions and rights groups, which were allegedly used by Washington to incite anti-government protests in both mainland China and Hong Kong.

The plan has been widely discussed by senior police officers over recent months, but was made more likely to be implemented after the Hong Kong protests and the US visa ban on Chinese officials, the source said.

China’s National Immigration Administration, which operates under the Ministry of Public Security, has yet to comment on the matter.

On Wednesday, Beijing lashed out at the grim plans of the United States following the visa restrictions announced by Washington against Chinese officials over allegations of human rights violations in the Chinese province of Xinjiang.

The attitude of the United States regarding the situation in Xinjiang will only further expose their sinister designs against the Chinese people and the international community, China's Foreign Ministry Spokesman Geng Shuang said.

The Chinese embassy in Washington, in turn, protested the US move, which seriously violates the basic norms governing international relations, interferes in China's internal affairs and undermines China's interests.

China deplores and firmly opposes that, an embassy spokesperson said.

The spokesperson added that Xinjiang does not have the so-called human rights issue claimed by the US, and suggested that the accusations by the US side are merely made-up pretexts for its interference.

The remarks follow US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s announcement on Tuesday that Washington had imposed the visa restrictions on Chinese government and Communist Party officials who are believed to be responsible for, or complicit in, the detention or abuse of Uighurs, Kazakhs, or other members of Muslim minority groups in Xinjiang.

The August 2018 UN report claimed that up to one million ethnic Uyghurs were being held in the so-called re-education camps.

Beijing denied the existence of such camps, insisting that the claims have not been substantiated and arguing that the facilities are vocational colleges set up as part of counter-terrorist efforts in the region.

The US and China’s tit-for-tat visa restriction moves come as the two countries remain embroiled in a trade spat which began in mid-2018, when President Trump announced tariffs on $50 billion worth of Chinese imports to help address a $400 billion+ trade deficit that he claimed was caused by China’s unfair trade practices.

Since then, Washington and Beijing have exchanges hefty tariffs against each other.

Tourism Observer

Tuesday 8 October 2019

CHINA: Daxing Airport Opening Next Week.

Aircraft have begun to arrive at Beijing’s new Daxing Airport. The news comes ahead of the airports opening, expected to happen within the next week.

For some time now, Beijing’s Capital Airport (PEK) has been slowly filling up. As such the decision was made not to replace the airport, but to complement it.

The finished project is Beijing Daxing Airport (PKX). Daxing is a new four runway mega airport with plenty of room for future expansion. After years of hard work, the airport is finally set to open within the next week, with China United Airlines set to be the launch operator.

Beijing Daxing Airport will be launched initially with China United Airlines. The carrier is currently the only commercial user of a nearby airport named Beijing Nanyuan Airport. However, it is set to pack up shop and relocate to the new Daxing Airport.

As the airline’s current airport will be closed after it departs, China United Airlines is expected to move all of its assets to Daxing in one overnight operation. This will involve most of the airlines’ Boeing 737 aircraft being ferried across in one go.

China United Airlines’ first aircraft arrived in Beijing a week ago. However, this aircraft appeared unaccompanied, having sat on the ground ever since according to data from FlightRadar24.

The first aircraft to arrive was a Boeing 737-800 which operated the ferry flight with the flight number KN1001.

More recently, China United Airlines has repositioned five more Boeing 737 aircraft under flight numbers ranging from KN1001 to KN1007.

This brings the total number of China United Aircraft on the ground to six. These aircraft may be currently going unused for the airline’s flight schedule, as it could store the aircraft at the new airport today.

For other airlines, the move will be much more simple. Take British Airways and LOT Polish Airlines, for example.

They will both one day depart from Beijing Capital and fly back to their respective bases. The next day they will simply land slightly further south at the new Beijing airport instead.

While the move may be slightly more stressful for the other Chinese carriers, there will still likely be a large amount of planning going on.

However, these airlines don’t have the pressure of an airport closing behind them. As such, if something somehow misses the migration, it is not the end of the world. Around 13 hours ago a China Eastern Airbus A350 also landed at the airport.

Tourism Observer

ICELAND:Icelandair Stops Flights To Kansas City And San Francisco

Icelandair will end service to Kansas City and San Francisco this fall as it aims to shore up its business.

Seasonal Kansas City (MCI) flights ended on Sept. 15 and will not resume next summer, while year-round San Francisco (SFO) flights end on Jan. 5, according to Diio by Cirium schedule data. Icelandair served both cities from Reykjavik (KEF).

Icelandair is ending the routes for commercial reasons, it said in an announcement Monday. The airline continues to review its network to both improve profitability and minimize the impact of the Boeing 737 MAX grounding, it added.

The carrier suspended flights to Tampa (TPA) in June as a result of the grounding.

Icelandair’s move comes just half-a-year after its Reykjavik-based low-cost competition WOW Air shut down. At its peak, WOW served 15 destinations in the U.S., including San Francisco, Diio by Cirium schedule data shows.

Kansas City director of aviation Pat Klein said in a statement that the city was disappointed in Icelandair’s decision to end service. The airline was the first to ever provide a nonstop to Europe from the airport.

Aviation staff will continue to meet with airlines with the intent to grow Kansas City’s international access.

Icelandair continues to serve 12 cities in the U.S., including Denver (DEN), New York John F. Kennedy (JFK) and Washington Dulles (IAD), from Reykjavik, according to Diio schedules.

Tourism Observer

USA: LOT Polish To Fly Non Stop To San Francisco

San Francisco will see an influx of new European carriers next year, with LOT Polish Airlines the latest to land in the California city.

The Star Alliance carrier will begin new service between its Warsaw (WAW) base and San Francisco (SFO) on Aug. 5, the airport confirmed Monday.

The new route will operate four days a week — Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday — with a Boeing 787 aircraft.

LOT joins Alitalia in announcing new service to San Francisco in the past week. Last week, the Italian carrier unveiled plans to add service between Rome Fiumicino (FCO) and San Francisco on June 1.

Both announcements followed Icelandair’s disclosure that it will end flights to San Francisco in January. The Icelandic carrier cited commercial reasons, as well as the ongoing impact of the Boeing 737 MAX grounding, for the move.

We are thrilled that LOT Polish Airlines has chosen SFO for their nonstop flights to Warsaw, SFO airport director Ivar Satero said in a statement. This move reinforces SFO as the international gateway of choice for the San Francisco Bay Area.

With LOT’s new route, San Francisco will boast nonstops to 19 cities in Europe next summer, according to Diio by Cirium schedules. United Airlines, which operates a large hub at the Bay Area airport, operates six of those routes.

Tourism Observer

USA: Delta Increases Flights From Seattle To Florida

Delta Air Lines will connect Seattle/Tacoma and Tampa next year, its first new domestic route from Seattle for next year.

The SkyTeam Alliance carrier will offer a daily flight between the cities with Boeing 737-800 aircraft that seat 160 passengers, according to Diio by Cirium schedules.

Tampa (TPA) will be Delta’s second nonstop flight to Florida from Seattle (SEA), joining Orlando (MCO).

Tampa is the first domestic addition from Delta’s Seattle hub for 2020. The airline will begin flights to Tokyo Haneda (HND) from the Pacific Northwest city in March, a move that comes as it ends more than three decades of service at Tokyo Narita (NRT).

Delta Air Lines will connect Seattle/Tacoma and Tampa next year, its first new domestic route from Seattle for next year.

The SkyTeam Alliance carrier will offer a daily flight between the cities with Boeing 737-800 aircraft that seat 160 passengers, according to Diio by Cirium schedules.

Tampa (TPA) will be Delta’s second nonstop flight to Florida from Seattle (SEA), joining Orlando (MCO).

Tampa is the first domestic addition from Delta’s Seattle hub for 2020. The airline will begin flights to Tokyo Haneda (HND) from the Pacific Northwest city in March, a move that comes as it ends more than three decades of service at Tokyo Narita (NRT).

Delta established its Seattle hub in 2014 to support its growing Pacific gateway at the airport. The airline will operate up to 180 peak-day flights from the airport by next June, Diio schedules show.

Delta will compete with Alaska Airlines between Seattle and Tampa, according to Diio.

Tourism Observer

NETHERLANDS: KLM The Worlds Oldest Airline Celebrates Its 100th Birthday

Dutch flag carrier KLM is celebrating its 100th anniversary Monday, making it one of the oldest airlines in the world and the oldest still flying under its original name.

KLM, short for Koninklijke Luchtvaart Maatschappij — “royal air transport company” in Dutch — was founded Oct. 7, 1919, though its first flight didn’t take to the skies until May 17, 1920.

Since then, KLM has become a major part of the international airline landscape, connecting far-flung destinations from its hub in Amsterdam.

It serves about 165 destinations from Schiphol airport (AMS) today. It’s now part of the Air France-KLM group, after their 2004 merger, and a member of the SkyTeam alliance with Delta Air Lines.

Air France-KLM’s frequent flyer program, Flying Blue, is probably the best tool to find award availability on SkyTeam carriers.

From Amsterdam, the airline serves the US with a mix of airplanes including the Airbus A330 and Boeing 777, 787 and even 747; it’s one of the few airlines that still operate the latter.

KLM has also been a social-media pioneer, and is known for videos that feature cute dogs.

As the airline looks to its next 100 years, it’s trying to stay on the cutting edge of of aviation technology, experimenting with more sustainable fuel sources and the “flying V” experimental fuselage.

Hangar 10 was the backdrop to the “KLM Experience”, where guests were treated to an impressive overview of KLM’s past, present and future. This included an in-depth look at KLM’s development over the decades and the role it played in international civil aviation.

Pieter Elbers, KLM President & CEO said the fact that we are celebrating our 100th anniversary is not just testimony to a century of successful enterprise, innovation, and commerce, but also to the faith that customers and partners have in KLM. It is an ode to KLM’s aviation pioneers, who literally put civil aviation on the map worldwide. KLM is the oldest international airline still operating under its original name. We were the first airline to successfully pursue partnerships and alliances, after which many other countries and airlines followed our example. This has brought together hundreds of millions of people around the globe. As Albert Plesman put it: “The ocean of the air unites all people.” We may take pride in our long list of achievements and efforts over the past 100 years. And so we stand – energetic and confident – on the threshold of a new century. Filled with the same pioneering and enterprising spirit, we look forward, with optimism, to taking on the challenges of sustainability and innovation.

Finance Minister of The Netherlands, Wopke Hoekstra said, you feel at home aboard a KLM aircraft. Wherever you are, when you’re with KLM, the Netherlands feels close by. Together with Schiphol, KLM is of great importance to our global connectivity and hence to employment opportunities in the Netherlands. The world is no longer the same as it was 100 years ago, but the pioneering spirit of Albert Plesman is still very much alive at the company. I wish KLM a wonderful centenary and a successful, innovative, jet-setting future, in which the company will join hands with Air France in achieving their superb share objective to become Europe’s best airline.

KLM’s 100th Delftware miniature

In keeping with tradition, today KLM marked its anniversary with the presentation of a new Delftware miniature house; a moment eagerly awaited by faithful collectors all over the world.

This year’s miniature is a replica of Huis ten Bosch Palace in The Hague, the home of King Willem-Alexander and his family. Today the first copy of KLM’s 100th Delftware miniature house was presented to Finance Minister Wopke Hoestra by KLM President & CEO Pieter Elbers.

Huis ten Bosch Palace was built in the mid-17th century at the behest of Prince Frederik Hendrik of Orange and his wife Amalia van Solms.

It was extended in the first half of the 18th century by Prince Willem IV. After Willem I was crowned King of the Netherlands in 1815, the palace was regularly home to members of the Dutch royal family.

Since January 2019, Huis ten Bosch Palace has been the residence of King Willem-Alexander, Queen Máxima and their three daughters. The palace also serves as a ceremonial venue.

KLM President & CEO Pieter Elbers said to me, Huis ten Bosch Palace symbolises the special bond between KLM and the Netherlands and the fact that we have borne the predicate Royal for the past 100 years. It is, therefore, a point of pride and honour that our 100th Delftware miniature is a replica of this very special building.
KLM100 House 100.1
Since the 1950s, KLM has presented specially designed Delftware miniature houses to World Business Class passengers on intercontinental flights.

The houses are replicas of monumental buildings throughout the Netherlands. The number of houses in the collection has kept pace with KLM’s anniversary since 1994, with new miniatures added to the collection on or around KLM’s anniversary on 7 October.

KLM book

KLM will also mark its centenary with a special book titled Welcome Aboard – 100 years of KLM Royal Dutch Airlines. The first copy was presented by KLM’s current Board of Managing Directors, Pieter Elbers, René de Groot and Erik Swelheim, to three former KLM presidents, Pieter Bouw, Leo van Wijk and Peter Hartman.

KLM Festivities Everywhere

Today, KLM staff worldwide shared special treats in honour of our 100th anniversary. There was cake and a special message from Pieter Elbers. In addition, all KLM staff will receive the coveted 100th KLM Delftware miniature house and have been invited to attend the “KLM Experience”.

Over the past weekend, KLM staff in their thousands were immersed in 100 years of KLM history. Many thousands more will gather this weekend, to undergo an unforgettable experience, featuring a wide array of events, shows, and activities.

Tourism Observer

Monday 7 October 2019

WORLD: Medical Tourism Is Now Very Popular

Medical tourism is a term used to describe when people travel outside of their country to another country in order to receive medical treatment in some form or other. This is a booming industry that is only becoming more popular over the years.

One of the biggest reasons for the increased popularity and growth of the medical tourism industry is the high cost of healthcare in countries such as the United States and the United Kingdom.

This is a trend seen in countries like the United States where healthcare costs have been rising over the years despite people signing up for private health insurance.

There are many disadvantages to private medical insurance in the United States. For one thing, health insurance monthly premiums can be as high as $1000 a month (or even higher) for a family plan.

The other problem is that often the insurance company limits which providers you can see and which services or treatments you qualify for.

This means that often, pre-authorization is needed for procedures, which takes time and you may even be denied coverage.

Most private health insurance companies in the past were HMO or PPO systems, and although the PPO was slightly better in terms of how many doctors you could visit, there were still limitations.

You generally are only allowed to visit in-network physicians and clinics in both HMO and PPO systems. This can mean long waiting times to get procedures done.

The other problem, of course, is that many medical procedures may be deemed by your health insurance provider to be not medically necessary. Even though you can appeal such decisions, odds are you will not gain coverage and so any cosmetic procedure will be unlikely to be covered.

The shocking reality is that many people in the United States become bankrupt due to medical costs with insurance companies also placing lifetime limits on how much they pay out.

This means if you have a chronic illness that is expensive, you are at risk of serious financial problems. The odds of this happening are quite high especially as a person ages and is more likely to get cancer and need expensive treatments.

Although the United States does have some social support services in the form of social security, medicare and medicaid, these systems are also limited in how much money they release and how much support they give you over your lifetime.

The government may also decide where and when you can get treatment and from who. This becomes a problem and can result in a delay which further jeopardizes your healthcare.

The cost of medical care in the United States is often significantly higher than in other countries, which has spurred the growth of medical tourism by Americans.

Many Americans travel to Canada, Mexico or Brazil for cosmetic procedures such as liposuction or breast augmentation. The quality of care can vary tremendously though, and even though everything may work out okay, there are horror stories of people with botched procedures.

It is a case of buyer beware, because a very cheap clinic may have a bad record and may not even have qualified staff performing a procedure. On the other hand, there may be excellent clinics and physicians performing affordable work in these same countries.

The United Kingdom has a different type of health coverage compared to the United States, which is provided by the government and is called the National Health Service.

The advantage of this system is that it is paid for by taxation and everybody in the country receives coverage. The disadvantage of this system is that there may be long waiting times and once again, cosmetic procedures are unlikely to be covered.

Cosmetic work includes hair transplant surgery; dental work such as crowns, implants, and dental veneers; various body sculpturing procedures such as liposuction, breast augmentation and reduction, nose jobs and butt lifts.

The costs of cosmetic procedures such as those just mentioned are very high in the United Kingdom because it is almost always the case that you have to pay out of pocket costs.

This high cost is the number one reason that UK residents look into medical tourism as a viable option for getting medical procedures done.

One of the most popular places to go for cosmetic work is Turkey, which has many first rate medical clinics and internationally accredited professionals ready to help you.

You can find out more about the pros and cons of the UK when it comes to cosmetic procedures such as hair transplant procedures by visiting the Vera Clinic.

Turkey is in a good location for many medical tourists and has the experience in dealing with foreign customers.

Regardless of where you go to have your work done you should be very careful to choose an accredited clinic with qualified specialists.

Belize has once again pioneered another gateway to attracting more visitors and investors to our country, which is, through the emergence of Medical Tourism.

Under BELTRAIDE’s Compete Caribbean Project, component two (2) entails the identification of two priority sectors for investment. One of the identified priority sectors is Medical Tourism.

There is certainly great potential for this industry to boom and create employment for Belize, whilst increasing its Foreign Direct Investment (FDI).
In early August 2012, a workshop on Medical Tourism was coordinated, with the objective to create awareness of the new industry and to determine the receptiveness of Belize’s stakeholders.

The workshop was held at the George Price Center in the City of Belmopan and stakeholders from both the medical and tourism industries participated in the event.

It was considered an information sharing session which allowed stakeholders the opportunity to voice their opinion on the idea of Medical Tourism.

Molly McKenna was in agonizing pain last January when her fiancé rushed her to a Baylor Scott & White clinic in Austin, Texas.

"The doctor came in and said, 'Your ovary is a big hemorrhaging mess right now. We have to take that out,'" McKenna said.

One of her ovaries was twisting inward, cutting off the blood supply.

"It just got to the point where I could barely breathe," McKenna said.

She was transferred by ambulance to a larger Baylor Scott & White hospital for surgery. At each stop, the staff took her private insurance card. Yet a few weeks later, she was told much of her treatment was out-of-network. She owed more than $40,000.

"I remember crying. I was very upset," McKenna said.

Insurance broker Lora Everist, who sold McKenna her insurance policy, said paying cash would have been cheaper.

"Nobody gave her the option to pay cash or self-pay," Everist said.

Everist said McKenna's insurance paid over $6,000 for the surgery. McKenna negotiated a few bills down, but Baylor Scott & White still wants $27,000 more.

Because there is no guideline. There is no transparency. They can charge whatever they want, Everist said.

Baylor Scott & White responded, saying its facility charges are lower than other acute care hospitals in the region.

But this case shows what they call an opportunity for improvement, and they now say they'll be contacting McKenna to work toward solving her problem.

There are a few things patients can do when faced with a medical emergency. First, find out now which hospitals are close to you that are in your network. Next, if it's not a life-threatening emergency, consider a cheaper walk-in or urgent care center.

If you wind up in the emergency room, ask, or have someone with you ask, if the doctors treating you are in your network.

No one really knows what anything costs in health care — and too many people are getting surprise medical bills for thousands of dollars. In a new series, Medical Price Roulette.

The recent Mexico’s assertion as North America’s medical tourism powerhouse has been possible due to several centers of excellence that offer patients ease of access to main medical tourism destinations and provide special attention from highly trained staff at lower costs.

Medical tourism industry has continued to experience a steady growth, especially in Mexico.

This influx of travelers seeking medical care has to do with world class medical attention, highly trained surgeons, specialized practitioners and top tier certified hospitals keen to treat foreigners.

Millions of post bariatric surgery patients around the world have successfully improved their overall health, turned their life around and kept the weight off. As far as bariatric procedures continue to prove successful overtime, their adoption and popularity will also rise.

Nevertheless, for many bariatric candidates in the United States, Canada and many countries in Europe, surgery comes at such a high price tag that traveling to Mexico for bariatric surgery has become a high quality, price conscious, accessible alternative.

Mexico offers patients abroad an unrivaled global strategic location, reachable by plenty of direct flights from the United States, Canada and some European countries.

Dr. Alejandro Lopez, chief bariatric surgeon at ALO Bariatrics started operations in 2008 in three convenient locations: Tijuana, Guadalajara and Puerto Vallarta; his approach to the industry is creative yet simple.

Provide bariatric candidates, comprehensive and seamless access to world class health care in certified hospitals; at a fraction of the price than in the United States and Canada.

For ALO Bariatrics, choosing its locations was only a matter of providing their patients the ease and comfort they’re accustomed to:

Tijuana can be easily reached by land from the neighboring southern states of California, Arizona and Nevada; Guadalajara services countless direct flights from up and down the East Coast of the United States; and Puerto Vallarta offers numerous connections to most of Canada’s major cities.

ALO Bariatrics’ highly-skilled, internationally-trained and board certified surgeons are handpicked and rigorously screened for their outstanding technical prowess; reason why, they hold an impressive record of more than 6,000 successful bariatric surgeries performed, and the praise of patients for the unrivaled level of care, warmth and professionalism experienced.

Health travellers who visit Malaysia save 65% to 80% on health cost compared to the cost in the US.

Malaysia offers excellent patient comfort with five-star rooms that look more like hotel suites than hospital rooms.

Medical Tourism Malaysia has provided award-winning healthcare facilities to over 4.9 million medical travellers from all over the world.

Reigning as the ‘Destination of the Year’ by the International Medical Tourism journal for 3 consecutive years, we are committed to create and ensure an exceptional healthcare destination experience with limitless possibilities and exceptional quality catered to your needs.

Malaysia has over 70 private healthcare institutions dedicated to give quality cross-border experience.

We all know people love to visit Malaysia for its food, cultural diversity, and heritage spots.

But did you know that Malaysia is one of the top spots for medical travel?

Malaysia was listed as the “Best Country for Healthcare” from 2015 to 2017 by International Living and listed as “Top Asian Country for Retirement” in 2018.

This means people prefer seeking treatment in Malaysia instead of their home countries or other places around the world. Last year alone, Malaysia received over one million medical travelers, with that number on the rise every year.

In the latest Medical Travel Awards 2018, Malaysia won 9 out of 15 awards, more than any other country in the world

These awards were given out by the International Medical Travel Journal (IMTJ), the world’s leading journal for the medical travel sector.

According to Patients Beyond Borders, medical travelers could save up to 80% on medical expenses, if they opt to do their treatment in Malaysia, which may amount to thousands of ringgit.

Malaysia's location and infrastructure also make it easy for medical travelers to gain access into Malaysia.

What’s more, they would be receiving world-class quality treatment from top hospitals accredited by gold-standard organizations such as the Joint Commission International (JCI).

Tourism Observer

OMAN: St Regis Goes To Oman

Marriott has signed an agreement with Alfardan Group to introduce the St. Regis brand to Oman.

Expected to open in 2022, the 271-room St. Regis Al Mouj Muscat Resort is planned to rise on a prime beachfront plot within Oman’s lifestyle and leisure destination, Al Mouj Muscat.

The project also includes plans for 170 branded residential units.

The signing of St. Regis in Oman is a natural progression for the brand’s portfolio, as the brand continues to become one of the most recognised and sought-after luxury hotel brands in the region, said Alex Kyriakidis, president and managing director, Middle East & Africa for Marriott International.

We are thrilled to be working with Alfardan Group to bring this significant project to Oman, especially to this strategic location in one of the most desired waterfront masterplans in the city of Muscat he added.

Plans for the St. Regis Al Mouj Muscat Resort envision a retreat for leisure travellers, with panoramic views over the Gulf of Oman to the front, and lush green landscapes of the Al Mouj Muscat golf course to the rear.

Guests are expected to have access to an accomplished portfolio of leisure amenities in the Al Mouj Muscat community, including a planned 360-berth marina with attractive retail and dining options, as well as a clubhouse with watersport activities.

Omar Hussain Alfardan, chief executive, Alfardan Group, said: Alfardan Group launched the first St. Regis hotel in the Middle East out of Doha nearly a decade ago.

Our portfolio has since considerably grown to include some of the largest high-profile hospitality and property developments in Qatar, Turkey and Oman.

This year marks a milestone for our regional collaboration with this iconic global brand, with the deal for the St. Regis Al Mouj Muscat Resort in Oman, and the near completion of the St. Regis Marsa Arabia Island exclusive luxury destination in Qatar.

The announcement of this project in Muscat comes at a time when Oman’s tourism and hospitality sectors are growing at record pace, in line with the Sultanate’s national and international ambitions.

The project also includes 170 branded residences, which are expected to include a mix of apartments, penthouses and townhouses.

The residences are also anticipated to be completed by 2022.

The location offers proximity to both business and leisure travellers, alike, with Muscat’s central business district nearby and the Muscat Convention Centre a ten-minute drive away.

The location is also situated near Oman’s rich cultural sites, such as the vibrant fort of Muscat, the iconic Mutrah Souq, the Royal Opera House Muscat and the Grand Mosque of Muscat.

The news comes at an exciting time for the hospitality sector in Oman.

World Travel Awards recently confirmed the Royal Opera House Muscat would host the Grand Final 2019.

The event will welcome hundreds of industry leaders from around the world to the capital of Oman on November 28th.

Sunday 6 October 2019

KENYA: Radisson Blu Hotel & Residence, Nairobi Arboretum Now Open

Radisson Blu, the upper upscale hotel brand that delivers a positive and personalized service in stylish spaces, is proud to announce the opening of the Radisson Blu Hotel & Residence, Nairobi Arboretum, the Group’s third hotel in Kenya.

The hotel is located in the heart of Nairobi, overlooking the Arboretum park and adjacent to the State House within the affluent Kilimani district of the city.

A sprawling forest reserve and a popular destination for walks and picnics, the Arboretum offers a refreshing retreat away from the urban frenzy and is home to more than 300 exotic tree species and more than 100 types of bird.

Just ten minutes from the city center, its markets and museums, and 45 minutes from the airport, the hotel is ideally situated for guests to explore the city and is the ideal base for day trips and safaris.

Tim Cordon, Senior Area Vice President, Middle East & Africa, Radisson Hotel Group, said: We are thrilled to open the doors of our third hotel and first extended stay product in Nairobi.

Nairobi is the economic powerhouse of East Africa and is large enough to offer multiple Radisson Hotel Group hotels, including residences.

He added our third hotel in Nairobi is in line with our strategy of adding depth to our focus countries with multiple properties and multiple product offerings.

The residence is the first internationally branded extended stay product in the city and complements our other properties in Nairobi; Radisson Blu Hotel, Nairobi Upperhill and Park Inn by Radisson Nairobi Westlands.

The hotel’s 122 rooms and suites feature contemporary interiors, private balconies, upscale amenities and exclusive services like free Wi-Fi, individual climate control and 24-hour room service.

They range in space between 20-133sqm, boasting splendid views of the glistening pool or lush park and garden – all set in a prime location, minutes from the heart of the city.

Guests can relax and recharge after a day of forest discoveries in the hotel’s expansive spa, sauna, steam rooms, swimming pool and fitness center.

The hotel also offers all guests secure underground parking, in a safe location surrounded by a tranquil environment.

The hotel introduces Africa’s first Firelake Restaurant, the famous Radisson Hotel Group concept, which is a comfortable and sophisticated retreat offering all-day dining.

For a delicious warm beverage, Arborista offers speciality coffee and tea. Guests can also enjoy wholesome snacks and refreshing drinks at the Lounge Bar as well as the Infinity Pool Bar.

Offering the best venue for tailor-made meetings and events experiences, the hotel also provides an enhanced outdoor option at the Arboretum park.

The hotel’s functional venues offer 500sqm of meetings and events space that are designed to host up to 200 guests. All meeting rooms have natural light and the latest audio-visual equipment to create a memorable gathering.

Gerard Moutou, General Manager of the Radisson Blu Hotel & Residence, Nairobi Arboretum, said: We are delighted to welcome our guests to our eco-friendly hotel, tucked away in a leafy forest area, just a few minutes away from the business demand generators and city center.

The combination of our tranquil surroundings, passionate team and renowned Yes I Can! hospitality, we are the perfect base for business and leisure guests enjoying a short or long stay in our stylish hotel rooms or residential apartments.

Tourism Observer

Saturday 5 October 2019

UAE: Meet David Wilson, General Manager Waldorf Astoria Dubai Palm Jumeirah

David Wilson, general manager, Waldorf Astoria Dubai Palm Jumeirah
An icon on the Palm Jumeirah, the artificial archipelago than dominates the hospitality sector in Dubai, Waldorf Astoria Dubai Palm Jumeirah welcomes an elite client from around the world.

David Wilson, general manager of the hotel, says it brings to the market, his plans for the future and the likely impact of Expo 2020 on the United Arab Emirates.

He says the focus is always on delivering exceptional, consistent quality of service and creating memorable experiences for our guests.

It is easy to say, but of course much harder to deliver.

He further says at Waldorf Astoria Dubai Palm Jumeirah they have built a culture of engagement and service that has driven positive results for us over the years.

They have wonderful facilities in the hotel with some of the largest rooms available in Dubai, specialized dining opportunities such as Social by Heinz Beck and Lao, a wonderful private beach and selection of pools.

The main thing we want our guests to remember from a stay with us is the interaction with our team members and how we made them feel.

If you can achieve this, you have every opportunity to compete successfully with new hotels coming into the market.

It has changed enormously with new properties opening, new restaurants launching and soon more retail options with the new Nakheel Mall.

The quality of these developments is really outstanding, the Pointe is a good example and with the addition of the mall, guests and residents on the Palm will really have no need to leave.

David Wilson believes over the years the Palm has built a strong identity and has become a global destination in its own right.

There is no denying that the market has been under pressure this year with issues such as Brexit hampering tourism from the UK, for example, and the increased room inventory has put pressure on hotels.

I don’t believe there is as much pressure on the Palm perhaps as other areas, however, these increases in supply versus demand are normal in a growing industry and we certainly hope for stabilization as demand grows to fill the extra capacity.

Dropping rates is a desperate measure, it can create panic in the market and it’s not a strategy that we would advise as it is extremely difficult to build those rates back again after the demand picks up.

The Dubai World Expo 2020 is absolutely an exciting event for us and is coming at a good time for our business.

With many interesting features, entertainment and dining as well as technology and sustainability focuses, this will be attractive for regional and overseas tourists.

This Expo will also draw attention to the magnificent destination that Dubai has become, shining a spotlight on some of the best facilities and attractions in the world.

Exclusive and personalised lounge facility was recently rebranded to the Pearl Club, in recognition of the historical significance of pearls in the region and in Dubai in particular.

It remains one of the highlights of the hotel, a sanctuary for member guests.

Set on the fifth floor, overlooking the Palm and Dubai Marina skyline, it provides a real home away from home.

David believes having worked in many countries and regions in his hospitality experience, he believes they are very fortunate to have such a professional and active body in the DTCM.

Their promotions and awareness campaigns are without a doubt some of the best I have seen.

As a property, David says they receive regular market information and there are organised road shows to key markets which provide great support to the industry.

In the first quarter of next year, the awareness of Dubai Expo 2020 will be very high on the agenda in key markets which will start to translate into bookings and increased occupancy levels.

With ongoing and continued efforts, I am confident that together, we can reach the target.

A haven within the vibrant city of Dubai, the Waldorf Astoria Dubai Palm Jumeirah boasts a private soft-sanded beach, six distinct restaurants and lounges and elegant sea-facing guest rooms and suites.

Situated on the iconic Palm Jumeirah island, the property in a haven of tranquillity.

Tourism Observer

Friday 4 October 2019

RUSSIA: Aeroflot Captain Charged After Fatal Landing Accident At Sheremetyevo Airport

Criminal investigators have charged the captain of an Aeroflot Sukhoi Superjet 100 in connection with the fatal landing accident at Moscow Sheremetyevo airport earlier this year.

The Murmansk-bound aircraft returned to Sheremetyevo after a lightning strike but bounced heavily during the landing, igniting spilled fuel when the landing-gear collapsed.

Forty-one of the 78 occupants did not survive the accident.

The captain had taken manual control of the Superjet after the lightning strike but the investigation has highlighted heavy-handed and abrupt inputs to the side-stick during the approach and touchdown.

Russia's federal Investigative Committee says that the aircraft made a rough landing, adding that the captain's actions to control the jet were in violation of established rules and led to the airframe damage and the outbreak of fire.

It states that he is being charged with a crime relating to breaches of air transport safety rules which, as a result of negligence, resulted in two or more fatalities.

Ten of those on board received injuries of varying severity, says the committee, which adds that the criminal investigation is continuing.

Tourism Observer

SLOVENIA: Adria Airways Goes Bankrupt And Ceases Operations

The collapse of Adria Airways has cost Slovenia connections to dozens of international markets, a study has revealed.

The national airline filed for bankruptcy and cancelled all flights on Monday.

Adria had previously withdrawn virtually all its flights last week.

Bankruptcy proceedings were initiated by the management of the company because of the company’s insolvency, the carrier said in a statement.

A study by ForwardKeys, the travel analytics firm, revealed that the bankruptcy resulted in the loss of direct flight connections with two dozen countries, including Czech Republic, Spain and Switzerland, all important origin markets for the country.

Adria has accounted for 60 per cent of all international seat capacity to Slovenia.

Other key source markets such as Austria, Germany and France will also be impacted, as Adria Airways accounted for 99 per cent, 87 per cent and 51 per cent of seat capacity on flights from these countries.

The full list of countries, which had direct connections to Slovenia in the past 12 months and have now lost them, comprises: Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Egypt, Estonia, Georgia, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Jordan, Latvia, Macedonia, Norway, Romania, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and Ukraine.

However, the impact is less dramatic than the list suggests, because some of the routes, such as those from Estonia, Georgia and Greece are seasonal, and others, from Cyprus, Hungary, Italy, Jordan, Latvia, Romania and Ukraine are irregular.

Olivier Ponti, vice president, insights, ForwardKeys, said: Given the attractiveness of Slovenia as a destination, I expect other airlines to fill the gaps left by Adria Airways but how long it will take to get back to the previous level is anyone´s guess.

Slovenia, and its vibrant capital Ljubljana, remain accessible and well worth a visit; however, if you were counting on Adria Airways to get you there quickly, you must now allow more time.

So following the collapse of Adria Airways this week, Slovenia’s only airport in Ljubljana has lost almost half of all its air traffic.

Most flights by Adria Airways were feeder flights to Star Alliance hubs, so it is no great surprise that Lufthansa Group announced today it will launch an entire network out of Ljubljana Joze Pucnik Airport within a month.

Simple Flying first reported in June that an Adria Airways bankruptcy was increasingly likely. Adverse circumstances surrounding the Slovenian flag carrier kept growing over the summer and operations officially ceased in full earlier this week.

For years, Adria has been positioned as a feeder to Lufthansa Group hubs, serving Brussels, Frankfurt, Zurich, Vienna and Munich several times daily.

Adria Airways had such a strong relationship with Lufthansa Group that it also had feeder flights to Frankfurt and Munich from the capitals of Albania and Kosovo.

Thus, with the collapse of Adria, Lufthansa Group has been left with a loss of 216 weekly outbound and inbound flights to channel its connecting passengers.

These include 64 weekly flights to Frankfurt, which even for a giant like Lufthansa is not insignificant. 42 of these flights were from Ljubljana, 6 from Tirana and 16 from Pristina.

To fill the acute gap left by Adria in Ljubljana, several Lufthansa Group airlines are stepping in. An entire network is being formed in Ljubljana by Lufthansa’s airlines, despite the Group not having a single route to Slovenia at all at the moment.

Brussels Airlines is launching a six-times-a-week service in November. This will coincide with Wizz Air pulling out of Slovenia and no longer flying the Ljubljana to Brussels route after seven years.

Today, an announcement followed from Lufthansa Group too, that Lufthansa and Swiss will launch their own services.

Lufthansa CityLine will be flying double daily between Frankfurt and Ljubljana with its CRJ900 aircraft. Flights will depart Frankfurt every day at 09.15 am and 4.40 pm, arriving in Ljubljana at 10.30 am and 5.55 pm.

They will then depart Ljubljana at 11.05 am and 6.30 pm, returning to Frankfurt at 12.25 pm and 7.50 pm. Flights are already bookable, from Sunday 27 October, the first day of the winter schedule.

These are clearly timed to coincide with Lufthansa’s morning arrival wave into Frankfurt and evening departure wave out of it. The route is very clearly intended to be a feeder.

From Munich, the German airline will be flying daily starting Friday 1 November. Flights will depart Munich at 10.45 am to arrive at Ljubljana at 11.45 am. They will then depart Ljubljana again at 1.10 pm to return to Munich at 2.10 pm.

Swiss itself will be the first to begin flying, launching five weekly flights in just two weeks’ time. At the start of the winter schedule, on 27 October, the frequency will increase to daily.

Once the frequency increases to daily, the flights will be operated by Swiss’s A220 aircraft. Until then, presumably, because no spare aircraft are available, flights will run as five weekly with a Helvetic Airways E190.

What will be interesting to see is whether Lufthansa Group airlines expand their schedule to Ljubljana to match the capacity that Adria had on these routes.

Adria had three daily flights to Zurich all summer long, while Swiss has only scheduled a single daily rotation.

Austrian Airlines has been absent from this announcement. Adria’s two daily flights to Vienna remain nonexistent and all the feeder traffic to Austrian and Eurowings left unserved.

With Slovenia’s only airport now fully dominated by Lufthansa Group airlines, it will be interesting to see how they adapt their network over time.

It will also be interesting to see which competitors to Lufthansa Group step in to take some of the market share left vacant by Adria.

Meanwhile, bankruptcy proceedings have officially been initiated against Slovenia's Adria Airways following its cessation of operations.

Documentation issued by the district court in the city of Kranj gives creditors three months, until 3 January 2020, to declare claims against the operator.

It names Janez Pustaticnik as the manager.

Adria's latest operating licence, issued in 2011, has been revoked by the Slovenian civil aviation agency and the carrier banned from operating commercial air transport.

Star Alliance has also confirmed, as a matter of formality, that Adria Airways has left the airline group as a result of the bankruptcy.

Adria ceased to be a member of Star on 2 October, the alliance says. It says the situation is a regrettable development, given that Adria has been a member for 15 years.

But Star points out that its links with Slovenia are being maintained by new services from Lufthansa, Swiss and Brussels Airlines

Tourism Observer

Thursday 3 October 2019

TANZANIA: Aleph Hospitality To Manage Moja Tuu And Hakuna Majiwe In Zanzibar

Independent hotel management company Aleph Hospitality has entered the Tanzanian market with the signing of a management agreement to operate two boutique resorts, the Moja Tuu and Hakuna Majiwe, in Zanzibar.

The new management contracts, scheduled to take effect in October, mark Aleph Hospitality’s continued expansion in Africa, with its portfolio now stretching across five countries on the continent.

Speaking at the African Hotel Investment Forum (AHIF), Bani Haddad, Founder and Managing Director of Aleph Hospitality, commented: Our entry into the Tanzanian market solidifies the company’s already-rapid African expansion, coming just days after the signing of an agreement for the first Marriott International property in Kisumu, Kenya.

In addition to this growth of our branded hotel portfolio, we are thrilled to be adding two more independent hotels to our fold and providing our in-depth knowledge of international best practices and operating standards to unlock the true potential of these unique beachfront properties.

We have proven highly successful at turning around existing operations and look forward to driving maximum returns for the hotels’ owner.

Amit B. Ladwa, owner of both Tanzanian hotels, commented: We have long sought an independent management partner who can bring world-class operational expertise and extensive regional knowledge to our assets.

Aleph Hospitality is highly experienced, flexible and agile, and we are looking forward to seeing our hotels thrive with our new partner on board.

Located in Kiwengwa, on the north east coast of Zanzibar and a 60-minute drive from Abeid Amani Karume International Airport, Moja Tuu is a 35-key upper upscale beach resort, including 10 luxury beachfront villas, each with private infinity pool.

Ideally positioned for international leisure travellers, including honeymooners and groups of family and friends, the secluded resort, surrounded by tropical forest, features three restaurants, private beach and swimming pool.

On the south east coast of Zanzibar, the midscale Hakuna Majiwe in Paje offers a spectacular white sand beach and an authentic, disconnected barefoot experience.

The 21-room hideaway, including 16 beach rooms and five garden rooms, features an all-day dining restaurant and swimming pool, and is located 75-minutes away from Abeid Amani Karume International Airport by car.

With some of the most stunning coastline in the world, a rich cultural heritage and exceptional diving, we see tremendous potential for the growth of tourism in Zanzibar, said Haddad.

Supported by our world-class systems and operating model, Moja Tuu and Hakuna Majiwe will be perfectly placed to capitalise on increasing demand.

Aleph Hospitality, which has earmarked a pipeline of 35 hotels in the Middle East and Africa by 2025, manages hotels directly for owners, either on a franchise basis for branded properties or as a white label operator for independently-branded hotels.

Tourism Observer